I generally don’t agree with the sentiment that spellcasters, particularly wizards, are overpowered. To me, that’s something that’s true more on paper than in actual game-play. However, it’s undeniable that contemporary spell-design does think this way. Simply put, spells are designed to have one specific effect and no other; indeed, many spells will devote considerable space to telling you what they can’t do. That’s understandable, but ironically it takes some of the magic away from spellcasting. What’s happened to spells that have wide and creative applications?
The answer is simple: they’ve all migrated to Advanced Arcana II, by Necromancers of the Northwest.
Okay, the above sentiment is an exaggeration, but only slightly. Whereas most supplements that introduce new spells are just a hodge-podge collection of spells thrown together, Advanced Arcana II, like its predecessor volume, has several new themes to what it presents. We’ll go over these, but first let’s take a look at the book’s technical construction.
Weighing in at just over a hundred pages in length, Advanced Arcana II hits all of the checkboxes that a PDF should. It contains full, nested bookmarks. It allows for copying and pasting (I’m pleased to say that there are virtually no errors with pasting copied text here). Moreover, there’s a printer-friendly version of the book, which is always a plus. That said, the printer-friendly version eliminates the page backgrounds, removes one page of ads near the end of the book, and sets the remaining colors to grey – however, it does keep the interior illustrations, simply graying them. I’d have preferred removing the artwork altogether, something I’m presuming they didn’t do because it’d require a ne layout.
In terms of artwork, the book makes a fairly good showing for itself. All of the pages are set on a cream-colored “parchment” background, which makes it look as though the book is an actual tome. Periodic full-color illustrations break up the text, all of which are CG stock art pieces (oddly, each piece is captioned with a copyright notice for the original creator – I’d have thought it’d be enough to note them in the credits page).
The book opens with a one-page in-character introduction, and then a four-page opening (which is also in-character). It’s after this that we’re given an introduction by the actual game designers. Advanced Arcana II, they tell us, is different from its predecessor volume in that it wants to deal with the mutable nature of spells. To this end, its largely concerning itself with three “types” of spells – the first of these are “modal” spells, which allow for spells to have different effects, but you can only choose one when you cast it (a la fire shield). The second are conditional spells, where the local conditions determine how effective a spell is (e.g. a spell that causes fear is more effective in dim light). Finally, we see the return of segmented spells here; spells that have to be cast multiple times in rapid succession to have their effect take place.
This is last idea is turned on its head, however, as it puts two new variations on that theme: the first are segmented spells that can be cast a differing (instead of a set) number of times, with the number of casting affecting the spell’s efficacy. The variation allows for layering effects to manifest with each casting of a segmented spell, allowing for stacking effects per casting.
Interestingly, the book then goes on to detail another theme that many of its spells deal with: age. Specifically, there are a number of spells here that deal with adding or draining age from a creature – it should be noted though that none of these spells have aging as a “cost” of casting the spell (something from older editions of the game, which I sort of miss). I have to commend the designers here, as they delve into the mechanics of aging in Pathfinder and make sure no aspect of this is overlooked. They deal with questions of aging modifiers to mental ability scores and physical ones, with how different sorts of creatures age (e.g. what to do if you’re uncertain of how a monster lives).
While it doesn’t call it out as its own section, per se, the book then delves into a series of optional rules, mostly in regards to adding new spells to your game. The book cogently notes that it can be awkward to have new spells just suddenly appear in your campaign, particularly for divine spellcasters who have access to the whole of their spell lists. To that end, the book presents several ideas, such as having rare spells costing more or being harder to scribe, to having a “spells known” like ability for divine spellcasters using non-Core spells, to just having an in-game Advanced Arcana II be available to peruse. There are a lot of good ideas here that are worth exploring.
Full spell lists are presented next, which make sure to cover all of the spellcasting classes in the Core Rulebook, APG, and Ultimate Magic, before we finally move on to the spells themselves. I should mention here that while most of the spells fall under the themes described above, there are still a handful that are presented that don’t match with any of them, something I thought was great for rounding out the material in the book.
If Advanced Arcana II had ended there, that would still have been a lot. Instead, however, the book has several appendices where we’re actually given even more material to work with. The book’s first appendix is another in-game treatise describing several of the spellcasters whose names appear the spells given earlier. It’s a slight shame that this section is entirely in-character, as I would have preferred a stat block, or at the very least an abbreviated line detailing their race, class, and levels.
The second appendix, however, was much more fun. Here we’re given a truly expansive section on customized spellbook designs. These allow for three basic parts: customized binding (the hardness), customized paper (the hit points), and customized inks. Customized ink represents changing the spells scribed in the spellbook, so that there are altered effects whenever such a spell is prepared. For example, if you scribe a spell in alchemical mercury, when you cast that specific spell after preparing it from that spellbook, you get a +2 bonus to beating spell resistance. I should also note that the sections on binding and pages also have several special abilities depending on the material used, in addition to altering hardness and hit points. The balancing mechanism here, of course, is that these are all expensive, all the moreso if you use multiple options.
The book’s third appendix presents a half-dozen new familiars. I have to admit that I really enjoy new familiars, so I was tickled by what was here. Some of these were mundane animals that were rather oddly overlooked until now (a dog, for example), while others were creatures you wouldn’t ordinarily think of (a goldfish), and others were outlandish (a swarm of magical flies). Each has a full stat block, an expansive description, and a notation on what their familiar benefit is (as these are all standard familiars, and not improved familiars).
Appendix four presents four new arcane bonds for wizards. These are an elemental bond (sub-typed by what element is chosen), a bond to a location (which can be changed, though not quickly), a bond with a particular spirit, and a bond to your spellbook. This last one, in particular, seemed apropos – I’m amazed it wasn’t offered in the Core Rulebook.
The book closes out with a final appendix of thirty optional material components that can be added to a spell to lend it some extra power. Most of these come from specific creatures, and likewise only affect certain groups of spells. For example, a kraken’s eye allows for any conjuration spell, affecting it as per the Widen Spell metamagic feat. A handy chart lists how much these can be purchased for.
Overall, Advanced Arcana II actually managed to top the high bar set by its predecessor, something I didn’t think was possible. While the book presents so many new spells, its innovations come from the fact that it stretches the boundaries of what its spells can do, from being augmented by local conditions to packing variable options into its effects to the sheer brilliance that are segmented spells. Add in things like the variant spellbook construction rules and the new familiars and arcane bonds, and there’s so much great stuff in here that it’s hard to justify not using this book in your game. I say, five stars to this book – it deserves every one of them. Pick it up and advance your game’s spellcasters!
[5 of 5 Stars!]