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As I’m loading my 1e database with spell information, I realized two interesting and related things about 1e spellcasting. Having not played more than 6 hours worth of 1e since 1982, my memory contains mostly modern notions of RPGs. Accordingly, I went to the social media hivemind to see if I was correct. They confirmed I was.
Spells Increase Potency with Caster Level
As a caster gains levels, the power of the spells they already know become stronger. For example, even though it’s a first level spell, Magic Missile cast by a third level magic user hurls more magic missiles to a greater distance. Protection from Evil has an increased duration (+2 rounds per caster level). Neither of these improvements require any work on the part of the magic user. That is, the casters don’t have to prepare spells in a different way, or cast them using a higher spell slot. They’re simply stronger spells because the caster is higher level. We see this in 3e. On 3e PHB, p. 209, Chill Metal doesn’t scale by caster level, but Chill Touch does. However, I don’t recall it being the norm. It’s been a while, so I could be wrong. Spells in 4e didn’t scale like this, and 5e restricts it to cantrips. Either way, I’m sure D&D players know how this works, but in 1e, it’s certainly the rule, not the exception.
No Swapping of Spell Slots
Apparently, casters can’t use, for example, third level spell slots to cast extra Magic Missiles (a first level spell). This is also unsurprising in light of my first realization, and in fact fits in trivially. Casters don’t need to use third level spell slots to do more damage with Magic Missiles. They already do. This limits casters somewhat in that they can’t freely exchange memorized spells within slots. Each slot is assigned to one spell, and that spell must be used when activating that slot. Moreover, the caster can’t memorize extra Magic Missiles using higher slots. This seems like a fair trade, especially considering how powerful high-level casters can be.
I have to say that I really like the first realization. Too many spells feel worthless once you reach a certain level. Allowing them to scale reduces regrets with respect to your choices. The second one doesn’t matter. I see that as wholly a matter of balance. If the game is built around the restriction, then it’s fine. If not, then it isn’t. However, for 1e, they’re related, so it’d be hard to separate them.
Evolution isn’t always a good thing.
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