Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting, on both a formal level and rules-language level, are not as tight as usual for Drop Dead Studios. There are more formatting issues and minor hiccups than usual, but at the same time, rules-integrity manages to juggle highly complex concepts. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf employs solid stock art, as well as quite a few artworks that are probably original, since I haven’t seen them before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Andrew J Gibson’s battlemage’s handbook has me more torn than any previous Spheres of power-expansion. On one hand, this book does a phenomenal job of providing amazing engines for the War sphere, an upgrade it certainly required. On the other hand, the pdf, more so than usual, feels like it could have used some additional editing and development. The options here, while cool, often feel a bit weird in internal and external balancing. Spheres of Power is already a wide-open system and the couple of unlimited use-tricks and the synergy tricks need careful monitoring. The explicit stacking of swift action full BAB-attacks with other options and haste also represents an escalation that I don’t consider to be necessary…and potentially unpleasant. Considering that Spheres has a built-in options to differentiate between lower-key and more high-powered gameplay, this component in particularly feels like it could have been handled more elegantly.
In short: While the War sphere needed a power upgrade, this handbook imho overshoots the target-line and comparing power-levels of some options, it looks a bit like some minimum-level-requirements etc. were lost or not implemented. The book, in short, ends up closest to the shapeshifter’s handbook in power-level, a development I consider somewhat troubling for the series, considering that Spheres of Power’s original selling point was to feature more toned down, non-vancian casting.
That criticism out of the way, from a mechanical perspective, I absolutely ADORE the engines employed herein, even if I disagree with some details of the respective implementations. While I wholeheartedly disagree with several balancing-decisions herein, there are plenty of solutions that I like. Similarly, evocative combos, cool tricks, flavorful, high-difficulty crunch – you can find all of that in here. In short: If this had been a bit more streamlined in the dev-department, it would have been my favorite Spheres-expansion so far, bar none, perhaps even Top Ten candidate-level. However, the rough patches and editing/formatting hiccups that make this feel a bit less polished, do drag it down from the level of excellence that this would otherwise represent. In short: This is a very good file, but one with rough patches that a GM should be aware of; my final verdict is 4 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.