Greetings, viewers, to the next installment of Magic in Modern Month! Today, I’ll be looking at a “from the ground up” title that throws out the standard d20 Modern magic rules in favor of its own system. This is Elements of Magic: Magic Earth from E.N. Publishing.
Worlds of Might and Magic
Chapter 1 is pretty much a lengthy discussion on what myths are, why the author of this title feels “orcs with guns, awesome!” isn’t enough justification for them to have magic in their campaign, an obligatory reference to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and all that jazz. But you aren’t interested in me dissecting a dissection of folklore and myth, are you? I didn’t think so, so let’s move to the actual meat started in chapter 2! Rather than having spells and levels, EoMME fuses magic into the skill system with ten trained-only skills: Attack, Charm, Create, Cure, Defend, Divine, Illusion, Summon, and Transform; each skill has specific uses, and can be used straight-up or combined to make spells. On the one hand, . For right now, though, let’s look at what’s actually jotted down in this chapter. First off, there are two new occupations: Adept and Arcantrepreneur. The former are dedicated spellcasters such as psychics, shamans, wizards, etc., while the latter use magic as a means to an end (that end being wads of cash). Both are simple enough, and don’t take much space. What does take up a hefty dose space in the chapter, however, are the feats.
First off are general, but magic-related, feats. Many are focused on enhancing the system’s spell skills (such as Command Undead, which in this iteration allows spellcasters to bypass undead having an auto-trump on this title’s Charm magic skill, orr Rewrite Memory, which lets you use Charm to commit acts of brain piracy), and two are reprints with altered rules (those being Arcane Skills from Urban Arcana and a d20 Modern version of everyone’s favored D&D magic feat, Natural Spell. Oh yeah, they went there), there are some interesting feats that stand on their own two feet. One good example is Greater Spiritbond, which essentially gives you a ghost familiar akin to the Dresden Files TV series version of Bob the Skull. While still somewhat worded to tie into the spell skills, it’s easy to just rewrite it a little and have your own Ghost Familiar feat.
The second set of feats are tradition feats. These are…whoo, well, I think we’ll have to dissect these a little more. At their core, tradition feats are basically the only way to get the magical skills listed above as class skills; in essence, rather than having the dual classes of divine and arcane spellsters, you get the plethora of tradition feats. Beyond that, though, each tradition has specific rituals and failure circumstances that go along with it (and a few, which is why I figured I might as well look at them one by one.
Animism: The archetypical “calls upon the spirits” spellcaster, the Animism tradition is a “jack of all trades, master of none”, type, gaining access to all magic skills as class skills but suffering a -2 penalty to checks with all of them. An animist caster also has to deal with the potential of angering their spirits and having to placate them to get their magic back, so there’s that. Still…this is a good enough start.
Anime-ism: This, on the other hand, is not good. This has to have been added as a joke option, because it pretty much rakes in every stereotype about anime lovers you can get. Spellcasters of anime-ism perform Dragonball Z-esque “attack shouts”, are noted to be “sexually frustrated”, and are basically automatically the target of “Detect Loser” by those around them when they fail a spell. So…yeah.
Blood Magic: An oldy but goody of caster archetypes that are, while not based on religious or cultural traditions, are still “realistic” (for what measure magic is) and not jokes, blood magic is a concept I think everyone’s familiar with: that of bloodletting to cast magic. What more can I say about that, really?
Christian Healer and Christian Magus: The former grants defensive and passive powers, while the latter is a bit more Paladin-esque. Both require you to act appropriately to the Judeo-Christian God or you get spiritually gut-punched by a cranky Jehovah.
Classical Fey: All the fun and joy of being an asshole trickster spirit, without the whole weakness to iron bit.
Dreamtime: The Australian Aboriginal tradition allows you both access to some handy spell skills and the ability to astrally project yourself.
Elder Mysteries: Another on the fantastic classic with blood magic, Elder Mysteries is a magic tradition that lets you gain powers from Lovecraftian entities. All it costs it some damage to that silly old thing called sanity (represented by the Wisdom ability score in this case). It also notes and encourages that spell failure should result in creatively cruel punishments by the Game Master, which is also decidedly Lovecraftian if you ask Chaosium.
Feng Shui: While this tradition feat only grants Cure and Defend, and thus no offensive abilities, it has the benefit of letting you have a spell last up to an entire day if you have objects in proper alignment.
Freed Mind: These are “clap your hands if you believe”-type reality warpers.
Hoodoo: For some baffling reason, this “Hoodoo” (a term I’ve always seen used to describe a tradition around the creation of medicinal herbs) is descrribing the rites of the bokor, with poison and zombies and all that jazz. Huh.
Kabbalistic Alchemist: Based around the Jewish Kabbalah culture, this tradition feat sacrifices time and effort to create ritual tattoos, diagrams, and symbols in exchange for the boons of being allowed to take 10 on skill checks with spell skills that the kabbalistic alchemist has already charted out and no mishaps (yes, none at all).
Necromancy: Do I even need to explain this one?
Norse Runecasting: Runes are the key to this tradition’s magic, as if the name wasn’t enough to tell you. It is primarily focused on defense and offense in combat with a smattering of divination on the side, providing a bonus to certain uses of the Attack spell skill on top of the whole class powers gig.
Psychic Sensitivity: The archetypical oracle.
Spanish Inquisitor: Nobody expects this tradition feat, especially since you have to be a follower of Roman Catholic tradition to a zealotous extent and have no subversive thoughts to properly use its magic.
Squirrelomancy: If anime-ism somehow wasn’t a joke feat, this damn well is. This strange, strange tradition feat is based around randomness and the worship of a dark entity known as the “Singular Squirrel”. So, again…yeah.
Stage Magic: A heavily Illusion spell skill-focused tradition feat, if you couldn’t guess.
Technomancy: Artificer-type magicry.
Telepath: Telepath only grants one class spell skill: Charm. Indeed, this feat actually grants a penalty to any spell skill that isn’t charm. In exchange, however, the feat gives a huge boon to mental manipulating magic and a Spider Sense-type “feel” that people are around.
Voodoo: Classic Voudon, down to petitioning the Loa. The main benefit of this tradition feat is that spells cast against sprits and the spirit-possessed are stronger than usual.
Wicca: A tradition feat based around Wicca, of course. It has a benefit of strengthened magic when more than one Wiccan casts as a group.
Witchcraft: This tradition feat replicates the archaic Christian bigot of the Middle Ages’s view of magic, and grants a familiar as well as class spell skills, but at the cost of a deal with the Devil situation and the potential for failure to end in you having a fiend in your body.
Wuxia Sorcery: Kung fu-/action movie-based combination of spellcasting and martial arts makes up this tradition feat. Oddly enough, it has not a single sarcastic or scathing word to it, unlike anime-ism, so presumably it’s actually meant to be taken seriously.
So, overall most of the tradition feats are good enough for the new system, even if there are a few stinkers. They each bring their own unique assets to the table to give various options akin to advanced classes and talents. Unlike advanced classes and talents, though, these take up feat slots, so keep that in mind if you are one for a skill and feat monkey.
High Adventure Awaits
Chapter 3 focused on the High Fantasy campaign setting, the launching point for the spell skill and feat system created in the title. It’s an urban fantasy setting where there are two facets of the world, Terra and Gaia (sort of akin to Earth and the Nevernever in the Dresden Files books, or the Material and Ethereal planes in classic D&D), whose residents were forcibly distanced from each other in the past by King Arthur and his fey-hunting knights. In the modern day, the two main forces of the campaign setting are the Bureau, the Men in Black/Illuminati that keep the peace, and the Knights of the Round, the descendents of the Arthurian knights who claim to fight to defend humanity but are basically anti-fey speciesists in the end. As for the world itself, Gaia is mostly a verdant and untamed mirror Earth, save for a few specifics: Ellsington, a Victorian-era city where London is on our planet, and mirrors of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Savannah, Georgia. There’s also Japan, which is a blighted eldrtich wasteland rather than verdant greenery, which is blamed on metaphysical impacts of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and…anime. Seriously. Somehow, anime is just as dangerous to the magical Japan of the setting as freakin’ nuclear bombs.
Moving quickly away from that topic, it’s noteworthy that there are some actual pieces of crunch for te setting in the chapter as well. First off, there’s the Mage advanced class, the only spellcasting class in the book. Unlike the standard d20 Modern Mage, the one presented here focuses less on magical studies and craft and more on arcane seeing, tradition feats, and reduced aging a la Dresdenverse wizards. Second, there are two magic items: “Keys” that transport one between Terra and Gaia (akin to Harry Potter‘s portkeys) and magic swords. There are five NPCs produced both as setting flavor and examples of the new spell skill and feat system in action: the pacifist South African defender N’xau Gikwe (a Dedicated Hero 5/Bodyguard 1 with the Dreamtime and Psychic Sensitivity tradition feats), the stereotypically nerdy Finagle P. Luckshore (a Smart Hero 3/Mage 3 with Technomancy and Anime-ism, complete with a bafflingly silly self-created spell by the name of Whirlwind Lightning Ferret Assault! [yes, the exclamation point is part of the spell’s name]), the French-Chinese prodigy Lin Noelle (a Fast Hero 2/Charismatic Hero 5/Mage 2 with the baffling combination of Stage Magic, Classical Fey, and Wuxia Sorcery for her tradition feats), the teacher Russel Vanderschmidt (Smart Hero 10/Dedicated Hero 2 with no tradition feats, instead acting as a ritualist and instructor), and the Catholic warrior with an ancestral spirit guide (a Charismatic Hero 6/Fast Hero 2/Strong Hero 2 with the Animism and Christian Healer tradition feats…given what Animism is, I’m kinda curious as to how she keeps her Christian Healer status intact). Finally, there are notes on spirits and dragons in the setting.
This is an…interesting title. There’s a lot of good ideas brought to the able if you dislike standard d20 magic or psionics, and there is a lot of material to work with. At the same time, however, there are moments where the book isn’t sure whether it wants to be serious or silly, and the new system of magic has the benefit of letting you make your own spells at the drawback of tossing out all the spells from any standard d20 sourcebook (unless you want to take the time to convert them). In spite of this, the book is still better than average, it has some interesting ideas you can use as a jumping point, and its advanced class, (some) non-tradition feats, and the two occupations can be put in a standard d20 Modern game with little to no tampering. For doing all of this material in such a compact space that it has, this title gets 8/10.