Game: Encyclopaedia Arcane: Star Magic
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 3rd, October 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I was won over by Star Magic – Wisdom of the Magi; I was suspicious at the start, worried that the book was suggesting a lot of work for little reward but through both persistence and completeness the author changed my mind.
Completeness is important. I’m under the impression that most of the new schools of magic introduced for the d20 system are incomplete. I might be incorrect but something’s gone wrong and gone wrong often enough to leave me with this impression. The pit trap is with school of magic specialisation. When you create a new school of magic it needs to be tied into the balance mechanism that regulates specialist mages. If you’re a specialist mage then you loose access to Star Magic. If you specialise in Star Magic then you loose access to Necromancy and one other school of your choice. There. Done. Complete. It’s just about fair too because although this seems to make Star Magic rather rare… well, it’s actually rather convenient if you’re introducing the new rules into your campaign world.
Mongoose Publishing have been rattling off the Encyclopaedia series rather quickly. This is the eleventh book from the collection already. I was wondering whether a dozen interesting sounding names were put together over beer and pizza one night and then thankless writers outsourced to put 64 pages of appropriate material together. A quick check to the Designer’s Notes which often appear in Mongoose books pushed this concern away. Star Magic has been an established part of the author’s own campaign world for many years even if its only recently been converted into d20 mechanics.
There are no new spells in Star Magic. Rather than learning spells as such the magi learn and study stars. By understanding these stars and by being able to cast, at least, first level spells the magi can channel magical effects from the stars. This is effectively casting spells but with a different flavour to your game. There is flavour in this book and it’s a welcome off set to what would otherwise be a very crunchy supplement. The use of these stars often includes a flavour rich caveat at the end. For example, “Channelling the powers of the star of death carries great risks. Although not strictly forbidden, most magi regard it as dangerous knowledge. Furthermore its use seems to attract the attention of the gods of death as through they could sense a magician tampering with their domain.” Stars don’t have a level either; instead they have a minimum casting level (which is always 1st in the book but I suppose there’s room for scary GM introduced stars) and take up an appropriate spell slot. If the magus wants he can assign the star to a higher spell slot than the minimum required and this will increase the potency of the magic but not the casting time.
This is just the first level though and after this Star Magic really does become different from the usual routine of assigning magical effects to spell slots. The magi can build Constellations. Constellations are as you would expect. Astrologers will link different stars in the night sky together and then named as a constellation. Magi can channel different stars together and create greater magical effects which are known as a Constellations. It’s the Constellations that have the more demanding minimum caster level and it’s the Constellations that produce the more specialised and powerful magic effects. You can assign a Constellation to a higher than required spell slot too. The magi would call this “over-channelling”. Initially the new lingo was a pain but its easy to pick up and its more game friendly to talk about Stars, Constellations and Channelling in-game than have your wizard mutter awkwardly about ‘spell slots’.
The spell caster doesn’t have to be a wizard. A star can be studied, mastered and its arcane secrets inscribed safely into a spell book but sorcerers and bards can learn Star Magic too. Sorcerers and Bards just have a slightly more awkward balancing act to ensure that they learn the Stars which will be key components in the Constellations they’re likely to want to channel most often. Wizards, Sorcerers and Bards have different maximum level caps for Constellations. A Bard cannot learn a Constellation over 5th level whereas a Wizard can learn all the way up to 9th level Channelling.
The Constellations make appearances throughout the entire book. Much of the artwork in the book are illustrations of Tarot like cards which represent the Constellations in a similar manner to Major Arcana. Instead of “the Star” or “the Sun” the cards depict illustrations for the likes of “the Hound” and “the Hunter” which are names for the Constellations. Fred Rawles’ art particularly caught my attention in the Wisdom of the Magi; his near-anime style with solid lines and sheer black backgrounds certainly standards out from the lighter line drawings which is more common in Mongoose books. Most of the new feats are directly tied to the Constellations too. The feat “Sign of the Hunter” doesn’t mean you’re any better at channelling the Hunter Constellation but means you were born under the Hunter and in this case the benefit is a +1 to damage when wielding two weapons from a specific list. You don’t need to be a magus to find that the Constellations are important to you and I rather like that. There are feats with a magical bent though; Natural Lens is a Metamagic feat which due to the free way in which the light of the stars flows through you there’s the option of sacrificing a spell of any level to give you a second chance Concentration role while trying to channel Star Magic.
It makes a change to find the Prestige Classes tucked so far back in an Encyclopaedia Arcane. As is more typical with the series there are four prestige classes. Two of the prestige classes are detailed fully – that is to say through ten levels. Two of the prestige classes are only worth five levels. The term Magus is put forward by Star Magic for the name of the spell caster who specialises in Star Magic and rather strangely the Magus prestige class is only five levels. The other “half” prestige class is the Astrologer who’s rather good at reading the future from the stars. The other two classes, the full prestige classes, are the Nomad Shaman and the Guardian of the Secret Path. These two are slightly less scholarly than the shorter classes, each with d6 hit dice per level rather than d4. The Nomad Shaman is entirely independent of Encyclopaedia Divine: Shamans but is a fair class nonetheless. The Guardian of the Secret Path wins the prize for best named prestige class for this particular book and are far more interesting than the other three. “Out beyond the stars lies darkness. Beyond that darkness one can find places unimaginable, places both foul and fair. For their own reasons, the denizens of these places seek to come to the world. Some come to assist mortals. Others come to enslave them. All find their way barred by the guardians of the secret path.” Juicy, huh?
There’s a section on calendars too – rather, a section on how the span of time can see stars rise above the horizon, shine directly overhead, disappear over the horizon and even lurk annoyingly on the wrong side of the planet/sphere/plane. As an optional rule but a suggestion rule for those GMs who do manage and want to track time Star Magic suggests that channelling Stars which are ascendant benefits the Magus (+1 to the effective caster level) and channelling a star that’s descendent will produce weaker effects (-1 to the effective caster level, minimum of 1st level) and there’s neither a benefit or penalty to impose while the particular star is hanging around near the horizon.
Star Magic can specially target items, weapons and armour and this gives rise to the list of magic items in the book. It’s quite a nice idea. Let’s not have another magic sword. Let’s have a star magic sword that glows in an impressively cinematic way. There are rules for screwing up people’s night vision with such glowing weapons but I would have liked to have had a short note on whether the glow counts as sunlight. The fighter with the shield that glows with star magic will want to know if he’s hiding behind sunlight while fighting a vampire.
This particular Encyclopaedia doesn’t use the back “inside” cover for content (there’s a look at some other Mongoose front covers instead) but there is a page or two of rule summaries and tables in the last few pages of the book and I always find that sort of things handy in RPG reference books (which Star Magic essentially is).
Star Magic – Wisdom of the Magi does what you’d hope every RPG supplement you buy will do; it puts forward a new idea and implements it cleanly, effectively and professionally. It’s not a wonderful book but it does what it says it’s going to do and it does that well. It’s a good book.