2121 Tome of Magic review

The Tome of Magic, I just want to say that I don’t really care for this book, but I will try my best to give it a fair review. There are those out there that love this book, and those out there that hate it . . . I am neither. I have no feelings about this book at all. I bought it years ago and on the rare occasion that I pick it off of the shelf, I usually set it back down without finding anything of any value what so ever. I want to say that in all of the years that I’ve owned it, I have only found one single instance where I used it, which was last month; that is many many years of gaming, friends. I don’t know, maybe I’ve used it before and promptly forgot about it, the Tome of Magic is that kind of book.

It was released in June of 1991, and is the cumulative effort of David Cook, Nigel Findley, Anthony Herring, Christopher Kubasik, Carl Sargent, and Rick Swan. It also features some nice art. I always thought that it was strange for this book to be hardbound, the material found within it isn’t stuff that you are really going to use all the time, it came about because Dave Cook thought that there was some holes in the 2e spell list, which is really kind of crazy, 2nd Edition has some severe bulk issues when it comes to spells, there are lots of them in the Player’s Handbook which people complain about because many think of them as throw aways.

CHAPTER I: How to Use Tome of Magic

In case you don’t know how to use a book, then this section is for you! Just kidding. This section is very dated, it was written when this information was brand new and they thought that people wanted to logically explain why clerics suddenly get new spells that they didn’t have before, which isn’t relevant anymore. One of the things that it does offer is adding the Wild Mage to your core rules. Personally, I’ve never really done this. I’m not opposed to it, it just isn’t anything that has really come up in my campaign. Looking at them, they look like a DM’s nightmare, I always found NPC wizards difficult already and I honestly don’t want to deal with even more book work, maybe it just looks harder than it really is. These rules and alternative tables look more interesting and more advanced than the version introduced to us in Forgotten Realms Adventures.*

The Tome also does some modifying to the cleric’s spells and how they function, specifically in regards to cooperation, which is very welcome into the game.

CHAPTER II: Wizard’s Spells

None of these spells are all that exciting, but they weren’t supposed to be. They aren’t spells that are all that useful, or different from the core spells found in the PHB, except if you specifically write for them, but there are two camps: Those that want lots of spells, and those that think that there are just way to many, admittedly I think that there are way to many, but at least with wizards, there are limits on how many spells that a character can have, while you want to make sure that the mage has a good balance, it is nice to have lots of spells to choose from to fill in their lists, but how much is too much? I suppose that that is a personal question that everybody has to ask themselves. What really irritates me about the mage is that at 9th level they can create their own spells, which is difficult when there are so many spells already out there, however I know that I am nitpicking. When you are playing a wizard you tend to notice the holes present in the system more than the Dungeon Master does.

CHAPTER III: Priest Spells

This could had been a mess, but thankfully this book added new Spheres, for the most part, over just adding spells to the existing ones. Clerics are hard to play! Especially when magic is required, and this book tends to make it even more difficult, instead of speed reading one book looking for ideas for something that you can do, now you have two books to go through.

Another big problem with this section is that the new spheres aren’t in The Complete Priest’s Handbook, as the Tome was written afterwards. As a cleric, I generally ignore this thing unless I’ve got a huge problem. The way that I have found to get around it is through scrolls.

The Tome does offer a concept which they call “Quest Spells” that are pretty interesting. These are very powerful spells for both PCs and NPCs which can add story elements that you can’t normally achieve without ignoring things. I guess to me it is an attractive concept, and it is fairly well written so that it doesn’t break everything around it. By making sacrifices you can introduce some awesome concepts to your games which can take some interesting directions.

While I do have mixed feelings about adding this book as core to the 2e system, I always end up doing it simply because these spells have been play-tested, now I’m not afraid to write my own, but that can take a lot of book work to figure out something that at the end of the day really doesn’t matter. It is just easier to look through the handbooks for spells, and when it comes down to writing one, it is nice to have lots of examples to look at so that you can categorize it properly. What this books spells do do is offer nice and tight mechanics, which I might not be able to achieve on my own.

CHAPTER IV: Magical Items

I never use this chapter, I think that the DMG wastes too much space with detailing these things, and then you’ve got this book which adds even more. As a new user, I liked reading sections like these, but as a well-seasoned DM I find them absolutely worthless. I almost always create my own magical items for the game, I am stingy when it comes to them and when I put one into play there is usually a reason.


These are nice, they collect all of the core spells and categorize them; there is one for wizards and one for priests, and then an index which cross-references with the PHB. Now I prefer playing with the old PHB, and I use the first printing of the Tome of Magic as well, thus this index is accurate, but if you use the black PHB, unless you have the appropriate version of the Tome, these page numbers won’t be right.


This is a popular book, there is no denying that. It saw many reprints and even reappeared for 3e. It does offer options, but I wish that it would had offered more than it does. I remember when I first bought this book I had some expectations and once I got it home and read it, I didn’t feel that those expectations were met.  I just don’t have much use for this book. I would had liked to see the clerical magic system reworked, but that never happened until Wizards of the Coast took over. I probably should use this product more than I do, and I would if I  played more magical settings than I typically run. It would make the NPCs that I create different, but honestly, this has never been a noticeable problem for me, but that is due to my personal style.

The physical specs of this book are incredible. Because I used to be a mobile DM, this book was almost always on the bottom of the bag and took a lot of punishment, which it handled like a champ. It is weird that it was hardbound, it boosted the price up, but because it was hardbound I think that more people bought it than normally would had. Typically the hardbound handbooks are awesome, which personally I don’t feel to be the case here. You can play the game for the rest of your life and never once need this book. It isn’t even a very good luxury item. At the time I originally bought it, I felt ripped off and gave it a D-, but as it has sat on my shelf for many years now, and I do pick it up from time to time, I can see how this book can spark some creative slumps, and give a campaign a little bit more color than it normally might, so I’ll improve this rating to a very shaky C+. This book was written for a specific market, and I do not fit this market, so admittedly, I’m just a bad judge of this thing because I have little use for what it offers.

Cost wise, you’ve got to be careful with this one, like I said before, if this book doesn’t match up with your Players Handbook then you won’t be able to use the index, which is one of its best features. Don’t trust pictures, if you use the black PHB you’ll need to buy the ToM printed after 1995, and likewise, any ToM published after 95 won’t match the handbooks printed before it. PDFs are probably better here, but honestly, this book really isn’t even needed to play the game so you can skip it unless you find some cool deal where you can get away with spending 5-10 dollars on the hardcopy while perusing your favorite used book store.  

*EDIT: The Tome of Magic introduces the Wild Mage as a playable character, the concept of Wild Magic was introduced in Forgotten Realms Adventures


Blake Jarvis said...

Not sure how you review the TOM without a proper covering of the new classes- the Wild Mage & Elementalists... Which were the main things I or most people seem to have used from the book.

Aside from the odd spell- which I sometimes used, the new classes were noticeably different and allowed a totally different campaign style/feel than the usual "schools' format.

Want a new continent/alien spell casting tradition- boom, here's your "go to", just dress it up however you like.

One of only two 2e splatbooks which ever saw much use IMC, along with the CB of Humanoids.

Ripper X said...

That actually sounds cool. I never played these new classes, nor have any of my players. I always found Wizards to be the most difficult to play, they are very hard to figure out and I don't think that we ever really got good enough where we felt the need to expand the schools.

Well, I've had/have a couple of players that are really good at it, but they prefer to play general wizards. I was able to talk one of them into playing a specialist after altering my Forgotten Realms setting to eliminate general wizards, just to see how that would go, but that is as far as we ever got to really exploring the schoolmen concept. I will admit that I'm in favor of keeping it.

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