Bored of Vancian magic? Try something Strange instead!
In development in one way or another since June of 2013, Strange Magic offers up three brand new magical subsystems with freedom as their modus operandi. Build custom spells from the ground up with ethermagic, compose your own scores with musical composition, and weave ridiculous combos and reverse recitations with truename magic.
Ethermagic takes equal parts Douglas Adams and H. P. Lovecraft to produce an 'all day long' system of magic with a cosmic flavor. Spiritual successors to the warlock base class of the 3.5 days, the ethermagus, ethermancer, and etherslinger base classes seek to have improved playability by offering the ability to mix and match spell effects to make custom evocations on the fly. Whereas the warlock simply blasted, the ethermagician can ask, 'How hard?', and can even choose to be an interesting hybrid class rather than a pure-blooded caster.
Thanks to the advent of a rapidly-regenerating spell point pool, players must choose whether or not to spend more than they will regenerate next turn. Incredibly potent effects are indeed possible, but firing them off without a care in the world will reduce the player to single-target ranged touch attacks in a hurry!
In the real world, great musicians are some of the most creative people that you will ever meet. When sitting down to play one in tabletop gaming, however, musical performance boils down to a short list of canned abilities that are autogranted at particular level thresholds. In short, gaming a musician is not the creative enterprise that actually being one is.
The musical composition system seeks to capture the raw creativity of music with the advent of a freeform composition system. Players combine intros, melodies, and outros to compose custom scores, which are then conducted in much the same way that a bard performs his performances. Each base class contained herein takes a different spin on the concept, combining it with spellcasting, arcane magic, divine magic, or more freeform musical composition, as the case may be.
Composition's transformative archetypes are not mere flavor packages, but instead modify the very root of the composition system itself, to the point that each base class can be made almost unrecognizable by piling on two or three of them.
We call it the First Language, and anything spoken in this most primal of tongues is law. Be the speaker king or peasant, the universe is compelled to shift the very fabric of its being to conform to that which is said. Complex beyond comprehension, this ur-tongue contains syntax and vocabulary capable of describing all that can conceivably exist in this, or any other universe. Though perfect mastery of such a construct is impossible for even the gods—this is why deities have portfolios—even a mortal can learn enough of the First Language to effectively BE a god with an incredibly narrow focus. These obsessive scholars and phoneticians are collectively called the truenamers, and their efforts to capture the power wielded by the gods themselves upsets everyone from clerics to cultists.
Truename magic features the recitations system, in which spells are cast upon successfully making a truenaming check (same as a concentration check, but a different name so other content can't break it) against the level of the recitation. Each time a recitation is recited, its check DC increases by +2 until the following day. Inflections, effectively a metamagic system that allows for bonus effects in exchange for increasing the truenaming DC faster, makes even the 1st-level recitations useful forever. After all, if you could cast a quickened 1st-level recitation each round, why wouldn't you?
Three ethermagic base classes: the full-caster ethermancer, the melee ethermagus, and the cosmic firearms etherslinger.
Four composition base classes: the maneuvers-based breakdancer, the divine cantor, the score-spamming harmonicist, and the arcane maestro
Two truename magic base classes: the classic truenamer and the universe-trolling scion of discordia
Ten ethermagic archetypes, four of which, the healing etherfuser, the insane mad evangelist, the etherbomber, and the stealthy void stalker, are complex enough to be new classes in their own right!
Five composition archetypes, all of which are compatible with multiple composition classes
Eight truename magic archetypes, two of which, the chessmaster and the discordant instigator, may as well be their own classes!
Five truename magic prestige classes
An NPC Codex! Over 30 pages of iconic NPCs for use in your games
Well over 150 pages of manifestations, compositions, opuses, recitations, dance moves, talents, and feats
Favored Class options for all common races, as well as most featured races
"For me, this is an EZG Essential, a candidate for my top ten of 2014, and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. This is, even without anything I added, the best crunch-book I've seen in ages—innovative, fun, complex, and yet, pretty easy to grasp." —Endzeitgeist, reviewing Ultimate Ethermagic
"WOW, this supplement (which is only 1/3 of the entire book) is amazing!" —Chris Zank, reviewing Ultimate Ethermagic
"Its crowning achievement, to me, remains in its ability to make the mastery of the system mimic the process it seeks to emulate—a feat rarely seen in any supplement and one that must be considered superbly rewarding. Hence, Ultimate Composition receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and becomes a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015." —Endzeitgeist, reviewing Ultimate Composition
"I can assure you this monster is worth each cent, offering a vast array of cool options and salvaging the truenaming concept, making it actually work while maintaining its distinct identity." —Endzeitgeist, reviewing Libram of the First Language
"Might [be] worth the price for the Breakdancer class alone. Seriously. I totally want to make a gnome breakdancer now." - Timothy B., featured reviewer, commenting on the Strange Magic Subscription
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EZG has provided a wonderful in-depth review of this product, so I will keep it short and sweet.
Ethermagic- With a base class or archetype to fill just about any role in the party, this system gives you nearly limitless options for building characters that utilize a fast replenishing but easy to burn resource. Of course, for the GMs that love throwing something creepy at their players, there is an archetype for that too.
Composition- Bard doesn't fit you for a singing caster? No worries, this has you covered. From singing to break-dancing (seriously) this will provide you with the resources to build the musical maestro of your dreams.
Truenaming- This was a favorite of mine from 3.5E, in concept at least. This provides a familiar approach to the concept, but with the balance to make it enjoyable. If you are like me, you have probably had a day where you wish reality would bend to your word. With this, at least you can live that through a character.
Strange Magic is an... INTERESTING... collection of classes and powers. While others (*Cough*EZG*Cough*) have done an excellent job explaining things in full, I'd just like to give my perspective on the three classes.
First of all, this book supports variety. It's not just one caster build that you'd ever be going for - there's 9 classes, 23 archetypes, and 5 prestige classes in this book, offering plenty of options for players even if two or more people are using the same system.
Second... this book supports variety. In a different way. Strange Magic is *flavorful*. From poking holes in reality to literally apologizing to the universe every morning because you keep messing with it, these classes and powers are packed with personality. Whether or not that's a good thing is largely a matter of personal opinion - but what it really boils down to is that you don't play a Strange Magic class because you're looking for the most optimized build imaginable, you play it because you thought something like "I want to play a Breakdancer who can dance enemies into submission." (That's a thing in this book.)
Strange Magic is NOT archetypal Tolkien-ish swords-and-fantasy. It's stranger than that, and best suited for high-magic worlds (or, for Truenaming, maybe just individual characters who are specifically rather rare/unique in the setting).
Basically, Strange Magic supports ideas, and the reason to buy this book is if the classes within actually sound fun to you. Now, not everyone will like these ideas or want to play them, and that's fine - but they are pretty fun, and I'm looking forward to using them in some of my own games.
Overall, I give the product a 4/5. I actually prefer a little bit less flavor in the abilities/mechanics of a class (I like to have players decide the fluff for themselves), but this remains a solid, interesting book for tables that permit 3PP material. By no means is it a bad book, but you SHOULD have an idea of how you're going to use it before you buy it, hence my rating. EZG's in-depth explanations of each subsystem are something you should definitely review prior to purchase.
-There are a few small errors in the book (although that's true for a tome of any size, and not a factor in my score above). For example, "Atrophy the Mind" is on the Blast Ethermagic description list, but doesn't seem to be explained in full. There's a Body equivalent that's easy enough to adapt, but that error should've been fixed somehow. The editing is fairly good on the whole, though - the text is easily readable and in two columns for most of the book, which is how it should be.
-The classes aren't difficult to learn, but you WILL need to actually read the class and understand how it works before you build your character. Strange Magic classes are definitely "plan ahead" types - which, if you enjoy theorycrafting your character, is a good thing! But seriously, know what your options are BEFORE you build.
-Iconics of various levels are included, and serve as an excellent reference for what a Strange Magic character with several levels under their belt might look like. They also serve as drag-and-drop NPCs that GMs can use to introduce the powers to the setting.
The following text will deviate a bit from my usual reviews. This is a massive 333 page book, 1 page front cover, 2 pages ToC, 1 page editorial/thank you, 1 page SRD, 1 page backer list, leaving this as a massive 327 page monster.
As you may realize upon looking at the cover, I am one of the contributing authors to this massive tome, so yes, in this case I may be considered biased by some of you out there.
It should be noted, though, that this massive book's magic systems have ALL been released (and reviewed!) a LONG time before I had even an inkling I'd be working on this book, much less that I'd be contributing. Coincidentally, I reviewed all the base systems in their original iterations and considered them stellar - if that had not been the case, I quite frankly would not have associated my name with this book and its magic systems.
The excellence was there even before the respective systems were expanded to the n-th degree, with fine-tuning of mechanics, greatly increased amounts of options etc. All 3 systems have in common that they are not simple - they are intended for advanced players that enjoy tinkering with complex classes with moving parts. At the same time, the classes herein very much reward anyone willing to get into their meat with completely unique options.
If you are interested in the respective subsystems in detail, please take a look at my reviews for Ultimate Ethermagic, Ultimate Composition and Ultimate Truenaming.
In case you don't want to read more than 30 pages of my rambling in the respective reviews, here's the tl;dr-gist:
Ethermagic can be considered auto-refreshing, highly customizable mana-bar casting, warlock-style, with glorious fluff, cool versatility and some seriously beautiful mechanics.
Composition Magic is what the bard should have been from the get-go: Take intros, outros, melodies and refrains and weave them together into your very own symphonies of destruction.
Finally, Truename magic needs no conceptual introduction, but unlike its horribly broken brethren from previous editions, the system presented herein works - and I've seen its barebones, exposed numbers, so yes, a true beauty.
All of these three systems have in common that they provide not only flavorful, but downright inspired, unusual alternatives to vancian casting that play in a completely different way. I had been playing with each of the systems for quite a while prior to the KS for Strange Magic and they had become a staple in my games even prior to my involvement with this massive book - not at my insistence, mind you, but at that of my players, who adore this book.
I also still am convinced that even without the content I provided for this massive tome, this would still rank as one of the best crunch-books I have ever read. No hyperbole.
This is what the 3.X Tome of Magic wanted to be, but failed miserably at - while Pact Magic was saved by Alexander Augunas and Dario Nardi, this book instead provides 3 new systems, with each one providing other, unique options beyond the scope of what regular spellcasting does, all while providing an utterly awesome fluff.
So while I am respecting the wishes of some of my readers and followers and will not rate this per se, I still feel very much obliged to devote this article to the book - the addition of lovingly- handcrafted, illustrated NPCs made with these rules just further extends the awesomeness of this book, with unique fighting styles, combos and inspiring backgroundstories. They can be considered the delightful icing on top of the awesome-cake.
Keeping silent about this glorious tome would be a disservice of my task of keeping you up to date regarding the best 3pps have to offer - and even without my humble additions, Bradley Crouch and Jason Linker have delivered true awesomeness herein and deserve to be acknowledged for the achievement that is this book.
I absolutely adore Strange Magic and consider it a contender for my Top Ten of 2015 and abundantly worthy of my seal of approval, which btw. all its constituent parts have received. Since by now, this book is a must-have addition to my game, much like Pact Magic and Psionics, it also receives the EZG Essential tag since my players do not want to ever miss it again.
I sincerely hope you'll check it out, use it and review it - I'd love to hear how other people are using the book's systems.
Finally, let me thank you for reading this. I am aware that posting this can be considered foolhardy, but it remains my sincere hope you'll believe in my integrity -were I anything less than 100% in love with this book, I wouldn't jeopardize my reputation by writing these lines. The matter of the fact is, though, that this *IS* so good, I consider it the antithesis of bland cookie-cutter design - perhaps even a book future editions will pull out to comment on how inspiring it was.
Compiled reissue with the inclusion of an NPC Codex. I was looking into a loyalty program to get the book into your hands cheaper, but Paizo says it can't do "stacking" discounts for each previous one you've purchased. If you bought it anywhere BUT Paizo, you'll be getting $7 off for each of the previous three you bought.
That said, I'm still looking to get you a $7 discount if you bought any of the three individual pieces. If they can't stack, I can still keep the loyalty program as together as I can manage.
Also note hardcover will not be made available at Paizo.com because their percentage take on print is too high for me.