Tuesday, February 21, 2023

OSR Commentary Dangerous Magic - AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer For Dungeons & Dragons

 "Tell me, teacher?How does one open the cabinet of security? Of what use is the banner of bravery? And what are the limits of the sun deck? My books and scrolls tell me nothing about many of the magical treasures I've heard you mention time and again."

"No, Phaedras, your manuscripts are too general. But since you have inquired, I will allow you to peruse this, one of my most treasured volumes?The Book of Marvelous Magic. It will answer your questions."

And now you, too, can learn the secrets that were revealed to Phaedras! "

Frank Mentzer subtly pointed out AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer on Facebook today. And when the founder of the Role-Playing Games Association (RPGA) during his time with TSR points a book out to you on Facebook about Basic Dungeons & Dragons I take note of it. Especially when its a seventy six page book that expands the grand game's magical items & has one of my favorite Clyde Caldwell covers! Who the hell is this witch & why does she have a vault containing that many magic relics. This is the book that introduced the famous line,"The D&D and AD&D games are actually different games." on page Seventy four. Well back in '86  this book was one of the ones that one of my dungeon masters got a hold of & it was not pretty. This is a book for the dungeon master who needs that special or unique magic item for a mini encounter or for a full on campaign with a twist. Salting them here & there within the context of the adventure. Not all of these magic items are nice at all & can cause all kinds of issues with parties of adventurers!
I'm not the only blogger who has positive things to say about AC4 The Book of Marvelous Magic

A bit of background the AC series of books by TSR were supplements that helped to round out the edges of Dungeons & Dragons while taking the hand of the dungeon master to some extent. AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn is used to help dungeon masters introduce fully designed NPC characters into any adventure scenario. This is also true of 
AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer. 
Each category of item has within it variations & types of magic items for many situations. The wiki entry on AC4 has pretty good overview of the five hundred items;
" This book is a sourcebook on magical items and their twists and quirks. As well as all the miscellaneous magical items that appeared in the D&D BasicExpert, and Companion Sets, over 500 new magical items are described in detail. Each item comes with a brief description and an explanation of its powers. The items are listed in alphabetical order by type of item. For example, under Blanket can be found the Blanket of Devouring, the Blanket of Protection, and the Blanket of Sleeping."
"Marvelous Magic sticks with alphabetical order, though it also has random charts for some unusual categories such as "animal-related items", "paper and related items", "tools and hardware", and "travel items" (optionally, "land and air" or "water")." 
AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer 
delivers the goods quite literally to the PC's. But surely a book written in '85 couldn't be used today for something like OSR systems or Fifth edition right?! Actually AC4 is even more useful today then it was when it was first published!  With so many OSR settings on the market today AC4 could throw any number of odd & off beat magic items into an adventure. There are a lot of weird & off beat punned named magic items in this book & its actually a Gygax & Mid Western American thing. That's not a bad thing as some of these items are actually deadly dungeon traps unto themselves such as the 'Barrel of Monkeys'. The person looking into the barrel is transformed into an Albino Ape & they keep coming! This is a dungeon feature & trap which could be very deadly. As recently as two years ago I used this trap erm magic item for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

Yes I totally stole this artwork from the Dungeons & Digression blog

But who the Hell is making all of these magic items?! My guess is a god of magic, malice, & possibly chaos. The magic items have subtle theme of weirdness about them & the sheer variety is like something the brain of a dungeon master would come up with after a heavy brain storming session. There are items here for every adventure situation & more. In OSR game settings such as Dark Albion, I've used 
AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer as the basis for the vault of  the sorcerer Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, from Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Because of the slightly humors bent many of these items also made guest appearances in several Lamentations of the Flame Princess modules. But its really in Mystara where 
AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer  has gotten a work out. The book's magic items were or are a part of a treasury of a faction of worshipers of a god of magic & chaos. Notice I said god not immortal because there's a dangerous difference. When these items show up the immortals are not happy at all. They cause all kinds of low scale chaos & headaches for adventurers, villagers, & even ordinary citizens!

That gets to the heart of what AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax Frank Mentzer  does which is to be used to create unique adventure opportunities. I don't agree with the Imagine magazine review & commentary;
"Jez Keen reviewed the accessory for Imagine magazine, giving it a negative review.[2] Keen wrote that the items on offer fall into three categories, "sensible ones, the bad-play compensatory ones and the silly ones".[2] Overall, the reviewer thought that in Basic D&D games magic items can be much too common. If magic was appropriately rare, this publication would not be needed. So Keen recommended it only for those who think that there should be "magic items at every street corner", as some items will be useful and some humorous."
Its really not up to the reviewer but actually it falls to the dungeon master as to where & when these magic items are needed during adventure design or play. 
So is AC4 - The Book of Marvelous Magic By Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer worth the price of admission?! Well yes I think so & I do feel that it delivers on its promises & has gotten a bad rap over the years because its really a niche product. What I mean is that this is a product meant for the dungeon master to use the items & salt their adventures & campaigns as needed.  All in all I think its a great product & snap shot of another era of gaming.

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