Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 8)

Slowly but surely we make our way inexorably through this book! This time, I'll be talking about a particularly juicy section; Magical Spells.

Here we have more than a hundred(!) new spells, purportedly from the spellbooks of the most famous magic-users in the Flanaess; Bigby, Drawmij, Mordenkainen, Nystul, Otiluke, Otto, Rary, and Tenser. We also learn of the titles of too more that were "left off as too esoteric for even the most curious spell crafter"; Drawmij's Instant Stripping and Otto's Gelatinous Cube Transformation to Edible Gel. Which I absolutely love and find both whimsical and evocative.

They span in spell level from 1st to 7th; "there are no 8th and 9th level spells because these were too well protected for even this powerful scribe to acquire." Nice touch.

I find the spells listed here to be somewhat uneven. Some are obviously just extensions of other named "theme" spells from the Players Handbook. Many of Bigby's spells are hand-related, such as Bigby's Feeling Fingers; Drawmij's specialty seems to be teleportation (Drawmij's Instant Exit); many of Nystul's deal with light, such as Nystul's Flash; Otilike has a whole line of "sphere" themed spells (including Otiluke's Steaming Sphere); Otto is more musical and dance related, with spells like Otto's Sure-Footed Shuffle; Rary is mind-based (Rary's Mind Scan); while Tenser's are based around melee and physical combat (Tenser's Primal Fury).

On the one hand, I know why these were chosen, based on the existing named spells in the Player's Handbook, and it's convenient for each magic-user to have some identifiable "hook" or theme that can be used to more easily differentiate him from the pack. On the other hand, they do seem rather derivative and uninspired. One nice touch is that Tenser was known for charging into combat, so his themed spells bother me the least.

Personally, I find the non-themed spells to be much more inventive and to do a better job of fleshing out the characters of their creators. Spells like Bigby's Bookworm Bane (which still conjures a disembodied hand, of course), Drawmij's Scent Mask, Mordenkainen's Protection from Slime, Nystul's Grue Conjuration (which is the only means I can think of off the top of my head than an elemental grue can be summoned to the material plane), and so forth. I do find the insistence on putting the magic-user's name at the beginning of each and every one of his spells rather tedious, though. I wish Mr. Ward had followed Ed Greenwood's lead in his "Pages from the Mages" articles in Dragon, and just given the spells regular names while making their origin clear.

For the most part, the spells listed here seem like riffs on the named specialty spells in the Players Handbook. There are different specialties, and different gradations of power, but ultimately they seem rather derivative, with some notable exceptions. Still, they are quite useful and would certainly be most welcome as treasure (on scrolls, perhaps) or rewards in a Greyhawk campaign, not to mention an excuse to get the PCs involved with the named mages themselves.

I still think that I would have more fun with Drawmij's Instant Stripping and Otto's Gelatinous Cube Transformation to Edible Gel, though.

Up next: magic items!


Mike Bridges said...

I absolutely loved those spells as a DM and reader of Greyhawk lore, but in practice I found almost no time to put them into play. I handicapped my players early by making the named spells in the PHB rare, so to find any named spells in other books immediately made them very rare. Especially in a book that I didn't allow my players to look at. Too much sensitive info in GHA ;)

The other spirit of these named spells was that I think they served as an example to players of magic users that they should devise their own unique spells(and themes?) if they want to be like Mordenkainen or Tenser. In that I did have some success with my friends.

Matt Celis said...

Given that he couldn't think of a better name than Jim Ward backwards, I would not expect a lot of creativity in naming spells.