Spells Through The Ages: Goodberry

Oh my goodness, you thought the “Through The Ages” series was done, didn’t you? Well, it turns out my West Marches game has an unusually high druid population, and as a result I had to dig into the rules for the classic druid healing spell goodberry. As I researched how it works now in 5th edition, I started asking myself “did it always work this way?” In fact, when was it even first introduced?

Well, it was an interesting journey. It looks like druids were first introduced as a playable class in S3: Eldritch Wizardry, though I did not see the goodberry spell there. In fact, I was surprised to discover I couldn’t find it in any flavor of Basic D&D, even as far as the Rules Cyclopedia. So off to AD&D it is, and finally I found a reference to it in Unearthed Arcana:

Goodberry – Level 2 Druid Spell, Reversable

When a druid casts a goodberry spell upon a handful of freshly picked berries, from 2 to 8 of them will become magical. The druid casting the spell (as well as any other druid of 3rd or higher level) will be able to immediately discern which berries were affected. A detect magic spell will discover this also. Berries with the dweomer will either enable a hungry creature of approximately mansize to eat one and be as well-nourished as if a full normal meal were eaten, or else the berry will cure 1 point of physical damage due to wounds or other similar causes, subject to a maximum of 8 points of such curing in any 24-hour period. The reverse of the spell, badberry, causes rotten berries to appear wholesome but each actually delivers 1 point of poison damage (no saving throw) if ingested. The material component of the spell is mistletoe passed over the freshly picked, edible berries to be enspelled (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, etc.).

It is fascinating to see here so much text about whether you can tell which berries are “good” and which are not. Very strange. Also has anyone ever seen someone cast the reversed “badberry”? This name immediately conjures into my head the image of an anthropomorphic cartoon berry, maybe with a tattoo and a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette.

That aside, I do love the notion that the spell must be cast on some freshly picked berries, rather than just having them materialize out of nothing. I suppose in play that felt too restrictive as we’ll see later. Also that the berry can be used either as nourishment or healing – I wonder how often it was used for the former? Note that at level 2 this spell could be seen as a more expensive version of Cure Light Wounds (1st level) or a cheaper version of Create Food and Water (3rd level). Either way something about it feels a bit off.

The 2nd edition version looks pretty much unchanged from UE:

Goodberry – Level 2 Druid Spell, Reversable

Casting a goodberry spell upon a handful of freshly picked berries makes 2d4 of them magical. The caster (as well as any other caster of the same faith and 3rd or higher level) can immediately discern which berries are affected. A detect magic spell discovers this also. Berries with the magic either enable a hungry creature of approximately man size to eat one and be as well-nourished as if a full normal meal were eaten, or else cure 1 point of physical damage from wounds or other similar causes, subject to a maximum of 8 points of such curing in any 24-hour period.
The reverse of the spell, badberry, causes 2d4 rotten berries to appear wholesome, but each actually delivers 1 point of poison damage (no saving throw) if ingested. The material component of the spell is the caster’s holy symbol passed over the freshly picked, edible berries to be enspelled (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, etc.).

I will note that I love the specific list of berries, though I’m not sure it’s really necessary. On to 3rd edition:

Goodberry – 1st Level Transmutation

Up to ten berries appear in your hand and are infused with magic for the duration. A creature can use its action to eat one berry. Eating a berry restores 1 hit point, and the berry provides enough nourishment to sustain a creature for one day.
The berries lose their potency if they have not been consumed within 24 hours of the casting of this spell.

Here’s our reduction to a 1st level spell. I suppose someone pointed out that even 10 hp of healing feels under-powered for a 2nd level spell. The argument that the berries can be held onto is squashed (as could be the berries) by the limitation of losing their potency after 24 hours. While this feels like an extension of the “subject to a maximum of 8 points of such curing in a 24-hour period” from 1st edition, it’s clumsy. First edition tied the limitation to the consumer, not the berry, which I feel like was likely a better choice.

And while the text is much shorter, it’s a bit problematic. Does “up to ten berries” mean you should roll 1d10, or is it caster’s choice? Each berry now always does both effects – heals 1 hp and provides nourishment, which makes us question whether or not you can eat more than one per day. Maybe only if you’re a halfling?

As we’ll see, 5th edition inherits all these problems:

Goodberry – 1st Level Transmutation

Up to ten berries appear in your hand and are infused with magic for the duration. A creature can use its action to eat one berry. Eating a berry restores 1 hit point, and the berry provides enough nourishment to sustain a creature for one day.
The berries lose their potency if they have not been consumed within 24 hours of the casting of this spell.

Oddly it seems the clarification added here is how many berries one can consume at a time. You’re not slamming a handful of these suckers down your throat all in one go, you have to pop them one at a time. But I’m still left wondering if you can really eat more than one. Turns out, so is the internet.

Jeremy Crawford, Lead Designer over at Wizards of the Coast, has fielded a few questions about goodberry over on Twitter, as can be seen in the link above. Unfortunately, his responses are somewhat unclear or possibly even contradictory. When asked if you could have more than one, at first he says:

As DM, I’d wryly let a character gorge on a bunch of goodberries at once—and get the benefit of only 1.

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/697539920907235328

But then later:

@pukunui81
@JeremyECrawford Right. Let me rephrase: Can you benefit from more than one goodberry in a 24 hour period?


@JeremyECrawford
@pukunui81 Yes.

https://twitter.com/pukunui81/status/697557257807011840

Well, there you have it. Ultimately, I still find this spell dissatisfying and full of problems. I mean, why not just give druids access to the same healing spells regular clerics have? Why be so cute with this dual-purpose spell that either does too much or too little?

Personally, I’m inclined to still limit them to one per customer, with a Con save to hold down extra. Because honestly, a player stuffing themselves with 10 meals worth of food just for the healing effect and then barfing it up is damn funny. But for the sake of not making my players insane, perhaps it’s best to go back to the longer and more concise text from 1st edition. Separating the nourishment from the healing effect, and then limiting the amount of berry related healing per consumer, seem like pretty good balances to me.

8 thoughts on “Spells Through The Ages: Goodberry

  1. This made me LOL several times, I’m so glad you did this! Starting with about the last spell I’d ever expect to be treated like this.

    You can find the very first appearance of this spell in Dragon #71 (March 1983), in a packet of new Druid spells to bulk up the as-yet unnamed “AD&D Expansion volume”. Copyright Gary Gygax, bracketed with some self-contradictory wrestling over yes/no is this “official”, and at the end business info that everything’s great, pay no attention to scurrilous rumors about the company, right now all employees must work as hard as possible, and I have no time to design work anymore (about 2 years before EGG got the boot).

    Looks like identical spell text between magazine & UA book. Admittedly I look at the 1E version and wonder “what determines which of the two effects occur?” and think about wrapping them together myself — but obviously you’re right that the 3E/5E is pretty sloppy. We’ve run into that “Up to X” language problem in our games with other stuff, of course. I think this might be very rarely used/tested (I’ve never seen it used)?

    LOL @ ” a player stuffing themselves with 10 meals worth of food just for the healing effect and then barfing it up”

    Badberry = California Raisins?

    1. Also the bit about removing the actual berries as a prerequisite: There’s part of me that wants to go full-on “material components aren’t essential to the game, as seen in OD&D” but this kind of serves as an example that you can go to far with that. Maybe I made a similar misstep with pyrotechnics? Such a borderline case.

  2. I think I would I owuld either totally change the spell to be “Increase Nourishment” and work on any freshly (1 day) picked fruit/veggie wherein you get a days food and 1HP of healing (with your Con check to eat more)
    or
    I would have cause a small bush with 2d4 magic berries on it to grow from the ground (or other appropriate substance) and if eaten while fresh (1 day) will gives a days nourishment and 1 HP of healing.

    trying to thread the needle between evocative, worth the spell slot, and easy to run at the table….

    1. One of the problems here is not having Dan’s OED rule of “only one of any given spell.” As a 1st level spell, I see it used a lot in the form of “the party is pretty badly hurt, so I’ll blow all my remaining 1st level spell slots on casting goodberry we’ll gorge ourselves on berries.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone care about the 1 day of nourishment thing – perhaps we should just give in and drop that part?

      1. I guess part of it depends on if resource and food management is a big part of your game.
        Yeah and the OED spell rule is worth taking into account.
        It goes to show how little game preferences can ripple through the rules.

        If we drop nourishment, then we may need to up the healing to make it in line with CLW?

        I think we can all agree the spell as presented is too fiddly for its own good 🙂

  3. While it’s amusing in a wretched sort of way, mainly I just find myself thinking “Jeez, I hate Wizards of the Cost” as I read this thing.

    Dammit, Paul! I’m always coming over to your blog for your thoughtful posts and almost always coming away riled up! Stop that!

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