This book was discussed by the Mage the Podcast in the episode Tomes of Magick: Second Edition Core Rulebook
I have a certain fondness for the Second Edition Mage Core Rulebook as it was the first Mage: The Ascension book I ever bought. I picked it up during a Star Wars tournament, drawn to its purple cover and read almost all if that evening and then several times thereafter. With now something like 23 years of reflection, I realize the flaws of the book as well as what it improved on after finally reading the Mage First Edition Core Rulebook.
Second edition was the fire core book that Brucato oversaw as line developer and the hand-off between Wieck and Brucato is exemplified in terms of mechanics, theme, and setting changes. The most important changes are probably theme-wise. The game underwent a fundamental shift from a cosmic game where the players were intended to reach high level of powers to fight for the Sleepers in an epic war that likely couldn’t be won as avatars of particular forces of creation. Essence was very important, rotes, had high dot requirements, the Traditions were each somewhat monolithic and encompassed most of the Awakened not already part of another faction, and magick was very flexible. Second edition cemented some changes that had previously been introduced and on the whole had a more mechanical magick system with a clearer divide between coincidental and vulgar where essence was a vague personality test, and the personal journey was much more important. The most revealing line in 1e in my opinion is “Mage is about the clash of incompatible utopias”. I don’t think anyone in 2e would consider any faction, however flawed, as presenting a true utopia. Second Edition hints and explosion of magickal practices from a small set to something where there are almost as many paradigms as there are players and where the Traditions themselves start divorcing themselves from specific cultural groups (all Akashics aren’t Asian) and leave that a bit more for the Crafts.
I somewhat miss the epic scale of 1e where so little was defined. In arguments, I hear that 1e was more open and this is kind of true of necessity. Second Edition gave us more than two score books while 1e was largely defined by a few early tomes before what would be proto-Second Edition began to be established, by my reckoning, sometime around the NWO Convention book on the Technocrat side and Sons of Ether on the Traditions side. Essence was destiny and the pre-Gehenna vibe of Vampire was strong. Second Edition toned that down and also shattered the unity of mage belief. Looking through the “definitions” section of the two core rulebooks is probably the fastest way to see how they diverged as many terms were re-defined.
There’s nothing in the 2e core rulebook that isn’t somewhere else so it mostly sits as a milestone of the game. One could argue that M20 took the setting from 2e and the rules (except Paradox) from Revised so there’s a genetic interest in the text. Realize though that the 2e book lacked much of the material that was in the Book of Shadows and that there was no 2e players’ guide.
- Difficulties change for vulgar from rolling sphere to rolling arete in all cases
- Focuses opened up and focus-specific time requirements dropped
- Orphans progress at same rate as other mages but require focuses
- Bonuses for being near a node no longer swing as wildly, capped at -3 instead of -5
- Can now re-try failed effects without blowing willpower
- Damage chart unified and one-off modifiers listed for Spheres (Mind does bashing, etc)
- Coincidental now process
- Much of the content of Book of Shadows is baked in
- More difficulty modifiers introduced
- Game less cosmic interaction of avatars for the metaphysical trinity to something more personal
- Mage less might-makes-right with mages delivering sleepers from Technocratic control. Technocrats no longer fighting for strict rigid equality.
- 1e was "conflict between utopias". Utopia not visible in 2e.
- Pure Ones no longer believed in by all mages
- Void Engineers no longer viewed as infected by the fae and no longer wish to destroy space
- Continuum dropped as a term
- Marauders no longer universally fighting for a return of the Mythic Age and in 2e are generally less sane
- Fight for Nodes and Quintessence less front and center
- Penumbra established, no longer just Near Umbra
- Nephandi no longer strictly star-squid cultists
- Oracles no longer those near Ascension but those who've stepped back from it
- No longer one Chantry per Tradition
- All nine spheres now used in metaphysical cycle rather than just six
- Essence de-emphasized
- Rotes change
- Syndicate un-disappeared
- Amanda revealed to share avatar with former Sennex apprentice who went barabbus
- Fors Collegis Mercuris evacuated to Cerberus after Nephandi and Technocratic attack