Book Preview: Arcane Flavor by Hannah Lipsky (Chaotic Shiny Productions)

Do you like magic in your roleplaying? If you’ll pardon the pun, there’s something “magical” about magic, or at least there always has been for me. Whether it’s your normal wizard slinging spells, a bard weaving magic with a song, or an evil practitioner bartering with dark forces to gain great power at any cost, all variations of arcane spellcaster have the potential for cool, combative, or destructive feats far outside the realm of the usual “muggles” in any campaign world.

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for casters, magically-oriented items, or places that defy description. Evidently Hannah Lipsky does too, in the new book from Chaotic Shiny Productions – Arcane Flavor. Hannah was kind enough to offer a preview of the book for me to review.

Starting at the beginning, the front cover gives just enough information as a tease… The artwork looks like a cool album cover for a rock band. The person on the right with the instrument might as well be playing an electric guitar and the person on the left seems to have lit his or her hand on fire or be holding a fireball (or perhaps be playing with pyrotechnics)… That is plenty to get me wondering what interesting information lies inside!

From the first page, like with Martial Flavor, Hannah lays out the main idea of the book perfectly in the Introduction, discussing individuals who manipulate magical forces on a regular basis – “Surely it shapes them in ways more subtle than avarice or madness…” And to that end, she covers five groups whose use of magic has changed them in ways large and small. And like in her other books, she uses a template to offer the critical bits of information – from appearance and structure to class traits, powers, and feats. But don’t worry – it’s just the template that stays the same for each and these groups are far from cookie cutter.

Let’s begin with the unique city of Cailleath, which exists not just on one plane, but shares time and space between the regular world and the Feywild. Simply by touching the realms of fey, the people and thus the place are changed in ways both obvious and subtle. The unpredictable nature of fey space taints the schedule of when and how parts of the city shift as well, sometimes it happens daily and other times it takes months. Like the fey themselves, the people of Cailleath seek comfort in bright colors and shiny things, enchanting their clothing or even their own hair, eyes, or skin to take on amazing characteristics.

Everything even remotely magical  is represented here, from the wildest magics of the fey to the rituals cast by those more in touch with their gods. The conflicts between the more practical practitioners to the more devout exist here as well, but it seems that those battles may be more philosophical in nature than those requiring bloodshed or sacrifices. That doesn’t mean there isn’t occasional physical conflict as well… In a place where magic use is everywhere, keeping the peace between such passionate people and making sure that spellcasters don’t overstep their bounds and change something they shouldn’t is a full time job. And since nobody would want that job, it’s not a voluntary thing. Each citizen must spend time as a peacekeeper as a result.

I want to know more about Cailleath and its history. What caused this strange pattern of living on two planes? Do the struggles of mortals and fey-touched affect the transition? And what kinds of mishaps happen during the sudden vs. the gradual shifts? Can a person be ripped apart as it moves from the material plane to the Feywild? Curious minds want to know!

Contrast the citizens of Cailleath with the Valok, a group of tribes who call mountainsides home. The Valok are a deeply spiritual people who use magic to connect with the forces of nature upon which they depend. Imagine an individual with the power to coax rains to fall upon their terraced crops as easily as they could summon the winds to blow their enemies off high cliffs. Such power can aid or shift the balance of life and death and man vs. nature; or such power can drive a person mad.

This has to be one of the most unique uses of Bardic magic that I have ever seen in D&D. Merging the cultural properties of some tribes in places like the Andes in a world where magic is commonplace is brilliant. My only quibble with this section is that I would have liked to have learned more about the various tribes. How have they evolved to live? What rituals and time-honored traditions would the use of magic necessitate?

The Karxal was another interesting place necessitating magic on the part of those who live in the wasteland simply to survive. But it goes beyond that. The wasteland is a spare, bleak place filled with dangers. But magic offers its inhabitants a way to beautify themselves amid the desolation. Like the Valok, I find this a fascinating concept. It brings to mind the brightly colored tents of those caravans criss-crossing the Sahara

The book is filled to the brim with interesting ideas for gamemasters seeking to add more “flavor” to their campaigns. If nothing else, it’s a source for great ideas merging cultures with magic and achieving unique results.

Organization-wise, I love the fact that the chapters and sections are bookmarked in the PDF for easy navigation online. You can hop from heading to heading without having to hunt and peck. I would have liked to have had a few appendices providing comprehensive lists of feats and powers in one handy place. And an index would have been nice, but I can always search the PDF for whatever I’m looking for.

I did have some issues with the choices of fonts and colors in places. For example, the use of a circus-themed font for the Merry-Bedlam section and the harsh slashes of the font used for the Karxal section made it more difficult to read the section titles than it needed to be. I didn’t mind it in the headers at the top of every page, but it made scanning for key words in the text  a bit rough. And the textured backgrounds in some of the boxed text made things tough to read as well, especially with the pink and gray background again in the Merry-Bedlam section.

But overall as I said earlier, Arcane Flavor offers some very unique combinations of magic and culture to keep you and your players hopping for a while. Once again, Hannah Lipsky has hit another one out of the park. If you’re looking for magical ideas for your world, definitely pick up a copy when it becomes available at RPGNow!

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