In case you missed the work done in Part 1, our goal for this series is to present the spell lists of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5E) in the Basic/Expert (B/X) style by cutting the Wizard spell list down to 6 spell levels of 12 spells each. In doing so, I hope to create a spell list that is more palatable to new players like the edition of old. I’ve gotten as far as pulling in all of the B/X spells that still exist in the game today–in some form–and we’re now finally at the stage where we need to flesh out the spell levels back up to 12 spells each.
To choose or not to choose?
The first thing that became apparent is that we needed a methodology to selecting spells so that our choices remained consistent. Since we’re targeting early and iconic spells, I figured the next logical step would be to evaluate the spell list from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1E) and see what spells they introduced that still exists in 5E today. This should inform our decisions greatly. However, we also need to take into account the expectations of 5E, so I’ve decided to weigh the spells presented in the Starter Set as highly recommended spells by Wizards of the Coast. Hopefully this approach creates a good method for completing our list.
Spell Level 1 from 1E Magic-User/Illusionist and 5E Starter Set
So the spells that we have so far include: Charm Person, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Floating Disk, Identify, Light, Magic Missile, Protection from Evil and Good, Shield, and Sleep. I’ve made an exception for Light to be promoted into Spell Level 1 since it is such an iconic spell and I don’t plan to use Cantrips, but you can substitute that for the following if you wish. With the previous list in mind, we have 10 out of 12 spells selected, so let’s choose the next 2 from the following:
- Alarm (1E)
- Burning Hands (1E, Starter Set)
- Feather Fall (1E)
- Find Familiar (1E)
- Jump (1E)
- Mage Armor (Starter Set)
- Unseen Servant (1E)
- Thunderwave (Starter Set)
Burning Hands is an immediate winner here as it is featured in 1E and the Starter Set, clearly being a heavy favorite. With that chosen, we need one more from the list and I think Alarm, Feather Fall, Mage Armor, and Thunderwave all need to be considered.
Alarm is an interesting case because it is mentioned in the Find Traps spell, adding an expectation that this utility spell is expected to exist. However, Glyph of Warding is also mentioned more often than Alarm throughout the System Reference Document (SRD). Maybe this diminishes the need for Alarm enough.
Feather Fall is up next for consideration as it is a fairly iconic spell and it’s also featured on some items similar to Burning Hands. Does it deserve a place on the list? We’ll have to look at the last two.
We finally come up to our first road block, Mage Armor–this spell’s evaluation is going to be a tricky one. It clearly is important since the Starter Set included it and it also seems to be a cornerstone spell needed in the math of 5E. The spell effectively gives non-armored Wizards a way to actually have non-pathetic AC and in that regard, we can’t just disregard that the implied math for enemies might fail without it. As long as we’re playing 5E, it seems like we should include this.
Lastly, we have Thunderwave, which seems like an interesting choice given that it pushes opponents away. The only downside is that it isn’t iconic and seems to be included more as an indication that Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition had the spell more than anything else. To that end, we can easily cut this from the list.
We now effectively have Alarm, Burning Hands, Feather Fall, and Mage Armor. We can potentially remove Light to free up a space for 3 spells to select from these 4, but these decisions just hurt overall. I think you can’t go wrong with any of these spells still left in the running, but I think I’m going to have to go with Burning Hands, Light, and Mage Armor.
Spell Level 2 from 1E Magic-User/Illusionist and 5E Starter Set
For Spell Level 2, we’ve already selected 12 spells that existed back in B/X. Those spells are: Arcane Lock, Continual Flame, Darkvision, Detect Thoughts, Hold Person, Invisibility, Knock, Levitate, Locate Object, Mirror Image, See Invisibility, and Web. Even though the requirements were met, I figured we should look at what we’re missing just in case.
- Arcanist’s Magic Aura (1E, upgraded to 2 from 1)
- Blindness/Deafness (1E)
- Blur (Starter Set)
- Darkness (1E, Starter Set)
- Enlarge/Reduce (1E, upgraded to 2 from 1)
- Flaming Sphere (Starter Set)
- Gust of Wind (1E, downgraded to 2 from 1)
- Levitate (1E)
- Magic Mouth (1E)
- Misty Step (Starter Set)
- Ray of Enfeeblement (1E)
- Rope Trick (1E)
- Shatter (1E)
- Spider Climb (Starter Set)
- Suggestion (Starter Set)
Of the list, Darkness is the clear choice if we had another space to add a spell. Darkness also implies an interesting aspect of our world–a darkness spell that obscures even racial features and spells like Darkvision. However, I don’t want to go against our B/X given list here, so what’s done is done.
Spell Level 3 from 1E Magic-User/Illusionist and 5E Starter Set
For Spell Level 3, we have 9 out of 12 spells selected already. Those spells are: Animate Dead, Clairvoyance, Dispel Magic, Fireball, Fly, Haste, Lightning Bolt, Remove Curse, and Water Breathing. These also cover all of the spells from the Starter Set at this level as well. Great. We’ve also gotten Fly so I can feel less bad about Feather Fall, Levitate, and Spider Climb. Let’s proceed then to pick out our next 3.
- Bestow Curse (Reversed B/X, 1E)
- Blink (1E)
- Counterspell (iconic and potentially 5E important)
- Fear (1E)
- Glyph of Warding (1E from Cleric)
- Hypnotic Pattern (1E, upgraded to 3 from 2)
- Nondetection (1E, was Non-detection)
- Protection from Energy (1E, was Protection from Fire from Druid, Starter Set)
- Slow (1E)
- Stinking Cloud (1E, upgraded to 3 from 2)
- Tiny Hut (1E)
- Tongues (1E)
This is an interesting list as there isn’t a bunch of auto-includes. I think the spells that make the biggest case for being included in my mind is Bestow Curse since it is the reversed B/X spell of Remove Curse and we are making a B/X list after all despite the importance of reversed spells being a lot less than their normal counterpart. We also have Glyph of Warding, which is more important now that we ignored Alarm. Lastly, we have Fear and Slow being very iconic and popular to round out the 1E-origin spells.
However, that’s not the entire picture. Counterspell presents us with a problem like Mage Armor where it might be part of the core 5E experience to be able to negate spells coming to your party–especially since it takes only a reaction to cast. It’s also immensely iconic having been popularized by other games like Magic the Gathering. This popularity presents us with a real case of bringing it to our list.
As a side note, I do like Blink, Hypnotic Pattern, and Nondetection since I think they bring interesting interactions to the game–I just don’t think the make the cut.
We have to pick 3 from the list of Bestow Curse, Counterspell, Glyph of Warding, Fear, and Slow. Because Glyph of Warding still is accessible by the 5E Cleric, we can cut that from the list. I think our true debate here is between Counterspell and Slow. They serve very similar functions with Counterspell being able to negate spells on reaction and Slow being able to reduce Armor Class, reduce Dexterity saving throws, slow movement, remove reactions, and potentially slow down a spell until the next turn. Given how popular Counterspell is, I simply have to give it the spot.
Our final additions here ends up being Bestow Curse, Counterspell, and Fear.
Spell Level 4 from 1E Magic-User/Illusionist
The list gets harder now that we don’t have any guidance from the Starter Set at all. We have 7 of 12 from our list already selected: Arcane Eye, Confusion, Control Water, Dimension Door, Hallucinatory Terrain, Polymorph, and Wall of Fire. Let’s see what we can do with the 5 remaining spells.
- Faithful Hound (1E, downgraded to 4 from 5)
- Fire Shield (1E)
- Greater Invisibility (new, but multiple invisibility spells were part of 1E)
- Ice Storm (1E)
- Locate Creature (new, but Locate Animals and Locate Plants were part of 1E for Druids)
- Phantasmal Killer (1E)
- Secret Chest (1E, downgraded to 4 from 5)
- Stone Shape (1E, downgraded to 4 from 5)
- Stoneskin (iconic and potentially 5E important)
Of the spells, I think the more iconic ones that were actually from 1E would be Fire Shield, Ice Storm, and Stone Shape–so they get automatically included.
Now we run up to the problem of Stoneskin. Like Mage Armor, it isn’t a 1E spell. However, like Mage Armor, it might be required as part of the math of playing a Wizard in 5E, so I think we need to keep it for edition sanity.
That leaves us with one more spell and I think Faithful Hound, Locate Creature, and Secret Chest as the more interesting of the bunch. With Locate Creature, Clerics still have it and Magic Users and Elves didn’t have it in B/X so we can remove that. Since Faithful Hound is more likely to see real use than Secret Chest, lets choose that and call it a day.
I ended up choosing Faithful Hound, Fire Shield, Ice Storm, Stone Shape, and Stoneskin.
Spell Level 5 from 1E Magic-User/Illusionist
We’re finally at Spell Level 5 and here we already have 9 of 12 spells chosen: Cloudkill, Conjure Elemental, Contact Higher Plane, Geas, Hold Monster, Passwall, Telekinesis, Teleportation Circle, and Wall of Stone.
- Animate Objects (1E from Cleric)
- Arcane Hand (1E rolling up 4 different Hand spells)
- Cone of Cold (1E)
- Creation (1E rolling up Minor Creation at 4 and Major Creation at 5)
- Legend Lore (1E, downgraded to 5 from 6)
- Scrying (iconic to magic)
- Wall of Force (1E)
Of the list, I think the most obvious one is Wall of Force as it’s featured through many aspects of the game including dungeon design, items, and monsters. Cone of Cold is also extremely iconic with it’s name synonymous with games in the fantasy genre in general, so we’ll choose that as well. With one choice left, we have Arcane Hand and Scrying.
Arcane Hand is interesting because it rolls up so many spells into one–making it essentially a best hits of many spells seen in 1E. However, Scrying seems like fundamental magic and I feel like I need to make an exception for it despite our choosing methodology. It just feels like something a Wizard should be able to do. Maybe the tales of gypsies and witches are influencing me too much, but being able to figure something out in crystal balls, bubbly cauldrons, and enchanted mirrors just feels right–I have to choose Scrying over Arcane Hand.
The choices for this level ended up being Cone of Cold, Scrying, and Wall of Force.
Spell Level 6 from 1E Magic-User/Illusionist
We’re in the final stretch and luckily for this level, we’re on the tail end of the list where people are less familiar, allowing us to slot in any spells that should be there for 5E-friendliness more acceptably with 6 of 12 spells to choose. We currently have the following spells: Circle of Death, Disintegrate, Flesh to Stone, Magic Jar, Move Earth, and Wall of Ice.
- Chain Lightning (iconic to the genre)
- Freezing Sphere (1E)
- Globe of Invulnerability (1E)
- Guards and Wards (1E)
- Instant Summons (1E, downgraded to 6 from 7)
- Irresistible Dance (1E, downgraded to 6 from 8)
- Mass Suggestion (1E)
- Programmed Illusion (1E)
- True Seeing (1E from Cleric)
So immediately Globe of Invulnerability should probably be chosen given how iconic it is. I also need to mention Chain Lightning because it’s so important to the lexicon of this genre that I want to seriously consider it in the list. People will be happy to cast it and for those who don’t know it–it’ll open doors into the genre the same way Fireball does.
With True Seeing, Clerics still have it in 5E so we can forego it. I’ll also cut Freezing Sphere and Irresistible Dance because I don’t feel like they’re that iconic to the game.
What we’re left with then is our list of six! This was an easier spell level than expected and we ended up with both iconic spells and weird utility spells to flesh out our world.
We now have Chain Lightning, Globe of Invulnerability, Guards and Wards, Instant Summons, Mass Suggestion, and Programmed Illusion.
I present to you our final list!
B/X to 5E First Level Spells
- Burning Hands
- Charm Person
- Comprehend Languages
- Detect Magic
- Floating Disk
- Light (kept at Level 1 instead of a Cantrip)
- Mage Armor
- Magic Missile
- Protection from Evil and Good
B/X to 5E Second Level Spells
- Arcane Lock
- Continual Flame
- Detect Thoughts
- Hold Person
- Locate Object
- Mirror Image
- See Invisibility
B/X to 5E Third Level Spells
- Animate Dead
- Bestow Curse
- Dispel Magic
- Lightning Bolt
- Remove Curse
- Water Breathing
B/X to 5E Fourth Level Spells
- Arcane Eye
- Control Water
- Dimension Door
- Faithful Hound
- Fire Shield
- Hallucinatory Terrain
- Ice Storm
- Stone Shape
- Wall of Fire
B/X to 5E Fifth Level Spells
- Cone of Cold
- Conjure Elemental
- Contact Higher Plane
- Hold Monster
- Teleportation Circle
- Wall of Force
- Wall of Stone
B/X to 5E Sixth Level Spells
- Circle of Death
- Chain Lightning
- Flesh to Stone
- Globe of Invulnerability
- Guards and Wards
- Instant Summons
- Magic Jar
- Mass Suggestion
- Move Earth
- Programmed Illusion
- Wall of Ice
We’re finally at the end of our journey and I think this list is a very concise selection of spells that should make players new and old feel at home. So spread each spell level over two columns, make your own supplement sheets with your SRD-friendly spells, and I think we can happily close the book on the migration of the Magic-User and Elf spells to 5E Wizards.
This has been a fun exercise just to look back on equal spells per level. If you want an official resource to play a more tightly focused 5th Edition, check out the Basic Rules.