- The Masters of Alchemy
- The Masters of Dragons
- The Masters of the Elements
- The Masters of Illusions
- The Masters of Necromancy
- The Masters of the Runes
- The Mistresses of Witchcraft
The secret crafts make up one of the best specialist magic systems I have yet come across. They work somewhat like prestige classes, each having five circles (much like levels) which require XP, GP, and training time (not to mention an NPC teacher). A craft specialist learns abilities, which are powers which are usable either daily, weekly, or monthly (depending on the circle), and sometimes have component costs as well. It sounds rather complicated when presented concisely like this, but is quite clear in the text, and I love how there are so many adventure hooks built into the progressions (it’s not at all like level up, choose a power). Each circle also has a minimum wizard level prerequisite. So, for example, you can’t become a master of the first circle until 5th level, and mastery of the fifth (final) circle requires first reaching 20th level as a magic-user. The powers are also not entirely reliable (requiring a percentile roll, with fumbles occurring on rolls of 01).
The crafts are not necessarily as you might imagine them from their names. For example, alchemists are closer to Jack Vance vat wizards than they are to simple potion brewers (though they do that too); the fourth and fifth circle abilities are “transcend energy” and “mutate lifeform” (these are exactly as cool as they sound). The illusionists are not just crafters of phantasms, but rather they tap into the dimension of nightmares, and can build a stronghold there upon mastery of the fifth circle. The rune masters are concerned with true names, and they have probably the most flexible of all powers, able to shape aspects of reality based on the names they know, but also some of the worst kinds of feedback upon fumbles (essentially, reality storms). The dragon wizards are the least interesting in terms of flavor (most of their powers being rather boring attacks), but even they could add to a campaign, particularly their warding abilities, and their final dragon metamorphosis (which could be reminiscent of Dark Sun if played well).
Let me focus briefly on the masters of necromancy in detail, as necromancers have always been my favorite specialist type. The necromancers have only one ability per circle, and the abilities are (with prerequisite levels in parentheses): protection from undead (5th), control undead (7th), create undead (10th), raise dead (15th), and attain lichdom (20th). Here is the fumble (roll of 01) for the create undead ability:
A roll of 01 causes the necromancer’s life-force to be partially drained, his attempt failing lamentably. He suffers 1d6 points of damage per HD of undead he attempted to create, plus 5 for each asterisk (no save). If the necromancer dies, he immediately becomes an undead of the type he attempted to create.
The control undead (second circle) ability can also be used as turn undead, though it “does not require a religious symbol, but only a few gestures and ritual words.” Beware though, a roll of 01 makes the necromancer a pawn of the most powerful undead creature in his presence.
So, what about the bad parts? Well, I’ll just quote two brief fiction segments out of context:
“No sweat, I got it covered. The toughest part is to get back to the hideout faster than the constables’ gondolas–and that I know how to do. I have this new gondola: two rapid-fire magic missile rods mounted on swivels, eight water-elementals in a V, reinforced cabin, magically silenced, and as black as the night… a beauty! Nobody can catch us. Once at the hideout, we can teleport the goods to this place I have in Nyra.”
“Freeze! Glantri Vice!” comes the shout. A heavily-armored gondola loaded with constables slowly sways in their direction. “You are surrounded! Drop your wands and come out with you hands on your mouth!”
Pages 9 and 12. Apparently the mafia is quite active in Glantri.
Despite all its flaws, I can’t recommend this supplement highly enough. The bad parts are easy enough to ignore, and the good parts are really, really good. And this is without mentioning the ancient nuclear reactor buried beneath the city that can turn magic-users into radiation liches. Even the maps alone are excellent. They include a full poster map of a canal city and details by district in the booklet at a scale absolutely perfect for gaming (unlike the absurdly complicated maps I have seen for cities like Waterdeep). This really makes me want to check out the other Mystara Gazetteers, despite my dislike for settings with extensive canon and my dislike for magic as a substitute for technology. Unfortunately, they are quite expensive on the secondary market.
Couldn’t agree more – it’s a great supplement. We bolted the secret crafts onto AD&D2e with minimal effort and it was fantastic.
Thanks Brendan, I’ve just printed off the relevant section and will have a closer look at it. I might just have to bolt this onto my next campaign. 🙂
Yea, if only they would re-release these (Gazetteers) now too…
Maybe something like 5-per-hardcover compilations? How grand would that be? And of course they would need to do a B/X hardcover too. We can dream, right?
I loved this book. It became part of my world even before I had read it all. Adding this link to my “World Page”.
By any chance is this world page public? I looked around your blog, but did not find it.
I just updated the link. http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/p/mystoerth.html
I have often pondered the various specialty classes provided in the gazetteers. The various “crunchy” rule bits and new powers are such great “food for thought” items. I wrote up a little bit about the merchant classes presented in the Minrothad Guilds and Darokin.
Thanks for that pointer. I’m looking forward to investigating the other Gazetteers as time and access permit. It really is a great line of supplements, especially because of the Fabian art.
We are using the Seven Secret Crafts in our current campaign. We have an elven Dracologist and a Cryptomancer, both still at 1st Circle at the moment.
It can be very difficult to gain XPs in your secret craft. First, the opportunity has to present itself (if there are no undead about, a Necromancer can’t use his Protection from Undead ability), then he has to make his percentile roll (which is halved until he has mastered that Circle).
I never understood why a roll of 01 was a catastrophic failure. 01 is in the success range. Instead, I have a roll of 00 as a disastrous result..
That sounds great. I’d love to have a B/X or BECMI type game run long enough to be able to use the secret crafts mostly as written.