I spun this out as an offhand comment on this question but it made me think about it.

When we first meet Harry in Storm Front his powers are quite weak for a wizard and as the series progresses he gradually but consistently improves, mostly between books but sometimes within the book.

It appears that Harry Dresden follows the class progression of a Dungeons and Dragons Wizard as he increases in power. The progression appears to be that he is level one in Sotrm Front and gains one level after each book. For instance his favourite 'Fuego' spell seems to be very similar in concept to a Burning hands spell (1st level) as opposed to a Fireball spell (3rd level spell which he could use as a 5th level Wizard).

Is there any instance in the books of Harry using a spell that would be beyond his level if we follow the D&D Wizard spell progression?

As we don't know which set of rules or rules variant Harry may be following please feel free to use any D20 source.

Further Clarifications:

There are a number of official and unoffical rulebooks which allow for different ways to handle spellcasting but the core D&D rules allow a Wizard to memorise four different spells at 1st level. Most optional rules then allow those spells to be cast more flexibly via some sort of spellpoint system.

The feats system introduced in D&D 3 allows Wizards to approach their magic use more flexibly too. For instance Harry, if he was based on a Wizard, could have chosen a metamagic feat that increases his power output at a cost in effort/spellpoints.


I've been rereading Storm Front the last couple of days keeping my idea in mind. Harry really does use only a limited repertoire of spells, mostly his wind push and pull, a fire blast, the finding spell, and his shield. While they definitely don't fit with the descriptions of D&D spells they are kind of similar with a little stretch of imagination and due to his use of a 'gust of Wind' lookalike spell you could easily roll him up as a 3rd level D&D Wizard with the right set of optional rules.

There is at least one notable exception. When attacked by a toad demon Harry manages to call down a lightning bolt which is a third level spell and only available to 5th level Wizards. However he does it by channeling the lightning rather than producing it which is something pretty much outside of most D&D rulesets.

I gave the answer to Jeff because he provided the key point about the Gust of Wind spell but everyone gave good answers, so thanks to all.


4 Answers 4


There is plenty of evidence that Harry does not operate under the rules for D&D in any meaningful way.

  • Harry can cast several spells in the first book which are far more powerful than a low-level arcane caster could use (for example, Gust of Wind could never launch an elevator in the way Harry is forced to).

  • Harry's spells do not have anything like the limitations spells in D&D have. Harry's fugeo, for example, isn't limited the way fireball or burning hands is - it will continue unabated until Harry wills it to stop, unlike the fire-and-forget spells in the sourcebooks.

  • Harry casts spontaneously, without preparing ahead of time. This means that under D&D 3.5 (the only system I'm strongly familiar with) he would have to be a sorcerer. No sorcerer could know that many different spells at low levels.

  • Finally, we know Harry doesn't operate under the D&D rules because he has his own RPG. If that's not good enough, he's been build in Mutants and Masterminds (2nd edition) a couple of times (3E).

  • Your first point assumes that he's first level in the first book when, in fact, he has been a wizard for years and has passed the Council's test to be a full-fledged wizard. His apprentice, Molly, would be more like a first level wizard (at the beginning). Jun 24, 2013 at 12:57
  • @Donald.McLean: I'm picking up where the initial comment left off - the comment that initiated this indicates that Harry was level 1 in the first book.
    – Jeff
    Jun 24, 2013 at 13:14
  • I've edited the question to make it clear about Harry being level 1 at the start. Note that in the D&D rules there's plenty of leeway for a charcter being level 1 even after years of study and practice. It is the conflicts which give them the experience to level up, in this the books are very muhc like a series of adventures.
    – user11154
    Jun 24, 2013 at 15:20
  • Gust of Wind is a 2nd level spell which is only available to a 3rd level Wizard - looks like you have answered the question
    – user11154
    Jun 24, 2013 at 15:28
  • Even if it were Gust of Wind, there's no chance it could have worked like that. And there's no chance fugeo is burning hands - it deals way too much damage.
    – Jeff
    Jun 24, 2013 at 16:39

In a word, no.

All of the changes in Harry's abilities as a wizard come from several clearly identifiable sources that are clearly discussed in the books.

  1. Study, practice, research, and preparation: It is the nature of Wizards in Harry's universe be constantly working on their craft. Harry makes the point in several places that there are limits to how much energy a wizard can come up with "off-the-cuff" but that given time to make advanced preparations, they can be very powerful opponents.

  2. Enter Lasciel: When Harry picks up the Denarian and Lasciel's shadow enters his consciousness, he gains the ability to use Hellfire. Harry is not an idiot though, and uses it sparingly. Eventually, he breaks the connection to Lasciel and loses the ability to use Hellfire (just in time for #4 below).

  3. Take on an apprentice: One of the things that Harry comments on repeatedly was that taking on and apprentice, and going over basic magical theory with them helped improve his own understanding and mastery of those same basics. At several points, Harry comments about how he would never have been able to do a particular piece of magic without this improved mastery.

  4. Enter Uriel: At the end of one of the books, as a reward for his efforts, Harry gains access to Soulfire.

  5. Enter Mab: Becoming the Winter Knight gave him access to an entire new type and level of power.

It seems to me that his progression is based more on individual effort, plus special circumstances and would be more like GURPS than Dungeons and Dragons.

  • Did consuming the Nightmare (beginning of Red Court War) give him a permanent upgrade, or just enough to continue fighting in that instance? I'd need to go back to confirm it, but I believe that is the moment at which he stopped whining about his power level and running out after low level spells.
    – rsegal
    Jun 24, 2013 at 12:47
  • @rsegal: Harry's still whining in Turn Coat, though he doesn't whine much in Changes (due to him being a Papa Wolf).
    – Jeff
    Jun 24, 2013 at 13:28
  • Absolutely, but my sense is that it was more frequent before that point, and rated his power much lower against other wizards. I don't know whether it was that particular event, or the year of research he did immediately afterwards, but in the events of Summer Night he seemed significantly stronger.
    – rsegal
    Jun 24, 2013 at 15:01
  • 2
    @rsegal - my recollection is different. IIRC, Harry was considered a bit of a bull-in-the-china-shop (powerful, but not as controlled) compared with most of his fellow wizards. I'll think about this and perhaps I can remember a section where this was discussed. Jun 24, 2013 at 15:09
  • 1
    Aren't points 2, 4, and 5 basically the same as getting a big magic item rather than an increase in personal experience? Also, you're answering the title of the question and not the actual question which is phrased differently. Sorry to nitpick.
    – user11154
    Jun 24, 2013 at 15:17

Evidence from the Books

Yes, Harry gains in knowledge and power in between most of the books. He gains some during a few of the novels. That said, Harry doesn't "level up" in a manner similar to D&D characters.

Exception Spoiler:

but not before Ghost Story. After all, he's mostly dead during it.

For the most part, Harry does gain in power and ability over time, with some very clear jumps at certain points for good reasons.

Cold Days has a MAJOR jump in Harry's power when he becomes the Winter Knight.
Likewise, when he learns how to use soulfire, that also is a significant jump.

And evidence from the Official Dresden Files RPG...

As a further aside, the Dresden Files RPG does not use a class and level approach; Harry is presented at a midpoint... neither his relatively weak self of Storm Front, nor his über-buff status after Cold Days.

It's before he becomes a warden. It doesn't even mention the soulfire, Molly, nor several other important minor characters. So it probably is Harry pre-Death Masks, and certainly before Dead Beat.

Note that the milestones system in the DFRPG is organized on three tiers:

  • Minor: change an aspect or reduce refresh to gain more stunts/powers, or swap the rank of two skills.
  • Significant: add a skill rank and also an option from the minor.
  • Major: increase Refresh by 1, regain your extreme consequence slot (if used), and then as a significant milestone.

Note that in general, each book looks to be a significant or major milestone.

  • 1
    I'd have to agree, if he followed any one RPG it'd have to be Fate (which his RPG is based off of...).
    – DForck42
    Jun 25, 2013 at 19:21
  • Isn't that putting the art before the horse though?
    – user11154
    Jun 26, 2013 at 15:11
  • 1
    The writeup on Our World p. 134 states: “NOTE: This write-up depicts Harry Dresden after the events of the Storm Front case.” There's a list of his “power-ups” from Fool Moon through Small Favor on p. 137. Mar 6, 2014 at 23:11
  • Considering how harrys cases usually go I imagine every book has to have been a major milestone because he seems to suffer an extreme consequence very book ;) Then again if you view his burnt hand as an extreme consequence I suppose that would imply he somehow managed to go several books before reaching a major milestone; or he somehow came up with an extra-extreme consequence to suffer
    – dsollen
    Dec 20, 2023 at 18:47

Winter Knight - An added TEMPLATE that Harry has taken.

His spells get more powerful - A higher level wizard has a higher caster level.

Starting at level one - No. Just no. Wizards in DF have to have a "minimum number of abilities". Just having magic isn't enough. A "1st level wizard" would be those magic users that aren't members of the White Council. Dresden HAS to be higher than level one. By quite a margin at that.

Hellfire/Soulfire - An energy modification that can be applied to any spell to increase it's power.

Levelling Up - A lot of people are getting hung up on Harry learning more through study. They seem to be forgetting a basic premise of D&D. Exp is only a MECHANISM to emulate real life. In fact normal D&D says that if you gain exp too fast, that you won't level up, as you should gain exp in accordance to the time it would take to practice/study/etc to learn the new techniques and get better. Killing a terrasque at level 7 shouldn't catapult you to level 20.

Basically, even though the character has enough exp to level up, they still have to do so over time. They just don't need to fight any more monsters to do so, and can safely study in their room at home until they have taken enough time to level up their new exp count.

It's the little rules that people forget...

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