As was the case with Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition (D&D 3e) characters with powerful magical weapons at their disposal were some of the most powerful in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e). Unlike D&D 3e, however, AD&D 2e made it a point to ascribe such powers as rare in the game.
. . . The vast majority of people in a fantasy campaign lack these traits or have never had the opportunity to develop them. The baker may be a bright and clever fellow, but, following in his father’s footsteps, he has spent his life learning the arts of bread making. There has simply been no time in his life for the study of old books and crumbling scrolls. The hard-working peasant may be pious and upright in his faith, but he lacks the time for the contemplative and scholarly training required of a priest. So it is only a fortunate few who have the ability and opportunity to learn the arcane lore of spellcasting . . .Cook, 106
By making magical power – especially powerful magics – a rare commodity it answers many of the questions that players of newer editions of the game have found troublesome. Why aren’t all the rulers constantly being brought back from the dead? Because finding someone capable of performing the magical spells necessary isn’t as easy as running down to the corner drugstore and picking up a pack of aspirin. Why aren’t kingdoms using magical spells to rain down nuclear fire on their rivals regularly? Because magic is rare and very few people are capable of mastering.
The rarity of magic in AD&D 2e is something that tends to get lost as volumes of magical encyclopedia and supplemental books were published throughout the system’s lifetime. It creates an impression in modern players that the older edition treated magic as routine as later editions. Which clearly wasn’t true.
AD&D 2e divided magic into two categories: Wizard or Priest. These categories represented a generalized understanding of how magic spells were learned, maintained, and used in the game. Let’s look at Wizard spells first.
While a variety of characters are able to use Wizard spells in AD&D 2e the underlying theories as to how magic operates are only understood in the loosest sense. The Player’s handbook would describe it as follows: “. . . The most commonly accepted idea is that the mysterious combination of words, gestures, and materials that make up a spell somehow traps an extra-dimensional source of energy that in turn causes the desired effect . . . how this happens is not very important to the majority of wizards . . .” (Cook, 107).
This vague hand waving of how magic works is in stark contrast to other games such as Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play Second Edition (WFRP 2e). In WFRP 2e Magic was given a firmer in game grounding based on the literature that had been used to define the system for the better part of the last thirty years as you can see below:
. . . to use magic is to give shape to the stuff of raw Chaos. A Wizard uses his will and his very flesh to form a conduit between this world and the immaterial realm . . . drawing power from the ‘winds’ of magic. Through training, will power and inborn talent a Magister may summon fire, create illusions, or transmute lead into gold. At the same time, he may bring disaster, or attract the attention of unseen eyes. Many whisper that Daemons ride the Winds of Magic, ever keen to spot those who tarry in their domain . . . raw magic is unified within the Realm of Chaos, when it comes into this world it refracts into eight ‘colours’, known collectively as the Winds of Magic. Spellcasters gain their power by tapping into these Winds of Magic . . .”Pramas, 140
If magic simply ‘works’ in AD&D 2e then how do we learn anything in a formalized way?
AD&D 2e answers that question in a rather brilliant way. By declaring that the mage doesn’t fully understand why spells work if they move their hands in a certain way – and that they understand that it only functions if they perform the correct motions and words – it focuses the player of magical characters on the idea that they must follow the pattern ascribed for the spell or it won’t function at all. This is unlike the idea of “winds of magic” as WFRP 2e used as that grounding allows ingenious players the room to change the fundamental ways that magic is warped to their ends as there is an underlying logic to how the magic works.
Illusion Magic is Hard
Arguably, for the first time since I’ve been reading the AD&D 2e Player’s Handbook, we have our first real warning about how the game can be made more difficult.
. . . Of all spells, those of the illusion school cause the most problems. Not that they are more difficult for your player character to cast, but these spells are more difficult for you to role-play and for your DM to adjudicate. Illusions rely on the idea of believability, which in turn relies on the situation and the state of mind of the victim . . . You must role-play this for your character . . .
The key to successful illusions or phantasms is believability, which depends on three main factors: what the caster attempts, what the victim expects, and what is happening at the moment the spell is cast. By combining the information from these three areas, the player and the DM should be able to create and adjudicate reasonable illusions and phantasms . . .”Cook, 108
I’ll need to spend some more time on this later but for now the most important things we need to remember about illusion spells is that for them to work we have to have reason to believe them and that means that the situation in the game has to allow for the possibility that something could happen in the character’s mind. For example, it would be more difficult to get a character to believe a ghost had appeared and was attempting to frighten them away from an area if it were sunny and they were with other characters who didn’t believe in ghosts.
Context is king.
Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 106, 107 PRINT
Pramas, Chris, et al. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition. UK: Black Industries, 2005. pg 140