Friday, February 18, 2022


From the AD&D Players Handbook (page 67):
Push (Conjuration/Summoning)

Level: 1
Range: 1" + 1/4"/level
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 segment
Saving Throw: Neg.

Explanation/Description: Upon pronouncing the syllables of this spell, the magic-user causes an invisible force to strike against whatever object he or she is pointing at. The force of the push is not great, being 1 foot pound per level of the magic-user casting the spell, but it can move small objects up to 1' in a direction away from the caster, topple an object under the proper conditions, or cause a creature to lose its balance when it is attacking, for if the creature fails its saving throw, it will not be able to attack that round. Of course, the mass of the creature attacking cannot exceed the force of the push by more than a factor of 50, i.e. a 1st level magic-user cannot effectively push a creature weighing more than 50 pounds. A push spell used against an object held by a creature will cause it to subtract the force of the spell in foot pounds (1, 2, 3, etc.) from its chance to hit or add to opponent's saving throws as applicable if the character fails to make its saving throw against magic when the spell is cast. The material component of this spell is a small pinch of powdered brass which must be blown from the palm prior to pointing at the object of the spell.
So much wrong (as I've written before).

Gygax is sometimes praised and sometimes derided for his prose. "Evocative" and "convoluted" are both words that come to mind when I consider his writing. But his spell work (i.e. his compilation of spells in the AD&D books) is some of the worst. I mean...hoo boy howdy. In actual play, I generally do my best to NOT read (or make use of) the textual descriptions.

Back when I was a kid playing AD&D, we didn't see all that many spell-casters. In fact, we probably saw more psionic use than spell-casting. Certainly, psionics seemed easy enough to use. But we only had one kid who routinely played magic-users (or, on one occasion, an illusionist), and the kid who had cleric duty spent most of his spells on healing (natch) which are about as "no brainer" as AD&D spell-casting gets. Most of our characters were fighters, thieves, bards (who used their fighting and thief abilities, not their druidic powers), or some subclass of these: rangers, acrobats, assassins, fighter/thieves, etc.

To be honest, I think MOST of the spell-casters encountered in our old campaigns were opponents...and as such their spells were confined to the needs of the scenario (i.e. mostly attack-oriented spells). As such a lot of the dross in the PHB (spells like erase and push) saw zero use. We didn't realize just how messed up some of these reworked spells were (polymorph other, for example) because we made assumptions that the descriptions would, more-or-less, match what we already knew from the B/X books. All we REALLY cared about were those notes at the top: range, components, casting time, and saving throw. Those were the important factors in running the AD&D game, not whether or not Gygax is calculating his newtons of force  thing correctly (spoiler: he's not).

One of these days, I'll get around to curating the entire list of PHB spells for my home campaign (much as other folks have done), but at the moment I have more pressing campaign needs (just finished redoing the age tables, and am considering how to do height/weight based on species and ability scores...the current randomness on page 100 of the DMG yields "unsatisfactory" results). The push spell is, however, on my mind because it's one of the possible starter spells on the offensive list and I like the idea of a first level spell that shoves someone with telekinetic force. It's a logical "first step" on the road to more subtler manipulations. 

Reviewing the other 1st level spells, I see that Tenser's floating disk allows a 1st level magic-user to carry 100# of weight for forty minutes, whereas unseen servant allows manipulation of only small amounts (10 or 20 pounds) but with more direction (opening and closing, stepping and fetching, etc.) for an hour and ten. That's very useful: wondering who's going to carry the lantern and allow hands-free adventuring? Get an unseen servant!

Ignoring all the pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, what exactly is the push spell trying to accomplish. What is the intention of the thing? THAT, is where I want to direct my focus:
  • The spell is quick to cast (1 segment), instantaneous of effect, and short range.
  • The telekinetic shove is enough to move the target a minimal distance (1') unbalancing it (causing it to lose its attacks for the round) or take a penalty to attack rolls (??) or saves (??) though ONLY upon failing a saving throw
  • The spell affects larger creatures/objects depending on caster level.
Compared to other 1st level attack spells (magic missile, sleep, charm person...even light!) this is pretty weak sauce. Burning hands and shocking grasp at least scale up damage based on 11th level wizard can't even exert as much force as an unseen servant (11 foot pounds of force?!)! Probably not enough to knock a goblin off a cliff (let alone an ogre) unless he's already balanced on one foot.

What we really want is something that slams the target (or pushes a large object) for a split second. Let's see, let's see. How about this (changes in bold):
Push (Evocation)

Level: 1
Range: 1" + 1"/level
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 segment
Saving Throw: Special

Explanation/Description: Upon pronouncing the syllables of this spell, the magic-user causes an invisible force to strike against whatever object he or she is pointing at, pushing it 10' directly away from the caster. Creatures must save versus magic or be knocked sprawling, taking 1 to 6 points of damage and losing their action for the round; a successful save allows the creature to stay on its feet, but it still loses its action for the round. The push will not affect creatures whose hit dice exceed the caster's level of experience; inanimate objects may not exceed 50 pounds per level of the magic-user.
There...was that so hard?

Later, gators. Happy Friday!
: )


  1. An interesting fix,though I'd drop the damage. Gygax was certainly no physicist.

    I like these sorts of spells where there's more to it than the 'Zzap! You're dead' effect of the traditional offensive spells (MM, LB, FB). Back in the day we sisnt have a copy of the PHB but only a list of the spells. We therefore made up what we thought was a reasonable stab at the effects (not always accurate in retrospect). For Push we just assumed that the target was knocked over like a skittle, but that it could also be used to destabilise things like a pot over a door or a plank across a pit. When used offensively against a target we just used save vs spells and a similar mechanic to the normal rat pack overwhelming a target. Failing your save meant that you were prone and could be easily wrestled or grappled the following round if you lost initiative.

    We didn't really play many higher levels but it should scale to allow a 9th level wizard to knock over a Hill Giant using it (9 v 8HD)

    1. That’s one of the reasons I rewrote this as I did…I like the idea of an 11th level wizard being able to knock a giant or an elephant on its ass (and a 5th level can do the same to an ogre).
      ; )

  2. One of the things I learned in my last 1e game was some spells had different durations based on the printing of the book. Stinkimg Cloud was one. My friend had a older PHB and the duration was much longer than my PHB. Both were the Trampier cover.

    Realistically we often referenced 2e phb to get clarification on some of the poorly written spells in 1e. Some were verbatim, but some cleaned up the descriptions to make it more usable but still compatible.

    Push does not even make it into the 2e PHB. Which makes sense as written for 1e being annoyingly unusable. It is reprinted in the 2e Wizard spell compendium. Here it is noted as being updated from 1e.

    1. Interesting (re push not being in 2E).

      The multiple printings of the various 1E books are fascinating for seeing the different changes across iterations. For example, the 1st printing of the DMG (which I picked up off eBay a while back) is the only one to contain surprise rules that make total sense.

  3. You just transformed it to a BX spell. KISS lol

  4. I've been rewriting a large chunk of the B/AD&D spells for my own clone and I've been amazed how much more succinct the descriptions can be. Even after your rewrite, the first sentence could be trimmed down to "an invisible force pushes an object 10' directly away from the caster".

    I like gygax's style, but it's really detrimental in spell descriptions that you need to repeatedly reference during play.

    1. I found the same when re-writing the OD&D spells. I dropped 1-2 lines of text from most spells by making them concise, verging on terse.

  5. I mostly like your change, though I'd probably dump the hit point damage and word it as "lose next action" or the like (mostly to make it fit the RAW round resolution better, especially since I've been experimenting with playing AD&D combat closer to that). The original spell reads almost like a power level equivalent to what would later become cantrips/0-level spells, though the potentially large "to hit"/save penalties are pretty grievous.

    1. D6 damage (with a save that negates) doesn’t feel too over-powered considering the spell’s limitations and that a 10’ fall causes the same damage.

    2. I might have thought the same a while back, but now I keep in mind that a normal person has 1d6 hit points. A d6 is a lot of damage at first level when the spell has other useful effects.

    3. Um...huh?

      For AD&D, I would hardly call this a LOT of damage. A long sword does 1d8. A dagger does 1d4 (but you can throw two per round). Considering a ONE USE spell...I think you're overstating it.

      So the 1st level MU can blast a "normal person" standing 20' away with a single phrase of magic. That's great! To me, that is no more potent than a unerringly fired magic missile (d4+1 damage) at a range of 70'. It's certainly no more potent than a sleep spell, which has the potential to incapacitate 4d4 "normal persons."

      I am at a loss to think of many "other useful effects" when the spell is only able to shove something directly away from the caster (and only a short distance). A moderately endowed human can push more weight than the 50# limit of a 1st level MU. It cannot steal the keys from a jailor's belt, pick a lock, or open a stuck door.

      I'm quite happy with this minimal display of power. Let the normal person tremble in their boots at the coming of a wizard with the push spell!
      ; )

    4. I know that we've gotten used to thinking of 1d6 as not very much damage. But in AD&D (and original D&D) a normal man has 1d6 hit points. That means that 1d6 of damage has a 58% chance of killing an uninjured normal man outright (or, if you use that optional rule, mortally wounding them so that they will die soon if not attended to). That's not unlike hitting someone in the skull with a baseball bat. Or, in point of fact, hitting them with a mace.

      Of course, if that's what you want, go for it. It's almost certainly not overpowered, as it could be said to exchange the range of the Magic Missile for the knockdown effect. I wouldn't compare it to Sleep, though, as that spell can't kill anyone on its own.

      I guess that my thinking is that the 1d6 damage doesn't seem to me to fit the "fluff" description of what the spell does, which is why I am reluctant to include it. If it seems to fit the description to you, then why doesn't the damage increase as the force of the Push gets stronger at higher levels? I dunno, maybe Push can be like what all those Jedi did to the droids in the prequel movies. Which brings up a whole other conversation.

    5. I hear what you’re saying, but…YES, I do want it to have the chance to kill a normal, un-classed human (or a small creature, like a goblin or giant rat). And for larger creatures, I only want it to bruise them a bit (and, perhaps, their ego).

      It may simply be that I’m veering too far off the original description for how you picture the spell. Note that I’ve changed it to an evocation (no longer a conjuration)…there is no invisible, ghostly hand pushing someone, no wind buffeting the target. Perhaps alteration would be better, though, as I very much see THIS version of the spell to be more of a Jedi-thing…an 9th level sorcerer using this spell might knock down a giant, who most certainly weighs more than the 450# weight limit for the caster. That’s because it’s not REALLY about “science” or “physics.” The sorcerer is confident (and/or proficient enough) to knock down a 9 HD creature. But it’s still just a 10’ toss…even for a 180# human. The spell does X…what scales upwards is the variety of possible targets, not the force/damage. It’s still, after all, only a first level spell.

      Tell you what: I’ll rewrite Gygax’s phrasing about “an invisible force striking an object.” Maybe that’ll help make it more palatable.
      ; )

    6. Don't mind me. Like I said, it's just how I'd do it. I like the basic change that you've made, but I'd do things differently in a campaign I was running. It's timely, too, because I have been trying to compile a set of house rules for 1E, things like how to make the "Chance to know each listed spell" ability of Intelligence make sense to me, adjusting Encumbrance to something that gets actually used at my table (the old "Encumbrance by Stone" method, with my own flourishes), changing poisons, adjusting the Monk slightly, fiddling with weapon proficiency, picking parts of UA to use, deciding whether Fighter "to hit" goes up 5% each level or 10% every two levels (I like the "5% principle"), that sort of thing. I was really trying to say that I like your adjustment, but then as usual I had to throw my own stupid opinion in there too. If you're happy with it how you've got it, why change it?

  6. Do you allow push to move a boat or four-wheeled cart? IE: the physics of friction come into play. A typical adult man can push a typical European-sized car (say 1tonne) when it's in neutral.

    1. It’s a burst of force…a barely directed telekinetic shove…rather than a sustained energy imparting motion. At a high enough level, it might be used to capsize a canoe or boat (if “pushed” from the side) or topple a cart, and it could certainly cause the latter to begin moving downhill (if already pointed in the proper direction and “pushed” from behind). That falls into the “inanimate object” category of effect, based on weight.