Have you ever had an adventure spoiled by a spell? Through the history of Dungeons & Dragons, a variety of spells carried the potential to short circuit or spoil whole categories of adventures—at least without significant planning to avoid the spells’ potential.
Many of the adventure-spoiling spells existed in the early days, but given the play styles of the times, they posed few problems.
Once upon a time, D&D games took place in huge sprawling dungeons like the one under Castle Greyhawk, where monsters wandered and players balanced their own encounters by deciding how deep they dared to go.
Adventures never featured intrigue. You never needed to find the real killer from among a group of suspects. Detect Lie probably started as a way to determine if the captive Kobold was lying about the treasure behind the “untrapped” door ahead. It also deterred the thief from stealing your stuff. Know Alignment simply existed so the cleric could tell the paladin who to kill first.
Just a few years after D&D reached gamers, players discovered adventures with plot and roleplaying. But spells that served as just another resource in the Tomb of Horrors suddenly prevented entire styles of play.
Spells like Detect Lie (later Discern Lies), Detect Thoughts, and Zone of Truth threatened to eliminate intrigue.
With spells like Commune and Speak with Dead in the game, you can forget whodunits.
The Prince of Murder’s army of assassins cannot keep him safe in his mountain aerie if the characters can scry and fry.
Fourth edition defied D&D tradition by eliminating spells that broke adventures. Too many players felt 4E remade too much of the game. So fifth edition works to balance nostalgia for classic spells with changes that make them less troublesome.
Next: Which spells have proven troublesome, and how does fifth edition deal with them?