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Saturday, 14 October 2017

Sorcery & Souvenirs

Published by Lost Pages, Wonder & Wickedness is a book of magic and magic things for the fantasy roleplaying game of your choice. Primarily written for the Old School Renaissance, it collects and collates content from the author’s blog to present some fifty-six spells divided into seven schools, a whole new system of magic, and a total of fifty magical items. The spells are accompanied by catastrophe after catastrophe should the spellcasting go awry; the seven schools are Diabolism, Elementalism, Necromancy, Psychomancy, Spiritualism, Translocation, and Vivimancy; the new system of magic is Level-less a la Original Dungeons & Dragons and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay; and not a single one of the magic items is a plain and ordinary +1 item. All this is capped off by exquisite illustrations by Russ Nicholson, which are just lovely.

The simple idea behind each of the spells is that they can all be cast by First Level arcane spellcasters. These are not weak spells, but spells that scale with the caster’s Level, both in terms of damage done and duration. Some spells require the application of sigils and a spellcaster can expend memorised spells to provide defence against other spell attacks or to inflict damage. Sample spells include Miasma, a Diabolism spell which summons the poisonous atmosphere of Hell for a random effect, like instant death, uncontrollable retching, burning blindness, and so on; Trapped Lightning is an Elementalism spell which traps lightning in bottle to be unleashed at a later date; the Necromancy spell, Soul Harvest collects and bottles souls for the caster to be used later as a bonus to a roll, temporary Hit Points, or as currency with other casters; and the Psychomancy spell, Fascinating Gaze, enables the caster to capture the eyes of another force them to answer yes or no questions. Second Sight is a Spiritualism spell which allows the sorcerer to the magic radiated by enchanted items and other casters; by casting the right sigil on a living being, the caster can turn him into a Living Gate to be used by the caster and his companions with this Translocation spell; and the Vivimancy spell Bloodlust instills exactly that in another, claws and all.

All these spells are simple enough and easy enough to add to campaign. They can be added to a campaign as written or they might form the basis of a wizard’s particular studies or the curriculum of a college of magic. As written, there is a wonderful sense of the weird to a great many them, for example, Occult Consultation. To cast this Necromancy spell, the caster digs a square pit and fills it with wine, herbs, and a sacrifice in order to summon a throng of ghosts and enter conversation with them. With possession of their true name or treasured possession, the caster can even summon a specific ghost. Afterwards, when the spell ends, the caster can follow the ghosts back into the lands of the dead—with no guaranteed promise of easy return, if at all!

There is always a danger in casting spells and so it is in Wonder & Wickedness. There is catastrophe aplenty to throw at the wizard should his casting go awry. At first these appear to organised in an odd fashion, but in actuality they are simply arranged so that the Game Master can either roll a twelve-sided die to get a result for a specific school or percentile dice to get a random result from any one of the eighty-four results (rolls of eighty-five and above are re-rolled). These outcomes to miscastings, wizardly death, and so on, add to the archness of the book, and this is very much continued in the book’s last third.

Wonder & Wickedness ends with some fifty new magical items. They include a Dagger of Divergent Precipitation, which when plunged into a large body of water, draws heavy clouds around the wielder and even causes lightning strikes; a statue of a Fascinating Cat who catches the gaze of those who looks on it to the point of starvation—unless the statue covered up; the Goblin-birthing Knife, which will cause a loyal, if stupid goblin to be born from the belly of any victim killed by the knife; a Meteor Lure, used to attract meteors from which star metal might be smelted; the black iron block-headed Orc Mace, which causes humans to be transformed into orcs; and the Shadow Loom, from which cloaks, hoods, and gloves can be drawn. The first allows the wearer to hide in shadows, the second protects the wearer from all sorcery when not in direct light, and the third let the user draw spells out of a sorcerer’s mind!

Wonder & Wickedness has a plain black cover which hides a simple layout and very, very good art. There is just not enough of Russ Nicholson’s illustrations in this supplement, but that is because his art is simply excellent. 

Although there is a simplicity to the writing and presentation of Wonder & Wickedness, there is a lovely detail to the spells and the magical items it describes. There is an archness to the design of both and they will add shade to any campaign, delivering on the promise of the wonder and the wickedness of the title.