Inner Sea Magic is a “Pathfinder Campaign Setting Supplement” detailing the magic traditions of Golarion. This augury is based on its PDF version. Inner Sea Magic is a 68-pages product, full color and bookmarked, with Paizo’s topnotch layout and graphics.
Right at the beginning we get a short but flavorful description of famous magic traditions at places like the Mana Wastes, Jalmeray and Irrisen. There’s also a nice list of famous or legendary spellcasters – each NPC is identified with a small illustration (a nice touch!), alignment, race, class, level and a short reference. For example: Aroden, LN god of humanity; deceased; “Once the god of humanity, died at the onset of the Age of Lost Omens”.
I sincerely like this approach because, while many of those NPCs are already known from adventure paths and modules, the way they’re listed motivates Gamemaster to suit these characters to their home campaigns instead of following lots of setting background. It helps against what I like to call “canon-bubble burst” – the quick, aggressive and seemly unstoppable development of history, NCPS and setting trivia, leaving no room for a Gamemaster’s imagination or customization needs (usually examples of settings that suffer from this are Forgotten Realms, Warhammer 40K or Exalted).
Inner Sea Magic’s next topic is also my favorite one: variant magic. False Divine Magic and Primal Magic (your old wild magic) are definitely fun – and the new Spellscar Mystery for oracles is awesome! Thassilonian magic is cool and already nostalgic for me (Gods!… Rise of the Runelords seems so old; and yup, it still has a special place in my dark decadent heart). Shadowcasting reminds me of the old rules (pre-3rd Edition) for Illusion magic – it looks like a simple and “safer” way of making illusions deal damage (yeah, I’m being ironical with the “safer” part).
The next chapter is about magic schools. Its uses a system similar to the one presented in the Pathfinder Chronicles: Faction Guide. Basically, you get into an organization to gain certain small bonus and extra benefits. I can understand the idea behind magic schools (more customization) but – like character traits – it seems much bookkeeping for too little gain.
Inner Sea Magic gives a nice resume detailing how each archetype from the Advanced Player Guide and Ultimate Magic fits in the Inner Sea region. It’s short, but then again, very flavorful and useful. After it we reach the juicy bits – new mechanical options for spellcasting classes (like new mysteries and archetypes). Among these, Black Blood Oracle (from Second Darkness) is very cool – albeit I find their spray ability a little weak; and the Cheliax Diva seems a lot of fun to play (in a gonzo way).
I like to evaluate new options from books like Inner Sea Magic by looking for original mechanics that clearly denote a setting’s hallmarks without complicating the game at the table. In this aspect, First Worlder (for Summoners) and Nirmathi Irregulars (for Rangers) are great new options – interesting archetypes that managed to capture Golarion’s unique traits. I couldn’t fail to mention the amazing Shadowcaster (its ability to store spells in his shadows is made of pure awesomeness). The Cyphermage prestige class is also another good choice – simple and directly linked to a good setting element. In my mind all prestige classes should be like this.
Inner Sea Magic also has new spells. I have little patience these days for reading spell chapters, but I friend of mine was only too kind to select a sample of unusual or useful dweomers for me (thanks Leoz!): Blast Barrier (very interesting for its tactical aspect), Fleshcurdle, Geb’s Hammer, Geniekind (great!), Khain’s Army, Music of the Spheres, Siphon Magic, Song of Kyonin, Spell Absorption and Weaponwand (this one is a fine example of “adventurer magic”). To this list I add Martyr's Bargain (obviously a paladin spell).
Inner Sea Magic is a good supplement ("average" may be a better word). It isn’t ground-breaking and (to me at least) it is unnecessary, unless you’re a Pathfinder collector or a total maniac for spellcasters options (with the APG and Ultimate Magic I hove more than enough). Pathfinder’s rate of growth is starting to show in books like this – there are a good number of references to the APG, Ultimate Magic, Inner Sea Guide, Bestiary 2, among others. Let’s just hope that Paizo can keep its focus with a higher number of books coming out.