Game: Encyclopaedia Arcane: Necromancy
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 15th, January 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 54
Average Score: 6.00
I enjoyed necromancy much more than I did demonology. Oh boy, quotes like that will come back to plague me.
“Beyond the Grave”, I though, covers a good scope of power as it caters from everything through fledgling dabblers in the negative art all the way up to powerful Liches. The unfortunate core rules conflict between Clerics and necromancers has also been addressed. Simply put; if you stick with the vanilla rules then your clerics aligned to the death domain are simply so much better at things necromantic than any studios mage. Whereas clerics who can channel the power of death gods still have huge advantages in some areas the overall balance has been addressed by expanding the necromancers abilities and adding some low level animation spells.
There is a better level of complexity in Necromancy than Demonology too but it isn’t so complex that the d20 simplicity is thwarted. Rather than there just being a single Demon Lore, there are Necrology Lore and Spirit Lore as well an anatomy knowledge. I like the idea of the magi having to track down all the appropriate bits of information in order to be sure he’s not out of his depths. A high necrology knowledge but a low spirit lore might, in this wicked GM’s mind, allow a wizard to animate a powerful looking skeleton warrior but remain unfortunately unaware that the bones are being possessed by a particularly nasty spirit.
There’s also something inherently clever in linking the necromantic feats with a negative energy side effect table. Some of the necromantic feats are powerful but they all clearly demonstrate some sort of affinity between the wizard and the negative plane so it makes sense that there might be some unexpected or unwanted flow through the connection. Besides, it’s a nice way to give your evil NPC an unholy aura and talon like hands.
The range of spells in the book is good. At low levels there are weak animation spells so your budding necromancer can make a pile of bones wobble around. At high levels your villainous fiend can create a whole city of the dead or even a fleet of ghost ships. I certainly had the feeling that Seas of Blood was weighing on the author’s mind as he wrote some of the spells, the editor’s too since I’m sure the two books share a picture. If the idea of one of your players being able to raise up a whole city of shambling dead worries you (and it probably should) take comfort from the fact that concerns like that are addressed in the help for Games Master section. Whereas some so-called GM assistance chapters can turn out to be nothing more than common sense observations or further encouragement to use the new rules in the book I was glad to see that actual and real problems were identified. They call it the, “Zombie, Do this!” situation wherein once the players have access to a replaceable and entirely obedient servant it’ll be used in any dangerous situations. An example would be having your zombie wander down the passage in front of the group just to make sure there are no traps hidden away.
The Lichdom chapter was nice too. One of those added extras that didn’t have to be in the book and so count as a bonus. The game savvy note that some necromancers may actively seek Lichdom also served to reassure me that the authors knew what they were writing about.
The necrophage class stands out from the rest as particularly inspired and, I felt, as something tangibly different from death clerics. Over on the Mongoose mailing list one of the most common questions is about the necrophage’s abilities to graft additional limbs from the dead onto living subjects. The questions aren’t because the page in the book is purely explains but because its one of those things that really motivates players and GMs alike to try something new.
Again, unlike the Demonology companion there is space in this book for a few new styles of undead creatures and I have to say that the skull child is rather freaky. In many ways this second offering in the Encyclopaedia Arcane series has learnt much from the first. Beyond the Grave includes references to books outside the core rule scope, including spells from Sword and Sorcery’s Relics and Rituals. If you don’t have the book then you’ve not lost anything, the references to those spells are included in the summary sheet at the back for the sake of completeness. Scarred Lands is not the only setting I can imagine this book being ideal for, one of my new favourites, Ravenloft is a good match too.