After three modules, it seemed that the FR series was a set of geographical supplements filling out the further reaches of the Forgotten Realms in more detail. FR4 turned it into a more general series than that, as The Magister had no geographical lore at all. It also marked the return of Ed Greenwood to the series, and the book focused on one of his main interests: magic books and items. Greenwood had been contributing articles to Dragon magazine for years, many of them dealing with items and lore from the Realms. The best of these were collected together for this volume, and all-new material added.

The all-item focus of the book meant that the cover was stapled to the interior, and the inside front cover includes a modified version of the random magic item treasure table, so these new items could be randomly rolled for. The last few pages of the book have much expanded rules for a character creating a new magic item, with a chart of (new) modifiers for the final success roll stipulated in the DMG on the inside back cover.

About half the book is descriptions of a dozen spellbooks known to be wandering the Realms, giving their appearance, known history, and the spells they contain, which generally includes two or three new ones. At the end of this section is a couple of pages that lists all the new spells from here and the DM’s Sourcebook of the Realms, with their spell levels, what book they’re in, and where to find the description. I like the spellbook descriptions, and the vast bulk of the spells are inventive and look good (though there’s some really complicated potential interactions on many), but I think there’s some missed opportunities here. Some of these new spells are ‘unique’; they’re only found in the described book. Others are known to have been copied down a few times, and might be found elsewhere. This isn’t in the table. Furthermore, I think it could have been neat to come up with a basic ‘common-uncommon-rare-unique’ scheme and not only define these spells as rare and unique, but define how widely known the bulk of the ‘normal’ spells from the Players Handbook and Unearthed Arcana are. Most low-level spells should be ‘common’, but defining a few as ‘uncommon’, and then mixing it up more at higher levels could have some very interesting effects on a campaign. It would have taken up quite a bit of space however.

Instead, the second half of the book is taken up with about fifty magic items, with especial attention to shields, cloaks, harps, wands and swords. Again, these are generally well done, and if you need any sort of inspiration for magic items, this is a very good book. There’s a lot of potential complex interactions detailed again, which says something about the mess of different uncategorized effects AD&D had, but this also means that all these items have had some true thought given to them.

Just about all of these spell books and items have lore attached to them. The past history (as far as it is known) is given for almost all of these items (a couple are just mentioned as being relatively common). But these histories often don’t have a lot of detail. “Named for the legendary mage…”, but nothing about this person is given. How long ago? Why is he legendary? This is fine for a DM who is adapting these ideas to his own campaign, but considering that we are now dealing with a supplement for a particular setting, some more details would nice. And then there’s things like the Orb of Holiness, which has application outside of normal adventuring (“usually found at the heart of a temple, grove, or other holy place…”). It would be nice to have info like this show up someplace talking about places like that (though they are ‘rare’ even there, so having a temple without one isn’t a big problem). So, it’s a bunch of color, some not really linked to anything else known about the setting, some of it with potential wide-spread implications that I don’t think have ever been repeated elsewhere.

The title of the book is explained in about a third of a page in the introduction: the Magister is the goddess Mystra’s champion of magic. This was a subject that would be revisited in Secrets of the Magister.

Still, it’s a good collection of items. It makes a good source of inspiration for any high-magic fantasy setting, under any rules, though you’ll have to do a lot more mechanical work as you move away from 1e AD&D. And if you’re running a D&D-style campaign, the spellbooks should inspire you to think a lot more about the books the magic-user is always carrying around. I don’t recommend paying a lot for this, but it’s worth having, as there’s a lot of ideas in here.