Game: Encyclopaedia Arcane: Battle Magic
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 23rd, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 26
Average Score: 6.50
If you use Battle Magic in your campaign then you’ll be introducing two powerful (and possibly over-powering) factors to your game world – mighty spells and influential guilds.
The premise of Battle Magic is simple; do away with those spells of knowledge, summoning or other spurious effects and concentrate entirely on ways to inflict huge amounts of damage on their foes. A great deal of damage in as little time as possible. The author estimates that the Battle Mage can inflict about 30% more damage than wizardly rivals. The basic rites and rituals of spell casting are pushed aside as well and replaced with two differing the system. The Battle Magic as a close combat specialist cousin in the form of the Eldritch Warrior. The Eldritch Warrior channels her magic through her spellblade and is immune to her own magical effects; thus allowing her to thrust her sword along with fireball into the ogre in front of her and run no risk of being burnt. The Battle Mage has the expensive issue of sliding gems around on their Mortis Harness, a series of sliding rules and catches which are worn as an item of clothing by the mage.
It gets even crazier. These Battle Mages can link or braid spells together. A successful Battle Mage can link spells so that they cast one after another in rapid-fire succession – but he is required to spend the time beforehand preparing. Braiding spells is different, it involves merging two or more spells together to form one spell; mixing fire damage with ice damage doesn’t negate the spell (I guess that’s part of Battle Mage training) but simply reduces the chances of hitting your opponent with the blast only to watch as it seems to be immune to that type of damage.
The mortis harness and spellblades are the first of three checks against the incredible power of these mages. The required trappings are very expensive and can only be built with the co-operation of the Battle Guild. As the mage attempts to channel more and more spells in any given day there is an increasing risk that one of the costly gems in the harness blows out. When a gem crumbles, breaks, shatters or otherwise goes “kerplat” from a harness its no longer possible to cast any spells that would require it but the Mage may still be able to wrangle other combinations of spells.
The Battle Guilds provide the second of the three checks against the Battle Mage. In order to progress as a Battle Mage co-operation with the Battle Guild is a must. Only the Battle Guilds can provide their mages with access to the Book of War (their reduex spell list), mentors and the labs. In fact, if you’re following the canon rules in Battle Magic: the Eldritch Storm and your Battle Mage burns out a vital gem when he’s halfway through some titanic exploration of some remote city then he’s, well, he’s screwed.
The last of the three checks is the attitude of important people towards Battle Mages. Whereas they’re not treated with the same scorn as, say, Necromancers and Demonologists there is always that king who doesn’t like the idea of that one mage who could decimate his expensive army.
There are problems with all three of these counter-balances to the power of the Battle Mage. The Mortis Harness and Spellblades are easy to over look or, if looked at, prove to be a serious spanner in the work. The Battle Guilds need to be present in your campaign world and even if they are then your Battle Mage will be rather tied to them. The attitude of NPCs or even other PCs towards the Battle Mage; especially combined with the previous two reasons, run the serious risk that the Battle Mage will become too dominant in your game. The Eldritch Warrior is worse, her ability, conscience or not, to hog the combat only adds to the risk of the campaign becoming a one horse town.
That said, the inherent difficulties of running with Battle Mages or Eldritch Warriors in your own game doesn’t distract from the book too much. Battle Magic does what it sets out to do – and it introduces a new system, well, modified system capable of presenting those mages who choose to specialise in battles.
The Overview chapter in the book introduces the basic premise of the Battle Mages and their important mortis harness, runeweave robes and spellblade. “To Gird for Battle” is the interestingly titled chapter that introduces the two prestige classes of Battle Mage and Eldritch Warrior.
The Book of War is perhaps the largest chapter in the book and it’s named after the set of spells that make up the core of the Battle Mage’s archives. The Book of War, thankfully, doesn’t just introduce a new set of spells. The chapter begins with three new spell shapes: the spiral, the stream and the mobile emanation. I’m not aware of any other d20 book that has thought of doing something like this before but it strikes me as one of those blindingly obvious enhancements that only actually become blindingly obvious after someone else has thought of it. There’s a long list of spells in the Book of War as well, improved, of course, by the addition of three new shapes of magic. Nicely, the range of spells starts at level one and reaches all the way up and so avoids the problem of only introducing powerful new magic.
Nearly as long is the Armoury chapter. In the Armoury you’ll find quite a number of dastardly concoctions and magical items. The trinkets, so to speak, found in the Armoury stick to the Battle Mage ethos and concern themselves with ways to inflict pain and damage. A nice touch, I thought, was the addition of the nasty War Golem. A powerful, animated artefact like the Golem is a useful extra for the book and what makes it something special is the compatibility and construction rules added as an optional tie in to the Encyclopaedia Arcane: Constructs a sister book in the Encyclopaedia Arcane series.
I’ve said that the Battle Guilds become a key issue in your campaign if you want to use the vanilla rules from Battle Magic and given that it would have been inexcusable for Mongoose not to have included sufficient text and advice on them. The section given over to these Guilds describes what they want, how they sign deals with clients and then set about bringing the two together. In some ways the Guild becomes the focus of the Battle Mage in the same way the undead become the focus of Necromancers and demons the focus of Demonologists.
As you reach the end of the book you’ll come across some battle feats and useful advice for Games Masters who want to run with Battle Mages in their game. The new feats help introduce and deal with aspects of the new battle magic system and so you’ll find them more useful and inspired than yet-another-feat that simply rehashes old rules. The advice to Games Masters is helpful even if it only confirms that your suspicions about integrating Battle Mages into your game are right. Tucked away behind the last advice to Games Masters and the Designer’s Notes you’ll find a page of information on those Battle Mages who have gone renegade.
I’m in the situation where I liked the book but I don’t think there’s much of a chance that I’ll allow any Battle Mages in any fantasy game that I run. It could be that your high fantasy game is one where Guilds are important, one with frequent battles and lots of magic and in that case you’ll find this particular Arcane Encyclopaedia to be rather tempting. The Battle Mage makes for a wonderful villain as well, an enemy that the players can grow to hate as he proves nemesis to their carefully built up armies.
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