Randal Reads Secrets of Magic: The Eight Arches and Magical Backgrounds

Welcome back to the continuation of the Secrets of Magic special review blog! If you missed the beginning, you can find it here! Today we dive into The Eight Arches of Incantation and Magical Backgrounds (including Rare ones!).

The Eight Arches of Incantation

Blurry Screen Capture of from Secrets of Magic

Eight Arches – Abjuration

These pages each refer to a school of magic, discussing various thoughts, concepts, outlooks, and other information about them Each page includes art of a caster, as well as a “Signs” sidebar that includes the school’s/casters’ Harmonic Colors, Celestial Body, Season, Plant, Animal, Stones, and Harrow Cards.

Abjuration discusses why it is the most essential school while being weak on offense as well as one of the most deadly in some cases. I am curious about how “tanky” of an Abjurer I could build that has an answer for every situation.

Conjuration mentions that “it is a settled matter” that summoned creatures are facsimiles and not real creatures. Knowing they aren’t real gives me an idea for a Conjurer that uses a little bit of anime stylings to conjure/form allies/mobs/swarms with visual flourishes of sand/dust/something out of the ground … only to have them all “POOF” into dust when they end.

Right out the gate, the Divination section has a great burn: “…dismissed as the weakest of the schools by a good many wizards, such as those who ruled the empire of Thassilon.” Why do I now want to play “that one Diviner” from New Thassilon that saw it all coming but nobody would listen … deciding to travel abroad to those that will listen to their divinations … only to realize that prophecies are gone!?

I really liked the part in Enchantment about the tragedy of the school: “that the masters of others’ emotions become so alienated from their own, and -in some cases-lose the essence of what it is to be mortal.” This … this has some potential, but I would have to be careful to not play it too emo while also not playing it as the person whose mood changes the mood of those around; although that does sound intriguing.

The Evocation section called out the “simplistic” nature of the discipline, but pulled a “yes, and…” approach by giving us some lore about how evocation evolved from early arcanists’ experimentation in learning the basic elements of air, earth, fire, and water. They called out how great evokers are as military artillery or in the saving of a village from bandits or goblins … and I now want to play a group of evokers in a fun, low-stakes “let’s be the heroes of this war” type of campaign.

Illusion called out the differences in creating a single illusion (where all see the same) vs creating illusions in the mind (where each sees their own) as well as pointing out the weakness of dealing with the mindless or supernaturally enhanced that can see through such things. I really need to find a GM that will let me play an illusionist (rogue dip) cat burglar.

Blurry Screen Capture of the Transcription Page

Eight Arches – Transmutation

Necromancy points out the downsides of each of its three branches (vitalism, soul magic, undeath) while also accepting that arguments can be made for positive use of the knowledge of each; some more than others. I do, now, kind of want to build and play a necromancer that creates undead strictly for the purpose of knowing how to undo the magic that binds them as he hunts them down-a duskwalker would be perfect, but I am playing a duskwalker ghost hunter already.

And we come to Transmutation, which I find aptly compared to enchantments in that each works on one aspect (physical v psyche) while leaving the other untouched. I have a PFS character (“wizard”) I am playing that is loaded with transmutation spells for his mount … I need to play him more.

Magical Backgrounds

Oh yeah, as if the last 30-ish pages haven’t pumped me up with character ideas … let’s see what we have.

Academy Dropout Int/Cha + free; Arcana, Academia, and Dubious Knowledge. Yup, I can relate to this one, having dropped out of a handful of colleges in my time. I can certainly see the skill and feat choices lining up. I think this would be great for an eldritch trickster.

Astrologer Int/Wis + free; Occultism, Astrology Lore, and Oddity Identification. I like this as a background for the style character that builds a tower to get some isolation and spends nights looking at the stars, or perhaps Merlin from Sword in the Stone.

Eidolon Contact Con/Cha + free; (tradition skill), (eidolon type) Lore, and Dubious Knowledge. You had some sort of contact with an eidolon, but aren’t necessarily a summoner and I think this is a really great way to bring eidolons to non-summoner characters while also giving summoners a more direct mechanical link to their origin story.

False Medium Int/Cha + free; Occultism, Fortune-Telling Lore, and Deceptive Worship. I have a witch PC that I played through Rise of the Runelords, that was a Criss Angel knock off … this would have been the perfect background for him … maybe I should do a 2e build of him.

Magical Merchant Int/Wis + free; Crafting, Mercantile Lore, and Crafter’s Appraisal. I like this for a character that is trying to find the perfect score, which really reminds me of Taloon from Chapter 3 of Dragon Quest IV … I wonder if I could convince a GM to run me through a “I just wanna travel, make contacts, and discover new materials to build my merchant empire” style campaign..

Magical Misfit Int/Dex + free; Arcana, Underworld Lore, and Trick Magic Item. Ok, I was wrong before, this is going to be the background for my next eldritch trickster build. Maybe the Academy Dropout build will be somebody using those talents to help family while this one is just out to have fun and do (minor) crime.

Magical Backgrounds - Astronomer

Magical Backgrounds – Astronomer

Musical Prodigy Dex/Cha + free; Performance, Music Lore, and Virtuosic Performer. Ok, I think this is a pretty stellar package, whether you are a bard or not. I am playing a musical bard (1st) in PFS and am seriously considering swapping out his background for this now.

Occult Librarian Int/Wis; Occultism, Academia Lore, and Schooled in Secrets. This is the Giles (Buffy’s Watcher) background … and I love it for that.

Plant Whisperer Wis/Cha + free; Nature, Plant Lore, and Natural Medicine. While this isn’t strictly magical (the text mentions “skill that borders on magical”), I think this is a great background with great benefits.

Street Preacher Wis/Cha + free; Religion, (deity) Lore, and Dubious Knowledge. The name says it all, and I think this is another example of a background that ties directly into a class (cleric or champion) while also allowing any other character to have a nice mechanical benefit from their attachment to their religion without needing to actually be a cleric or champion.

Student of Magic Int/Wis + free; (tradition skill), Academia Lore, and Recognize Spell. Hmm, I feel like there is an AP that this background might be perfect for … at any rate, this is geared towards characters actively attending some sort of magical education.

Rare Magical Backgrounds

Anti-Magical Con/Wis + free; Lore of your choice. Any magic that would affect you needs a DC 3 flat check to actually affect you. This is really interesting and potentially a wonderfully annoying powerful story element. I think it is a fun idea for those characters (often barbarians) that hate magic and shun it or work against it. I might angle for this when I finally play Goblin Strife in Outlaws of Alkenstar.

Chosen One Str/Cha + free; (prophecy related skill), Fortune-Telling Lore, and Prophecy’s Pawn free action. I love this free action. It is a simple reroll of a failed saving throw, attack roll, or skill check … except that you can’t use it again until the GM has used Prophecy’s Pawn to make you reroll a successful one! Chosen one is a common trope, one I have GM and played and will likely do again. This is a wonderfully simple implementation of it.

Genie-Blessed Cha + free; Diplomacy, Genie Lore, Wish for Luck free action. Wish for Luck is your basic once per day fortune effect, but I think it is a thematically simple way to handle almost any background involving genies and wishes.

Magical Experiment Con. Occultism, Academia Lore, and one of the following abilities: Enhanced Senses, Resistant Skin, Touch Telepathy. This has a lot of fun potential. I really like it for a campaign where *everybody* is an experiment, be they breaking out of the lab or joining forces to stop said lab.

Seer of the Dead Con/Wis; Religion, Undead Lore, and constant spirit sense. “I see dead people …” … ok, you can’t always *see* them, but always counting as Searching in regards to haunts and spirits is a pretty awesome ability. This would have been an awesome choice for my Ghost Hunter Duskwalker.

Song of the Deep Str/Con/Cha; Athletics, Ocean Lore, and can breathe underwater. Brought back to life by a water breather and gain the ability to breath underwater? Yes please! I have multiple sailor/fisherman ideas welling up from this. Oh, you can choose to not breathe air in exchange for an additional, free ability boost … this just adds to the character ideas.

Time Traveler Dex/Int + free. Three Lore skills of your choice and Bend Time reaction (once per day quicked; gaining extra Stride). I really like this, it is a fun way to do a number of tropes from fantasy and sci-fi, as well as let us play our Starfinder characters. Oh, and characters from New Thassilon are called out in the description.


Thanks for reading along … tune in tomorrow as I read about the Magus. And, as always, please join us at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj to let me know what you think or simply have a chat!

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him endless ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, gaming, or playing with his kids, Randal is likely working on improving Sage (his Discord bot for immersive play-by-post gaming that you can see in action on Know Direction's Discord in the Know Direction Societous PFS channels) over at https://www.patreon.com/halfmugtavernsage!