One of the first products Atlas Games released for their Ars Magica Fourth Edition, Hedge Magic is a small guide explaining four of the most common hedge magic traditions in Mythic Europe. It's an interesting read, although it's usefulness may be questionable.
Art, Layout and Physical Aspect
As is usual with Atlas, the book isn't the pinnacle of gaming art, but it's not ugly, either. The cover art by Charles Gillespie, though, is quite inappropriate for the Mythic Europe setting: it would look better on a book about the Australian Aborigine. I'm glad that the covers of Atlas latest works are better (I just love the ones of the new Tribunal books).
The interior art isn't plentiful, but the few pieces we get are quite good, with John Scotello's and Tonia Walden's stuff being excellent. Jeff Menges does an average job, and Eric Hotz pleases us again with his wonderful medieval-style pics.
The layout is very good: two-column text with an easy-to-read font, with clear differentiation between each chapter and different topics. Unlike Atlas' more recent work, the margins aren't very big, which is good for small book like this one.
The book is perfect bound, and, like most of the stuff done by Atlas, looks like it will last a lifetime. It also has Atlas's nasty habit of the covers curling if the book is used too much.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Here the authors give us a little briefing on the situation of hedge wizards in 13th c. Mythic Europe. It also tries to explain the differences between hedge wizards and magi of the Order, as well as giving a little introduction on each of the four hedge magic traditions found in the book (cunning-folk, natural magicians, spirit masters and ascetics).
The chapter ends with three in-character essays written by three different magi of the Order (a Bonisagus, a Jerbiton and a Mercere) abut hedge wizardry in Europe and it's relations with the Hermetics.
A well-done introduction for the book. The three essays are particularly good. Thumbs up.
Chapter 2: The Mystery of Michael Scot
This chapter is in reality a piece of fiction. In this chapter we're told the story of Michael Scot (a powerful wizard which seems to combine many different hedge magic traditions) and four hedge wizards who're searching for him for one reason or another. We get the full background of all characters involved, and an explanation of why they're searching for Michael Scot. Each of the four hedge wizards is a representative of the four traditions presented in this book, and some of them, as well as Michael Scot, are based in real people. At the end of the chapter we get the full statistics of all of the main characters.
I dislike this chapter. A lot. The story is quite shallow and artificial, and looks like an excuse to make the four hedge wizards join forces. The fact that two or three extra hedge magic traditions could have used this space doesn't help, either. Overall, this is the reason of why many people, including myself, tend to stay away from gaming fiction. Thumbs down.
Chapter 3: Hedge Wizardry
This is the meat and bones of this book, and it really feels like a prize for enduring the piece of crap that is Chapter 2. It begins explaining how you can create a hedge wizard character: you can either use your companion slot, and acquire all hedge magic abilities as Virtues, or use your magus slot, making the character a mystic companion. Mystic companions hedge wizards have all hedge magic powers for free, but receive less experience points and, as stated before, take your magus slot. This first section of the chapter ends with advice on how hedge wizards may join the Order, and how each hedge magic tradition interacts with the different auras.
The next section detail cunning-folk. Cunning-folk are the most common type of hedge wizards, encompassing typical medieval archetypes such as the old witch or the village herbalist. The first ability cunning-folk have is Herbalism. With it, they're able to make potions (similar to Hermetic ones) and Minor Potions, which are very easy to make but have a very limited effect. The next cunning-folk ability is to find and use wild vis. Probably the most problematic and criticized rule in this book, wild vis is defined as some kind of weaker proto-vis, which can only be used by cunning-folk. Not very useful, considering that, if Atlas wanted cunning-folk to use less vis, why not just charge less vis for them when using their abilities instead of creating a new category of vis? The last of their powers is their ability to build greater and lesser charms and banes.
The next section deals with natural magicians. These guys look, more or less, like a mix between medieval alchemists and toned-down Hermetic Magi, but adapting it to Christian cosmology (they don'' have any penalties from Divine Auras). Their abilities are Natural Alchemy, which can be used to brew potions (which act much like the Hermetic stuff), to make transformations (transforming normal objects in Items of Virtue; more on this in the last chapter), to help them when using medicine, and brewing longevity potions. They also posses the Spellcrafting ability, which allows them to cast many spells similar to those of the Order, but with much longer casting times and using a method very different from the familiar Technique and Form combination. Their last ability is Enchantments, which are very similar to minor magical item construction in the Order.
The third hedge magic tradition described is spirit mastery. By far the most primitive of all hedge wizards presented in this book, spirit masters have only two abilities: Summoning and Spirit Allies. Summoning includes the ability to draw a protective circle against the being summoned. Spirit Masters may summon ANYTHING: normal people, demons, faeries, animals, spirits, and even Hermetic Magi. Their biggest problem is that they have no control over the summoned creature, so they must bargain with them for any favors done, and they must do it quickly, since, although the protective circle may impede the summoned being from attacking them, they will surely starve to death if they spend all their lives there. Spirit Allies are the Spirit Masters equivalent of Familiars, although they're not solely limited to magical animals (there are rules here for having ghosts, your own shadow, airy spirits and beasts of virtue as Spirit Allies).
Ascetics are the last type of hedge wizards presented in this book. We learn that ascetics are very different from people with True Faith, since they believe in themselves rather than in God, and that they may find God through their internal, mystical experiences. Ascetics try to distance themselves from the world and it's carnal temptations, and their powers reflect that. The first of their powers, Purity, indicates how distanced they are from the mundane. It adds to soak rolls and to a variety of ability rolls (although high purity may reduce rolls from mundane abilities, such as Folk Ken or Charm, for example), as well as natural resistance rolls. Higher scores also make ascetics immune to disease and more resistant to the effects of aging. Their second ability is Transcendence. With it, they may distance themselves even further from the material world, enabling them to ignore various natural laws and doing things such as walking on water, exist without food, drink or air, observe distant places, or journey instantly to any known place. Their last ability is Mystic Understanding, which allows them to answer many questions by looking at situations by analyzing them from different angles and perspectives other people cannot.
The chapter ends with new Virtues and Abilities covering all hedge magic powers presented in this chapter, and with a small section with some advice on creating your own hedge magic tradition.
A very good chapter, although the Wild Vis rules for the cunning-folk can be very problematic, and Natural Magicians could have been substituted by another, more different tradition, since that character type is already covered by Hermetic Magi, which are also much more powerful. Thumb up.
Chapter 4: Book of Secrets
This chapter describes many exceptional Items of Virtue, special objects and creatures that represent the perfect archetype of their species, and various Spirits. Items of virtue include the Adamas (Diamond of Virtue), Papaver (Poppy of Virtue), and the Aquila (Eagle of Virtue), for example. The Spirits part includes elemental spirits, spirits of sickness and spirits of artifice.
This chapter is the most useful chapter of the book, since most of its info can be used in any campaign, even one not featuring any hedge wizards. The Items of Virtue are a nice addition to lab activity, and the Spirits are very useful, considering Ars Magica'a basic rulebook poor bestiary. Thumbs up.
Not a bad book. All four hedge wizard traditions are interesting, and the last chapter is a good addition to any Saga. But the book is too damn expensive for mere 80 pages, and none of it's information is essential: I don't care if Atlas says in their website that it's one of Ars Magica's core rulebooks, it's ridiculous to say that this book is as essential as the Wizard's Grimoire or the Mythic Europe book. But overall it's a good book for those interested in the theme, even if it has one of the worst pieces of gaming fiction I've read and that the guidelines to create your own hedge magic traditions could have been better.
Style: 3 (Average)