Complete Mage is a good book that brings a lot of new material to the D&D table.

It's funny, but not many books can say that anymore. Some seven years into third edition, there's such a volume of D&D Material out there that many gamers might assume that there's nothing new under the sun and be happy with the glut of feats, monsters, and spells available to them.

Really, wotc has been doing just that with most of their books - introduce a few new rules, but mostly, they provide "splat" books that pur even more power in the hands of the PCs. There are literally thousands of "official" feats out there.

Complete Mage is a good book because, while it offers new feats, spells, prestige classes, and everything else, it offers these options in new and interesting ways.

There is a section on arcane caster types (such as the Warrior and the Sniper) that defines what spells would be the most useful for the character build, which is a good idea. I like anything that helps diversify mages, because I get sick of two 5th level casters casting the exact same spells as each other. I also love the class substitution section, which lets a character class lose one ability in favour of some more, "arcane" ability. Clerics, for example, can lose one of their domains in exchange for a few wizard spells added to their spell list. These minor little substititutions (first seen in Unearthed Arcana, I believe) can really be used to "tweak" a campaign, and I'm quite upset that Complete Scoundrel didn't carry on the tradition.

The Prestige classes are neat, although maybe not at first glance. The Ultimate Magus might just seem like a Sorcerer/Wizard Theurge class, until one looks at the class abilities it offers - the ability to sacrifice wizard or sorcerer spell slots for metamagic effects is definately kind of neat. In fact, there are more than a few "theurge" classes, typically involving the warlock, that do a bit more than "improve as a caster in two different classes". My favourite PrC, though, is the Lyric Thaumaturgist, a bard PrC that can add some sorcerer spells to it's spell list, and can use it's bardic music to make damaging effects. The Master Specialist (a wizardly specialist that is truly that) comes a close second, though. Some are silly, though - the Abjurant Champion is another warrior/mage hybrid PrC, and the Nightmare Spinner is a dark illusionist... *yawn*

The big thing in the book that is "new", though, are the reserve feats. Essentially, a reserve feat allows a caster to cast a single spell effect an unlimited number of times per day - as long as he holds a certain spell in reserve. In other words, you could either cast that fireball for 5d6 damage, or use your fiery burst feat (3d6 damage) however many times per day you'd like. These feats don't up the strength of the mage in any way, but do allow the caster (especially at lower levels!) to do something meaningful in combat when it's not tactically sound to cast a spell. I don't know how many times my mages have said "casting lightning bolt is a bit extreme... I'll just use my crossbow". Reserve feats are a push towards keeping the game interesting for all classes, and upping the number of encounters a group can beat per day.

These reserve feats follow a trend of wotc's as of late towards improving the "staying power" of the PC's. You have warlocks, with unlimited casting potential, dragon shamans, with minor buffs that always work, and now mages, that can choose between one-use big effects and multi-use little effects. It's a good move, in my mind, and I'm looking forward to the divine version of Complete Mage to see if they do some sort of divine reserve feat.

We also have new spells, but none really stand out as "great". I like the unicorn spells, which grant various effects on the caster, but become better the more unicorn spells are active. THus, if you just have unicorn's horn in effect, you get a nice little effect. But if you have both Unicorn's Horn and Unicorn's Blood in effect, you get two nice effects, AND an extra bonus. It's a neat idea, spells interlocking with one another, and I think wotc should pursue it in other books.

Another thing I liked was the book paying attention to War Mage's, Wu Jen, and Warlocks. In fact, many of the feats are aimed towards those characters - always good. The book doesn't have any spellthief support, unfortunately - too bad, if you're a spellthief nut like myself.

The section on Arcane Adventures provides some magical locations that grant character bonuses (an idea I wouldn't really use, but have no problem seeing in a book I purchase). The info on arcane adventures might be useful, were it not for the fact that this info was already presented in Complete Arcane, which is a book that is pretty much NECCESSARY to use this book. Therefore, I found much of that chapter to be poorly thought out, and the weakest part of the book (though the 100 magical adventures table is certainly helpful).

Really, I'd give this book 4.5 stars, but that's not an option, so it gets the full five.

* Reserve Feats add a new tactical element to the game.
* Prestige Classes are mostly interesting.
* Book offers support for some of the "non-core" arcane casters.
* Class ability substititions can really help a GM "tweak" his campaign.

* Some of the Prestige classes have been done to death a million times before.
* Section on Arcane Adventures was covered (in more depth) in Complete Arcane, a book that is mostly necessary for the owner of Complete Mage.
* Many of the class suggestions in the first chapter refer to feats, but do not indicate what book the feat is from.
* No Spellthief support!

* Take a look at the broad on page 79. Since when do capes made of peacock feathers represent a good fashion statement? I've seen prettier Moray Eels.