Two things are immediately noticeable about Secrets of Magic. The first is that it is an absolutely gorgeous book. From the front cover’s beautiful bordering and flashy Wayne Reynolds painting to the interior’s ornate pages and wonderful evocative artwork, this may well be one of the best-looking books Paizo has ever published. The second thing you’ll notice is that it doesn’t match the rest of the line. Secrets of Magic is part of the Pathfinder Second Edition rulebook line, which until this volume had just been books that had been published in the first edition of the game as well. The six books that were released before Secrets of Magic all have uniform covers with tan and brown trade dress, and tabs on the front cover denoting Second Edition and the back cover denoting “Rulebook.” Secrets of Magic, however, has a navy blue trade dress, and instead of tabs, the Second Edition and “Rulebook” notations are worked better into the overall trade dress to fit the feel of the book.
Pathfinder Secrets of Magic
September 1, 2021
The reason for these changes is simple: these mark Secrets of Magic as something different and new. The other rulebooks have all been reboots of existing Pathfinder titles, but the next three at least are all going to be substantially different. Sure, Secrets of Magic is similar in theme to Ultimate Magic from the previous edition, but once you start looking at the content of the book the differences become more and more clear. With Guns & Gears and Book of the Dead on the horizon, two books that don’t have even thematic counterparts in the first edition, it seems like this is the new direction for the line.
As always, Wayne Reynolds’ cover painting provides a sense of unity and wonder to the rulebook line. This marks Reynolds’ 35th cover in the two rulebook lines, and it’s one of the things you can always count on to make the books seem consistent. The two new classes introduced in this book take center stage on the Secrets of Magic cover, as Seltiyel the magus and Ija the summoner battle an eldritch horror trying to enter the world through a mysterious gate. So while the rest of the cover and spine of the book stand out from the others on the line, the cover art remains consistent and beautiful.
The introduction of the book makes clear that this book may not be the right fit for every table, and that players and Game Masters should always work together to set the tone and style of the campaign they want to play. Your table may use some things from a rulebook and ignore others, and that’s perfectly okay.
The first chapter of the book is a framing sequence for everything that comes later, and the way it is done is brilliantly unique. This tome isn’t just a rulebook—this is a treatise on magic passed down from a father to you, his child. There’s a brief introductory paragraph about how he’s proud of you for embarking on a journey to study magic, and that he hopes the things included in this book will help you on your way. The majority of the opening chapter consists of in-universe texts on the study of magic. It has notes and citations of each of the four traditions of magic (arcane, divine, occult, and primal), an academic paper on the essences of magic (complete with editor’s notes), and then descriptions of each wizardly school of magic.
This provides an immense tonal shift from the other books in the rulebook line, as it is immediately and wholly ingrained in the Lost Omens campaign setting, immersing the reader in another world as they learn about how magic works through people in the setting. My favorite subsection of this is the “Eight Arches of Incantation,” which uses a page each to explain the eight schools of wizardry. Each of these is filled with the strengths and weaknesses of a given school, along with an illustration of what a wizard from each may look like. The enchantment wizard and the transmutation wizard, in particular, both look rad as heck.
After the introduction to how magic works, there’s a brief section on various backgrounds you can take to suit a magical character. In Second Edition, backgrounds are one of the three parts of the ABCs of character-building: Ancestry (formerly called race), Background, and Class. Backgrounds are what shape where a character is from or how they were raised, and they always add some sort of related benefit. In Secrets of Magic, there are basic backgrounds like astrologer (grants a feat to identify oddities) or street preacher (grants a feat called dubious knowledge, which makes your knowledge checks less reliable) and also rare backgrounds that a player would need to talk to their GM to take. Rare backgrounds are things like chosen one (grants you a reaction to reroll a failed check with the caveat that the GM can later make you reroll a successful check) or time traveler (allows you to quicken yourself once a day).
The second chapter is devoted to the new classes introduced in this book. The first of these is the arcane warrior build, the magus. In the previous edition, the magus evolved from the idea of a wizard and fighter multiclass and was introduced as a whole class in Ultimate Magic. It’s the same concept here, with a variety of options to customize the fighting style as you see fit. If you’d prefer to be a dextrous agility-based fighter, you can be a laughing shadow magus. If you prefer ranged combat, you should try a starlight span magus. But I think my favorite magus type is the sparkling targe, who uses a sword and shield approach to combat. Couple this with the magus feat “Raise a Tome,” which allows you to use a book as your shield, and I immediately have some fun ideas on how to play a magus.
The second new class is the summoner, another carryover from the first edition of the game, but one that has a lot of baggage. First appearing in the first edition version of the Advanced Player’s Guide, summoners were complicated and overpowered and wound up often being banned or reworked by GMs to not break the game at their tables. Paizo first attempted to fix the class in Pathfinder Unchained, which offered significant cuts to the power of summoners in both the spell list and in the customization of their eidolon (the special magical companion that makes a summoner unique). The Unchained summoner went too far in the other direction and left no real viable option for the class in the first edition, so now here we are in Pathfinder Second Edition hoping that the third time’s the charm.
This time around, with the three action economy, a summoner has the ability to split their actions between them and the eidolon, making for interesting turn combinations, including the potential to take a fourth action in some cases. There are fewer customization options for eidolons in Secrets of Magic, as they’ve done away with the evolution pool for the creatures, and instead, evolutions are granted by class feats throughout the level progression. The lack of customization really hinders the class in my opinion, but it does work within the new ruleset of Second Edition. Hopefully, future books in both the rulebook and Lost Omens lines will have more options, and at that point, I may finally make the god-caller summoner of Sarkoris that I’ve thought about for years.
Of course, in a book that is focused on magic, one would expect a plethora of new spells, and Secrets of Magic does not disappoint on this front. Between regular spells, class-specific focus spells for summoner and magus, and powerful rituals, there are more than 200 new spells in this book. Some of my favorites include:
- The book offers various “form” spells that allow you to take the form of, say, a demon or a fey, but me being me, my favorite of these is Angelic Form that allows you to take the form of a powerful angel.
- Bloodspray Curse, which causes your target’s wounds to gush blood causing additional damage per turn.
- Ravenous Portal, which turns a door into a mimic to prevent entry.
- Schadenfreude, triggered when you critically fail a roll, turns your failure into the utmost distraction of your target.
- Being that one of the new classes is summoner, there’s a bastion of new summon spells, including Summon Deific Herald, which allows you to call upon the herald of your deity for a single round.
- Summon Kaiju, enough said.
- Both Summon Deific Herald and Summon Kaiju give you examples to pick from, though your GM may allow you to make changes to the spells to best suit your character.
- Portrait of Spite, a ritual that uses your target’s blood to paint a picture that transforms into a cursed version of them and bestows the same curse upon them.
Sprinkled throughout the spell chapter are diary entries from an unnamed witch as they learn their power over the years. These are a nice little touch to add more flavor during what could have just been a giant block of crunch.
The fourth chapter of the book is focused on new magical items. Along with more traditional magic items, there are specific sections for fulus, grimoires, magical tattoos, personal staves, spell catalysts, and spell hearts. Fulus are basically scrolls that you affix to your weapons or armors for a temporary boost, just like a scroll provides you with a one-time-use spell. Grimoires are very specific spell books that have unique effects, like the Endless Grimoire, a spellbook that never fills up and imparts bonuses to learn new spells. The magical tattoos contain rules for applying them as well as specific examples of various magical inkwork. Catalysts increase certain spell effects and spellhearts are permanent versions of the single-use talismans found in the Core Rulebook.
Much like the spell chapter, the very crunchy magic items chapter is also broken up with amusing anecdotal sidebars, like the description of someone experimenting with a bag of holding or the poor professor who had a bag of weasels unleashed in their office.
The final chapter of the book contains information on various alternate magic systems that can be used at your desire for your home games. These aren’t going to be the best option for every table, but for the right game, they could bring a spark of fun and excitement of something different to the campaign. These are things like the emotion-based casting of cathartic magic or the flexible preparation that allows a player to build the Second Edition version of the arcanist (a wizard and sorcerer combination class from the previous edition that combined both prepared and spontaneous spellcasting).
There are two additional rule sets that interest me the most. The first is pervasive magic, where an area of the world is so imbued with magical energy that it starts to seep into everything and everyone around it. In a home game, a GM might make this apply to their entire world, or the book offers suggestions on how to utilize this in particular locations of the official Lost Omens campaign setting. These are things like the lasting taint of the demonic hordes in what was once the Worldwound leaving a scarring energy behind on Sarkoris or portals to the fey realm of the First World imbuing the lands around the Darkmoon Vale.
The other ruleset that inspires me as a GM is Thassilonian Rune Magic. This is an idea that goes back to the very beginning of the Lost Omens campaign setting, as it was a featured part of the very first published Pathfinder campaign, Rise of the Runelords. It’s a system of wizard magic that uses specialized schools tied to the seven deadly sins. Evocation magic is tied to wrath, enchantment is tied to lust, transmutation to greed, and so forth. It’s one of those little pieces of lore that has just dug itself deep into my own personal love of the game, and I’m happy to see specific rules for the system make their way to Second Edition.
Secrets of Magic is a massive tome with hundreds of options for players and Game Masters alike, and the book really pushes the needle forward on what to expect from future books in the Pathfinder rulebook line. It seamlessly melds campaign setting lore with rules in a way that’s been hinted at by previous Second Edition books, but none have taken it so far or done it so well. While neither new class is set to become a favorite for me to play, there are other options in the book I’m anxious to try. After all, what druid wouldn’t want to summon a kaiju?
Cori McCreery is a two-time Eisner-winning critic who primarily writes for Women Write About Comics. She is writing the literal book on Superman.