The goal of this survey is to provide feedback to the OSR and RPG community on what Level 1-3 spells are considered most useful. The results can then be used to create shorter spell lists and player aids – or to inspire custom spell lists for other designs.

Spell descriptions take the form of “Name [120′, 2] Effect” showing “[range in feet, duration in turns]” before the magical effect. Spell descriptions © Zenopus Archives, Used by permission.

The survey was fielded from November 10, 2019, through June 1, 2020.

Ranking Summary

Respondents were instructed, “For each of the six groups of spells, please rank at least the top three spells for play, from most useful to least useful. The spells are presented in random order to minimize order bias (the likelihood of spells listed first being given a better ranking).”

  • Level 1 Magic-User Spells? Ranked #1 Sleep, #2 Charm Person, #3 Detect Magic.
  • Level 2 Magic-User Spells? Ranked #1 Invisibility, #2 Web, #3 Knock.
  • Level 3 Magic-User Spells? Ranked #1 Haste, #2 Fire Ball, #3 Fly.
  • Level 1 Cleric Spells? Ranked #1 Cure Light Wounds, #2 Protection from Evil, #3 Light.
  • Level 2 Cleric Spells? Ranked #1 Hold Person, #2 Bless, #3 Silence.
  • Level 3 Cleric Spells? Ranked #1 Remove Curse, #2 Cure Disease, #3 Animate Dead.

Results Summary

Before writing the survey, I asked the r/OSR subreddit for ideas and blogged a summary of OSR spellcasting systems.

  • What problems do you perceive with Old School D&D magic? Doesn’t suit certain settings and types of campaigns (59%); Vancian magic isn’t magical enough (34%); Set, static spell lists (31%).
  • What types of spell systems do you prefer in your RPGs? New spells are discovered in game (80%), Spells by spell level (40%), Level-less spells (37%).
  • What do you prefer for availability of spells? Casting has a cost (63%), Has cost in mana (37%), Spell slots (37%).
  • How do you prefer to determine success of spells? Target (if any) gets a saving throw (71%), Caster failure results in anything from magical side effects to catastrophes (46%), Caster rolls for success (39%).
  • Which, if any, of the following RPGs do you play? Dungeons & Dragons (64%), Dungeons & Dragons B/X (57%), Dungeons & Dragons 5e (54%).
  • When did you first start playing role-playing games? 200Xs (32%), 2010s (18%).

You can view a PDF with the full results.

Update (June 6, 2022): I leveraged these findings for coming up with the spell list for BLUELITE: A Holmes Basic Hack.