Tabletop Review: Advanced Sorcery (Basic Roleplaying/Magic World)

Advanced Sorcery (Basic Roleplaying)
Publisher: Chaosium
Cost: $13.17 (PDF)/$23.95 (Physical)
Page Count: 132
Release Date: 03/27/2014(Physical)/04/08/2014 (PDF)
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
or Chaosium.com

Advanced Sorcery is the first sourcebook for Magic World, which is a remake and update of previous Chaosium fantasy releases like Elric, Runequest and Melniboné. This means some parts of both Advanced Sorcery and Magic World are roughly thirty years old while others are seeing light for the first time. Why did Chaosium do this instead of just re-releasing the original games in a new edition? Well there are lots of reasons from the cost of licenses to a decision to just combine all the fantasy releases into a new overarching banner. If you really want the original games, you can pick up old Elric and Stormbringer releases on the secondary market or pick up Mongoose publishing new version of Runequest. For those that still want to stick with Chaosium’s new releases, you have Magic World.

Although Magic World came out in early 2013, Advanced Sorcery is the first (and only) new release for it. This isn’t a bad thing as Magic World contains everything you need to play the game in its single core rulebook and too many games put out a steady stream of unnecessary supplements that bog the core product down. Quality, not quantity is king with a system and the core rulebook for Magic World proved just that. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for Advanced Sorcery. It just did nothing for me adding too many new optional rules variants that aren’t as good as those in the core release. It also doesn’t help that the first new release for Magic World is so laden with new and different rules that it feels like Advanced Sorcery is saying “Magic World isn’t very good. Use this instead!” I personally don’t feel that is true, but when your first sourcebook wants to reinvent the wheel, it gives off that sort of negative impression. It’s also worth noting that Advanced Sorcery feels like it belongs to a completely different system/setting rather than something that compliments Magic World. The spell systems, mechanics and terminology are so wildly different that the two books feel like they were competing ideas and Chaosium published them both instead of making a firm decision on which to go with. Again, I doubt that is the actual reasoning behind it but rather a good example of what happens when you try to put thirty years of rules and edition changes into a new unified product. D&D Next felt this way too in the early stages, which is fine for alpha and playtesting purposes, but definitely not for a final product. A truly great example of this is that in both books, certain monsters are repeated, but with completely different sets of stat blocks and descriptions. Why would they be that different from core rulebook to sourcebook? Again, the end result is that Advanced Sorcery feels like its own beast or a separate Basic Roleplaying supplement rather than a product for Magic World.

At the end of the day, I just didn’t care for Advanced Sorcery at all and feel a Magic World game is better off without it. That said, my opinion and tastes are those of one man and not the be all and end all of the industry. Advanced Sorcery certainly has some intriguing ideas and some gamers will no doubt really enjoy the contents betwixt its covers. As we look through each of the eight chapters in Advanced Sorcery, perhaps you will find something more to your liking that it was to mine.

The first chapter is “Advanced Sorcery.” I know it’s always weird/awkward when a chapter shares the same name as the book’s title, but hey, that’s not my call. This is simply a list of new spells to use with Magic World. All of them are pretty interesting and well done, although many like Phantom Illness, Create Monster and Domination are Shadow oriented. Shadow was a lot more powerful than Light or Balance in the core Magic World game and these spells only increase that. Still, this is what much of Advanced Sorcery should have been – just a lot of well-designed spells that don’t require any new mechanics to use. 1 for 1.

Next up is “Deep Magic.” This is a new system of magic than can be used as an alternative to the core Magic World rules. This version of magic involved eight spheres of influence (Earth, Flora, Fauna, Water, Spirit, Fire, Flesh and Air) and then eight Glyphs of Power (Inhibition, Diminution, Summoning, Creation, Direction, Enhancement, Dismissal and Transmutation). You then end up having a mix and match of the two categories in order to cast spells. The rulkes for Deep Magic and nebulous, cumbersome and completely unintuitive, especially compared to the original BRP and/or Magic World rules. It’s also hilarious to note that part of casting the spells involves creating a personalized wheel of Spheres and a wheel of Glyphs. Each player picks on Glyph and one Sphere that they specialize in, which makes them much easier to cast. Everything else is more expensive based on the position on the characters wheel. However, the actual pictures of the wheels don’t always show up in the PDF version. I’ve tried it on different devices (Kindle Fire, laptop, desktop, iOS devices) and the wheels seem to only show up half the time. This is only true of this one picture in the entire book. Everything else shows up fine, so I’m wondering if it is a layering issue with the PDF. This is terrible beyond description because you can’t make Deep Magic work without it! When you can get the wheels to show up, they’re pretty bad in design anyway. The opposite of Water is Air rather than Fire for example. WHAT? The opposite of Flesh (man) is Fauna (animal)? Shouldn’t those be more closely aligned. Air is almost the opposite of Fauna too, because animals sure don’t need air. Oh dear god, this is bad. No, Deep Magic is pretty terrible in all respect and you are better off pretending it doesn’t exist. A bad idea with even worse follow through. 1 for 2.

Our third chapter is “The Summoner’s Art” and it revolves around summoning magic. Again, this is an alternative form of summoning magic that can take the place of the version in the core Magic World rulebook. Again, why introduce an entirely new way of doing something when your system is (technically) only a year old and this is your first supplement. This is just a bad business and system decision in every respect. This chapter is a little too rules heavy when it comes to summoning, and most gamers will instantly prefer the core rulebook version. “The Summoner’s Art” is pretty much for people who prefer roll-playing to role-playing and want far more mechanics than they actually need. It’s not all that bad though as the section does give you a lot of information on crafting demons as antagonists or NPCs and you are given a ton of powers to help flesh one out. The section also talks about elementals in addition to demons. While better than “Deep Magic,” “The Summoner’s Art,” just feels thrown in for the sake of padding the book out. The demon and elemental bits are nice, but the new alternative magic rules are just unnecessary. Still, two out of three aren’t bad so I’ll give this a point in the yay column. 2 for 3.

“Necromancy” is the fourth chapter in the book and this is another section littered with so many issues, I can’t believe it made it to print. This is the section where we see all monsters with stat blocks and descriptions that don’t match up with the core Magic World book. You would think there would be some sort of continuity between the two books, especially as they are the only two Magic World releases right now, but no. I’m not even sure why they reprinted so many of the same monsters. Those are pages that could have gone to new and/or different content. Anyway, the section of Necromancy is pretty bad. Of course, nothing really lives up to The Complete Book of Necromancers for Second Edition AD&D, which everyone should read even if they don’t play that version of D&D because it is THAT GOOD. This version of Necromancy is just terrible designed. The chapter starts off talking about how all necromancers are evil or power hungry and how each spell cast from this category ties you to the Shadow alignment. Then it gives you happy Light oriented spells like Spirit Shield and Exorcism. This just feels terribly done from beginning to end and is up there with “Deep Magic” as sections that really needed to make it through a more stringent vetting and/or editing process. 2 for 4.

Chapter Five is “Rune Magic.” This is another optional form of magic. Like “Deep Magic” and “The Summoner’s Art,” the rules for this Balance oriented magic are poorly devised. The rules are very vague and sparse, which means gamers are going to interpret them very differently and thus this will cause both confusion and consternation amongst Magic World players. Thankfully though Rune Magic is primary both defensive and touch based which should give people a common ground to work with. It’s not like a runecaster will be whipping runes at a demon or troll in any campaign. Still, this section really needed a lot of work before it saw print, which is sadly true of a lot of Advanced Sorcery. Some great ideas, but the end result just isn’t very playable. 2 for 5.

“Arete” is Chapter Six, and although you might start thinking of Mage: The Ascension with this one, the Arete in this game has nothing in common with the stat/play mechanic from White Wolf’s magic oriented game. This section focuses on what happened when a Magic World character gets more than 100% in a skill. Each skill gets a different ability. Brawl with a 101% or better gets an extra 1d3 to damage while a Swim with over 100% lets you move twice as fast. The rules and benefits are a little more complicated than this, but it’s a great idea well worth implementing. Of course it’s rare a character will ever reach this level with a skill, but it’s great to see someone thought this out. It’s definitely the highlight of the book and well worth spreading to other games that use the BRP system. 3 for 6

Our penultimate chapter in Advanced Sorcery is “Herbalism.” It’s a short chapter (five pages) that gives us ten plants that can be used to make potions and require no magical skill whatsoever to produce. It’s nicely done and can let even non-magical characters like warriors and rogues act as a healer for the party. 4 for 7.

The final chapter in the book is “Fey Magic for the Southern Realms.” Once again, we get a new type of alternate magic that can be used instead of or in tandem with the core Magic World rules set. Again, the rules for this new type of magic just aren’t as intuitive as the core rules and by introducing five new optional forms of magic, a less experienced or younger game is going to end up confused and/or overwhelmed here. God forbid some Keeper actually tries to implement all of these rules in a single game or you get a group of players that each wants a different bit in the game. This is just a pretty big train wreck across the board. Anyway, Fey Magic is the easiest to implement of the five as it’s essentially the same rules for Sorcery in the core rulebook, but characters spend POW instead of Magic Points. Why? Who knows! It’s completely arbitrary! There’s no reason why these spells need their own slightly different rules. Just put them under Sorcery spells with their specific caveats. I just can’t fathom the thought process behind much of this book and how multiple people thought it was a good idea to present all of this in the manner it saw print. 4 for 8.

If you’ve made it this far you can see that Advanced Sorcery needed a LOT of work before it was released to the general public for purchase. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we have what we have. This will no doubt be a disappointment to Magic World fans who have waited a year for some kind of follow up release to the system/setting. At least the book isn’t a total loss as there are some part of Advanced Sorcery well worth reading and adding to your Magic World campaign. This is not a book I can personally recommend though, especially with its current price tags. I’d let it drop below ten dollars for the PDF version before considering picking this up and I can’t imagine ever being able to recommend the physical copy as only half the book is worth looking at, especially since it’s nearly twice as much to get. Some gamers might find the book for useful than me, and more power to them, but right now, the kindest thing about Advanced Sorcery that I can say is that there are some decent pieces to be had amidst the really terrible unfinished bits.

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