The book opens by explaining what it is attempting to do. This is, to introduce classical 'fantasy' magic into the contemporary or future setting by presenting the D20 SRD (system reference document, the 'open source' reference to the D20 system) spells in a suitable manner. In the effort to explain how magic operates within Spycraft 2.0 a little less sales pitch and a bit more coherence about how it is all intended to hang together would have helped - the introduction to magic reads more like a product 'blurb' encouraging you to buy it than an explanation of how to use it in your game.
Basically, the intention is to provide a means for having magic and spells in a contemporary game. This is to be done by creating a series of magic-using classes, each based on a particular category of spells. So no generic wizards: you are an Enchanter or a Sage or - in this case - a Channeller, and you specialise in the chosen category of spellcasting.
Mechanically, there are differences to spellcasting as you may be used to it - summed up by regarding magical power as being personal. The spells you know are skill-based - Profession: Channeller - and so you can continue to learn more even if you take levels in a non-magical class. Probably the most significant change is that you are limited by your personal power, rather than an arbitrary list of spell numbers and levels, when casting spells; and there is no need to choose in advance what you intend to do - if you know how to cast a given spell and you have sufficient power, you can work your magic without need for further study or preparation. Likewise, the roll to actually cast a spell, and the save (if relevant) depend on the caster himself rather than on what he is trying to do.
This explained, it's on to the Channeller character class itself. Channelling is defined as the manipulation of force, energy or weather - you can specialise in one area if you so wish. As normal with any base class, as you rise in level there are various class abilities you can add in which enhance your casting abilities. There are also a series of High Magic feats, which are applicable to any magic user, rather than being Channeller-specific. A note on 'spell kits' - which you are expected to acquire via the standard gadget picks - is a bit confusing. While the contents serve the role filled by material components in standard fantasy magic use, they appear as window-dressing rather than serving a practical purpose... and not having one does not appear to make any difference to your spells.
The next few pages cover the basics of spells themselves - very general material about spell features such as casting time, duration, areas of effect, descriptors used and so on. This leads one to wonder if later volumes in the series are going to be extremely repetitive or if owning all of them (or at least this first one along with any other spell school you are interested in) will be essential to understanding the system.
Finally, we reach the Channelling spells themselves. They are well-constructed and allow plenty of scope for the caster to tailor the spell to do precisely what he wants - provided he takes the time to understand the full ramifications of the game mechanics. This isn't a casual spell-using system, to use it at all (never mind effectively) you will need to take the trouble to understand how it works mechanically within the rule system. That said, once you do grasp them you will be creating some epic effects!
Overall, it is a powerful and well-constructed set of rules for magic use. It is overly mechanical, you will have to add the 'magic' to the rules for yourself. Bring your own poetry to the party, but here you have a sound collection of rules for turning it into breathtaking magical effects. It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the series matches up.
Return to Spellbound Vol.1: The Channeller page.
Reviewed: 12 February 2007