I try not to buy D&D books at full price when there are so many readily available used. Because of that I have been slowly adding to my 3.5 collection of material for the last several years and I just got around to purchasing The Complete Mage. I have mixed feelings on it, it’s not awful but certainly isn’t one of the better books. I suspect that power gamers love it since some of the classes (like the Abjurant Champion) are really powerful and the reserve feats are pretty ridiculous.
I really like Warlocks and one of the reasons I got this book was that I knew there was a lot of new material for them in it. The invocations are neat and well balanced, I especially like Otherwordly Whispers and Swimming the Styx. The Warlock prestige classes don’t make too much sense to me. I thought that the big idea behind Warlocks was that they draw their power from non Arcane and Divine sources, but the Eldritch Disciple and Eldritch Theurge are just the opposite. Seems like fluff following mechanics, which is never a happy marriage in my mind. The Abjurant Champion seems a little overpowered, but still decent all around. To me it makes sense that a fighting type would dip into magic for the sake of protection. The only real issue is that they have access to all the wizard spells, maybe they should be limited to abjurations and one or two other schools. I would like to see one in action. My favorite prestige class in the book is the Unseen Seer, a rogue who dabbles in divination magic. But, like the Abjurant Champion, they get access to all schools of magic and only need one level of wizard to get into it. And it advances Sneak Attack (at a slightly lower rate) and throws in some extra abilities. Again, a little overpowered when compared to something like the Arcane Trickster but I really like the flavor of a divination magic wielding rogue.
The heritage feats are fun; I dig the idea of characters having some sort of weird ancestry (in this case Fey and Demonic) that comes into play during the game. None of them are all that powerful but they could add a lot roleplaying wise. On the other hand, the reserve feats are just absurd. As long as a spellcaster keeps a certain spell in reserve they are basically given some sort of power that they can use all the time. Come on, like wizards need more options. Example: Wind Guided Arrows allows the caster to use an immediate action (it doesn’t even have to be their turn!) to give a +2 (for allies) or a -2 (for enemies) to any attack rolls with a ranged weapon. All they have to do is have an air spell of 3rd level or higher available to them. Wow. Others allow for summoning creatures, shooting lightning, seeing in the dark, and a whole host of stuff. One of the only real drawbacks to being a spellcaster is running out of spells. In a way this removes that because it allows the use of some other powers without burning up spell slots. So now, in a lesser encounter, the wizard has no need to use up a spell. They can save everything for the serious encounters. Boo.
The book also has a bunch of advice for building different types of casters, which is sort of helpful but actually the part of the book that I found to be the most enjoyable on purely a reading level. I skimmed a lot of the book, but I think I read the entire Arcane Archetypes section. It was practical and well written enough, though it sort of steers the player into the realm of power gaming. I haven’t really spent any time yet with the new spells in the book so I shouldn’t comment on them.
If you are real into arcane magic I would think that this book is nice to have, though not essential. Realistically I don’t see a ton of the material in here finding it’s way into my campaigns. Probably some NPC’s will employ a couple of the feats or the prestige classes. I wish I had this for the Warlock NPC who had been badgering the PC’s for a couple of months, but now he is dead and never got to benefit from it. Sucks for him.