The second massive sourcebook in Interjection games' Strange Magic-series of massive books clocks in at 95 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 92 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
FULL DISCLOSURE: As the credits tell you, I acted as editor for this book. I worked on other parts of Strange Magic and was compensated for my work. That being said, I reviewed the Maestro and its expansions and thus the system this is based on long before I was involved in any way with this project. I did not contribute material to this book. I do not consider my judgment compromised and have rated projects I was involved with less than stellar before. I consider my integrity top priority and hence wanted to let you know about my involvement.
So the first class herein is already an interesting one that could be considered rather gonzo - the breakdancer. Sponsored by backer Sasha Hall, the breakdancer receives 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 composer-level progression, good fort- and ref-saves and proficiency with simple weapons, light martial weapons, whip, meteor hammer and light armor. He also begins the game with 2 scores and learns up to 5. Each score can have a1 melody at first level, scaling up to 4. At 5th level, the class receives the first so-called drop and these scale up to 5, but more on them later.
If the terminology hasn't been ample clue so far, composition magic is a special kind of magic (including a caster-like level) that has its own terminology. First would be so-called scores - these consist of an intro, an outro and a number of melodies. Each score must contain a single intro, outro and melody. Scores are prepared and require a caster-attribute (usually Intelligence) of 12 + number of melodies in a score. The DC, if applicable, is 10 + 1/2 class level + governing attribute. Since compositions are prepared, changing them requires access to a composition book, which is, however, only required to change the composition. A breakdancer, for example, begins play with 1 intro, 1 outro and 1+Int-mod (min 1) melodies known. Gaining more intros/outros/melodies requires the gaining of levels or the access to composition book, mirroring the way in which wizards can learn spells from other sources. The collective term for intros, outros and melodies would be composition.
Each score can be conducted for rounds equal to the character's Perform (conducting)-skill + the character's Intelligence modifier. Starting to conduct a score is a standard action that provokes AoOs, but can be maintained as a free action. The intro-effect triggers immediately, as do all melody effects - the latter persist for as long as the score remains in effect. A score can be ended in two ways - first, the character may simply stop conducting as a free action. He can, however, also execute a standard action that provokes AoOs to end a composition with a flourish - this triggers an outro. After ending a score as a free action, the character may not reactivate it in the same round. Conducting a score per se cannot be disrupted, but paralysis, killing/knocking the character unconscious etc. all end a given composition - whenever the character can't spend the required free action, the magic collapses. Unless otherwise noted, composition magic relies on audible components. Faithful readers of mine may now have a slight déjà-vu - and indeed, this book essentially takes the unique way of casting the Maestro-class introduced and amps it up, generating a whole array of material for it. And yes, I'll return to that class as well.
For now, let me explain the breakdancer's two signature tricks - number one would be Rhythm. A breakdancer can accumulate up to Dex-mod points of rhythm, minimum 1. These can be considered thesholds/points. 1 point of Rhythm is gained when the breakdancer is conducting a score. If within the effect of a score or a bardic performance and not conducting a score, the breakdancer does not modify the points of Rhythm he has. When not conducting a score and not within the effect of a score or bardic performance, the breakdancer loses one point of Rhythm. What do these points power? Well, remember the Dance moves I mentioned? Yup. These have either a Rhythm cost or a minimum Rhythm and, if applicable, a save of 10 + 1/2 class level + Dex-mod. Finally, there would be drops - gained at 5th level, these are special kinds of scores that have an intro, but neither melody nor outro. Drops do not require the conducting class feature and instead can be executed while conducting a score as a standard action, superseding the effects of the score for 1 round. Utilizing a drop eats 2 rounds of the duration of the composition currently conducted, but also generates 1 rhythm - this means it can't be used if a given composition does not have at least 2 rounds left. At 7th level, drops can be executed as a move action, at 13th level even as a swift action (or a move action, depending on the breakdancer's whims) - note, however, that only one drop can be executed per round.
Okay, so what do the rhythm-powered dance-moves? Well, a lot. The moves, beyond aforementioned restrictions based on rhythm and minimum rhythm also tend to have minimum levels assigned and most are supernatural abilities. If the above explanation of rhythm wasn't enough to cue you in - these can be used during a given composition or after it, for as long as the necessary rhythm is there. The effects, thus, tend to be good in a rather subtle way. Short-range fire damage versus targets on failed save, healing equal to one's own rhythm, or generating a non-illusionary mirror image based on quick movement may take a bit of thought, but as supplemental tricks, these actually help the class remain pretty much fluid. The dance moves also include so-called stances - a breakdancer can only be in one stance at a given time and entering a new stance immediately end the previous stance. It should also be noted that the level-restriction means that capstone breakdancers can select some utterly awesome, powerful spell-like effects - like nigh-infinite automatic haste whenever the breakdancer receives rhythm. What about moonwalking through threatened areas? What about expending rhythm to kill foes with pelvic thrusts? At range? Yeah. This is epic.
And yes, there are dance moves for temporary rhythm as well as a capstone for the maintenance of two stances at the same time. The dance moves also provide, unsurprisingly, deadly headspins of death and some nasty combat maneuver-combos, based mostly on dex and granting the benefits of Improved Unarmed Strikes, allowing for breakdancing martial arts. Neato! The favored class options herein deserve special mention, often providing thoroughly unique benefits and interesting scaling mechanisms - take the one for Drow: First, you penalize creatures affected by a drop with a -1 penalty to Fort-saves. After taking it 5 times, the drow may select whom to penalize. After 10 times, creatures are also fatigued temporarily. A Fort-save negates, with the DC scaling with the FCO. Cool indeed!
Now as for the compositions, we'll check that later - first, let's take a look at the second class, which would be Jason Linker's Cantor. The cantor receives d6, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will-saves, begins with 2 scores (scaling up to 5), one melody per score (scaling up to 5 as well) and maximum spell levels scaling up to 6th. The class receives 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armors and shields. Cantors follow the same rules for compositions, but use Wis as a governing attribute. Unlike other composing classes, cantors also receive access to a limited number of spells, which they need not prepare ahead of time. This divine spellcasting is governed by Charisma...and unlike most classes, each spell can be cast exactly ONCE per day. Instead of bonus spells per day, cantors learn additional spells. Cantors learn the cure/inflict spells automatically at certain levels and has to determine which to use for spontaneous casting etc. (with the usual alignment restrictions) -so in fact, their spellcasting is extremely limited, even more so than most spontaneous casters. At 2nd level the cantor receives channel energy as per alignment/energy type chosen and every even level thereafter, this ability increases, essentially granting the class full healing capabilities. Beyond these, MAD-alleviating abilities and social skill bonuses increase the potency of cantors when dealing with members of the same faith. They also receive their choice from alignment-related domains.
Now so far, this sounds pretty divine, but Musicae Sacrae enter the fray - these follow standard score rules with a couple of notable exceptions. These, unlike regular scores, can only be used once per day and one is gained at 5th level and every 4 class levels thereafter. They can be selected multiple times, each time increasing their daily uses by +1. Thus, you should not be surprised to note that these special scores (akin to the opus of the maestro) are very powerful and come with sample real life pieces to provide the proper mood, should you be so inclined. Veterans of the system will recall this system - and indeed, there is overlap between musica sacra and the maestro's opus class features and they utilize the same system.
These powerful pieces allow you to declare cubes of pure fire, forcing foes to run, immediately resurrect allies fallen even to death magic or grow your allies to juggernaut-size, including significant boosts to their capabilities. Or what about Gustav Holst's Op.32's representation's superb power, which even replenishes e.g. rounds of rage, bardic performances and the like? Yeah, damn awesome and epic, especially since the pdf manages to get the complex crunch-wording required right! The class may also select a capstone, a so-called Deus Ex Musica at 20th level, which include treating the first failed save each day that would result in the cantor's death as a natural 20, point-based domain-spellcasting and special "super"-melodies to add to their arsenal. Once again, we receive extensive favored class options for the class and concise spell-lists (including sources) and score-lists.
Paul Fijma has sponsored the 3rd base class herein, Bradley Crouch's Harmonicist- The Harmonicist receives d6, proficiency with simple weapons, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will- and fort-saves, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and shields, but not any armor. Harmonicists treat their composer level as their class level and their compositions are governed by Intelligence. Harmonicists may conduct a score for Perform (conducting) ranks + Int-mod rounds, min 1. Unlike other composers, though, the music is not ethereal, instead resonating within a target within 25 ft + 5 ft./2 composer levels range. Intro and outro-effects are centered on said target rather than the composer, whereas melodies only effect the one subject targeted, also e.g. granting limited-use abilities to the subject, if applicable. All compositions a harmonicist can know thus have a slightly altered alternate rules-language, but more on that later. Additionally, it should be noted that harmonicists increase the number of scores they can have in effect at a given time by +1 at 6th level and an additional +1 every 6 levels beyond that. It should also be noted that harmonicists may expend swift actions to move their compositions from eligible target to eligible target. They learn up to 8 scores and can apply ups to 5 melodies per score.
At 2nd level, a harmonicist learns a so-called counterpoint, a non-conducting-requiring single melody sans intro or outro that can be executed as a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. This can be woven into an ongoing score, stacking with it. Only one counterpoint can be maintained at a given time and they can prepare one at 2nd level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter. This is called "weaving" a counterpoint. Starting at 4th level, however, harmonicists may also conduct counterspoints, adding woven regular counterpoints to those they conduct - sounds a bit complicated, but really isn't once you've understood the principle: The harmonicist may treat counterpoints as scores and thus modify them. The number of counterpoint scores a harmonicist may conduct at a given time increases to 2 at 10th level and to 3 at 16th level. Now here's the interesting tidbit -counterpoint scores can be initiated as a swift action and do not provoke AoOs. Yes, this class is complex, but the combo-tinkering one may engage in...
The capstone btw. provides further options to modify the scores and counterpoints in various ways, adding yet another vast array of potential...and truly NASTY combos. The class also sports an array of favored class options.
The final class herein is an old acquaintance - the maestro. Since I've reviewed that class in detail back in the day when it was a single pdf, I'll be brief - you can always check out my review of the original maestro-pdf for a more in-depth breakdown of the class. The maestro is a full composer, with Int governing compositions, while his spellcasting (which adheres to similar restrictions as that of the cantor) is based on Charisma. As mentioned before, the maestro also receives an array of special scores that are not modified by melodies etc. - these would be the opuses. Additionally, the maestro may insert melody-based refrains into his compositions for an increased flexibility and the diverse, awesome capstones deserve special mention as well. Advice for granted bonus compositions and diverse favored class options round out this class - and the maestro and his base-system were superbly glorious even before the streamlining of the composition-system seen in this book.
This is not where the pdf ends, though - we also are introduced to composition-class-based archetypes, with each archetype coming with a list of compatible classes. The first would be the arranger for the maestro and cantor. This archetype replaces worshipful/insightful performance and modifies musica sacra/opus - the arranger receives a masterpiece pool equal to the amount of musicae sacrae/opuses the character knows - this pool can be used to start any opus/musica sacra, allowing for increased flexibility regarding these nasty pieces of musical destruction. Instead of channel energy/refrain, the arranger may conduct so-called arrangements during the conducting of opuses or musicae sacrae.
Backer Sasha Hall sponsored the songweaver, who is compatible with all composition classes. Songweavers receive no intros or outros, but they learn to conduct bridges containing outro-effects after a certain minimum number of score, fluently gliding over to another score. On a design perspective, the exceedingly complex wording here is damn impressive. Additionally, the songweaver may weave so-called verses into their ongoing compositions - complex and interesting. Brandon F. has sponsored the Starlet, compatible with cantor and maestro - starlets never learn outros, but make up for that by learning to forego learning compositions in order to learn spells and add them to their metronom list - instead of triggering an outro, spells on that list may be executed as a kind of outro-substitution. Breakdancers and Harmonicists may opt to become street musicians - these guys come not only with one of the most badass artworks in the book, they can also generate so-called songbombs - these can be activated via commands, proximity or triggers and they can essentially be used to generate a musical minefield. The street musician receives one point for the pool, +1 for every 2 class levels.
Cantors and Maestros may also opt for the vituoso archetype, who may start bardic performances -and the interesting component here being that the class replaces spells with exactly that, rendering the virtuoso a truly unique combo of the composition system and the potential of the bardic performance-modifications introduced in ample 3pp-supplements. A total of 2 pages of feats can used to modify the tricks at the disposal of the classes further - for example, you can cast cantrips faster, add the effects of a melody to those affected by your channel energy, conducting both melodies and refrains at once - these feats add yet another layer of flexibility and trickery to the classes provided herein, including e.g. means for the breakdancer to bypass spell focus-requirements for compositions. Of course, more rhythm, longer composition and all the variable extensions you'd expect can also be enhanced with feats.
Now after massive lists of compositions, it's time to check them out - and there are *a lot* in here. As mentioned above, harmonicists often receive their own effects and handy compatible classes-lines help you navigate the respective compositions. The compositions...well, they are overall exceedingly awesome - from mass mirror image-like duplicates that sport a more concise wording than the spell (and have specific, distinct rules) to destructive dissonances that break foes apart to dodge bonuses called "Can't Touch this!", there are a LOT of cool tools that demand experimentation/stacking/recombination. What about melodies that can actually stave off starvation? Or the option to potentially modify the range of a composition by means of a chorale? Especially the latter, if used wisely, can be utilized to pull off some damn impressive stunts. Providing flanking immunity for all allies within a short-range unless all are flanked also makes for a neat option for higher level composers. Now the very interesting component that renders the compositions interesting would be that the crunch very much duplicates the notion of composing music - the system requires the players to take the compositions and combine them, re-align them, change them up - and thus create deadly combos. When a certain effect deals sonic damage depending on how long a composition has run and similar interesting efficiency-optimization-tricks allow and reward the experimentation and planning of one's musical magic, immersion increases and one truly feels like a magical composer. So yes, this is one of the few installments wherein the crunch actually helps the immersion, one of the rare, truly artfully crafted books.
Want to know what I mean by unique benefits? What about an ode that turns all alcoholic beverages of a certain power healing potions, but only while within a bar frequented by locals? Yes, this composition actually comes with a built-in reason why your players should open an extradimensional planar bar! I love it! What about hijacking mind-influencing effects? Have I mentioned the spectral literally fat lady? Yeah. Awesome. And I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with these...
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' 2-column b/w-standard with melody/music-themed, thematic fonts. The pdf remains printer-friendly and it sports a mix of neat original b/w-artworks and some stock art/graphics. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience - with nested bookmarks etc.
Composition magic is one complex system that is easy to grasp and, much like the music it mirror, hard to master. Unlike many classes out there, the magic herein may not look too impressive at first glance - the components, like single notes, look fun, but remain that - single notes. Until you tie them together - then, suddenly, a player can fist-pump and intone the symphony of destruction, so to speak. The massive array of modification options of the simple 3-part base system should constitute the very dream of a player seeking to compose his/her own magic -the way in which the single elements come together can be extremely gratifying. Yes, composition magic is different. It is weird. It is also the music-system the bard should have had in the first place - it's simply more interesting, less linear and puts player-agenda very high on the table. If there is one thing one could complain about here, then that would be that even more combo-elements would have been awesome to see. Some players of the old Maestro-class may also feel slightly vexed by certain compositions now being class-exclusive for other classes: If you liked killing foes with "End with a Whimper" - well, that's now cantor-exclusive, much to the chagrin of one of my players.
It should be noted, though, that Bradley Crouch and Jason Linker have simply crafted the superb incarnation of the system, with the cantor in particular being a true masterpiece - a full healer on par with the cleric, but with a completely different tone and ability set. While the breakdancer may strike some as a weird anachronism, I encourage all groups to check out how it plays, for in that regard, it is an absolutely unique experience as well. This is, let me emphasize that, NOT a joke-class. And if you don't like the fluff, do yourself a favor and reskin it. Seriously, the experience is interesting enough to warrant it.
Ultimate Composition is a superb book, a glorious magic-system and has become a permanent fixture in my games - one that I hope will one day receive even more fodder. Its crowning achievement, to me, remains in its ability to make the mastery of the system mimic the process it seeks to emulate - a feat rarely seen in any supplement and one that must be considered superbly rewarding. Hence, Ultimate Composition receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and becomes a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.
You can get this awesome tome and compose your own magic here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Want the whole Strange Magic-subscription? You can get it here on OBS!
It should also be noted that lead designer Bradley Crouch currently has a kickstarter running that seeks to redefine bloodlines and what they can do - you can get the Strange Magic-subscription at a lower, discounted price as an add-on for this interesting KS! Check it out here!