The Dragon Tree Spell Book
Because, Really, Can You Ever Have Too Many Spells?
Sorry, Fighters/Thieves, You Are Basically Ignored in Old School
And, I Mean, Even Thieves Can Read Scrolls
Seriously, The Only Core 1e PHB Class That Could Never Cast Any Spells Was The Fighter
The Dragon Tree Spell Book by Dragon Tree Press (First Edition) was published in 1981. I have the second edition, which was published in 1991. As usual, I have no idea how different the First Edition was… it may be minor typos or there may have been major changes. Anyone who knows is free to tell me. Unlike the Delian Book of the Dead from Dragon Tree Press, this really is the Dragon Tree Spell Book. On the other hand, much like the Book of the Dead, my copy is square-bound and old with dry glue, so scanning pages is likely to damage or destroy a nearly 30-year old artifact. Sigh.
(There is a Dragon Tree Press web page, but it contains nothing more than a “Coming Soon” announcement, and is probably years old. Double sigh.)
Opening the book to begin reading it resulted in the too-familiar sound of dried binding glue cracking apart, so, scanning pages isn’t going to make things much worse. There’s that, I suppose. My center-stapled original Arduin books have survived much, but the square-bound, more “professional”, later volumes are falling to shreds. If I had ambition, I’d set aside a day or two and scan/OCR them to create a personal archive. But if I had ambition, I wouldn’t spend my time writing articles like this. So it goes.
A few introductory notes:
- Any spell can be cast by any class; the class which “created” the spell gets it at the listed level, and other classes get it as a spell 2 levels higher. Thus, a 3rd level cleric spell is a 5th level magic user/druid/etc. spell.
- There is an essay by “Holy Mage Newton” on the “Doctrine of the Four Manas” — in essence, four different magic systems, to account for the many variants on the D&D “Vancian” magic in vogue at the time of the original book (1981).
- Forms to allow DMs to specify the details for their magic system are included. Thus, a DM who uses the “Percentage and Fumble” system can specify the formula to determine the success chance and what happens when you fumble. (The Dragon Tree Book of Artifacts contains additional “fumble charts”.
- Rules for combining aspects of the four systems are included.
- There is also a section on improvising spells, with basic rules for figuring out likelihood of success (albeit with considerable GM adjudication required), and an example of a wizard fleeing a red dragon whose bungled teleport spell removed the party’s robot to parts unknown, and if that doesn’t tell you what old school gaming was all about, nothing will.
I am intending to focus on the spells themselves, though. And, if you like this sort of thing, be sure to check out the Necromican!
The book notes that it introduced “0-level” spells in July 1981, prior to their introduction in “other works” as cantrips. As the first recorded reference I can find to such spells in “other works” was a 1982 issue of Dragon, they may have a point, but it’s hard to show this was anything but semi-simultaneous creation. (I can’t count the times I’ve had an idea for a game/book/supplement, only to see it announced or in print already soon after; when creators have similar mental states and are exposed to the same influences through the zeitgeist, similar outputs are to be expected. As the design space started to fill up in the early 80s, designers would look for untapped regions, and expanding the range of magic both up and down was an obvious choice.)
As typical for this type of article, I’ll just pick a few to comment on:
- Bait: For 24 hours, a small object (1 cubic inch) will smell, and look, like a person or creature’s favorite food. I’d consider this useful in a range of circumstances, more so than a 0-level spell usually is, esp. given you can typically cast such spells many times and thus seed a wide area with the bait.
- Color Alteration: Can change the color of any material object permanently; no size limit is given.
- Color Glass: Exactly like Color Alteration, except it only colors glass, which Color Alteration doesn’t exclude. So it does less and otherwise has the same cost in character resources, range, duration, etc. Even stranger, they were added by the same contributor. Weird.
- Ghaspar’s Ghostly Goad: Creates a non-damaging poke/prod on a person, sufficient to distract them (-2 to their next initiative check). Another spell useful in many circumstances, esp. with modern rules giving bonuses to some activities, such as stealth or picking pockets, if the victim is “distracted”.
- Phantasmal Shape: Creates a custom mold/dummy for use in crafting, as an aid to shaping hats or shoes, for instance. Not a concept I’ve seen before in similar lists of “utility” spells.
- Reproduce To Scale: Allows the caster to draw a (presumably accurate) map of an area, even while moving at a normal walk. Depending on how fervently the GM enforces player mapping (much more common in Ye Olde Dayse than now), this could rate as much more than a cantrip.
- Spank: Causes any creature up to 50lbs to be raised in the air three feet and spanked, with no save. The utility of this against any small monsters such as kobolds, goblins, or imps is hard to overstate, especially since it’s implied the creature is forced to be immobile while the spell is in effect, and being spanked is arguably going to disrupt casting. I mean, I’d say the spell only works on immature beings whom the caster has been authorized (meaning, parent or guardian) to cast it on .
First Level Spells
- Andrea’s Rambling Clew: Or as I call it, “Screw Your Clever Plot, GM”. This spell, which I’d make much higher level if I’d permit it at all, translates any apocryphal/meandering/obscure set of clues the GM has ever-so-graciously handed the players into a set of clear directions indicated by an unrolling ball of twine. Thus, the party does not need to puzzle out what “Seek ye the gate without a door, upon the stone without a surface, by the tree that has no roots and no branches” actually means, they just follow the quest marker, I mean, the twine. Damn, 1981, and things were already too video-gamey, amirite? I blame game companies trying to market to those “Colossal Cave” players.
- Freshen Air: Removes all smoke, dust, fog from the air. Doesn’t say if it works on poison clouds and the like, which could greatly enhance its utility at higher levels. It comes in evergreen, lemon, and herbal scents. That’s their joke, not mine. Really.
- Hard Water: Useful for technos trying to build atomic weapons. No, wait, that’s heavy water. This makes ordinary water as hard as oak, and also subject to spells such as warp wood or pests such as termites… which makes it sound more like it’s “transmute water to oak”, frankly. Another spell that’s probably too useful for first level; it makes constructing temporary barriers very easy as long as there’s a water source, or a cleric, nearby. It could also be deadly to water elementals, or perhaps make them extremely tough. A GM call, clearly.
- Hawk Vision: Increases “the distance vision by 100”. 100 feet? 100 times? 100%? Even without this spell enhancing my vision, I clearly see arguments.
- Mardi Gras Special: Get your minds out of the gutter! This just changes the color of a light source or continual light spell.
- Reverse Flow: Causes any liquid (again, no size is specified… could it affect the tides?) to flow backwards. I’m not sure what happens if you turn a watermill in reverse.Do all the inner workings shatter because they weren’t meant to turn that way, or is basically neutral?
- Sneeze: If the target fails to save, they spend the following round sneezing. Unlike several other spells of this type in the book thus far, this one is limited by hit dice. It also notes one should not use this on dragons.
That’s enough for now. We’ll see if I can keep on track to get the next part by next week. (Shakes Magic 8 Ball) “Outlook Hazy”.