Design & Development12/23/2005

The Spell Compendium

We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.

After the holidays, Jesse Decker plans to return with a continuation of his "Development Doesn't Like Much" miniseries. In the meantime, we asked Jesse a few questions regarding December's Spell Compendium -- questions originally raised by players on the message boards.

Wizards of the Coast: Can you introduce the concept of the Spell Compendium? Why was the book designed, and what niche is it expected to play at the gaming table?

Jesse Decker: Early on in the concepting of the Spell Compendium, someone coined the phrase “the 1000 best spells to use in D&D” as a way of summarizing our goals with the book. We really wanted this book to be more than a compilation of convenience, and instead focus on making the book become a big, positive impact on the play experience. The easiest thing to do would have been to simply gather a whole bunch of spells together into one book; however, we wanted -- at the same time giving folks a convenient way to use all the new spells that have come out since the Player’s Handbook -- to make sure that we were providing an upgrade in spell quality, too.

Now that’s not meant to malign any of the original designs of the spells that were included, because not every spell needed to change (far from it, in fact), but we did take the opportunity to look at each spell with the advantage of all the things that we’ve learned about the game in the past few years. For example, for many spells that created auras around the caster, it wasn’t clear when in the round such effects took place or whether or not you could move around the battlefield (causing a creature to go in and out of the aura many times in the same round) to multiply the spell’s effects. The Spell Compendium versions of those spells have been clarified, revised, or in a few cases flat-out rewritten to make sure that they’re clear and interesting additions to your game.

Wizards: Picking apart the book’s description, it reads: “Drawing from a treasure trove of sources, Spell Compendium is the one place to find spells that are referenced time and again: the best, most iconic, most popular, and most frequently used.” To start with, which sources were drawn from? The PHB, or strictly supplemental sourcebooks – in which case, were spells drawn predominantly from any particular sourcebooks over others? Did any spells from previous editions (1st, 2nd, or 3.0) that have not yet been updated, make the list – or from Dragon magazine?

Jesse: There’s a nice sources sidebar at the bottom of page 4 in the Spell Compendium, and PHB spells are notably absent from the book -- we knew that even if we included PHB spells in the book that players would still have to take their PHBs with them to the game table, so we decided to leave room for more spells from supplemental sources. Also, spells in the PHB had their chance for updating during the 3.5 revision, and we felt like spells from other sources were more likely to need the kinds of tweaks and improvements that the Spell Compendium gave us the opportunity to make.

Sidebar: Sources (pg. 4)

This book includes spells from many sources, including Dragon magazine, web articles previously published on the Wizards of the Coast website, and supplements such as Complete Arcane and Manual of the Planes. Most of the spells are presented with little change, but some material has been revised to v.3.5 based on feedback from thousands of D&D players comparing and debating the strengths and weaknesses of spells at gaming conventions, on message boards, on email lists, and over the counters of their friendly local gaming stores. We hope you like the changes we made to some of these spells.

Wizards: And, of course, the second part of the question being, can you provide some insight into which spells were specifically chosen (and why)? Was there a look at the proportion of Divine to Arcane spells, spell levels, and between the various schools/energy types/domains? Were any spells intrinsically tied to their sourcebooks (analyze touchstone from Planar Handbook or slay companion from Ghostwalk) included?

Jesse: When we took a spell from a source, we took all the spells from that source, with a few exceptions. Spells that were so dependant on setting-specific mechanics or other elements were either not brought into the book or were developed so that they fit better into the core game.

Wizards: Are there any new spell descriptors? Such as [positive energy], [curse], [astral], etc?

Jesse: Nope.

Wizards: The book’s description goes on to read: “This convenient reference introduces a new spell format that includes descriptive text.” What disagreement did you have with the previous format? What improvements does the new format allow?

Jesse: Flavor text and rules text often collided in the old format and frequently created confusion. The new format makes it clear where one begins and the other ends. It also provides DMs with read-aloud text that they can use (or hopefully paraphrase) to keep the visual descriptions in their games compelling.

Wizards: As far as organization of spells, does the book include updated class lists (and do these lists cover such non-core classes as the shugenja, hexblade and wu-jen)?

Jesse: The Spell Compendium includes spell lists for all of the Player’s Handbook (and DMG) classes. Because those lists already take up a significant chunk of the book’s page count, we decided to leave quick reference lists for other classes such as wu-jen and hexblade for a web enhancement.

Wizards: What was the hardest spell to cut from the Spell Compendium? Do you have any personal favorites in the book?

Jesse: The hardest decision about the book was how to cull material from the large library of spells that had been designed for 3.0 and 3.5. This decision was complicated by the fact that the compendium couldn’t ever be comprehensive (even if it had 10,000 pages and held every spell published to date, the next month’s releases would contain spells that hadn’t yet been designed when the compendium was put together). Once that decision had been made, cutting individual spells seemed easy because such cuts were made only when they directly duplicated the effects of another spell or did not have a place in a core rulebook (such as some of the initiate spells from Forgotten Realms books).

Wizards: Are there any epic spells? If not, what would you consider the most powerful spell included?

Jesse: There are no epic spells. The sphere of ultimate destruction, a 9th-level sorcerer/wizard spell, was not misnamed. It grants a Fortitude save and has limited mobility, but the fact that it stays in play for pretty much the whole fight and deals big-time damage to whatever it touches makes it a pretty easy choice for one of the most powerful spells in the book.

Wizards: If you personally had a choice of a single 0-1st level spell to cast at will, what would it be?

Jesse: Prestidigitation -- there’s just too much versatility (would I ever have to was dishes again? I don’t think so) in that spell to pick anything else.

Sphere of Ultimate Destruction

Conjuration (Creation)
Level: Sorcerer/wizard 9
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: 2-ft.-radius sphere
Duration: 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw: Fortitude partial; see text
Spell Resistance: Yes

As you successfully complete the intricate gestures and tongue-tying syllables of this spell, you conjure a featureless black sphere of nothingness. Matter that touches the sphere disappears, causing a slight breeze to form that blows endlessly in the direction of the all-consuming blackness.

You create a terrible sphere that destroys anything it touches. The sphere flies up to 30 feet per round. The sphere stops moving when it enters a space containing a creature, automatically striking it. You must actively direct it to a new target as a move action.

When struck by the sphere, a subject takes 2d6 points of damage per caster level (maximum 40d6). Any creature reduced to 0 or fewer hit points by this spell is disintegrated, leaving behind only a trace of fine dust (though its equipment is unaffected). When used against an object, the sphere disintegrates as much as one 10-foot cube of nonliving matter. A creature or object that makes a successful Fortitude save is partially affected, taking only 5d6 points of damage. If this damage reduces the creature or object to 0 or fewer hit points, it is disintegrated.

The effects of the sphere count as a disintegrate spell for the purpose of destroying a wall of force or any other spell or effect specifically affected by disintegrate. If the sphere moves beyond the spell’s range, it winks out.

Material Component: A pinch of dust from a disintegrated creature.

D&D Spell Compendium, December 2005 Release Date, hardcover, full color, 288 pages, $39.95.

You Craft the Creature

Last week, we asked you what enemies our Aberrant Mastermind most despises. We'll be away for the holidays, and so wanted to extend this vote an additional week. However, be sure to look for a Tactics & Tips contest related to the [AMM] starting this Sunday, December 25th!

What enemies does the [AMM] most despise?
Good Fey (e.g., pixie, satyr, nymph)
Lycanthropes (e.g., werebear, wereboar, weretiger)
Dragons (e.g., bronze, copper, pseudodragon)

About the Authors

Design: David Noonan is a designer/developer for Wizards of the Coast. His credits include co-designing Dungeon Master's Guide II, Heroes of Battle, and numerous products for the Eberron campaign setting. He lives in Washington state with his wife, son, and daughter.

Development: Jesse Decker is the development manager for RPGs at Wizards of the Coast. His credits include a two-year stint as editor-in-chief of Dragon magazine; design work on Complete Adventurer, DMG II, and other RPG titles; and development work on numerous D&D products, most of which he can’t talk about yet.


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