Game: Spells and Magic
Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 9th, June 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I purchased the softback 96 paged Spells & Magic at the same time as I bought a hardback campaign world of some 250 paged. Spells & Magic was the more expensive – and not by a small margin either. Spells & Magic lives up to its name and offers a collection of new spells, magic items and magical prestige classes. The internet oozes with these three offerings. I could ask any RPG newgroup or forum board for suggestions on new spells, items and mage prestige classes and expect to be snowed under.
I would dearly love to slam this book and write it up as a complete and utter waste of money.
I can’t. Spells & Magic comes out fighting. It doesn’t fight dirty; it fights neatly, cleanly and professionally. Therein lies the strength of the book.
Spells & Magic is 96 pages of full colour and high density content. “High density content” in the non-RPG corrupted form of English means a small font size. Well, actually, it means a small font size without reams and reams of atmospheric text describing unfortunate adventurers, monsters and villains and not describing any new spells, items or magical prestige classes. Spells & Magic is one of those rare RPG supplements that you could wave under the nose of a non-gamer and safely claim that it’s a hi-tech and sophisticated hobby.
The artwork is great, you’d expect that in a full colour book but Bastion Press has not sat back to rest on the laurels of success that you might expect would arrive with the likes of Minions and has continued to polish and perfect the eye candy. Having said that Spells and Magic is without much in the way of atmospheric text it does offer up entire pages of illustration. A quick bit of easy mental arithmetic lets me know that each of those A4 colour illustrations cost me slightly over 17p (that’s ~24c in US pocket change). I suspect some artists might through up their hands in disgust at such figures.
Spells & Magic is a tight conglomerate of magically orientated enhancements for high fantasy games. The new prestige classes follow a simple but effective trick of running through a series of interesting magical foci for each prestige class. Chapter one, though, runs through the ever-present list of new feats.
The Blood Mage is a ten level prestige class. This class could have been presented as a nice way to twist vanilla spell casting rules for those GMs who wish to run a low fantasy or dangerous magic element in their campaigns. Instead though, the requirements are fairly high and the blood focus enhances already powerful spells. I suppose it offers a different approach to the low fantasy genre in that it presents some possible but dangerous short cuts to more refined magic in high fantasy games.
The chapter on dragon magic and the various dragon mages must be a highlight of the book. First of all it presents a nice and game mechanic supported reason why dragons collect treasure troves. The dragon mages, and there are different flavours of them, are nearly as nice. “Dragon” is a buzzword. There will be players and GMs the world over who’ll fork out the cost of Spells & Magic just to get their mitts on a rules system which presents a nice way for their players (or favourite NPCs) to be dragony.
Faery Magic, as the law requires, remembers to pay attention to the Seelie and Unseelie aspects of the fae. Unlike the previous two chapters of prestige classes, though, the Faerier only has five levels of advancement.
Mirror magic should be a cliché by now – but it isn’t. I think players all around the globe are naturally hesitant to throw their lot in with a power source that is so prone to shattering or being obscured by a simple Darkness spell. Bastion Press sallies forth with a heroic attempt to make mirrors more adventuring friendly – you’ll even find mithral and adamantine classes in the mirror durability table. The mirror mage, aka the comically titled Reflecting Master, even manages to claw up to ten levels of prestige. As a GM I love the mirror magic section. As a player it’s not for me.
An altogether more robust foci, if more expensive one, would be magical jewels or at least mages able to harness the innate connections between magic and otherwise run of the mill jewels. There are nine pages for the Path of the Jewel and that’s an absolute mass considering that there are 12 chapters squeezed into the 96 pages. The Jewel Mage earns himself a total of ten prestige levels whereas the appealing Soul Gem Guardian manages only 5. I’m glad that Bastion Press didn’t simply use the age old trick of having jewels and gems as power sources for more spells but included the association of binding and bonding creatures to gems; as a gem binds the light or, I suppose, you might encounter a genie bound to a particular gem in a fairy tale.
Rune magic is given even more pages in the tightly packed book: 14 in total. The extra print is given over to a satisfyingly long list of specific runes, each one listing the spells available through levels 0 to 9. At a glance you might think the rune casters are presented as a new core character class; you’ll find up to 15 levels of advancement for the class and 20 levels for “Rune Magic Spells per Day”. However, rune casters are a prestige class but with fairly mild requirements.
I’m nothing of a rules munchkin and so it’s not quite clear to me if it’s possible to be Shadetouched, on the Path of Shades or otherwise “all shadowy” without actually qualifying and being in the Shadetouched prestige class. The introductory page wonderfully includes mentions of unlucky children born just too close to an ancient death god’s shrine and then waking up one night to find the family’s dead pet sitting beside her bed but then, as if the way of prestige classes, you must have (among others) 10 ranks of Plane Knowledge in order to qualify as a Shadow Seer. That seems to rule out the poor old kid and the pet skeleton dog. In either case, pushing rule queries aside, the magic focus is a nice one although not terribly original, it’s as professionally and as slickly presented in Spells & Magic as you’ll have come to expect by this point.
There’s spellsinging and it’s wonderful for bards, as ever, but it’s one of the shortest chapters of the magical prestige classes.
I liked the totem magic chapter and it’s this chapter that finishes off the list of foci inspired prestige classes. Shaman or werewolf fans will be pleased to see that there are actual totems included as well as a list of associated powers.
If you’re wondering whether you could write an entire encyclopaedia on any of these individual prestige classes or where the chaos or wild mage went then you might be interested to know that Sam Witt is the first author mentioned in Spells & Magic.
Having previously claimed that new spells are ten a penny on the internet I can still admit to be grudgingly impressed that they managed to squeeze 124 spells into those pages remaining after all those prestige classes. Unlike half the spells you’ll end up with if you follow my suggestion and ask any old newsgroup or forum for user suggest spells, the spells contained in this book are all rather good. As ever, there are some weak links but there are some real beauties as ever. Kindly, the spells are introduced in nice class specific lists so you want a quick way to list new Ranger spells then just eye the Ranger table.
The last nine pages of this busy book are given over to magic items. As with the spells Bastion Press manages to squeeze an impressive number of new items into the page space available.
I might be ready to savage any book which attempts to swindle me out of my hard earned coin by offering nothing more than pretty pictures and common-and-garden character enhancements but I can’t do it to this book. Spells & Magic is not common-and-garden. If you like slick and glossy products then you’ll be used to paying the extra money and you’ll not blink an eyelid at the price, otherwise you’ll need to weigh up whether you want to introduce any one of these specific character classes into your game. If you do fancy one of the new prestige classes then the mass of spells and items are a bonus, if you don’t like any of the prestige classes then no amount of new magical spells, items or feats can warrant the cost of the book (or, indeed, a book at half the price). The careful player might want to flick through the book in his local hobby store before buying it (and they’ll probably end up being seduced and buying it) but the careful hobby store owner might insist that any player intent on flicking through Spells & Magic puts on some protective plastic gloves first.