After over a decade hanging around the online scene, as well as being passionate about the OSR, it’s probably fair to say I’m pretty jaded when it comes to new releases for the TSR versions of D&D. However, Theorems & Thaumaturgy ticks all the right boxes and has impressed me no end. It is, for me, a wonderful example of what amateur and self-publishers could and should produce, if only they put a bit of effort in. I know some professional publishers who could learn some lessons from it too.
As the title of this post says, Theorems & Thaumaturgy (T&T) is a 65-page magic supplement. It was written by Gavin Norman of the blog, The City of Iron. Being a supplement for the Moldvay D&D retro-clone, Labyrinth Lord, it is obviously also compatible with any version of TSR D&D and subsequent clones. First I’ll talk about what’s in it, and then why I like it and hold it in such high esteem.
Within its pages, T&T has three new magic-user classes, two variant classes, a selection of themed magic tomes, optional rules for magic-users, new monsters and magic items, a wonderful section consisting of samples of memorised spells for spellcasters, and an alphabetical listing of spells found both within T&T and LL’s Advanced Edition Companion (AEC).
The three magic-user classes are Elementalist, Necromancer and Vivimancer. Besides the class description, each also has a selection of new spells. So while the elementalist has “spells in common with both magic-users and druids, as well as some cleric and illusionist spells”, there are also 36 new spells for the class. The necromancer (magic-user illusionist and cleric spells) has 67 new spells, and the vivimancer (magic-user and druid spells) has 60 new spells. That’s a big heap of new spells to add to your campaign, whether or not you use these classes.
The helpful Introduction describes the vivimancer as having some overlap with the druid class, but adds “druids act as sacred protectors of the balance of nature, and are thus inherently and strictly neutral in alignment, vivimancers have no such philosophy, being simply versed in the arcane manipulation of the forces of nature”. I have a player who obsessively plays a druid almost every campaign. I’m tempted to allow this class in the future just to rock his boat.
Finally, at the end of each class description is a spell list, with both the new spells and those from the AEC. I’d probably prefer this list before the spell descriptions, but that’s personal taste. The classes are simple (this is Basic D&D, not AD&D) and so I like them very much.
Then come a couple of variant classes. The expanded illusionist is just that, an expansion of the AEC illusionist to have spells of up to level 9, rather than stopping at 7th level. This consists of six new spells each of levels 8 & 9, as well as a bonus four spells of other levels.
The Fey Elf variant, remembering that race = class in LL, adds “a bit of fairy tale magic to elves, to give them a different flavour and different spell-casting abilities than that of the standard magic-user”. And I think Gavin does a good job of achieving that. The variant comes in both Basic LL and AEC flavours, and adds a Sorcerer class for fey elves only. Fey spell-casters use a mixture of magic-user, cleric, druid and illusionist spells, as well as four new spells. This variant would work extremely well in a campaign that borrowed heavily from Jack Vance’s Lyonesse series, or something similar.
And because 167-odd new spells is simply not enough, Gavin gives us even more in the next section – Tomes – themed spell books. Along with suggested rules (which he offers in pretty much every section of T&T), Gavin has produced another 66 spells (which brings us to a total of around 233 new spells in this free supplement, if my count is correct).
These themed tomes are suggestive of schools of magic, should a DM want to go down that track. They can certainly be used simply to turn that plain old vanilla magic-user into one with a distinct flavour. The names of the tomes are a good indication of what you can expect, so that there is:
- The Book of Deceptions,
- The Book of Figurines and Puppets,
- The Book of Meta-Magic,
- The Book of Pranks,
- The Chronomancer’s Workbook,
- The Dimensional Treatise,
- The Prism Codex,
- The Tome of Ooze and Slime, and
- The Tome of the Spider Mage
Within the Appendices can be found optional rules for magic-users. It’s all simple but useful stuff – detecting magic, cantrips, magical affinities, additional spells per day, easier scroll creation, no duplicate spells, limited high-level spells, and complicated high-level spells.
Next up are 19 new monsters and 13 new magic items. The monsters and magic items are a good fit with much of what has gone before in T&T. All are useful as far as I’m concerned and not just same old-same old padding for the product.
Another very useful feature is the “Example Memorized Spells”, with a page each for elementalists, fey elves, illusionists, magic-users, necromancers, and vivimancers. Each page consists of four individuals and the spells they have picked at each level, from 1st right through to 10th level. This is a handy tool for quickly producing memorised spells for an NPC. It would also be very handy for that NPC who is the nemesis of the adventurers, the one they just can’t kill and keeps popping up again later on at higher levels.
The book ends with an alphabetical list of spells contained both in T&T and the AEC, with the respective page numbers listed. This is only really handy if you are using these two volumes in your campaign.
I like how Gavin has put this book together. There are so many little touches that make T&T look like a professional product, like a book in which the publisher actually cares. Too many books published both professionally and by amateurs are a formatting mess, or lack any sense of visual nicety. One modern gaming company has the rights to re-release, and add to, a couple of British 80s RPGs, but their products look like they’ve been put together by a computer illiterate. It’s lazy, it disrespectful to the original authors, and it treats the customers with contempt. It screams "we want your money but will give you sub-standard product in return".
In contrast, Theorems & Thaumaturgy shines. The text is justified, not lazily left-aligned, which makes it easier on the eye and for me, easier to read. It’s in two-column format, except for spell lists which are in three columns. In fact, anyone familiar with Dan Proctor’s LL products will feel very much at home here. And there are some nice little touches like the decorative elements framing the page numbers and illustrated section headers.
Speaking of which, amazingly, for a free product, rather than fall back on clip art or have no art at all, Gavin has
purchased art from not one, but two artists – the
familiar Kelvin Green and the new-to-me Cadanse D. [CORRECTION: Gavin left a comment below in which he says both artists donated their art, free of charge] The artwork of both artists
fits together nicely and Cadanse D’s work in particular is reminiscent of the
artwork of Aubrey Beardsley, very apt for the subject matter. All up there are
25 pieces of art in this book, which is a pretty good ratio to the page count.
Oh and I couldn’t help noticing, and perhaps it’s just me, but I swear the figure on page 20 could be Zak S, while the one on page 27 could be his girlfriend Mandy (link NSFW).
I think a lot of publishers could learn a thing or two from what Gavin has done here.
As I’ve said, Theorems & Thaumaturgy is FREE. You can download the (6.2 mb) pdf by clicking on this link. Gavin is also selling paperback and hardcover versions through Lulu, at cost. Yep, he’s not making a cent from this. Personally I think he deserves some reward for what I believe is a fantastic supplement for the game. As such, the very least I can do is write this review and say a big THANK YOU to him.