This is the first Mage supplement I've ever read and it sets my expectations going forward. Sources of Magick is impeccably professional barring the odd typo here or there. Charles has prodigious understanding of the Mage source material, some real-world places (and historical events) as well as the creativity to tie all of it into a neat little bow via the copious example Nodes. Even still, the marriage of creativity and real-world relatability is taken to its heights in the section on node paradigms, which doubles as a crash course in metaphysical philosophy. At 49 pages cover-to-cover, it's a bit ambitious for what I expected as a fan supplement. In some ways, it could be perceived as too short.
Let me lay this down: Nodes were underexplained in the Mage core book, even as far as 20th edition. It's easy to see them as some simplistic place where power generically gathers and Mages can tap into it. This is true in a literal sense: in that you will use this literary device called a "node" as a building block to your story; though false in that you shouldn't take the formless prime material (heh) that is the Core's presentaiton of nodes and paste it directly into every campaign. Which is why all the subsequent features (such as Tass and resonance) can feel unwelcome—they run counter to my impression that nodes were simple. However, Charles reveals Nodes as they ought to have been portrayed. Let me say this again because it bears repeating: Charles would've been a good hire for a section on Nodes in the Core book.
So while it's easy to expect a short supplement (maybe under 20 pages), the expansion on this simple idea reveals how extensive it is inherently. I want more and yet I have all that I will need. This is key to me, regarding the utility of supplements. There's enough provided for a jump-start where you can pull in a vast array of these fully fleshed ideas and turn some of them into entire campaigns if you wanted. Yet some are bespoke and this may not contain a literary framework for every story. That's where "all you need but not all you want" comes into play. Far from being a negative criticism, this is the thing creativty is made from. Once you understand and use the supplement's stock ideas a few times, it still has provided the thought framework for your brain to quickly and easily create more. Wanting more is good because you will have the tools to create more at your whim. I would go so far as to say the node creation rules could be used for Werewolf: The Apocalypse cairns, or really any place of note in a World of Darkness chronicle. Because ultimately, nodes are storied points of interest with a special storytelling property. They should drip narrative and ooze hooks. Sources of Magick provides an abundance of both and then hands you the tools and understanding to continue its work for your own campaigns.
With the main body of the review out of the way, here's some of my thoughts on the individual sections in this book.
Paradigms Section or "the Nature of Nodes"
One of my favorite paradigms was "Gold Standard" where a Primal Utility-inclined mage such as the Syndicate may view a place as a a vault of gold ingots or mine of raw ore. As gold is an outdated—but still valuable—commodity, so-too are these nodes viewed as "nice-to-haves" but not essential. It's very cool that this paradigm is included, moreso because a logical conclusion to "all is value" is provided: if that node is hard to hold onto, it should just be drained. Like liquidating a possibly toxic asset long before it begins its downward trend in stocks. This isn't how I would see the world but it was such a shock to think of mages (technocrat or not) considering this as a viable option. It fits snugly within the market capitalist viewpoint that everything has to generate more value for whomever privately owns the property, rather than used for the common good. Which makes a perfect villain for a chronicle. There are several other good paradigms such as everything being made of computer data (i.e. "all is data"), which works very well for several paradigms even outside the Virtual Adepts, as mathematicians may recall Pythagoras believed "all is number". There aren't any weak paradigms on display here and I'd rather not spoil them all.
One of the very cool things included in this book is an example of nodes attuned with a sphere's resonance. Resonance is another poorly explained core concept and reading The Book of Secrets may still be necessary to grasp it all but Charles does a great job of helping visualize the bizarre time warping effects of a Time-resonant node or the danger inherent to some Force-resonant nodes. Later, each one is expounded on in the node builder with varying degrees of extremity. The examples provided are just enough to use in a chronicle, yet inspire to create more.
Many of the rotes in Sources of Magick are based on Prime, which I felt was a previously under-represented sphere. It's appropriate for Prime to feature in each rote since nodes are intrinsically linked to the Sphere as a whole, even if they are not always attuned to a Prime resonance. Speaking of which, the sizable 26 rotes provided are handily split into categories that deal with Quintessence, Ley Lines, Tass, and Resonance. I found this useful since I'm not always exactly sure how to categorize an effect unless I've seen it previously. Even if you use only a few of these rotes, there are plenty of ideas that easily transition into your own rotes and build a comprehensive toolbox for understanding Prime therein.
This has to be my favorite section, utility-wise. While paradigms brought me into the fold for understanding nodes properly, the builder is something I think most chronicles can use even beyond the equivalent building of Domains in Vampire: the Masquerade. Players and Storytellers alike can allocate points to the node and whatever comes out should be interesting enough that it forms a building block of a story. This is a great resource for story points of interest, even if you aren't playing Mage—which is why I say its use goes beyond building Domains in Vampire for Vampires. In the builder, you'll assign points to the amount of Quintessence, size of the node, the ratio of Quintessence to Tass, and special Merits/Flaws (of which there are a ton) that add more flavor and uniqueness to the node. I feel like Merits/Flaws are especially great if you start without a solid narrative understanding of what you want your node to be. If you know ahead of time, such as a powerful Prime node based in a stock exchange, then you can easily follow the point-buy to a logical conclusion. It's also nice to use as a node "power rater" since the points are easily tracable given the description of any node. This allows storytellers to compare nodes over a chronicle or between chronicles to understand the power differentials and potentials. Special care has also been taken within the node builder to help storytellers integrate nodes with Changling: the Dreaming and Werewolf: the Apocalypse as well!
Sources of Magick takes a concept which was too simplistic for what the developers wanted it to be and spins a comprehensive yarn to draw storytellers—once again—into the Ascension War. When fully fleshed out, it's easy to see why warring over nodes is so endless. They are integrated into the very things that Sleepers consider part of normal life. It may not do this for you but after reading this supplement, I looked at places very differently. I dredged up old thinking patterns that I used to fall into: How does this place flow? How are people unconsciously drawn to form certain paths within its architecture? Where does its "power" come from and what is it? From shopping malls with dead energy; sleepy cul-de-sacs that are nevertheless deathtraps and woven into a labyrinth of bourgoise privacy; to the Roman-inspired buildings of government where our collective belief (whether positive or not) in power flows. There is always something of a "node" around us. Viewing the real world in this way is nothing of a new process. It comes from Philosopher, Guy Debord's "Theory of Dérive" wherein the material world's conditions and structure should be explored deliberately rather than taken as a given. People within the system have decided where you can go, how you can get there, which routes lead to how much ease or difficulty, and have so often designed them without considering the diverse cast of humans among the world's stage. While I cannot know if Charles is familiar with Debord's work in derivé or The Spectacle, I can say that this exploration of nodes provides a deep and meaningful glimpse into the world behind the world, whether you choose to see our own that way or merely invite it into your fiction. Therefore I invite each of you who has a burning need to tell a story to explore a new world—alive, mysterious, connected and all at once looking for the many Sources of Magick.