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Whispers have emerged from hidden corners, suggesting that the legendary Gandalf the Grey, and later Gandalf the White, was merely a 5th-level mage. An audacious claim, isn’t it? Considering the reverential aura surrounding this Istari who has trod Middle-Earth for over 2000 years! But let’s embark on a mystical journey, meticulously analyzing every magical deed he performed.
In the tale of The Hobbit, Gandalf unveiled a series of spells
- Crafted entrancing colored smoke rings that danced in the air. Could this be a fusion of Pyrotechnics and a dash of Phantasmal Force? Both of which are 2nd level spells in AD&D and 5th edition of D&D.
- Deceived trolls using Ventriloquism, a novice spell; a 1st level magic-user spell in AD&D.
- Conjured Lightning Bolts to annihilate Orcs during the abduction scene – a 3rd level spell in AD&D and 5th edition D&D.
- Used Pyrotechnics to disorient the Orcs and save his comrades which is a 2nd level spell in AD&D and 5th edition D&D.
- Illuminated dark caverns with his staff – a rudimentary spell; in 5th edition D&D, it’s a cantrip, Light spell.
- Set pinecones aflame to counter the Wargs – a curious blend of Fireball and Pyrotechnics. Fireball is a 3rd level spell in AD&D and 5th edition D&D.
- Expelled Sauron from Dol Guldur, albeit with the aid of the White Council. Banishment is a 4th level spell in 5th edition D&D, though only for 1 minute.
- Summoned Light, as per one’s interpretation, as a rallying beacon in the Battle Of Five Armies. This is a very low-level spells, think cantrip in D&D 5th edition.
Adept as these feats seem, none appear to transcend a 5th-level capability. The plot thickens.
Now, onto The Fellowship of The Ring
- The mesmerizing fireworks at Bilbo’s party, presumably a mix of Phantasmal Forces and Pyrotechnics. Both of which are 2nd level spells in AD&D and 5th edition of D&D.
- A ferocious Lightning Bolt duel against the Nazgul. A 3rd level spell in AD&D and 5th edition D&D.
- Infusing the river’s foam with warriors to counter the Nazgul. Perhaps a blend of Phantasmal Force and Monster Summoning? In AD&D Monster Summoning is a 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th level spell, while in D&D 5th edition it doesn’t exist. And Phantasmal Force is a 2nd level spell in both those editions.
- Conjuring flames amid a blizzard – reminiscent of a Fireball. Fireball is a 3rd level spell in AD&D and 5th edition D&D.
- The fire against the Wargs, similar to a Fireball.
- Lighting the treacherous paths of Moria.
- The epic battle with the Balrog – majorly employing Lightning Bolts, possibly some Fireballs.
- His resurrection, a divine act, wasn’t his own doing.
As we meander into The Two Towers
- Legolas’ arrow’s ignition – a subtle Fireball?
- Reviving Theoden using an amalgam of Lightning, Light, and Darkness.
- Breaking Saruman’s staff – possibly a mere verbal command amongst Istaris or a minor Charm (1st level spell).
Lastly, in The Return of The King
- The luminous beams that salvaged Faramir, akin to Lightning Bolt.
- In the Battle of Slag Hills, he surprisingly remains reticent about his spells.
- Telepathic communication with Elrond and Galadriel. Telepathy in AD&D is psionics, while in 5th edition D&D it is an 8th level spell.
If we’ve missed any spells, such as Gandalf securing Moria with Hold Portal or Wizard Lock (both are AD&D spells of 1st and 2nd level spells), they too seem to remain within the 3rd-level limit. His iconic staff and the ring Narya, associated with fiery spells, might have boosted some of his abilities. Even his epic face-off with the Balrog suggests that the D&D combat system might not precisely reflect Middle-Earth’s dynamics, but hints at the power of magic items.
Now, as for the formidable Sauron: a few spells like Clairvoyance and perhaps an enhanced Wizard’s Eye (AD&D spells of 3rd and 4th level) come to mind. His Palantir and the “Red Eye” did most of his bidding. And if we concede Control Weather (a 7th level spell in AD&D and an 8th level spell in 5th edition D&D) to his arsenal, he might touch 14th level in AD&D system, needing to be level 14 to use a 7th level spell). Far from the lofty 100th level some speculate.
How do we align our perception with these revelations? It’s tempting to imagine a stringent universe where a demigod requires millennia to achieve mere 5th-level status. But perhaps the D&D magic system itself is an ill-fitting lens to view the enchantment of Middle-Earth. Should we revise our understanding of the magic system, experience system, or spell levels? What say you in this enthralling debate?
Indeed, this discussion brings forth a fascinating conundrum for any avid fan of both the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) framework and Tolkien’s expansive world of Middle-Earth. The two universes, though sharing elements of fantasy and magic, operate under vastly different principles and ethos.
Dungeons & Dragons, a game rooted in numbers, levels, and progression, offers a systematic approach to magic. Spells are categorized, leveled, and rationed out based on a character’s progression and abilities. It is a universe where power can be tangibly measured, where a spell’s potency can be quantified, and where characters grow in might as they accumulate experiences.
Contrast this with Middle-Earth, a world where magic is subtle, ancient, and ineffable. Magic in Tolkien’s universe isn’t something that’s simply learned or acquired. It’s woven into the very fabric of the world, intrinsic to certain races or beings, and often more about influence, wisdom, and presence than overt displays of power. Gandalf’s might, for instance, isn’t in the spells he casts but, in his wisdom, his ancient spirit, and his role in the unfolding events of the world.
So, how do we reconcile these differences? One could argue that trying to fit Middle-Earth’s magic into a D&D framework is akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole. They’re fundamentally different systems, with different purposes and narratives in mind. D&D’s magic system, with its spells and levels, might not be the best way to represent the ethereal, intangible nature of Middle-Earth’s enchantments.
Yet, for the sake of debate and for those who enjoy merging these universes in tabletop RPG sessions, perhaps a revision is in order. Instead of trying to force Middle-Earth characters into traditional D&D spell levels and classes, one might consider developing a new magic system altogether. This system would prioritize the inherent magical nature of certain races and beings over learned spells. Experience wouldn’t just be about battling foes but about understanding the deeper mysteries of the world. Spells wouldn’t be just tools in a wizard, sorcerers, warlocks or a magic-user’s arsenal but rare, significant events that have profound impacts.
In my opinion, to truly capture the essence of Middle-Earth within a D&D framework, it’s not just about tweaking spell levels or the experience system. It’s about reimagining the very nature of magic and how it intertwines with the world and its inhabitants.
Consider reading Unlocking the Vault of Magic