Like previous volumes in the series, Arcane Arcana IV takes an aspect of magic that you might not even have thought about before and, by presenting a series of innovative spells around that theme, turn whatever you did know - or thought you knew - about it on its head. This time it's all about the concept of 'schools' of magic. The opening letter, addressed to a student who is embarking on his fourth year of study at Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft, points out that it is at this point in his training that he needs to select which (if any) school he will specialise in, and introduces this book as containing spells that challenge the classification of spells by school. The foreword by the compiler of the collection, the academic mage Kabaz Anvitz, is on similar lines complete with references to other (sadly imaginary) works in true academic style.
The introduction explains, out-of-character, a little more. For many players, a spell's school doesn't really matter, it is just a handy classification and based on the sort of effect that spell produces. This book attempts to make schools more meaningful. It includes dual-school spells, whose effects cross the boundaries between schools, alternate-school spells, which have a core action and additional effects based on how they are cast, and alternate-list spells where the effect is mostly the same whoever casts it, but with variations depending on whether the caster is a wizard, a druid, a witch or whatever. There are also more fountain spells (which enable the caster to regain spells already cast as well as having their own effects) and of course other spells that are just here because they sound interesting...
The detailed spell mechanics for the new types of spell are explained, but they make more sense once you've had a look at a few of the spells in question. So, on to the spell lists offered as usual by caster type, followed by the full descriptions of each spell. It's here that you find details of how the dual-school, alternate-list and alternate-school spells actually work in practice. Plenty of interesting ideas here, just reading through them starts ideas flowing...
The first appendix presentes the elite arcanist, a new base class of spell caster who is limited in the number of spells that he can cast, but extremely potent with those that he does know. He has access to any and all spell lists, never mind schools of magic. Fundamentally, they believe that the true path to magical power is the ability to master the best of everything that magic has to offer, rather than simply specializing in one small corner of all that is magical. They focus on understanding the underlying principles behind magic, which allows them to unlock the potential of every spellcasting class, and also gives them the ability to perform a number of stupendous feats of spellcasting, including casting two spells at once, copying spells that they have been targeted with, and casting spells that they don't even know. Yet they are active adventurers, not academics who do not venture out. There are certainly potentials here, although they do tend to want to 'talk shop' with wizards and sorcerers whenever they get the chance - and can be a bit aloof and dismissive of those who do not use magic (or even are not as obsessed by it as they are!).
The second appendix talks about places of power. If you have ever wondered if a mage gets any benefit from being in his own sanctum, this will give you your answer with some optional rules that allow the party wizard - or, of course, some evil fellow the party is opposing - to set up their magically-honed base of operations, based around arcane rituals that bind the location to the mage whose sanctum it is. All manner of equipment and decorative features are available and actually provide game mechanical effects as well. The third appendix looks at spell mastery, providing a way for a spellcaster to specialise in a particular spell and cast it to better effect rather than the standard model where - apart from metamagic effects - a spell is as potent when cast by a lowly first-level wizard as it is by an experience one of far higher level. Good if a mage wishes to develop a 'signature' spell or just demonstrate the benefits of all that hard work spent studying his craft. Examples - using spells from the Pathfinder RPG core rules - are given, but it should not prove too hard to come up with similar effects for your favourite spells if they're not listed here.
The final two appedices deal with wish and miracle spells - possibly the most powerful spells in any spellbook and certainly ones where your imagination can run riot - and biographical details (and full game statistics) for some legendary spellcasters, many of them providers of the spells in this book. They're quite entertaining and bring their magics to life.
So, more thought-provoking ideas and spells to conjure with, continuing the academic approach to magic that fits well with the image of the bookish wizard - more gloriously-imaginative spells to delight any mage and ideas to chat about whenever mages gather together.
Return to Advanced Arcana IV page.
Reviewed: 29 July 2016