Paths of Power I is a free PDF from Distant Horizon Games detailing an alternate magic system for d20 Fantasy. It has a sequel product, Paths of Power II: Monstrous Paths, which is a pay-for-download book. Make no mistake, however, Paths of Power I completely stands on its own.
In terms of technical aspects, the book stands up quite well. It has a hyperlinked table of contents, as well as bookmarks. The introduction notes that the product itself is printer-friendly (the color cover and page of ads notwithstanding), though it has a very light grey borders around the pages. There is no interior artwork to speak of, which is on purpose for printer-friendly reasons.
The main idea behind the product is change to how spells are gained. Instead of class spell lists, spells are divided up into paths. A path is a small collection of spells that are related by theme. A fire path, for example, would have a few spells of various levels that were all fire spells. Characters get certain paths for free depending on their race, alignment, and class.
The real freedom here comes from the flexibility of how you select paths. While you get race, alignment, and class paths (and most classes give you some bonus paths of your picking as you advance), you can spend feat slots to buy new paths. This even goes for other class paths or domain paths (all clerical domains are paths in this new system); of course, some types of paths cost more than one feat slot, which keeps things relatively balanced (especially since not all paths contain the same number of spells of the same level).
The book goes out of its way to present the wide range of flexibility that the system offers. The first chapter, after presenting the basics, has a range of new suggestions for in-character and/or mechanical requirements that a GM may need PCs to perform before they gain a new path. It also addresses the option of psionics in this system (the psionic classes are listed here also); basically, it doesn?t differentiate psionics from magic much at all; many psionic powers are spells on various paths here, however there are still rules for using psionics for augmenting spells. A brief discussion on specialization rounds out the first chapter.
Chapter two covers some new game mechanics, beginning with feats. While most of the seven new feats presented here are path-related, not all of them are, such as Shielded Caster, which lets a spellcaster use a shield without a chance of arcane spell failure. Also presented is a new prestige class, the Savant. Taking levels in this class is difficult, as it has multiple restrictions (you cannot take levels in it consecutively, your total levels in Savant cannot be more than one-third your total character level, and more), but it?s worth it, as every level in this PrC grants you three bonus feats.
Chapter three covers the basic paths. ?Basic? here means the race, alignment, and class paths; the ones all characters get for free. This chapter showcases the trend that each path has an amusing quote listed that helps define the nature of the path. Interestingly, the alignment paths are mostly existing domains (without the power, which costs a feat slot), but two new paths are presented, one for every alignment except Neutral, and the other only for Neutral, which is a long-missing nod towards the True Neutral alignment in the game.
Chapter 4 covers the standard paths. These are the ones that no one automatically gets, but you can purchase with a feat (or select if your class gives you a bonus path). Over seventy paths are presented, and make no mistake, they?re not all equal. The Cantrip Master path gives access to all 0-level spells (including divine and psionics), whereas the Mystic Chains path has more high-level spells than low-level ones. The chapter closes out with a much-needed section discussing creating new paths. Characters can create their own paths, but doing so takes time and money, much like creating a new spell.
Chapter five deals with how using the path system affects other areas of the game. It briefly discusses the themes involved in making a path. It then examines how, since paths are acquired as feats, effects that grant or simulate feats (such as a Wish spell or a wondrous magic item) could simulate or grant paths. It then quickly goes over how this affects the usage of magic items, since the new system changes a few things, such as spell completion items, etc.
Chapter six gives us over twenty-five new spells, all of which were on paths previously seen. The spells are presented in the standard format (though some are curiously missing entries for what school of magic they belong to). However, GMs or players who want to use these spells in the ?normal? system of magic will have to decide on what spell lists to place these on, as those aren?t listed here, which is somewhat disappointing.
Appendix one is a single page advertising other Distant Horizon Games products. It?s oddly put ahead of Appendices two and three, but otherwise doesn?t bear mentioning.
Appendices two and three list the domains reworked as paths. However, virtually everything about them is the same, making their reprinting here somewhat superfluous. Even the new spells from the SRD for the non-Core SRD domains are reprinted here (though new spell ?Unbinding Word? is presented to make up for now ?Unbinding? wasn?t included in the SRD).
All in all, Paths of Power is a clear winner of a product. It presents a new system that is as innovative as it is simple and easy to understand. While it may be a bit difficult integrating it into an existing game (a topic the book didn?t cover), it excellently showcases how to introduce a large degree of flexibility in spellcasting repertoire without changing the majority of the spellcasting rules. Combine that with the superb layout and plethora of options presented, and of course the free price tag, and you?ve got an exquisite product on your hands. Many more than two paths diverge here, which will you follow?
<b>LIKED</b>: The innovative new way of distributing spells that spellcasters can know. The imaginative range of options presented for the new system.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The reprinting of the various domains (and specific domain spells) seemed somewhat superfluous.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>