Magic: A Manual of Mystic Secrets
An Earthdawn Sourcebook
- Writers: Louis J. Prosperi, Steve Kenson and Loren Coleman
- Number of Pages: 142
- Year of Publication: 1996
This was the second of FASA's rule expansions, the first being the Earthdawn Companion released soon after the core rules (I don't count the Games Master Pack for good reason). Whereas the Earthdawn Companion was a general rules expansion, Magic: A Manual of Mystic Secrets adds new rules for the already excellent Earthdawn magic system.
It is only right that the magic system should get a bit of a brush up, because as the introduction states: "magic pervades every aspect of the character's life". The expansion is divided up into nine sections: Blood Magic, Adept Magic, Thread Magic, Spell Magic, Enchanting, Astral Space, Summoning, Other Types of Magic and Spell Design.
Blood Magic looks at exactly what the title suggests the uses of blood magic in spells. I feel a lot of this has been covered in one form or another elsewhere, but it is nice to have in one spot. More interesting is the history behind blood magic and how it should be treated in your game (various options are given).
Adept Magic looks at how adepts interact with magic and introduce two new ideas: knacks and half magic. Knacks are specialisations that allow adepts to create specific effects. They are like specialisations of a talent. Half magic tries to overcome the problem of characters having knowledge as part of their disciplines (such as an Elementalist knowing about weather).
Thread Magic looks at attaching those all-important threads to matrices, including thread weaving knacks. Optional rules such as unweaving threads are also covered.
Spell Magic adds a spellcasting knack that allows magic-user to anchor spells, force spell cast, increase the dispel difficulty and maintain spell thread. Multi-discipline threads and other details of this type of magic are also covered.
Spell Magic Enchanting looks are creating magical items -- from weapons to blood charms. All the details are here from what materials you need, how long it will take and how difficult it will be. I'm sure that characters will get all sorts of ideas from this section.
Astral Space is what gives magicians, illusionists, nethermancers and elementalists their power. This section covers that part of space where horrors and elemental spirits come fro including details on how characters can get around. It also gives a good look at how to get in and out of the damn place.
Summoning is a logical progression from Astral Space and covers everything a Games Master needs to know about raising spirits. This has been dealt with before, but here you get the complete rules including task spirits, elemental spirits, ally spirits and named spirits. It also covers the different ways of raising a spirit.
Other Types of Magic expands the magic system a little with the addition of Shamanism, a kind of Indian magic adapted for the Earthdawn world. I quite like the idea and look forward to a Shaman character in my campaign. Also covered in this section is ritual magic that deals with powering spells by multiple magic-users. There are also sections on familiars and divination (bone casting, element reading, etc.).
Spell Design fittingly ends the book, which a very thorough set of rules for characters and Games Masters to invent their own spells. It first introduces the overall spell design process in five simple steps: choose effect and target, determine spell circle, weave the spell characteristics, make the spellcasting test and empower the spell pattern. The process is then covered in more detail with varies modifiers to limit how powerful the spell is when it is created. The more powerful the spell, the more difficult it is to create. Personally I would avoid creating new spells as there is (I believe) more than enough in the core rules and the other rule books. There are circumstances in which a new spell would be a good idea and the rules seem to cover every eventuality.
The layout of the book is up to FASA's usual high standards. The artwork is good, but I found that I looked at it less since I was concentrating on the rules. With other sourcebooks I feel artwork is important to give the book a sense of atmosphere.
Summary: If you have ever had a question about how to do something with the magic system in Earthdawn, this book probably covers it. It is more of a polish to the magic system rather than an expansion. It's still good value, and maybe they'll bundle all of this into the second edition of Earthdawn (if there ever is one).