Epic Magic in AD&D 2E

The concept of “epic” levels – and all of the accompanying features therein, such as epic-level spells, magic items, etc. – was named such in D&D Third Edition. While most people ascribed that to the eponymous Epic Level Handbook, in truth the term had been introduced roughly a year prior, in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. While the mechanics were brief and somewhat dissimilar from how their finalized form would look, that was where we were told that characters of great power (i.e. level 21+) were “epic” in what they could do.

Naturally, this term has since been retroactively applied to earlier editions of D&D.

Doing so, however, brings up some interesting issues. While there’s little problem with maintaining that “epic” characters are those above 20th level – despite most earlier editions not placing any special emphasis on 20th level as a stopping point – this becomes more difficult when applied to magic. While most earlier incarnations of D&D didn’t really have “epic-level” magic anyway, AD&D 2E had quite a few – several of which could be used before you hit 20th level!

What follows is not meant to be an overview of all alternative systems of magic in AD&D, but rather is a listing of spells and magic systems that “go beyond” what conventional magic can achieve in AD&D. Whether by scope of effect, exceptional requirements to cast, or sheer power, this is magic that cannot be represented by traditional spells and spellcasting. (Also, keep in mind that all of the systems covered here are “player-facing” in their presentation. What that means is that these are all systems that are meant to be (potentially) utilized by PCs, and so have game rules that depict and regulate them. Forms of magic that are meant to be plot devices, and as such have no game rules – such as the Last Word from the Planescape adventure Dead Gods – are not covered here.)

As such, let’s take a look at the “epic-level magic” of AD&D 2E.

10th+ Level Wizard Spells

The most straightforward understanding of epic-level magic, these are the wizard (i.e. arcane) spells of 10th level and above. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are rather few of them, most being found in Netheril: Empire of Magic, part of the Forgotten Realms’ “Arcane Age” line of products. Even there, it was made clear that spells of level 11 and above were allowable only during the specific time specified in that sub-setting. Only 10th-level spells were usable after that, as demonstrated by the two 10th-level spells found in The Fall of Myth Drannor.

Note that the 10th-level spells from the Dark Sun setting are listed under “Psionic Enchantments,” below.

10th-Level: Lefeber’s weave mythal, mavin’s create volcano, mavin’s earthfast, moryggan’s mythaleash (The Fall of Myth Drannor), proctiv’s move mountain, the srinshee’s spellshift (The Fall of Myth Drannor), tolodine’s killing wind, valdick’s spheresail.

11th-Level: Mavin’s worldweave, proctiv’s breach crystal sphere.

12th-Level: Karsus’s avatar (reprinted in Powers & Pantheons with some changes).

It’s interesting to note that, while Netheril: Empire of Magic has very little to say about using 10th-level spells after the fall of the titular Netheril, The Fall of Myth Drannor outlines that casting 10th-level spells in the Forgotten Realms is a process restricted only to the highest-level spellcasters, and is subject to divine review. Secrets of the Magister would later impose even more stringent penalties and restrictions upon casting 10th-level spells in the Realms.

Archmagic

While there were a few third-party products with level 10+ spells for pre-Third Edition D&D (The Tome of Mighty Magic, from North Pole Publications and later reprinted by Gamescience, comes to mind), Mayfair Games’ Archmagic boxed set deserves special mention for the quality of what it offers. Part of their “Role-Aids” line of AD&D-compatible materials, this boxed set introduced numerous epic-level spells, going all the way up to level 15! It should be noted, however, that this boxed set was printed before Netheril: Empire of Magic, and so has its epic-level spells scale differently (e.g. there are no 12th-level spells that will make you a god the way karsus’s avatar will). Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness they’re listed below:

10th-Level: Dual identity, twisted path.

11th-Level: Glory everlasting, minions.

12th-Level: Saving grace, unbearable insight, unnatural fortitude.

13th-Level: Bane divine, blight, enslave the sky, entropy unbound, exclusive essence, knell of darkness, manifest destiny, open gate, persistent rebirth.

14th-Level: Celestial realignment, doom inexorable, genesis.

15th-Level: Greater apocalypse.

Quest Spells

Introduced in the Tome of Magic, quest spells are divine spells of exceptional power that deities will grant to their priests under exigent circumstances. Priests can receive a quest spell without being epic-level, however; the Tome of Magic outlines that priests can receive a quest spell at as low as 10th level (though 12+ is more typical)! Several more quest spells were introduced in The Book of Priestcraft, with each one being specific to a deity of the Birthright campaign setting.

Interestingly, the alternate progression charts for characters in Netheril: Empire of Magic placed quest spells as being something gained via advancement, allowing the strongest priests (level 40+) to receive and use quest spells as a matter of course, instead of deities granting them to higher-level followers in response to notable events. It also had a table showing what quest spells were granted by each deity in that sub-setting.

Note that, in AD&D 2E, the highest level of divine spells that could be granted to clerics, druids, and other full-progression divine spellcasters depended not only on the priest’s level, but also on the strength of the deity. Various near-divine entities could only grant spells of up to 4th level (and often with additional restrictions), demigods could grant spells of up to 5th level, lesser deities could grant spells of up to 6th level, and intermediate and greater deities could grant spells of up to 7th level (the highest level normally available in AD&D 2E). This created a question of which deities could grant quest spells.

While the Tome of Magic is silent on the issue, The Book of Priestcraft lists quest spells for all of its deities, including lesser deities. However, the Greyhawk Player’s Guide states that only greater deities can grant quest spells. (I also distinctly recall – but cannot locate – a question in Dragon magazine’s “Sage Advice” column where Skip Williams stated that only greater or intermediate deities could grant quest spells. Note that the “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #182 says that Dark Sun priests – elemental clerics, druids, and templars, can all receive quest spells.) As such, individual DMs will need to make a final ruling, there.

Quest Spells: Abundance, animal hordeavani’s resuscitation (TBoP), avatar form (TBoP), circle of sunmotes, conformancedaythief (TBoP), elemental swarmerik’s animal compulsion (TBoP), etherwalk, fear contagionhaelyn’s wisdom (TBoP), health blessing, highway, imago interrogation, implosion/inversion, interdictionkriesha’s cursed quest (TBoP), laerme’s emissary (TBoP), mebhaighl touch (TBoP), mindnet, planar quest, preservation, revelation, reversion, robe of healingsera’s blessed luck (TBoP), siege wallship of tears (TBoP), shooting stars, sphere of security, spiral of degeneration, stalker, storm of vengeancetattoos of protection (TBoP), transformation, undead plague, warband quest, ward matrixwarlords of cuiraécen (TBoP), wolf spirits.

Psionic Enchantments

Although presented under the slot-based system of spell memorization, the psionic enchantments of the Dark Sun setting – presented in Dragon Kings and then reprinted (albeit only for the arcane spells, and even then only a few) in Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas – are different enough to warrant their own section. (The rules for priest characters above 20th level are reprinted in Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but not the actual spells themselves.)

What makes psionic enchantments so different is the requirements to cast them. Rather than needing exotic components or lengthy preparation times (though these are also oftentimes needed), characters must reach 20th level in their requisite spellcasting class AND be a 20th level psionicist! More than that, however, they must also have begun to transform into an advanced being: an elemental (clerics), spirit of the land (druid), avangion (preserver), or dragon (defiler). Such beings are the only ones capable of utilizing psionic enchantments. As such, while it’s technically possible that characters beyond the Dark Sun setting could learn to use these spells, it’s unsurprising that such a thing has never been seen.

10th-Level (arcane): Abrasion, advanced domination, defiler metamorphosis, defiling regeneration, defiling stasis, dome of invulnerability, enchanted armaments, enslave elemental, immediate animation, just sovereign, life extension, magical minions, magical plague, masquerade, mass fanaticism, mountain fortress, pact, preserver metamorphosis, prolific forestation, prolific vegetation, pure breed, raise nation, recruitment, reverse loyalties, rift, rolling road, undead’s lineage, wall of ash.

8th-Level (divine): Alter climate, create oasis, forever minions, hasten crops, reverse winds, wild weather.

9th-Level (divine): Air of permanence, disruption, mountainous barrier, pocket dimension, prolific vegetation, storm legion.

10th-Level (divine): Cleanse, insect host, planar vassal, prolific forestation, rift, silt bridge.

True Dweomers

Presented in Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns, true dweomers are quite clearly the ancestor of D&D Third Edition’s epic spells. Both utilize guidelines and tables to allow players and DMs to construct custom spells of great power, usable by wizards or priests. Although High-Level Campaigns compares these to psionic enchantments (calling the latter a formalized development of the former), in fact the two are quite obviously different in virtually every regard.

Other than the example true dweomers in High-Level Campaigns, we don’t see any others…for the most part. One partial exception stands out, however. In Reverse Dungeon, it’s possible for characters to locate the spells invoked devastation and rain of colorless fire. Initially stated as being “9th-level wizard spells that […] have only one-third chance to learn,” a parenthetical note says to use true dweomers from High-Level Campaigns if that book is in play. Both are limited recreations of the original versions, and although they’re not presented with full write-ups, they do have enough described about them to make use of them in a game (though, given the utter annihilation both unleash, including killing the caster, that’s not saying very much).

True Dweomers: Hurd’s obligation, kolin’s undead legion, kreb’s flaming dragon, kreb’s stately veil, nazzer’s nullification, neja’s irresistable plea, neja’s toadstool, neja’s unfailing contempt, ratecliffe’s deadly finger, tenser’s telling blow, wulf’s erasure, wulf’s rectification, yunni’s herald.

War Magic and Battle Spells

Introduced in the Birthright Campaign Setting, and expanded with naval war magic in Cities of the Sun (the latter of which was reprinted in Naval Battle Rules: The Seas of Cerilia), war magic sounds like an incredibly powerful form of new magic. In fact, “war magic” is an entirely artificial distinction, one made solely by Birthright’s mass combat rules. Specifically, “war magic” is the term for existing spells that are large-scale enough to have an effect on mass combat; any other spells cast are simply too insignificant to be represented under the mass combat rules. War magic is broken up into categories based on their effects on a mass combat scenario. The list of war magic spells can be found on war cards #94-101 in the Birthright Campaign Setting.

Transmutations: Transmute rock to mud, transmute water to dust, dig, move earth.

Fogs: Wall of fog, fog cloud, pyrotechnics, solid fog, obscurement, control weather.

Massmorphs: Massmorph, hallucinatory forest, mass invisibility.

Hallucinatory Terrain: The hallucinatory terrain spell has its own war card in the Birthright Campaign Setting explaining its effects in battles.

Walls: Wall of ice, wall of fire, wall of stone, wall of force, wall of iron, wall of thorns.

Blesses: Bless, chant, prayer.

Wizard Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Cloudkill, death fog, prismatic spray, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm, prismatic wall, prismatic sphere.

Wizard Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Fireball, lightning bolt, ice storm, death spell, delayed blast fireball, symbol, power word stun, power word kill.

Wizard Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Phantasmal force, improved phantasmal force, spectral force, fear, advanced illusion, chaos, permanent illusion, programmed illusion.

Priest Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Fire storm.

Priest Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Call lightning, flame strike, blade barrier, fire seeds, creeping doom, symbol, earthquake, holy word.

Priest Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Pyrotechnics, insect plague, sunray, illusory artillery, spike growth, spike stones.

The following listings are from war cards #CS91-CS98 in Cities of the Sun (reprinted as war cards #SC44-SC51 in Naval Battle Rules). These are specifically with regard to naval war magic, meaning that they target ships and crews rather than ground-based armies. While these have some overlap with the war magic spells listed above, there are enough differences (i.e. spells being added, deleted, and moved between categories, as well as aggregating wizard and priest attack spells into a single entry) to warrant listing them separately here:

Crew-affecting Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Cloudkill, death fog.

Crew-affecting Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Blade barrier, chaos, symbol, mass charm, fear, prismatic spray, death spell.

Crew-affecting Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Confusion, pyrotechnics, insect plague, web, rainbow pattern, hypnotic pattern.

Illusions: Phantasmal force, improved phantasmal force, spectral force, advanced illusion, permanent illusion, programmed illusion.

Fog: Wall of fog, fog cloud, pyrotechnics, obscurement, control weather.

Movement Spells: Control weather, control winds, gust of wind.

Barriers: Solid fog, wall of force, lower water, otiluke’s freezing sphere, wall of ice.

Bless: Bless, chant, prayer.

Turn Wood: The turn wood spell has its own war card, allowing the caster to move a single vessel one “battle area” in the direction of their choice.

Attack Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Disintegrate, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm, fire storm.

Attack Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Fireball, lightning bolt, delayed blast fireball, wall of fire, chain lightning, call lightning, produce fire, fire seeds.

Attack Spells (H – attacking unit is damaged): Flame arrow, melf’s minute meteors, warp wood, flame strike.

Battle spells – listed in The Book of Magecraft and The Book of Priestcraft – are a related category of war magic, in that a “battle spell” is a mass combat variation of a spell that would ordinarily not have an effect on large-scale battles. So while a magic missile spell would not have any notable effect on a mass combat, rain of magic missiles would. Both books list the methods by which battle spells may be researched (and improved upon). Battle spells do not take up a higher level than their tactical counterparts, but often require greater components to cast. Moreover, the books mention that battle spells are not made for a small-scale tactical engagement, and that DMs will need to adjudicate when a situation is or is not a mass combat encounter.

In the listings below, the parenthetical number indicates the spell’s level:

Wizard Battle Spells: Charm unit (1), rain of magic missiles (1), glittering shower (2), rolling fire (2), flying trops (3), monster unit summoning I (3), slow unit (3), aura of invulnerability (4), enchanted weapons (4), stoneskinned army (4), animate army (5), shadow troops (5), wolf in the fold (5).

Priest Battle Spells: Erik’s entanglement (1), avani’s asylum (1), oaken strike (1), turn undead unit (1), barkskinned unit (1), charm unit (2), hammer storm (2), animate army (3), dispel battle magic (3), haelyn’s holy warding (3), cure unit (4), ruornil’s silver robes (4).

Elven High Magic

The idea of elves having a form of subtle yet supremely powerful magic is one that predates D&D. However, while the game was quite comfortable with nodding in that direction, the demihuman level limits for elves caused a contradiction between what was alluded to and what was possible under the game rules. Insofar as the Forgotten Realms was concerned, the answer to that was that elves had a powerful form of ritual magic known as “High Magic.” While typically used as a background element, game rules for High Magic were finally presented in Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, another product in the “Arcane Age” line.

High Magic rituals are, at the top end, extremely powerful, but this is balanced by extremely stringent requirements and heavy backlash effects on the casters. Rituals are divided into three categories (from weakest to strongest): Solitude, Complement, and Myriad. Each ritual has two listings, the first in Elvish and the second being the Common translation. Both are given below:

Rituals of Solitude: Adoessuor/”The Reverie of Ages,” Akh’Faen’Tel’Quess/”Life of Duty, Form of the People’s Need,” Daoin’Teague’Feer/”Starshine Upon the People,” Evaliir’Enevahr/”The Song of Evenahr,” Kai’Soeh’takal/”Skin and Breath of the Wyrm,” Ol’Iirtal’Eithun/”Flights of True Mark, Arrows of Art,” Saloh’Cint’Nias/”Gift of Alliance,” Theur’foqal/”Summoned Shield, Conjured Screen,” U’Aestar’Kess/”One Heart, One Mind, One Breath,” Vuorl’Kyshuf/”A Message on Birds’ Wings to Silver.”

Rituals of Complement: Ahrmaesuol/”The High Revival, Restoration,” Ghaatiil/”The Traveling Path,” Ialyshae’Seldar’Wihylos/”Sacraments of the Seldarine Blessing,” Fhaor’Akh’Tel’Quess/”Tribute of One’s Duty to the People,” N’Maernthor/”Hidden Homeland,” N’Tel’Orar/”Corrosion/Erosion,” Oacil’Quevan/”The Forms of Unity and Age Among Forests,” Quamaniith/”The Vow Tangible,” Suyoll/”The Revival.”

Rituals of Myriad: Arrn’Tel’Orar/”Storm Erosion,” Elaorman/”Place from All Around and Nowhere, Home of Summoning,” N’Quor’Khaor/”The Banishing, Binding Outside of the People’s Lands,” Uaul’Selu’Keryth/”The Sundering, At War with the Weave.”

Realm Spells

Realm spells are another type of large-scale magic found in the Birthright setting. Initially presented in the Birthright Campaign Setting – with more found in The Book of Magecraft and The Book of Priestcraft – realm magic requires that a wizard or priest not only have a divine bloodline, but also have mastered a domain and formed a connection to it. Casting a realm spell requires a realm with enough inherent magic (or enough devotional energy, for priests), sufficient gold, enough of a connection to the land, requisite personal power, and a month of time. But as exacting as that is, the results can be well worth it.

Realm spells do not have spell levels. Instead, each requires a sufficient character level (that is, level of wizard or priest; these days we’d call it “caster level”) in order to cast, among other prerequisites as listed above. In the listings below, the parenthetical numbers indicate the necessary character level in order to cast each realm spell.

Wizard Realm Spells: Alchemy (1st), dispel realm magic (1st), scry (1st), subversion (1st), battle fury (2nd) (TBoM), coffer credit (2nd) (TBoM), detect ley line (2nd) (TBoM), inflame (2nd) (TBoM), royal facade (2nd) (TBoM), trace ley line (2nd) (TBoM), demagogue (3rd), ley trap (3rd) (TBoM), mask ley line (3rd) (TBoM), mass destruction (3rd), summoning (3rd), transport (3rd), gold rush (4th) (TBoM), protect source (4th) (TBoM), regent site (4th) (TBoM), death plague (5th), feign destruction (5th) (TBoM), protect ley line (5th) (TBoM), stronghold (5th), warding (5th), defection (6th) (TBoM), legion of dead (7th), ley ward (7th) (TBoM), raze (7th), shadow block (8th) (TBoM), deactivate ley line (9th) (TBoM), enhance source (9th) (TBoM), deplete mebhaighl (10th) (TBoM), siphon mebhaighl (12th) (TBoM), sunder ley line (12th) (TBoM), poison source (16th) (TBoM).

Priest Realm Spells: Bless army (1st), bless land (1st), dispel realm magic (1st), investiture (1st), protection from realm magic (1st) (TBoP), true believer (1st) (TBoP), holy war (2nd) (TBoP), magical tithe (2nd) (TBoP), maintain armies (2nd) (TBoP), blight (3rd), population growth (3rd) (TBoP), ward realm (3rd) (TBoP), bless holding (4th) (TBoP), conversion(4th) (TBoP), excommunicate (5th) (TBoP), honest dealings (5th), legion of dead (5th) (TBoP), erik’s mighty forests (6th) (TBoP), one true faith (12th) (TBoP), consecrate relic (16th) (TBoP).

High Sciences

Unlike everything mentioned up until now, the high sciences are not a form of magic. Rather, they’re psionic in nature. This is not an insignificant point, as psionics – initially presented in PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, and later updated in Player’s Option: Skills & Powers (with the updated rules being reprinted in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Revised and Expanded) – in AD&D 2E are very different from magic, and the default is that they don’t interact with each other unless something says that they do.

While psionics are used in psionic enchantments (listed above), those are more magical in nature than psionic. Rather, psionic enchantments utilize a character’s psionic abilities to hone their mind to handle stronger magical powers (to paraphrase what it says in Dragon Kings). However, high sciences – presented in The Will and the Way – are entirely psionic in nature. Each one of the apex of a particular psionic discipline, and only a single-classed psionicist can attempt to learn one (so would-be users of psionic enchantments should become a psionicist first in order to learn a high science, and then dual-class). Even then, they can only learn the high science for their primary discipline, and learning it requires intense research. Each one is listed below, with its associated psionic discipline noted parenthetically.

High Sciences: Cosmic awareness (clairsentience), elemental composition (psychometabolism), mass contact (telepathy), megakinesis (psychokinesis), planar transposition (psychoportation).

Bonus: Immortal-Level Spells

Everything up until now has been with regard to AD&D Second Edition, largely because that’s the only edition that really had magic that went above and beyond standard spellcasting…with one exception.

The Immortals of (what’s now called) Basic Dungeons & Dragons, or BD&D, were initially introduced in Set 5: Immortals Rules. While this provided rules for PCs to ascend beyond mortality and become gods (strictly speaking the Immortals were said not to be gods, but in practical terms this was a distinction without a difference), it had comparatively little to say about what magic Immortals used, largely restricting itself to how mortal spells could be invoked via expenditures of an Immortal’s innate power.

This was tweaked when the Immortal-level rules were revised in Wrath of the Immortals. While these rules still kept the ability of Immortals to directly invoke mortal spells (often with a few upgrades), this set introduced Immortal-level spells, being magic that only Immortals could learn and cast. These spells are as follows:

Immortal-Level Spells: Bestow, conceal magical nature, create species, detect immortal magic, hear supplicants, immortal eye, increase spell duration, power attack, probe, probe-shield, reduce saving throw, shape reality, transform.

Conclusion

With eight different listings for AD&D 2E and one for Basic D&D, these represent the sum total of what could reasonably be considered “epic” magic in pre-Third Edition D&D. As noted at the beginning of the article, there are plenty of other magic systems out there for AD&D 2E – such as the rune magic of vikings and giants, for example – but these are the ones that push the limits of what magic (and psionics) is normally capable of under the game rules. If you plan on using them in your game, take care that they don’t make a mess of your campaign, as using epic magic without due consideration can result in a catastrophe of epic proportions.

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