Thursday, November 29, 2012

No Spell Scrolls for Clerics

Zereth casting a spell from a clerical scroll in "The Sorcerer's Jewel". Art by Jim Roslof. Scan from Grognardia

     One aspect of Holmes Basic that often jumps out at new readers (since it is not found in other editions of D&D) is the scrolls on the Treasure Tables that have Potion, Ring or Wand spells. Another feature that is much less frequently noted is that only magic-users can use scrolls with clerical spells!

      True, clerical scrolls are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the first printing of the Holmes Basic. But the Scroll Table indicates that scrolls can contain "any of the spells previously described, under Spells or described here as potions, rings, wands, etc" (pg 36). Here "spells" must include both magic-user and cleric spells, given that scrolls can also contain non-standard spells from magic-items. The section on Scrolls then goes on to state that "The spells written on scrolls can be read only by magic-users, except for the protection spells" (pg 37). Thus, together Holmes suggests that scrolls with clerical spells exist but can only be used by magic-users.

      It's easy to see where this interpretation came from in the OD&D rules. Monsters & Treasure, page 24, gives a 25% chance of a scroll having clerical spells, with no further indication on who can read these scrolls, but page 32 says, "All Scrolls are spells for Magic-Users, and regardless of the level of the spell they can be used by any Magic-User capable of reading them". Furthermore, the description of Read Magic in Vol I indicates that it is the "means by which incantations on an item or scroll are read. Without such a spell or similar device magic is unintelligible to even a Magic-User" (Holmes also retains this sentence in the description of this spell in the Basic rulebook). Magic-users are also the only ones indicated as being able to make magic items in both OD&D and Holmes. I imagine this is just an oversight in the OD&D rules, with the statement about cleric scrolls in Vol 2 being added without proper clarification in the other sections of the rules. However, Holmes presumably found these statements, and the lack of a similar Read Magic spell for clerics, to suggest that clerics could not read scrolls with magic spells, and clarified the text in the Basic book accordingly.

     There's also evidence that he allowed magic-users to cast cleric scrolls in own personal campaign. In his short story the "Sorceror's Jewel" (Dragon #46), Zereth the Elf casts a number of spells from scrolls provided by the "Patriarch of the Church of Saint Mellon", including one that is a "healing spell".  

     There are some implications for a Holmesian campaign. How would these scrolls be made? Perhaps by a magic-user (for magic item creation) and cleric (for the spell) working together. 

      Furthermore, having magic-users able to cast cleric spells from scrolls suggests that there is not much of a difference between the two types of magic. Magic-users should be able to research spells that duplicate any of the cleric spells. Perhaps clerics are just a specialized type of magic-user, one that uses rituals & mnemonics instead of spell books to refresh their spell memory each morning. Spells are only "divinely" given in that the deity provides faith to the character.


  1. Another clerical scroll is in Holmes' "Maze of Peril" when Brother Ambrose reads a scroll with a spell of protection (from evil, presumably) before searching a graveyard with Zereth and Boinger:

    "I will now place over us a spell of protection which I have here..." He fumbled in the pockets of his brown cloak and came up with a small scroll. This he unrolled, breaking the wax seal which held the tie strings together, and read rapidly, in a monotone, a few sentences in Latin. He made the sign of the cross.

  2. Good catch! I forgot about that. So perhaps Holmes did let clerics use scrolls...or it's a protection from undead scroll, usable by all.

  3. "The spells written on scrolls can be read only by magic-users, except for the protection spells"
    This to me implies anyone can use protection scrolls, and the example for a protection scroll

  4. There is some evidence that the "Maze of Peril" clerical scroll was more than a simple protection scroll.

    First, the spell is in Latin. Brother Ambrose is a Christian and all his clerical spells are in Latin (as evidenced when he cast a Light spell).

    Second, before reading, Brother Ambrose mentions facing against the "agents of the Evil One." Though they were in a graveyard, they weren't worried about the undead. They were looking for "frog-faced" men (worshippers of Dagon) and weresharks. Though he may have used a Protection from Lycanthropes scroll, this is doubtful for the following reasons.

    Third, the spell lasts a long time: long enough to discover and deal with a basilisk, thoroughly examine one grave, search the entire graveyard, regroup at the caretaker's house, and head down the road. This sounds like more than one hour of activity. Normal protection scrolls only last one hour (6 turns) while a clerical Protection from Evil spell lasts 2 hours.

    Fourth, when they hear the sounds of a mounted rider approaching, Ambrose states, "Easy lads, remember a spell of protection still envelopes you." Though he doesn't know who the rider is, he feels secure that the spell will keep them safe from harm. Lycanthropes and undead are rarely mounted. It seems more like a general protection (vs. Evil) spell rather than the specific protection provided by a vs. Lycanthropes or vs. Undead scroll.

    By themselves, these pieces of evidence don't prove anything. Taken all together (especially with the healing scroll from "Sorcerer's Jewel"), they seem to imply that Holmes allowed for clerical spells on scrolls.

  5. Good points all, Tony. I agree it seems to be a Protection from Evil spell.

    We should keep in mind (and I am guilty of this, since I mentioned the Sorceror's Jewel to begin with), that the Boinger & Zereth stories were all published after AD&D came out and may have been influenced by the clearer rules therein. There are some AD&D-isms in the stories, such as a half-orc in the first published story, Trollshead. It's hard to tell whether his view of the "D&D setting" changed between the time of the Basic set (before AD&D) and the stories.

    The Boinger & Zereth stories in Alarums & Excursions were published before the Basic set or AD&D, and are more like campaign journals than the later stories. But I can't recall any cleric spells being cast in those stories. There are some clerics in the party in the Adventure of the Lost City, but they barely make an appearance.

    1. Zenopus, I just found your note from the July 1979 LA Times D&D article that Holmes had completed Maze of Peril and was looking for a publisher at the time that article was printed. The AD&D DMG hadn't even been published yet.

      I do wish that some of the names of players and schools in that article weren't redacted. I lived in Encino when I was young and may have known some of those kids!

    2. I took a look at Warlock & The Complete Warlock and couldn't find much about scrolls there, so no help there. I did find a reference to cleric scrolls in the Cleric section of the PHB, which is the year before the LA Times article (which I believe can be bought on-line from them if you want to see those names).

  6. Holmes sticks so closely to the game rules in his stories that we may be able to "reverse engineer" which edition of D&D he was playing.

    Half-orcs appear in the 1st edition Monster Manual (under Orc). As you've stated, The Monster Manual is a Holmes Supplement. We see the book on the table in the photo of Holmes playing in the first pages of his book, Fantasy Role Playing Games.

    On page 128 of Maze of Peril (from 1986), an enemy casts a Sleep spell on the party. The three humans and the elf (Zereth) fall asleep while the halfling (Boinger) feels the effects but resists them. Now in AD&D, elves have a 90% resistance to sleep and charm, but not so in OD&D/BECMI.

    I suspect that Holmes played a base game of OD&D or BECMI. Like so many of us, he added rules from other editions (like AD&D) and other games (like Warlock) to improve the game as he saw fit.

    Now, I'm going to have to read the rest of his stories!

  7. Cleric scrolls in D&D -

    I found where clerical scrolls are explicitly mentioned in the 3rd printing of Holmes' Basic D&D book in text missing from the 2nd printing. On page 17, the first paragraph under the heading CLERICAL SPELLS ends with the following explanatory sentence:

    "Second level spells are not available to clerics of below fourth level, and are included for use with non-player characters and scrolls." (emphasis mine)

    An evil cleric scroll in Maze of Peril -

    On page 145, Murray the Mage revives a recently deceased paladin with a "resurrection" scroll recovered from the Dagonite temple. Presumably, this is a clerical Raise Dead (another character has been "dead too long" to revive and Raise Dead only works on the recently deceased. It isn't the M-U spell Reincarnation as the paladin came back in his original form).

    The Christian cleric Brother Ambrose refuses to have anything to do with it as, "such traffic with the dark powers offends [his] clerical composure." We don't find out how the paladin felt about being revived by such "dark powers."

    The spell is partially in Latin, like other spells:

    "Carmina diabolica, supra mortuous cantare
    By Ashtoreth, Asmodeus and Amduscius
    Necromantias surae by Belphegor, Baal and Abadon!"

    The first line roughly translates to, "Diabolical songs, sing upon the dead." The third line may start with "Necromancy calves" (the back of the leg, not the baby cow) but that doesn't sound right.

    Note on Latin in Trollshead (The Dragon #31) -

    Magic-user spells may also be in Latin. Zereth shouts out "Flammae! Fulgere!" (something like "Flares! Flash!") when he casts a Pyrotechnics spell. Holmes, like many medical doctors, probably studied Latin at some point in time.

    Numerous cleric scrolls in The Sorcerer's Jewel (The Dragon #46) -

    The heroes take the following clerical scrolls from the "Patriarch of the Church of St. Mellon" into the dungeon:

    Create Water, Detect Magic, Dispel Magic (what Zereth casts on the wizard locked door), a “healing spell” (probably Cure Light Wounds), Light, Protection from Cold, Purify Food