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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.

[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.

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