The book begins with an overview of clerical magic, including how to prepare and cast spells. This is fairly standard stuff but it's good to see it spelled out clearly nonetheless. This section also includes rules for creation scrolls and holy water, as well as how to research a new spell. These rules are simple and straightforward and, I think, strike a nice balance between the vagueness of OD&D and the tedious specificity of later editions. There's also an overview of magic-user magic as well and covers much the same ground, along with rules for creating potions, staffs, and wands. Again, the rules are simple and straightforward, making the creation of these items easy enough that a character might conceivably consider doing so and yet not so easy as to make them commonplace. Raggi has found a healthy medium here and I may well swipe some of his rules for use in my own campaign.
Where the Magic Book really shines, though, is in its spell descriptions. The bulk of the Magic Book consists of individual spell descriptions of all seven levels of clerical spells and all nine levels of magic-user spells. These descriptions are much lengthier than those found in OD&D or Swords & Wizardry, though not because of additional rules. Raggi's spells are (generally) just as mechanically simple as their OD&D counterparts. What's different, though, is that he's fleshed out each spell with some compelling details. Take, for example, a favorite of mine, contact other plane:
The stars are repositories of all knowledge. By means of this spell, the Magic-User enters in communion with the star of his choice to receive wisdom and information. The caster asks questions of the star, and the star answers. The stars resent such intrusions and give only brief answers to questions, and they often lie.The description also includes a chart of possible stars to consult to replace OD&D's rather uninspired "3rd plane," "4th plane," etc. Included amongst these stars are some familiar to regular readers of various old school blogs -- Fomalhaut, Algol, the Hyades Cluster. In WF, contact other plane still works more or less exactly as it does in OD&D, but it's presented in a way that's much more interesting and evocative.
Indeed, I'd go so far to argue that the bulk of WF's implied setting can be found in these spell descriptions, most of which are really well done. Here are a few more examples to give you a better sense of what Raggi has done:
- conjure elemental summons a spirit from the nether realms to inhabit one of the four elements.
- dark vision gives the ability to see 60' in the dark (as per infravision) but transforms the caster's eyes into "demonic pits of utter black."
- hold person "unleashes millions of thread-thin spectral worms on the target(s)," which burrow into his brain and keep him from moving.
On the downside, if you're not interested in the picture that Raggi's painting, you'll find the Magic Book less useful. Of course, if you really aren't interested, you probably wouldn't be buying WF and certainly would have little use for the Magic Book, which, underneath all its chrome, is really just a compilation of the standard D&D spells. Well, not all of them. Noticeably absent are spells like raise dead, reincarnation, restoration, wish -- all those powerful spells that make death, level drain, and other nasty afflictions a little less nasty. WF is definitely not a game that coddles its players and that's quite clear in the Magic Book.
In any case, no one should expect anything revolutionary from the Magic Book. It's a great book, but its virtues are in its presentation, not its mechanical originality. This is where Raggi gets to show off his ability to spin gold from straw and, more often than not, he succeeds. Even if one doesn't like the particular sheen of his gold, one can't help but admire his talent and be inspired by it. Magic in my own Dwimmermount campaign is, in general, pretty bland and matter-of-fact and that's by choice; I think it works well within the setting I've constructed. I can't deny, though, that, after reading the Magic Book, I did reconsider my choice, if only for a moment. I suspect I won't be the only referee out there who'll do so after reading the Magic Book.
Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for an imaginative presentation of the classic D&D magic system and spells.
Don't Buy This If: You prefer your spells less flavorful or would rather inject your own flavor into them.