Herewith a spell collection with a difference. Rather than the usual new spells (although there are a few), this work looks at the core spells of Dungeons and Dragons in a new light. In the Introduction, the author explains both how the series came to be and some of what he has tried to do with it: looking at familiar spells with an eye to how they might be used, and seeking to write about their background. Cross-referencing with earlier editions of D&D suggested how spells might have been developed by various mages over time; and the 'narrator' is the alter-ego of an ancient gold dragon, sharing his wisdom with curious seekers after magical knowledge.
As the first chapter, What's It All About, explains, each of the 36 spells covered has been given a chapter to itself in which firstly the background to the creation of the spell is given, replete with the sort of information which would fascinate anyone interested in the academic study of spells and spellcasting. Then there's a section of spell secrets detailing variants of the spell, and a section of related research which contains wholly-new but related spells and associated magic items. The idea behind spell secrets is simple: that by making small alterations to the way in which a standard spell is cast, the mage can unlease subtly different effects although the spell remains recognisably a fireball for example, it might be possible to make it cause sonic damage as well as burning, or make an enemy's fireball suffer premature detonation. Most spell secrets are recorded in spellbooks by the wizards who thought of them, but inspiration can come in many forms and even the spellcasters who don't normally work from books might record their thoughts.
While the stories will, for some, be mere entertainment, those who regard magecraft as an academic study will find much to draw upon, whether they play a spellcaster or are designing a world in which magic is studied with the same enthusiasm as physics or philosophy is in real world universities - not just the facts but those who first derived them being important. Even the most practical will find material of use within the spell secrets and related research parts of the book... and whether or not you enjoy 'fluff' text the tale of how hold person was invented will raise a giggle!
Unlike some series compilations, this one is not just a rehash of what has previously been published. The author has added more material to nearly every spell considered so it's not just a case of the convenience of having 36 spells in one book, there are extra bits as well. In game, this book should be in the library of any serious mage or magic college worthy of the name; in the real world it's well worth having in yours!
Return to Behind the Spells Compendium page.
Reviewed: 26 October 2008