Guest Writer: Ernie Laurence
Author: Andrew Hamilton
Chief Editor/Layout: Bryan Fazekas
“I don’t know why, but I like designing spells.”
A Book of Miscellaneous Spells II is an online compendium of additional incantations for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons tabletop roleplaying game (“and similar Fantasy Role Playing Games”). It is actually an online compendium of one hundred and fifty six spells published in role playing magazines over the years by the Author and Senior Editor, Andrew Hamilton. For gamers who would pick up and use this compendium, it is a mixed bag of good, bad, and indifferent. For me, as a long time gamer who put down the AD&D system a long time ago in favor of 2nd and later 3rd edition D&D, there was some mild nostalgia. There was also a grim reminder of the harsh realities of negative bonuses and THAC0.
Let’s start with the indifferent
A number of these spells are bleh simply because the system itself was clunky. For instance, there are two cleric spells that take up a spell slot that could be used for a Cure Light Wounds, are not as effective as Cure Light Wounds, and are basically a way for the players to heal slightly less slowly than the absurdly slow (for a game) healing rate of the AD&D system (1 hp/night). Another cleric spell. Light Touch, functions similar to a Light spell, except your hand glows first and it lasts for the same amount of time. The only difference is flavor text. Several Druid spells fared no better. From Salve (2 hp/day extra healing) to several cooking spells and a campfire stone, these spells are barely different from their mundane counterparts and again, amount to little more than flavor text.
Many of the spells listed for the various classes were either redundant versions of spells from the Player’s Handbook modified to fit a quirk or someone’s personal Player Character from their homebrew campaign. Spinning Arrow, for example, is a convoluted divination spell that only tells you the direction of whatever person, place, or thing the caster names after you fire an arrow and it spins in the air for a bit and falls to the ground. Meh.
There were a lot of repeated spells even within the Book. For instance, various renditions of “protect my purse” spells were iterated. Seriously, who needs a spell to Detect Giant Class Creatures? And metagaming name much? There is also a section at the end for race-specific spells or very very specific classes. Frost Giant and gnoll spells, which weren’t exceptional. They made sense within their particular contexts, but again, meh. The Witch spells were really of only two major classes: summoning needlemen and variations on thorns, until you got to ninth level and finally got a mega curse.
And there is a slime priest…or something.
I do not wish to belabor this section because this is a free resource, so I will say no more.
On the positive side, there are several things to like about this compendium that made it worth the read for me. My favorite, by far, was the focus on Earth-based spells. I love geomancy in its purest form: dirt, stone, metal, crystal. This compendium delivered a good thirty or so related to shaping metal or magma and the like. Also, a good number of these spells had solid, practical value that were not directly translatable to combat. Etch, Glue, and even Iron Lungs (imagine a medieval firefighter application here) are all good, practical spells. Time’s Essence is not only very practical – a spell my players could have used in our current campaign setting right now in fact – it’s also cleverly named. I also really liked Ezekhal’s Burden, largely because it sidesteps certain limitations of other, similar spells.
There were some interesting and powerful spells like the Spectral Arrow at Level 2 for mages and Flickering Blade at Level 4. Both enchanted weapons to completely bypass armor, which is downright nasty, especially at such low levels.
I also liked the overall idea of incorporating more common spells for use in every-day life, though they need to be more beefed up to make them worth the spell slot, or be relegated to wands or other spell storing devices. Witness Oath, Gentle Tether, Wood Shape, Glue, Tethlo’s Guide, and a number of other spells had multiple out of combat or everyday uses that I loved and would use.
In addition to these spells, there was also a significant amount of world building as we got to mean characters like Tethlo, Tain, Kolbrandt, Ezekhal, and others particular to the author and his roleplaying group. This is always an enjoyable experience for me when reading gaming supplements. Not only do I feel like I get to partake of their game in a small way, but it also gives depth to the spells by giving us insight as to how the spells were developed and how they were used, sometimes by way of example.
Finally, on the good side, there are a number of entries that are good enough that they got translated into actual abilities in later editions of the game. Flurry of Blows is one of those, though in this version, it’s a mage shadow boxing to keep another mage from casting, which is fun in its own right.
On the art side, I am of two minds. The art itself is not of a style I particularly like. When watching anime or playing video games, the visual style is of serious import to me. Not quite equal to storyline, but close. There is a doodle-esque quality to the art in this supplement that reminds me of the seventies and early eighties.
However, that is actually the point of the art. Since the game book itself harkens back to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons system of that time period, the art is purposefully done to match that feel. In that, the artist succeeded masterfully.
Rating – PG
There is nothing outright bad for preteen readers, nothing more difficult than say the opening of the movie E.T. Any context that speaks of killing or undead in our current culture is certainly not suitable for a G-level audience, but my eight-year-old can handle it just fine.
Except for maybe the slime priest.