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Small town eschatology
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/29/2019 01:03:33

As is generally the case with this author, there is no internal art and the work doesn't use a template and so is just black text on a white background in a single column. There are spelling errors throughout this location sourcebook, for a town called "St. Olof" which could be in Europe or North America, but certainly somewhere northern. The town is deeply evil and populated with monsters, to the point of being difficult to square with the rest of the World of Darkness (a supermarket that is built using "non-euclidean geometry and infernal feng shui" that makes it indestructible and its owner immortal for example). It contains a random encounter table that would benefit from being expanded (stat blocks for threats, etc) and generally seems like an earnest take on the old joke that everyone in the World of Darkness is a supernatural of some sort.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Small town eschatology
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Island of the Dead God
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/28/2019 21:27:04

The layout is a bit clunky, but that is certainly due to this being the first (and only!) Dark Ages: Mage supplement on the Vault. It doesn't detract in any significant way (well, bookmarks would be nice), though the whole thing could be a bit more visually clean if it were re-laid out now that there are more of us with experience of how to do it.

The product is a deep dive into the magical geography and population of the island of Rugen in modern Germany, as well as a story of a being of immense power the lies below it, periodically contained and always hungering for more power.

Overall, it's a solid piece, good Dark Age feel with a well-chosen time frame. Could use a few tweaks here and there, but overall, a strong start to the Dark Ages: Mage STV products. Hopefully we'll see more both in general and from this author.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Island of the Dead God
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Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 2
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/28/2019 20:02:33

The first thing to say: this seems to have little to do with Crash Cart I, except that both focus on the Progenitors. It seems to implicitly be tied, but I don't believe that Crash Card is mentioned once in it, which is a bit odd.

The product is broken into four parts: an antagonist (who seems to use 1st edition Technocracy tricks, but a barrabus can be weird), a brief overview of who is around in Tampa that could be tied to the antagonist, a couple of enhancements/biomods, and then rotes (adjustments and procedures).

The third and fourth sections are fairly strong, though throughout the book is fairly paradigm-light, so the Barrabus is indicated to do things that don't really fit into a Technocratic paradigm. But it's a very brief overview, so most such things are forgiven. The weakest thing was tying it specifically to Tampa when nothing about it really seemed to require that city, just an arrangement of players that was similar to what is described in part 2.

The most jarring thing is just how monstrously powerful the NPC is. This is a common problem with NPCs in White Wolf/Onyx Path mage books, but it's still jarring to see what should be a gritty, street level sort of antagonist with Enlightenment 8, all spheres at 3+ except for Time, and other absolutely massive statistics.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 2
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Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 1
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/27/2019 20:12:38

A good start as a product. It could use another editing pass (there's a few awkward wordings and grammatical issues, though clearly at least a spellcheck was used). This organization is a solid addition to the Technocracy and advances threads that appeared in the Revised Convention books. It's priced well and has left me looking forward to reading the followup.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 1
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Chaos Factor
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/22/2019 02:55:53

This was a bad book. It might well be the worst Mage book. I've heard rumors that it was written over the course of three days, and it shows. It shows badly. In addition to a few structural reasons it was terrible, such as the soft racism displayed towards Mexico City, I'm just going to focus on individual, localized failings.

For one, the book needed some basic fact-checking and editing. It couldn't even be consistent within paragraphs. For example, if Mexico City lies in a valley of 600 square miles and has 20,000,000 people, then it's population density is 33,333 people per square mile. The book says 250, in the same paragraph as the other numbers. Note: none of the numbers are actually correct for Mexico City, either now or in 1993. Also, on page 7, it states a rough number of werewolves in the city and then says "no one knows for certain just how many werewolves live in the city." The book simply cannot even manage internal consistency.

The roles of the Aztec gods are quite confusing and frankly pointless, particularly Quetzalcoatl. The story would have been substantially stronger without being tied to Aztec mythology as tightly.

The NPCs are WAAAY too strong. There is no way that the PCs are active players int he plot when the book thinks that a normal Mage with a few years of experience has Arete 5-6, and a "powerful" one has Arete 8, numbers which players are likely to never come close to seeing. But then, there are also Generation 4 Vampires and Black Spiral Dancers of Rank 6.

Marauders are added in just because, they are not really thematically appropriate and the ones that are included are pretty much joke characters with names like "Raspberry Popart Salad" (maybe it should be "Poptart"? it's not clear that that isn't a typo) who is "Charles Manson on a bad hair day, but replace the swastika with a smiley face." Another one of the Marauders has Arete 9.

The backgrounds are perfunctory and unhelpful for NPCs. All of them are first person descriptions, not really BACKGROUNDS. The worst is for "Wanderer" who just has "My name is Mary Taylor. My father's name was Robert. May Gaia forgive me, I am a Skin-Dancer." That's it. THAT DEMANDS SOME EXPLANATION, especially given that she's hanging out with Gaian Werewolves (in the text of the story, easy to miss, is that she cleansed her Wyrm-taint from the rite that made her a Skin-Dancer in the appropriate Umbral Realm). In fact, Wanderer's very existence as a Gaian Skin-Dancer brings up the question of why the Garou don't use Black Spiral Dancer pelts to make kinfolk into werewolves, and then send them to the cleansing realm to get rid of the taint. This is more of a problem it introduces into Werewolf than anything else, though

Vampires mostly feel...tacked on, honestly. Thematically, Sam Haight is a functional Mage and Werewolf antagonist, he just doesn't fit the themes of Vampires (or at least, Haight as presented here doesn't).

The story itself is mediocre at best, but has a random sidequest that happens in Petra, Jordan for no reason. It has no bearing on the plot and should have been cut as pointless. The Jordan sidequest does bring up a few other issues, though. For one, there's the Mage part of it, which refers to "the Israeli faith", quite possibly the most awkward euphemism for Judaism, which is not mentioned explicitly at all. Though I suppose some credit for being one of the few places in the World of Darkness to mention Jewish mages and actually have Kabbalah belong to Jews. A second issue is that Petra, Jordan is treated like a place that is top secret and only known to exist to some. It, in fact, has a Wikipedia page, on which there are photographs of tourists. Going on Google Maps, I found hotels there. This is a bizarre inclusion.

The ending seems unsatisfying, which it must be with such powerful NPCs around. The amount of player input into how things go is limited.

The most frustrating thing is that I can see all sorts of potential in this story and other Sam Haight things, but it has been badly squandered, yielding the most hated NPC in the entire World of Darkness. Not by characters, but by players and STs. And it didn't have to be this way.

Overall, The Chaos Factor was a disappointing end to a story full of squandered potential, and in a sense, a fitting end to all of this nonsense.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Chaos Factor
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Tradition Book: Verbena (1st)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/16/2019 04:04:22

Oddly for White Wolf books, although there are typos and layout issues, they're strictly confined to a couple of sections, suggesting that the book had last minute changes post-editing. The book is largely ok, though it has the big flaw that it consistently refers to the Burning Times, an event that did not happen. The Inquisition targeted secret Jews and Muslims in Christian lands, as well as Christian heretics, not pagans.

One of the things that worked well for it was that there was a group of apprentices rather than a single one (though there were issues there, focused around the Burning Times discussions) and the Mythic Threads were a good inclusion, though they are mostly subsumed into Reality Zones and Focus in modern Mage.

Overall, a decent book, but nothing truly essential for Mage.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Tradition Book: Verbena (1st)
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Loom of Fate
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/12/2019 15:47:08

While it is common to find good stories told poorly, this is the opposite, a mediocre story that is told well (in many respects). It structured in a very mutable way that in some sense proves that you CAN write a canned story for Mage. On the other hand, the story itself is lackluster at best, with Marauders treated as a generic group and in this case with a motorcycle gang of identical marauders who have no trouble working together and seem to be more motivated by pursuing the Wyld than by their mental illness, whatever it may be, a strange plot involving turning an Orphan into a Pattern Spider, and a random piece at the end indicating that it crosses over with Werewolf.

Overall, it's not the worst Mage book, and there's something charming about the sheer unsubtlety of names like "Norna Weaver" for someone with a big Destiny who will become a Spider. However, it also faces a lot of traditional early Mage book problems: the Technocracy doesn't make particular sense (why is the Syndicate described as Spirit specialists when the Void Engineers are there? Why would they all show up to a meeting in a relatively normal building in weird clothing? Why does the world of darkness always sacrifice logic for aesthetic?) for example.

So, it's a so-so story, not one I would be interested in ever running, but it gives hints about structure for the writing of stories in the future, though unfortunately it was the last stand-alone story for Mage (and arguably the only one, as Chaos Factor was cross-line).



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Loom of Fate
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Paradox: The Brainstorming
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 02:06:38

The absolute nicest thing to say is that this is quite a list of possible effects. Beyond that, though, it badly needs editing and is very, very clearly translated from a non-English language (references to Quiet as "Silence" for example). It openly acknowledges that many of the effects are "funny" and "may not be appropriate for your game."

As for the flaws...they're all over the place. "Permanent hiccup" and "Paraplegic" and "Lethal Temperature" are all treated as the same (maximum!) severity, and the grammar rapidly becomes a barrier ("sneeze permanent" could perhaps mean "constantly sneezing forever" but it's unclear). The scaling is also strange, like "intense beep in the ears" grows to "head explodes" and "his eyes have different colours" goes to "strange hair colour" to "strange skin colour" (which all make sense as a scaling of a single problem) then suddenly "he vomit rainbows' [sic] and "he becomes a unicorn with strange colours" which...come right out of nowhere.

Some of the flaws aren't even flaws "Mage is teleported to a node" is often going to be a non-problem, and "a nail is broken" is so minor as to be baffling as to why it's here and comparable to being teleported to a Node! Similar levels of "problems" are "a phone rings" and "you have an orgasm for a turn." The scaling and selection are just baffling in many cases.

The book's decreased price is still WAY too high for it (for comparison, most vault products cost about $0.10/page, this is currently $4.44 for 20 pages, meaning at most a $2 price tag is appropriate) and the quality is uneven, but never quite reaches high. I can't recommend that people buy it until it's had a thorough editing, by a native English speaker, had the price cut roughly in half, had the layout cleaned up a bit, and have the general quality of the results evened out and improved so that a "tiny" backlash in a consistent level of problem and a "drastic" one doesn't vary between "permanent hiccups" and a dozen sorts of instant death.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Paradox: The Brainstorming
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Paper Priests
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 01:41:55

A sort of amalgamation of some qualities of the New World Order and the Wu Lung, this supplement describes a Craft that works through beaurocracy. Though a bit disorganized and plagued with typos and essentially no layout, this is a Craft that can function and be used to throw the New World Order and Wu Lung into contrast: too mystic for the former and too technomagical for the latter. With an strong editing pass (to iron out some inconsistencies as well as clean up the text itself) and a layout that isn't just black text on white background, this could be a very good addition to Mage.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Paper Priests
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Red Thorn Dedicants
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 01:07:29

Typos plague this book, with both capitalization errors ("christian" right at the beginning) and spelling errors (or perhaps it's word choice, when "went" becomes "vent" on page 5) and a bare-bones layout of black text on white, the only color in the book is on the cover. The group as depicted is a bizarre collection of contradictions: they claim to be beyond good and evil, but yet still oppose the Nephandi as "minions of the devil," for example. Somehow they are both Lillithian and Christian, and their philosophy is...not the most coherent. Those who are not "saved" are bound to the laws of the bible (how does this help?) whereas those who are saved are not and are saved through reaching a state of lack of knowledge of good and evil, as before the Fall. There are some interesting ideas in here, but they're presented with many contradictions and in a confusing way. Given that one of the only things we know about them from M20 is that the Red Thorn Dedicants are Lillithian mages whose practices make Cultists and Verbena pale, this focuses on them as a vaguely antinomial Christian sect and other than masochism/self-flagellation, doesn't depict anything particularly out of the ordinary for mages of the mentioned Traditions, not that masochism and self-flagellation are particualrly rare among the Traditions in general, much less the Cult and the Verbena.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Red Thorn Dedicants
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Fairy Godmothers
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 00:54:44

This odd craftbook really feels like it should be a kith of Changelings rather than a craft of Mages. Their focus is on using the whimsy and wonder of children to power their magick...which doesn't really fit into any version of the Mage metaphysics that I've seen, but fits perfectly into Changeling: the Dreaming. In fact, the origin story for the craft even involves a Changeling story, though one that feels halfway between Dreaming and Lost. However, there is then talk of enslaved changelings, which seems like it would destroy them through banality extremely quickly. Typos abound ("price" instead of "prize" for example on page 4) and there is no significant formatting. Overall, this craft makes little sense in the context of Mage and could fit better as perhaps a kith in Changeling but very much feels shoehorned into Mage.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Fairy Godmothers
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Believe in Magick!
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 00:48:37

Though the formatting is inconsistent and could use a new layout pass to clean a few things up, but otherwise a well put together introduction to Mage, and I hope that it leads to others doing the same from other perspectives, so that we will have options for different player and game types. It works particularly well as a companion to the quickstart to give a bit of extra information without replacing the M20 core book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Believe in Magick!
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Degentrification
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 00:45:36

The first thing the reader notices is that the formatting is absolutely bare bones: black text on white, with no border or art. It could use copyediting (things such as "united states" and "hermetics" without capitalization occur, for example, but even then also "Verbena" so it is inconsistent) and if you aren't into books that revel in being gross for the sake of grossness, this is absolutely not a supplement for you. Characters in this scenario flout the various rules of secrecy that make the World of Darkness function, and it plays in stereotypes. It's only the loosest framework for a story, and ends very abruptly as well.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Degentrification
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A Breakdown of Order: The Alchemist’s Schism One Page Jumpstart
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2019 00:32:24

This is a very good jumpstart, with lots of good ideas. However, there are five pages of content (1 steup, 1 plot hooks, 3 for characters). It covers the brief period where the Solificati are part of the Order of Reason, but looking for a way out. There's a minor formatting issue with the columns on page 5, but this has no impact on the content, which is high quality and covers different factions of mages as well as the other night-folk and how they might interact with this plot, if you happen to be, say, running Werewolf in the late Middle Ages or (very) early Renaissance.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Breakdown of Order: The Alchemist’s Schism One Page Jumpstart
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Dark Ages: Mage
Publisher: White Wolf
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/04/2019 03:06:29

Dark Ages Mage is the first book in my attempt to review the entire Mage line before the 20th Anniversary Edition comes out. Mostly, it's my way of keeping sane while I wait. This is going to be an interesting one, because I never actually got around to reading Dark Ages ANYTHING before, and I've heard many times that Mage and Fae are both things of beauty. As for why I'm starting here, I'm going in "chronological order" based one when the book is set, with the assumption that the books under Mage: the Ascension were all set in the years they were written. So, Dark Ages first, then Sorcerer's Crusade, and then on to Ascension, with the big restriction that, of course, I don't actually HAVE every book.

The book starts out with a nice little piece of fiction involving a treacherous nobleman and how his treachery leads to the formation of a cabal. The fiction is well-written and kept hold of me (something that's often been a problem with my attempts to read the fiction in Mage books before) and served as a good lead in to the book.

Chapter 1: Magic and the Medieval focuses on the myths, legends and superstitions of Medieval life. I can't speak for too much in the way of authenticity, except when speaking of the Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah and Gematria) which is handled quite well. In general, White Wolf seemed to handle Judaism much better than it did some other cultures (also look on to Charnel Houses of Europe from the Wraith line for another excellent example) and I'm hoping that Mage 20 handles the mysticism comparably well, and from what Brucato has said on Facebook, we can expect this level of accuracy across the board.

Chapter 2: Mystic Fellowships goes into detail on the six major factions of mages of the era: the Ahl-i-Batin, the Messianic Voices, the Old Faith, the Order of Hermes, the Spirit-Talkers and the Valdaermen. Each of them gets six full pages of exposition! The biggest issue I have is that these six pages aren't equal. The Ahl-i-Batin schools get a sidebar discussing what they're about. The Houses of Hermes, however, aren't even listed by name, only Tremere (now a Clan) and Quaesitor are given even a specific mention! The impression it really gives me is that they're afraid of Ars Magica in some way, even though the Dark Medieval and Mythic Europe are radically different in tone, and the Houses will not be the same across the two games, plus, many WoD players won't have the Ars Magica books to fill this gap. The real strength, though, is the Valdaermen, a Norse group of magi, who mix some bits of Cultist and Verbena mythology, with one of the most boastful stereotypes of another faction I've read in their opinions on the Order, which I'll not quote, so that people have to get the book to read it.

Chapter 3: Characters is pretty much what you expect. It's a solid description of character creation with some basic stats included. It's short, because it can offload most of the work to Dark Ages: Vampire, but overall, it was passable, and set up:

Chapter 4: Magic. Here's the real meat of the book, the magic system is fundamentally different from Ascension's. Each Mystic Fellowship has a Foundation, which is analogous to Arete and informs how they think about magic and four Pillars which are their mystical knowledge. While this system has many benefits, and makes it VERY clear how different the fellowships ARE, it has a downside: it's not very expandable. The Sphere system can just be adopted by any mage, and you change the paradigm, whether they're a Tradition mage or Orphan or anything in between. The Pillars need to be worked out in detail for any other mystical fellowship. This is in part because for high levels of the Foundation, there are always on game mechanical benefits, but it does make it harder to expand the system.

Chapter 5: Magical Lands is a mystic geography covering Britain, Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and more. It covers many specific crays (nodes in Ascension terms) and also Hedge mages, such as the Rosselini and Giovanni families from Vampire: the Masquerade, as well as dealings with the Fae (in Britain, including King Arthur) and a rather large expansion on the Valdaermen.

Chapter 6: Creatures and Talismans starts out strong with Dragons, and then moves on to Unicorns, Fae, some undead, the Umbra...all in all, a strong chapter with a good toolbox even for rare creatures and items that survive to the present day.

Chapter 7: Storytelling does what it sets out to go: give the ST some help getting things going. It discusses theme, mood, some setting material and plot hooks.

Overall, Dark Ages: Mage surprised me. I wasn't expecting to like the book as much as I did, and if I'd gone through it before, when I ran a story for a Hermetic where they went back in time to the Dark Ages, I might have used Dark Ages rather than Ars Magica, save for the fact that the Hermetics only appear at low resolution in the book for some reason.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Ages: Mage
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