Review: Ultimate Magic for Pathfinder

Ultimate Magic is the latest sourcebook from Paizo Publishing for the Pathfinder RPG.  So, what is it?  Basically it’s a big ol’ hardcover book full of options for magic characters, as well as a completely new and optional spell system called Words of Power.

The art throughout the book is up to Pathfinder standards, which means it’s very nice overall.  The book is well laid out and conforms to the generally high production standards of Pathfinder products.  Like most important rulebooks for the Pathfinder RPG, this book is hefty, weighing in at 256 pages.

Chapter 1 offers up a whole bunch of new options for spellcasters.  It kicks off with a new class, the Magus, which is a very nice take on the fighter/wizard type of character, combining martial prowess with the ability to cast spells similar to a wizard.  This is a new base class with 20 levels, and a Magus starts out being able to cast spells in light armor, can use a pool of arcane energy to enhance his or her attacks, has a spellbook like a wizard, and can perform a sort of two-weapon attack with a weapon in one hand and a spell in another.  Throughout the levels in the class, they continue to combine spellcasting and martial ability in very interesting ways and can eventually cast arcane spells even in heavy armor.  Like the bard, their spells cap out at 6th level, but it’s definitely a very nice and attractive option.

Beyond that, there are a ton of new options for spellcasting classes in the game; alternate class abilities and additional “packages” of alternate abilities based around a theme called “archetypes.”  All of the currently existing core and base classes (including the new Magus) get these alternate abilities and archetypes.  Even monks get some magic-lovin’ with the Qinggong Monk archetype.  The abilities are generally pretty cool and as a GM that likes to give his players tons of customization options, I think they’re a great addition to the game.  Highlights include some creepy Discoveries for Alchemists, new alternatives for cleric channeling based on their deity’s portfolio, two new wizard schools suitable for Asian-flavored wizards (metal and wood), new Ranger traps, and of course new sorcerer bloodlines (including rules for crossbreeding bloodlines).

That’s it for Chapter 1.  Moving on to Chapter 2, we get info on mastering magic.

Chapter 2 kicks off with spellblights; magical curses that affect spellcasters.  These are pretty good, and could definitely be interesting to introduce to a campaign.  Some of the optional ways to gain spellblights make me glad they are optional, but if you really want to punish your spellcasters for failing an arcane spell failure check when they roll a 5% or under, at least that option is presented and laid out for you.  There are even optional rules for giving some of the harmful conditions benefits if that’s your thing.

Next up is a system for spell duels.   This boils down to a couple of pages that are really little more than guidelines.  This is probably the weakest part of the entire book and definitely the weakest part of this chapter.  Amusingly, it actually states that summoners often summon creatures and have them fight each other.

The next section in chapter 2 goes into detail on summoning and binding outsiders, which gives you a good idea of what your caster might need to know when summoning outsiders, including a rundown of the different type of outsiders available in the game, a small portion on True Names, and how to deal with outsiders.  Most of this chapter is fluff, but it’s *good* fluff that can really add some flavor and knowledge to your character’s outsider bindings.

The next section talks about building and modifying constructs.   It gives new options for animated objects, discusses building entirely new constructs and how to price them, as well as a nice list of all of the constructs you can build out of Bestiary and Bestiary 2.  Repairing constructs is covered as well; and my favorite part, new abilities for modifying existing constructs are presented.

Then the chapter moves on to new familiars.  There are 12 new familiars presented.  Ever wanted a hedgehog familiar?  You have stats now.  What about a blue-ringed octopus familiar?  Uhm, OK, but I hope you have an underwater-based campaign.  The new familiars aren’t really anything super nifty neato awesomesauce, but they’re not terrible additions to the game, either.

Continuing on the Chapter 2 tour, if you look to your right you’ll see a section on Spellbooks.  Basically, this is a series of pre-made spellbooks, suitable for placing as treasure in your campaign.  Most have details that could suggest future adventure possibilities.  Some of the spellbooks have “preparation rituals” that, if you perform the ritual while preparing your spells can give you bonuses.  Alchemists aren’t left out either, as there are a handful of formula books in here too.

Chapter 2 wraps up with an in-depth discussion on spell design.  Some of this has been discussed before (in the Gamemaster Guide, I believe) but even that information is expanded upon.  If you have (or are) a player who likes to create custom spells then this part of Chapter 2 could be invaluable to you.  There are some very good guidelines in here that should definitely be of use to the custom spellcaster.

Chapter 3 provides a ton of feats geared toward spellcasting characters.  17 pages of feats.  I didn’t find any of them particularly worrisome, and many of them are incredibly cool.  I liked this chapter a lot.

Chapter 4 introduces Words of Power, a new system for spellcasting.  Essentially, the system boils down to a character who uses this system knowing a handful of words of power that they can arrange into spells.  There is no “wordcaster” class, but rather any spellcaster, when created, can choose to use the standard spell system or the Words of Power system.  Spells created with these words still use up spell slots and casters that prepare spells still have to basically build the spell when they prepare their spells, but it can give you some nice flexibility.  In addition, a “normal” spellcaster can take feats to let him learn a few Words of Power.

A wordspell is made up of three basic components; a Target Word, one or more Effect Words and optional Meta Words.  Meta Words manipulate the Target or Effect Words in various ways.  Overall, I like this system and I’d definitely like to try out a wordcaster, however it’s not going to be for every group or every player.  If you have or are a player that takes a long time to make decisions during the game for example, you might want that player to not use this system especially if they’re playing a spontaneous caster as they could drag down the pace of the session, paralyzed with the decision of what spell words to use.

An example of a 0-level wordspell would be Selected (targets a single creature), Acid Burn (deals 1d3 points of acid damage with a melee or ranged touch attack or if you choose for it not to require an attack roll gives a Reflex save for half damage).  If you use the Boost Meta Word with the Target Word, it can target several different creatures (one per caster level).

Chapter 5 gives a bunch of new spells.  A BUNCH.  52-pages worth to be exact.  The spells run the gamut, from Bard spells to Wizard spells and from Cantrips all the way up to level 9 spells that let you create entire demiplanes.  The spells all seem to be nice additions to the game.  Definitely a useful chapter.

The appendices are charts organizing the information in the book; alphabetized list of Power Words, spells with new descriptors and updated improved familiar lists.  Wrap the book up with a magic-character-oriented character sheet and an index and we’re done.

Overall the books is filled with tons of fun additions to the game.  Definitely a book worth picking up!

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