Secrets of Pact Magic is a very interesting set of alternative rules for any OGL game.  I’ve often enjoyed fantasy worlds where magic is performed by binding spirits, or at least where such rituals are fairly common (say, more frequent than castings of planar ally spells, which have never been used in any game I have played in for the last seven years).  So, at first blush, pact magic looks like a good way to incorporate that feeling into D&D with both crunch and roleplaying.

Over the last several days, I’ve had the chance to read through Secrets of Pact Magic and have absolutely fallen in love with the way pact magic is presented.  A word of warning – I haven’t had time to do a playlets, so I cannot speak definitively about balance or the way the crunch plays out.  I’ll offer my opinion (since when has anything stopped me from doing that?), but take it with a grain of salt.

First, production values.  Secrets of Pact Magic is about what I’d expect from a third party publisher.*  The pages of the PDF have a nice background and border that add some flavor without being too distracting.   The art is not quite as good as, say, something from Paizo or Wizards, but its style fits with the rest of the production choices in the PDF and that’s really my highest requirement.  The typographic and other layout choices are mostly good, but the headers on some sidebars can be distracting.

The book begins with an introduction to pact magic, which is a good primer for the flavor of the pact magic system.  Reading it for the first time, I was immediately drawn in and wanted to give it a spin or work it into my own campaigns.  I love the idea of small bargains or deals that aren’t quite on the Faustian level (at first) in order to gain a measure of personal power.   It’s a delicious approach to magic ripe for roleplaying opportunities.

The way pact magic is presented in Secrets gives GMs a chance to use it either as a full-blown change to D&D’s magic system, or as an addition to the game as it stands.  I think the best way to use pact magic is by making it an option, but not necessarily by making it the primary source of magic in the world.  Part of my reasoning is that the pact magic system doesn’t seem meant to be a replacement for arcane/divine magic.

The classes offered in Secrets have a few holes.  Not big ones, mind you, but for the kind of game that I like to play the pact magic classes aren’t quite adequate.  I like having a cleric class, for one.  Pact magic offers the Occult Priest, but it doesn’t have quite the flavor I’m looking for.  So, pact magic can’t replace magic in D&D for me, but the beauty of Secrets is that it works just as well as a complement to the stock classes.

The way I played with my friends in high school was that all the standard classes in the Player’s Handbook were available, and then the GM picked from the dozens of supplements we collectively owned which other classes would be permissible.  There were usually at least two dozen.   I like having options, and pact magic adds some good ones.

I’m a particular fan of the Foe Hunter, a ranger-like class that lets the Hunter vary his/her abilities based on the currently-bound spirit.   I can see using the Foe Hunter as a holy warrior who calls upon spirits to hunt the enemies of his/her faith.  Alternatively, the Foe Hunter sells little bits of his/her soul at a time (sorta like a time share, but in hell) to gain the skills needed to off the next contract.

Note to GMs: want to make the supernatural a very important part of your campaign that is fundamentally tied to at least one character in the game?  This will do it.

In short, I love Secrets of Pact Magic.  The designers put some serious thought and effort into writing this supplement, and I think it makes a great addition to any D&D game.  I’m looking forward to working it into a game soon, possibly using the Pathfinder conversion.  I would have loved to review that as well, but this review ended up being way longer than I expected so I’ll save that for another day.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Secrets of Pact Magic, Villains of Pact Magic, and the conversion guide from Ed Healey at Atomic Array so that I could write this review.

* That is, a company with less in the way of resources than a one of the few major hitters in the field.  I love small presses, and this one is no different, so please don’t take this as a negative.

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