Complete Mage
Written by Skip Williams, Penny Williams, Ari Marmell, Kolja Raven Liquette
Published by Wizards of the Coast
ISBN: 0-7869-3937-0
160 full color pages

The Complete Mage claims to be A Player’s Guide to All Things Arcane. Published by Wizards of the Coast, Complete Mage boasts the usual benefits of being a WoTC book.

The book is competitively priced with other companies at 160 full color pages in hardcover format. Even counting the front page, which is a title page, and the second page, which is a list of credits page, and the last three pages, which are all ads, the book is no more expensive than say a similar sized Atlas or Goodman Games product, but with the benefit of better layout and artwork.

The full color art is done by fan favorites like Wayne England, Ron Spencer and Anne Stokes among others lend their talents to the book. The book also boasts the usual high-quality layout with clear indicators of what chapter you’re on, easy to spot page numbers in circle gem form, and tabs at the outer page to let you know what section you’re on. While there is no index, the three-column table of contents is fairly complete. The book does suffer from some waste including three pages of ads and the first page being a credits page which is then followed by another credits page.

Complete Mage follows patterns set by other books in the series by being six chapters long.

The book starts off with fundamentals. For me, this is a wasted section. For new players, it’s perfect. However, it probably doesn’t belong in what is the sixth book in the series. Still, if you’re a new player and you’ve been isolated from a gaming community or the internet, you’ll be curious to see what some of the arcane archetypes are and how they can be put toether as well as what the old spell schools are useful for. For me, this was all covered in pretty good detail in the old Complete Wizard’s Handbook many moons ago.

Chapter two is all about character options. See, the game keeps claiming that it’s not really a point based system but… Well, remember not that long ago when we had racial levels? And then we had substitution levels? Now we have alternative class features. These are nifty little abilities that replace something your class has in exchange for something else. But remember, point buy systems are too complex!

The abilities are broken down not by class, which would, you know, be useful when trying to quickly reference something, but rather, by ability name. Abilities are themed around the magic concept and include hunting down mages, such as Arcane Hunter where your ranger bonuses apply to any character capable of casting arcane spells or using invocations, to Stalwart Sorcerer, where you reduce your highest spell level known by one and gain hit points equal to two times your sorcerer class level. And you gain martial weapon feat with a melee weapon, and weapon focus with that weapon.

Feats introduced in this section include heritage feats, reserve feats and tactical feats. Heritage feats take a racial type and allow you to gain some of those abilities in exchange for feats. The old fey and fiendish ancestors get the nod this time.

The reserve feats are an interesting idea. Hold a spell in reserve and gain a special ability. The special ability is usually a damage effect based on the spell you’re holding in reserve that does 1d6 per spell level of the spell held in reserve that you can always draw on. The benefit of being able to consistently do some damage is offset a bit by the spell in reserve. Especially if you’re holding onto a higher level spell. For example, would you rather have that 6th level spell ready to use, or inflict 6d6 points of damage?

I was disappointed in the format that the reserve feat takes though in that they break it down into feats of almost every type, including acid, fire, air, and electricity, among others, instead of providing a format and template that not only would’ve saved space, but been more useful overall.

Reserve feats aren’t for everyone. If you hate classes like the Warlock or the concepts introduced in Tome of Battle with abilities per encounter instead of per day, these feats will play havoc with most encounters that rely on traditional resource use.

The tactical feats were a surprise to me. They tend to stretch the rules in various ways and are generally good for representing specific fighting styles. These here are good for wizards and focus on the benefits of magic. Energy Gestalt for example, provides three tactical maneuvers that rely on you to deal damage with energy based spells in at least 2 successive rounds. Acrid fumes is an acid spell followed by a fire spell that turns left over acid into a chocking mists while brittle blast turns inflicts greater damage on constructs and improved conduction uses a cold spell followed by an electricity spell to fatigue living creatures.

Chapter three includes eleven PrCs. Each PrC includes a quote about the class in question, quick details on the class (i.e. what is it), how to enter the class, and how the class fits in the world. These details encompass different knowledge checks about the class, sample NPCs, and details on potential organizations and typical NPC reactions. Way overdone and taking up way too much space considering that several of these PrCs are only five levels and are not full ‘professions’ as opposed to ‘toe-dipping’ specializations.

The section makes me wonder what passes for game design in some ways as it starts off with the abjurant champion. This class has to have a bab of +5, combat casting feat, be able to cast 1st level arcane spells, including at least one abjuration spell, and be proficient with at least one martial weapon. It’s a five level PrC that has full bab, d10 hit dice, good save, spell casting at every level, and a special ability at every level except the third level. While the bab might be a little difficult to enter, I see no other way this PrC doesn’t completely dominate the poor old eldritch knight with it’s d6 hit dice, loss of one level spellcasting, stricter proficiency requirements and outside of a bonus feat, no special abilities.

Several of the PrCs act as backup to the Warlock class introduced in the Complete Arcane. That’s great if you have that book and are using it but for those who don’t own it or aren’t using it, that expanded format makes for a lot of wasted potential.

The Eldritch Disciple must be a divine spellcaster that also uses invocations and can turn undead and worship a chaotic or evil deity (cleric/warlorck multi-class combo) and gains invocations at each level, and spellcasting at each level past first. It’s invocations also are tailored for it’s type.

Eldritch Theurge is the arcane counterpart to the disciple but they don’t lose that 1st level spell casting slot like the disciple.

The Enlightened Spirit is a good warlock and their invocations are themed to be on the side of the angles. For example, they can call on celestial flight, conjuring spirit wings or call on an aura of courage, making themselves immune to fear and providing a bonus to allies on saving throws against fear effects.

Admittedly, that’s only three of eleven but those three classes quickly gobble eleven pages of material up.

I was more interested in two PrCs that focused on the mage. The first, the Master Specialists, is a full ten level PrC who has full spellcasting at every level, good will saves, d4 hit dice, and typical poor bab. Sounds pretty similar to a wizard right? They gain special abilities at every level. Some of these are minor, like a skill focus on spellcraft. Others are bonus feats like greater spell focus in your specialty school. It’s the caster level increases that come in handy as they apply to your caster level when casting spells of your specialty school. It’s the school esoterica that gives you special abilities for your school. For example, evocation gives you resistance 20 to any one energy type that matches a descriptor used by the spell you just cast. Good stuff.

The second one I like is the ultimate magus. You have to be able to not only spontaneously cast arcane spells, but also prepare arcane spells. That’s right a PrC that combines sorcerer and wizard into one PrC. You gain spellcasting for seven levels (not at 1st, 4th, and 7th) but at those levels, you gain spellcasting in your lowest caster level class.

You also gain bonus feats, augmented casting, and increased caster level. With such a class as this, if you’re not afraid of the paperwork, it’s a good time to be a spellcaster.

Chapter four is all about spells and invocations. Spells are arranged by class, then level, and for the old wizard, by school. One thing I was surprised by, was the inclusion of spells for the Wu Jen, not to mention the Hexblade and Assassin. Spells range from 1st to 9th level and include the new style of providing an italic description of what the spell does, as well as the game effects of the spell. Spell descriptions and game effects don’t overlap too much.

For example, when dealing with Adamantine Wings, “You sprout a pair of dull gleaming wings made of overlapping feathers of a dark metal” is immediately followed by “You grow a pair of adamantine wings…” I think, well, at least they didn’t say that the pair of adamantine wings had overlapping feathers right? And when looking at Caterwaul, “You loose an earsplitting shriek that induces revulsion” is followed immediately by “You draw upon your primal emotions to emit a stomach-churning wail.” An editor really needs to put the old foot down here. With the expanded PrC descriptions and the italic spell descriptions, and the ads, not to mention the loss of 32 pages from how the Complete series used to be, clear, crisp, and non-repetitive writing is needed.

Included in the spells are new polymorph spells such as Aspect of the Icy Hunter, a 4th level sorcerer/wizard spell that provides a boost of 20 hit points and turns you into a winter wolf. Many of the spells of course, are designed to incapacitate or kill. These include spells against undead like Dawnburst, a lowly first level spell that deals damage to undead and creatures with light sensitivity, to the 9th level Lash of Force that can strike creatures within 10 feet of you and does 5d6 points of force damage. On the other hand, you can unleash a 30-foot line of force that does 15d6 points of damage and knocks prone any creatures in it’s area unless they make a Reflex save, in which case they take half damage. In either case the spell is used up.

Warlocks get almost two pages of invocations. Try out Baneful Blast for an extra 2d6 points of damage against creatures of a type you select when you first gain the invocation. Use Call of the Beast, a 24-hour invocation that gives you wild empathy as a druid of your warlock level in addition to having the spell like effect, speak with animals.

Chapter five covers arcane items and starts off with magic items. Items are broken up into types. Items include background, description, prerequisite, activation, effect, aura/caster level, construction, weight, and price. Items range from the Stack of Tricks that can summon component, instrument, weapon, or unseen servant at the cost of one charge, to the Rod of Spell Channelling that allows you to use your familiar to deliver spells other than touch.

A few alchemical items are included, as are optional material components.

Seeds for arcane adventures include a few general ideas, as well as a table that has one hundred adventure ideas. Also included are magical locations as treasure. I was surprised that we didn’t get a tip of the hat to the old Complete Wizard, but instead we get several locations that can act as magical treasure in terms of gold allocated per party level and provide a few special tricks not normally in a character’s arsenal.

Abilities range from being able to use a Bigby’s hand spell as a spell like ability once a day for a year (dependent on the level of arcane spells the character can already cast), to increasing a spellcaster’s level by one for all abjuration spells at the Shieldstone Cavern.
The Complete Mage isn’t for everyone as it’s a companion piece in many ways to the Complete Arcane, but many of the locations, spells, and most of the PrCs will fit into a campaign without owning the Complete Arcane. Despite my distaste for the new format, and the method of treating readers like they were fresh players in the wrong place, I found myself impressed with a lot of what the Complete Mage has to offer and recommend it to anyone interesting in “All Things Arcane”.