Well, it as obvious that I’d have to review this one since I reviewed volume 1, so… Welcome to the RPG review, where today I’ll be looking at Modern Magic: Volume 2 by the Game Mechanics as part of what I’m going to be dubbing “Magic in Modern month”! Oh yes, each week this month (if i don’t get distracted by anything major), there will be a review up of a d20 Modern book that covers magic. Excited? I hope so, because here we go.
Never believe it’s not so!
Like Volume 1, Volume 2 begins with new spells. And like my review of Volume 1, I’ll be giving a breakdown as a start:
- Spell Type: 18 Arcane, 7 Divine, 7 either Arcane or Divine.
- Spell School: 3 Conjuration, 3 Divination, 9 Enchantment, 2 Evocation, 5 Illusion, 8 Transmutation, 1 Necromancy, 1 Abjuration/Conjuration combo.
- Spell Level: 3 zero-level, 8 first level, 10 second level, 7 third level, 4 fourth level.
While arcane once again takes the lead, divine and both-type spells are much more common in this title than Volume 1, giving divine spellcasters a fair amount of new material as well. Similarly, while Transmutation is once again a heavy feature, Enchantment and Illusion spells overtake Conjuration this time, and all spell schools get at least one spell…yes, Necromancy, even you). The spells are, once again, rather creative, with a decidedly thick focus on vehicles with spells such as Autopilot, Blowout, Divine Copilot, Flashpaint, and Floor It, as well as innovative magic of the urban jungle such as Object to Ink (which lets you turn an object into a tattoo on your body to store for later) and Cranial Hard Drive (which lets you sacrifice a point of Intelligence to stuff part of your brain with a computer’s hard drive information). All in all, once again, a good grab bag of spells.
That Voudon That You Don so Well
Chapter 2 of this title introduces a new way of looking at magic, like in the previous book. This time, we have Voudon, the religious rites that blend African culture and Catholic traditions into what some people refer to as “voodoo”. And this is indeed rather true to the real deal (if a bit embellished due to the whole “magic actually works” thing) rather than being Hollywood Voodoo. While not a completely new system like lesser incantations of the Ritualist, Voudon spellcasters do have to get their spells a bit differently (and in a weaker capacity) from an Acolyte or Mage. The first of the two, the Bokor, is an arcane spellcasting advanced class that takes 1d4 points of damage in order to cast Mage spells, but in exchange gains the ability to summon Outsiders and create zombis…note zombi, not zombie. The Create Zombi incantation is provided, obviously, as is the Zombi template itself. The Zombi template can be added to any living humanoid, and produces a creature that, while still humanoid, has no Constitution or Intelligence score, poor Dexterity, prodigious Strength, can be turned as if it were Undead (albeit with more difficulty than undead such as zombies), and is an unwavering servant of its Bokor master. The Hougan, by contrast, is a divine spellcasting advanced class that focuses on turning or rebuking Outsiders and devoting themselves to a specific Loa, even going so far as to allow that Loa to possess and enhance their powers. What is a Loa? Well, that’s a good question.
Loa are spirits of some sort; be they gods, ancestor spirits, saint-like figures, or something else, the book leaves up to you to decide. Each loa has their own rites and rituals, as well as a specific feat for their “Chosen”, and certain spells that they will refuse to allow a Bokor or Hougan that has displeased them cast (sort of like a reversal of the D&D Cleric’s extra spells granted by gods’ “Domains”). The title has a total of 11 (well, 12, but two of them work as a singular entity) loa, including the impulsive and charismatic skull-faced Baron Samedi, the patron of freedom Dan Petro, and the wise master Papa Legba. Each loa has specific “burdens” they pass on those they possess (known as “horses” to the loas’ “riders”), as well as three ranks of possession that grants specific bonuses and penalties to ability scores and a certain skill; for instance, the sagely Legba grants his base horses a bonus to their Wisdom score and to Knowledge (Theology and Philosophy) checks, but penalizes their Strength score, and further grants bonuses to said abilities as well as the horse’s Intelligence score and to Knowledge (Arcane Lore) checks at the price of penalties to Constitution as well as Strength to horses grasped closely to his power. It’s an interesting concept, and a welcome addition to those that want a slightly different brand of magic to accompany or replace other systems.
The Old Good Luck Charm(s)
And what would a title like this be without its magic items chapter? But wait, chapter 3 isn’t the magic items chapter. Instead, it’s a catalogs of rituals, talismans, and charms that mundanes can use to help defend themselves against the supernatural around them. Yes, this magic-dedicated book even thought of non-magic users in the context of a magical setting, giving them cultural icons from various religions and superstitions as game aids to slightly enhance their ability to fight the things that go bump in the night. In addition to some talk about prayers, chants, and the like, as well as a little piece on holy water and other divine symbols, there are a total of 26 talismans listed for your use, from horseshoes and clovers to gold and quicksilver. Like with magic items (don’t worry, they’re coming up after a little while), I can’t show you all of them, but suffice to say I love the idea enough, and here are two examples:
- Ghost Money: Drawn from Chinese cultural tradition, ghost money is a form of ceremonial gift to deities and ancestors. As such, their in-game rules placate the undead and provide a bonus against both them and Enchantment-school spells.
- Oak and Ash: This mixture of oak and ash wood protects the wearer against Fey and their favorite spell school type, the ever-tricky Illusions.
After that, there are three feats for non-spellcasters; one grants permanent access to Knowledge (Arcane Lore) and Spellcraft, the other two grant a magic-dampening aura of varying strength, so neither is very interesting and we’ll just be moving on past them quickly. While this tiny little set of feats may not draw your interest, what comes after (and before, obviously, since what was before in the chapter was the talisman selection) just might, especially when you notice it’s under a header entitled “Magic Scene Investigation”. Oh yes, CSI with magic, now we’re talking. A lot of thought has been put into it, at that; while almost anyone can look at certain spells and tell you that they’d be good for either committing or solving a crime, the Game Mechanics went further and have detailed looks at both investigating and prosecuting crimes committed through means that the mundane populace as a majority doesn’t even believe in and the question of whether or not justice is worth vigilanteism or falsified evidence to pin down an individual who has powers that can wipe away traditional trace evidence, as well as ideas for “magic in the open” settings or locations, such as bailiffs that cast zone of truth and the like. And as if that wasn’t enough, they went even further and provided a new advanced class: the Arcane Investigator. A mixture of classic mundane detective work and supernatural knowledge, the Arcane Investigator has both CSI training and enough knowledge and experience with the things that lurk in the shadows to track them down and face them. It’s a very nice advanced class, especially when a character gets to higher levels in it and gains access to normally (but not always, considering advanced classes like this and Occultist) spellcaster-focused skills such as Spellcraft and Use Magic Device, as well as a capstone of being able to sense magical auras.
Of course, if volume 1 had “FX items” (more commonly referred to as magic items), volume 2 is likely to have them as well…and hey, what do you know? They do! Specifically, 30 magic items and 4 weapon special qualities. While I can note all of the weapon special qualities since there are only four, let’s take a look at some of the magic items first, shall we?
Closed Circuit Stickers: An interesting little device, this pair of stickers replicates the effects of the camera and monitor of a CCTV set. Great for magical spies, definitely.
Covert-ops Cockroach: Another spy item, this little battery-operated golem is designed to be, and I quote, “an unsettingly accurate replica of the common American cockroach”. Sorta reminds me of that one X-Files episode entitled “War of the Coprophages”, which had similar artificial cockroaches.
Enchanted Charm Bracelet: A popular idea, but one I’ve strangely never seen capitalized by an RPG before this. The enchanted charm bracelet comes with six random silver effigy charms, with any number of abilities. Some charms include an arrow (casts magic missile), a balloon(makes the user levitate), the Egyptian symbol known as the Eye of Horus (casts augury), a megaphone (produces the shatter spell), and a skull (casts animate dead). While each charm is one use, and the bracelet becomes non-magical if all six charms are gone, you can add more charms to the bracelet before then…for a somewhat hefty monetary price, that is.
Lighter Fluid of Fire Elemental Summoning: Because the idea of the villain pulling out a rune-coated cigarette lighter and blasting out an entire fire elemental from its butane is just too awesome to pass up.
Ms. Tique Nail Polish: For the fashionable item user, this polish can be painted on to give your hand various effects based on the particular color you’ve used. Some of the colors include Black Widow (produces spider climb), Flickering Crimson (burning hands), and Smooth-n-Natural (doesn’t replicate a spell, but grants a bonus to Sleight of Hand).
Parachute Pants: These voluminous fashion disasters can produce the feather fall spell. “Stop” indeed, Mr Hammer, stop indeed…
Superhero Tee: A tee shirt adorned with “the bold logo of a popular comic-book superhero” *cough*Superman*cough* that grants the wearer damage reduction. Pretty nifty, that.
In addition to all those clever magic items, there are – as I mentioned – four new magic item special qualities. Sadly, only one of these (Chameleon, which allows you to transform the weapon into an unremarkable, similarly-sized object to disguise it; for instance, changing a rifle into a guitar) is universal. The other three are all for ranged weapons, with two of those further being firearms-only. These three are Whispering (which makes a ranged weapon of any time cast a silence spell on its projectiles), Hollywood (a quality that lets a firearm never run out of ammo during a firefight with multiple armed opponents, at the cost of reloading the weapon with the standard number of bullets it contains plus those expended during the firefight after the combat is over), and Versatile (which gives the firearm a second, ethereal ammunition clip holding a different type of ammunition, which can be switched with the prime clip at will). These are rather neat, but as I said, it’s rather disappointing that firearms got the most love. What can I say? I’m a bit of a sword-wielding warrior romantic, even in urban fantasy.
To go with the summoner’s magic items, there’s an appendix that reprints the air and earth elementals from Volume 1, as well as provides new stats for fire and water elementals. I don’t think there’s much to say about this beyond “about damn time the classic elementals get love”.
Like I’ve said before, I love urban fantasy, especially when it has neat little ideas. Thus, I have no shame in saying I love this book for all its creative magic items, the arcane investigation chapter, and the new spells. I also love the Voudon casting and loa system, which provides a dose of flavor for divine and arcane spellcasters alike. Do I really even need to say it? 10/10!
Alright, that’s it for next month. Tune in next week, where we’ll be venturing into the new vistas on the horizon for a book that offers a very unique look at modern-day magic.