Do you make these mistakes with Intelligence?

I cast Identify

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1E) approaches intelligence and spell use in a way that often gets house-ruled and glazed over. Previously we took a look at Strength, now we take a closer look at Intelligence.

Intelligence and IQ

In the PLayer’s Handbook 1E (Easley cover) Page 10, Intelligence is likened to modern IQ with a few caveats. It allows for an aptitude as much as a handling of words and numbers.

For the most part, it usually is assumed an intelligence score x 10 is about where a character lands on the IQ scale.  This is the core of the stat, and where we all happily hop on board the intellect train in AD&D. Where things get house-ruled and a bit more glazed over is the small table that follows (intelligence table II) and how it relates to spell casters.

Wizards, Spells and Intelligence

One of the places our group glazed over constantly was the limitations on spells as they relate to intelligence. Spells let a player nearly ‘break the game’ in that, spell use allows things normally not possible to happen. Gygax had a tighter leash on spells than we realized, or wanted to admit.

A Magic User with an intelligence of 10 cannot cast spells above fifth level. 12 cannot cast over sixth, 14 not over 7th, 16 not over 8th, and 9th requires a minimum of 18.

What about table II?

Here is where my group used to really toss the rules out or glaze over the rules to expedite things. In doing so, we may have been missing out on an important element of the game – making wizards as rare as Merlin or Gandalf.

It is intended for Table II to function as follows (paraphrased heavily and summed up):
The chart begins with ability scores and the column next to it is a “chance to know spell”, after that comes Minimum number of spells / level, then Maximum number of spells / level.

When a character reaches a level where they have access to the next level of spells, they may go through the list and roll a % for each they wish to attempt to learn Rolling below the % for their intelligence determines whether or not they can learn the spell. This is only done ONCE for the life of the character. Unless after rolling through the spells for the level they did not obtain the minimum number of spells, then they may go through the ENTIRE list again rolling percentages until the minimum number is reached.

Once a player rolls on the spell list for a level, they may never revisit those rolls again. The opposite is true for maximum spells per level.

But wait, there’s more

This rolling once per spell level seems to get wobbly when a character’s intelligence score changes. This requires a new set of rolls to determine spells known per level. This only happens if the change is, or seems to be, permanent.

A new % roll may be made for each new spell the character comes across to determine if they can learn it… if they have not reached the maximum spells per level.


Yes and no. There are some muddy waters around this spell acquisition and it’s no wonder it got house-ruled so much. However, it’s not bad considering it had never been done before Gygax, Arneson and Mike Carr (edits) took a swing at it.

There is a benefit to having heavy restrictions on spells and extra abilities in the game. Ever notice in the old modules how the treasure lists seemed overly rich? loaded with wands, scrolls, potions, magic rings and armor? These restrictions on spells, classes, and things allowed for the excitement of rich treasure in the game without breaking balance or play. Each class having limits created a strategy situation in almost every encounter.

Lloyd MetcalfIn the newer versions of the game, players balk at weapon damage of 1d6. 1d6 is pretty much the standard damage in AD&D. This makes wizards edge ahead in power when they can AUTOMATICALLY hit with a single word (Magic Missile). A fireball that does 1d6 per level of the caster and hits EVERYTHING in its’ explosive area…. while flying is very powerful.

So yes, the % to know a spell, and the restrictions to learning spells might seem limiting compared to newer versions of the game where a magic user is pretty much EVERYONE and they spout magic off without limit. AD&D is made to replicate Merlin, Gandalf, and Akiro (from Conan).

How do you house-rule intelligence and learning spells?

Also see the articles on Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma.

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3 Comments on “Do you make these mistakes with Intelligence?

  1. The problem I had with this was what happened when a new spell came along? Do you just repeat the roll for each new spell you come across, presumably stopping when you’ve reached the max no of spells/level? So along comes UA with its whopping great list of new spells, but you’ve already reached max spells from the PHB list, so no new spells for you. Naaah this was never fun for me, so in my campaigns wizards can learn any spell provided it’s in their book, and they have sufficient level and intelligence for the level of spell, but getting new spells is hard so I limit it that way. Much more fun because a new spell is a new opportunity.

  2. I always said you get only one roll per character level. So if you could not learn it at level one you can try again at level two. You are still limited to your max #/ spell level. You don’t roll the whole chart you only roll once your are exposed to the spell and choose to own it.

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