Third Party D&D: Deep Magic Vol. 1 & 2 (Kobold Press)

When it comes to third-party D&D publishers, Kobold Press is probably one of my favorites. Most players will know them from their Tome of Beasts books, but Kobold Press has been creating a variety of supplements since 5E first rolled out. Over the years, some of their most popular releases have been magic-themed. These released include new spells, background options, or even entirely new schools of magic. For years, these options have been scattered throughout various publications. In 2020, Kobold Press decided to compile all of this material and release it in one package called Deep Magic. This book not only lumped all of these popular options into one collection but it also updated the content with balance adjustments and other tweaks. The book was so popular that three years later, a second volume was produced. I’ve owned the original Deep Magic for some time, but now, after having time to digest the second volume as well, I think it’s time to share my thoughts on these two books.

Let’s start with the first book, Deep Magic. As is usually the case with Kobold Press products, the quality of the book itself is just wonderful. The binding is tight, the printing and artwork are lovely, and the paper is of a thick and good quality.The book is organized fairly well also. It begins with multiple class-based lists for the new spells that are presented in the book. This is very similar to what is found in the 5E PHB, when reviewing information for various spell-casting classes. From here, we move into an alphabetical listing of all the new spells that are introduced in this book.

I’m not going to pretend that I spent hours and hours reading through every new spell included here. But I did take my time to read through quite a number of them. After a cursory review, I found more than a few of the spells included here to be rather pointless. I hate to say that, but it’s true. While I can’t point to any specific spell feeling like a clone of something found in the 5E PHB, many of the included spells seem very situational or overly complicated. On top of that, a number of these new spells seem to suffer from balance issues. For example, “Visage of Madness” is a 4th level spell that changes the spellcasters face to something so horrendous that any opponents within 30 feet that lay eyes on the caster must make a saving throw or they become compelled to claw out their own eyes. This results in both physical damage and blindness (there’s actually a chance that they become permanently blinded). These seems like an extremely exciting spell at first, but when you think about it, it’s quite overpowered for a 4th level spell. For this reason, I’d probably never allow this spell in my game. Other issues include some of the descriptions containing references to mechanics that don’t even appear in 5E. This makes me think that perhaps they were initially designed for other games like Pathfinder and these oddities were not caught during editing. Sad.

The next section of the book provides new class options (Bard Colleges, Divine Domains, Paladin Oaths, etc). I found this section of the book to be much more interesting and higher in quality. However, it’s important to note that many of these options have direct ties to various spells found in the book.

From here, the book goes on to outline entirely new schools of magic; Rune Magic, Clockwork Magic, Temporal Magic – more magic than you could ever use or even fathom a use for. When it comes to these options, I’m not really sure where to start. Many of them seem like they would only be useful in certain campaigns or in very specific situations. I personally, don’t find much value in some of them. But I can agree that they are unique and well thought out.

Finally, the book ends with a variety of cool additions, pre-built NPCs, magical items, and even a few magic-themed monsters.

If I’m being honest, Deep Magic is a mixed bag. There’s some really good content here. But I find the book also contains lots of filler and some serious balance issues.

Before moving on to the next book, I should point out that the original Deep Magic book recently received a reprint under the title Deep Magic Vol. 1. This updated version is more than just a simple reprint with a new cover. A number of spells and options were removed from this printing, while a bunch of new spells were added in their place. A handful of other updates and tweaks were made as well. But oddly enough, plenty of the issues I mentioned above still remain. The biggest change to this new version is the inclusion of an entirely new base class for 5E, The Theurge. This class allows the player to learn both arcane and divine magic (but with some serious limitations for balance reasons). I find the new class intriguing, but again, I can only really imagine it’s use in very limited situations.

You’re probably curious which printing is best. I would have to recommend the new version simply because of the new base class. The nineteen spells that were cut were admittedly some of the weirder ones that would likely see little to no use at most tables. Also, and handful of spells were simply moved from this book to the Deep Magic Vol. 2. Why? More on that later.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to Deep Magic Vol. 2 and see what this book has to offer.

The biggest draw to this book is the inclusion of a new base class the Witch. To me, The Witch seems to be a bit of an odd choice. For starters, I’ve always used the term “witch” to refer to female warlocks in my campaign. The name fits just fine when put into that context. The Witch class presented in this book has a focus on nature and most of the class-specific abilities play off the classic “broom riding” stereotype. At first glance, the class seems a bit overpowered just based on the sheer number of spells available to the class. But a deeper dive shows that the power of the spells actually available to the Witch is fairly limited. I can certainly see this class having a place in some particular campaigns. But I’m not sure it going to fit in to most campaigns.

The second part of this book provides a bunch of new magic types (schools). As was the case with the new schools listed in the original Deep Magic, many of these seems very niche and I can imagine that for many DMs, they simply won’t really have a place in existing campaigns. Still, it’s always cool to have some new and unique options available to keep things feeling fresh.

The third chapter is pretty interesting. It provides a number of new ways to incorporate magic into the game. For example, allowing players to enchant existing items by imbuing them with specific boons and abilities. There’s also new rules for potion brewing and the creation of variant spells. Again, these are all options that might not fit into every campaign, but I found this section of the book to be very intriguing and well put together.

Next up, we have a slew of new spells. This is the meat of the book. As I mentioned earlier, a handful of the spells included here can be found in the original printing of Deep Magic, but they were removed from the reprint. This may seem odd at first, but it was done in order to provide a more consistent product when looking at Vol. 1 and Vol 2. together. The old book was updated and re-arranged to better compliment the layout of Vol. 2, and with that in mind, moving some of the spells makes sense. Of all the brand new spells included in this book, I do find the quality to be an improvement over what was found in the original Deep Magic. But still, there’s plenty of inconsistencies and balance issues littered about.

The book closes with a handful of miscellany; NPCs, maps/locations, and conversion information for the upcoming Tales of the Valiant RPG (a 5E clone created by Kobold Press).

When looked at as a collection, both books have a lot of cool ideas. But by no means would I ever consider these books to be anywhere near as essential as anything WotC has released. I’m notoriously stingy when it comes to letting my players use spells from unofficial products like this. Typically, if one of my players is going to gain access to a spell that’s not found in one of WotC’s core books, it’s going to appear in the game as a major plot element or in the form of some extremely rare reward (appearing in an ancient wizard’s spellbook, for example).

In the end, there’s no denying that there’s plenty of cool concepts to found in these two books. But, the quality of the content is not what I’d expect from Kobold Press. Players who bought the original Deep Magic back in 2020 will no doubt feel shafted by this “Vol. 1” update. That being said, many of the problems with the original release are still present in this revised version – which makes its existence even more puzzling. No matter what, a $130 price tag for both books together seems a bit extreme.

Tabletop

Old Game Hermit

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