Back from a 10-day hiatus in suprisingly sunny Toronto, your Prince has returned bearing not gifts, but at least a copy of Kane: Darkness Weaves by Karl Edward Wagner, the cherry on what was already a suprisingly sweet pie. Nevertheless, reviewing work awaits.
Magic in the 2nd edition has been altered considerably, bringing it more in line with the tabletop fantasy game. The Dnd-lite/spellpointery trappings of 1e have been cast off and has been replaced with a channeling system with nearly unlimited power at the cost of greater unpredictability and personal risk.
The basics. Magic in the world of Warhammer is really fucking terrible and is actually the raw, reality-warping stuff of chaos pouring out of a gaping hole torn in reality at the poles. Messing around with the primal stuff of creation (the Aethyr, heh) has serious risks associated with it, but fortunately for everyone, magic-users are very rare, with about 1 in every 1000 humans having a talent, 1 in every 1.000.000 an exceptional talent (think Level 2-3 wizards or somesuch) and 1 in every 10.000.000.000 is powerful enough to be “one of the legendary Battle Wizards.” I don’t know how densely populated the Warhammer World is but I think this means they must have had about a single battle mage in all of human history. They Matt-Warded things again. One in 100.000.000 would have sufficed easily, meaning you get yourself a Battle Mage every few generations or so (to give you some perspective, the Holy Roman Empire had a population of 16million in 1650).
As may be expected, Elves are far more adept at magic (if they ever reach level 4 wizard status that means they are ready to begin their apprenticeship as High Wizards) while Dwarves and Hobbits get none, of which I approve heartily. In order for our feeble human natures to survive the manipulation of the raw stuff of Chaos, wizards devote themselves to one of the Eight Winds of Magic. The practice is time and energy intensive that it requires single minded devotion, you pick a school and you stick with it. In the flavour text, it is made abundantly clear that channeling sorcery for a long time is not something that leaves a man unchanged or even entirely human anymore, but the description does not reach Warhammer 40k extremes. Normal Magic in Warhammer Fantasy may be used as a powerful, if dangerous tool. Necromancy or Dhar is another matter entirely of course.
The basics are as follows. If you want to cast a spell you must roll its target number on a d10. You may opt to use a d10 for each level of magic you have access to. A (small) bonus to this roll may be added in two ways: If you use the channeling skill (based on willpower) you can add your magic level to the roll, a small bonus but you need all the help you can get. The only drawback to the channeling skill takes a half action. The other is via ingredients. Like WHFRP 1e spells have ingredients but these are now optional and can provide a bonus ranging from +1 to +3. Ingredients are almost always worth it and a bonus of +3 to a single roll can make a significant difference when casting one of the more advanced spells.
The question then becomes; Why the fuck are wizards not spraying their fireballs every round and, indeed, during every meaningful interaction with any NPC? Simple answer: Magic is dangerous and ultimately the domain of Tzeentch, God of Chaos! Anyone sticking their filthy paws in it risks drawing his attention and getting fucked. Anytime you roll a double on your channeling roll you get to roll on the Tzeentch’s Curse table. The effects of the curse become progressively worse if you get triples or quadruples (since the chance of ever rolling a quadruple is almost zero there is also a 5% chance any roll on a table becomes a roll on the next worst table instead). The effects of Tzeentch’s curse vary somewhat in severity. Minor effects mean things like spoiled milk, your hair standing on end, animals panicking or the loss of a single wound. Major effects vary from demonic possesion, becoming stunned or enfeebled, a glimpse into the Warp gaining you both insanity and knowledge (very 40k) or the appearance of a demonic Imp. Catastrophic effects (meaning quadruples) can be anything from critical hits, demonic molestation and essentially instant death unless you burn a fate point. The effects of Tzeentch’s curse are overal, fairly minor, and I suspect that given the low chance of getting a triple or quadruple result, it almost always makes sense to go full pull and use as many dice as you can get. What would have made these drawbacks more interesting is if they had a greater effect on your party members as well as on the wizard itself. As it is, Tzeentch’s curse is a speedbump, not a roadblock, and wizards are still fucking baller. Clerics are even more powerful, suffering only from the Wrath of the Gods if they roll doubles, which means you don’t accidentally port in a demon to kick the shit out of you. The moral of this story? In WHF2 you cast as much as you goddamn well please.
The magic schools are pretty well done, with some atmospheric notes on the long term effects on body and spirit of delving into them. First and foremost, all wizards have access to Petty Magic (basic bitch lvl 1 dnd wizard shit, up to and including a sleep and magic missile I mean dart spell) and Priests to the divine equivalent thereof (a collection of minor stat-increasing blessings). Depending on your starting career, it is possible for a wizard to start with Petty Magic (Hedge) instead, which includes less practical but more atmospheric minor magicks that only sad old people from backwards rural villages would find impressive, thus making them perfect. Passing without trace, protection from rain, enchanting an object so it brings bad luck etc. Next up we have a set of more or less generic spells, the so-called lesser magics, which may be purchased seperately for xp by any wizard, no matter what his school, and serve to add some differentiation within wizard schools. These would be your general use spells, your magic armours (Athyric armour), your Alarms, your dispel magics, your mage lock’s and so on. It is interesting to see dnd’s filthy pawprints are still clearly visible 20 years later.
Anyway, handling magic is really fucking dangerous, therefore a smart cookie by the name of Magnus the Pious established the Colleges of Magic, each dedicated to the study of one of the 8 lores or winds of Chaos. Untrained wizards are generally hunted down and killed by the Witchhunters, therefore one would do well to sign on for Wizard school if one can afford the tuition fee. As soon as you pick a lore of magic to specialize in you automatically gain access to all of the spells (and its associated skill), though the high threshold for the most advanced magics means that in practice you will not be able to cast them until your sorcerous skills improve to 3 or even 4. The most powerful magicks generally have a threshold of 25, meaning that you have almost no chance to cast them if you have only 3 dice (where your expected value clocks in at about 16.5 or 19.5 if you use channeling). With some fancy spell components, you might luck out and launch a Fiery Blast at the defenceless Kislevian refugees that are blocking your way to the brothel, but don’t count on it.
As previously stated, magic is divided into 8 lores or winds: Beast (druid-shapechangery), Death (essentially grey necromancy), Fire (the most famous and destructive lore),
the lore of the Heavens (divination and the manipulation of fate, also lightning storms), Life (elementalism), Light (healing), Metal (Alchemy, replaces the Alchemist class, the manipulation of items as well as the pursuit of knowledge) and Shadow (the admittedly awesome creation of illusions). Each lore has about 10 spells each with kickass names like Pillar of Radiance, River’s Whisper and First Portent of Amul and less kickass names like Omen or Fireball. Nevertheless a very cool section.
So what happens to people that use all the 8 winds together without the artistry of millenia old Elven High mages? You get into some bad shit! Using Dhar can be good for normal magic too. Practitioners of this profane and deadly art get to roll an extra dice when spellcasting and discard the lowest. This dice does count for purposes of invoking Tzeentch’s Wrath, and anyone rolling doubles on his percentage dice on Tzeentch’s Curse suffers permanent afflictions ah la the first game (daylight allergy, cadaverous appearances, palsy, madness etc. etc). Dhar is absolutely neccesary for using the Lore of Chaos (a.k.a doing yourself some demon summoning, mutating people or spitting burning blood that burns like acid into the faces of your enemies) or Necromancy (the re-animation of dead bodies and drinking blood to regain your wounds among other, less wholesome practices).
Rules for priests follow similar lines but are divided not into lores but into deities, with each deity giving access to 6-7 spells. Priests are less powerful and fearsome in Warhammer but they also suffer less penalties from fuckups. All the old deities return, with Sigmar finally getting a write-up (he also has the best mixture of combat and healing spells so adepts of Sigmar are likely to be a common sight in adventuring parties in the Old World). Priest spells tend more towards utility and support in general, although there are some nice fluff-ish additions too, like the ability to send messages through Dreams of the Priest of Morr or the awesome self-immolation Soulfire power of the Priest of Sigmar. Overall, these are robust and straightforward spells, perfectly suitable for a game of investigation, swordmurder and Chaos!
Two minor sections round off the chapter. A very small section (2 spells and the general operation) on ritual magic describes extremely potent and lengthy rituals used to effect large areas which can only be learned from ancient grimoires or other such places. The Beastly Transmogrification of the Omnipotent Tchar transforms anyone within a mile radius into a murderous Beastman that instantly goes on a rampage for 24 hours before restoring them back to normal afterward (though you do gain 6 insanity even if you live, or 3 if you make your save). The platinum thimble full of warpstone, severed head of a beastman shaman and two human sacrifices (male and a woman, neither of which may have eaten for over a week), does make its use impractical at times. Not all ritual magic is evil, though all is highly suspect by the empire’s witch hunters.
The magic section is somewhat Aenemic (only 2 fucking entries) but I like the general take. Magic items are rare as fuck. No more +1 swords of whatever. Each magical item has a history and some significance attached to it. Perhaps it was once mundane and borne by a great hero, perhaps it was forged for a specific purpose and so on and so forth. The players can use Academic lore skills like history to identify their history and purpose. Kind of neat. The items described are nothing special however, a simple +20% to Fellowship or extra damage vs Daemons and so on. The approach deserves merit, but FUCK YOU Games workshop for making a game that is more or less incomplete.
Overall, I consider the departure from the spellpoint/dndoish origins of magic in Warhammer Fantasy to be a success. I question whether the Curse of Tzeentch is sufficient disincentive to prevent constant use and abuse however. The Lores are nice and varied and some of the spells, while all pretty straightforward, are awesome. The priest section is also a huge improvement over the old game, with each priesthood feeling distinct and significant (with the exception of a priest of Manaan in the deserts of Khemri but this is no more then understandable).
Magic is loud and impressive in Warhammer Fantasy. The Ritual rules are a cool idea and the take on magic is nice, but for fuck’s sake kill this premise of delivering incomplete corebooks with the intent of publishing more works later.