It’s difficult sometimes to review things on a 1-5 scale. Usually that range is enough to clearly denote just what I think of a product, but very rarely, I’ll read an RPG supplement that makes me wish I had a wider scale. Specifically, there’s a very small group of books, less than half-a-dozen, that I’d give six out of five stars to if I could; The Practical Enchanter is one of those.
A companion volume to Eclipse: The Codex Persona, The Practical Enchanter does not require that you have the former book to use it. Like it’s sister book, The Practical Enchanter is available free for download, along with a pay-for version that is identical – Distant Horizons Games released the pay version purely so gamers who really liked the book could voluntarily pay for it if they felt so inclined. This is an incredibly magnanimous gesture on their part, particularly since I think the book is a steal at twice the price.
The PDF of the book is two hundred forty-two pages long, including the covers, OGL, credits page, editor’s note, and an explanation of the shareware version. The text is OCR and is fully searchable, allowing for cutting and pasting. Full bookmarks are also given, tagging every section and subsection in the book clearly. The table of contents is not hyperlinked, but given that the bookmarks cover everything listed, this isn’t really a problem.
As with many Distant Horizons Games products, the artwork found in the book is all material that has long since entered the public domain. All black and white (save for the covers), everything here is over a century old, at the very least. Given the nature of the pieces used here, they all have a very distinct feeling to them, particularly since they were (presumably) all made as serious art. The detail and rendering on them is exquisite, even if the pictures rarely seem to directly relate to the text on a particular page. Also, unlike Eclipse, none of the pictures have captions. A plain, black border encloses every page, along with alternating listings of the book’s title, and its parent company at the bottom of each page. In short, this is a book that could conceivably be printed out with relatively little difficulty, though if you want the entire thing in physical form, it may be cheaper and more worthwhile to just purchase the print version.
One final thing that must be noted before examining the book’s specifics is that, similar to how Eclipse had rather silly captions for many of its illustrations, The Practical Enchanter has periodic commentary appearing in its pages from Grod the barbarian, and his compatriots. Very much a stereotype of his chosen profession, Grod banters with fellow characters such as Lute the bard, Guildmage Xanos, EVIL WIZARD (yes, he spells his name in capital letters), and every so often, the book’s editor. While largely humorous, these comments are always relevant to the section of the book they’re in, and sometimes are nicely insightful.
So now that all that’s out of the way, what’s the book actually about? Well, The Practical Enchanter is a magic book for your d20 game. It’s not just a book of new spells, nor does it give an entirely new magic system, but rather straddles the line between those two distinctions, doing a little of both. By its very nature, this makes it mutable, offering different things depending on what you’re looking for. Each of its six chapters is quite different from the others, allowing you to pick what you need as you like.
The first chapter (and in my mind, the best) covers new spells. This isn’t just a random assortment of new spells listed alphabetically, however. Rather, the chapter looks at the types of bonuses/penalties you can get in the d20 system, and analyzes spells that grant (or inflict) those, and provides spells based on that. In many cases, these are spells, but you also often see spell templates – spells whose mechanics are variable, and make the spell level vary depending on what mechanics you choose. Want the spell to be long range and affect a group of people? That’ll drive the level of it up. A sidebar describing how they worked the mechanics accompanies every subsection here, and the chapter is peppered with comments on additional affects that can be applied to any spell for an increase in level (for example, making a spell able to get through a golem’s magic immunity raises its level by +3). By mixing these altogether and treating each result as a different spell, there are thousands upon thousands of combinations possible just from this chapter alone.
The second chapter presents practical variants on spellcasting. Specifically, it concerns itself with methods of spell research, and using the Spellcraft skill to create magical effects. While this may sound dry in theory, the sheer breadth of what the book fleshes out is incredible. With a high enough Spellcraft check, for example, you can theoretically design a new spell instantly as you think of it, rather than taking weeks of costly research.
Chapter three covers new feats. Again, the level of innovation here is quite high, such as a feat that lets you use magic/items that normally shouldn’t work in your campaign world. Roughly only half of the book’s feats are actually detailed in this chapter; the others appear in relevant sections – this chapter lists them and gives a page reference for them, though.
The fourth chapter covers new magic items. These are all “social” magic items, made to make life easier in towns and cities, for the good of the general population, rather than for adventurers to better kill things with. What may make this section a tad bit less appealing for some is that instead of the standard d20 magic item formula (magic aura, caster level, necessary spells and feats, market price), these have their creation information given differently, with a focus on how to create them and how the price was established. Still, these will likely be very useful to someone looking to make their high fantasy world feel more “realistic.”
Chapter five deals with alternative systems. If you don’t have or want magic in your game, this chapter deals with how to turn the book’s new rules and effects into things such as superheroic powers, or cybernetics, among other things. The final chapter covers two kinds of great enchantments, heartstones and wards major. The former is essentially an area with great magic that you can tap into, while the latter is imbuing an area with great magic that it can use itself. Several appendices round out the book, with the first one giving tables of relevant information, and the second being an index of each and every new spell listed alphabetically.
I think that The Practical Enchanter is the single best magic book ever to come out for the d20 system. It’s honest look at the mechanics of magic, and how it uses that to simplify most spells and present myriad new options sets a new level of standards for magic in the game. And that’s without even looking at all the other new materials if offers. Given that it’s available for free, there is absolutely no reason for you not to have downloaded this book already and started using it. The Practical Enchanter has a mind-boggling amount of material to offer your game, so go ahead and put it to use.
[5 of 5 Stars!]