I Can Just Barely See You

I made a shocking discovery last night about the spell Clairvoyance that’s got me sitting here with a pile of player handbooks at my desk (OD&D v1, Moldvay Expert, 1e PHB, 2e PHB, 3e PHB, and 3.5 PHB).  But first, some background.

I gave up on new editions of D&D when 3.5 came out. I know it’s in vogue to rant about 4e, but for me 3.5 was the breaking point. My problem is what I perceive as the board-gamification of D&D that perhaps started in 3e but really became apparent in 3.5, and my primary example of this is the spell clairvoyance.

In 3e, clairvoyance has an unlimited range.  It allows you to see “a place familiar to you or an obvious one (such as behind a door, around a corner, or in a grove of trees).”  While the spell could be used in your standard dungeon crawl to see what monster is behind the next door, that seems a fairly mundane use of a 3rd level spell.  This spell always felt to me like a real story or plot driving spell.  This is how you spy on your enemies, find out if your patrons are secretly treacherous, etc.

In 3.5, the description doesn’t change much, but the range is reduced from “unlimited” to 400′ + 40’/level.  With that minor detail, suddenly the plot implications are gone.  The spell has been reduced to simply looking behind the next door at what monster is there, and I’m sure players quickly pass on it in favor of another fireball.  Bah.

Only, it looks like this isn’t as new a development as I had originally thought.  I was reading the description of this same spell in the Moldvay/Cook Expert book, and lo and behold the range is a scant 60′, even shorter than 3.5.  What’s more, the description specifically mentions that it allows the caster to “see an area through the eyes of any single creature in it” and “is blocked by two feet of rock or a thin coating of lead.”  So now not only is the range very short, but there’s got to be an actual creature to cast it on and it’s blocked by thick walls.  This is a very different spell from the one I’m used to.  When did it change?

In OD&D, it’s very similar to the Moldvay/Cook version.  Actually all it does is refer to the ESP spell but with a visual component, but ESP mentions a 6″ range and being blocked by stone/lead, which seems likely where that came from.  It’s the 1e PHB where suddenly the range becomes unlimited and the spell looks like the plot tool I remember it as.  It remains this way in 2e and 3e, the versions of the game I probably have played the most, so I suppose that explains why I remember it that way.

I stand by my complaints about 3.5 and 4e.  However, I think I’m going to have to house rule in the 1e version of this spell to my B/X games.  Man, I hope this isn’t my first step towards becoming a 1e guy.  All those tables… 🙂

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