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Megan Robertson's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 5,904 posts (6,201 including aliases). 563 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 2 aliases.



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An RPG Resource Review

*****

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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An RPG Resource Review

*****

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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An RPG Resource Review

*****

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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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This work is a collection of material and resources designed to enhance your game. There are chapters on environmental hazards, anomaly mapping and survival, a couple of new campaign frameworks and some conspiracies, complete scenarios and even some new monsters. Plenty to get your teeth into.

First up, Environmental Hazards. Just because there is a dinosaur snapping at your heels it doesn't mean that you are safe from other threats, after all! It runs through quite a lot of other problems like bad weather and natural disasters that can cause you to wish you had stayed at home that day. In every case as well as describing the nature of the hazard, the applicable game mechanics are also supplied, along with a useful sidebar for GMs on calibrating damage and notes on how to use hazards in your game to best effect (preferably without killing off the party, at least not until they've had fair warning and ignored opportunities to prepare themselves!).

Next, Survival looks at the challenges of surviving in a prehistoric world (or indeed anywhen else when you are far from civilisation). Taking the four priorities for survival – water, food, fire and shelter – it looks at each in turn showing why they are necessary and what the party can do about making sure that they get them. There's a useful note on what you ought to have in a survival kit. For characters who spend too long in a survival situation – like being trapped in prehistory – there are a couple of new bad Traits that can be applied. These model the veneer of civilisation being stripped away as the character’s focus shifts to staying alive at all costs.

Both these chapters are applicable to any game, but the next – Mapping Anomalies – is pure Primeval. Mainly for GMs, this provides a system for being logical about when and where they pop up. Will the party spot the pattern? Will they be able to make use of it? Up to them...

Next we have a couple of campaign frameworks which you might like to try out if you are tired of having the party involved with the ARC. The first is Operation George, set at the beginning of World War 2. There's a brief history, sample characters and the interesting thought that even if you don't chose it as your framework, maybe it did happen and traces of it will turn up whatever your party is investigating! The other is The Village. This is centred on a present-day (but ancient) village situated near an equally historic wood in which strange lights are sometimes seen and, it is rumoured, strange creatures as well. There's a group called the Wardens, locals who watch over the wood and protect the village from monsters. Your group can play the Wardens… or again, this may be something that is stumbled across in the course of other adventures.

These are followed by two 'conspiracies' - the Panacea Corporation and the Mathers Gang - organisations that have an interest in anomalies and seek to exploit them for their own ends. Then there's a chapter full of More Monsters, mostly new dinosaurs (using the term quite loosely), all with full descriptions, stat blocks and other notes – often a picture as well, although these are long on teeth and claws and short on biological detail!

Finally, the adventures. Message in an Anomaly which starts with the characters dealing with what seems to be a typical incursion until they find a note HELP ME. That's when things start getting complicated. With plenty of scope for interaction and investigation, this should prove fun. Next is The Devil and Mr Sutton. This involves stories of a ghost train, but of course there's a fair bit more to it than that! Another richly-detailed adventure with plenty of investigation to keep curious characters busy. The third adventure is Earth Serpent, which can be used to kick off a whole new story arc in your game. It's all about this artefact, you see...

There's a lot here and most groups will find uses for at least some of it… and the adventures are fun, catching the spirit of the game well.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

Back to Absalom for this adventure, with a backstory concerning a centuries-old tale of a wizard/astronomer and his observatory, the site of which was later built over to form a palatial villa and museum for antiquities - the Blakros Museum (encountered before in Pathfinder Society Scenario #5: Mists of Mwangi. A child of the house who enjoyed exploring the remote reaches of the house developed a taste for adventure and became an artefact-hunter in her own right... and found something in an Osirian tomb that brought her back home. Only she's vanished somewhere in the bowels of the museum and the curator has asked the Pathfinders for help. The backstory explains, for the GM, what's actually going on, of course.

After a synopsis of what ought to happen, the adventure itself begins with the party getting their briefing from Venture-Captain Adril Hestram in the Grand Lodge and being sent round to the museum to start their investigations - although it's worth taking the time to do a bit of research before they go. The rest of the module describes the basement (and points below) in plenty of detail... pick up a copy of Mists of Mwangi if you want to know what is above-ground. Once down in the basement, there's plenty to keep the party busy with the emphasis on fighting... pity any poor docents who venture down there to catalogue the reserve stock! There is little scope for role-playing or interaction, the only way to deal with what's down there is to attempt to kill them.

However, despite the lack of anything other than fighting, it's very atmospheric, indeed quite creepy - an excellent dungeon crawl with some unusual opposition. What is going on down there is very interesting, and it's almost disappointing that destruction of the core artefact is inevitable and expected. Come to fight and you can have an enjoyable game.


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