Monday, July 24, 2017

AD&D Wizard's Spell Compendium Index

We wrote previously about our appreciation for the AD&D Wizard's Spell Compendium, compiled by Mark Middleton, here. Although released in the years 1996-1998, it wasn't branded as "2nd Edition"; rather, the intent of the product was to be a general AD&D resource covering publications from the game any time from 1975-1995. (That said, you'll find it categorized as "2E" in most places online just because of the time frame, and the format of the spell matches 2E, e.g., ranges in units of yards by default).

The four volumes have been missing from DriveThruRPG for some time, but as of this May, the first two volumes reappeared with improved scans, OCR, and indexing. Personally, I downloaded those, along with the older copies of volumes 3-4 I had, merged them with a PDF tool, and now have a single document close to 1,200 pages in length with all the AD&D spells in one place. It's pretty sweet.

Compiling The Index

One thing I'm not alone in searching for in the past is a digitized index of those spells to possibly use for analysis and input to software applications. James Rizza at Dragonsfoot made what seems to be the first attempt at this (here). We should be very grateful for that work (I'm pretty sure it was all manually entered, including schools, ranges, durations, material component listings, etc.), but it has a number of limitations. The most glaring is that every spell was entered multiple times, once for each school of magic to which it belongs. That runs up against the cardinal rule of database management, that is, to not duplicate the same data in multiple places -- because every copy is another opportunity for errors to creep in, fields to fall out-of-synch, etc. (and indeed they did in this case). It makes it impossible to gather vital statistics on the work, starting with simply knowing how many different spells there are. (I'm sure that was done to enable sorting by school, which was an important mechanic for 2E specialty spellcasters, but an immensely better way to do that would be to use the spreadsheet FIND function appropriately.)

So, below you'll see a version that I massively re-formatted and corrected. Where the original spreadsheet was all-caps, I put this one in title case (matching the text of the Compendium itself). I de-duplicated all of the spells and collected the schools into one field each. I separated out reversed spell names from the name field, where they were previously appended. I did the same with any special origins (like Old Empire, Red Wizards, Dragon Knights, etc.) -- except in the dozen or so cases where it was necessary to avoid duplicating another spell's name. I programmatically reformatted most of the ranges, durations, areas, with more standardized abbreviations, and shortened many of the material component listings. I deleted the extra columns for various specialty wizards which could be discovered by inspecting the schools listing (but were in many places out-of-synch). I corrected some spell name typos and missing spells. And I inserted the frequency data indicated in the Compendium Vol. 4 table for generalist mages.

We shouldn't feel surprised at errors in the original table; granted that it had 3,442 records × 24 fields/record = 82,608 total fields, even if the original author was working at 99% accuracy, we would still expect close to a thousand fields to have errors. I'm sure there's still a bunch of errors that I haven't yet caught. Feel free to send me more corrections if you find them (esp., missing spells?).

Statistics and Conclusions

Now we can present some descriptive statistics on the overall work:

Here are the level statistics in chart form:

For the levels, note that levels 3-4 are modal; this seems to be the "natural" thing to happen if someone doesn't enforce an outside requirement on level frequency -- it's the same thing that appears in Original D&D Vol-1. And here are the frequencies in a chart:

As you may expect, the letters C, U, R, V stand for the frequencies Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Very Rare. These are only entered as they appear in the Volume 4 "General Mage Spell List" (p. 1093-1101). The implication is that the 38% of spells marked as "None" here, that is, not appearing in that list, are "Restricted" spells given only to some specialty wizard type, and presumably appearing in one of the many other tables that follow in the Compendium. It's interesting that Uncommon is the most infrequently-used frequency.

We can also dis-aggregate the spells by level and frequency on separate axes. Consider the following chart:

Looking down the depth of that 3D chart, notice that at 1st level, more of the spells are Common than any other frequency. Meanwhile, around levels 2-5 there are more spells at the Rare or Very Rare ratings (and these are approximately the same at levels 3-4). However, at levels 6-9 the spells are mostly Very Rare (and the Rare category is almost totally unused at the uppermost levels).

Finally, here are compilations of the special origins and schools of magic to be found in the database:
  • Special Origins: 21 [Alhoon, Bard, Beholder, Dragon, Dragon Knight, Drow, Elf, Galeb Duhr, Ghul, Hishna, Necromancer, Neogi, Ninja, Old Empire, Paramander, Phaerimm, Pluma, Red Wizard, Savant, Witch, Wu Jen]
  • Schools of Magic: 28 [Abjuration, Air, Alchemy, All, Alteration, Artifice, Charm, Chronomancy, Conjuration, Dimension, Divination, Earth, Enchantment, Evocation, Fire, Force, Geometry, Illusion, Invocation, Mentalism, Necromancy, Phantasm, Shadow, Song, Summoning, Universal, Water, Wild]

Further Research

Among the limitations in the current index are the lack of data for setting-specific information, which are indicated in the Compendium with graphical icons next to many of the spells (e.g., Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, etc.; see p. 1126-1136). While the information for many specialty wizards can be parsed from the schools field (assuming no errors there?), other specialty mages appear at the end of the Compendium that would need additional field(s) to include (e.g., Deathmaster, Frost Mage, Red Wizards, Storm Mage, Witches, etc.; see p. 1137-1148). If you're generous enough with your time to add those, then do please forward it here so that we can share them.

Of course, many of us use a ruleset with different spell formatting than 2E. If I were to use a few entries here as surprise spice in my games, I'd probably convert all the ranges to either 6, 12, or 24 inches (depending on whether the listed range was closest to 60, 120, or 240 yards for a 12th-level wizard [i.e., 5, 10, or 20 yards/level]). And I'd convert durations to either 3, 6, or 12 turns (depending on whether the listed duration was closest to 1, 2, or 5 rounds per level). This is actually the conversion protocol that I generally used when analyzing spells for the 2nd edition of the Book of Spells work.

Data Download

Get the revised Wizard's Spell Compendium Index at the link below!


  1. Existing more 2nd and 3rd level spells than 1st level spell always bothered me but crossing it with rarity makes sense to me now.

    My interpretation of this is: Lower level spells are simpler and more common because they are all around spells usable in many situations or very frequently while higher levels spells are used in specific context. Middle level spells are more numerous because they are the middle ground between simplicity, power, etc...

    Roughly comparing it to Math, lower level spells are basic arithmetics, middle level spells are linear algebra and calculus and higher levels spells are the Simplex algorithm and the Boltzmann equation...

    1. I like to think that low-level Magic-Users are more desperate for spells and material in general, and hence more willing to trade spells they find. By the time they hit level 3 and/or start finding 2nd level spells, they start to realize how valuable it is to hold onto a rare spell instead of disseminating it.

    2. From an outside design perspective, I tend to think that those middle levels are where the average "interesting" spell creation will land (e.g., where fireball, lightning bolt from Chainmail landed). If it has any novel features then it's likely above 1st-2nd; if it's actually usable in a game and not just a plot point, then it's likely less than 7th-9th.

    3. A bit off-topic but I have made some spreadsheets and counted the number of times a spell appeared in some spell list (Wizard, Cleric, Druid) together
      from some books (OD&D, Rules Cyclopedia, AD&D 1e) and found the following list:

      N Spell name
      9 Protection from Evil 10' radius
      8 Cure Wounds, Serious
      8 Neutralize Poison
      8 Detect Magic
      8 Dispel Magic
      8 Speak with Plants
      8 Sticks To Snakes
      7 Control Weather
      7 Create Water
      6 Continual Light
      6 Detect Evil
      6 Light
      6 Locate Object
      6 Protection from Evil
      6 Remove Curse
      6 Animate Dead
      6 Transmute Rock to Mud/Dissolve
      6 Water Breathing

      That means "8 Detect Magic" means that this spell appeared 8 times in the spells lists of that books (and that only one class in one version didn't had "Dispel Magic").

    4. Interesting! Thanks for sharing that.

  2. I have literally been looking for this resource for years... even started compiling my own database from the Spell Compendiums.

    Thank you.

    1. One criticism: there's no description (though that's understandable, it's a lot of reading to do and the sheer volume allows for more inconsistencies) and there's no damage rating. The latter is one that I'm really curious about.

      I may continue with my index and add damage as a separate column; if I do, I'll post a copy.