|Katina Davis Webstore Coordinator
(that dip material thing not fixed)
They don't gain any Sphere Specializations at 1st level anymore. I'd say that's something of a downgrade.
EDIT: Oh, wait, I see what you're saying. Yeah, "Give up stuff later for stuff now and then multiclass out of ever getting that first stuff anyway" is a bad balancing mechanic. I never noticed that.
Does anyone know if or when they're planning to release a hardcover version of this?
I believe it's only available via Print on Demand services such as drive-thru and whatever. I was a Kickstarter backer, so I have my copy - which was a print on demand version. It's big and solid. The paper is dull and doesn't have that nice sheen of an offset printed book, but it's still nice.
Conclusion of my review:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; while there are still aspects of the book where the rules can become problematic, I was pretty surprised by the degree of improvements that went into this book. Layout adheres to a functional 2-column standard with color highlights and artworks of various styles and aesthetic quality. As noted, I do think that information-design wise, the book does a couple of things right, but could have gone further. I still hate yellow as the feat chapter’s header text color; it doesn’t have enough contrast for my liking, but that’s an aesthetic nitpick. The PoD hardcover is a massive tome, dwarfing the Core Rulebook; it is glued, though, so if my other huge RPG-books are an indicator, it will suffer over the years. I can’t comment on the pdf-version, since I do not own it.
Adam Meyers, Darren Smith, Amber Underwood, Michael Uhland, Michael Sayre, Andrew Stoeckle, Andrew J. Gibson, Derfael Oliviera, John Little, Johannes Luber, Steven Loftus, Jeff Collins—that’s quite a bunch of designers, and considering that, it’s surprising to see how unified this book feels as a whole.
But is it good?
This depends very much on what you wanted out of it.
If you wanted a return to the vision of the original Spheres of Power and the power-levels it gunned for, then you’ll consider it OP.
If you don’t care about balance, and just wanted a compilation of the handbooks, then the improvements made here in that regard might rub you the wrong way.
However, if you wanted an update of spheres of power and all of its content, with some of its rough edges sanded off, then this book does deliver EXACTLY what you wanted. If you’re looking for a system that plays more like magic from novels and movies, then spheres is a breath of fresh air.
Similarly, if your group enjoys optimization and combos, then Spheres of Power adds more strategy to the whole realm of magic than simply casting the best spell; in that way it’s a resounding success.
…but in those aspects, it’s also where one can genuinely criticize the book. I am inordinately fond of particularly the Blood and Time spheres, to call out two of my favorite parts of the book. Ultimate Spheres of Power is a gigantic toolbox of options that allow you to make magic more magical. When I love this book, I REALLY love it, and I adore the system.
…and yet, as much as I adore the way in which this rewards optimization, combos and the like, I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t have had to spell out that bonuses should cap to not further exacerbate the issues of PFRPG’s math falling apart. Or that, if your group consists of hardcore powergamers (like mine), this wonderful magic system can make them tax the assumptions of PFRPG to the breaking point; the latter is not as big of an issue if everyone’s on board, but in mixed groups, with some less crunch-savvy players, the differences in power-levels can be rather significant; more so than in many comparable contexts.
I would love to unanimously recommend this book and its inspired, awesome concepts and ideas, slap 5 stars + seal on it and smile from ear to ear, but I ultimately can’t do that. If you and your group can reach an agreement to not push the system to its breaking points, then it will provide literally years of fun for you; courtesy of the new system, the entirety of PFRPG’s first edition can feel radically different, fresh, exciting. For you, this book may well be one of the most important in your entire library.
I love a lot in this book. Heck, I loved a ton of the individual spheres-handbooks. But, in many ways, this book to me represents the end of a honeymooning phase, the point where the system should ideally have no aspects that creak anymore.
The best way to think about this, would be to think about it as an alternate caster-system that results in more focused, themed, casters reminiscent of those we know from fiction; who can theoretically perform in a devastating manner on par with Vancian casters; depending on player-expertise, beyond them in their focused areas of expertise.
It's also a book that lets you drastically change how PFRPG feels, with incantation engine and items etc. allowing you to make use of pretty much the majority of the entire PFRPG array of options.
Damn, how should I rate this? I am genuinely torn on this one, as I adore how it operates, but am somewhat disappointed by how easily the system can still be strained, and in spite of the name, I don’t think it makes for the best version of the content it could have been. I am, somewhat, in the camp of the people who wanted a realization of the original vision behind Spheres of Power; I wanted something more akin to a second edition, and I can understand anyone who’d consider this a 3-star tome.
But then again, I pride myself on reviewing books for what they are, and not for what I’d want them to be. Granted, this approach made me fall prey to the whole power-level escalation in the individual handbooks, as there was no clear power-level as a baseline for the entire series. Handbook A pushes envelope; handbook B doesn’t; C pushes further – you get the idea; when the individual frame of reference is the sphere in question in combination with an as-of-yet unfinished entire series as baseline, it’s hard to judge anything but the context of the sphere and a potential overall power-level guesstimate.
And there’s the factor that this book was billed as a compilation, with some improvements to (content) editing – and it delivers in that regard.
In fact, it delivers more than I thought it would, but less than I hoped for.
The key to rating this in a fair manner I can live with turned out to be a weird one: Eliminate the “Spheres of Power” from the title; try to block out what came before; try to block out the original, the handbooks. Assume a position of a person who doesn’t have very specific expectations of what the book should be but retain my hard-won knowledge of how its intricate and rather complex systems can be manipulated, tweaked and pushed.
If this were a new book of its own, what would my response be? I’d celebrate this book for all of its genuinely amazing components, and for the streamlining and rules-changes that it *DOES* implement. But I’d also caution against its not-as-streamlined components, and I stand by the big rules suggestions above; implementing them will make the system operate in a much smoother manner.
I thought long and hard about the verdict, and ultimately, I’ll settle on a verdict that will probably annoy everyone, but which I consider to be fair: In the end, I think this is a 4.5 stars book, rounded down.
If you are new to spheres of power and have no experience with the system, consider my verdict for the original book to still be valid: For you, this very much will a radical and awesome paradigm chances that breathes life into an old system , and may be worth 5 stars + seal based on that alone.. Just, if you do, consider implementing the limits I outlined above; you’ll thank me at the very latest when your characters reach 10th level. Unless, of course, that’s what you and yours enjoy! There is no wrong way to game, after all!