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Hidden Lore
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/19/2019 21:01:25

Hidden Lore was the collection of overflow material from the 2e core rulebook that was cut to achieve what was purportedly a Procrustian page count. The book says so up front and the contents consist of rotes, clarifications, some alternative rules, and a sample chantry that was bundled with the 2e Storyteller Screen. Part of releasing a book that consists of content that didn't make the cut into the core book is the wager that the worst material in a core rulebook is still better than the minimum standard that some set of fans have and for me the book did not make that cut. This may reflect years of storyteller experience as well as the embarrassment of riches that is having an additional 60 books or so that were published after this one.

Useful content: The section on alternative play styles provided options for 1 on 1, bluebooking, troupe play, and troupe storytelling which were somewhat innovative at the time but in the intervening 25 years other games have run with these options and overall come up with smoother systems. The combat simplifications are also acceptable for high energy chronicles where players need to wreck a wall of mooks and tries to replace the tradition four roles per character per attack to one. Again, other systems innovate on this better but at the time it was notable. The descriptions of the Traditions rotes was flavorful but the sphere requirements may result in you knowing less about Mage at the conclusion. Also the systems presented are sometimes novel and other times ridiculous. The Marauder and Nephandi rotes are somewhat less cringe-worthy but still present problems in terms of what spheres are called for and what systems are used to implement an effect but they are flavorful. *The sphere summaries are intended as hand outs and restate what's in the core rulebook. If you're getting this digitally, copy-paste from a core book will do just as well without having to try to find a way to photo copy the sheets.

Useless content: How to make interesting characters was almost painful to read as it was a mix of "you know, just do it" and "learn to portray attributes you lack" which was a bit uncomfortable. The rotes present questionable systems with Prime 2 being required almost randomly and other spheres being involved for reasons I don't quite understand. The Chantry presents a magick-dense Seattle that directly contradicts the later statements about how rare mages are unless one posits that Seattle is an absolute hot bed of mage activity for unrevealed reasons. The door that leads from the earthly to umbral aspect of the Chantry has a roughly 7 percent chance of generating paradox which seems remarkably dangerous for something so regularly used. The sections on the distilled view of each faction in the Ascension War should have been woven into the core book. Anyone who gets this will likely know it and anyone who grabs the core rulebook should have access to it. The notable characters section is largely a collection of already released characters and no stat blocks which makes it almost useful.

Don't get this book if you have a fair number of other mage books and especially not if you don't have a firm grasp of the sphere system as the rotes may lead you astray.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Hidden Lore
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Mage: The Ascension (Second Edition)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/19/2019 20:41:33

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.

Changes:

Mechanics

  • 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

Mood

  • 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.

Setting

  • 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 

Metaplot

  • 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


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mage: The Ascension (Second Edition)
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Halls of the Arcanum
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/01/2019 12:39:44

I reviewed this as part of Mage the Podcast, list to it here.

Halls of the Arcanum depicts the workings of the Arcanum, a scholarly organization in the World of Darkness that seeks to uncover what is hidden. Halls offers a different take on The World of Darkness more as a place of danger and of things not illuminated rather than simply a gritty world of despair with the odds against you. The odds are against the Arcanum as they have no supernatural resources and the agents they’re working against are quite cunning but they have patience and scholarship which is often in short supply in the dire circumstances of some builds of the World of Darkness.

The book has that aged much more gracefully than at first I had figured. With the exception of the progress of computers, much of the book holds. The NPCs and templates could be used with little difficulty and the maps and schematics are still useful as are the lists. This book is largely about Sleepers and their attempts to unravel the World of Darkness but with varying degrees of success. Chapter houses are spread across the globe offering a lot of ability integrate local lore as well as lodges which are kind of frontline assemblages to research odd happenings. The book goes into these topics in some detail and does a good job of reminding the reader of how big the World of Darkness can be. Rather than just referring to Shangri-La, the book references a half dozen hidden cities. Instead of listing just a yeti as a cryptid, it again lists a dozen. Instead of just listing the five main lines in WoD, the book lists fourteen types of odd occurrences. While this book is geared towards mortals, there’s nothing preventing mages from investigating the same things.

The book also outlined internal politics within the organization and did so in vague terms at first and then in detail in the Storyteller Chapter. Rather than just saying “this is what’s going on” the book provides four options of what’s going on. It’s quite pleasing to have thoroughness plus ambiguity within a tome.

The only two sections that I felt ran flat were in regards to numena where I figured they would be all up in testing and developing that kind of power. Also, the question of accumulating information and where it goes brought up questions. It’s suggested that the group sometimes makes discoveries. Besides its in-house journal, when will this information be shared if ever?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Halls of the Arcanum
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Mystic Armory
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/01/2019 10:20:36

Despite having run Mage for decades and having a reasonably strong grasp of the Sphere system, I'm still sometimes at a loss for power-level, appropriateness, and flavor that can appear in magickal items. In collecting literally every magick item from the game, Mystic Armory ameliorates that concern and does so with logical formatting and wonderful art selection. In thinking through the organization, I wonder if it would make more sense to organize based on effect, but that would quickly become either complicated or impossible with single Wonders/Devices that have multiple abilities from several spheres.

Were I to add an appendix, it'd be on device creation as well as on spheres required to manipulate Quintessence. These rules are exhaustively listed throughout M20, but a one page summary would be excellent.

It's hard not to encourage an ST to get Charles' compendia and this is no exception.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mystic Armory
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The Fragile Path: Testaments of the First Cabal
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/30/2019 08:08:19

The Fragile Path is intended as in-world artifact for Mage: The Ascension and represents Porthos Fitz-Empress's attempts at using the testaments of the members of the First Cabal to pull together the Traditions. The book consists of an overview of the Cabal members, their eventual fates, a timeline, a copy of the founding documents for the Traditions and the Technocratic Union, and the five testaments of those that initially survived Heylel's Betrayal. The book struggles to cover everything and create the space for the fully written testaments, but ultimately, I think the book largely pulls off what it needs to.

The opening consists of two contrasts, the first being elderly Porthos talk about how in awe he was of Heylel (the master talking about how wide-eyed he was as a young mage) and the second being the time it took to assemble and get to work on the Ascension War between the Order of Reason (weeks, took over world in five centuries), and the Council (nine years of meetings, only was really together in the wake of World War II). Porthos rambles on in overly vague terms and the world doesn't feel real as he talks.

The overviews are fine and everyone is pretty and opinionated which I guess is partly the point of World of Darkness but it was a little much for me. The point was for the Disciples to be paragons of their Tradition making it more likely that they were likely dogmatic and unable to get along which is a little odd as one would expect that from masters. Periodic mentions are made of the time required to meditate or to shine weapons or pray as a reinforcement of how slow it was to get everyone to act. Given that the Cabal was together for years before betrayal, we only get one specific mention of actions the Cabal took which felt to me like an oversight. We got to see the Cabal fall apart, but we never saw it together.

A rare morsel we get is the write up of the Convention of the Ivory Tower, the founding document for the Order of Reason as well as the Declaration of Intent for the Traditions. I don't know of another place these are available.

The characters that don't receive an testament felt somewhat throw-away. This may have been necessary to get to the other parts but still even the short write-ups felt too short or elaborated thin characters. But then we get to the meat of book which are the proper testaments. Heylel's pre-execution oration is provided which gives a strong argument that what he wants is for the Traditions to be united and that his way of doing that was to betray their position to the Order of Reason. They claim that the Traditions will never be able to see past their differences and the Order of Reason will triumph. Whether or not you think Heylel acted correctly, their prediction regardless was somewhat accurate at least over the five centuries or so.

As a reader, I'm not sure why Heylel was accused of being a diabolist and trucking with demons when there was no evidence for this nor was it listed as one of the forbidden activities in the founding document of the Traditions. I felt this was included as a way of defending Heylel and showing that the Council was simply throwing everything the Council could at Heylel. Alternatively, this could simply be kind of a period piece as accusing someone of trucking with demons could have simply been the style of the time.

Eloine's testament was structurally interesting but felt kind of hollow. She's billed elsewhere as a very compelling figure but that kind of fell flat as she's in an inquisition cell. I suppose if someone's magnetism is around their appearance and charisma, one shouldn't expect it to translate into writing but she felt like a love object and bearer of children and little more. The section where Eloine talks about being drawn to Heylel just kind of screamed "MIND MAGICK" which made me cringe a little.

The Prophecy of Akrites itself was the richest in terms of world-building and provided three particularly interesting parts. The first was the idea of a prophecy that a storyteller could play with. Vague prophecies are offered in other game lines and provide ample ground for an inventive storyteller to allow characters to pursue or abandon prophecies and other such foretold events. In Mage, prophecy is both more and less intimate as the characters are familiar with the fact that, yes prophecy does exist and the characters may even know how to use it, but also that prophecy is very hard to work with. Second, the reflection on the role of the prophet and the failure to warn the others of the betrayal. Akrites saw it coming but didn't act decisively enough to prevent it from coming to pass. Third, we get a slice of life of what it was like to be part of the First Cabal. We see the group trudging around Scandinavia and all the difficulty that imparts as well as the perils of using magick even before the modern advent of Paradox. This section to me provided the most use for the storyteller and I wish we had more stories from the First Cabal that felt like this one.

The Song of Bernadette was inventive and interesting and consumed page count but it simply doesn't stand on its own. Luckily, it's in a book with several other testaments and therefore doesn't have to.

Finally, the testament of Walking Hawk gives the reader a look into a few things. Walking Hawk provides fresh eyes on the practices of the other groups such as pointing out that he and Eloine seem to recognize the same spirit of the earth but hers seems to be much more bloodthirsty. His commentary shows that from some vantages that the difference between the Traditions and the Order of Reason is smaller than between some pairs of Traditions especially when one indicates the level of technology to which the Traditions have already become accustomed to. Lastly, the section is well written in simple prose with style that at least rings true to my little experience of indigenous writing.

My criticisms are simple. The Porthos sections are too wordy as is Brucato's general style, the characters are all attractive and charismatic, and there's little information on what the Cabal actually did. If the intent is to show they were ineffectual and to deplete our sympathy for the group vs the individuals, mission accomplished.

I had ignored this book for far too long but feel I appreciate it mightily with the background of the rest of Mage under my belt. I think this book shines most to those who're familiar with the setting and want to answer the question of "so why has the Technocracy done so well and the Traditions so poorly" beyond just assuming conspiracy.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Fragile Path: Testaments of the First Cabal
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Sources of Magick
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/30/2019 07:51:06

Mage makes the promise of showing players the infinite expanse of possibilities that is the Tellurian but sometimes has difficulty delivering on that. At current, M20 players receive something like lesss than one book a year and those books have a lot of ground to cover. The author attempts to fill out a little explained corner of Mage that is often quite vital, that of Nodes. The topic is particularly frought as M20 proved to be very hands off as regards the level of supernaturality/power/sorcery in any given Mage chronicle and didn't even go so far as to say "this is the default". The author does some work in providing a breadth of theories for what Nodes could be under various paradigms (none are purported to be canon) as well as the resonances with a given sphere that a Node may have. This at first felt like a useless complication but it provides ample story opportunities if an ST indicates that a particular ritual, effect, or action requires particularly attuned resonance regarding the Quintessence used. Following this is a wide breadth of of sample Nodes that fills a notable lacuna within Mage. Werewolf got an entire book on Caerns where Mage players at most got a discussion of Nodes spread over multiple texts and the somewhat complicated Book of Chantries.

This is the author's first step into entire books of novel concepts and systems and I'm pleased with the results, I look forward to seeing what comes next.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sources of Magick
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Ugalu, Dwellers in the Black River
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/26/2019 11:24:42

A DOLLAR

Ugalu isn't just a supplement, it's a challenge. Most creature supplements have some sort of beef-cakey "do I want to twiddle my hair and talk about boys with it or do I want to sleep with it" vibe but Ugalu or an ugalu dispenses with that. The cover is a demon simply f-ing a guy up. There's no ambiguity. There was a whole guy, and at some point in the recent history, an ugalu decided that the self-same ugalu had enough of said guy's shit and now what is left is simply arms.

A F-ING DOLLAR

Kudos to you, Mr. Hirka on your rendering. The cover leaves some to imagination but two pages later, we see Ugalu in even less ambiguous terms f-ing a guy up. You may say to yourself "but Terry, the demon is in water YET HE IS UNWET IN THE ARTISTIC RENDERING!" to which I have three responses as follows:

  1. It is Ugalu of the Unwetted Fur
  2. The water is so artfully rendered by one Mr. Hirka that your philistine eyes notice not the droplets.
  3. It's an f-ing dollar what do you want?

JUST ONE F-ING DOLLAR

After two pages of toasty ugalu depiction, one encounters the ugalu text proper. The ugalu are described and enumerated in terms of both habit and mechanics and one learns great knowledge of their ways. You are exposed to the word "euryhaline" a word that will expand you vocabulary as the ugalu expand your game.

SERIOUSLY, IT'S JUST A BUCK

Exhaustive list of criticisms A reader might think this hagiography BUT NO I HAVE FOUND FAULTS IN THIS TEXT!

  • The copyright date is 2018 and it clearly came out in 2019. Is this amateur hour? The cover art suggests not.
  • Cyclopean is often a reference to size. Twer it my supplement I would have said "wide monocular faces" instead of "wide cyclopean faces"

And with that my criticism ends

THEY'RE GOOD GUYS AND IF YOU WANT MORE OF THESE PUT YOUR BOOGIE DOLLAR DOWN AND BUY

fin



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ugalu, Dwellers in the Black River
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Mage Chronicles Volume 2
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/22/2019 16:03:01

Halls of the Arcanum Halls of the Arcanum depicts the workings of the Arcanum, a scholarly organization in the World of Darkness that seeks to uncover what is hidden. Halls offers a different take on The World of Darkness more as a place of danger and of things not illuminated rather than simply a gritty world of despair with the odds against you. The odds are against the Arcanum as they have no supernatural resources and the agents they’re working against are quite cunning but they have patience and scholarship which is often in short supply in the dire circumstances of some builds of the World of Darkness.

The book has that aged much more gracefully than at first I had figured. With the exception of the progress of computers, much of the book holds. The NPCs and templates could be used with little difficulty and the maps and schematics are still useful as are the lists. This book is largely about Sleepers and their attempts to unravel the World of Darkness but with varying degrees of success. Chapter houses are spread across the globe offering a lot of ability integrate local lore as well as lodges which are kind of frontline assemblages to research odd happenings. The book goes into these topics in some detail and does a good job of reminding the reader of how big the World of Darkness can be. Rather than just referring to Shangri-La, the book references a half dozen hidden cities. Instead of listing just a yeti as a cryptid, it again lists a dozen. Instead of just listing the five main lines in WoD, the book lists fourteen types of odd occurrences. While this book is geared towards mortals, there’s nothing preventing mages from investigating the same things.

The book also outlined internal politics within the organization and did so in vague terms at first and then in detail in the Storyteller Chapter. Rather than just saying “this is what’s going on” the book provides four options of what’s going on. It’s quite pleasing to have thoroughness plus ambiguity within a tome.

The only two sections that I felt ran flat were in regards to numena where I figured they would be all up in testing and developing that kind of power. Also, the question of accumulating information and where it goes brought up questions. It’s suggested that the group sometimes makes discoveries. Besides its in-house journal, when will this information be shared if ever?

Ascension's Right Hand Ascension’s Right Hand is a frustrating book that I will describe with this analogy: You want eight plates for a dinnerware set and you find a set that’s very well priced and there are ten plates but two of them are chipped. You realize you’re getting a really good deal but you’re annoyed at the chipped plates. Couldn’t they just fix them?

Chipped plates is an accurate summary of Ascension’s Right Hand. Much of the book is repetitive and uninspired such as the section on factions and their custos. I almost never skim books when I’m reviewing except for maybe long lists of skills but the listing of the kind of acolytes and consors for each tradition and faction was uninspired at best and played to stereotype at worse. Each Tradition book gives this information and often in more detail than was presented here.

The systems provided often didn’t make sense. Suddenly linear magic is affected by unbelief when the entire contrivance is that that linear or hedge magic always works without paradox. Here, it’s presented as being toned down but even after this, high level practitioners may have much higher dice pools as unlike true magick being a straight arete roll, hedge magic is attribute + ability as a dice pool plus some sort of willpower cost (sometimes). The way numina/psychic powers/linear magic is presented is at least highly flavorful. The section on Enchanting and Curses had at least a dozen great examples that could help flesh out an appropriate paradigm.

The section on build-a-familiar are similarly flavorful but poorly balanced. For instance, 1 point of paradox nullification chews through a point per month but 6 points chews through a point per day. Flat out spending 15 points makes a character unkillable. The book flatly says new powers can’t be added and that existing ones can only be developed. Eh, if you spend the XP and come up with a narrative reason, I don’t see why a creature couldn’t gain firebreathing for instance. It’s not much stranger than a dragon leveling up their breath weapon.

The world-view presented in the game also doesn’t mesh well with the world as explained so far. The book presents mages as generally being busier and richer than the game expects. I rarely see character sheets with dots of resources but you gotta pay your custos in may cases or they’ll bounce. No system or method is provided to explain why things are this way. Adding in acolytes and consors grows considerably the number of people involved in and possibly aware of the Ascension War in a way I’m not too happy with. While providing an answer to the question “who does the mage’s laundry” we’re also left asking “so what happens when someone blabs” which isn’t much addressed. The fact that the book has fraternal societies for consors is further problematic as it suggests these people know each other and have some sort of network to propagate information which strikes me as a real easy way to blow the lid off of things.

Where the book shines is in providing a large number of characters to work with who are fully fleshed out have a variety of power levels. The book also excels more or less in providing stories that relate to mortals and how they should work. This includes both plots and themes such as mortality and power imbalance. These sections are quite good and were you discard the crap, you’d wind up with something about the size of a 1e tradition book or so.

Should you get it? Eh? Much of the information here has been superceded by Gods and Monsters but the characters in here are good and the book is cheap as part of Mage Chronicles.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mage Chronicles Volume 2
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Technocracy Assembled 1
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/14/2019 16:58:50

The parts of this book were reviewed by Mage the Podcast in segments: Progenitors, Iteration X, NWO

Progenitors

Progenitors is the first of the convention books released by White Wolf. The book attempts to outline how a convention in the Technocracy functions, its methods of recruitment, how it relates to other Conventions, and some of the tools they use in implementing those goals. While the book has many rough edges in the same way as many of the first edition books do, it’s packed full of useful information regarding how a Construct could be built, how to build a Technocratic amalgam, and other useful background information that could be used as starting points for Storyteller Characters.

The first section outlines a student’s indoctrination into the Convention and his experiences with the Progenitors. This section reviews history and the idea that Progenitors have always existed in the form of tribal medicine folk forward to dissectionists and into the modern world. The reader is also introduced to some of the methods of covert replacement when a student disappears and is replaced with a better version. After that, there are long sections outlining the Methodologies (subgroups), rotes (spells), and tools used by the Progenitors.

Iteration X

Iteration X was never intended to be a guide on how to run Technocrats, but this book takes a step beyond Progenitors in providing motivation, more backstory, and more meat for how to introduce the clockwork convention.

The book opens with the story of William Smith experiencing his Assay (the process Ciphers go through to become Armatures) during his assault on Greylock Chantry. There are a few times when Greylock Chantry pops up and I think this to be the first. An electrical short causes the DEI in his brain to short out and temporarily go offline and in that moment of cognitive freedom, he does a thought dump on what he’s learned about the Convention and the Awakened world. As with many first edition texts, there are a fair number of ideas introduced and never seen again such as referring to mundane discoveries as “minor sciences” compared to their Enlightened counterparts and vague references to things out in the world (missing HIT Marks, non-communicative Chantries).

The book then runs through the history of the group, tracing its roots back to ancient Greece and China and explain how it’s changed with the times. The organization, its stereotypes, its membership, and a sample chantry along with talismans and rotes (not yet Devices and Procedures) are presented as well as the tantalizing bits that really make the book work. In Mage continuity, Control did not yet exist as a concept and references are merely made to “Central Command” and such but it’s made clear the head of Iteration X is the Computer. Iteration X gains its name from a self-improving algorithm that achieved sentience at a certain point or so the Convention thinks. In actuality, the Computer is really playing host to an entity that desires materialization and is the spirit of tool usage. The Computer has banned access to the Spirit sphere, a ban that would persist until the Dimensional Anomaly.

Once all the pieces are in place, the book comes together as a reflection of the questions Iteration X allows us to ask: Is the machine improving the person or is the person improving the machine? What would it be like to have that voice in your head both monitoring everything you think but also knowing you are never alone, that you’re connected to a greater whole, that your actions have meaning, and that you need never encounter doubt? What is the difference between the Virtual Adepts desire to provide an extension to human tools vs Iteration X’s desire to extend the human? Will technology create a set of heavens or a set of hells?

The other recurring theme is the idea that problems often have two solutions: one that is graceless and effective and another that is harder but more satisfying. For instance, the book says the goal of Iteration X is to make life less painful. There are two ways of doing this; reducing harm or making it so people can’t feel. The book also discusses decision paralysis and shows that you can deal with this by providing decision-making tools or eliminating freedom.

Again, the book was written before the Technocratic Union was considered playable by PCs and this book does its level best to remind you why they are the bad guys. But in the spaces between from which you can see where the group is going to go. This book also gives gadgets and robotic baddies that can prove terribly useful. An easy buy as part of Technocracy Assembled.

NWO

Until the New World Order book, the notion of the Ascension War as a war is largely figurative. Factions attempt to muster the resources they can in terms of nodes and allies and deploy them to take over mind-share of the sleepers. Combat occurs but that’s not necessarily the crux of the conflict. New World Order takes the Ascension War from a figure of speech representing metaphysical contest to an all out battle for reality. All out war means that more extreme measures are reasonable as well as a state of total war meaning that there are no true bystanders. The NWO consider every venue to be a possible front and both bullets and newspapers are equally potent weapons.

This reframing gives real stakes to the Technocracy side. The NWO is pursuing Safety and Security (both capitalized in this book) and simply don’t have the resources to make it a fair fight against the vampires, werewolves, changelings, and other reality deviants ruining everything. The NWO wields media to their whim and one of the central conceits of the book, which I feel now is broken, is that mass media is generally believed. The NWO’s ability to operate freely is dependent on their ability to propagate and control media narratives and rise of cable news and media bubbles hinders this. I’m curious how this will be dealt with in Technocracy Reloaded. Sometimes the disdain for their tools seeps through as the NWO comes out swinging against TV and its purportedly deleterious effects on The Masses. Again, I’m unsure how the NWO will treat the rise of boardgame night, MMORPGs, mobile gaming, social media and other such not-quite-so-massive one to many forms of communication and entertainment.

The NWO also recognizes the malleability of belief in a way the other groups don’t. They appear to know full well about how belief shapes reality and leverage this to subtly make an area hostile to competing beliefs. Even internally, the NWO doesn’t have a consistent history with two scholars arguing over whether the secret societies of the previous millennium shaped the state or whether the state under Queen Victoria shaped the secret societies. But are fascinating options and the Orwellian “he who controls the present controls the past” aspect being on the table as a story option provides story options for an ST with a more conspiratorial or academic focus.

This is the first Technocracy book that doesn’t have a unique way of gathering quintessence a la Progenitors extracting life essence and Iteration X harnessing soul-crushing tedium. In fact, they mention that the need to relocate quickly means few NWO Constructs have nodes. In M20 we’d eventually get the harnessing of quintessence from emotion via a wellspring and its scary to think how much tass could come out of people yelling at their TVs.

Finally, the book gives a large number of Q division style toys and items, finally fleshing out the idea of Requisitions for Technocrats and their ability to generally use pooled resources and punch above their level.

On the downside, the frame narrative of the book is somewhat weak. The changing of the ratkin attack into something else was hard to follow and I’m not sure to what end except to maybe make their actions more sinister. The call-backs to other books are simply confusing while attempting to create an integrated world even if we do get a throw away comment on Esperano.

This is the best Convention book so far and makes me feel like the setting is really congealing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Technocracy Assembled 1
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A Phoenix Rising
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/09/2019 10:06:32

This book is a valiant attempt at advancing the metaplot post M20 in ways that provide interesting avenues for play. The book posits that after some down time, the Traditions are attempting to reform some sort of at least semi-centralized entity to coordinate activities and disseminate information. The book posits a few ways this could be done and a cast of characters that could make it possible. It's $6.00, includes art, and is a good length all things considered.

Notable:

  • A novel Technocrat theory is advanced that the Traditions are necessary as a kind of escape valve for loonies lest they turn into more troublesome elements such as the Nephandi or the Marauders
  • Not only do you get characters you also get organizations which can sometimes prove difficult to invent.
  • There's simply a fat character. Mage seemingly has none of those.

I wish:

  • I wish there were proper modules/adventures/scenes. This is more of a future-facing desire as I don't expect something this brief to have full write-ups.


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Phoenix Rising
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M20 Gods & Monsters
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/13/2019 17:27:09

Gods and Monsters fills a number of gaps left in the line up for M20 like Companions, Familiars, spirit-forms, god-heads, and a fair number of Bygones. There are still considerable holes not yet filled but Technocracy Reloaded and Book of the Fallen but a book they have to come out in some

Good parts:

  • Every creature is illustrated
  • The rules for roll-your-own entities are remarkably thorough and cover "sentient cell phone" through "embodiment of an island in the form of a dragon". Which says something.
  • The crossover rules are exceptional and do a remarkably good job of allowing a storyteller to introduce other lines very quickly without buying a 600 page X20 book.
  • Entities are introduced along either a theme or in a family. The section on Yaruba through Afro-Caribbean through Louisianna voodoo is reasonably fleshed out and doesn't have just one example for a given idea.
  • Stats for "normies" are given such as for kids and the old. Sometimes it's useful to know how many health levels a teenager has and such.
  • Areas undercovered by other urban fantasy games are well covered. Characters break most forms of normativity in relationship types, identities, and such.
  • Some of the points of view are very angry and the points of that rage are easy for for an ST to incorporate.
  • Soe vague prior systems are really tightened up or explained. God-forms were often presented as being whatever a viewer's culture expected, but this can get super messy when items don't quite line up.

Bad parts:

  • The art just doesn't pop like other books. None of the illustrations besides the cover and some of the chapter openers are on par with the quality and imagination in other books. They feel like rough drafts. This may be due to budget and I get that but the bar is high and I don't think that bar is met.
  • The points of view are confusing. Mage usually has say three voices. The "systems" voice which explains systems and maybe behind the scenes stuff, the "book author" voice which explains the setting in a somewhat clinical or impersonal way, and "character" voices which bring the emotion to the party. And those parts blur like when describing djinn. In Lost Traditions, djinni are described as cruel and lazy where in this book humans are blamed for everything. Likewise, the hatred of outsiders for some of the Pac Rim entities is either racism or xenophobia in a modern gaming context. If the justification is "colonialism", sure, but I feel that opens the door to a lot of things, again, which is fine, but it felt messy in many points.
  • Some of the descriptions simply went on too long. One avatar type got an entire page where others were a 1/3rd of a page and just if not moreso interesting.
  • No advice is given to the storyteller as to how to run stories with cultures outside their own. There's some explanation in the core rule book but I really think it'd make sense to re-iterate it here.
  • There are errors and some holes. Some things are simply not explained like the Size, Rage, and Gnosis traits. There are some typographic errors. It's a lot of stuff and almost impossible to get right. It's sad that revisions would be so hard so thanks White Wolf.

Overall: Get it. It's $15 and it's 225 pages of rules, entities, and art. That's less than ten cents a page and that's at full price. If somehow that's not good enough, wait for it to go on sale. It's way better than what you could get for $15 on the ST Vault or a used book store.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
M20 Gods & Monsters
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Book of Shadows: the Mage Players Guide
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/28/2018 13:48:53

The Book of Shadows is the players guide for Mage 1st edition and beyond. The book is broken down into some major sections and I'll look at them in turn: Part 1 - Secondary abilities and merits/flaws. This section seemed great at the time but I feel it's hard to justify in modern play. M20 took the stance that secondary abilities are more or less specialties which should be cheaper to acquire and mostly a flavor aspect which should rarely come up. In the Book of Shadows, there's some ambiguity as it's hard to say "no, I don't want additional dots in dexterity or alertness but would rather put dots into quick draw". The logical response is "well, that's min maxing and you shouldn't do that in Mage". If a group weren't aware of these abilities and the scenario came up, the group would substitute another ability in and the game would proceed. Strangely, adding these secondary abilities makes the characters less powerful as there are more domains to spread ones dots over. Eh.

Merits and flaws were introduced in Vampire to kind of help tell characters apart but Mage has paradigm in addition to splat/faction plus ones mortal life so there's less of a need to have merits and flaws to tell one Chorister from another. Two Brujah may be anarchists, but two Choristers even both be Christian and have a world of difference due to denomination and such. Again, many of these merits kind of pay for themselves promoting abuse. Quick learner pays for itself in three stories, and sphere adept counter-intuitively encourages a player to pick few dots in their adept sphere so they can save on them in play. Some of the merit and flaws also don't work super well with Mage as a concept. Blind and Deaf feel they're easily overcome with one dot sphere effects. Again, a lot of opportunities for min maxing. While I recognize that's discouraged, it's possible for the system to help avoid this problem by making it harder.

One thing to think about, though, is the use of merits and flaws to flesh out NPCs. Things like Truth Faith are largely flavor for a player but could be vital for an NPC.

Part 2 - Outlines short fiction pieces focusing on each Tradition and faction outside the Traditions. These are largely fine. Each is three pages and includes an illustration which is also largely fine. These pieces tend to hew to stereotype so don't really add much depth here.

Part 3 - The Ahl-i-Batini. This section is fascinating and provides an interesting peek into a group where mortal complications led to difficulties in a Tradition. The one annoying fact is that it makes mention to the Night of Fana occurring in the 500s BCE and involving dervishes. Dervishes are a branch of Sufi Islam which would come about for 11 centuries. Eh, the 90s. The Ahl-i-Batini are a secretive sect and their methods are outlines beautifully.

Part 4 - This section outlines some systems and, while at the time was useful, there's little here that moves forward into later editions. In M20 almost everything is integrated into the core book and this is only necessary if you're playing something prior to about Revised which generally updated the rules. The details on the umbra are shallow and unnecessary if you have access to later books.

Detailed rules are then offered for familiars, Do, and Certamen. These are kind of niche cases but neat but Do comes across as overpowered.

This section is then rounded out by a discussion of rotes and talismans. These are useful and the sphere usage largely holds up to future scrutiny. Again, most of these are folded into M20 and are largely moved into that world whole cloth.

Part 5 - Parables. These are lovely little pieces of allegory about the mage's path to ascension. They're quite cute although not directly usable. I have used these in a game as a direct player reading and for that, it's pleasing.

Later in this section are short fiction pieces focused on the various aspects of the game like paradox, quintessence and tass, and the avatar. These are hit or miss. The paradox one is quite neat, but the others are meh.

Part 6 - Essays by various contributors. These add very little and I don't feel the monomyth holds up.

Overall, I have trouble recommending this to anyone who plans to use M20s copious rule set. Prior, it's kind of a necessity unless you want to roll your own for those.

Additionally, the PDF version is terrible quality and many of the sections with dark backgrounds are unreadable.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Shadows: the Mage Players Guide
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