Game: Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer
Publisher: Malladin’s Gate Press
Review Dated: 29th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 20
Average Score: 6.67
Okay. To be fair, Malladin’s Gate doesn’t quite rank as the most famous d20 company but I’ve only heard effusive praise for them from the people in the know.
Why? The small company manages to walk that terribly fine line between familiar D&D style fantasy and something a bit different.
Their Forgotten Heroes line is a good example of this; it deliberately picks out those less widely supported classes and does something interesting with them.
So is this crunch? Yes, but the good sort of crunch.
The mechanics here are designed to encourage flavour rich games, providing tailor-made classes and working through extrapolations of game workings from the current system. Overcasting is an example of this. Sorcerers can cast a low-level spell from a high-level spell slot, Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer calls this Overcasting and gives us rules for dealing with the surplus magic energy this ability produces.
Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer is a 61-paged PDF product and it enjoys more illustrations than previous Malladin’s Gate publications that I’ve looked at. It’s not normally an issue for electronic products where space is plentiful but Sorcerer has a high density, small text.
This makes the product lightweight and quicker to download. It’s cheaper to print since there are fewer pages. I wouldn’t want to read the product on a screen smaller than mine (1024×768) since I found myself shuffling my chair closer, scaring the sleeping cat and squinting at the screen. The product begins with a length contents page. This is good and better than a length index page since people reading it on screen want the page numbers at the start of the document. Sorcerer also makes decent use of bookmarks.
We get going with the Eldritch Warrior. The word “eldritch” is used throughout the e-book to describe the magic unique to the sorcerer and it leaves the term “arcane” free to fully describe wizard magic. The Eldritch Warrior is a sorcerer who channels some of their magic energy to enhance and improve themselves but suffer a loss in spell casting ability as a result.
If you flick through Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer to examine the artwork then you’d be forgiven for picking up a superhero vibe. This is mainly due to the Eldritch Warrior. If you skip down to the feat chapters you’ll get easy access to a collection of Eldritch Warrior only feats. These guys can grow claws, decrease their density to become ghost-like, form an exoskeleton of armour and channel elemental powers through their punches or weapons. That sounds superhero to me but it’s not the impression I got from simply reading the core description of the class and that suggests welcome flexibility.
Subclasses allow themed sorcerer classes. The system suits experienced GMs best since Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer gives us a toolkit of rules to design our own classes and doesn’t settle for giving us ready-made examples.
The key to the system is the specialisation of spell lists, splitting and prioritising magic by theme, type or flavour. A similar sort of spell list refining worked for the Cultist class in Unearthed Adventurers: Volume I and the comparison is genuinely helpful if you have that other PDF but it must be frustrating if you don’t. If the task of dividing up spells into prioritised and themed lists (ala clerical domains) seems rather daunting (and it is) then pay attention to the small print and note that there are plenty of examples towards the back of the publication.
We’re given racial variations of sorcerers and prestige classes. The sorcerer class is special; it does imply something racial rather than vocational. You have to have magic in your blood one way or another to be a sorcerer. If it’s “in the blood” (a politically incorrect phrase these days) then a gnome sorcerer will be different from an elf sorcerer. The PDF doesn’t make a big issue out of this, it simply runs through the non-human core player character races and offers up a racial bonus and penalty.
There are more prestige classes, nine in total. Attuned Sorcerer, Eldritch Agent, Eldritch Agitator, Eldritch Armsman, Eldritch Courtier, Eldritch Trickster, Enhanced Sorcerer, Focused Sorcerer and Mystic.
They’re a mix of five and ten level classes. These are “does what it says on the tin” classes. The Eldritch Trickster is one who uses sorcerer/eldritch power for tricks. The Enhanced Sorcerer specialises in channelling their energies inwards to enhance their physical body. If this was a campaign world supplement then I’d rubbish these bland names but given that Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer is world neutral (it’s not one of Malladin’s Gate’s Academy books) these unvarnished names suffice and can be changed by the GM later.
I’ve mentioned the Eldritch Warrior feats already and there are many more feats in the book. The lists of feats begin the “book two” of the three internal books that divide the PDF. There’s an apology here. The Sensory Overflow feats don’t make much sense if you’re reading the book in order because Sensory Overflow isn’t explained until later. They’re simply listed here in order to keep all the feats together and that’s good enough for me.
It’s neither the Sensory Overflow feats nor the new Metamagic feats that are the highlight of the chapter for me. That honour lands on the Origin feats. There are two types of origin; descended and awakened. Descended feats must be taken at level one and relate to why you’re a sorcerer. An ancestor was actually a dragon, that’s the typical sorcerer scenario, and the Draconic Origin feat coughs up the additional advantages that bloodline would mean.
This issue of the bloodline has always been something I could tease D&D over. Anyone can multi-class into a sorcerer and so everyone must be descended from a dragon (or something similar).
The Awakened Origin feats are something of a tonic to this ridiculous situation. Some powerful being, cult or cosmic freak might have magically manipulated your character. This event is responsible for the sorcerous potential. Bring on the Manipulated (Awakened) feat. Other awakened feats are applicable for other instances were hitherto impossible sorcerous power was made manifest. They’re game mechanics that actually avoid a plot Deus Ex Machina and this is a superb success.
The last “book” in Forgotten Heroes: Sorcerer gives us those welcomed spell lists for sorcerer subclasses. It’s also were Overcasting and Sensory Overflow is explained.
High-level spell slots must be more powerful than low-level ones – or, at least, this is an obvious extrapolation of the system – so there must be magic energy left over when a low-level spell is cast from a high-level slot.
The sorcerer can’t make the spell last longer, throw it further or have it cause more damage and so it’s clear this energy can’t be used that sort of way. With these overcasting rules, a sorcerer who makes a successful spellcraft check and risks suffering backlash damage can use this surplus energy to produce an effect from another school of magic.
A sorcerer can’t enhance a low-level illusion by casting it from a high-level slot and so can’t create another illusionary effect with the extra energy; he’ll have to pick an effect from another school.
The higher the overcast then the more energy available but trickier the task is. Similarly, the bolder the effect wanted with the extra magic then the higher the spellcraft DC and greater the risk of some magical side effect. Sensory Overflow describes those environmental changes sorcerers produce when they cast magic; glowing eyes, a rush of wind, the smell of sulphur, etc.
Glowing eyes are rather a pain if you’re trying to slyly cast magic in the night. Sorcerers can try and master these magical side effects and some evil sorcerers actually manage to train themselves to use this overflow offensively. We’re not quite done since there’s a look at alternative spell casting techniques and some imbued artifacts.
Forgotten Heroes achieves what it set out to do. It gives the Sorcerer class a touch more style and presents interesting options for players and GMs. Subclasses will require a bit of effort from the GM but I think they’re worth it. There’s a lot in this PDF and that’s value for money.
The bloodline/heritage theme for sorcerers might be fairly obvious but it’s a good one, it’s one that lends itself well to fantasy roleplaying and this issue of Forgotten Heroes does well to develop on it without needing to lean on it.
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