Organization of Spells

For the longest time, I defended the AD&D organization of spells by class and level as being the best way to do things. It made more sense, I argued, when selecting a character’s spells for the day.

However, at the urging of some folks here a few months ago, I decided to undertake an experiment with the Adventures Dark and Deep book. There, I simply included everything, cantrips included, alphabetically. The spell lists are still there, of course, organized by class and level. But the spell descriptions themselves are alphabetical.

I’ve been using my pre-prototype copy for personal use over the last couple of months, and I’ve got to say that the new system of organization is a huge improvement, at least in my experience. Having the spell lists makes daily spell selection just as easy. I’m experimenting with the same sort of scheme for magical items in the GMT, and it looks like it’ll be equally useful.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Organization of Spells

  1. I think the OD&D/AD&D presentation of spells is defensible, but, in terms of ease of use, I think that the approach adopted by 3e — alphabetical order — yields the most benefits.

  2. Absolutely. When it comes time to look up a spell because some monster has "stick wickets as the jester spell at will" or a wand gives you the option of casting either "abjure semicolons" (for 1 charge) or "shatter continent" (for 3 charges) it's a pain in the ass to go through and figure out what class has those spells and at what levels.

    Now, this breaks down when you have a game with over 2000 spells, because it becomes impossible to digest what spells are out there – try reading the spells chapter in the Everquest d20 RPG manual to get mental indigestion. IMO, it's best if the spell lists provide a quick synopsis of each spell.

  3. I think alphabetical by level is, at least in certain circumstances, easier on players, but I agree that fully alphabetical is definitely preferable from a DM standpoint.

  4. I think it's valuable to have spell lists organized in a variety of ways, redundant to the point of the extreme, at least in terms of spell name, level, and basic info like that. But the full description and info should indeed, for ease of research, be simply alphabetical.

  5. Wow. I must be one of those people who finds it easier to look up spells by level, huh?

    The whole alphabetical thing is a real pain when trying to learn spells, because it feels like they're shotgunned around. You can't look at the long-form description when you're checking of-level spells, and frankly that's a damn pain for me.

  6. I’m unhappy with the way Wizard’s “3e” D&D did it. I think there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t play the game frequently enough and don’t always play casters, so I haven’t internalized the spells much. Also, I think the details tend to matter more in 3e, although that—of course—varies by DM. So, when picking spells, I really needed to look at all the full descriptions.

    While 3e is fast for looking up a single spell. I was fine with the two-step alphabetical index + descriptions by class and level from 2e, though.

    I think the preference also depends upon the quirks of the individual.

    The big advantage of 3e and Labyrinth Lord and any game with in electronic format is that they can be searched. The spells can even be put into a database and queried. (Making some kind of spell database for LL is on my to-do list.)

    Even without that, however, the author could generate multiple formats and let players print out whichever version works best for them.

  7. My preference is for two lists: one by level, with casting details (casting time, components etc.) and a one line precis of the spell effect, and another purely alphabetical with full spell descriptions. That all takes up more space, but I think it pays off in usability.

    I never played magic-users, but I GM'd a lot, so the old listing by level was a royal pain for me.

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