Spells Through the Ages: Cure Light Wounds

Remember this little feature? Man, I haven’t written one of these in forever. Sorry everyone! OK, today I’m tackling a staple of the clerical spell list: Cure Light Wounds.  I’m going to start by just quoting the text from various incarnations and then review.


Cure Light Wounds: During the course of one full turn this spell will remove hits from a wounded character (including elves, dwarves, etc.)  A die is rolled, one pip is added, and the resultant total is subtracted from the hits [sic] points the character has taken.  Thus from 2-7 hit points of damage can be removed.

Holmes edition:

Cure Light Wounds — Level: clerical 1; Range: 0

During the course of one melee round this spell will heal damage done to a character, including elves, dwarves and hobbits.  A die is rolled and 1 is added to it; the result is the number of hit points restored (2-7).  The zero range means the cleric must touch the wounded person to heal him.


Cure Light Wounds* Range: 0, Duration: permanent

This spell will heal 2-7 points (1d6+1) of damage done to any living creature (character or monster) when the cleric touches the individual.  This spell may also be used to cure paralysis, but will not then cure any points of damage.  The spell may be cast on the cleric’s own body.  The spell’s effect will not, in any case, increase a creature’s hit point total to more than the normal amount.  EXAMPLE: Tars the fighter normally has 6 hp.  In battle with goblins, he takes 5 points of damage.  Gantry the cleric casts a cure light wounds spell on him during the battle, and rolls a 6 on the die, which cures up to 7 points of damage.  Tars is restored to his original total of 6 hp, but the 2 extra points are wasted.

1st Edition AD&D PHB:

Cure Light Wounds (Necromantic) Reversible

Level: 1, Range: Touch, Duration: Permanent, Area of Effect: Character touched, Components: V,S, Casting Time: 5 segments, Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: Upon laying his or her hands upon a creature, the cleric causes 1 to 8 hit points of wound or other injury damage to the creature’s body to be healed.  This healing will not affect creatures without corporeal bodies, nor will it cure wounds of creatures not living or those which can be harmed only by iron, silver, and/or magical weapons.  Its reverse, cause light wounds, operates in the same manner; and if a person is avoiding this touch, a melee combat “to hit” die is rolled to determine if the cleric’s hand strikes the opponent and causes such a wound.  Note that cured wounds are permanent only insofar as the creature does not sustain further damage, and that caused wounds will heal — or can be cured — just as any normal injury will.  Caused wounds are 1 to 8 hit points of damage.

3.0 SRD (Sorry, don’t have a 2nd edition text here)

Cure Light Wounds Conjuration (Healing)  Level: Brd 1, Clr 1, Drd 1, Healing 1, Pal 1, Rgr 2, Components: V, S, Casting Time: 1 action, Range: Touch, Target: Creature touched, Duration: instantaneous, Saving Throw: Will half (harmless) (see text), Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)

When laying the character’s hand upon a living creature, the character channels positive energy that cures 1d8 points of damage +1 point per caster level (up to +5).  Since undead are powered by negative energy, this spell deals damage to them instead of curing their wounds. An undead creature can attempt a Will save to take half damage.

OK, I’m not going to talk about the inflation of hit points.  Clearly cure light wounds follows the gradual increase of hit points that’s reflected in the editions in general.

The one completely unique thing in the OD&D text is its mention of subtracting hits taken rather than later editions which restore hit points lost.  It’s a minor difference, but it seems to imply that in OD&D perhaps the practice was to track hits taken, and death was caused when they equaled or exceeded the creature’s hit point total.  Later editions all seem to imply that hit points are lost, and that cure light wounds restores lost points, but not above the original total.  In retrospect, the OD&D system seems to have a bit of clarity to it that would be easier to explain to newbies that later editions lose.  I wonder how or why that change came about?

Also interesting in the OD&D text, and carried forward into Holmes, is the text about how it does in fact effect non-humans.  Was this a question that needed clarification?  Are there other spells that only effect humans?  Moldvay even extends this notion to indicate that you can even heal monsters.  I imagine this question probably came up when the party cleric wanted to heal the charmed orc the party was toting around.  1e goes ahead and switches to simply stating what it can’t effect, and this is carried forward into 3.0 with an interpretation of it being powered by positive energy, thus causing damage instead of healing to negative energy creatures (ie. undead).

Moldvay is my favorite, and not just because it’s the edition I actually play with.  First of all, this is the first case we see of the spell being reversible (that’s what the asterisk indicates).  Well, OK, that’s not actually what makes it my favorite.  In fact, this introduces some very odd ideas about good vs. evil clerics.  According to the Expert book, clerical spells can be reversed on the fly, but it’s generally looked on with disfavor by the gods.  Good clerics cast cure, evil clerics cast cause, and if either uses the reverse it’s only acceptable in “life or death” situations.  I suppose this makes a bit of sense when you consider good clerics smiting their enemies with cause light wounds, but the opposite doesn’t hold up.  Do evil clerics really not need to cure their minions, or themselves?

What I really love about Moldvay is this line: “This spell may also be used to cure paralysis, but will not then cure any points of damage.”  I assumed that this was because the limited spell list in Basic D&D did not include whatever the spell is in AD&D for removing paralysis.  But then as I searched my AD&D PHB, I couldn’t find a spell for it.  We’ve used this in my game for anything from ghoul paralysis to enemy hold person spells.  I even extended it via house rule to allow the spell to fix minor injuries (sprains, broken bones, etc) at the cost of not healing any hit points of damage.  It adds a very nice versatility to the spell that I think helps my cleric player feel less like he’s losing spell slots by being forced to pack a bunch of cure light wounds spells.  Of course, it only makes it even more questionable why a cleric would ever memorize any first level spell other than cure light wounds.

Well, there you have it, the staple of the cleric’s arsenal, cure light wounds.  Love it, hate it, and always have as many as possible memorized.

4 thoughts on “Spells Through the Ages: Cure Light Wounds

  1. Actually, the LBBs provide for Cure Light Wounds being reversible, though only in the case of anti-clerics. It’s an oft-overlooked rule, because it’s found all the way at the end of the cleric spell listings, but it is there.

  2. Interesting. Now I want to dig through my Holmes and find out if there’s hidden text in there about it being reversible.

    I still find the entire concept of evil clerics not being able to cast cure light wounds as bizarre. I think in my own game I would probably simply rule it that casting the reverse of a cure spell is an innately evil act, but casting the regular version is not an innately good (or anti-evil?) act.

  3. Page 18 of the Holmes rulebook indicates that evil clerics cast the reverse of all spells listed in italics in the list of clerical spells (p. 17), a list that includes Cure Light wounds, among others.

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