Hark! A Wizard! (NGR)
This supplement clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now, first things first: Unlike most books by Zzarchov Kowolski, this is NOT a dual-stat book. This toolkit is intended for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival); while there is some value to be found within this for other rules-systems, but in the end, the majority of this books contents NGR-material. I assume familiarity with NGR in this review.
So, what is this about? Well, I think that pretty much any GM has encountered the random wizard issue before. Unlike sorcerers and similar spontaneous casters, the wizard sports a big issue for the referee: The reward-to-work-ratio for making wizards for random encounters and anything other than BBEG often just isn’t right. Making spellbooks and selecting spells is a chore…and with some bad luck, your cool, detailed wizard will be crited to smithereens after one spell…or perhaps before that.
Things get worse when books note “choose xyz spells” or “1d6 random spells” – it honestly infuriates me. Anyways, this book is intended to remedy this issue to a degree in NGR. The first20-entry table contains general grimoire names for wizards to hold on to; after that, we get 8 different tables, 8 entries strong each, with different themes like hedge magic, wizard schools, quasi-religious tomes, etc. – you get the idea.
After these basic titles, we get more in-depth entries for the grimoires: Each of these sport the title, a piece of read-aloud text and mentions the spells contained within. The read-aloud text is often inspired, and it also sports the subtle and hilarious humor of the author here and there: The Book of Aarrrgh… for example is so named due to the supernatural entity bound within, conveniently unleashed upon reading the book… The Rot on the Roots of Yggdrasil talks about the dread MiGo, here envisioned as a demon-god…or is that a misunderstanding? The referee will ultimately decide. Little handbooks, strange astrological tomes on constellations on the Western pole…you get it. Really nice diversity here!
The pdf then provides a brief and succinct write-up pertaining the use of Sage to reverse-engineer the abilities of strange creatures as spells. It’s a third of a page and works perfectly in conjunction with NGR.
The remainder and lion’s share of the book, though, would be taken up by a massive selection of different spells for NGR. They note their respective templates to difficulty, cost, range and complexity and add some further depth to the engine. Take A Master of Constellations, which allows you to set a condition to a spell to activate or deactivate, tying magic to astrological or astronomical conditions, explaining a metric ton of unique complex properties and things you see in many a module…and, obviously, letting players for once use this type of thing can be really rewarding! And yes, toggling on/off can also be done with this one. Generating illusions in a limited square, DR, enhancing items by inscribing earth runes, concealing yourself in starlight…the spells have a subtle aesthetic that hearkens closer to actual real-world beliefs regarding magic, less to the flashy magic-laser-beams…which ultimately makes the chapter feel more alive and evocative. That being said, there are damaging spells – like a conical bee swarm blast (or, well, use Beelzebub’s hellish flies); gaining influence via BFF or, well, there is a spell, where you can conjure forth vents, inflicting nasty disease that may cause the target to return from death as an undead, making great use of NGR’s engine.
Speaking of spells that evoke themes we are familiar with and ties it into the game-mechanics: What about drinking blood under moonlight to replenish mana. Carrion’s Debt Foreclosed can generate undead from carrion eaters and there is a representation of containing spells in bubbling broth or potion, though its power will decrease over the course of time – so yeah, no stockpiling…and power-loss once more ties in perfectly with NGR’s spellcasting engine. Now, a couple of them…well, are intended for mature audiences. Like Congress of Yig – to quote a part of the text: “The spell draws in magical energy from the act of sexual congress with a serpent. Ew.“ Yeah, I couldn’t have said it better, but it does add power…and a level of being despicable/morally transgressive to all those serpent cults that haunt our games.
Mechanically interesting would also be cooled passions, which allows for the indefinite increase of a spell’s duration at the cost of not being able to cast the spell again; alternatively, the spell can be linked to a trigger spell, which can act as a means to end that binding. Thoroughly creepy: Cordyceps Mammalia does the “Last of Us”-move and animates the dead via cordyceps fungi, potentially with free-willed consequences. Yes, I am freaked out by this one. Drawing mana from the plants (Defiler-style), making shadows flicker, delayed force orbs…what about eliminating undead with dust to dust?
Siphoning magic from eggs is also really cool; there would be a spell that helps eliminating mutations at the cost of stress…which may actually hasten the transformation of deep one to hybrid, for example. Funny and interesting: Fireworks of Happyland, which only deal damage on a 1 or 6, with 6s adding more dice for potentially brutal consequences, otherwise focusing on blinding foes temporarily. Temporarily gaining dhampir-fangs and the ability to regain mana via drinking blood is nice.
The Grand Idol of Bhaal allows for the caster to bind demons, djinn, etc. in idols, once more codifying a classic trope within the context of the game. What about Happily ever after, a spell that acts as a trigger based on e.g. a prince’s kiss. Or Influence-based hypnotic gaze, appeals that damage supernatural targets or a spell to remove texts, images, etc. via lost to the ages? On the necromancy-side, we get a spell to animate a target you have personally drained as a vampire…and, really macabre (and some might argue, tasteless), one that animates a stillborn child as an undead. Yeah…personally, I could have done without the existence of this one. On the plus-side, strange spores, calling miniature comets and tapping into the power of e.g. eclipses makes sense and works well.
There is also an advanced locking spell…and Schmetterling (German for Butterfly, just fyi): A flight spell that only allows the target to be attacked in melee by non-fliers as an interrupt. There is a spell to create a portal in the shadow of objects…and one that lets you emit a horrid blast of static, white noise-like shrieking. Oh, and what about locking supernatural targets into the skulls of targets? Yes, they may be alive. Yes, those voices may either be insanity…or dread magic…Calling a hart to the caster, dripping acid…and, well, you get 3 guesses what Toad! does…
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on either formal or rules-language levels. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a couple of nice, original b/w-artworks inside. The pdf comes with full, nested bookmarks, making the use of the pdf pretty handy and comfortable.
Sooo, I really liked Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Hark! A Wizard!” – but I kinda did not get what it says on the tin.
The official description reads: “Hark! A Wizard! Is a generator to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in just a few seconds. It is a useful tool for further lowering the prep required with a game of Neoclassical Geek Revival.” This is not what I got. Not at all.
Did I love the cool modifications and options presented in all those spells? Yeah! There are some gems here. Not all are perfect, but there are some amazing gems here. Similarly, I really, really liked the sample read-aloud texts and diverse ideas for grimoires, making spellbooks feel, well, interesting and creative. The subtle, dark humor of the author makes reading this rules-book actually enjoyable.
But know what? I got this pdf because I expected a generator to make wizards quickly. Are the modifications herein capable of making the NGR-magic rules more versatile and smart? Yeah! They are! They are great. They help you make spells more unique, modify them, etc. Pretty much everything here is really cool…
…but it’s not a way to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in a few seconds/minutes. It’s an expansion of the magic-engine. That rocks. It sports great spellbook dressing. Which once more rocks. However, as a generator to make quick wizards for NGR? Honestly, I don’t even get where that aspect is coming from. It does not really offer that. Beyond the grimoires, it does not expedite the process of making a wizard in the slightest.
As a reviewer, that leaves me in a weird place. Frankly, I should rate this down. Were I to rate this on its merits as a generator, I’d have to pronounce this a failure, at best as a mixed bag. Then again, if I rated this as a spellcaster’s expansion for NGR that adds depth and fun to the already impressive magic system, then this would be a 5 star + seal of approval recommended masterpiece.
The matter of fact remains, though: Not what it was advertised as. While I consider this to be a must-won expansion for fans of NGR, I have to take that into account as a reviewer.
As a generator, I’d consider this to be a 2-star file. As a magic-expansion for NGR, I’d consider it to be 5 stars + seal. In the end, my final verdict will fall in between these, at 4 stars.
You can get this supplement here on OBS!