101 Spellbooks Capsule Review by Joe G Kushner on 28/09/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Don't have the time to throw together unique spellbooks and tomes for the players to find in those crumbling ruins? It's all in here.
Product: 101 Spellbooks
Author: Philip J Reed
Page count: 36
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Joe G Kushner on 28/09/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
101 Spellbooks is actually a little misleading, as itís 101 books, some of them spellbooks, some of them histories, and some of them something else. There is not traditional cover and it starts off with a title and introduction with the announcement that the bookís text is all OGC. It makes use of Clip Art from www.arttoday.com and Elmore Productions, yes, that black book that Citizen Games recently used for itís NPC printed book, sees use again. I enjoyed the art mainly because itís been formatted for the background. The background is like an aged parchment with a faded yellow with artwork being a darker yellow to stand out against it.
The Table of Contents is a strange little beast because it doesnít actually list the books, but rather, the crunchy bits like the feats, magic items, poisons, skills, and spells. The main bulk of the book, the descriptions of the spellbooks, is listed by title, appearance, spells, and special features. The only failure the author makes here is that he didnít include a market price for the books, meaning that GMs are going to have to look up the spells to get the levels, do the multiplication, add in other factors, and come up with a price. A market price couldíve provided a good guideline to do such.
The books range from standard mysterious tomes to books with unique or rare spells within them. The real joy of reading a book like this is in deciding where youíre going to use the books. In one of my friendís Scarred Lands campaigns, there are several dwarf players so Iíve already pointed out to him that The Book of Dwarven Wisdom, Mining Techniques of the Dwarvish Kingdoms, and Guide to Dwarven Gods are things that can add some depth and interest of dwarves to his campaign.
My personal favorite books arenít actually the standard spellbooks, but rather, the books that provide different bonuses or abilities. Take for example the Ďbookí Unbound Psionics. This solid gold cube has a brain symbol. Weird enough looking right? No pages or anything. However, as long as the user has it in direct contact, he gains two bonus power points per day. Very cool. Several other books provide different bonuses that are equal to a rangerís Favored Enemy. In some campaigns that might be too much, especially for a permanent ability. Iíd probably rule that the character had to periodically study the book, cutting into time to make magic items, craft weapons, and miss social events. Gotta throw that role playing limitations in there before someone screams munchkin.
Some of the books include information on feats and magic items that the user can take or if possessing the appropriate prerequisites, make. Iím not such of the mix of original content here versus OGC but itís nice to have the information in one spot. Because itís a PDF file, I can just print out the page in question and hand it to a player instead of typing or writing out the whole thing. I know for example that the Book of Bows with itís many magical arrows like Arrow of Multiple Strikes, Explosive and Internal Agony, will see some use in my campaign.
The new spells are drawn from a wide variety of sources and anyone reading the license at the back of the book will see mentions made to The Assassinís Handbook, Arcanan: Societies of Magic, D20 Weekly, En Route, and other books. I recognize some of them from the various sources, but Iím no master to know where each and every spell comes from. If you donít own all the books, itís a great little reference and if you do own them, it saves you the trouble of customizing your own spellbooks for inclusion into your campaign. Some of the spells are standard spells like Tiny Hut and some of the Hand spells. Can you guess what the Sor/Wiz 4th level spell Black Tentacles is? I wasnít too fond of those spells because even though they (they being Wizards of the Coast) have dropped the name, since the product requires the Playerís Handbook, players are still going to have a copy of the spells.
One of the things that bothered me about the OGC use was that itís not updated. Take Claws of the Demon. In the errata, at http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/llsserrata.html , itís listed as a 2nd level spell. The author shouldíve checked to make sure that he was using the most up to date version. In addition, there are numerous spells with the Level listed as Nec. Now I own the Secret College of Necromancy so I know what that means. It means Necromancer. Hereís the problem. Without changing this to Wizard, or putting a sidebar to identify this as a spell available only to say, Wizards with a Necromantic Specialty, itís difficult to use, and if you already have SCON, then the spells are indeed worthless. I have no problem with OGC, I just donít like it when itís a straight reprint that includes the errors of the original.
In terms of layout, the book has a centered feel, surrounded by the yellowed parchment look. I wonder if he offered two versions, a scrolled look and a white look with a scroll border, which one would sell better? For myself, I enjoyed the yellowed look but I know many hate anything thatís not in black and white. The graphics are well placed and good use is made of layout and justification around them to insure a good fit.
In terms of the pdf file itself, nothing special has been done to augment itís utility. For instance, you canít turn the pictures off to save ink on printing. In addition, the bookmarks are light. Youíve got one for title page, continents, books, skills, spells and open game license. There should be one for each skill, feat and magic item to make moving around a lot easier.
While itís does its job well of providing quick items to place in a campaign to add some depth, providing the GM the tools to make his own books would be better. For example, how about a table with book name variants like tome, liber, manual, and scrolls? A table for materials? A table for length? A table for metals used? A table for unusual characteristics? The OGC also needs to be updated and formatted. By formatting, I mean putting the spells in order by level and class with a brief description as done in the Playerís Handbook with the full spell listing afterwards. Thereís no point in putting spells that a core class character canít use and including spells that havenít had the errata applied to them and arenít organized as if they werenít OGC.
I imagine that the purpose of this product is to save time and add some depth to a campaign. If you want to focus on ancient tomes and donít have the time to customize all the material you own, this book is a lifesaver. If you need an inexpensive book thatíll provide hours of worth and incorporates a lot of Open Game Content, than 101 Spellbooks is for you.