The Complete Arcane is the latest in the complete series of books, this book being devoted to arcane spell casters (primarily wizards and sorcerers). The subtitle of this work ?a player?s guide to arcane magic for all classes? strikes me as a little odd, as it is the nature of the D&D system to make those who use arcane magic a distinct group within the game, in other words, it is not something for all classes.
As has been established for the Complete-series of books, the Complete Arcane includes variant core classes, prestige classes, new feats, new magic (both spells and items) and background information. Much of the book is comprised of updating of 3rd edition material to the 3.5 ruleset (with a note saying that if you are using things from 3rd edition in you campaign and they are working just fine, go with that).
The book begins with a very brief introduction covering the nature of magic in D&D, which has three elements according to the author: exclusivity, mystery and unpredictability. But how accurate is this?
? Exclusivity, in that only a small number of people can actively use magic, unlike technology. That depends entirely on the game world and is argued against by settings such as Eberron with Dragonmarks and magewrights and some of the feats introduced in this book (discussed below) also undermine this.
? Mystery, knowledge is power and should, therefore, be hoarded not shared and thus is often lost. A classic fantasy trope but not true in all game worlds.
? Unpredictability ?refers to arcane magic?s incomplete and imperfect nature. ? While this is true in fiction, it is not in D&D where the capabilities of magic are usually precisely known.
Concluding the introduction is a definition of terms (arcanist, arcane, and so on) used in the book, which is useful.
The Complete Arcane includes three base classes, the Warmage (originally introduced in the Miniatures Handbook), the Warlock (entirely new) and the Wu Jen (from Oriental Adventures).
? The Warlock is an unusual class, and the one that has caused the most debate. Warlock are the results of dark pacts with creatures from the evils planes, either made by the character or her ancestors. All Warlocks have the ability to generate an eldritch blast, a blast of arcane energy (ranged touch attach) starting at 1d6 and improving to a maximum of 9d6 damage, the eldritch blast can be used any number of times. The Warlock gains spell-like abilities, called invocations, instead of spells. The warlock only gains a maximum of tweleve invocation but each can be used at will, some modify the eldritch blast (adding extra effects or giving it an area of effect), others duplicate spells and when a new invocation is learned, the Warlock may change one of the earlier invocation that he knows allowing a fair degree of flexibility. Warlocks have d6 hit dice, the ability to use light armor and (due to their dark heritage) they gain damage reduction (up to 5/cold iron), fast healing (for two minutes a day), energy resistance and the ability to make magic items without having the needed spells (substituting a Use Magical Devices check). The Warlock is an intriguing class but there are potential balance issues, a DM would be well advised to think long and hard before allowing Warlocks into their game.
? Warmages are specialists in combat spells, as the name implies. They receive d6 hit dice, the ability to wear light armor and access to a wide range of combat spells and no others. What they lack in flexibility they make up for in combat ability. For the sorcerer who just wants to blow things up. A very focussed and combat oriented class. The Warmage is rather two-dimensional in abilities but good for a combat heavy game.
? Wu Jen is the oriental wizard, a mysterious and cunning spellcaster. Essentially a wizard variant, the Wu Jen gains a more thematic set of special ability then they traditional wizard, gaining spell secrets (essentially a free metamagic feat that does not change the level of a single spell) and mastery of a single element. But they also find their power restricted by taboos to appease the spirits from which they draw their power.
The new base classes are interesting variations on traditional arcane magic users, but the one that breaks the mold the most is the Warlock with an entirely new take on how arcane powers can be structured. However, the presence of both the Warlock and the Warmage risks making the sorcerer class almost superfluous in play.
Following are nineteen Prestige Classes, about half of which are updates from the 3rd edition. They are a mix of specialized spell casters, transformational classes (ones that use magic to transform the character into some ideal or being) and those who gain unique abilities. Two bardic prestige classes are included, which is pretty much the only support bards get in this book (well, along with six new spells and some magic items too).
The Prestige Classes are an interesting mix of: Narrow specialists such as the Argent Savant (force magic), Elemental Savant, Mindbender (charms) and the Wayfarer Guide (teleportation). The transformational classes such as the Adept of the Skin, who bonds with the skin of a demon, and the Green Star Adept, who gradually becomes a living construct of ?star metal?, trade spell casting ability for special abilities of their new forms. Lastly there are the strange classes like the Alienist, who learn the secrets of the Far Realm going insane in the process, and the Wild Mage, with chaotic magic.
As has been the format for recent Wizards? books, each Prestige Class has an example character with it. This is nice as it shows a little about how a member of the class might be constructed, but there is no background, no character notes, no adventure suggestions, just a statblock which rather limits their usefulness as NPCs.
Most of the Prestige Classes seem balanced with the exception of the Initiate of the Sevenfold Veils, who are specialists in abjuration magic who also gain the ability to create wards charged with the power of the prismatic colors and a few other nice tricks along with full spell casting progression, who seem to be on the higher end of the power curve.
Over sixty feats are included, again a fair number are revised from 3rd edition material. Metamagic gets a big boost with twenty six additional metamagic feats included including the Sudden metamagic feats (Sudden Empower, Sudden Silent, and so on) from the Miniatures Handbook allowing the use of the named metamagic feat once per day on a spell of the caster?s choice without adjusting the spell level. The new metamagic feat have some of the best names, who does not want to cast a spell enhanced by the Black Lore of Moil (which allows a necromancy spell to inflict extra negative energy damage at the cost of an expensive material component)?
For sorcerers, if you are using the blood of dragons explanation for sorcery, there is the new draconic feat chain, which is entered with the Draconic Heritage feat which gives a bonus to saves equal to the number of draconic feats possessed by the character against sleep, paralysis and the energy type of their draconic ancestor as well as a bonus class skill tied to the dragon type (red gives intimidation for example). Later feats on the chain include draconic claw, which gives the character claws and allows the character to take a claw attack in the same round as casting a spell. Others give natural armor, access to a breath weapon or additional spells. The draconic feat chain is a nice addition to the choices available to the sorcerer, though it would have been nice to have seen some other suggestions for other themes to support different sorcerous bloodlines.
A single new item creation feat is added, Craft Contingency Spell (originally from the Forgotten Realms sourcebook Unapproachable East) which allows a spell to be locked awaiting the proper trigger to activate. It is fairly expensive in resources and not available until 11th level but potentially very powerful. It will likely see more use for villainous spellcasters providing counters to scenario disrupting spells (like hold person) and last minute escapes.
There are six feats that allow anyone to cast a certain set of themed spells, two zero level and one 1st level spell as a 1st level caster. An example is Night Haunt, which allows the casting of dancing lights, prestidigitation and unseen servant. The odd thing is these feats have no prerequisites at all. Which rather flies in the face of the magic is exclusive statement from the nature of magic.
The use of wands get a potential boost with three new wand feats: Double Wand Wielder, which allows the character to use two wands at once, at the cost of draining two charges from the second wand used. Reckless Wand Wielder, spend an extra charge to up the wand?s effective caster level by 2. And Wandstrike, hit someone with a wand for 1d6 damage plus triggering the wand?s effect. All interesting options, however, the Double Wand Wielded seems a little bit overpowered, in the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook for Eberron there is a prestige class (Cannith Wand Adept) that gains Dual Wand Use as an ability, except it costs them 1d4 charges from each wand to do. Prestige Class abilities should, in most cases, be better than a feat but that is not the case here which leads to the conclusion that it is overpowered.
People who need to fight spellcasters are not left out with the Mage Slayer feat that prevents anyone threatened by the Mage Slayer from Casting defensively. Further on the chain is Piece Magical Protection, which allows the attacker to ignore any bonus to AC from spells and then automatically dispel all spells on the target that boost AC if he hits. I do not like either of these feats, the first says ?Forget about all the skill points and feats you put into Concentration, you won?t be needing them? and the second ?You should have bought permanent AC bonuses?. Both seem likely to make the game less fun for people playing spellcasters, especially for sorcerers and wizards.
Except for the reservations noted above, the feats in this book are interesting and provide a wide range of additional options, especially for characters who have access to metamagic.
What would a book on magic be without new spells? The Complete Arcane has over 140 spells, but only a few of them are new, the majority are updated spells from Tome and Blood (such as the familiar-boosting enhancement and the orb and repair spells) and Oriental Adventures (the Wu Jen spells). The schools of abjuration and necromancy both gain a fair number of spells, especially of mid- and higher levels, but no specialist wizard should be disappointed by the new spells added to her school by this book.
Rounding out the spell section is the descriptions of the Warlock?s invocations, most simply duplicate spells, while others duplicate spell effects with minor twists and many have very evocative names such as devour magic (greater dispel magic by touch and you gain 5 temporary hit point per level of spell you dispel) or walk unseen (invisibility).
The magic items section begin with a discussion of alternate item types for expendable magic, such as replacing potions with magical fruit, magical tiles (with must be broken to trigger the effect) or wafers and scrolls with gemstones, incendiary devices (think magical Molotov cocktail) or macrame patterns. All good suggestions allowing for different cultures or schools of magic to have a unique flavor in their devices.
The role of spellbooks is expanded upon with options for variant materials for spellbooks and their covers (ivory pages bound with dragonhide for example) and magical protection for spellbooks (resistance to energy, waterproof, and so on). Again, good ideas here to help make each wizard unique.
A variety of magic items and one new material, star metal (required for the Green Star Adept), are included. Most of the magic items seem to be new. The Instruments of the Bards (originally a set of items in AD&D) make their return and provide a little something for Bards, as each of the instrument requires a certain number of ranks of perform (appropriate instrument) skill to use ranging from a low of 4 to a high of 14 ranks to be able to the instrument properly.
The monsters section begin with the Effigy template, which is a construct template allowing other creatures (such as the dire lion, which is the example creature) to be converted into constructs. Designed to complement the Effigy Master prestige class, it should be useful in many setting for creating guardians. Two more templates follow, the revised Psudonatural template (for the Alienist) and the Spellstiched for arcanely enhanced undead. The non-templated monsters are the grue elemental, corrupted elemental spirits, and the elemental monolith, the elemental above the elder elementals on the powerscale (at a base of 36 HD in size).
The last 30 pages of the book are devoted to arcane campaigns, at least, that is what the section says. The first six and a half pages give basic information on what the various arcane spell casters are like and their roles in a campaign, sort of. Sorcerers get three paragraphs and Warlocks, newly introduced and looking for a place in existing campaigns, get four paragraphs and both include variations on the theme of ?does not play well with others.? Four of the specialist wizard descriptions include things such as ?loners at heart and do not make close friends,? ?more than a few are hermits,? and the best ?a necromancer is slow to follow orders simply for their own sake, and one who disagrees with his comrades? strategy might simply strike out on his own at any time.? My, these descriptions will certainly foster party unity in any campaign. The most useful descriptions are those of the specialist wizards, giving the default personality type that is drawn to that type of magic, but even those are two dimensional (for example: necromancers are creepy and brooding, transmuters are wishy-washy yet curious) and only give the barest glimpse of what it means to be a specialist wizard.
The next section is the DM and the Arcane Campaign which is the best part of this section with advice on pacing and how to prepared adventure for groups with lots of spellcasting power. Solid advice for coping with charms, flying, invisibility, scrying and teleportation while not just slapping down the characters, but playing on the limitations of the spells. It does have a few odd comments though such as ?You can?t do much to restrict access to flying magic once player character reach 5th or 6th level.? You cannot, why not? It is the DM?s campaign, maybe flying magic is banned, or magical parasites live in the upper air or whatever, but just because the spells exist does not mean that they have to be automatically available. Still, the advice on how to deal with these kind of magic is useful.
World building with magic is general but useful advice about how cultures may see and use magic in very different ways. A bit of discussion of what a magocracy (rule by wizards) might look like and how the suppression of arcane magic may be the rule in other cultures. (Baker coins the term ?antimagocracy? for such states but that makes no sense, states are not defined by their opposition to a concept. ?Antimagocracy? is a meaningless concept because it is too general, ?rule by those opposed to magic? but how? You can have a monarchy that is opposed to magic or a theocracy that suppresses magic, those make sense, but ?antimagocracy?? No.)
Rules for spell duels, which is literally what they are, the rules that a wizard character agree to obey in a spell duel, the code of conduct for such formal contests of magic. The rules seem entirely workable, if not exceptional. This is followed by a set of tournaments arcane, which are fun ideas for challenges for spellcasters but most suited to a campaign where everyone is playing a spallcaster and could participate.
Arcane Organizations are then briefly covered, guilds, societies and orders, schools and colleges and mentors. Some useful ideas are brought up here but none of them are given enough space to be more that cursorily covered. Two apprentice wizard only feats are hidden in this section as well. Three of the prestige class organizations (the Arcane Order, the Seekers of the Song and the Wayfarer Guides) are given a bit more background and fleshed out here, useful for a DM who wishes to incorporate any of them into her campaign.
Finishing off the section are more idea on spellbooks, including alternate method of recording spells such as in tattoos or items. Notes about patron deities for arcanists and epic information on the new classes finishes off the book.
Unfortunately, this section seems more snippets of advice and random information that did not fit anywhere else in the book. No real advice or suggested structure for arcane based campaigns is provided. It is perhaps appropriate in a book subtitled a player?s guide that the DM?s section is the weakest part of the book.
The Complete Arcane is one of those books that has enough useful and interesting material that it should be found on every DM?s shelf, unfortunately the flawed nature of the Arcane Campaign section, the lack of an index and the high amount of revised material make it hard to recommend wholeheartedly. The book is disappointing with the importance of arcane magic to the D&D setting, Wizards should have been willing to make this book larger to allow it to really cover the subjects in detail rather than just a paragraph here and a paragraph there. Unfortunately, it is billed as a player?s guide and it does not achieve the goal of being a book needed by every player who is playing an arcane spellcaster.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Satisfied<br>
[4 of 5 Stars!]