Friday, 10 February 2017

Desert Island Spells

What would be your desert island spell list? Not the spells that would be useful on a desert island, note. This means simply your favourite eight D&D spells.

Mine are, in no particular order:

1 - Augury. Fortune telling is, naturally enough, difficult to pull off in an RPG. Augury in its AD&D incarnation is a surprisingly elegant way of doing it. 

2 - Hold Person. As a DM I love this one for hostile magic-users - out of pure sadism. I think being immobilized and not able to do anything is almost the most annoying thing that can happen for a player in a game (even more annoying than death in some cases). And sometimes it is fun to annoy people.

3 - Hallucinatory Forest. I have never seen it used, but there is something endearing about this spell. Every now and then, amidst the melange of different influences making up D&D, you catch a glimpse of something that looks like it came out of a fairy tale. Hallucinatory Forest is one of those moments.

4 - Nystul's Magic Aura. Almost pointless, and yet...and can imagine situations in which it could be used, and such a situation would be really cool. Like using the magical aura to leave a clue for an associate in a cloak-and-dagger scenario, or to mislead an evil wizard, or something. It's the kind of thing you look at as a pretentious 12-year old DM and your mind explodes with all sorts of interesting ideas that you know your gaming group with its 12-year old members will never get anywhere near doing, because it's nothing to do with killing orcs.

5 - Prismatic Spray. For sheer FUCK YOU value, there's probably not much better than this spell. 

6 - Leomund's Tiny Hut. If only Scott had had this available to him on his journey back from the South Pole. I love the idea of a bespoke spell purely to allow PCs to survive in hostile environments, simply because it implies that that's the kind of thing PCs might want to get up to. 

7 - Magic Mouth. Like Nystul's Magic Aura, Magic Mouth is almost worth its own existence just for the uses you can imagine for it. Also, who can resist the idea of a rock or table or vase suddenly sprouting a mouth to spout a message to somebody? It is pure, childlike fantasy, and there is nothing wrong with that.

8 - Cacodemon. Demon-summoning is one of my favourite fantasy tropes, so this has to close off the list. As with Hallucinatory Forest, the existence of this spell hints at something altogether different from the typical genre influences of D&D, except this time it's Dr Faustus rather than Brothers Grimm. 


  1. Hmm. Good question.

    1. Evard's Black Tentacles - because, duh. They're cool!
    2. Otto's Irresistible Dance - such a mean, mean spell, so creative.
    3. Magic Jar - Posession is half of the law.
    4. Charm Person - Allows for a lot of cool roleplaying with NPCs, which I dig.
    5. Cacodemon - For the same reasons you cite.
    6. Teleport - The ultimate vanishing act.
    7. Timestop - I've only used this in play once, and it was epic.
    8. Wizard Eye - Cooler than scrying, because flying eyeballs.

  2. Desert Island Spell List?


    Create Food and Water.
    Wood Shape.
    Burning Hands.
    Know Direction.
    Control Weather.

    I figure with these I can survive long enough to get off the island, and I might be able to get a sea worthy craft to the mainland.


  3. Sleep, Magic Missile, Invisibility, Fly, Fireball, Teleport, Cure Light Wounds, and Raise Dead.

  4. From various editions:

    Charm Monster (AD&D version) - There always ought to be more ways for PCs to acquire minions.

    Invisibility - A classic for a reason.

    Planar Binding (from 3e/5e) - Any summoning spell that gives the thing summoned a chance to murder the summoner is great stuff.

    Dream/Nightmare (2e, 3e, or 5e) - The least boring version of Sending. A patient enough lich could conquer the whole goddamn world without ever leaving his crypt, using nothing but this spell.

    Reincarnate (AD&D) - Only thing I'd change is to add more gonzo forms.

    Imprisonment (Any edition, but the 5e version is particularly amazing) - This is the basically the most wizardly thing you could ever do to anyone.

    Speak with Animals - You could design a pretty believable and threatening wizard with nothing but this spell and a silver tongue.

    Stone to Flesh - So many great and questionably-ethical uses besides just fixing basilisk casualties. Bring the walls to life for the sole purpose of chopping your way through them. Sculpt a cool statue and bring it to life. Transform a boulder into a giant meatball when you're hungry.

  5. Charm person
    Speak with animals
    Animate dead
    Light (reversible)
    Cure light wounds (reversible)
    Speak with dead.

    Fairytale witch stuff, basically. Low-end creepy stuff. Makes for more interesting scenarios than just another fireball.

  6. Since I've played almost every incarnation of D&D, this is drawn from an amalgamation of all of them.

    Mirror Image -- The best way for a magic-user to survive getting attacked.

    Evard's Black Tentacles -- Just a little touch of transdimensional horror. I want to see an advanced version that sucks victims into whatever abyss the tentacles come from.

    Dominate Person -- Don't bother taking out the fighters, use them to slaughter the rest of the party! (Seemed to work best in 3e.)

    Contingency -- Another save-your-bacon spell, but this one has so many possibilities for the imaginative wizard.

    Glitterdust -- I like both the aesthetics and the effects of this one.

    Locate Object -- Perhaps the most underused cleric spell out there. Never had a player use this one, but I wish they would.

    Speak With Dead -- I always saw this one as more fitting for magic-users than clerics. What a great way to get information; now if only I could get players to use it.

    Disintegrate -- Because it's not enough to simply slay your foes. And can tunnel through walls, too.

    1. Interesting, Locate Object and Speak With Dead have been heavily used in almost every game I have run or played in. Both incredibly useful

  7. Having never GMed any form of D&D and never played a magic-user in AD&D (which I did play quite a bit), I'd have to duck into RQ2 for mine:
    Bladesharp (any available)
    Healing 6
    Light (useful!)

    All utterly prosaic and distinctly non-Vancian - yet all fully congruent with the Gloranthan setting in which everyone can mutter a spell as their enemies close ...

  8. Do you still get the Bible and Shakespeare?

  9. I want to use Nystul's Magic Aura to run a violin scam on my players.

  10. Another one that I've never seen used, but that hints of something deeper and weirder than what we usually do in play: polymorph any object.

    Not polymorphing allies into frost giants or enemies into hamsters, but the first example in the 3E duration table: 20 minutes, pebble to human.

    What is this pebble person like? Do they still remember what happened the last time the pebble was polymorphed into a human? Do they remember what happens while they're a pebble? Do they thank you, or resent you?

    This is Vancian magic straight out of the first Dying Earth stories.

    1. True - it is interesting. Maybe somebody needs to come up with a table for that: how does an object react when made into a living thing?