The Dragon Tree Spell Book Part III
Heading For Three Weeks In A Row Of Updates
Yeah, Right. There’ll Probably Be A Plague of Piranha Locusts Or Something To Distract Me
Hmmm…. Piranha Locusts….
Welcome back to the third part of my walkthrough of the Arduin-ish spell book supplement from Dragon Tree Press, a book of spells named, rather correctly, the Dragon Tree Spell Book. Part I is here, and if you like this sort of thing, first, seek professional help immediately, and second, while you’re waiting for them to reject your insurance, look at the Necromican!
Affect Orbit: This is a druid spell that lets them casually disrupt global ecosystems. For every three levels, they can advance or reverse the moon’s phase by one full day, thus screwing up tides (and all the biological cycles associated with them), and confusing the hell out of werewolves. This spell is simultaneously over- and under- powered. Overpowered because it gives a mid-level character control over a fundamental natural process with planetary consequences, and underpowered because it’s hard to see how this lets you kill more orcs. (I guess it could be useful in some fights with were-beasts, if the GM rules shifting the moon’s phase could force them to change instantly.)
Alter Tensile Strength: Looking back at “Alter Friction” and “Alter Stickiness”, I am starting to suspect this series of spells was written by an engineer. (As a side note, I once played a Mage in the White Wolf game of the same name, and coming up with spells like this (and arguing with the Storyteller over the exact effect) was pretty much what you did if you had dots in Matter.)
Brother Betrtam’s Body Bag: Sounds like a good name for a goth band that plays at the local non-chain coffeehouse on Friday nights. It also serves to protect a corpse from decomposition for a long period of time… a useful effect, one that eventually became a core second level spell in later editions of D&D. On reflection, I see why it was higher level here… at the time this was written (I’m presuming 1981, with the Second Edition I’m working from being a reformatting w/better typography but not a significant content revision), RPGs often had a slightly more adversarial approach to life and death, and being able to counter a GM who had set up things to make it hard to keep a corpse intact long enough to find a high-level cleric would be a more powerful effect.
Cold Fire: Creates a fire that’s cold, not hot, and which does not burn fuel. The spell description itself notes its mundane utility at chilling beverages for parties. It can also be used to create “cold torches” which can damage fire creatures at 1d6/caster level. Creative players could come up with other uses. I can also see a debate on if this could create an area effectively “blacked out” to infravision, if the party stayed close to the “flame”, or if the cold would create a field of obvious “darkness” below the ambient temperature. I’d rule something like the latter, the IR-using creature wouldn’t make out many details but would know something was odd.
Combination Spell: This is an oddity to me. It allows a caster to cast a second spell while “maintaining” an already cast one. Why an oddity? Because rules limiting “active” spells were not part of AD&D1e (I just reviewed both the PHB and DMG, as it’s often the case such rules were buried in obscure paragraphs, and, if they were, they escaped by notice even on this review). The example in “Combination Spell” mentions Animate Object as a spell which could not be maintained if a second spell was cast, but nothing in that spells description in the PHB indicates it requires any action to maintain normally or limits further spellcasting in any way. So it seems, tentatively, this spell is useful only under some house rules that forbid casting one spell if another was still in effect.
Container of Holding: Turns any bag, box, and so on into a “container of holding”, granting tenfold capacity for 1 hour/level. It is silent on what happens when the spell expires. Does the excess cargo vanish, like tears in the rain, or explode violently out of the container? Either one could be fun.
Fumble Cause: Causes the next spell cast by the target to fumble, which presumes one is using a system where that is possible. The text says this spell must be case before the target announces to the DM what spell they are casting — implying it’s only useful in PVP situations, which in turn says a lot about the nature of games the Dragon Tree crew must have been playing. This spell is followed by a list of specific variants, such as “Cause Fumble-Too-Much”, which causes the forced fumble to be “double effect” or “Cause Wrong-Target-Fumble” (meaning should be obvious).
Gjosaf’s Spell Of The Stealthy Fagin: Along the lines of Invisible Servant and Invisible Accountant, this spell is effectively “Invisible (well, foggy) Thief”, creating an animate rogue of half the caster’s level which can pick pockets, disarm traps, or even perform a backstab. It has some limitations, such as not being able to communicate or share senses, and must be concentrated upon to control (see “Combination Spell”, above), but it’s otherwise a very nice concept that’s level-appropriate and could be easily converted to modern D&D variants in a balanced fashion.
Instant Baroque: A powerful bard spell that conjures forth a harpsichord, that… no, wait. This rather specialized spell causes any long, straight, material to twist into decorative curlicues. Yes, I know that sounds like the joke description. But it’s the actual spell. It will also unbend any object which was twisted decoratively, but not one merely crushed or bent in an unaesthetic manner. Again, really, that’s what it says.
Instant Gothic: Would you believe this spell causes the target to put on black eyeliner, black clothes, and write existential poetry? No? How about “causes tall vertical pieces of material to bend towards each other in [an] attempt to form Gothic arches”? Yeah, I liked the first idea better, too. Why not “Instant Heavy Metal”, that caused all armor to triple in mass, or “Instant Hip-Hop”, that makes everyone in the area jump around? (“Instant Country” is a 10th level spell that creates a demi-plane that encompasses a new nation of the caster’s devising.)
Minao’s Magical Arm: Creates an invisible arm that acts as the caster’s normal arm but can “pass through anything that is alive”. The spell description gives no indication that the arm can float or move; it’s implied that it remains attached to the character’s body, it’s just invisible and can reach through other living creatures. I am not sure what one does with it. How often is the chief obstacle to a mid-level caster that they just can’t reach through someone standing in front of them, and they wish they had a fourth-level spell to let them do exactly that? About the only purpose I can see is reaching into a still-living dragon and plucking some treasure from its guts, but it’s hard to work out a scenario which this spell is more useful than one which would let you kill the dragon.
Transparency: Turns opaque materials (or people) transparent. This gives living beings a +2 attack and a -2 to be hit, which is nice, and it’s “not an illusion but a change in the index of refraction”. I am guessing that means it’s not affected by spells which dispel invisibility?
Wishful Thinking: Causes anyone spying on the subject, or intercepting a message, to see what they want or expect to see, not what’s actually said/written. I am unsure this is as useful as the author seems to think it is.
“You are under arrest, traitor, for all the king’s court heard you plotting treason when the king’s vizier, who has long suspected you of such, opened a magical scrying window!”
“But I’m innocent! He’s lying!”
“Nay, we all heard it. You said exactly what he claimed you would say!”
Fifth Level Spells
Brother Samuel’s Armor Creation: Creates a suit of normal, non-magical, plate armor around a single target… which can’t be removed without cutting the binding straps, as the spell creator was not an armorer. Said cutting makes the armor useless until repaired, of course. Given the “Water Shape” second level spell discussed previously, which can do this for a sufficient duration to meet most adventuring purposes (or, given that it’s water-based, adventuring porpoises), it’s difficult to see the utility.
Druid’s Teapot: Today, in “Fifth level spells that would make good cantrips”, we have this enchantment that causes a normal vessel to boil water. Yeah. That’s it. At circa 9th-10th level, when other PCs are casting Raise Dead and Teleport, some Druid said, “You know what’s just as good? Boiling water!”
Jireen’s Illusion Of Armor: Makes the target believe they are wearing plate armor, and not feel any damage the “armor” would prevent (but they still take it), while suffering all the other effects such as weight, reduced dexterity, and so on. It’s unclear if this also keeps them from casting spells if they’re of a class that cannot cast while armored. Probably. Potentially useful in some narrow circumstances, but very specialized and underpowered for a fifth level spell. Other fifth level illusionist spells of the era could summon a shadow to fight for you, or cast quasi-real illusions of powerful magic-user spells.
Murphy’s Law: Causes any attack on the target creature to fail, if it possibly can – a sword breaks, a spell misfires. Because of the vagueness of “if it can go wrong”, this spell could be grossly over- or under- powered depending on if the GM is sufficiently bribed. (For example, most spells don’t have a ‘to-hit’ roll for targeting, or target an area. Can such a spell still “miss” when there was no need to see if it “hit” in the first place?)
Shadow Switch: In this case, the “shadow” refers to the Amber concept of alternate universes, and allows the caster to switch a creature with some alternate form of itself that might theoretically exist somewhere, such as swapping a rampaging troll who is about to kill you with one who is a trained pastry chef and just wants to make some tasty cupcakes. Again, the utility is based on what the GM will let you get away with. (I should also note this means the caster has unleashed a vicious troll into some bakery somewhere in the multiverse, an action which might have repercussions down the line.)
Wood Light: Continuing the theme of “Druids just don’t get it (except from dryads, as noted in a prior article), do they?”, we have a fifth level spell that make a log… glow. You know, like a first level light spell. But, hey, it also makes it “give off heat”, presumably like a normal torch. So, it’s a piece of wood that gives off light and is hot… so you can’t hold it… but it’s not “consumed”, making it very slightly unlike a torch, and totally worth a fifth level spell slot because it’s not like there’s a half-dozen lower-level spells that provide light, or, for that matter, can create mundane objects like torches by the sometimes-literal ton.
And so, we come to the end of another article. Let’s see if I can keep up the semi-regular updates, at least until GenCon comes around.