Game: 101 Spellbooks, Tomes of Knowledge, and Forbidden Grimoires
Publisher: Philip J Reed
Review Dated: 2nd, January 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 9
Average Score: 4.50
101 Spellbooks, Tomes of Knowledge, and Forbidden Grimoires have been kicking around in RPGNow’s catalogue since September and so you wouldn’t expect the product to be bristling with technological innovations. It doesn’t. The bookmarks, for example, are nothing more than six entirely capital letter headings. They seem to have been rushed in. I spotted my first typo in the 36-paged book in just a few minutes. As ever – there’s a twist in the tale, it’s not quite as simple as that. This is a d20 product but I had to double check. Author Philip Reed is a name I associate with many top SJ Games books. Chalk up one impressive RPG industry name. The PDF’s illustrator is Larry Elmore. Chalk up another famous industry name. By design, or perhaps by accident, 101 Spellbooks does a clever thing with its layout and printing. On screen the PDF looks like a series of weathered pages. Elmore’s illustrations are sketches drawn in a similar colour but darker shade of the weathering. The text is printed cleanly on top in black. It’s easy to read and it looks pretty. This design prints out nicely to! That’s the surprising thing. The weathering effect is light enough to just barely register on a greyscale printer. The printed pages just hint at a background, lightly draw Elmore’s sketches and enjoy crisp text. You’re not wasting any ink.
That’s a good word. It sums up my feelings on the clever layout and with the exception of a couple of skills it describes the contents of this specialised supplement. There are 20 pages of spellbooks and 11 pages of spells. The rest of the 36-paged product is taken up with a full index at the start, a couple of skills and the OGL legal foo. 36 pages isn’t very much but every inch of space is used. You’ll find spells on the same page as the OGL and I’ve not seen that before. At the time of this review 101 Spellbooks, Tomes of Knowledge, and Forbidden Grimoires is a mere $4.00 at RPGNow too. $4 is a trifle.
Spellbooks are a quirky D&D thing. In their vanilla form I think they’re more of a plot hindrance than help. I think it’s much better to make a meal out of the role of the spellbook in a wizard’s life rather than fudge over it. Handily, 101 Spellbooks, Tomes of Knowledge, and Forbidden Grimoires makes this easily possible. For a start they give the spellbooks a bit of character, a bit of interest, even if they don’t bring any special features or added twists. Taking an example from early on in the download we can see the nicely named “The Dark Scrolls”. They are described in detail as 14 scrolls tightly rolled and protected by ornate silver and platinum case. Sometimes the spellbooks have extra features. Another example from early on in the download is the “Liber Arcanus”. This time the spellbook looks as if the last 20 pages are blank but if you read them in the light of a full moon you’ll discover ancient and potent information on Liches. If you make your knowledge check then the book will teach you how to damage liches more effectively. Other spellbooks contain advice that’ll boost your knowledge skills. The d20 system handle (at all) reading books to boost your knowledge but the problem goes away entirely if the book is magical and it’s supernatural effects increase the character’s skill. There are a wide range of these special abilities and some prerequisites too.
The spellbooks come equipped with spells. That’s easy to ignore if you’d rather design the spell lists yourself. That doesn’t stop you from keeping the special abilities of each book. The loading of the 101 tomes with spells allows them to straddle high and low fantasy in a way few other supplements manage. An effective way to hamstring magic in a low fantasy game is to decide the art of writing spells into spellbooks has been lost to the world. This doesn’t need any tinkering with the system. It means anyone determined enough to play a PC wizard will have finding new grimoires very much on the forefront of their mind. Spellbooks that contain only a few low level spells become a real treasure here and this supplement is a great sourcebook for that. That’s the sort of thing that started to roll through my mind and that’s always a sign that the supplement’s a good one. The PDF is equally effective in a high fantasy game. Spellbooks with powerful special abilities become sought after assets. Spellbooks that contain the only copy of a rare spell are treasures in their own rights.
There are spellbooks in these Tomes of Knowledge that contain spells neither you nor your players will have seen before.
There are brand new spells, plenty of them, in the download. Okay. There are some brand new spells and “just new” spells. The just new spells include the likes of Acid Arrow, Crushing Hand and Grasping Hand. Right. You’ve seen them before except with someone’s name in front of them. These are a minority though. Sample spells include Black Lightening (a mixture of electrical and evil damage), Moonspray (damaging moonlight) and the Uncontrollable Weeping enchantment.
101 Spellbooks, Tomes of Knowledge, and Forbidden Grimoires does what it says on the tin. There really are 101 new spellbooks and they’re worth having, especially for $4. It does more than that with the new the spells. The effective layout and colouring in a bonus.
I’m not sure what it would take for a list of spellbooks and new spells to attain a great rating but this product easily secures itself a good one. It’s an inexpensive and effective aid for GMs.