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Magic and Mystery
Urban Arcana has new spells in it! Who would have guessed with a title like Urban Arcana? Anyway, we’ve got 59 new spells in total, ranging from reprints from an old web enhancement that was produced before there were any official hardcover d20 Modern supplements (such as the spell Burglar’s Buddy, which shuts down alarms, sensors, and surveillance feeds), revisions of Dungeons and Dragons spells (such as Gaseous Form, which has remained unchanged, and Phantom Steed, which has been changed into Phantom Limousine for the whole urban flavor), lots of electricity and electronics-related spells, and some oddballs that manage to stand out by being pretty fun (Clown Car lets you have an extradimensionally large vehicle interior, for instance…good stuff, there). Even more useful are the sidebars on casting spells through E-Mail (which is Open Game Content, thankfully) and converting psionics to standard spell rules (which is not Open Game Content, unfortunately, so you’ll have to convert them yourself if you want that element in your homebrew and still be able publish it under the Open Game License).
Now, while new spells are all well and good, the biggest success of Urban Arcana‘s magic section is the introduction of the Incantation system. To put it briefly, d20 Modern spells only go up to 5th level; after that, Incantations take over. Anyone can cast an incantation as long as they can make the right Knowledge checks. Of course, that malleability comes with a price; the Knowledge checks tend to be impressively high and take multiple successes, sometimes require secondary casters, take up to an hour or more, and sometimes have dire consequences for failure. For instance, while the Polymorph incantation is obviously useful, is it worth the risk of taking 12d6 damage if you fail the incantation? Well, if you have actually magical knowledge, the risk is rather low, but a mundane making 5 Knowledge (Arcane Lore) checks and 1 Knowledge (Earth and Science) check, all with a DC of 31 might accidentally kill themselves. Anyway….while there are only 20 incantations presented, there is a detailed system for creating new incantations from old 6th-9th level Dungeons and Dragons spells or something utterly new you’ve created off the cuff. The thing about the Incantations system is that it is both extremely useful and well warranted. In addition to adding in the ritual-style magic common in a lot of urban fantasy and the horror genre, it opened up the flood gates for later innovations such as the swifter and safer lesser incantations in Modern Magic (but that’s a story for another review). All in all, even if there hadn’t been new spells, I feel that Urban Arcana‘s magic chapter would have been worth it for me for the incantations alone.
Arcane Equipment and Artifacts
Since this chapter isn’t that interesting on paper, I’m just gonna briefly go over it, so…here we go.
Armor and Shields: In addition to 3 prebuilt magic items (the Bulletproof Shirt, Riot Shield of Fear, and Scalemail of the Silver Dragon), there are 18 magic item qualities for armor and shields. Most of these are old stalwarts such as Animated Shield or Shadow Armor, but there is one that stands out: Sponsored. It grants no special powers, instead lowering the Purchase DC…wouldn’t this have been better as a non-magical special quality for items rather than being listed under magical enchantments?
Weapons: There are six prebuilt weapons (the Bladegun, Chainsaw of the Psycho, Cloudkill Grenade, Deadeye Rifle, Demolition Hammer, and Thunderclap Taser). You also get 23 magical enhancements for weapons, which are…well…stuff you’d expect. Magical energy, [creature here]-Bane weapons, Holy weapons, etc.
Staffs: The Doppler Staff, Staff of Swarms, Staff of the Urban Jungle, and the Staff of Voltage are presented here. They’re pretty much what you’d expect, and aren’t that noteworthy beyond the fact that the Doppler Staff sets a precedent for how staffs can work with incantations.
The Rest: In addition to the items mentioned before, some other prebuilt magic items are 5 potions, 6 rings, 4 tattoos, and 39 miscellaneous supernatural items. Some of them that actually stand out include the Arcanobot (an action figure that can turn into a CR 1/4 Construct at your command), the Magic Billiard Ball (take a wild guess), and the aptly named Trenchcoat of Useful Items.
Last, but not least, are rules on artifacts (which are, as you’d probably expect, powerful magical items with some historical value) and for vehicle-based magic items, and examples of each. These are useful, but not exactly something I’d say is a chapter-seller. Overall, this chapter is good, but not great, compared to the ones that came before it.
Coming in Part 3: fluff and the finale.