A look at Wonder & Wickedness by Brendan S.

cover-black - blackYesterday, Brendan of Necropraxis published “Wonder and Wickedness.” And I did something which I’ve never done before: I read an entire RPG book front to back on the same day it was released. This puts me in the fairly unusual position of being able to share my thoughts while they’re still relevant.

Full disclosure: Brendan and I are buds. This post isn’t a ‘review,’ so much as it is an account of why I like this book.

Wonder & Wickedness details a surprisingly modular magic system. It could entirely replace the more common magic user’s system without any tinkering in most games. And if entirely replacing the MU’s spell system doesn’t interest you, it would be a simple matter to cherry pick the magic dueling system, maleficence rules, spell mishaps, magic items, or just the spells themselves. Any of these elements could be plopped down into any D&D game without trouble.

The basic idea that drives the new magic system is dropping spell levels entirely from the game. Instead, the book is filled with spells which can be cast by an MU of any level. Spells scale with the MU’s level, keeping them relevant even in higher levels of play.

The spells themselves are evocative and interesting. Brendan’s well-documented love of Necromancy is evident. His rehabilitation of that often-overlooked school of magic rivals Gavin Norman’s also excellent “Theorums and Thamaturgy.” Other spell schools have been entirely reinvented with a less-than-wholesome bent. The implied setting is one where Magic Users are shunned by decent folk. And for good reason.

The spells themselves are inventive. I’m rarely surprised by something truly new when reading a new spell. They’re either more evocative versions of currently existing spells, or they’re extremely situational to the point of near-uselessness, or they fill some obvious kind of gap (Low level fireball, high level fireball, etc.) There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and some of it certainly shows up in Wonder and Wickedness. But I was surprised by several spells which truly break the mold and offer something entirely new, useful, and not overpowered.

In particular, there are a number of spells in the Translocation school which I can’t believe aren’t commonplace in every D&D game. “Recall” and “Revisitation” seem so quintessentially perfect for basic D&D play. And in the Psychomancy school, “Fascinating Gaze” is just fucking perfect. On the one hand, it’s a fairly weak spell in most situations. But, if applied with some skill, it’s exactly the kind of spell that makes Conan afraid of magic users.

The book’s 84 spell mishaps are curious. In most cases, the effects are far more devastating than any of the actual spells. And, while most of them are certainly a detriment to the caster, they’re also a detriment to everyone around the caster. Plus, there are a number of spell mishaps which actually empower the caster into an even more terrifying and unwholesome force. It creates a sense that whether you’re the caster’s friend or foe, you probably don’t want to interrupt their casting once it starts.

The magic items have a good mix of risk and reward. They foster the idea that, even for PCs, magic is something to be treated with caution. But none (save the Crown of Extinction, wtf man) are outright cursed. I like that several are creatively finite. There’s nothing so crude as “this magic item has 10 charges,” but there are several options for items you can give players without worrying about their long-term effects on your campaign.

The Bridging Arrow is my new favorite thing. Hot damn I can’t wait to see what my players do with it.

I can’t talk about Wonder & Wickedness without mentioning that the book’s interior was illustrated by no less than Russ Nicholson. Who, among many other RPG publications, also made art for the original Fiend Folio.  And he didn’t slack off just because this is a small indie publication–his work is as beautiful here as it was in the FF. There are several full-page illustrations. The kind you can stare at for several minutes, picking up nuances of character expression and item detail.

I also want to give props to Brendan and Paolo Greco (Who did layout) for how easy W&W is to read on a Kindle. I’ve always hated reading on a computer screen, and since the majority of indie RPG publishing is done on PDF, I bought a Kindle earlier this year to help myself deal with that. But the majority of PDFs I’ve read seem to be optimized for print, or for larger screens than the basic Kindle has. The print in W&W is nice and big, and required no squinting–or worse–magnifying the page, and scrolling around on it.

Wonder & Wickedness is absolutely worth your time. You should go buy it now. Not just because it’s great, but because The Lost Pages shop is shutting down at the end of 2014 due to legal issues. It’s a god damned shame. Hopefully the issue can be resolved, but it doesn’t look like it will be resolved quickly. So buy all your PDFs while you can!

I want to close on this note: I came up with the cover for Merciless Monsters before Brendan came up with the cover for Wonder & Wickedness. So nobody gets to call me a copycat when my book comes out. Seriously.

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