Pyramid #3/76 – Dungeon Fantasy IV Review (Hidden Knowledge)

This is the fourth issue that is devoted to Dungeon Fantasy. No surprise – it’s the most popular sub-line, having spawned at least 16 or 17 books, and of course, since it occupies the same turf as the most popular game today (D&D in all its flavors, be it D&D5, Pathfinder, or the various OSR or D&Derived versions).

This issue is quite eclectic in its coverage, and some of the articles are downright . . . well, somewhere between odd and squicky, but in a *I have to put that in my game* kind of way.

So, let’s delve in . . . but remember you’re descending from an upper level, where psychic freakin’ Jedi can be found.

Hidden Knowledge (+Christopher R. Rice)

Christopher Rice offers up a new take on spells. Not just spells, but secret spells. With cool names. Known for his fondness for Ritual Path Magic, this article nonetheless covers conventional magic, of the type used in bog-standard DF. Of course, the article does touch on RPM, as well as spellbooks, with sections on Secret Spells, Secret Magic, and Knowing Your Letters (grimoires and spellboks).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This article is quite dense, but very readable. It’s mostly SJG-official format, since the bulk of it is a list of spells, powers or abilities, or bullet-point lists of choices for the GM to create a secret magic portfolio that works for them. Of particularly high cool-factor is one of Christopher’s nearly-trademark tables, in this case a full-page box of descriptors (prefixes and suffixes) to make otherwise bland spells pop. 0.5 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  This article has the same utility as a book of power-ups, which it basically is. It provides enhancements to spells that make them both better as well as allowing that ability to be secret. I think people will like the ability to give their fighters and foes some surprise mojo. The power-ups for spellbooks make a mouldy old book even more desirable. 2.5 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  So long as your game has magic in it, you can even drop this stuff into an existing campaign. After all, it’s secret magic, not “gee, everyone can just go to and look it up.” 4 points.

Overall: 7/10. If you like magic and want to introduce some cool power-ups, Christopher has you covered.

Would I use it? Yes. I think it’s best used sparingly, and probably not during character creation. But as a Macguffin to reward spell-casting magic users, or as a “I did not know the bad guy could do that!” surprise, I think it has great potential.

Biases Aside: An alternate scoring if you’re approaching the article as not-me.

Rules are Inspiration: If is all it takes for your mind to start racing and your heart to go pitter-patter is the right set of mechanics, this article provides many sparks to get the fire burning. This would boost inspiration and background to a pretty high number, boosting the rating to 8.5/10.

Rules are Boring: If you don’t care for this approach, then this is a dry, technical presentation (-1 to writing, like I gave my own TG), with only moderate background (but still no lower than 2; this is good stuff for secret magic). That would bring it down to a still-solid 5/10.

I Hate Magic: Obviously if you’re not into extra-powerful and secret magic, or magic at all, this will have little drop-in utility.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: Depending on your preferences, this article will range from about 5-8.5; if you have no use for magic, well, this one is obviously not for you.

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