- Alchemist: This would appear to be the very same class I reviewed in an earlier product and my feelings about the class remain much the same.
- Artificer: An interesting but very weak class, devoted to the crafting of magic items. Members of this class have no ability to cast spells but instead imbue items they construct with such magic. This struck me as more appropriate as an NPC class.
- Conjurer: A magic-user specializing in summoning creatures to battle on his behalf, the conjurer consequently has a very limited selection of spells. As members of this class advance, their summoned creatures become more powerful and numerous, but summoning is their sole magical ability. I found this class rather weak as well, especially given that its XP requirements are the same as standard magic-users.
- Elementalist: Another specialist magic-user with a limited selection of spells, the elementalist is at least potent within his sphere. I very much like the idea of this class, even if I'm not sure about its implementation here.
- Hermit: Again, another great idea -- a solitary divine spellcaster whose austere lifestyle grants him remarkable proficiency with divination and healing -- that I don't think gels quite right. In any event, this is another class that strikes me as more appropriate for NPCs than adventurers.
- Holy Man: This is an alternative class to the cleric in low magic campaigns, focusing on fighting undead and medicinal knowledge.
- Naturalist: Another alternative class, this time for the druid, the naturalist is a kind of cunning man with knowledge of the wild places of the world.
- Sage: This is a nice expansion of sages as presented in Supplement II and the Dungeon Masters Guide, with lots of useful abilities, but, again, I have a hard time seeing him as an adventurer.
- Seer: Another specialist magic-user with a limited spell list, this time focusing on detection and divination. The seer's only unique ability is its resistance to illusion, which give members of the class a greater chance of seeing things as they truly are.
Old School Magic also introduces 31 new spells, most of them intended to fill out the spell lists of the aforementioned specialist wizards. Most of the spells are clever and provide some much needed versatility to the conjurer, elementalist, and seer classes. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough new spells to put these classes on par with even the illusionist, the lone pre-2e example of a specialist magic-user. Where the illusionist typically has between 8 and 12 spells per level, the specialists of Old School Magic generally have about half that (or less, especially at high levels). Certainly they all get some minor class abilities, like the seer's resistance to illusion, but I'm not sure they make up for the loss of versatility in terms of spell selection, at least not enough that I'd choose to play one over a standard magic-user.
Early in Old School Magic, after discussing "levels of magic" and "laws of magic" (which I'll get to in a moment), Rice takes a couple of paragraphs to answer criticisms made in the past (by me primarily, unless I'm mistaken) about his approach to game design. Rice places himself in the "variety is the spice of life camp," stating that he liked the "wild and woolly" days when publications featured "new classes of every shape and description, some balanced, most not in one way or another, either overpowered or purposely gimped and cordoned off as 'NPC only' classes." That's fair enough and I appreciate his addressing this upfront.
Now, obviously, given my past reviews, his position differs from my own. I am not now nor have I ever been a fan of having a class for everything. That's an approach that, while having a long old school pedigree, I don't care to see revived. But then I'm generally of the opinion that AD&D probably had too many classes, so what do I know? This is an example of a philosophical difference, I suppose. I remember all those classes from the pages of Dragon back in the day and I was generally baffled by most of them. What was the point in having an armorsmith class or a scribe class? They seemed so unnecessary to me. Clearly, not everyone felt the same way, which is why they kept getting created and published, so there's an audience for them, even if I'm not a member of it.
Fortunately, the new classes all contain good ideas and, even though I won't be using any of them in my campaign, I might well re-purpose bits and pieces of them in other fashions. In addition, Rice's discussions of "levels of magic" -- low, medium, and high -- and the "laws of magic" both contain interesting concepts, particularly the latter. He makes suggestions for other approaches to magic that replace or supplement the tradition spell slot system. Again, there are lots of good ideas to be had here, such as mana channeling and astrological magic, that more than justify the $3.50 price tag of Old School Magic, particularly if, like its author, you prefer a smorgasbord of new classes, abilities, and game mechanics in your campaigns. Even if you don't, you still might find some inspiration here for unusual NPC spellcasters; I know I did.
Presentation: 6 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10
Get This If: You love having lots of different classes in your game or are just looking for a few ideas about spellcasters to pilfer for your own game.
Don't Get This If: You're not a fan of having lots of different flavors of magic-user.