What Do I Know About Reviews? Deep Magic (5e OGL)

I have mentioned before that monster books are hard to review, because the rules are hard to evaluate before they are used, and stat block after stat block can numb the gamer brain and make it easy to miss cogent details. Everything that was true of monster books is also true of a book whose contents are primarily new spells. Despite this challenge, I’m going open the grimoire and attempt to plumb its arcane depths.

What I’m looking at today is Deep Magic, the D&D 5e version that is. This product existed for Pathfinder 1e and 13th Age as well, although that doesn’t mean that each version of the product has contained the same spells or content. Many of the spells that appear in this volume also appeared in individual Deep Magic products published as PDFs, based on some of the sub-categories of magic within.

Spell Book

I have both the PDF and the physical copy of Deep Magic. Its 358 pages, including an OGL statement, two pages of Kobold Press ads, a credits page, and a two-page table of contents. The book itself feels nice and solid, with glossy pages. The book has a faux-parchment background, but with light symbols in evidence in the background.

The artwork, as always for Kobold Press, is very attractive. Some of it is reused from the artwork that appeared in the individual 5e Deep Magic PDFs over the last few years.

What’s Inside?

Because this is a book largely comprised of new spells, there are 20+ pages of spell lists, organizing the spells in this book by class and level. Because the book introduces new sub-categories of magic, those subcategories appear in brackets.

There is a large section of general spells, and a section on class options with options for bard, clerics, druids, fighters, paladins, rangers, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. These include:

  • Bard (College of Wyrdsingers, Greenleaf College)
  • Cleric (Beer, Cat, Darkness, Dragon, Hunger, Hunting, Justice, Labyrinth, Moon,
  • Mountain, Ocean, Prophecy, Speed, Time, Travel, and Winter Domains)
  • Druid (Circle of Oak, Owls, Roses, and Spirits
  • Fighter (Prescient Knight)
  • Paladin (Oath of Radiance, Thunder)
  • Ranger (Griffon Scout, Vampire Slayer)
  • Sorcerer (Aristocratic, Elemental Essence, Farseer)
  • Warlocks (The Genie Lord, The Sibyl)
  • Wizard (Elementalist, White Necromancer)

Deep Magic CoverSometimes I’m not sure I agree with the names for Paladin oaths. Making the name too utilitarian robs the subclass of the feeling that paladins are powered by the tenets of their faith. I’d love something more like “Oath of the Cleansing Light,” or “Oath of the Chained Storm,” to give a little more context to what the paladin’s believe, as opposed to what they do.

The Griffon Scout is a little odd, in that they are geared towards having a griffon mount, but they don’t get one as a class ability, at least until 11th level, when they can summon one. So, either they get a snazzy mount early in the campaign, or they don’t really fulfill the theme of the class until 11th level.

There are arcane flavored backgrounds. These include the Archivist (research specialists), Fey Hostage (someone that was taken to some fey realm for a significant length of time), Soul Channeler (someone that learns how to tap into their inner reserves), and Transformed Familiar (a former familiar who was unbonded from their caster and became a different species in the event).

On one hand, these backgrounds have more abilities that directly interact with game rules, rather than just providing narrative permission to do certain things at certain times, as many backgrounds do. I like that, and wish more backgrounds did that. That said, I’m not sure how well that works when some players take traditional backgrounds. One thing I particularly like is that both the Fey Hostage and Transformed Familiar have a random past event table for some ideas on the background details.

Even More Spells!

In addition to the general spells, there are also specific magical themes. These aren’t so much restricted to players, as they are meant to require some special effort to access (such as taking a sub-class related to that type of magic or studying with specialists in the field). The special categories include (with associated subclasses):

  • Alkemancy (Alkemancer Wizard Subclass)
  • Angelic
  • Apocalypse (Apocalypse Domain, Oath of the Annihilator, Doomsayer Wizard Subclass)
  • Blood (Serophage Sorcerous Origin)
  • Chaos (Entropist Wizard Subclass, College of Entropy Bard Subclass)
  • Clockwork
  • Dragon (Dragon Mage Wizard Subclass)
  • Elven Ritual
  • Fiendish (Master of Fiends Wizard Subclass)
  • Hieroglyph (Feat based magic subsystem)
  • Mythos
  • Illumination (Illuminator Wizard Subclass)
  • Labyrinth
  • Ring (Ring Warden Wizard Subclass)
  • Rune (Feat based magic subsystem)
  • Shadow (Shadow Bloodline Sorcerous Origin)
  • Temporal (Timekeeper Wizard Subclass)
  • Void (Void Caster Wizard Subclass)
  • Winter (The Frozen One Warlock Patron, Boreal Bloodline Sorcerous Origin)

These sub-categories usually contain magic items and sub-classes related to the theme of the spells being detailed. Some of the sub-categories, like Rune magic, also have some new rules, like feats that allow characters to scribe runes for specific effects.

Even a Wizard Needs a Friend

The Wizard’s Entourage section includes sample apprentices, constructs, trinkets, and expanded standard and enhanced familiars. Do you want a turtle familiar, or maybe carrion crow? Got you covered. Want to negotiate for the services of a crimson drake, or an owl with a human mouth?  Covered as well.

Sidenote: If you can get a small dragon-ish familiar, get a dragon-ish familiar.

But Wait, There’s More!

There are also additional arcane traps, about two pages worth, and my favorite section, spell variations.

This section explores variations on the theme of Charm Person, Raise Dead, and Fireball. There is a list of reskinned Fireball effects, for when you want the structure of the Fireball, but you don’t want every spellcaster throwing them. There is also a table for Raise Dead random effects, to create additional complications so that bringing the dead back to life has a few more story consequences.The charm person spell variants include a cantrip version, a version that mutually charms the caster and the target, a redirected charm on behalf of someone else, and a scalable higher level version.

The raise dead variants include the ability to summon the characters spirit for later return, the ability to raise a target for a specific heroic task, the ability to raise a character in tandem with their greatest enemy, an alternate version that gives those that died of old age a few more years to put their affairs in order, and a version that weaves a geas into the returning character.

The fireball variants include a tactical nuke, single target fireball, a fireball that sets people on fire (that sounds stranger than it should), and a bouncing fireball that does for fireballs what chain lightning does for, well, lightning.

At Higher Levels

This is a metric ton of magical content. Because so many classes in D&D 5e have magical options, this isn’t as confined to traditional spellcasters as it might seem. I love the miscellany of familiars, and the story possibilities introduced with the alternate spell effects. They make me excited to introduce those options into a game.

I can’t wait to introduce the nuanced raised dead rules into a campaign (although I guess that means I’m waiting to kill a PC? Hm), and I really want to have a wizard throw a “fireball” that explodes into a cloud of bees doing poison damage. So many cool story elements.

Out of Spell Slots

While the book has a ton of new options for a wide range of characters, it doesn’t have an EVEN distribution of new options, so if you are looking for more barbarian, monk, or rogue options, you aren’t going to find as much in this volume as other classes might. For some reason, while I can appreciate humorous monsters, potentially player facing joke spells don’t thrill me, so spells like Ale-Dritch Blast make me groan a bit.

The sheer number of spells means that, even if the individual spells work fine, there could be a lot of unintended interactions when mass introducing this much extra magic. I’m also not sure how to feel about a few items, like the Lust Domain, both from what it grants and the fact that it’s flavored as a “villainous” option.

The formatting of the book also seems more based on the necessity of stretch goals in the Kickstarter, rather than functionality. As new magical themes were added to the book, they were added to an appendix, rather than into the section that houses the other magical themes.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If you are even vaguely interested in 5th edition D&D magic, this book is too much fun not to introduce. I can’t say that everything will always play nice with what is already in your campaign, but I can’t help but think it will be fun to find out. There are a lot of moving parts, but they are all shiny and sparkly.

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