If anyone knows d20 Modern, it’s the game’s creators. As such, the Game Mechanics (fueled by the brains behind d20 Modern) is a company whose products are pretty trustworthy and I’ve come to consider almost “second party”, rather than third party, products for the system. Today, we’ll be looking at volume one of two of the company’s Modern Magic title (which I believe is collected in one print book…but I don’t have that one on hand, and it’s probably easier to review the two books separately anyway).
It’s Magic, You Know…
With a title about magic and has the word “magic” in its very title, it shouldn’t be surprising that the first chapter of the Modern Magic Volume 1 is about, you guessed it: advanced classes. …Okay, no, that’s just a formula (and a bad attempt at a joke); in truth, the first chapter is indeed a set of new spells – 33, in fact – for your use, ranging from classical archetype spells such as Guardian Angel to creative uses of magic like the Hypnotic Screensaver and Fingernailgun spells. Breaking these down farther, to show just what you’re getting in for, the number of spells of each spell type, spell school, and level are as follows:
- Spell Type: 22 Arcane, 6 Divine, 5 either Arcane or Divine.
- Spell School: 2 Abjuration, 8 Conjuration, 4 Divination, 1 Enchantment, 3 Evocation, 3 Illusion, 9 Transmutation, 1 Transmutation/Conjuration combo, 1 Conjuration/Enchantment combo, 1 spell that is bafflingly not labeled by school.
- Spell Level: 5 zero-level, 11 first level, 5 second level, 6 third level, 4 fourth level, 2 fifth level.
The first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice is that the spell list is very arcane-biased (hmm, I wonder whatever that could mean for the content direction of Volume 2? 😛 ); for the second, it’s probably either “hmm, that’s a fair percentage of Conjuration and Transmutation spells” or “no necromancy spells growlgrumblearghrage?!” Well, I can’t really excuse the lack of necromantic love (no, not in that way) from the title, but the prevalence of Conjuration and Transmutation does somewhat make sense when you think abbout it. The stated goal of the spells in the book are that they are things that modern spellcasters would think of in today’s environment, and wanting to get something or change somethuing is pretty high on the priority list of the modern individual. And, really, how can you dislike a catalog of spells that includes one that lets you shoot big steel nails from your hand?
A Ritual Affair
Chapter 2’s focus is all around ritual magic, a new concept brought forth by this title. Ritual magic is a sort of bridge between Urban Arcana‘s incantations and the bog standard spell system, using “lesser incantations” that combine the Knowledge skill-based magic replication of incantations with the speed of true magic, as well as adding its own little flair to it. This system is epitomized by a new advanced class, the Ritualist, that focuses on using magical circles to cast incantations (both lesser and standard) and attunement to the five elements of air, earth, fire, water, and spirit (or aether, if you’re old-fashioned in your terminology). Stylistically, it’s more Fullmetal Alchemist than it is Dresden Files. The creators suggest that you either use ritual magic as a bridge between magic and occultism or as a replacement for the standard magic system entirely, both of which are good ideas.
This section also includes ritual items such as candles and pentacles and three types of “law bonuses” for increasing the chances of success with either lesser or classic incantations. The three Laws – the Laws of Name, Connection, and Sympathy – all have varying degrees empowerment you can use to lower the aforementioned check DCs through several methods. The Law of Name deals with, surprise-surprise, names, ranging from having the birth certificate or driver’s license of the incantation’s target up to taking a major research session to learn a creature’s “truename” to mightily empower your incantations against it. The Law of Connection is weaker than the Law of Name as a whole, but has the ever-classic options such as using hair clippings, nails, or even blood of the target as a connector between them and the incantation. Finally, you have the Law of Sympathy, which is simply “this is like that”. Finally, the Law of Sympathy varies from good old effigies of the target to using symbology (for instance, placing a plastic newt toy on the target of a Baleful Polymorph incantation). As for the lesser incantations themselves, they operate under similar rules as standard incantations, only faster and easier to cast, and with weaker results (as they operate on standard spell levels of power). All in all, ritual magic is a welcome addition to the system, and this is a good chapter.
War (Magic), What is it Good For?
The title is rounded out by chapter 3, Military Magic, which specializes in…yeah, you can guess what. In addition to suggesting varying levels of modern military magic (from top secret operations to entire battlefields of Army tanks, all-terrain vehicles, and mages battling it out), it also provides the idea of the “military issue spellbook”: a spellbook for arcane casters in a military unit, with spells specifically regulated by their superiors as a way of controlling what magic they have access to. While not for everyone, the idea is a rather novel one, and I commend its addition. The chapter also has further information on some of the military spells listed in chapter 1 such as the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Mine Detector spell, military magic items such as the rucksack of holding and bottomless magazine, and new spells that focus on increasing combat effectiveness with spells. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are two 5-level prestige classes and one full 10-level advanced class for military arcane spellcasters. The Arcane Spec-Op prestige class focuses on stealth and speed (as well as a pretty spiffy capstone ability to allow the Arcane Spec-Op to blast both magic and bullets at the same time), the Thaumaturgical Specialist has some government clearance but nothing else really notewhile, and the Magic Grunt advanced class is a refreshing Strong Hero-based spellcaster that focuses on maximizing spell damage while minimizing self-harm through easier spellcasting in armor and good old spell resistance. While the Thaumaturgical Specialist is a bit average, it’s still decent, and it’s backed up by two pretty awesome other classes in the chapter.
The Item Emporium and Amazing Appendices
The fourth and final full chapter in this title is entitled FX Equipment, and has a plethora of new magic items for your perusal. While I obviously can’t go over them all, I’d like to say that they are indeed pretty damn creative and interesting, and I’ll give a handful of examples for you:
- Eavesdropping Tumbler: The classic “glass held up to the door to hear a conversation” trick, only magically guaranteed.
- Hand Buzzer of Voltage: I’m pretty sure the Joker used this item once or twice…
- Pet Rock of Earth Elemental Summoning: Do I really need to explain why this is awesome?
- Smiley Face Pin: This item provides a +2 bonus to Charisma-based skill checks. No wonder those Wal-Mart employees are always so persuasive…
While that alone would round out the book pretty well, there are two appendices: one of using lesser incantations to replicate spells from d20 Modern‘s core rulebook and Urban Arcana, this title, and the Game Mechanics-produced Modern Player’s Companion (albeit at a lesser strength than the true spells of a Mage or Acolyte), and one that has stats for earth and air elementals. Not exactly noteworthy, but very handy and nice of them to add in.
I love this title. Love it love it love it love it. It’s well-written, conceptually and rules-wise, and it has a hefty helping of new options for an urban fantasy d20 Modern game. 10/10!