Game: Encyclopaedia Arcane: Chronomancy
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 8th, August 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 4.00
Temporary paradox, permanent paradox, awakened, celerity and an entirely different magic system than the Dreaming system used by the fairies. I’m talking about Mongoose’s duel Encyclopaedia line of course. Which product line did you think I was talking about? If you thought I was talking about White Wolf then I was probably being too harsh; terms like “paradox” go hand in hand with any discussion on temporal magic and it would have been wrong to avoid it just because reviewers can think of other products that use the same terms. I don’t imagine terms like “paradox” or “awakened” are copyright either, whereas I recall from the fine print in my Pocket Grimoire Divine that the authors of that compilation had to site the copyright to the “Domain of Time and new time spells in The Tide of Years to the authors of that Penumbra book. Whereas it is probably all right to copyright hard written spells I’m glad Mongoose came up with Chronomancy and the Chronomancy spell school and left it open. Chronomancy sounds better than Time anyway.
I’ll jump straight to nearly the end of the book for this review and take a look at the chapter A Games Master’s Guide to Chronomancy. For a start, it sounds better than “Advice for Games Masters” and more importantly, at 8 pages long this is actually a helpful and worthwhile inclusion in the book. The author, Robin Duke, is clearly aware of what an absolute headache chronomantic magic is for GMs and yet how attractive it is for players and sets out to offer some tips and tricks on how to resolve these issues. One of the suggestions is that despite the power of chronomancy or any individual wizard there are always more powerful Gods of Time or Fate who might censor, watch or even change the results the chronomancer might receive. In other cases, any attempts made by the time-mage to read the future might only present “the most likely future”. You’ll also read here that the author thought that despite the headaches any RPG supplement on time simply could not avoid the issues of time travel or fortune telling. These two issues are addressed as well. I think we all know that cryptic riddles and enigmas are a great way to present an unclear future to your players – but, as is always the case with advice like this, the fact that its next to impossible to wing such a riddle is ignored. This is supposed to be a review, but here comes my tip for GMs blessed with stupid players: use a qualifying statement slyly. In it’s boldest form (and which still seems to be overlooked by those really gullible players) such a statement might appear as, “I predict years of pain and anger drenched in blood for the fighters among you who fail to restrain their rage”.
The last chapter, excepting the designer’s notes, predicts pain and blood for those time wizards who mess up or otherwise encounter some of “the denizens of the void – between”. I love creatures like this; they’re beasties with panache. The name “Chronovoire” by itself is cause to celebrate. The chronovoires are reality banes that often appear as a hybrid of creatures (since reality already has dibs on current creatures) and they’re the sort of thing that might harass a wizard who was unfortunately distracted in his attempt to summon a lion from the past. There are a few others too; the Destiny Haunt appears as a spark of light that might lurk in important items and is the sort of creature to “come to life” if the Chronomancer manages to avoid death by cheating time and fate. Why not terrorise your party with the undead Warp Ravger; just when the local cleric thought he knew everything there was to know about undead.
There’s actually two prestige classes in “The Power of Time” (these mini titles really do build up: Encyclopaedia Arcane : Chronomancy : The Power of Time) and fortunately each one is detailed through 10 levels. There’s the Enlightened, someone who struggles to understand and accept his place in the silent war between the continuum and paradox and of whom the book says, “An enlightened is often found hanging upside down from a tree by his ankle, blood still dripping from his severed wrists, the smoke of candles floating all around him.” Often? This seems to make them an unlikely PC choice but if that description reminded you of the tarot card “The Hanged Man” then you’ll be pleased to find the magical “Tarocchi Deck” of cards elsewhere in the book. The Enlightened believes in ritual and self-mutilation so the chap hanging from the tree is probably mediating and not murder victim. The other prestige class is the Temporal Defender and they live up to their name by trying to keep reality stable. The Temporal Defender strikes me as every much the campaign friendly class that the Enlightened fails to be. Still, that’s a 50:50 ratio between PC and NPC classes.
There isn’t a core class Chronomancer. The mage is a specialist wizard or sorcerer and backed up by the perquisite feats is someone able to claim the title. Once someone counts as a Chronomancer they’re then able to receive a number of “core class like” abilities and suffer from disadvantages like quirks and paradox too. I was really worried that we’d see Chronomancy as a school of magic. That wouldn’t work; it’d mess up the balance of, er, specialist mages – where a mage has to exclude some schools in preference of one. Instead we see Chronomancy appearing as the spell’s descriptor and this works much better even though the term “specialist” becomes somewhat overloaded.
It is in this introductory section of basic Chronomancer abilities that the Time Magic score is introduced. The Chronomancer trades of actual spell slots for bonuses in his Time Magic. The spell slot traded, destroyed, gone forever (an ironic twist for the time mage) must be of a higher level than the rise in the Time Magic score. For example, to reach Time Magic +3 you need to sacrifice a 4th level spell slot. Why? Well. Um. Time Magic is introduced under the paragraph heading of Ritual Magic but it‘s easy to miss. It’s also easy to miss the mention of the stat again when the book gets around to Ritual Chronomancy. The Time Magic score is added to the d20 roll to see whether the ritual is successful. However, the mage’s charisma modifier is also added to this d20 roll. Burning away useful spell slots in exchange for a small bonus to my Time Magic ability doesn’t sound like an attractive offer to me. It’s not that chronomatic rituals aren’t powerful – and you get the feeling the author was worried that their strengths would be overlooked by the players – its just that I don’t see them being used often enough. Pulling an item lost to history out from the past is a classic example of a scenario or campaign highlight. (I told you chronomatic rituals are powerful. “The Ring was thrown into the fires of the volcano but for six seconds it was clearly neither in the halfling’s hands nor in the magma…”)
You don’t have to worry your GM or the rest of the party with impressively dangerous rituals to use chronomatic magic though. The Power of Time offers up a fairly decent range of chronomatic based spells. These spells tend to work on layers, able to effect a greater period of time in each successive evolution of the spell. The spells are fairly carefully balanced and moderated. I don’t think there are any campaign destroying magic in here that isn’t addressed later in the Games Master’s Guide to Chronomancy but due to the nature of time magic I think a fair few could give rise to unexpected in-game debates. If you temporarily get rid of an opponent in a fight by throwing it 10 seconds in to the future and you kill it 10 seconds later before the spell runs out, does the creature return to the present dead? If it does come back dead how can you kill it 10 seconds in the future?
Paradox, huh. I said in the introduction there was no escaping it (another irony?). I actually think Chronomancy gets the balance right. Mucking around with Time is way more complicated than most people give credit for. Too much complicity will just kill off a game. Time’s the fourth dimension, some would say, and most of us can get our heads around a one dimensional view of time – moving backwards and forwards in time. However, as a valid fourth dimension you should be able four dimensional movements in time; moving backwards, forwards, up, down, left, right and, er, two other directions I can’t work out. Rather than worrying about those GameWyrd defeating physics The Power of Time introduces the void as an entirely alien place between the laws of paradox and the chaos of continuum. Chronomancers are aware (awakened) of this ebb and flow and in a nice touch this awareness tends to differ between mages; some see it as light and dark effects whereas others might feel it in their blood. When the mage experiences that second of time when he understands the absolute truth to chronomancy he goes mad; he shatters. The length of time in which a mage stays insane varies greatly, I couldn’t work out whether the book encouraged to role-play through this or not as at one point I think it says it is assumed to have happened in downtime (which to my mind means outside role-playing time) and then later makes comments about how you could role-play it. Mind you, the book also says that players who tell their GMs in advance they intend to take the Chronomancer Feat may be able to work with the GM to bring that into the game as a plot strand. I can’t imagine anyone springing that on the GM without several role-playing sessions of warning. “Yeah, I’ve levelled up. I’m increasing my Wisdom, increasing a few of my Knowledge skills and, oh yeah, I’ve become a Chronomancer and now have complete understanding of the world, time and the void. Is that okay?”
Madness. It’s not just the madness that strikes the Shattered Chronomancer or the madness of any player who thinks he can slide it into the campaign without serious GM consultation that’s covered in the book. As Chronomancers increase in power and experience they start to develop increasingly worrying quirks. The term “quirk” sounds rather less important than it actually is; they represent the way paradox and the continuum don’t quite sit right with the Chronomancer. Looking at just the first few entries on the table I can see that these mages might suffer from a static field around them or experience problems now and then when their eyes (or perhaps their vision) slip back into the past rather than stay in the present when the Chronomancer is sure to need them the most!
Somewhere in the middle of all this you’ll find a list of chronomatic magic items (such as the fortune telling Tarocchi Deck. There’s also enough on the rules of paradox and how the point system works. There are actually more than just the two flavours of paradox I mentioned at the start; there’s inherent paradox and fixed paradox too.
The artwork scatted around the book is your typical pencil sketch. I think there’s slightly less art than normal because there are slightly more crunchy bits and more tables than normal. I started this review near the end of the book and so here near the end of the review I should point out the front of the book! Chronomancy depicts a lady riding her horse through some portal with her sword ready while some mage half cowers in front. I thought to myself . o O (That women looks familiar). Try as I might, I couldn’t place where I’d seen her before but I had the faint impressions of famous AD&D books in mind. The credits explain it all: Cover Art – Larry Elmore.
The Power of Time could have been a great book. It could have been the one and only chronomantic resource a GM could want. It’s not. This Encyclopaedia Arcane is a really good book though and there is more than enough in it to please even the most picky player or GM. I think the book does well on capitalising on the nearly unique way in which text on “time magic” manages to be both mechanically crunchy (which I don’t like but I know many do) and detail rich (which I do like but others don’t) at the same time. Chronomancy walks the more difficult path by trying to offer a system by which GMs and players can insert time magic into an already established game or campaign world rather than presenting a whole new system which would require a fresh start. The book succeeds in that it presents an entirely workable system that is both GM and player friendly in a professional and clear way. I predict it sells well.