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Reviews: Illusionism - Smoke and Mirrors
by Joe G. Kushner

Illusionism coverIllusionism: Smoke and Mirrors
Written by Joseph Miller
Published by Mongoose Publishing
64 b&w pages

As a school of magic, illusionism always gets the short end of the stick. Not cool and gothic like necromancy and not flashy and powerful like invocation, illusionism is rarely chosen as a character's speciality. But illusions are often the meat and potatoes of low powered fantasy fiction like Glen Cook's Black Company novels, where magic isn't as reliable or powerful as it is in other settings. Does this mean illusionism is weak?

Illusionism: Smoke and Mirrors thinks not.

Broken up into three schools, two proper and one unaligned, Smoke and Mirrors expands the Illusionist's horizons. By allowing him to either pick a path of power, or walk down the middle, dabbling at everything, the book greatly expands the school's potential.

Through the Smoke
The Orthodox path relies on skill and art, treating the creation of illusions as a fine craft that needs time. Almost all of the core skills are covered as to how an orthodox specialist would use them. Take Craft: Weaponsmithing, and you can craft a more believable version of the weapons of shadow if you make a successful Craft roll. How about Disguise? Makes illusions harder to see through. Same thing with Forgery and other skills.

Of course, most gamers are going to be looking for the feats and spells. How about the ability to Augment Illusions by adding different senses to an illusion like taste? How about the ability to Command Illusions? Imagine the player's face when one of his illusions gets away from him, eh? I can see it now, the players get ready to cast the most fearsome illusion he can think of, not knowing all this time that their foe has Command Illusions as a feat.

Those looking into spells will enjoy things like Cone of Paralysis, where this mind-effecting spell holds creatures for 1d4+1 rounds/level. Good thing it's a 6th level spell or it might be a little overpowered. Many of the book's spells are like the Summoning spells from the Player's Handbook: they don't have a single level, but range from 1st-9th with spells gaining power as they gain levels. This can effect the size of the illusion, the amount of illusion crafted, or how well the illusion can change the appearance to, or mime, something else.

Those looking for unorthodox illusionism will be drawn to the section on shadow energy. The section follows a similar pattern as the first part, showing how different skills can be used and then going straight into the feats. Want your shadow magic to really pack a punch? Take Augmented Shadows and Enhanced Shadows, the former providing a 20% reality bonus while the latter gives it a 40% more reality bonus. Pretty soon you've practically got the real thing here. Another good one is Penetrating Shadows, where you gain a bonus to beat the spell resistance of a target under attack by your shadows.

Those looking for new spells get some more multi-level spells like Crafted Shadow. The shadows you craft here stay until destroyed as you start with level 1, fine shadows, and work up to level nine, colossal shadows with hit dice ranging from 1-9 and an experience point cost to go with them. The interesting thing of shadows is that they are at least partially real, and even when disbelieved, can still do some damage.

Those not wishing to follow either path have unaligned illusionism to pursue, and they too get some feats and spells. How about a basic Illusion Focus that gives a +4 to the DC of saving throws against the school of illusion? How about Penetrating Illusions that provides a bonus to beat a creatures' Spell Resistance? I know, similar to the Penetrating Shadows, but a good idea is a good idea.

The spells range from the useful, like Fool's Coin, where you make a single disk look like a valuable material, to Phantasmal Force, where you craft a mind killer that deals subdual damage to the victim unless he can save against it.

The prestige classes are an interesting lot but tend to fall into the too powerful category. While not the dreaded five level specialties that Mongoose doles out in their Quintessential line, each one here gains increased spellcasting abilities in addition to lots of bonus powers and bonus feats. Players in my games are either going to have to give up the feats or get spells every other level to balance things out. Despite their overpowered nature, the prestige class ideas are sound:

  • Figmentist: Specializing in the creation of figments. These figments are counterfeit and independent sensations, which can be used to fool the unwary.
  • Glamourer: Individuals who specialize in changing appearance and mastering the subtle arts of illusionism like invisibility.
  • Hypnotist: Masters of beguiling the unwarying, they can use both voice and eye contact to master those who fight them.
  • Mind Reaver: Masters of illusion who use phantasms to devastating effect.
  • Shadow Walker: Focused on shadow magic, they can hide and stalk in the shadows with the best of them.
  • Unaligned Master: The specialist who specializes even more in the school of illusionism.
The new material closes off with "Rose Colored Classes," a collection of magic items focused around illusion. The glasses in question, for example, show the user everything in the most beneficial light, so a demon is an angel. Nice eh? I was more impressed with the Weapons of Mind Reaving, blades infused with shadow energy that Mind Reavers can use to some extra effect and damage.

Art in the book ranges from poor to good. This was somewhat disappointing, since some of their other lines, like the Slayer's Guides and the Quintessential series, seem to be getting better and better. With Illusionism, it almost seems the publisher wanted more art, even if some of it is poor, rather than come up with more text to fill up those extra spaces. The front interior cover is used to show an illusionist conjuring a dragon in mists while the rear one is a product listing. Text density is fair but there tends to be a little too much white space. Add in the reprinted and collection tables at the back of the book, and the density on this one falls a little on the low side.

This book is heavy on the crunch. Despite the use of an academic writing style, most of the book is actually spells, feats, magic items and prestige classes, perhaps the most heavily laden Arcane Encyclopedia volume yet, which is great. Heck, I'd be happy if Mongoose got rid of all the boxed, gray text, had fewer snippets into the material and provided more magic items, perhaps some ideas on which races favor illusions, why, and which spells they tend to use.

In the end, if you like illusions and aren't afraid of exploring different schools within a school, you'll enjoy Smoke and Mirrors. If your mind is set to one school of illusion, you'll find some interesting spells, feats and magic items, but much of the book may not sit well with you.


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