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Friday, 23 October 2020

Friday Fantasy: Wizards & Spells

There is no denying the continued and growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, with it having appeared on the television series Stranger Things and the YouTube series, Critical Role, it no longer being seen as a hobby solely the preserve of typically male, nerdy teenagers and young adults. Yet as acceptable a hobby as roleplaying and in particular, playing Dungeons & Dragons has become, getting into the hobby is still a daunting prospect. Imagine if you will, being faced with making your first character for your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? Then what monsters will face? What adventures will you have? For nearly all of us, answering these questions are not all that far from being a challenge, for all started somewhere and we all had to make that first step—making our first character, entering our first dungeon, and encountering our first monster. As well written as both Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook are, both still present the prospective reader and player with a lot of choices, but without really answering these questions in an easy to read and reference fashion.

Step forward the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ published by Ten Speed Press. This is a series of introductory guides to Dungeons & Dragons, designed as primers to various aspects of the world’s leading roleplaying game. Each in the series is profusely illustrated, no page consisting entirely of text. The artwork is all drawn from and matches the style of Dungeon & Dragons, Fifth Edition, so as much as it provides an introduction to the different aspects of the roleplaying game covered in each book in the series, it provides an introduction to the look of the roleplaying game, so providing continuity between the other books in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ and the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the core rulebooks. This use of art and the digest size of the book means that from the start, every entry in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ is an attractive little package.

The first in the series, Warriors & Weapons provided an introduction to the various Races of Dungeons & Dragons, the martial character Classes, and the equipment they use. Second is not Wizards & Spells, the companion to Warriors & Weapons which covers Clerics, Sorcerers, and Wizards—and more, or indeed any of the other spellcasting character types in Dungeons & Dragons. Instead the second book in the series is Monsters & Creatures. As the title suggests, this presents an introduction to the monsters, creatures, and animals that the prospective player may well have his character encounter on his adventures, many of them—like the Beholder, the Mind Flayer, the Owl Bear, and more—iconic to Dungeons & Dragons. Equally, the third in the series is not the eagerly anticipated Wizards & Spells, but Dungeons & Tombs, a guide to the dungeons, tombs, castles, crypts, cave networks, and other complexes which populate the many fantasy words of Dungeons & Dragons. However, the resulting book is disappointing, overly specific in terms of its treatment of the roleplaying game’s infamous tombs and dungeons.

So, it is with some pleasure—and no little wait—to finally have a copy of the much-promised second in the series, Wizards & Spells, to review. It is even more pleasurable to discover that what turns out to be the fourth book series is a return to form after the disappointment of Dungeons & Tombs. Like the previous entries in the series, it is written as an illustrated introduction to the magic of Dungeons & Dragons—spellcasters of all stripes, notable examples of each stripe, an examination of spells of all Levels, and a plethora of magical items. It is very much a companion to  the first book in the series, Warriors & Weapons, focusing on the spellcasting character Classes of Dungeons & Dragons and the spells they can cast instead of the martial character Classes of Dungeons & Dragons and the weapons they can wield.

As with Warriors & Weapons, this mystical-centred entry into the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ is divided into three sections. The first section examines six of the character Classes at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons. These are bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Each is accorded a full, double spread which explores what each Class can do. Prefaced by a handful of questions, each highlights the Class’ features, gives a broad description of the Class, and lists the Equipment and Attributes key to the Class. So for example, of the Cleric, it asks if the character has a purpose, seeks to inspire others, and wants to serve a higher power? All, of course, pointing to the possibility that the character wants to be a Cleric. The Cleric’s six Divine Domains are explained and then their role in society is important because the gods are real and can bestow blessings and power upon their faithful, which of course, includes the humble Cleric. The description notes how a Cleric’s magic is defined by the god he worships, and that a Cleric will often answer his god’s call to go off on adventures and undertake various tasks for him. The Equipment and Attributes explains what arms and armour a Cleric wields and wears, the importance of his Holy Symbol, how he channels Divinity from his god to cast his magic, and that the Cleric is a scourge of the undead.

Thus, in just a couple of pages, Wizards & Spells provides a quick, easily accessible description of the Cleric Class and what it does. Then it does the same for each of the other five spellcasting Classes, looking at, for example, the Bardic Colleges for the Bard, the Druidic Circles for the Druid, Draconic Bloodlines for the Sorcerer, the Pact Boon for the Warlock, and the importance of the Spellbook to the Wizard. Each is followed up by an exemplar of that Class, drawn from Dungeons & Dragons canon. Thus, for the Wizard, the mighty Mordenkainen of Greyhawk fame, is described, including his history and background, personality, and more. Three of his many spells are also described, such as Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Faithful Hound, and Mordenkainen’s Sword. Elsewhere, the writeup of the Gnome Warlock, Zanizyre Clockguard, whose patron is the dread Tiamat, Queen of Evil Dragons, includes a description of his Dominate Dragon spell, and the reputation of Florizan Blank, as a ‘Dandy Duellist’ who combines dance moves and swordsmanship, whilst also employing the Blank Mask, a pink carnival mask which when worn, enables him to appear as any person he likes—fictional or real life.

Rounding off the section is a flowchart, which if followed, a prospective player can quickly decide what Class that he might like to play. It is quick and easy to follow, and a player soon knows which Class he wants to look at in more detail. It would however, seem more appropriate for the flowchart to come before the description for six Classes, so that the reader can progress forward from the flowchart rather than flipping back…

‘Types of Magic’, the second section, covers everything from the eight schools of magic—ranging from Abjuration and Conjuration to Necromancy and Transmutation, the differences between using rituals and scrolls, and how spells are cast. None of it is covered in any great detail, but this is still more than enough information for a prospective player to grasp the basics of how spellcasting works. The bulk of the second section, however, is devoted to spells—in fact, over a third of Wizards & Spells is devoted to them, from Cantrips such as Message and Prestidigitation all the up to the Meteor Swarm and Shapechange of Ninth Level. Every spell is given a description and a number of tips on its usage. Thus for Web, it states that the spellcaster should have points or surfaces upon which to anchor the webbing, that they are flammable, and that in addition to be commonly used as an offensive spell to capture and hold the caster’s enemies, it could also be used as a cushion to soften someone’s fall or to detect someone or something that is invisible in the webbing! The section covers an array of spells from the eight schools, and that includes Necromantic spells like Speak with Dead and Create Undead, along with healing spells such as Cure Wounds. Notably throughout, what Wizards & Spells does not do is divide the spells depending whether they are divine or arcane in nature, or indeed, by Class. Perhaps here the ‘Types of Magic’ might have benefited from such a distinction, if only to give a greater indication of what sort of spells a player might like his character to be able to cast and thus what Class he wants to play. However, the descriptions are entertaining and the tips fun.

Rounding out Wizards & Spells is a description of numerous magical items—weapons, staves, wands, magic armour, potions, rings, cloaks, and more. Included along with are wondrous items, such as The Sunsword of Ravenloft fame, and the Staff of the Magi, the Wand of Wonder, both of which are given a double-page spread, whilst lesser wondrous items, like the Bag of Holding and Boots of Speed, are given shorter descriptions. All of these are accompanied by full colour illustrations that support the descriptions.

Physically, Wizards & Spells is an attractive little hardback, just like the other three titles in the series. It is bright, it is breezy, and it shows a prospective player what he can play, both in the art and the writing. Further, the art shows lots of adventuring scenes which can only spur the prospective player’s imagination.

One advantage of Wizards & Spells being released last is that it means that the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ ends on a high note rather than the disappointment that is Dungeons & Tombs. However, Wizards & Spells is as good as Warriors & Weapons, to which it is a companion, showcasing Dungeons & Dragons and introducing the prospective player to what he can roleplay. Together—and really, they work together, and they should be together, because as a pair they cover all of the Classes in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and a little of the types of adventures such characters can have. Further, as with Warriors & Weapons and Monsters & Creatures, Wizards & Spells can sit on the table during play as a reference work, not necessarily as something that a player would know, but as something that his character might know.

Overall, Wizards & Spells is a decent little book, which nicely rounds off the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’. It serves as a solid introduction to magic for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and serves as a solid companion to Warriors & Weapons as well as gift to the young prospective player of a mystical character.

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