Friday, May 10, 2013

In Retrospect: The Tome of Magic, AD&D 2e

Looking back, I remember trying to get more use out of this book, with emphasis on try. There's all kinds of neat stuff in the Tome of Magic, published in 1991, but I think it serves (at least for me) that supplements beyond the core books of an RPG stand a good chance that they won't get utilized.

The introduction states that the book is for both Dungeon Masters and Players, but in reality a DM has to approve of the material herein. What you get is fairly eclectic, which should come as no surprise since the book has six designers (and that's David Cook, not Monte).

So what have we got?

Wild Mages and Wild Magic, Elemental Wizards, new spheres of influence for priests, new spells for both priests and wizards, and new magic items. All in all, there's some good stuff here, and other stuff that I'd rather not bother with.

Like Wild Mages, for example. I like the idea of magic being wild and crazy with a chance of random effect. I really do, its part of magic's unpredictable nature.

Yet the Wild Mage character class is rather cumbersome and even harmful to other characters They're like specialist wizards, gaining and learning and extra spell slot for Wild Magic spells. But every time they cast a spell they have roll 1d20, consult a chart, and see if they're spell functions higher or lower its normal spell level. There's also these boldfaced results on the chart, which indicate a Wild Surge. The player or DM then rolls 1d100 on a chart that's basically a Wand of Wonder on steroids.

The results vary wildly, from the annoying ("Caster smells like a skunk"), to the incredibly annoying ("Cause Fear" within 60' Radius"--including other PCs). Fortunately, most results effect either the caster or the target. Still...

I like the Elemental Wizard. They basically specialize in either Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Once per day, they can cast a given spell in their element 1d4 levels higher. Some may find this a bit over powered. But they can't cast spells from their opposing element and have a -25% to learning non-elemental spells.  It's a fairly straightforward class.

Priests aren't left out. But I've never been fond of quest spells and some of the new spheres of influence (That's old school for "Domains") Numbers and Thought are highly philosophical. The War sphere got nerfed because its primarily meant for Battlesystem--TSR's rules of mass combat.

As for spells, well, there's plenty of new spells to choose from for your AD&D 2e game. My only problem with them is that quite few have limited uses. Conjure Holy Symbol enables a priest to summon a holy symbol, which really would only come in handy if a priest has been capture and stripped of his holy symbol. Hornung's Guess is really only useful to count the number of enemies in an army on the battlefield. There's spells here that could the the ancestors to the metamagic feats in D&D 3e.

When it comes to these spells, your mileage my vary. Back in the day I tried tantalizing my players with them, but they didn't bite.

The same goes for the magic items found in the Tomb of Magic. You've got the Wand of Corridors, which only functions on the Elemental Plane of Earth or the Quasi Elemental Plane of Minerals. Some are meant specifically for Battlesystem. Others are just bad jokes from some body's campaign--like the Ring of Bureaucratic Wizardry, which is a cursed item that forces a wizard to fill out forms every time he casts a spell (yeah, har har, funny funny). Many seem just overly complicated, such as the Ring of Fortitude, which gives the wearer a random bonus to an ability score, but only for the purposes of spell resolution. For example, getting a constitution boost doesn't grant extra hit points, but raises the system shock and resurrection percentages.

In retrospect, Tome of Magic is an okay book. There's lots of interesting ideas here, but many can't be used "out of the box." Many of the spells and magic items suggest use for a high magic campaign like, say, The Forgotten Realms. As the name suggests, there is nothing here for non-spellcasters. Yet even priests get short shrift in my opinion.  
Is that Johnny Cash with long grey hair?

The artwork inside is decent, but I've recognized many of it from other sources. (But I do miss the days when RPG artwork looked at least somewhat "realistic," instead of this cartoonish/anime/spikey-bits/steampunk/Final Fantasy stuff often featured post-D&D 3e.)

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 4 out of 10 (I honestly didn't get much use out of the book--and I've had it for over 20 years!)

Get this if... you want a bunch of ideas to mine for your games or if you want to complete your AD&D 2e collection. But I don't recommend using much of this stuff "out of the box." In fact, its kinda hard to do given many of the items and spells have limited uses.

Don't get this if... you really don't need another RPG book full of spells, magic items, and classes. Aside from the Wild Mage and the Elemental Wizard, not much else stands out. 


  1. My wild mage story: Our cleric was killed by bug-bears. I hit the bug-bear with magic missiles. Bug-bear turns astral and starts chasing the cleric's soul.

    If I recall, Hornung's Guess would typically give you less accurate results than actually, y'know, guessing.

    The best spell, whose name I forget, was one which required calculus to affect range and area of effect spells, something like modifying the shape and dimensions of a spell so long as the area or volume remained the same? It basically let you turn anything into death beams by creating an area of effect that was infinitely narrow and infinitely long.

    1. I'm not sure what spell you're talking about either, since there's quite a few spells in the ToM that do similar things, especially Wild Magic spells. Another problem is that the spell name itself often doesn't indicate what it can do, like "Spell Shape" for example.

      At first glance, it appears to be the spell you're talking about. But what it really does is enable the caster redirect the spell energies of a hostile spell back at an enemy, by immediately casting a spell.


    2. Found it: Squaring the Circle:
      "allows a wizard to alter the shape of the area of effect of one spell of 1st- through 5th-level spells. The spell to be affected must be cast within the duration of the squaring the circle spell. Square or cubic areas of effect can be transformed into circular or spherical areas of effect. Circular or spherical areas of effect can likewise be transformed into square or cubic areas of effect. In both cases, the length of a side of a square area is equated to the diameter of a circular or spherical area. Alternatively, a square or cubic area can be transformed into a rectangle. The rectangle cannot cover more or less square footage than the standard square area of the spell. Similarly, a circular or spherical area can be transformed into an oval or egg shape. The area covered by the oval or egg shape cannot cover more or less square footage than the original area of the spell. The material component is a small pendant of any precious metal with a circle fashioned inside a square. "

      Infinitely narrow rectangular or ellipsoidal death beams.

    3. Wow.

      If a player absolutely insisted on using that spell my games, I'd absolutely insist that he do the math calculations at the table.

      But then again, why bother putting up that?

      It'd be interesting to know what Carl Sargent (who's credited for the Metamagic material) was thinking when he designed that spell.

  2. The elemental magic looks really interesting. The problem with these supplements is that you can rarely use them "as is" and it is a huge amount of work to redo them.

    1. Which kinda defies the point of buying the supplements in the first place if you want to use them "out of the box"... lol

  3. Oh wow, I'd completely forgotten about all the Battlesystem nonsense in that book. It was terribly disappointing to my 14-year-old self that a sphere called War was completely useless.

    I played in a 2e campaign a couple years ago and actually had some fun with a couple of the priest spells from ToM. There were a lot of little bits and pieces that I liked, but it definitely had a certain "under-cooked" feel to it. The first of many such experiences with 2e-era AD&D supplements, unfortunately.


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