Presented in the guise of the College handbook given to new students, this book is well-presented with a simple yet effective 'leather look' cover and internal pages that will not overstress your printer (being black and white) but are clear and neatly laid out.
The underlying concept is that 'somewhere' there exists a large university of magic - the Academy of Wizardry - in which this is one of the constituent colleges - there being several, each one devoted to a separate school of magic. Students take classes mainly in their chosen school, although they may take a course in a different school if they so wish. Naturally, further books in this line will describe the other schools...
The first section consists of an in character 'welcome' from the Dean of the College. Interspersed with this, there are sidebar suggestions as to how to use the material in your campaign. This is both a good and a bad thing: good in that the ideas are intriguing and set you thinking, bad in that it makes it difficult to use the book as an in character handout, as you might end up giving a bit too much away!
While you might think that most adventuring wizards have already completed their studies, apart from daily spell learning and the acquisition (often by finding spellbooks on adventures) of new spells, there are plenty of reasons why the College, or the whole Academy of Wizardry as the various books are published, might feature in your campaign. Perhaps the wizards studied here in their youth, and have maintained links with the place. Maybe they return for graduate study, or to give a guest lecture. Or maybe in a radical departure from a conventional game, the characters are students and the whole campaign is based in and around the College...
The next section describes the two 'Houses' that make up the College. Each student is allocated to one of these on arrival, and will live and study mainly within it during his stay. There is a brief history of the Academy and of the two houses, Pendeghast and Hardacre. These houses also allow for greater specialisation, to the level of different sub-classes (chosen just as you would any other core character class) that display different aspects of abjuration. Pendeghast mages are disciplined, almost religious in their fervour; while Hardacre ones practise a more muscular style of magic. This is reflected in the 2 sub-classes available. Particularly of use to those running campaigns set in the Academy, there are full details of the competitions between the two houses, and between the different colleges that make up the Academy, so these can be administered as flavour for or even as the basis of the game.
A Pendeghast student can become a 'Devout Abjurer' and is required to choose a deity (one who includes the Protection domain in his clerical spell list) to worship. Their powers are based on the study of a combination of divine and abjuration arcane magics, which they perceive as interwoven. They gain the ability to turn undead as they progress and may use spells from the divine Protection domain along with their regular arcane spells, but are limited to simple weapons, the chosen weapon of their deity and no armour or shield. They are required to follow the tenets of their chosen faith in the same manner as a cleric, but only risk the divine Protection spells and the ability to turn undead if they lapse from their faith.
Hardacre students, on the other hand, are expected to perfect both body and mind: this is a good house for the more athlectic potential wizard. It's not all hard work, it is a friendly place and comradeship and conviviality are encouraged. Some students combine their magic with martial prowess, while others focus more on sports or pure physical ability, honing their agility and endurance. The house subclass is the Fortomancer, a tough fellow who specialises in battlefield magic. However, there is an even more combat-based subclass, the Guild Scholar. These are students sponsored in their studies by mercenary guilds, who are normally expected to return to their sponsoring guild and provide magical support to the mercenaries in the field. They are able to use all martial weapons, but their spellcasting powers are less - time spent on the training field inevitably erodes the amount of time available for study!
The next chapter, entitled 'A Cosmopolitan College,' shows how different races can be integrated into this setting. It's explained in character by saying that the Academy's been human-only for a long time but now accepts people from other races... but recently racial tensions have arisen that need to be addressed. As an 'Equal Opportunities' document, it's sadly lacking: a sentence that reads "Elves... have a fine attunement with magic above that of our own." sould be thrown out on the grounds of promoting a 'them and us' attitude! Not to mention that the section of elves continues by stating that they do not have the discipline to become successful Abjurers, and that there's only one elf student on the roll at the moment. Dwarfs, on the other hand, are apparently quite good - in as far as they are good at any kind of spellcasting! - at abjuration. Halflings have never attempted to study abjuration, and the College knows of only one half-orc who has done so with any success.
This leads to a fascinating concept, that of a 'Life Path' class, being a special class that a character can take a level in at turning points in their life. It's designed to highlight racial differences, the deeper more philosophical ones rather than the obvious physical and mental characteristics that are dealt with by game mechanics in the shape of bonuses and penalties. These are provided for elves, dwarfs, gnomes and half-orcs; and are specific to members of the stated race who are abjurers.
The next chapter is called "St Johns' Alumni" and in best quality yearbook fashion details some famous and successful former students... who will make excellent NPCs, of course. They are also used as exemplars of a several prestige classes, the Arcane Shieldman, the Monk of St John, the Paragon and the Antithaumaturgist.
Next, we hear about the courses at the College. This is quite detailed, and would really come into its own if you decide to run a game about the life and times of Academy students. Even if you don't, it would provide a very good, deep background, method for determining the starting spells of a wizard character who trained at the College before entering the campaign. Several new spells and feats are presented here, there's a fair bit of interesting material.
No College would be complete without its Library, and St John's is no exception. Former students are permitted to study here, so this at least is likely to be of use even if the College itself does not feature large in your campaign. This section also contains a discussion of Ritual Magic, powerful spells cast by a combined group of wizards using a set and formal ritual to create the desired effect. The 'College Handbook' proper ends with notes on the faculty, minimal details, but sufficient for chance encounters. If your campaign will spend much time on the campus, you will probably want to develop them further.
Finally, there's a section full of adventure ideas. They are intriguing and open-ended, and allow for characters who are studying at the College or just visiting.
As appendices, there are lists of all the new spells and feats presented for quick reference, and a character sheet tailored for an Abjurer - which has an innovative layout whereby skills are listed under the appropriate controlling ability rather than in one long list.
While this book is extremely specialist in nature - only really of use if you want to run an Academy-based campaign, have the characters visit the College or want some deep background for an abjurer character - it makes for a fascinating read. One or two spelling mistakes... but here I have to come clean, I like the College concept at least in part because I teach in one (not, however, of Abjuration! I teach computing!).
Return to St John's College of Abjuration page.