Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Complete Vivimancer

+Gavin Norman 's The Complete Vivimancer is available from RPGNow for $10. The book is written for Labyrinth Lord, but could certainly by used with any retro-clone or classic edition of D&D. Having had the chance to carefully read through it, I can tell you that it is pretty damn sweet.

The text introduces a new subclass of magic-user, the vivimancer. The vivimancer takes inspiration from the opening story of Jack Vance's sublime The Dying Earth. There we meet Turjan of Mir as he struggles to master the forgotten principles of life that will enable him to produce intelligent beings from his vats.

Turjan illustrated by George C. Barr

Turjan's melancholy failure leads him in desperation to seek the help of the legendary sage Pandelume in the land of Embelyon. There we meet two of his vat grown creations, the perfect Floriel and the tragically flawed T'sais who can only experience the world as a hostile and malevolent prison. T'sais is herself the subject of a story in that collection. Although these stories had a tremendous influence on D&D, introducing the fire and forget system of outrageously named spells that is rightly referred as Vancian spellcasting, the obsession with mastering life through vats of creation has not similarly been taken up, until now. However, this is not the only influence on The Complete Vivimancer, for there is also a heady dose of body horror and malevolent fleshcrafting in the spirit of David Cronenberg. As it turns out, Vance and Cronenberg make for an attractive cocktail.

This is Cronenberg's take on pregnancy

Unlike the dreary specialist mages of 2E forward, the vivimancer has his own unique spell list. This he shares with the classic 1E illusionist. But unlike the illusionist, the vivimancer has very few spells that overlap with the magic-user, and even these tend to function quite differently. The unique spell list and the tightly unified bio-occult theme of the class do a fantastic job giving us a viable alternative to the magic-user with an entirely different flavor and feel. Indeed, Norman arguably succeeds to a far greater extent than the original illusionist class did, which always felt like a quirky restricted magic-user. In The Complete Vivimancer he has shown us how the logic underlying the classic illusionist can be carried to completion with panache, flowering in potentially limitless strange and wonderful forms.

And the spells. Oh man. There's one that warps people's bones, and others that allow the spellcaster to take someone's face, or transfer a pregnancy from one (possibly unwilling) subject to another. Even the ones that echo magic-user spells have a sublime twist. For example, Bind Symbiotic Familiar creates a parasitic or fungal familiar that grows on the flesh of the vivimancer. But where the vivimancer really shines is in his laboratory. Starting at fifth level, the vivimancer is able to create beings of animal level intelligence with the spell Vats of Creation. There are spells that speed up the reproduction and growth of plants animals, and others that subject them to mutations, and so on. At the highest levels the vivimancer is able to create intelligent beings, including clones of himself. The ninth level spells are all unique to the class, and are simply superb. For example, Cannibal Holocaust, causes an unnatural and irresistible hunger for human flesh to overcome everyone in a 400' radius. The spell is clearly intended to raze whole city blocks, and reduce civilization to mad savagery.

One interesting consequence of the vivimancer's emphasis on laboratory creation is that domain level play will begin for the vivimancer much earlier, starting at 5th level. He will quickly be in a position to begin crafting a mad seclusium, replete with carnivorous mushroom, parasitic murder worms, or whatever lush fever dreams the player's imagination births. Having wizards obsessively pursuing mad projects and constructing unique lairs early in a campaign is appealing to me, and it is interesting to see this style of play built into the class.

One other place where the book shines is in its section on magic objects. There's a Cerebral Spider that sits on your brain and shields you from scrying. There's a translucent Hive Seed, from which springs a colony of giant insects. There are salts of dessication that dry up a living being, which can be reconstituted with water at a later time. And there are a whole series of lenses that perform diverse functions, from seeing around corners to microspoic vision. These magical objects, as well as many of the spells could easily be nicked by a DM who did not want to introduce the vivimancer as a separate class, but was just looking for some very cool spells and magical items to insert into his game. The PDF is absolutely worth acquiring even for this more limited purpose.
Go and buy it.

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