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Force of Nature (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2016 12:32:53

The city of Porthaven has grown and prospered over the past three hundred years, with a reputation for being peaceful, a safe harbour from storms and with a temperate climate. It wasn't always like that... the place where it was built was originally unstable both geologically and meterologically (perhaps not the best place to found a settlement?), and the way in which it reached its present serenity has been lost over the years to all but a few... and they don't really understatnd it.

The DM's backstory explains all, and as soon as a bunch of high-level adventurers like the party turns up they will be shown the mysterious 'machine' built by a traveller through the planes called Khyber Mercane and some creatures called modrons - noted for a love of order matched only by a thirst for knowledge - that he encountered in his travels. For a while, modrons came each year to service the machine, but they have not been back for a long time and, according to the leading priestess of Wee Jas - who has been studying ancient texts in an attempt to find out what's wrong - it has run out of fuel. So trips to the four elemental planes are required to obtain what the machine needs.

Some hooks are provided to help you get the party to Porthaven, once there they find that there is a massive storm raging and then a nearby volcano erupts... amidst the chaos the party will be shown the machine and the priestess explains what she has discovered so far. The rest of the adventure consists of visits to the elemental planes with brawls with the inhabitants and occasional chances to talk to a few of them as the party collects the material that they need.

It is a fairly straightforward adventure which may be a bit simple for parties accustomed to planar travel - and perhaps a bit hard for those who have never attempted it before. There are a couple of vague ideas for follow-on adventures, and a neat new monster which is encountered for the first time on one of the planes, and that's it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Force of Nature (3.5)
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Silver Ladder
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2016 08:11:41

Treason, plots, conspiracies, networks of power, political manoeuvering - the opening fiction sets the scene for the essence of Silver Ladder belief: that it is a duty for those blessed with magic to seek power and wield it responsibly, using both other mages and sleepers as tools to achieve their goals. Power and influence make them tick, and all those studies are but means to an end rather than a route to personal enlightenment.

Chapter 1: Hand Over Hand discusses the history of the Silver Ladder, starting with chaos and the establishment of order - by people working together, by individuals of wisdom and power taking the lead and directing the others. The dream of an ordered cooperative society draws members of the Silver Ladder on, a dream that has them at the pinnacle of society, of course, wielding power. Many legends and stories are told to reinforce this concept, that those who rule must be the ones who are most fit to rule... but who decides? That's where it gets interesting!

Next, Chapter 2: The Silver Dream examines the internal culture of the Silver Ladder, their philosophical approach and the way in which they organise and regulate themselves. At its core, the Silver Ladder regards every member as a prince in search of a kingdom to rule and seeks to equip him to take his place at the head of the Awakened, for if only those mages would just work together under proper leadership, just think of what they could accomplish! Their entire philosophy is wound around this concept.

Then Chapter 3: An Enlightened Crusade takes matters further, looking at Silver Ladder society and practices, and even their rituals. They see themselves as leaders and moral guides to the rest of the Awakened and work towards getting themselves into positions where they can exert influence and control. They don't see themselves as aristocracy despite their conviction that they ought to be the people in charge. This chapter looks at how they select and recruit new members, and at what said new recruits find once they are inducted into the order. It also talks at their controversial use of Sleepers.

This is followed by Chapter 4: Factions and Legacies, which looks at the various groups that all vie for power within the order. Unity of purpose does not mean a shared view of the methods or even the goals that should be pursued, and so this is perhaps the most politically active of orders with different groups vying to push their ideas - by debate, by subterfuge, by brute force... it doesn't really matter at times. Tread carefully through this morass, pick your way through the myriad groups... plenty of scope for those who like lots of intrigue and political manoeuvering in their game.

Finally, Chapter 5: Magic explores the resources at the Silver Ladder's disposal, including spells and artefacts. Their techniques tend to the traditional, conservative even, but this gives their style the weight of history, and of course the methods they employ are tried and tested ones, none of this experimental stuff, these magical fads. Very much the Establishment in a wizard's gown!

The Silver Ladder is an intriguing organisation, power-hungry yet with purpose beyond just being top dog or amassing power and the wealth that often goes with it just for its own sake. If your players like intrigue and politics a chronicle built around this order might work well, but nobody is safe from being caught up in their machinations - mages can get involved whoever they might be, as pawns or standing up in opposition to what they view as an abuse of power or a wrong-headed idea. Even if they don't play a big role in your game, they ought to be muttering along somewhere in the background...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Silver Ladder
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Banishers
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2016 12:53:09

Opening with some fiction, a disparate tale about strange killers (which would be improved with a clear font and a less-heavy background, a combination which makes it hard to read), this work deals with the Banishers, those who have Awakened but become twisted, turning against other mages and magic itself. They are a varied bunch, their hatred of what they are making it difficult to build up much of a body of tradition, indeed many turn against their magic soon after they Awaken and so are self-taught in what they use... for even whilst eager to rid the world of magic, or at least other mages, they continue to use their powers to their twisted ends. They tend towards violent ignorance, driven perhaps by a fear of powers they do not understand, a fear that turns to hatred.

Chapter 1: The Purpose looks at how Banishers arise in the first place. Known as the 'Timori' or fearful ones, their origins are unknown although a matter for some speculation by the other Traditions who'd quite like to see the back of them so study them closely... yet some accuse those who study them of being secret sympathisers to their views. Nobody knows their origins for sure - and this includes the authors of this book, who leave it up to each Storyteller to decide for themselves what is really going on! What is known is that they can turn up everywhere and anywhere. Some hide as cults, others study magic more openly, others appear not to study it at all, at least not in public. Some see it as almost a disease, some claim that people with particular attitudes towards matters mystical are predisposed to become Banishers if they Awaken. Lots of speculation, no real conclusions. Do Banishers choose their path? If they don't it changes them from villains to victims - it's up to you! Some Banishers only become such later on in their magical career, having previously developed as normal. There are, of course, many theories as to how that happens as well. This chapter also provides templates and rules for creating Banisher characters and the sorts of organisations they might join and beliefs they might hold. These are clearly intended for NPCs, but there's potential for a twisted chronicle that focusses on a group of Banishers if that's what you want.

In Chapter 2: Weapons, we get down to detail: spells used by Banishers when about their deadly (well, if you are a mage anyway) work. It's quite a copious collection, and reading through them spawns quite a few ideas about how Banishers could cause problems to your mages. There are also artefacts - including a neat 'Permit' which appears as if it gives appropriate authority to the Banisher wielding it (similar to Doctor Who's psychic paper), sonething any mage might find handy - and imbued items available for their use.

Next, Chapter 3: Cults and Cabals presents some sample organisations for Banishers to join, groups which may make trouble for your mages as they go about their normal business. They are all developed in considerable detail and one or more can easily be infiltrated into wherever your mages live, possibly innocuous-sounding until they make a move against them. This chapter includes fully-developed individual Banishers, complete with game statistics, ready for use or as examples when developing your own. Ideas for using them, possibly spawning an entire chronicle or just an adventure or two, are scattered throughout. Excellent reading if you are contemplating adding Banishers to the mix in your game.

Finally, Chapter 4: Wielding the Witch-Hammer looks in more detail at how you can use Banishers in your chronicles, based on their view that magic is a curse, and mages are the perpetrators. They are definitely not good guys, if only because of their unwillingness to accept that others hold different views from their own. But it also addresses the challenges of actually playing a Banisher, and goes into more detail about creating Banisher characters, this time with an eye towards player-characters rather than NPCs.

This book raises some interesting ethical questions, ones that can be used to make a group stop and think - Mage: The Awakening is quite a contemplative game anyway, but analysing this quirk of opposition from within is thought-provoking. It's interesting to speculate about the reasons why a Banisher is the way he is - even if you are running like the clappers to get away from his latest murderous assault at the time! For of course this is not a purely philosophical standpoint, it's an all-out war on mages fought from within their ranks, quite different from the squabbles that arise between more ordinary mages jockeying for position or defending a pet theory. There's scope for excitement, real danger... and above all, epic storytelling.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Banishers
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Advanced Arcana Volume VI
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/31/2016 10:17:12

Opening as usual with a note to a student working his way through the Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft (how long is the course? He's been there six years now, maybe he's doing a PhD!), apparently the poor lad lost his mentor in rather tragic (if unspecified) circumstances and has had to apprentice to somebody else. It also appears that he now has to start assisting with teaching more junior students (all the more likely that he's doing a PhD as you often get a teaching assistant role at that point). Mention is also made of a new area of study, psychic magic, which is touched on within this tome. In a rare formatting error, the two pages of the letter are superimposed on what appears to be the Credits and Table of Contents pages, which fortunately appear in their own right, the Credits before the letter and the Table of Contents on the following page, so you do get to read them!

Next comes the Foreword by the compiler of the tome, Kabaz Anvitz, who is full of excitement at the discovery of an entire new branch of magic, the psychic magic mentioned in the letter. In previous volumes he's explored and questioned conventional magic, and here the study of psychic magic has led him on to examine spell components in detail. The theme of Advanced Arcana I was the 'cost' of a spell, so returning to that approach, can material components - and indeed the caster's gestures and words - also form part of the 'cost' of casting a spell? An interesting thought that leads him to the concept that it might be possible to cast a spell without the required material components by casting it at a higher level (i.e. using up more magical energy) than normal. Or increase the spell's effects by adding extra components... exciting stuff indeed!

We then move on to more detailed game mechanics to support these ideas. Psychic magic was introduced in Paizo Publishing's Occult Adventures rulebook for the Pathfinder RPG, where the concept of thought and emotion components joined the familiar verbal, somatic and material ones. It's all about the drama and excitement of spell-casting, words and gestures and other elements combining to bring about the effect the caster intends. So here we have intricate components - words or gestures so complex that skill checks are needed to get them right - and other components based on energy, alignment, sacrifice or even terrain. There's a lot to play with here! Detailed game mechanics are provided to help you get to grips with the ideas presented here and translate them into spellcasting within your game.

The actual spells themselves are presented first as spell lists by caster type and level, and then in an alphabetical collection of full descriptions of each one. Read, enjoy, imagine... some of these spells, however, are quite dark, evil even - after all, sacrifice of a sentient being merely to power a spell is rightly deemed an evil act, most of the time.

The appendices present new feats designed to aid interaction with the new game mechanics introduced in this book, new archetypes which mix up the way in which different types of spellcaster engage with their magic, a collection of new (sometimes bizarre) familiars, and finally biographic notes and game statistics of some of the legendary spellcasters who aided Kabaz Anvitz in researching this book - along with a further note from him about the process.

What can I say? These books just get better and better, casting new and interesting light on the study and practice of magic. Particularly appealing if you like to take an academic approach to magic, there is plenty for the more practical spellcaster too.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Arcana Volume VI
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Advanced Arcana Volume V
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2016 10:41:22

Opening, as with the other books in this series, with a letter to a now-quite-senior student at the Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft, where he is about to enter his fifth year and now needs to choose a senior mage to whom he will apprentice. In stressing the importance of choosing a mentor wisely, there's an interesting glimpse into mage society - it's quite like the real-world academic society that I inhabit! The author also warns that some of the spells in this volume are 'unruly' if not downright dangerous.

Next we hear from Kabaz Anvitz, putative author of this tome. He states that magic is a tricky subject, that for every answer you get two more questions arise, that even after a lifetime of study there are things that still elude him totally. He then raises the question: is magic in some way alive? An idea that is widely discredited in academic circles yet... he cites research that suggests otherwise. Certainly a matter which could be disputed at length within academia, and perhaps by scholarly mages in your campaign world too.

Next, stepping out of character, the introduction identifies the core question of this volume as being "What would a spell with a mind of its own look like?" Magic is generally represented as either a scientific process, cause and effect studied and understood, or as a primal force that is cajoled and manipulated, with the first being more common in role-playing games as it's easier to write rules for! But a lot of the... well, MAGIC is lost if you get too scientific in your approach. The spells herein are an attempt to regain some of the feeling of wonder about spell-casting, even if they still abide by the rules. There are various different methods employed, including Patron spells (for those whose magic comes from an outside source, clerics and the like), Automatic spells (which go off apparently at random without the caster having much control), Capricious spells with random effects based on a Spellcraft check made when they are cast, Interactive spells which the caster can attempt to modify after he's cast them, and Unsafe spells - which have a tendency to get out of hand. Plenty to conjure with here!

After outlining and explaining the rules mechanics necessary for these new spells to operate within the game and notes on various ways of handling an influx of new spells into your campaign, we move on to spell lists (by caster type) and the detailed spell descriptions of over an hundred new spells. As always, just reading through them spawns plenty of ideas for their use... and they make for fun reading as well.

After the spells, there are four appendices. To start with, some new feats designed to be used by those who would cast the spells presented in this tome. Next come familiar traits, a new mechanic for giving your familiar assorted beneficial, mixed or awkward traits - each has a points value and the sum of your picks must equal zero. Then come notes on sentient spells - neutral outsiders whose abilities and personalities are based on a specific spell, literally a spell come to life. Wierd... but with potential. Finally there are biographical details (and game statistics) for various luminaries of the magical world - who knows, maybe one of these will turn up to discuss the nature of magic with your party wizard.

Overall, another collection of thought-provoking spells, these ones with considerable potential to cause havoc on your tabletop. Enjoy...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Arcana Volume V
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Haunting Lodge (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2016 11:24:41

A remote hunting lodge is enveloped in a never-ending blizard... and it's spreading, threatening settlements nearby.

The background for the DM explains just what is going on there and why, and a series of hooks are provided to help you pique the party's curiousity. Getting them there, and providing any information before they go, is left to you - what is presented here is a pure site-based adventure with the lodge described in detail. The map comes from the Map-a-Week feature on the Wizards of the Coast website, it is presented here and the link in the PDF still works at the time of writing if you want the original.

In some ways the place is quite disappointing. There's not much there for parties who live to loot, nor are there any NPCs or monsters to talk to... just ghosts, and grumpy ones at that, which will attack. Every one is provided with statistics for meeting them on the material plane or the ethereal one, and violence appears to be the only way to deal with them, they cannot be laid to rest by discovering secrets or righting wrongs.

An interesting basic concept which has rather fallen down in execution and development, alas. I'd recommend adding your own enhancements to make it a bit more interesting.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Haunting Lodge (3.0)
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Black Rain (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2016 11:22:17

Black rain is a strange phenomenon, mercifully rare, that either causes or marks a short period when all divine spellcasters are cut off from the deities. During one such event some rotten swine saw fit to attack a temple dedicated to St. Cuthbert - just when the clerics there cannot do much about it Can the party help?

The suggestion is made that you use a temple in a large town/city in your campaign world, preferably one in which the party has a good reputation already. A suitable floorplan is provided, modified from one in the September 2001 edition of the Map-a-Week feature on the Wizards of the Coast website (the original link in the PDF works at the time of writing), but if you have already established a layout for the temple you wish to use it should proved relatively simple to adapt the descriptions to suit your own temple.

There is a brief DM's background and several hooks to get the party involved. Basically, one day the city awakes to find this nasty black rain falling and then the alarm is raised at the St. Cuthbert temple. The party can get some information from the town watch commander or by gathering information, and then they will have to figure out how to get into the temple as there is a strange energy barrier around it!

Once they do find the way in (you may have to steer them a little, as only one method is apparently possible), they will have to fight the invaders - with any clerics or other divine spellcasters operating at a bit of a disadvantage as their magic won't work. Best to stock up on healing potions! The intruders will have to be defeated - they are not willing to negotiate - but if they are, the local bishop will really owe the party one!

It's an exciting mission with twists that should make the party - especially the clerics - think about what they are doing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Black Rain (3.0)
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Advanced Arcana Volume IV
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2016 09:17:27

Like previous volumes in the series, Arcane Arcana IV takes an aspect of magic that you might not even have thought about before and, by presenting a series of innovative spells around that theme, turn whatever you did know - or thought you knew - about it on its head. This time it's all about the concept of 'schools' of magic. The opening letter, addressed to a student who is embarking on his fourth year of study at Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft, points out that it is at this point in his training that he needs to select which (if any) school he will specialise in, and introduces this book as containing spells that challenge the classification of spells by school. The foreword by the compiler of the collection, the academic mage Kabaz Anvitz, is on similar lines complete with references to other (sadly imaginary) works in true academic style.

The introduction explains, out-of-character, a little more. For many players, a spell's school doesn't really matter, it is just a handy classification and based on the sort of effect that spell produces. This book attempts to make schools more meaningful. It includes dual-school spells, whose effects cross the boundaries between schools, alternate-school spells, which have a core action and additional effects based on how they are cast, and alternate-list spells where the effect is mostly the same whoever casts it, but with variations depending on whether the caster is a wizard, a druid, a witch or whatever. There are also more fountain spells (which enable the caster to regain spells already cast as well as having their own effects) and of course other spells that are just here because they sound interesting...

The detailed spell mechanics for the new types of spell are explained, but they make more sense once you've had a look at a few of the spells in question. So, on to the spell lists offered as usual by caster type, followed by the full descriptions of each spell. It's here that you find details of how the dual-school, alternate-list and alternate-school spells actually work in practice. Plenty of interesting ideas here, just reading through them starts ideas flowing...

The first appendix presentes the elite arcanist, a new base class of spell caster who is limited in the number of spells that he can cast, but extremely potent with those that he does know. He has access to any and all spell lists, never mind schools of magic. Fundamentally, they believe that the true path to magical power is the ability to master the best of everything that magic has to offer, rather than simply specializing in one small corner of all that is magical. They focus on understanding the underlying principles behind magic, which allows them to unlock the potential of every spellcasting class, and also gives them the ability to perform a number of stupendous feats of spellcasting, including casting two spells at once, copying spells that they have been targeted with, and casting spells that they don't even know. Yet they are active adventurers, not academics who do not venture out. There are certainly potentials here, although they do tend to want to 'talk shop' with wizards and sorcerers whenever they get the chance - and can be a bit aloof and dismissive of those who do not use magic (or even are not as obsessed by it as they are!).

The second appendix talks about places of power. If you have ever wondered if a mage gets any benefit from being in his own sanctum, this will give you your answer with some optional rules that allow the party wizard - or, of course, some evil fellow the party is opposing - to set up their magically-honed base of operations, based around arcane rituals that bind the location to the mage whose sanctum it is. All manner of equipment and decorative features are available and actually provide game mechanical effects as well. The third appendix looks at spell mastery, providing a way for a spellcaster to specialise in a particular spell and cast it to better effect rather than the standard model where - apart from metamagic effects - a spell is as potent when cast by a lowly first-level wizard as it is by an experience one of far higher level. Good if a mage wishes to develop a 'signature' spell or just demonstrate the benefits of all that hard work spent studying his craft. Examples - using spells from the Pathfinder RPG core rules - are given, but it should not prove too hard to come up with similar effects for your favourite spells if they're not listed here.

The final two appedices deal with wish and miracle spells - possibly the most powerful spells in any spellbook and certainly ones where your imagination can run riot - and biographical details (and full game statistics) for some legendary spellcasters, many of them providers of the spells in this book. They're quite entertaining and bring their magics to life.

So, more thought-provoking ideas and spells to conjure with, continuing the academic approach to magic that fits well with the image of the bookish wizard - more gloriously-imaginative spells to delight any mage and ideas to chat about whenever mages gather together.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Arcana Volume IV
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Matters of Vengeance (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/27/2016 10:40:47

Set in and around the village of Three Forks, you can place this adventure in any remote section of your campaign world that is a few days' ride from a city. The area you select should feature nearby forested regions and be able to accommodate an abandoned village and a nearby manor house as well. The adventure is best run during the winter, but can be run at whatever time of the year suits your campaign best.

An extensive background for the DM reveals a bitter tale of lost love and vengeance and undeath some two hundred years old. Now a descendant of the former lord of the manor seeks to regain his domain...

Several hooks are supplied or you can merely have the party hired to rid the old manor of an infestation of undead. Ideally, even if you have attracted their attention through one or more of the hooks, they need to meet with the aspiring lord of the manor before getting involved as this will give them a better idea of the underlying history behind the events that are about to unfold.

The adventure proper begins once the party arrives in Three Forks, the deserted village. A map is provided and the adventure starts with location-based encounters as they explore. Eventually they will reach the manor house itself and will need to explore it and deal with the evils therein. Although most of the opposition is undead, there's a very live band of mercenaries around as well - they, at least, might be open to conversation, most else of what is encountered will need to be engaged in combat. However, the Big Bad Guy at the centre of the adventure is likely to engage in negotiations with the party, undead he may be but he retains a lively mind and a thirst for vengeance.

Notes for follow-up adventures encompass several outcomes and draw rather neatly on the backstory. Overall this is a well-crafted adventure with a certain melancholy that should live on in your group's memories.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Matters of Vengeance (3.0)
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Lochfell's Secret (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/27/2016 10:37:00

This adventure tells the tale of the small port of Lochfell, which has been seeing some problems of late. The background describes, for the DM's benefit, what is actually going on: all the locals know is that people are vanishing, a few folks have reported seeing a monster, and they need some help to deal with it. Several hooks are provided to bring this matter to the party's attention.

However you get them there, the adventure begins when the party arrives in Lochfell. The town is buzzing with rumour, as not only is there a possible monster on the rampage, someone has started grave robbing as well. There are opportunities to ask around a bit, which should lead the party to the place most people seem to have been near when they disappeared. Going there will lead to a good brawl and a lair to explore... and that has a few surprises, including several exotic monsters and someone hatching a plot that even the original monster didn't know about!

The lair complexes are clearly mapped with good room descriptions showing you what's where. The main adversaries have detailed stat blocks - it will be worth your time getting fully conversant with their abilities to run them to best effect - they should be played to the full to provide intelligent and challenging opposition. It's a fairly standard delve, but enjoyable and providing a real sense of satisfaction once everything's cleaned out and set to rights. There's little in the way of follow-up adventures suggested, although one antagonist had friends who might lament his passing...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lochfell's Secret (3.5)
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Advanced Arcana Volume III
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/26/2016 08:36:05

Like the previous two volumes, this one opens with a letter to a student mage from a well-wishing family friend (or is it his step-father... the friend seems close to his mother and there's been mention that his father is dead?), enclosing the gift of a rather tasty spellbook... the rest of the volume being the spellbook itself.

As before, the spells therein are organised around several innovative themes. This time they are 'opportune' spells that can be cast speedily when specific conditions arise, 'arcane well' spells that give access to unlimited use of a minor effect but only until you cast the parent spell, metamagic spells which alter other spells (somewhat akin to metamagic feats) and 'ascension' spells which are more than one level at once. You may well ask how that works...

The foreword by Kabaz Anvitz is even more philosopical than before, speculation on the nature of spells and of magic itself, and again makes for a good read and inspiration for those spellcasters who like to delve deep... or characters who like to muse over the campfire of an evening! Playing with the underpinning theory of ones trade is a constant habit of the academic, and if you like to portray your wizard character thus, it can prove entertaining. (One wizard character of mine described it as 'contemplating the ultimate which-ness of the why'... and the GM presented me with a beautiful mandala for him to gaze at when he did so!) Of course, the author reaches no conclusion after running through several theories, but says that he's presenting spells that challenge existing notions of what spells are and what you can do with them.

This is followed by an out-of-character explanation of the core themes and basically how they work, along with notes of how you might introduce these new spells into your game in a meaningful and effective manner. If you choose to make it more difficult to acquire or learn such 'exotic' spells than it is to access the 'common' magic as presented in the core rule books, some optional game mechanics are presented to make that happen - anything from making them harder to cast to making them harder to locate, needing to be researched from scratch or even acquired via the black market because for some reason or another they are not permitted. If you go for a more plot-based route, one of the appendices has biographical material and stat blocks for some of the mages who invented these spells - your characters can have an opportunity to study with a true master!

After notes on the game mechanics of the novel spell types, we get to the actual spell lists (by every type of spell user) and the alphabetical list of full spell descriptions. Hours of fascinating browsing... and the spell lists are hyperlinked so if you are reading on-screen you can dive straight to the one you want. Throughout, sidebars add interesting commentary and speculation.

Finally, the appendices present a selection of alternate potions, scrolls and wands - such as an aromatic potion that exists in gaseous form rather than a liquid, some new sorcerer bloodlines that are true lineages of arcane power, and some unique witch patrons with real personality! And there are some legendary mages, instrumental in creating some of the spells in this book, all ready for your characters to meet.

All in all, another fascinating delve into the craft of magic, something to keep the most bookish of wizards absorbed!



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Advanced Arcana Volume III
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Advanced Arcana Volume II
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2016 10:44:18

Following on from the first volume of Advanced Arcana, this one starts with a similar letter to a student who has now completed his first year at Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft. Likewise, the foreword to the book proper reveals that it was written by the same academically-minded mage, Kabaz Anvitz. This time, he says, he wants to concentrate on useful spells rather than those picked to challenge commonly-accepted principles of magical thought... but of course, he's ended up doing that as well. For a start, he explains - in a wonderful mix of in-character theory and game mechanics - just why a wizard 'prepares' spells in advance in terms of how spell energy is stored and used. At least, a rationale for the game mechanic! It's always been something that bugged me - ok, it's the game rule but why does it have to be like that?

This book presents over an hundred new spells ranging from first to ninth level, and the underlying theme of many of them is the idea of spells which can have more than one effect depending on anything from caster whim to the conditions under which it is cast. There are more of the multi-part or 'segmented' spells introduced in the first volume, which require several spell slots and require extended casting time as well. A full explanation of the mechanic is provided in case you do not have access to Advanced Arcana I, however, and then expands it to encompass layered segmented spells and variable segmented spells, which are new to this book. There are also notes on various ways to introduce new spells into your campaign, a process that causes some GMs no end of difficulty whilst others take it in their stride. The problem of introducing new spells to spontaneous casters who are not limited as to how many spells they know just how many they can cast in a day is also covered. These notes should help enable all GMs to handle novel spells with confidence.

Explanations done, the spells are presented first as spell lists for each spell-using class and then alphabetically with full descriptions. An example of a variable segmented spell is Ardesalf's instant biography which inscribes facts about the target being into a blank book or scroll, the more times cast (one to five times) the more you find out about your target... and there are many more innovative and interesting spells to be found here.

The Appendices are well worth reading too. The first contains notes on some of the distinguished mages who devised the spells herein. Perhaps they will turn up in your campaign, or merely be legends young wizards hear about during their training. The second deals with spellbook customisation. Perhaps a wizard would like a fancy binding or wants to write his spells on something other than paper, parchment or vellum... here are some ideas, their costs and their properties. Oh, and don't forget the ink... Other appendices deal with really wierd familiars (how about a bookworm?), alternate arcane bonds and exotic spell components - if you use one of these along with whatever's required for the spell you are casting, you may get some fascinating additional effects.

This is the sort of book that makes you wish magic were real... but inasmuch as it is within your game, it makes an excellent addition to magical knowledge!



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Advanced Arcana Volume II
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Advanced Arcana
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2016 11:39:54

How does magical education work in your game? There's quite a trend within Pathfinder RPG product to suggest that you can go to school to study magic, just as you or I in the real world can take classes in history or computer science... a reasonable assumption in a setting where magic is part of everyday life. This book takes this view, opening with a note penned to a newly-accepted student by a family friend, an older mage who wishes him well. This explains the purpose of the work, a collection of spells that should prove useful to any aspiring mage. Three specialist groups of spells are mentioned: 'quick' spells which are lesser-powered versions of spells that can be cast fast in an emergency, spells which refresh the mind and enable the re-casting of spells already used for the day, and 'segmented' spells that occupy several slots rather than one, but allow pretty amazing things to be done.

Next are some delightful philosophical thoughts by the original author of the book, clearly someone who takes magic seriously and doesn't view it merely as a list of actions for use when brawling! Much of this skilfully blends an in-character approach with recognition of the underlying game mechanics... as example, "According to the ancient sage Drawzi of Astocthes. the cost of a spell is measured in mental energy, with spells being classified in nine tiers based on the amount of energy the spell consumes when cast", which is prehaps the most delightful way of describing that spells come in levels and the higher level your character is, the higher level spells he can cast that I have read! It's a very academic approach, some readers may find it a bit heavy going, but if you want to play a spell-caster who takes a studious approach to his magic it will give you some wonderful ideas to throw around in casual conversation to bemuse your colleagues who swing swords or pick locks for a living.

Following an outstanding illustration of a 'Young Mage' lounging with a book in his hand, a couple of sidebars explain the mechanical implications of segmented spells, showing how they play out, and notes on how best to incorporate the spells from this book into your game. A wizard wishing to buy his own copy of Advanced Arcana needs to come up with 25,000 gp, for example!

Now getting down to business, spell lists are followed by full write-ups of each new spell. There are lists of spells for alchemists, bards, clerics, druids, inquisitors, paladins, rangers, sorcerers/wizards, summoners, and witches. The full spell descriptions are presented in standard format, and merely reading through them conjures up many an idea for using them to effect...

As example of the novel concept of the segmented spell, have you ever wondered how places consecrated to a particular deity have all those cool effects associated with them? Perhaps high-level clerics devoted to that deity spent a lot of time and money casting holy presence there: it builds up over six castings of a spell that takes four hours and material components of incense and oils costing 1,500 gp (that's for each of the six castings, mind you) but provides several effects that make it clear that this is indeed a holy place. Even better, you can customise these effects from a list so that they best reflect the interests and concerns of the deity in question.

Then Appendix 1: On the Assembly of this Tome contains a delightful account of the life and times of Kabaz Anvitz, the ostensible author of this spell book. Excellently written and entertaining, it continues the 'academic' theme of his introduction - and demonstrates clearly how being a bookish and scholarly mage can provide plenty scope for adventure! Other appendices present new clerical domains and sorcerer bloodlines, as well as what are termed focussed wizard schools. These allow a wizard to develop a narrower speciality in their magic than the standard schools. Oh, and there are some new familiars tucked away here, if you fancy something a bit exotic - an animated object, perhaps, or a poison frog. Or maybe you'd rather have a rabbit familiar.

The whole book is a delight, with thoughtful spells, an endearing academic approach to the study of magic, and some fantastic illustrations. Just the thing to give to an aspiring mage...



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Advanced Arcana
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Grand Safari
Publisher: Gypsy Knights Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2016 10:59:23

One of the delights of Traveller is exploring new parts of the universe... and here's a whole campaign about doing just that. Set in the Gypsy Knights Games alternative Traveller universe, it puts the party as members of the Gentlemen's Club of Dashwood (an society you'll find in the book 21 More Organisations) who have booked themselves onto a hunting safari into the unsettled Hannibal Subsector (Leonidas Sector) which is located to spinward of the Dade Subsector in the Clement Sector. You can read about the Dade Subsector in the work Dade Colonies too. Nine pre-generated characters are provided but you can use your own - provided they are 'posh' enough (reckon on SOC 8+) to join the Club or can wangle an invitation from a member to join the trip. There are also safari staff and ship's crew roles, but these are probably best filled by NPCs.

What we have here is a series of loosely-linked adventures which can be played in any order, linked by the theme of the Safari, which is a competition. Various activities accrue points, and these accumulate towards a prize and enhance standing within the Club. The game begins at a Club meeting on Dashwood or at the first stop, a skills training day on Aisha, after which the party should be allowed to choose from a list of available safaris (adventures) which ones they want to do and in what order.

There's plenty of detail to help you run this campaign, from planetary data to the Clubhouse on Dashwood. The safari contest rules are introduced and then it's on to Aisha for Skills Day. Here, the party has the opportunity to demonstrate prowess at various activities: rifle marksmanship, archery, horseback riding, climbing, stealth, and making a shelter out of native materials. Points are awarded for all these activities - and characters who do well despite being unskilled in a given discipline may gain rank 0 in the appropriate skill. The party is then shown a list of six expeditions and can decide the order in which to visit them.

Each expedition is the presented in detail. For each one, there is a defined objective and the party will have a certain amount of time and the appropriate equipment to undertake it. Interestingly, sometimes the task is being done for someone else - for example, in the Sea Hunt the Club has been contracted to capture certain fish for a research group. Some of the tasks involve killing, but there are enough places in which capturing or even making recordings of the target animals or plants will garner points so that those who are uncomfortable with the idea of hunting for sport will find plenty to do. Naturally, each location visited boasts more than the target creature and there are extensive random event charts and other encounters to further enliven affairs. Once the six hunts have been undertaken, the party returns to Aisha where points are added up and prizes awarded.

Full details of all the systems in the Hannibal Subsector are provided, at least to the level that they are known to the Club. As far as is known, none of them have been settled yet... but there's sufficient detail in the system write-ups to allow for that if the party choose to do so in later adventures, or for you to write your own campaign around exploring and settling any one of them. Many do not even have names yet, just catalogue numbers, although some have acquired unofficial names bestowed by the Club during earlier safaris. The ship on which the safari will be undertaken is also presented, complete with deckplans and full details including those of a surface (wet) boat provided for ocean travel during the trip. Finally, there are a few ideas about other things that might be going on in the area...

This presents an exciting and original campaign framework, with loads of detail to support the adventures provided or indeed facilitate your own in a virtually unexplored subsector.



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Grand Safari
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Stone Dead (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2016 11:36:52

This adventure is set in Respite, an isolated town along the banks of a river fed by a nearby hot spring, which is renowned far and wide for the practice of the healing arts - you can place it anywhere suitable in your campaign world. But all is not well...

There is some lengthy background that explains the combination of happenstance and malign action that has brought about the current situation and a synopsis of how the adventure should play out - pretty straightforward, the party has to find out what's going on and deal with it! Some hooks are provided to get them to Respite in the first place - perhaps they have encountered a refugee, as many of the townspeople have fled, heard rumours, or have reasons of their own to be visiting the place anyway.

The approach to town is covered in some detail, as there are some odd features which the party may pick up on - although they serve more to indicate that something is amiss than give clues to the actual problem. There's a map of the gatehouse and one of the town centre - if you want detail of the rest of the town you will have to supply it for yourself. The maps these are based on come from March 2001 entries in the Map-a-Week series on the Wizards of the Coast website, but are no longer accessible from the link provided in the PDF.

There are plenty of opportunities to build up suspense as the party explores what appears to be a deserted town, and once they find the Bad Guy there will be an epic brawl to defeat him... and his monstrous sidekick (a decidedly nasty new monster born of dark magic) as well. Once their dastardly plot has been defeated - and, boy, it's an excellent one! - the task of rebuilding can begin.

It's a sneaky adventure that kind of grows on you, at first glance it doesn't seem much, then you realise how atmospheric it can become, especially if the party has visited Respite in the past. It's worth considering having this happen just so that the effects of this visit are really shocking!



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Stone Dead (3.0)
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