Posted on October 12, 2009 by spikexan
Available at RPGNow.com
From the moment you see the cover to Rough Magicks, you know you have something a little demented in your hands. This supplement to Trail of Cthulhu defines magic for that game.
You know magic? It’s that aspect to a Cthulhu game that simultaneously levels the playing field (or at least works towards that effect) and causes your character to consider a lengthy stay at the nearest sanitarium. This slight book comes from Kenneth Hite, so the demented disclaimer probably should get mentioned again.
The book’s layout is really tight, but a bit drab. The bulk of the text falls into a three column format, which works well for it. “Chapter” lead-ins are set aside nicely by invoking a certain Twenties style one might find on business cards from that period. These art trends also set aside sidebars and provide the occasional header and footer (though no real bordering takes place in the book). There are a few fonts used throughout the book to keep things visually pleasing. In many cases, smaller books lend to smaller amounts of artwork or, well, no artwork.
That is not the case with this book. Jérôme Huguenin contributes over a dozen (a third of the book) pieces that fit horrifically well in place with the reading. Pound for pound, this is a serious amount of art for such a lean book.
When I say lean, I am writing only about the page count. Hite delivers his usual multifaceted writing, the kind of writing that demands a second reading because you know you missed something (and you did). This is one of Hite’s favorite topics to boot, so he has a tremendous amount to play with here.
The book opens with a brief one-page introduction that explains the purpose of the book and offers the nice disclaimer that Keepers may not want to use the materials within as they do change the dynamic of the game.
The Magic Ability comes next and covers a great deal of ground. There are discussions about the nature of magic, rules for spell-casting, and magical monsters. There are a few typos (pages 5 and 16) in this chapter that leads readers to the dreaded “page 00,” but it’s fairly easy to forgive with such a small page count.
The next “chapter” is Cast A Deadly Spell, which details actual rules for individual spells. I love it when the first spell mentioned also has this as a warning:
“Also, it will probably kill everyone there, too.”
That’s when you know things are about to get interesting in a nice Chinese curse sort of way. The rules for these spells are abundantly clear and usable. There are plenty of spells of various degrees without getting into redundancy. There are even some great depictions of the various signs to finish off the chapter.
For me, the shining part of this book has to be Idiosyncratic Magic Expanded. This magic is one part Cthulhu and one part Unknown Armies. The purpose of this magic is to enhance the “normal” things your character attempts. For example, your character may want to seduce a socialite. The character may then smear the stolen lipstick of his last conquest over his heart while eating a small piece of it. The player has to explain that this connection permits him to say words that will speak to the heart of another (or some such). A quick ruling by the other players and the Keeper (or perhaps eye-rolling) will detail how successful this attempt is. I like my magic weird and this chapter does it beautifully.
Hite then wraps up the book by discussing Magick in Theory and Lovecraft. You get exactly what you think with this chapter. It’s an interesting (though brief) synopsis on the topic. I’m sure it could have been a book in itself, but Hite is writing a RPG, not a Doctorate Theses.
Of course, the book ends with an updated version of the Trail of Cthulhu character sheet, which contains the newness from this supplement. The second page fits all the criteria most gamers will need for their collection of spells. It may seem like their isn’t enough room at first; however, a player in this game with a host of spells is hardly sane enough to be a player character. My scores for Rough Magicks are:
Layout: Three out of Five Dice (Average)
Artwork: Five out of Five Dice (The color cover alone is just amazing)
Writing: Five out of Five Dice (The Magic Ability and Idiosyncratic Magic Expanded
make the book rock)
Overall: Four out of Five Dice (Awesome addition to the Trail of Cthulhu line)
Review by Todd Cash