Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic

I've finally finished perusing the newest Pathfinder book, the much anticipated (by me, at least) Ultimate Magic, so it's review time! Let's dive right in, shall we? The first chapter, Spellcasters, is a very strong start to the book. It kicks off with an introduction to a brand new class: the Magus. It's your classic Magic Knight class: you've got weapon training and casting ability in the same class; a fireball in one hand and a sword in the other. It sounds cool; it's got an arcane pool, much like the Monk's ki pool, that allows you to trigger some pretty nice abilities. I'm definitely looking forward to playing one. After showing off the new class, the chapter moves on to new options for pre-existing classes, starting with Alchemist.

Some of the new Alchemist discoveries are insane: you want to grow some tentacles? Now you can! How about wings? Yep, those too! And have you ever wanted your very own creepy, malformed, parasitic twin growing out of your chest, like that guy in Total Recall? If you answered yes, this book is for you! There are also some new Alchemist archetypes, my favorite of which is the Preservationist. Their specialty? Bottling animals to use against their foes. Yes, bottling them. They can prepare summon nature's ally as an extract, which creates a tiny replica of an animal inside a glass bottle. Then, when they open the bottle, the animal grows to normal size and puts the smackdown on whoever's giving you trouble. Thank you, Paizo; now I can finally play my dream character: a tentacled flying man who is controlled by a terrifying parasite that throws bottled rhinos at people.

After the awesome Alchemist options, the next section, options for Bards, seems lackluster; it introduces Bardic Masterpieces, which are special performances that act like spells. I've never played a Bard, sadly, so I don't know how useful these would be. However, flavor-wise, it seems appropriate to have Bards learn musical masterpieces that rock so hard they alter the world around them. As for archetypes, they were decent. The Demagogue archetype is good at inciting riots, so it's probably fun to mess around with.

Next up, we have Clerics, who get new channeled energy variations; each domain has a different way to use channeled energy, most of which involve giving you bonuses instead of healing you (or giving enemies penalties rather than harming them). They could probably be useful, although I'd imagine most of them are far more situational than the traditional "pull me from the icy clutches of death" approach. However, they do add good flavor to Clerics and the gods they serve. There are also some new Cleric archetypes as well, my favorite of which is the Undead Lord, which is essentially a divine Necromancer.

Moving on to Druids: they get new domains. That doesn't particularly excite me, seeing as how I prefer animal companions anyway, but I can't complain; new options are new options, after all. As with the other classes, some new archetypes get introduced. Menhir Savant and Saurian Shaman are both pretty appealing. Menhir Savants gain their power from ley lines, which is kind of a neat twist on regular Druids, and Saurian Shamans are automatically awesome because they have dinosaurs.

Inquisitors get some love, too: they get their own special domains (or, as the book calls them, domainlike class features) called inquisitions. In addition, they get some neat archetypes like Exorcist and Sin Eater. Now, I just need to play an Exorcist in a campaign where the Big Bad is Pazuzu... but that's neither here nor there.

Magus archetypes comprise the next section, and there are some interesting ones. I'm particularly eager to roll up a Bladebound Magus - a Magus in possession of an ancient, sentient weapon called a Black Blade. Naturally, my character will be named Revya and his Black Blade will be called Gig (I'm being awfully referential today, aren't I?).

Monks are next, with the introduction of Monk Vows. I like them; they add flavor to a character, and flavor is always good. The only new archetype for Monks is Qinggong, which, if I understand it correctly, is a very customizable kind of Monk; I'm interested in it, but I want to try it before I judge it.

After that, Oracles get new options. I'm not too big on Oracles myself, but I did see a new Mystery that one of the villains in my current campaign will have. There are a few new Oracle archetypes, but nothing that caught my eye.

Paladins, on the other hand, had a new archetype that I really like: the Oathbound Paladin, who utilizes Paladin Oaths. Oaths are a lot like Monk Vows, but instead of promising to not speak or whatever, the Paladin promises to murder certain types of monsters whenever possible. Well, okay, there are a few Oaths that don't revolve around bashing in monster faces, but all the cool ones are violent. Obviously.

Ranger get one new archetype, the Trapper, who utilizes magical traps. It could be fun if it gets more support; right now, there aren't a whole lot of traps available for them.

Next up is the Sorcerer section, which is probably the only part of the book I'm really disappointed in. There are a handful of new bloodlines, but most of them are genie-based. If that's your thing, cool, but I don't particularly care for them; I've always liked regular elementals better. The new Wildblooded archetype, which represents a 'mutation' of a standard bloodline, is fairly neat, but overall I was hoping for better Sorc options.

Summoners, on the other hand, get some nice new things. Eidolon Models, for instance make me very happy. They aren't actually new options; they're guidelines for how to build particular types of Eidolons, like angels or hydras. I'm positive that this is going to be a huge timesaver if any of my players want to roll up Summoners in the future. There's also a new Eidolon base form (aquatic) and several new evolutions.

Following the Summoner is easily the most grisly section of the entire book: Witch options. Some of these are just downright disturbing. For instance, two of the new hexes are child-scent (which lets you sniff out children) and cook people (yeah, three guesses what that one does). Equally creepy is the Gravewalker archetype, which is like a necromancer, except you carry around a voodoo doll made out of human skin and filled with hair and fingernails.

Moving on (thankfully), we have some new Wizard stuff: the arcane schools of Metal and Wood. They both seem fairly decent. The new Wizard archetype, however, is just... bizarre. It's called the Scrollmaster, and it treats scrolls as weapons (shortswords, to be exact). So, instead of casting spells off of scrolls, you just run around the battlefield slapping people in the face with them. I can't decide if that idea is hilarious or just dumb.

The next section is titled Mastering Magic. It starts off by introducing spellblights - diseases that only casters can contract. They seem decent, but not spectacular; I doubt I'll use them very often. Rules for magic duels are also included. Duels don't differ too much from a standard battle, but they could be fun plot devices; I could see my players watching one in an arena, or perhaps playing a haughty Wizard PC who challenges NPC casters to duels out of pride. This chapter also has a section about binding outsiders. A lot of it is just descriptions of what different outsiders like and dislike, so you know how to bribe them into helping you. While a lot of this information isn't new, it's very handy to have it all in one place. After that, there's a couple of pages on how to customize constructs by giving them organs, wearing them as armor, and a host of other things. Then there's a brief section introducing new types of familiars, followed by the introduction of premade spellbooks. In addition to the spells within, most of them contain something unique, like a few pages of information on demons or what have you. I don't think I'll use them as actual loot, but I could see one becoming an important plot device. Plus, they might be useful to new players who have no idea what spells to prepare. The chapter finishes with a section on how to create your own spells without making them over (or under) powered, which I thought was very in-depth.

Chapter three is all about new feats. There's quite a few new ones, including several that improve summoning, auras, and Eidolons. There's also a slew of new metamagic feats, most of which enhance spells based on descriptors (for instance, Rime Spell, which allows spells with the cold descriptor to entangle enemies).

The fourth chapter is called Words of Power, and it introduces a new spell system. Using the Words of Power system, casters don't learn spells as they level up; instead, they learn new words, which they can string together to make wordspells. Each wordspell consists of a target word (which determines what the spell hits) and an effect word (which determines what the spell does). Depending on the level of the wordspell, more than one effect word may be used. Meta words (which enhance effect words) may also be used. Using this system, a caster can design a custom spell out of the words he or she knows. It seems very flexible and easy-to-use (if it sounds complex, it's only because I'm explaining it poorly). I think Sorcerers in particular could do some very cool things with the system; since they don't have to prepare spells in advance, they could come up with customized wordspells on the fly, which would be incredibly useful.

The fifth and final chapter is simply called Spells and, as the name implies, it contains lots and lots of new spells. I hate to be so vague about this chapter, as I'm sure that this section is why most people want the book, but that's really all I can say about it; there are a bunch of new spells. There are so many casting classes, and so many different ways to play each one, that it would be unfair of me to say the spells were generally good or bad. All I can really say is that I was satisfied with the selection, and honestly, there's enough new stuff here that you're bound to find some things you like, regardless of what you're looking for. Plus, one of the new spells is called Rain of Frogs. So that's pretty awesome.

Overall, I'm really glad I got this book. New spells, new feats, a new system of magic... good stuff. I think that the first chapter is absolutely the strongest section of the book, with some really stellar options for each class as well as a brand new (and pretty awesome) class. If you like casters (or have players that do), then I definitely think you should grab this book.