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Pathfinder Review: Inner Sea Magic


One of the hallmarks of Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG Hardcover line is that the books are intended to be setting neutral. While there are a few tables where Golarion specific gods are mentioned, for the most part, the hardcover rules are remarkably "Golarion free" in terms of how the rules attempt to be setting neutral.

Instead, Paizo uses two alternating publications to detail the world of Golarion outside of the adventure context. The "Player Companion" line uses a 32 page, stapled-cover format to release game world specific material aimed at players every other month. The format has been threatening to expand into a monthly publication for quite some time now, but the logistics of making sure the production pipeline is full enough to permit a switch to a monthly format keeps delaying that oft-rumoured event.

The other product line, initially branded as “Pathfinder Chronicles” and now renamed to “Pathfinder Campaign Setting” books, are 64 page perfect-bound books which release mostly monthly (there are other components to this line which are not books). The focus of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting books is on providing GMs with all the setting information about Golarion’s regions and its various sects, personalities, and many other topics of special interest to Game Masters.

Whatever your preference in terms of GM or player oriented material, there is no argument that the Campaign Setting books' larger format and perfect binding has a marked advantage. With a spine bearing a title that can be read when stored on the shelf, you can actually find a Campaign Setting book on the shelf when you are looking for one. Easily locating a specific Player Companion on the shelf? Not so much.

While the talk over the past year of moving the Players Companion to a monthly format has intrigued me, to be perfectly honest, I'd rather they increased the page count to 64 pages instead and kept it every other month. There are a lot of Player Companion books which would benefit from a 64 page treatment.

Which brings us directly to the topic of this week's Paizo product review of Inner Sea Magic. Ostensibly a Campaign Setting Book -- this book is no such thing at all. For the most part, Inner Sea Magic is really a 64 page Player Companion -- and a damned fine one too, as it turns out. In fact, if there was a single non-hardcover book published by Paizo that you should buy? That book would be Inner Sea Magic.

The Not So Good Part

Okay, not everything about Inner Sea Magic is awesome. The least rewarding section of the book is the first part, which gives an overview of "Magic in the Inner Sea". A brief Gazetteer-style entry approach to the nations where magic is particularly strong in the Inner Sea region of Golarion provides a few highlights, but is largely repetitious of material found elsewhere. This treatment gives way to several pages providing names and class level breakdowns of major NPC rulers in the Inner Sea Region. It feels like filler, to be perfectly candid, but in fact it's worse than that as it actually does a small bit of spoilerific damage by listing the names and class levels of the Inner Sea's rulers.

Now, if Inner Sea Magic was actually a honest-to-goodness Campaign Book aimed at GMs, this small two page+ section on personalities would have been fine to include. However, as I explained above, that's not what Inner Sea Magic really is. This isn't a GM oriented book at all. In fact, the balance of the book is about 57 pages of material that would have fit right at home in Ultimate Magic.

So what? you ask. Well, after I've read these brief little personality profiles of Adventure Path participants and fated NPCs, I learned the class and level of Castruccio Irovetti, the ruler of the River Kingdom of Pitax. Seeing as I am just about to depart to kill that NPC in my Kingmaker Adventure Path campaign, I'm feeling a little spoiled now. It's okay -- my GM cheats outrageously (er, I meant to say "customizes"), so it probably won't really matter. Still, for other groups who are still playing the Kingmaker Adventure Path, this was a detail they would rather not have known.

Happily, this first "filler" chapter of Inner Sea Magic at six pages is very short and ends quickly. From that point after through to the end of the book, it's all mostly just degrees of awesomeness.

The Really Good: Variant Magic

Chapter two of Inner Sea Magic presents a number of variant magic sub-systems to use in a campaign. While it probably won't be appropriate to add them all in, picking and choosing from among these new options is a treat. From False Divine Magic, to Fleshwarping, GMs and players are presented with some neat idea for foes and new player feats and magic types.

My favourite variant in this chapter was the section on Tattoo Magic. While brief, the tattoos presented in the book provide rules for crafting and inscribing tattoos as slotless magic items. We used this idea to round out a character on an episode of the podcast's Character Concept Workshop and it was very flavourful and highly adaptable. GMs and players will enjoy this new sub-system.

The Inspiringly Useful: Magic Academies, Schools and Monasteries

Chapter three provides information on Magic Schools and Academies. While continuing with the prestige mechanic for advancing within a particular organization presented previously in Paizo products, the section is also of great utility to be both players and GMs. By achieving fame and earning prestige points with the organization, casters are able to obtain benefits and awards. Sometimes the awards are significant, other times the awards feel a bit mechanically as if you were adding traits to the character mid-game in a well-grounded and reasonable context.

Lots of good stuff here and the underlying school profiles will inspire GMs to come up with similar organizations of their own. That's always what the most useful sort of information in a game world provides: inspiration.

The (Mostly) Excellent: New Archetypes and Prestige Classes

Chapter Four, Spellcasters of the Inner Sea, was easily my favourite section of Inner Sea Magic and it delivers. Intended for players, chapter four presents a myriad selection of new archetypes for all of the caster classes that every Pathfinder fan simply must have. Frankly, I'm a little miffed that these options were not presented in Ultimate Magic. They certainly deserved to be as the large majority of these archetypes are "prime timers" in terms of playability and player interest.

Chapter Four also presents two new fully-developed Oracle Mysteries as well as something we have not seen from Paizo in a while: new Prestige Classes. While the thrust of Pathfinder RPG's development arc has been towards creating flexible class archetypes and is moving away from new base classes or prestige classes, that does not mean that the concept has been entirely abandoned. Inner Sea Magic presents the Cyphermage prestige class (arcane class focussed in casting from scrolls, and upon using symbols and glyphs) and the Divine Scion, a divine caster class that focuses upon domain magic and doing her Goddess' will directly, bypassing the edicts of the deity's earthly religious orders.

While I can see how the Cyphermage prestige class could prove very interesting and play uniquely, the Divine Scion was not to my tastes and the book would have been improved by just leaving it out -- at least from a player's perspective. As an NPC, the Divine Scion might be useful to a campaign.

And a Decent Selection of New Spells, too

The fifth and final chapter of Inner Sea Magic provides fifteen pages of new spells for virtually all of the casters in the game. In case last year's roll out of Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Combat left you gasping for even more spells, Inner Sea Magic has another 39 spells to draw upon, While none of these spells seem particularly "Golarionesque" in nature, that doesn't mean that they aren't useful or interesting. Happily, the power creep is kept in check and there is nothing here which remotely smells like an Orb of Force. Once again, I particularly enjoyed the few spells that are intended to work with the new tattoo magic sub-system.

The Verdict

While not without a few flaws and druthers, Inner Sea Magic is a focussed, well illustrated and gorgeously laid-out book. The rules for academies, schools and monasteries are highly usable, the archetypes are mostly decent and the Cyphermage prestige class, in particular, is extremely interesting. The variant magic sub-systems are for the most part brief and easy to understand and the new feats designed for them are not unbalancing. The Tattoo magic sub-system, in particular, is excellent and should have been included in Ultimate Magic from the get-go, in my view.

Whatever the case, Inner Sea Magic has now displaced the Adventurer's Armory as the single best player-oriented soft cover currently published by Paizo. If you are a Pathfinder player, you need to buy this book. If you are a Pathfinder GM, you need to buy this book. That remains true even if you don't play Pathfinder within the Golarion setting. Either way, Inner Sea Magic is a keeper.

Highly Recommended: Must have book for all Pathfinder GMs and Players.

Title: Inner Sea Magic
Authors: Jason Nelson, Sean K. Reynolds, Owen K.C. Stephens
Price: $19.99 (Print) $13.99 PDF
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I would argue that paizo made it a GM book specifically because they intended it to not be made available to players without express GM approval - that it is intended mainly for NPCs and is to be limited to PCs for only very specific instances.

I wouldn't allow general use of the material in any and every campaign or every PC.


I would argue that paizo made it a GM book specifically because they intended it to not be made available to players without express GM approval - that it is intended mainly for NPCs and is to be limited to PCs for only very specific instances.

I wouldn't allow general use of the material in any and every campaign or every PC.

In response,

James Jacobs notes on this page:

"It's in the Campaign Setting line for a few reasons:

1) We wanted more room than a 32 paqe book could give us to cover all of the things we wanted to cover in the book.

2) We want to periodically do rules-heavy releases in the Campaign Setting line.

3) There's some stuff in there that not all GMs will want players to use, but that they'll likely need in order to run certain NPCs. The Campaign Setting line's pretty much our ONLY place to do this when topics aren't related to an Adventure Path. For example, we have an archetype in this book for winter witches—that's an archetype that most GMs won't want PCs to use, since it's a "bad guy" archetype, but we're not doing any Winter Witch AP anytime soon so we can't really wait to put this info into an Adventure Path volume. Putting it into a Player Companion would give the impression that Paizo is saying, "Hey players! Now you can be winter witches, and there's nothing your GM can do about it!"

Also, we HAVE done plenty of books in the Campaign Setting line that are appropriate for players... "Faction Guide" is hardly the first. Other examples include "Gods and Magic" and "Seekers of Secrets." And there'll be more in the future.


Cute but dangerous
Even if you don't play on Golarion, this is a really helpful supplement. Take only the described magical academies, there is so much flavor to be placed anywhere in your own world. I'm going to use this heavily.


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