By Peter Spahn
Old School Magic by Charles Rice is a 29 page supplement for the Old School Reference and Index Compilation (OSRIC) which, for those of you not familiar with the OSR, is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons retroclone originally written by Matthew Finch. Old School Magic expands on the OSRIC magic system by presenting a breakdown of magic levels from low to high, new ways of implementing spells, new magical archetypes, and new spells.
Reviewer’s Note: This is a review of the original PDF. Apparently there were a few issues with the Seer table and the Conjure Hero spell that have since been fixed and an updated download link sent to customers, so kudos to Mr. Rice for being on the ball. This is the first of what I hope to be many OSR product reviews, so if you have a smallish OSR product (around 50 pages or less) you want reviewed, send it along to email@example.com
Levels of Magic
This section defines the three basic different levels of magic inherent to the campaign world (low magic, medium magic, and high magic) to make sure everyone is on the same page with the terminology used throughout the book. The descriptions for each level are nicely done, with each one including the presence of spellcasters, the different types of magic most common to each setting, and the presence of supernatural creatures, if any.
Laws of Magic
This section presents alternative spellcasting systems to the ones presented in the OSRIC core rules. The different types of magic include Incantations (standard magic system with greatly increased casting times), Mana (magic drawn from an outside source, such as nature or divine entities), Rare Components (standard magic system with an emphasis on expensive and hard-to-get material components), and Star Magic (magic system influenced by the heavens). The section finishes by describing a campaign world with no magic at all and the common pitfalls inherent to such a setting. Each magic system is chock full of examples, optional variations, and tips on how to incorporate the system into your campaign world.
These two sections take up only about 5 pages, but they are a MEATY 5 pages. In the past, I preferred to run low magic settings where spellcasters were rare, casting times were long, and magic was feared by the public. It was nice to see all of these issues and more addressed. In fact, I would go so far to say that if you’re looking for alternate takes on magic, these two sections are worth the cost of the entire book—everything after is just a bonus.
This section presents a number of new PC archetypes including the Alchemist (brewer of potions and medicines), Artificer (craftsman of magic items), Conjurer (master of summoning magic), Elementalist (spellcasters that harness the power of the four elements), Hermit (divine spellcasters able to heal and see the future), Holy Man (the low magic campaign version of the cleric), Naturalist (the low magic version of the druid), Sage (a low magic version of the magic-user), and Seer (a magic-user able to predict the future and see through illusions). Each archetype is treated to its own level progression table that includes a variety of advanced abilities attained at certain levels. The advanced abilities are class specific and do a good job of highlighting the strengths of each class.
I’ll admit I’m torn on this section. Most of the archetypes are ones that are more commonly associated with NPCs than PCs, and for good reason. I can’t see much use for playing a Hermit in a typical campaign setting (they’re reclusive by nature, so why would they join an adventuring party?), the spell lists for the spellcasters are very small, and the advanced abilities are more interesting at lower levels than higher ones, where they usually just become more powerful versions of the earlier abilities.
That said, a lot of effort went into making each archetype playable, and they certainly work if you’re looking for something different. The standouts for me were the Artificer (I always wondered how dwarves could craft such legendary magic weapons without being magic-users themselves!), and the Alchemist, Holy Man, Naturalist, and Sage for their suitability for a low magic campaign world.
No supplement on magic would be complete without a list of new spells. I quick count 31 new spells of levels 1-9 in this section, most of which are dedicated to the Conjurer and Elementalist archetypes. The spell descriptions are all interesting reads, and none of them seem overpowered, except maybe Sleep With One Eye Open which allows the caster to be as aware of his surroundings while sleeping as he would be while awake (and this only seems overpowered because it’s a relatively low-level spell that I can see being seriously abused). Most of the spells are able to be cast by several different archetypes, and these are noted in the description. One minor nitpick with the writing is a consistency issue—the word “Conjurer” is used in some descriptions while the word “caster” is used in others. I know it seems like I’m digging deep to find a fault here, but it was something that stood out during my read.
What I Would Have Liked to Have Seen
This is purely personal here, but I can think of two things I would like to have seen in this product. The first is a complete spell list that combines the new spells with the spells from the core rules. It would make it much quicker and easier being able to look at a single list and know exactly which book to look in for a particular spell description.
The second thing I would like to have seen is a writeup on cantrips. I used to love those things, for flavor, if nothing else. Granted, I’m fairly new to the OSR (still digesting it all, in fact), so some other company might have already published a cantrip system for OSRIC. But if not, it seems like this would have been the perfect product to do so.
This is a really good product for those looking for new spells, new archetypes, alternate spell systems, or different treatments of magic levels. The writing is generally conversational in tone, with only a few common typos here and there (like instead of life, effect instead of affect, etc.), but the information is presented clearly and the first few sections in particular are very interesting reads. I particularly liked the treatment of the low magic setting and the inclusion of archetypes more fitting such a setting than the ones presented in the core rules. Definitely well worth the cost of admission.