It isn’t usually popular for Dungeons and Dragons sourcebooks to feature reprinted material, but every so often the amount of options available for one aspect of the game becomes so great that a compilation needs to be made for the betterment of play. The Spell Compendium is such an example. Before players with casters would arm their characters with spells from the PH and a second sourcebook of their choice to minimize the number of books they would have to carry to each session. The Spell Compendium is designed as the ultimate second sourcebook for casting characters.
At a Glance
The cover has a full graphic reminiscent of the PH, DMG, and MM, designed to look like an ancient tomb. Normally I object to books cocky enough to compare themselves to the core rulebooks, but as you’ll read later, not this time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the few details and dull beige of the cover any more interesting to look at. This may be the most bland sourcebook cover WotC has ever produced. Of note to trivia buffs, the catalogue image showed a very similar cover for the Spell Compendium, except it also had a capital I in the center. My guess is that they knew a second Spell Compendium was due in three or four years and they wanted to get the leg up. But they dropped it to make this Spell Compendium seem like the be-all, end-all.
Surprisingly, for a book made up mostly of reprinted material, the artwork is all new. That’s right, no dog sitting or treasure chest with skull face lock. Not only are they original, but they are phenomenal. Just about every image I saw made me want to read about that spell.
All in One
A caster, especially one with an unlimited spell list like a Cleric, isn’t hard pressed to lug around an unmanageable load of books anymore. The Spell Compendium is the only stop you have to make for magic after the Player’s Handbook. Until enough sourcebooks with useful spells are released to warrant Spell Compendium II.
The spells in the PH mix flavour text with rules liberally, sometimes too liberally. To avoid further confusion about what the spell can do and what it implies it can do, fluff has a brief paragraph in italics followed by the spell’s crunch description.
Thematic Spell Choice
I once played a druid who didn’t cast fire spells because of the uncontrollable havoc fire can reap on nature. Another player in my group wanted her sorceress to cast fire spells exclusively. The Player’s Handbook alone made spell selection too limited to fulfill these concepts. The Spell Compendium has collected such a wide range of spells -even if some only vary by the element they use- that no two spell casters need ever be the same, and some very colourful themed casters.
A Lot To Read
This is not a complaint for anyone that considers flavour text a waste of space. But to those of us that can’t read through close to three hundred pages of rules in one sitting, the Spell Compendium is overwhelming. I’m sure there are some real jewels buried in these pages, maybe even spells I’ve read and thought were cool that were kicked out of my memory by other the waterfall of information pouring into my brain.
What Happened To My Spell?
Close to a hundred spells have been renamed. Others have had their descriptions changed. Sometimes this was done to replace copyrighted names with more generic ones, like changing Aganazzar’s scorcher with scorch. Sometimes for syntax, like changing chameleon to camouflage. And then there are just unreasonable cosmetic changes, like switching the description of vortex of teeth from an overwhelming mess of teeth gnawing in every direction to a school of transparent piranha. It may not seem like much, but when a spell catches your imagination, it’s upsetting to have it changed.
Beyond that, there are changes to how some spells work that weren’t even corrected in FAQs or rules errata. How so many unbalanced spells saw publication and suddenly needed changing is bizarre, and whispers cash harvesting.
Not Something For Everyone
Naturally, if you play a class with no spells and have no intention of changing that, this book is useless to you. But there are casting classes, such as the Hexblade from Complete Warrior and the Wu Jen from Complete Arcane, that don’t get anything added to their spell lists here.
Orbs are great energy-based conjuration spells that provide a wide variety of offensive spells to casters and takes the very powerful evocation school down a peg.
Bonefiddle is a multipurpose bard spell that deals damage, calls attention to a target trying to move silently, and has a description that makes my skin crawl.
A lot. My gaming group casts from the Spell Compendium as regularly as they do from the PH. Revivify is literally a lifesaver, belker claws dishes out considerable damage over a long period of time, and any of the ice weapon spells (ice axe, ice claw, ice dagger, ice gauntlet, ice knife, and icelance) provide casters with an impressive weapon.
The Spell Compendium is the forth core rulebook if you play a caster. There are just so many options and it is so manageable that you are missing out on a lot of fun if you don’t have access to this book. Very highly recommend.
If You Liked This Book…
Complete Mage and Complete Arcane are filled with more information and options for arcane casters. Complete Divine and to a much lesser extent Complete Champion cover your options as a divine caster.
The Magic Item Compendium is another space-saver as far as collecting all your options goes.