Game: The Quintessential Sorcerer
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 8th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
The Quintessential Sorcerer was one of those books that were due out round about the release date for D&D 3.5. Mongoose Publishing did the sensible thing of holding it back by a week or so to ensure it could be published afterwards and be entirely 3.5 compatible. It is. This waiting for the best release time has meant that the Quintessential Sorcerer has been published along with Encyclopaedia Arcane: Familiars and the two books complement one another exceptionally well. In fact, the familiar section inside Quintessential Sorcerer uses similar rules introduced by the Encyclopaedia Arcane.
All the Collector Series (the Quintessential books) follow the same basic format of the super successful Quintessential Fighter but they’re not so inflexible that they’ll march past a good idea. The Quintessential Sorcerer has the standard Character Concept chapter and then extra few pages especially for non-human sorcerers. Character Concepts have been a great success for Mongoose, each is a roleplaying handle for the character, describe what such an adventurer might be like and then drive the point home with slender game bonuses and penalties. In most Collector Series books I look for a mix of “How the Character Became Class X” and “What Sort of Class X the Character is Now” character concepts, typically the series favours the former whereas I prefer the latter. This time round I think the origin of the Sorcerer is especially important. I was pleased to see a clear theme merging even here at the start of the book (and the flavour text supports this). The book is interested in where and who the sorcerer gets their power from. Sample Character Concepts include the Child of Nature, Child of the Elements, Divine Receptacle, or the Half-Orc Totem Avatar. The Totem Avatar is a concept even though the page heads declare it to be safely within the prestige sorcerer section.
This “source of power” shtick is even more obvious and more important in the prestige class section. There’s the Echo of the Ancestors, the Fey Lord, Primordial Sorcerer, Spirit Carver, and I might even add the Weaver with its connection to Time in there. The two prestige classes less focused on the type of arcane energy the sorcerer wields are the Arcane Blade, the warrior sorcerer, and the Artillerist. Nice. Unusually for a Quintessential X all these classes are detailed through ten levels. I think this is especially important for Sorcerers. A sorcerous class should be as close to an evolutionary point as possible. By being fully 10 levels these prestige classes have enough weight about them to be a way of life and not just a career.
We find True Names in the Tricks of the Trade. Cosmically beautiful (not to mention powerful) True Names shouldn’t be on the same scale as sorcerer tricks but that doesn’t stop these rules from being useful. I like the angle taken for the True Names. It’s no simple matter of your mother whispering your true name to you, nor is it the case that only sentient creatures gifted with True Names. We have a more esoteric system than that. Everything has a true name. Garden rakes have a true name, rain has a true name, gods and even love have true names. If you want to find a true name then that’s a whole campaign in itself and should involve finding the poetic anchor for the name – like the raindrop tear which falls from a grave statue on the edge of the world as the sun sets. There are real and intelligent attempts made to keep this atmospheric and story worthy. You can’t simply reel off a powerful spell (wish, miracle, etc) and discover the True Name that way. That’s no fun. Two thumbs up from me. Then, however, you can beat a dragon senseless. Since all dragons know every True Name and are bound to share the secret (once) with anyone who bests them in an appropriate challenge, you can discover a True Name that way. I suppose the dragon fight is more likely to involve the whole group than the powerful spell but I can’t but help feel this is a combat munching anti-climax to an otherwise plot protected system. If you know a true name then there are various game mechanical bonuses you can expect to enjoy for that. It’s especially easy to target someone with a spell if you know their True Name. This chapter gets back to winning me over by coming up with some rather nice True Name feats; if you’ve destroyed you own True Name then you’ll enjoy bonuses to saves against mind-affecting spells, polymorph and petrification. Why? The feat doesn’t really care to elaborate but by this point in the book the concepts of identity and raw magic are so nicely baited that it’s a luxury to speculate and come up with plot ideas.
There is, of course, a whole chapter on feats. Once more the Quintessential Sorcerer proves that the basic layout for the Collector Series isn’t inflexible and begins by making a brief look at existing feats and the sorcerer class. Leadership, for example, it calls the forgotten feat and points out the natural coloration between the sorcerer’s high charisma and the benefits of having healing or body guarding retainers. There are new feats and the “source of power” theme is present here to. The sorcerer might have the Sun Blessed, Moon Blessed feat and have their magic tied to the rising of the sun or moon. The Old Soul feat has you tied to the ancestor from whom you inherited your sorcerer magic.
In Tools of the Trade the book introduces powerful “Reactive Items”. These are essentially raw magic gems that have (plenty of) charges and numerous uses. The first decision on finding one will be whether to leave it unworked or whether to craft it into something in particular. There are pros and cons for both. Reactive Items are certainly powerful; their ability to counterspell pretty much anything is especially potent. The presence of the Reactive Items does address a plot extrapolation though. If magic is naturally occurring in bloodlines and life then why doesn’t it pool in inanimate objects too? There are plenty of magic items, sneaky tools (such as the dagger that looks like a scroll) and mundane equipment too.
The Quintessential Sorcerer wouldn’t be complete without a host of new spells. There are plenty of new spells. You don’t need to buy a sorcerer supplement to get new spells though and I think the Quintessential Sorcerer was quite sly to be brave enough to introduce double schooled spells. These are spells that belong to two magical schools, necromancy and divination, say, and therefore might tend to favour sorcerers over specialised and school restricted wizards.
The source of power/bloodline/ancestor theme is taken to boiling point with the Bonds of Blood: A Sorcerer’s Ancestors. The chapter provides a whole slew of templates that relate to exactly where and why the sorcerer has their power. These templates have a double barred approach; take the weaker “ancestor-touched” template first and then the more powerful “ancestor-legacy” template later. That’s the theory. In practise it’s impossible to use the word “weak” in conjunction with the templates. The Demon/Devil-touched template, for example, grants Detect Good, Spell Smite, Dark Blessings, Hell’s Shroud, the Evil Cleric domain (with +1 caster level), skill bonuses, Int +2 and Cha +2.
There’s a cost though. “The templates presented here can be selected only when a sorcerer gains enough experience points to raise his level, with the selected template and its attendant benefits replacing the normal benefits received for gaining a level in a class.” So, hmm, do you get any spells that level? Better off taking the templates at level 2 and 3. Wouldn’t your BAB and saves just pause for a while? Given when you level up they’ll bounce up to the correct level? Does the familiar level up? Eeek. Too many questions. I wouldn’t be happy about using these templates out of the book. Great idea – but DMs will want to sort them out.
The familiar section in the book offers a few more choice of familiars: armadillo to shrew and scores kudos points with me for including an aquatic creature. The main set of rules is the alternative progression for familiars. The alternative development path makes suggestion of other abilities a familiar could learn, discover or evolve into and provides a game mechanics charts to keep everything balanced. This isn’t a repeat of what’s found in Encyclopaedia Arcane: Familiars, but complementary material.
I have a fondness for places of power in my campaigns. Ley Lines are the obvious example of this and are a feature that’s not required taken off in D&D fantasy in the way that it could. The Ley Line chapter in the Quintessential Sorcerer isn’t going to ensure that Ley Lines will appear in every homebrew campaign world created from now on but they do certainly provide a tempting set rules for any DM wanting them. If the sorcerer is able to attune himself to the Ley Line, or better still, a major crossing point (a nexus, a changeling pool) then she’ll be able to harvest from the flow of magic.
The book finishes, as is the tradition for the Collector Series, with a chapter on strongholds. If you want to build a fortress with Reactive Items embedded in the walls or with a guardian bound to it – then it’s this set of stronghold creation rules from the Quintessential books that you’ll turn to.
I always like to get access to designer notes. The on going attention paid to why a sorcerer has their power, and who they inherited from, is noted here as the intentional theme of the book. Author Patrick Younts uses the term legacies and that’s a good word for it. It’s not just about where you got the magic from but what your character now intends to do with it. How will they continue the magic’s legacy? Whereas the work on the legacies is good and appreciated I’d have liked to have had more help from the book on ways to let characters multi-class into a sorcerer. Anyone can become a sorcerer and it strains belief a bit that so many/everybody had a powerful demon, dragon, elemental, fey or divine ancestor. The book isn’t completely without ideas for this sort of thing and, in fact, begins with the Arcane Experiment character concept wherein a sorcerer’s power has been deliberately bestowed on them. My copy of the Quintessential Sorcerer was subject to a weird and spontaneous spell. As it sat unmolested on the tabletop, the cover flicked open and started to peel itself away from the spine of the book. I watched as the glue seemed to whither away and die. Ironically, this self-destruction has allowed me to get a good look at the spine and I can see that the pages are bound together firmly. If the book’s physical construction had not been so secure then I’d have 128 (or 32, rather) free roaming pages. I’ve not heard of any other Quintessential Sorcerer book mysteriously falling apart as mine has so it’s probably a case of one dodgy book in the batch, not a dodgy batch.