Game: Encyclopaedia Arcane: Illusionism
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 9th, November 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Smoke and Mirrors is the sub-title for the Encyclopaedia Arcane: Illusionism. It’s an ambitious book with three spell lists and three different sets of feats tucked into just 64-pages. I didn’t even notice the prestige classes had been deferred until very late into the book until I turned the page and found the chapter.
At times Smoke and Mirrors reminded me of an academic paper but never so much as to put me to sleep in the way that real academic papers are likely to do. The choice of language is responsible for this association and it seems to be a deliberate strategy by the author, Joseph Miller, as he tries (and succeeds in part) in casting the book as an actual treatise on Illusionary magic. Here’s a pair of quotes from the Overview chapter at the start of the book to illustrate my point.
“Shadow energy is latent by its very nature. It requires an outside force – oft times an illusionist – to actualise its potential…”
“Although other lay-mage spells exist, these are the most commonly known and used. They were first developed using the Nystal-Leomand (N-L) method of spell formulation, which allows the maximum amount of flexibility in an illusion spell with the least amount of skill required to use it.”
The lay-mage spells talked about above are one of a number of different paths of illusionary magic covered in the book. There are essentially three different paths, Orthodox Illusionists, Unorthodox Illusionists and in the middle the Unaligned Illusionists. The Orthodox Illusionists are those mages who see the art and creativity in their style at magic; they dislike the lay-magic as untalented rotes and concentrate instead on crafting “fluid and malleable” figments, glamours, patterns and phantasms. On the other end of the scale the Unorthodox Illusionists get all weirdly philosophical and bother themselves with why and how the illusion was created in the first place. It’s the Unorthodox Illusionists that learn to master Shadow. Sitting in the middle, dabbling with a bit of both but without mastering either are the Unaligned Illusionists.
Each of the different paths brings different bonuses and penalties. In order to access the shadow magic then you must be following the unorthodox illusionist path. Doing so will give you a +2 caster level for your shadow spells (and that’s quite a punch) but -1 for figments, glamours, patterns and phantasms. In addition you’ll benefit with a +1 saving throw against saves versus shadows but suffer -1 to saves versus the traditional figments, glamours, patterns and phantasms. This last quirk doesn’t sit quite well with me. You’re a specialist illusionist mage – you’re really on the ball when it comes to all things illusionary – further more, you’re so good that you’ve specialised even further into a particular brand of illusionary magic so why on earth are you more likely to fall sucker to an illusionary prank than some Bard? I see where the author wanted to go with this and I don’t object to it, I just think the plan falls short of success and needs tweaking to make it work.
For each of the Orthodox Illusionist Path, the Unorthodox Illusionist Path and the Unaligned Illusionist Path there are sections on interesting uses for skills, new feats and lots more new spells. Uses for skills, at this point, are often regurgitated regurgitation but tucked away in the three doses of it are a few semi-precious gems. Illusionary powers tie in nicely with many skills. What about wrapping an important lock in an illusion as a sure fire way of making it a lot harder for some cheeky bugger rogue to pick? There are between a half-dozen and a dozen new feats for each of the paths too. A small number of these new feats are from the dreaded “Improved” feat factory but there good enough feats in the three sections to balance the scale and call it a score draw.
There are a surprising number of new spells and if you just flick through the pages quickly you might not notice how they’re slyly stacked. Many of the new spells are available on levels 1 through to 9, in a more powerful form with each level advance. You might see a spell like “Crafted Image (Figment) I-IX” and that means there are nine levels of the crafted image spell. Typically the spell will explain what it does and then a summary table points out the benefits of knowing a higher level and better version of the spell. Crafted Image (Figment) I is only able to create a “fine” sized image whereas the level IX version of the spell is capable of working on the “colossal” scale. Occasionally you’ll find a I-IX style spell which is even more terse and it’ll say something along the lines of “as phantasmal conjuration only this spell mimics spells from the wizard school of Evocation”. It is slightly off-putting to see spells condensed to this at first, it lacks the flavour and flare of some brand spanking new spell that knocks your socks off. Then, on the second thought, the benefit of being able to pack the spells in like this becomes more attractive. Again, I’d call this a score draw. It does this three times though and if I’m sticking with my sporting analogy then it’s worth pointing out that three draws is worth a win. (Er, in some sports!)
When you’re finally through reading through all the new spells you’ll find the prestige classes. What can I say? I either point out all of these prestige classes are detail through ten levels and how rare that is in a Mongoose book or I’ll slyly draw your attention to the fact that you seem to need to be a gorgeous and half naked woman in order to be a prestigious illusionist. Actually that’s not a requirement per say but its certainly something the artist has latched on to. As a liberal European I’m blasé about all such artwork so I’ll talk about the actual prestige classes instead. The Figmentist really need as much explaining as the Glamourer. Both of these prestige classes take their particular illusionary focus and come up with suitable class abilities for them. The Mind Reaver and Hypnotist prestige classes have rather scary powers, more so the Hypnotist than the Mind Reaver though. The Shadow Walker and Unaligned Master are there to play directly to the Unorthodox Illusionary Path and the Unaligned Illusionary Path in turn and are quite successful at it too.
The book finishes with a collection of quality magic items and weapons. Actually the final pages are for the designer’s notes (which I always find helpful) and the rule summary tables (which everyone should find helpful).
In a way Smoke and Mirrors is a good name for the book. At a glance there doesn’t seem to be much of interest in it but on a second and longer look at it you’ll find it’s packed with new stuff. If the goal of every Encyclopaedia Arcane is to make the spell school covered by it seem attractive and tempting to the players (and GMs) then EA: Illusionism succeeds easily.