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Pathfinder 2e: Secrets of Magic Review

Secrets of Magic (SOM) is the newest book for the Pathfinder 2nd edition tabletop RPG. It was released earlier today and is available online from Paizo’s website.

SOM is a hefty book, coming in at 255 pages, including the index. Inside that you’ve got: 2 new classes, and their respective multiclass archetypes; 54 pages of new spells, not including focus spells; 6 pages of new rituals; 34 pages of new magic items, both consumable and permanent; and nearly 60 pages of new spell-casting archetypes and variant rules.

Obviously, there’s too much content for us to do an in-depth review of the entire thing, so instead we’ve going to look at the main attractions and try and give you an idea if this is something you’re interested in picking up.

Classes

One of the big draws of SOM is the introduction of the Magus and the Summoner classes into the game. The Magus is a mixed spellcasting/martial character, or Gish if you’d a traditional sort, whilst the Summoner is a bit of an odd beast who relies on its eidolon, which is an odd beast in a far more literal sense, to fully realize its potential. The eidolon is a companion creature which comes in a variety of forms and which is controlled by the Summoner, but which shares its actions and hit points with its summoner.

Both classes only ever gain a maximum of four spell slots, two from each of the two highest levels of spells they can cast, and neither class gets access to 10th level spells.

The Magus nicely hits the aesthetic of the magical fighter, and its action economy has improved substantially since the playtest. The primary issue with the class, from what we’ve seen, comes from its d8 hit points combined with the fact that spellstrikes, as written, trigger attacks of opportunity. This means a melee magus is going to be eating shots left and right, particularly at higher levels, and he does not have the health to take a beating like that for long. God help you if you let yourself get surrounded.

The Summoner is a d10 hit point class, with charisma as its key ability. Nearly all its abilities are designed to either support or strengthen its eidolon. Honestly, we didn’t have much time with the Summoner, and I can’t rightly tell you how good it is. The evolution options available to the eidolon look good, and aesthetically it would certainly seem to allow players to scratch that single monster summoner itch, but I’m just not sure how viable it actually is.

Spells

If you knew nothing about SOM other than its name you’d probably expect new spells to be a big part of it, and you’d be absolutely right – the book is packed full of them. All of the spellcasting traditions gain a fair number of new spells, with the Arcane spell list seeming to get the most attention and the Divine spell list getting the least.

On the other hand, Divine spellcasters get Divine Armageddon, a level 8, 60-foot burst of 10d6 negative damage (which changes to positive damage for creatures that have negative healing) and 10d6 alignment damage, so maybe that all evens out.

The new spells cover everything from sorting hundreds of loose items into ordered stacks; to throwing your opponent through time; to summoning 50 shadow duplicates of yourself, all of which deal damage, and pretending you’re a Naruto character (the Naruto part is optional). There are also a decent number of new debuff spells, mostly rather solid ones, and very few of them have the incapacitation trait.

One welcome addition is the introduction of several spells with a variable action cost. These spells offer players a chance to really optimise their actions on a turn, and there just weren’t very many of them in the game until now. There still aren’t an incredibly number, but it’s good to see Paizo lean into the action system and try and give spellcasters more involved options.

There’s also a new type of summoning spell, incarnate spells. These spells summon in a creature which cannot be hurt or fought against, and which is not directly controlled by the player who summoned them. Each type of incarnate instead has an action it takes automatically when summoned, and another action it takes a round later before leaving the fight.

These arrival and departure abilities range from situationally decent to so devastating you’ll be looking at a hole in the nearest mountain when it’s over. That last part isn’t a joke either, one incarnate, Vorgozen, the Shapeless Feeder, has the following departure ability, “Beam of Purest Vitriol – Each creature in a 1,200-foot line takes 10d6 acid damage and 10d6 bludgeoning damage with a basic Fortitude save.” Sounds like the perfect ability for the old “we saved the town by destroying the town” scenario.

Rituals

There are 13 new rituals in SOM, ranging in level from 1 to 8. Some have clear applications for player characters, but others are more plot devices for the GM to use in the background, or for villains to make active use of. Bathe in Blood, for example, is a level 8 ritual which allows a caster to bathe themselves in 30 gallons of blood in order to make themselves 20-40 years younger. It can be repeated, but every time you do so you take a cumulative -1 penalty to your ritual casting roll. Fantastic ritual for a villain, particularly one who has cast it a few times and is getting worried they’re running out of time and/or peasants to bleed dry, but probably not something your average party is going to want to make use of.

Rituals seem to be something that some players love and some players totally ignore, so the value you take from this section is going to vary based on that. Personally, I think the rituals are great, and options like Asmodean Wager, Ideal Mimicry, and Mind Swap offer both great utility and flavour that you can easily integrate into your game world.

Magic items

Prepared casters are going to be delighted to see the introduction of grimoires, spellbooks which are themselves magical items. Most of the grimoires in SOM are relatively low-level items, with only one over level 10. The effects they give are relatively minor, but flavourful and certainly something players will enjoy having access to.

Spell catalysts are new items which, when used when casting a spell, alters the spell in some way. Some of the catalysts change how many actions it takes to cast a spell, whilst others can be used as part of the action of casting the spell. This makes some of them tactical choices, as your character may not want to invest more actions in casting a spell, and some of them, if your character has the money, basically just free real estate.

Spellhearts are basically talismans which have a small effect when attached to your weapons and armour, and which are not consumed when you use their abilities. One assumes they are permanent in an attempt to get players to actually use them, unlike talismans. As items go spellhearts themselves are fine, and some offer decent damage resistance when added to armour, but nothing about them really catches the eye or excites.

Magical tattoos also make an appearance in the book, although there are very few of them and most are of questionable utility. The magical tattoo section also contains the Tattoo Artist feat which allows you to gain the formulas for four common magical tattoos of 2nd level of lower. The only problem there is that there are no magical tattoos in this book of 2nd level or lower making the entire thing pointless. More tattoos are meant to be published in a book to be released later in the year, but it does leave somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth for Paizo to let you pay for something on the basis you can buy a different book later and finally get use out of it.

Looking at permanent magical items there are some really interesting options in SOM, primarily as the book contains a new apex item for each ability. These apex items are some of the best new items, although other items like the Gloaming Shard and the Rebounding Breastplate are also very solid.

There’s also the Brilliant rune, a level 12/18 rune which turns your weapon into “pure, brilliant energy”, i.e. a lightsaber, which does additional fire, good, and positive damage depending on what you’re attacking.

The real standout of the new magical items isn’t one of the apex items though, or even one of the higher-level items. It’s the level 10 common item, the Shadow Signet. This item allows a caster, as a free action, to change any spell that uses an attack roll against AC to instead target a target’s fortitude DC or reflex DC. It works on single target spells, it works on multi-target spells, as long as there’s an attack roll, and it is an incredible boost to any caster. It is so strong that you’ll probably still be using it whenever Paizo get around to introducing mythic levels.

The fact it’s so strong, and that it’s a common item of quite a low level, did make me question if Paizo are concerned that perhaps casters are weaker than they had intended them to be and need a bit of a boost. There has been rather a lot of complaints that Paizo, in attempting to correct the mistakes of 3.5e D&D/PF1e, went too far in nerfing casters. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but looking at what the Shadow Signet offers I do wonder if this sort of option isn’t something which would work better if it was built into the class progression of casters.

Book of Unlimited Magic

The Book of Unlimited Magic, which takes up the final 60 pages of SOM, is sort of a grab bag of content. It contains variant casting systems, such as flexible casting in the style of 5e; backgrounds and feats for a high-magic game in a world with pervasive magic; a shadow caster archetype, which weirdly enough doesn’t give greater darkvision or even just darkvision; a new type of relic which can be implanted into a character’s soul; rune magic; rules for ley lines; introducing true names into your campaign; and more.

If you’re a GM, this is probably your part of the book; there’s enough interesting material here to give you tons of ideas for your own games.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of sections here that don’t quite click. Soulforged Armaments, weapons and armour which characters can summon to themselves, is probably the best example of this. It was was one of the more eagerly anticipated new options in SOM but, unfortunately, the armaments are presented as an archetype with feats instead of as items, and frankly they don’t seem to warrant that sort of investment. The powers they give, whilst generally decent, are nothing to write home about. I don’t think players will be particularly interested in them, other than as a gimmick, and personally I’ll probably just run them as a particular variant of relic and build the feats into the relic itself as the relic levels up.

Speaking of relics Soul Seeds, the variant relics which can be bound to characters instead of items, are a very interesting expansion of the relic system, but SOM only has 2 new relic seeds, Dragon and Soul, and neither strikes me as terribly attractive. The relic system overall continues to feel a bit underdeveloped.

Lore

Lore is mixed throughout the book, with substantial space at the beginning of the book given over to lore regarding how magic works in PF2e. Each magical tradition is given its own section, written by a practitioner of that tradition. I did find some of these pieces hard to read, due to some of the font choices, but I quite enjoyed the parts I found legible.

The highlight of the book’s lore is a section on rune magic in which Runelord Sorshen talks about the feelings and emotional states that casting different types of spells causes casters to experience.

All of the lore is based on Golarion, and the standard four tradition magical systems, but a lot of it could taken and introduced into homebrewed worlds pretty easily.

Verdict

There’s a fine balance if you want to release books that are interesting to both GMs and players, and there is an argument that books should try to appeal to one or the other, but SOM balances those two interests.

SOM is an excellent resource for both GMs and players, with a particular focus on more high-magic games. It goes a long way to filling out some of the gaps in PF2e, and presents options both to players looking to build a character and GMs looking for material they can import into their own game world. Players will particularly enjoy the new classes, spells and magical items, whilst GMs will probably find the end of the book, The Book of Unlimited Magic, and the Essentials of Magic, at the start of the book, the most interesting.

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