Here comes the second PFRPG splatbook after APG, this time focused on magic-using classes. First thing that leads to me knocking a star off right away - 4 classes (Fighter, Rogue, Barbarian, Cavalier) are out of luck here, as no material for them appears in UM (barring a few feats). That wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't for the news that Ultimate Combat will feature new stuff for ALL classes, meaning that martials get a bit shafted. Nothing major, but had to get that off the chest.
So, the book itself. Here it goes:
CHAPTER 1: Spellcasters
Opens up with Magus, the new base class. Magus is a med-BAB bard spell progression class which matches melee combat with offensive spellcasting. I'm pleased to say that it is very well written. Suggestions from open playtest were included and refined. The class is solid, and even features a few new archetypes (including Bladebound for all Elric fans out there).
Right next are new options for existing classes:
Alchemists made it out like bandits with new discoveries and archetypes. The class was solid in APG and goes firmly better in UM. Tumour familiar and parasitic twin are creepily cool.
Bards get Masterpieces, which are somewhat underwhelming power-wise, and a few new archetypes. Wish they got more, Bards have great potential.
Clerics get variant channelling, which is great if you want to replace the standard healing/damaging for something more flavorful. Several archetypes are present, including the much-demanded Cloistered Cleric. No new domains, sadly.
Druids are in for a treat. New domains, new animal companion and a big bunch of archetypes. Dragon Shamans ahoy! And now yes you can have a Spider companion. Yuck.
Inquisitors have now an option of swapping out the domain for a new feature called, surprise, Inquisitions. They also have a few new archetypes. Solid work here.
Monks get vows which are ... disappointing to say at least. Ironically enough, the book includes a PF version of vow of poverty which, honestly, sucks. The other vows aren't that much better. Monks get only one archetype which is quite good, but not enough to make Monk players happy.
Oracles have five new mysteries and a couple archetypes. No new curses. I'd really love more mysteries, I still lack a few concepts here.
Paladins can now take the Oathbound archetype, which gives them access to several thematic oaths.
Rangers get the Trapper archetype, which is not all that great sadly. Nothing else besides, another class that should rather be looking forward to Ultimate Combat.
Sorcerers - new bloodlines and two archetypes that deal with bloodline mechanics. Nothing dramatic here.
Summoners are another class which went to town for shopping. New base form for Eidolon, new evolutions and new archetypes, including the oft-requested "mass summoner" and my personal fave, the Synthesist. Guyver time!
Witches get a complete package - new hexes, new patrons and new archetypes. Solid expansion of APG material.
Finally, Wizards. Wizards get a single archetype and 2 elemental wizard schools, but the party is at Arcane Discoveries which may replace bonus feats. Some of those are really powerful.
CHAPTER 2: Mastering Magic
Contains new and variant rules. Spellblights are magic-related afflictions which can hinder a spellcaster in new ways. Spell Duels chapter details just that, spellcaster duels. The next section focuses on binding outsiders, another feature that's underdeveloped in core rules. New rules for construct creation and customization are REALLY cool. New familiars are always welcome. Coming up next are sample spellbooks, which are amazingly useful but mired by editing errors that left several spells "orphaned". Finally, the section on spell design offers some insight into just that. Not my cup of tea, but fans of poking inside designer's minds will be happy.
CHAPTER 3: Feats
The compulsory feats chapter is quite large and includes dozens of new ways to customize your character. The feats are mostly in line with Core and APG, a few are somewhat underpowered and a single one (Antagonize) clearly needs better number crunching. A feat called "Die For Your Master" made me chuckle.
CHAPTER 4: Words of Power
This chapter describes the new, alternate magic system based around customized spells made up of power words. I'd love to elaborate on this, but since the concept itself doesn't really interest me, I didn't give this chapter a honest read. You might find it useful if you like experimenting, tho.
CHAPTER 5: Spells
Another obvious addition: new spells. Scores of them, of course. There are several really fun, innovative and clever spells here and I found this chapter a refreshing read. A spell called mad monkeys wins the day for me, nothing beats summoning a swarm of crazed gibbons against your foes.
This is a solid splatbook. Much broader than WotC "Complete" splats, with several thematic ideas that draw upon mythology, history and pop culture to liven up your PF game. Yet, three things contribute to knocking off one star:
- the aforementioned lack of love for non-caster classes. I realize the book is called Ultimate Magic, but the caster-martial divide in D&D is well known and one could hope for something to help bridge it.
- quality control is worse than in Core and APG. I don't mind typos, but a couple of things are either badly written (Antagonize), poorly thought out (Monk vows) or victims of editing/development errors (Spellbooks). It's not bad enough to cause discomfort, but it is visible enough to request more tight supervision of future books.
- purely optional content. I'm not a fan of stuff which I will, objectively, never get to use. An entire chapter of UM - Words of Power - is pretty much lost on me and I would much prefer for it to sit in an "Unearthed Arcana" type of book. The spell design chapter is also slightly guilty of this.
I recommend this book, you'll have lots of fun from it and it will enrich your experience no matter if you are a player or GM. But I also recommend Paizo to step up and maintain their quality standards found in other books.