Deep Magic: Elven High Magic (5e)
This installment of Kobold Press‘ Deep Magic-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, as the name implies, this school of magic is only available for elves and shadow fey – mainly due to both secrecy and a requirement of hundreds of years of study – as such, it is intended to be rare, which is something that GMs should bear in mind, We begin with a new magic tradition to represent it, which grants the ritual savant feature at 2nd level, which halves the time and gold requires to copy a high magic spell into the spellbook. Also at 2nd level, the tradition grants Ritual Focus. You can spend up to 10 minutes to create a ritual focus, which may be used for one of 3 different effects: 1) You can cast a ritual version of a spell sans the casting time increase. 2) You can expend a spell slot one or more levels higher to cast the ritual version, if any, of the spell. The ritual thus takes effect at the expended spell slot’s level instead of the minimum. 3) Some spells of high magic have an additional effect assigned to the ritual focus. The limitation here would be that the ritual focus can’t be used again until you have completed a short or long rest.
Now, as a nitpick here, this slightly confused me at first, since the ability stated that it “creates a ritual focus” – if we argue in favor of a creation of some sort of physical entity, then we could create, in theory, a ton of ritual foci, each of which can only be used once per rest interval – now that would obviously be way OP, but it is not the intent of the feature. As far as I could glean, this behaves very much like e.g. a psionic focus in 3.5/PFRPG, i.e. it represents not a physical focus, but an internal one – and as such, you’re limited to one in total, as opposed to one per use or unlimited ones. While this represents no big issue per se, the rules-language could have been a bit tighter here.
At 6th level, we get the Bound Magic feature, which lets you select a ritual that targets an area. You cast the ritual using the ritual focus as well and expend herbs worth 200 gp per spell level. As a consequence, the ritual’s duration becomes a year and a day. You can also make the effect permanent by casting the ritual for 30 days. The feature also increases your number of ritual focus expenditures per rest-interval to 2. Okay, we have a few snafus here: The expenditure of the ritual focus here, does it provide the benefits of the base ritual focus feature as well, or does the feature’s use of the ritual focus count as consuming it on its own? If it does not grant the benefits of the base ritual focus feature, can you expend two ritual foci to combine the effects of the ritual focus feature with bound magic and make an improved version of the ritual spell last that long? Regarding the option to make the spell permanent, do the subsequent casts of the spell required to make it permanent once more require the expenditure of ritual focus and/or the herbs? I really like where this is going and what it attempts, but the precise functionality of the rules here require some serious clarification.
10th level yields Ritual Master: This allows you to copy any spell with the ritual tag, regardless of class spell list, into your spell book, but their spell level may not exceed ½ your wizard level. These spells may only be cast as rituals, unless learned by other means – nice catch there! 14th level unlocks High Magic, which makes ritual spells you cast behave as one spell level higher than the slot actually used. Kudos here: This allows for combination with Ritual Focus’ spell-level increase. Good catch! The feature also expands your number of ritual foci per rest interval to 3.
The pdf proceeds to provide a total of 17 new spells associated with the high elven magic, all of which sport an additional benefit for ritual focus expenditure. Minor aesthetic complaint: The “Ritual Focus” and At Higher Levels”-lines at the bottom of each spell description should be italicized in addition to being bolded. At 1st level, we get two new spells, both of which are available for bard and wizard, with extract foyson also available for warlock and druid. This spell is really cool, as it lets you extract, permanently, the nutritional value from food into a flour-like powder – by expending the ritual focus, you instead make delicious, elven bread. Now, this spell actually has some seriously cool tricks included, once you stop and think about it: Why are people starving, even though they’re eating? You can tell a seriously nefarious tale here. The spell for bards and wizards only would be guest of honor, which nets a +1d4 bonus to Charisma (Persuasion) checks for the duration; the ritual focus lets you expand the duration of the spell to a day. If you’re playing with Midgard’s status rules, you also increase that value by +2. (Nice!)
Among the 2nd level-spells, we find 5 spells: Sorcerers, warlocks and wizards can learn the black swan strike, which generates a 5-ft.-cube of swirling black feathers. The swirling feathers decrease the illumination levels by one step within 20 ft. The cube inflicts 2d8 force damage, Dexterity to halve, +1d8 per spell level when cast at higher levels. Now here’s the deal: By expending the ritual focus, you can actually move the cube, up to 15 ft. per round as a bonus action, but must remain near you. This is a good example of a well-balanced spell: While its damage type is better than e.g. flaming sphere, and its damage dice are bigger (2d8 vs. 2d6), it also has half the range of the sphere, doesn’t ignite stuff and requires a class feature expenditure to gain movement, and then requires you remaining in the vicinity. I’d allow this spell in my game. Now, the three arcane classes as well as the bard may also learn the new heartache spell, which has a range of 30 feet and forces a target to suffer the agonies of heartache – which translates to 5d6 psychic damage, Charisma save halves. Using a higher spell slot allows you to target additional targets, and using the ritual focus makes the target suffer the incapacitated condition for 1 round on a failed save. Considering the low range and using dissonant whispers as a base-line, this makes sense – no complaints.
Shadows brought to light is available for bards, clerics, paladins, warlocks and wizards and causes the target’s shadow to come to life and reveal one scandalous secret of the target – you get to choose whether the shadow whispers to you only or speaks in a twisted voice of the target aloud. The target gets -2 to Charisma-based checks versus anyone hearing that secret for the remainder of the day. The ritual focus expenditure upgrades that to disadvantage as well as a status decrease for the remainder of the day; furthermore, at the day’s end, the target saves again – on a failure, the status loss is permanent. Love this one! There are two spells available for druid, ranger and wizard, one of which would be vine trestle, which lets you go all Jack and the Beanstalk, allowing you to grow a vine that can carry 600 pounds of weight, with a range of 30 ft., which, I assume, also is the length of the vine, which is not otherwise specified in the spell. Damage threshold and AC as well as climbing the vine are covered though. Higher levels make it carry more and tougher, while ritual focus expenditure makes it permanent.
The second spell would be clearing the field and is damn cool: You eliminate all obscuring plant life that would hamper movement or obscure targets within 40 ft. Plant creatures are not affected and the plant life returns after the spell ends. If you expend the ritual focus, plant creatures must succeed a Con-save or be reduced. Higher level spell slots increase the duration. There is one 3rd level spell, once more available to druid, ranger and wizard – that would be song of the forest. This spell attunes you to the natural world, allowing you to picture clearly the sounds and origins thereof of e.g. rustling leaves etc. in the vicinity, granting you tremorsense 10 ft. as well as advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks relying on sound. It generally only works in natural terrain and the ritual focus may be used to upgrade the sense gained to blindsight 30 ft.
The pdf has 1 4th-level spell, namely shadowy retribution, which is available for cleric, warlock, sorcerer and wizard. This one requires filling a cup with your blood, pronouncing an oath of vengeance. Once reduced to 0 hit points, blood pours from your mouth, forming a shadow that attacks the target that reduced you to 0 hit points. Higher spell slots allow for more shadows to manifest and if you expend ritual focus while casting this, you get to call a frickin’ banshee instead. (Cool!) Additional undead from the at-higher level feature remain shadows, though. The 5th level spell would be tongue tied, available for bard, cleric, wizard and warlock: With a range of 30 ft., you can cause a target who fails his Wisdom-save to suffer from disadvantage on Cha-based checks requiring speech. Additionally, casting spells requires a Con-check versus your spell-save DC; on a failure, the action, but not the spell slot of the attempted spell casting is lost. If you expend the ritual focus, the target also takes 2d6 psychic damage whenever it tries to speak. I am pretty sure that the spell should require a Constitution saving throw, not a Constitution check, to cast a spell, analogue to the base concentration rules.
At 6th level, we get encroaching shadows, which is a potent area-control spell – 150 ft. range, it affects an area of 200 ft. on a side and 50 ft. high, dropping illumination by one step. Nonmagical spells can’t increase the illumination and magic that causes light automatically fails if its level is below the spells. Spells that have “shadow” in their name or create darkness/shadow effects have their effect in the area increased as though they were cast at one level higher. At higher levels and via ritual focus expenditure both provide means to increase the duration, with the latter preventing dispelling. Okay, I like this one, but it has a few rough edges: The spell enhances shadow-spells in the area, but only in the area – when they move out of the area, does the spell effect revert to its actual spell level? If so, then the interaction with spell effects can become somewhat weird. It would be more elegant to have the spell simply behave at +1 spell level when it’s cast in the area, regardless of whether its effects move out of it or not. The second gripe I have here pertains the area of effect – I am pretty sure that the spell should specify that it is a cylinder….or should it be a cube or sphere? Not 100% sure.
7th level provides celebration for bard and the three arcane classes, which creates a 30-ft. radius party zone – intelligent targets that enter it have a compulsion to party, procrastinate and miss appointments, etc., partying instead. A Wis-save negates and those that succeed may freely enter or leave the fête. At higher levels, we get increased duration, while ritual focus expenditure requires saves on subsequent rounds from those that resist it.
At 8th level, we get 3 spells, the first of which would be bloom, available for cleric, druid and wizard: You plant a silver acorn and change the land within one mile to the fertile terrain that you wanted – resting in this area also maximizes the hit points for HD expended in short rests. The mighty spell also has its counterpart, desolation, which instead strips the land of fertility and life, halving hit points regained from short rests. Both can be made permanent with ritual focus expenditure. Harsh light of summer’s glare is a really cool spell: Creatures that can see you within 90 ft. are affected, regardless o whether they avert their gaze or wear a blindfold – on a failed Con-save, the targets are blinded; if they have darkvision, they are also stunned. For ritual focus expenditure, you charm them instead of blinding them. Really cool!
We close the pdf with 2 9th-level spells, the first of which would be afflict line, available for clerics, warlocks and wizards. You do not need a clear path to your target or see it, just have it in the 1-mile range of the spell. On a failed Wisdom save, the target is cursed with disadvantage on ability checks and saves with a chosen ability score. Additionally, the firstborn offspring inherits the curse; if the firstborn is dead, the next in line inherits it. Offspring get a save to resist the curse as well. For ritual focus expenditure, you make the curse truly hereditary. Nasty! The second spell would be only for wizards, cosmic alignment. You choose a Comprehension of the Starry Sky (see Illumination magic) and cast spells as if under its effects for 24 hours. Instead of insight expenditure, you expend ritual focus instead. The spell must be cast outside AND is immediately obvious to anyone WITHIN 100 MILES.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good – apart from the minor formatting hiccup of missed italicizations, I only noticed a bracket not properly closed. As far as rules-language goes, we have a bit of another situation here: While the pdf, as a whole, is precise regarding many components, the base engine of the ritual focus, the very foundation of what makes this pdf cool, could use some elaboration regarding its intricacies. A couple of spell effects also could be slightly tighter. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf contains amazing, full-color artwork. The pdf comes with based bookmarks for chapter-headers.
I really like where Greg Marks’ elven high magic is going. It is potent and flavorful and has a strong thematic tie with both elves and the beloved shadow fey. The ritual focus is an elegant mechanic that almost works perfectly…but just almost. It is a sad truth that the base engine, as presented here, requires some GM-interpretation. That being said, if you’re willing to do that, you’ll get a really cool supplement. The spells per se are really cool as well, though I did find myself wishing that we’d bet some fodder for sorcerers and warlocks as well – RAW, only wizards get the ritual focus engine, which makes the spells less interesting for other classes. Still, as a whole, I considered this to be an interesting pdf. I’d love to recommend it more highly, but with the flaws in the central component of the engine I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this pdf here on OBS!