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Time of Thin Blood
by Brian P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/26/2016 22:15:40

A storytelling game of spirit nukes and blood god wrestling smackdowns.

I'm going to talk about the Week of Nightmares first, because that's the part of Time of Thin Blood that everyone remembers. The Ravnos Antediluvian awakens from its slumber, lured by the spilled blood of Methuselahs who were themselves awakened from the deaths of lesser vampires, and goes on a rampage. Three 鬼人 bodhisattvas travel to India to fight it, the psychic backlash from a being with Auspex 10 and Chimerstry 10 causes dreams and nightmares to become reality all over the world, and eventually the Technocracy declares Code Ragnarok and nukes the battle site from orbit. As it dies, the Antediluvian pushes all its rage and hunger into his descendants, causing all Ravnos in the world to go into cannibalistic frenzies, and when it fades three days later less than ten percent of them are still alive.

It's pretty silly. Sure, we all know, deep in our heart of hearts, that shadow tentacles throwing cars and power metal playing over montages of sunglasses-wearing vampires killing each other is why we like Vampire: the Masquerade, but there is an unspoken line beyond which things just become too ridiculous and the Week of Nightmares crosses it. At least, the version of it in this book does, because the reader gets the full scope of the events and without the mystery it comes across as, well, blood god wrestling smackdowns. I'm not sure it's even possible to say "spirit nuke" in a serious conversation.

I do have positive feelings toward the Week of Nightmares, though, because I ran a game in university where one of the PCs was a Ravnos, so I used it there. Her powers went out of control, she had weird dreams of a tiger, a dragon, and a crane fighting a demon, and eventually she went into frenzy, all against the background of the Sabbat invasion of Philadelphia. The players didn't know that there was anything sinister going on, other than the one offhand reference I made to seeing a typhoon in Bangladesh on the evening news, and you can bet I never used the phrase "spirit nukes." These kind of world-changing events can provide great material for STs to use on the ground while keeping the mystery intact. They can also be pointless and stupid. Sure, the Ravnos as a clan are shockingly offensive if you think about them for even a moment--Roma vampires who literally need to steal (or kill, or do drugs, or whatever) and have that hoary folklore-derived powerset of D&D illusions--but I bet Ravnos players weren't happy with the STs who killed off their characters after this book came out.

Now on to the actual topic. Time of Thin Blood is about the highest generations of vampires where the Curse of Caine runs weak. Around half of 14th-Generation vampires don't have strong enough blood to Embrace, but half do, and then the 15th Generation is the final limit. Except, not entirely, because the curse is so weak that not all biological processes are stopped by becoming a vampire, and some 15th-Generation vampires can even have children.

That theme of stasis is what the book keeps coming back to. Vampirism holds its victims unchanging through the ages, both physically and, in some ways, mentally and spiritually. But this doesn't happen to the youngest Cainites. Not only can they sometimes have children, they can create new Disciplines with casual ease, something even the most powerful Methuselahs find nearly impossible. Their very existence is shaking up the Jyhad as some of them have the power of prophecy. Centuries-long schemes can be unraveled by a seer showing up and blurting out something that they don't realize should be kept secret.

All of this provides a great take on a usual vampire game. It's a good entry point for people who don't know the setting, because most thin-blooded don't get any kind of education into vampire politics and only know what an ordinary person knows plus, "Now I need to drink blood and can't go out during the day." It's the classic outsider introduction technique and it can work really well as a way to bring people into the setting, as long as the ST doesn't go overboard on shoving the lack of power the thin-blooded possess in their faces.

Next to the Week of Nightmares, the beginning of the book is the most memorable part. It's done up as an in-world scientific report by one Dr. Netchurch investigating the powers and weaknesses of the thin-blooded, and ends up documenting several thin-bloods who made their own Disciplines, anomalous instances of beard or nail growth following extreme blood expenditure such as after healing wounds or physical exertion, visions of import to his own history, the possibility of dhampir births, and finally empirically proves the existence of the blood point--or "Vitae Efficiency Unit," as the good doctor dubs it. This was the most interesting to reread, because I remembered the Week of Nightmares but I didn't remember this report, and Dr. Netchurch the Only Sane Malkavian is one of my favorite canon characters.

And I guess that's the only major problem with Time of Thin Blood. It's a really good book about how to play characters with one foot in vampire society and one foot outside, sometimes with one foot in their mortal lives, and how to deal with the changes that the existence of vampires who can have children and see the secrets of their elders with casual ease brings to the Kindred. But whenever anyone talks about the book, blood god wrestling smackdowns is what gets brought up, and it's a shame to reduce it to that. There's a lot that's good here for even the most personal-horror-focused game



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Time of Thin Blood
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Cities of Darkness Volume 1 (WW2622)
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/21/2016 17:23:44

I got this for the DC setting. I have been using it for a while. You kindred history and setting notes that paint DC into a suitable backdrop for a VtM game. You get a full court structure of NPCs with good details and diagrams that show intricate webs of relationships. You get some random scene ideas that you can literally roll for. These are pretty shallow, short events, that you can throw at players for fun if the game starts to get slow. There are a few presented ideas for a chronicle. And that’s it. There is not really a beginning to end plot presented for a story teller to run or anything like that. It’s really just a backdrop. If you want a pregenerated story/plot to run characters through, that is not what you have here.

I was simply looking for a backdrop for my game and this was perfect. The NPCs and court details could easily be dropped into any local. For my needs, this was a great setting for my VtM20A game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cities of Darkness Volume 1 (WW2622)
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The Beast that Haunts the Blood: Nosferatu
by Maxime L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/17/2016 09:00:48

This book is a work of art, a wonderful and disturbing look into the most "alien" of vampires.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Beast that Haunts the Blood: Nosferatu
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Scavenger Sons
by Brian P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/12/2016 21:10:32

Scavenger Sons is basically the foundation of Exalted, or at least it was until third edition came out. The beginning of the book explains that the countries and places covered inside aren't a random sample, but are biased in favor of "less-civilized" areas and places where the Realm doesn't cover. In other words, places that it's more likely that the Solar Exalted would be from. First edition spent some time filling these places in, and then second edition, by editorial directive, almost never spent any time on places that hadn't been covered already in the line. The first time Exalted got a large number of new locations covered after this book was in Masters of Jade, over a decade later.

As I read, I noticed how much it was obvious that the map of Creation had been expanded in the middle of working on the line. All those national relationships in the Exalted corebook that make no sense because of the distances involved were first on display here. Sijan getting food from Nexus even though it's hundreds of miles away. The Halta vs. Linowan war. The Coral Archipelago being described as near the western shore of the Realm where near means "two thousand miles of open ocean." Greyfalls being a Realm tributary even though it's a year round-trip. A trade war between Paragon and Gem, which are separated by over a thousand miles of trackless desert.

As problems go, that is a large one, but it's nearly the only one the book has. People on the internet tend to say that the draw of Exalted is its setting, and other than the final chapter, this book is entirely setting. There are six chapters of it, one each for the four cardinal directions, one for the Scavenger Lands, and one for the city of Nexus, which is clearly being set up as the kind of anarchic area where the rule of law runs thin and thus adventurers--or Exalted--can find a place without having to deal with the heavy hand of the authorities.

The best parts are the ways that the book tries to make Creation's cultures realistic, or realistic reflecting a world of active spirits, supernatural beings, and pervasive magic. Like Skullstone, the capital city of Onyx and part of a shadowland ruled by the Bodhisattva Anointed by Dark Water. You might think that would be an unattractive place to live, but immigration is high because the walking dead do most of the work, and in a iron-age society, having almost all manual labor done by animated corpses who do not feel fatigue or pain and is a huge draw. Meanwhile the city of Great Forks is a slave economy, with slaves outnumbering citizens 2-to-1, but slaves are often kept drugged with a leaf that causes memory loss and euphoria, so they chew it, work all day, and "wake up" at the end of the day. Or going slightly more further afield, the way that the city of Whitewall made a treaty with the nearby fair folk and dead so that they can't enter the city without invitation and can't attack anyone on the road. As such, the city has a huge population because of all the farmers, miners, and workers who can't live outside the walls, and the buildings inside are all stark and devoid of ornamentation, since everyone spends all their time indoors to avoid both the cold and any monsters who manage to get into the city. And the similar treaty in Halta, where the Haltans live in the trees, the fair folk live on the ground, and anyone who ends up on the ground is fair game to them.

Or how in Nexus, there are several tombs of the Solar Anathema. One of these burns white-hot, enough to carbonize flesh with a single touch, and as humans do, the people of Nexus have found a way to use this--they covered it in bricks and built an iron foundry around it to have an eternal, free source of heat. I like that depiction of the magical and the mundane side-by-side.

There's a lot in this book that I forgot over the years, like how Greyfalls is ruled by the Nuri, who fled Wyld barbarians and were an oppressed minority until the Realm showed up and put them in charge, as has been the tactic of colonial powers for time out of mind. Or the gambling house in the Coral Archipelago with First Age artifacts that allow the betting of intangible concepts, so rich, elderly merchants will bet vast sums of money against the youth of a beggar boy. Or the frozen fog in the north, blown in from the Wyld, that can freeze someone solid in moments.

I could really just keep listing bits I liked for a while, but in the interests of space I'll move on.

Even after all that, one of my favorite parts of the book is the end section on the fair folk. I can appreciate that Exalted: The Fair Folk is a well-written, mechanically-tight work, but I never liked "Rakshastan" or the idea of the faerie as creatures of dreams rather than creatures who needed dreams to live. In Scavenger Sons, the fair folk take on shape flavored by he element strong in the part of Creation where they entered from the Wyld, and so their powers are elemental- and mentally-based. There's a description of what would become shaping combat, but no emphasis or rules for it. Basically, I don't like what happened to fair folk when they became playable, and I really don't like the idea that fair folk are living stories who know they're in an RPG and are just trolling everyone else for the lulz because I think it does almost irreparable harm to the themes of the game. The faerie as beings of pure chaos who take on shape because they have to to survive the relentless erosion of Creation, rather than because it's part of some story they're telling themselves? I'm there for that.

Even now, Scavenger Sons is probably the best setting book for Exalted. It does in one book what it took second edition five books to do, with more of a feeling of mystery and a more interesting world. Even if you're playing 2e, use this for background



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scavenger Sons
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Chicago By Night - 2nd Edition
by Matthew J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/09/2016 19:23:35

As I already own the physical book, I purchased the Chicago By Night - 2nd Edition pdf for easy access on my tablet. Unforunately I was disapointed in the quality of the scan, and the somewhat 'canned response' that I reported the quality and poor bookmarking. I'm only reviewing this as I reecieved an automatically mailed link for the review. I feel that it would be unfair not to warn others to skip this scan and to pick up the original (as it is a fantastic book).



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Chicago By Night - 2nd Edition
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Imperial Mysteries
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/06/2016 07:57:15

A newly-Awakened mage might feel that their new-found power is limitless, but they soon learn that it is not... but can it be? This work looks at those who push the limits, treat the 'rules' as mere guidelines if not challenges. For some, this may be a step too far, it certainly is for many mages as the opening story tells. Others, though, prefer to pursue this quest. Even if you don't want to take your game that far, your cabal may encounter the odd will-worker who has - as an ally or an enemy - and here you will find the resources to make that happen.

Here we learn of the archmasters, those who have smashed through the rules and forged their own, carved their own parth through the mysteries, understood the Imperial Practices, learned to control the fundamental forces of the fallen and supernal worlds... maybe even ascended... It's not an easy road to tread, it's not just a matter of acquiring more and more knowledge and adding more spells to your grimoire. The transition to archmastery is called the Threshold Seeking, and is so shattering to one's worldview that it is rightly described as a second Awakening. The accomplished mage suddenly realises that all the knowledge they've been gathering so painstakingly since they Awakened doesn't remotely describe what's really going on... and then they set to and begin to find the truth. The theme is that there is no going back, the mood is how dangerous it is to meddle in such matters. Even more dangerous are the others of similar power that are encountered: old gods, deathlords from the underworld and beings only dimly guessed at until they burst forth in contention.

The Introduction explains all this, and comments on how you might link in material from other books in the New World of Darkness (now Chronicles of Darkness) game lines. Then Chapter 1: Threshold talks about how one makes the transition from regular mage to archmaster and provides the rules necessary for developing magic power up to a mind-blowing (and character sheet wrecking) NINE dots, complete with example spells.

Then, Chapter 2: The Invisible Road looks at the world archmasters inhabit, the strange realms open to them to explore and the alliances they might forge - or conflicts they may enter into. This is continued in Chapter 3: The Supernal Ensemble, where we meet example archmasters from a range of factions in the Ascension War that's raging unbeknownst to most ordinary spell-slingers, never mind sleepers... along with plenty of equally-powerful beings that may be their adversaries.

Finally Chapter 4: Ascension looks at what this actually means and an appendix Imperium provides a system for playing archmasters in the Supernal World... where what they get up to can affect the very nature of reality. This super-high-powered stuff isn't for everyone, but if it appeals, there's plenty of Storytelling advice to help you make it happen in your game - whether your mages seek archmastery for themselves or just encounter one - or even the ripples in reality left by one - during a more conventional chronicle.

I'm torn. The academic side of me wants to delve ever deeper, but this whole concept is a bit of a game-changer. Do I want to bend my chronicles quite this much? I'm not sure. But archmasters can make excellent plot devices...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Imperial Mysteries
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The Abedju Cipher (Mage: The Awakening)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2016 08:08:30

Do you know whom you can trust? And are you yourself trustworthy? This adventure, which can be run as a stand-alone or woven into an ongoing chronicle, lets you explore the whole concept of trust - and what happens when it is misplaced. It could serve as the initial adventure for a new cabal but can be scaled up relatively easily to challenge more experienced will-workers.

The plot itself is quite straightforward. A powerful artefact, the Abedju Cipher, is part of a travelling exhibition due to visit a local museum and there are those who'd like to, ah, acquire it for themselves. The cabal will get caught up in the shenanigans and will have plenty of opportunity to influence the course of events... once they have decided who, if anyone, they can trust. To support this plot you get an outline of events, some well-detailed NPCs (who, if you are running this as part of an ongoing chronicle, may well prove useful contacts or determined opponents in the future), and even a rather sketchy map of the museum. You may wish to substitute a better floorplan from a real museum, most hand them out as visitor guides or even have them on their websites - particularly useful if you have set your game in a real-world town.

Whilst there's considerable background on the Abedju Cipher, what it actually is and does is left open, although one suggestion is presented - one which I'm not sure would arouse quite as much interest in magical circles as the Cipher has in this scenario, however! Be that as it may, various factions are after it, and the plot revolves around their attempts and the cabal's reactions: will they aid one of the factions or even try to purloin the artefact for themselves? And given that at least one faction has decided to stage a heist, what will the cabal do when caught up in the middle of it... and will they be able to explain their actions to mundane law enforcement afterwards?

Good use of the Storytelling Adventure System is made to ensure that the copious details provided are well-ordered and can be accessed just when you need them. Eight fully-developed scenes are provided, with just two or three being core to the plot. The rest may be used, modified or left out entirely as suits your needs. These scenes are summarised on cards you can print out and have in hand when you run the adventure. Main NPCs come along with loads of background and role-playing notes to help them to come alive, and complete character sheets for when you need to get the dice out.

Overall, it's a cracking yarn and should provide an enjoyable session or two of play. Simple on the face of it, yet the scope for development and ramifications to spill over into the rest of your chronicle are tremendous.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Abedju Cipher (Mage: The Awakening)
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Ready-Made Player Characters (Mage: The Awakening)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/03/2016 07:54:35

Opening with an explanation of how the individual mages came together, this work presents a ready-made and fully-detailed cabal for those who want to just jump in and start playing (perhaps a one-night game is planned rather than a whole chronicle) without having to make their own characters first. Of course, they'd also make excellent NPCs if it's necessary for your mages to meet up with (or vie with) another group of will-workers.

For each character, there is detailed personal background material that gives a clear idea of personality and approach to life and magic, and TWO character sheets, one for a started character and one for a more seasoned version. Illustrations, a physical description and role-playing hints help the character come to life.

With two members of the Mysterium, two members of the Adamantite Arrow and one unaligned, the group has an interesting balance. This is reflected in the personalities: an awkward geek, a scatty girl taking on responsibilities, a couple of older more responsible individuals and a teenage tearaway who lists 'Craft: Vandalism' amongst her abilities! Most players should find at least one of the characters congenial enough to play. It's also a good introduction to how to create a balanced cabal that will be able to work together.

Although the cabal itself is good to go, you will need to put some thought into their sanctum, although it is briefly touched upon in the introductory notes. That said, this is well worth a look for an excellent example of a cohesive group or indeed, for the intended purpose - ready-made PCs!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ready-Made Player Characters (Mage: The Awakening)
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Mage Noir
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/30/2016 07:46:20

This is a fascinating sourcebook for anyone who wants to break out of the presumed 'present day' setting of Mage: The Awakening and take it back to 1940s America, drawing on the style of 'film noir' and hard-boiled detectives like Philip Marlowe as inspriation. The idea is to create the look and feel of the times rather than an historical recreation, but there's plenty of background material to help you get a grip on this. The Introduction explains all this, then lays out the theme as being 'the price of Awakening' and the mood as one of cynicism, laying out why these are felt to be appropriate.

Chapter 1: The Party's Over is a broad sweep through 1940s America, historically and culturally, designed to support the development of the theme and mood specified. This is developed further in Chapter 2: The Power and the Glory, which looks specifically at mages in 1940s America and how this particular time period affected individual and organisational outlooks, and the ways in which the various orders operate, a theme continued in Chapter 3: Nice Guys Finish Last. This chapter also describes what is like to Awaken in the 1940s, and come to Supernal understanding at this time in history, and there's also some discussion about how having participated in World War 2 might affect both the Awakened and those whose service contributed to their Awakening... and how they might feel when they got back home.

Next, Chapter 4: Stories in the Naked City addresses the sort of chronicles you might want to run, with loads of examples, tips and tricks to help you get started. But that's not all, there is a complete adventure (using the Storyteller Adventure System) in which the mages investigate a messy murder. And if you want to drive straight in, there's the Lamppost Cabal, pre-generated characters who are products of the time and have banded together to face the future together - and hopefully make some money in the process (a key sub-theme of this setting...).

Everything is neatly bundled up to make a mage-filled version of 1940s America come to life on your tabletop. You'll note I have coupled the date and the location throughout, for this is very much America-centric as well as being set in the 1940s. There's scope for exploring the effects of global war and technological advance in the rest of the world in your game, but this book - although it might give you a few ideas - is not designed for anyone running a game set outside of America. It captures the whole film noir vibe quite well and should help you craft some vivid and memorable chronicles.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mage Noir
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Lines of Power (Mage: The Awakening)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/17/2016 13:15:20

This is a complete ready-to-play adventure for Mage: The Awakening which can be dropped in to whatever else is going on in your chronicle with little difficulty, or used as a one-off. It uses the Storytelling Adventure System, which basically means that it's best run from the PDF as you get the advantage of extensive hyperlinking and the like.

The adventure really only works if your cabal has an established Sanctum and Hallow, because the plot involves having to fight to defend it: if you want to weave this into an ongoing chronicle, make sure that they have reached this point first. It all begins when someone comes round invoking the Right of Hospitality - the bounden duty to aid a fellow mage in difficulties by letting them stay for a while - on the grounds that they are being attacked by whoever the cabal's current rivals might happen to be. From then on, things go downhill really fast.

A lot of background material is provided about the people involved and what they are trying to accomplish, which enables you to play them to good effect. The plot's deliciously devious as well, and is laid out clearly once you've been introduced to the NPCs. There are opportunites for combat and for investigation and at least one point when your mages ought to be wondering what just hit them!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lines of Power (Mage: The Awakening)
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Mage Chronicler's Guide
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/15/2016 07:46:25

This book presents a wealth of ideas to spark the Storyteller's imagination, emphasising just how broad the scope of this game is and the multitude of things you can do with a 'contemporary magic' game. This is exemplified by the opening fiction, which tells the tale of four children Awakening... what does happen to those who Awaken early? Did someone (or something) help them to come into their powers in advance of when they would normally develop?

Chapter 1: Genres of the Awakened World explores seven different styles of game you could run, concentrating on mood and tone and emphasis rather than game mechanics, although any new rules you might need are provided. The genres explored are action horror, pulp adventure, epic fantasy, Faustian sorcery, lucid sleepers (this is an urban fantasy approach with mages living amongst normal folks, hiding yet using their powers), punk, and noir. Masses to conjure with here!

Next, Chapter 2: Mirror Magic looks at changing the very essence of what 'magic' is... mechanically, the rules stay pretty much the same, but it might be weird science or perhaps mages cast their spells by taking drugs, or maybe it's all psychic powers.

Then, Chapter 3: Building Character discusses not just characters themselves, but the things that define them: cabal, path and order; and looks at how to enhance and change them to suit your needs. It also covers magical 'style' in depth, looking at how it works and how it affects each character, complete with pertinent game mechanics.

Finally, Chapter 4: Mage Chroncles contains three artiles about running the game. One looks at a three-tier concept, the second considers that awkward fact that using magic the characters might find it too easy to gather information and thus derail your plot - find out how to make that work for you rather than against you - and the last one considers what happens when your mages get really powerful.

I said 'finally' but actually there is more: a whole fifteen chronicle ideas. These might inspire you to come up with your own ideas, or you may choose to run with them more or less 'as is'... or modify them to suit your requirements. Ideas a-plenty. This is a book to read whilst you are plotting your next game, rather than with a mind to changing the current one (unless perhaps you decide to end an otherwise conventional chronicle with all the 'mages' waking up in rehab having finally dried out from whatever they were taking!). Loads of ideas to sift through and consider, plenty of scope to help you let your imagination run riot!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mage Chronicler's Guide
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Night Horrors: The Unbidden
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/13/2016 08:20:55

Opening with a weird bit of fiction - the reflections of someone around whom terrible things happen, yet they can never quite remember - the Introduction begins by talking about the rules of magic. In, that it ought to have them, and indeed does... just that they are not always clear, even to those who study magic and make use of it. Even those who practice magic only think they know what they are doing, it can be unpredictable - a bit like herding cats. This book asks what happens when magic enters the world unbidden, just as a tornado or forest fire doesn't trouble to ask before it destroys your house. Magic doesn't care, if one can anthropomorphise for a moment, whether the mage wielding it is able to control it or not. Magic changes things, sometimes for the better and sometimes not, but always for the weirder.

So what does that mean for our game? Using magic is, for most mages, a pleasreable activity, a bit of a rush even - but it can so easily get out of hand. Mages can get carried away, drunk on their own abilities and power, becoming filled with pride at what they can do... and that's when magic turns and bites them, or escapes to cause unintended effects elsewhere in the world. This book is jam-packed with ideas for handling such events and their consequences in your game... it's time to make magic scary!

To aid you in making this happen, this tome contains a whole bunch of... well, antagonists for want of a better word. In presenting this feeling of forces bigger than the mages attempting to use them, and scary to boot, concentrate on description, on building up atmosphere - show, not tell. Each entry is designed to provide resources to make that happen, with detailed descriptions and backgrounds, secrets and rumours and above all story hooks - ideas about how to weave them into your plots and indeed build entire plots around them.

There are four sections, based on the nature of the entities therein. First up are Mages - well, that's obvious. We know what mages are. But these ones, well - the magic has got to them. Some are innocent (but no less dangerous for all that), others know exactly what they are doing and revel in it. Next is Characters and Creatures. They are not mages but have been touched by magic in some manner. Then there are Constructs and Objects. Not all artefacts were created deliberately, on purpose. Sometimes they just... happen. Then there are Conditions and Infections. States of being that can arise when magic and paradox run riot. As a bonus, there is actually a fifth section, Places. This describes three places where magic has got so far out of hand that it's affected entire locations.

If you like the idea of magic almost having a mind of its own, running amok, you will find ideas to inspire and help you make it happen in your game. Even better, if you'd like to inject some honest-to-goodness horror into your chronicle, here are some tools to freak out the most self-contained and confident will-workers. Indeed, it's when your mages are getting confident, think they know what they are doing and have everything under control, that it is a perfect time to spring something from this book upon them. But use sparingly: less is more when it comes to horror and wild magic... even a small instance will have everyone nervous about their next spell!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night Horrors: The Unbidden
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Summoners
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/12/2016 09:13:18

Many ancient magical traditions touch on the summoning of otherworldly powers, and the Awakened too reach out to gain information, power or other favours from beings not of this world. The opening fiction tells of a strange 'prayer wheel' that is connected to some being that the protagonist's grandfather summoned and made a pact with - instead of prayers it sends forth the being's name through strange glyphs - and has, of course, an unsavoury undertone, an implied threat that means it's not really safe to meddle with such things.

Indeed the dangers and risks often outweigh the benefits, not that this stops mages from dabbling, often calling upon beings too powerful for them to control, beguiled by the possibilities, the terrifying splendours, they perceive to be on offer. This book is designed as a resource for anyone going down the summoning route, building on what's in the core rulebook and presenting a whole lot of new stuff about otherworldly entities and the ways in which mages can interact with them. No one size fits all, there are a range of options and the Storyteller is encouraged to decide which will work and which are but traps for the unwary, the incautious and the over-eager. Some summonings are easy to perform, others very complex and/or requiring exotic materials and lengthy preparation of both mage and ritual.

Chapter 1: From Distant Shores opens proceedings by discussing the nature of the beings that can be summoned. Note that there's no discussion of their home planes or worlds, the struggle between them and our mages will be fought here... mages wouldn't last an instant in the sort of places that they come from!

Next, Chapter 2: From the Five Towers looks at Supernal summoning... but beware: they have a nasty habit of turning up to test mages, seeing if they are worthy before granting any boons or conferring any powers upon them.

Then Chapter 3: From the Endless Dark delves into the Abyss to see what can be dredged up... if you dare. It doesn't sound advisable to meddle here, opening doorways to allow unspeakable horrors out... you get the picture. Some do dare, however, and if very skilled and extremely lucky may retain life, limb or sanity. Many do not.

This is followed by Chapter 4: From Stranger Spheres (as if the ones in the earlier chapters weren't strange enough), where the unknown is explored, stuff that is even outside Awakened philosophy and knowledge. Beings that sometimes attempt to slither in uninvited or beguile unwary mages into inviting them in. A few come bearing gifts, many bring death and destruction, others are just curious... but what passes for innocent curiousity may be extremely dangerous to any mortal encountering it.

Finally, Chapter 5: Otherwordly Compacts gets down to the game mechanics necessary to handle the processes of summoning. There is much of interest to any mage who might wish to dabble, let alone those who want to make summoning their life's work. The main focus is on forming pacts with whatever has been summoned, but there are Legacies, merits, and much, much more as well.

This work opens up a whole area of magical endeavour, giving plenty of scope for mages who want to explore this type of magic or even just give it a go. Certainly a good resource for groups for whom the magic itself is central to their game, it raises interesting questions for those who enjoy the dilemmas that can face their characters, there's plenty of story potential... what's not to like?



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Summoners
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Seers of the Throne
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/09/2016 07:59:11

The Seers of the Throne are power-hungy, power-mad even, and will do literally whatever it takes to gain it, no matter the cost. And, judging by the opening fiction (nicely legible this time, at least) they tend to be fairly foul-mouthed about it too. They serve the Exarchs, and are granted great power and reward for their services... but their service is aimed at one thing: keeping humanity in its place, preventing them for attaining their potential. Yet they are human themselves, even if even more self-serving than most. They believe themselves better than the rest, perhaps wishing to right perceived wrongs done them before they Awakened, filled with arrogance and thoroughly enjoying the material largesse they receive from their masters.

The clear intent is that the Seers be used as antagonists, but the material in this book is presented in the same way as the other Order books - so if you do have a group who like the idea of vast material wealth and power with a few distasteful tasks required to get it, it might be an option to let them be the Seers. It's more likely that you will have them as enemies, however, so here are the tools to make them really come to life within your alternate reality.

Chapter 1: A History of Loyalty looks at their history as recorded through their own eyes - given their self-serving tendencies, others may beg to differ at many if not all points. It gives a good overview of both their past and present concerns, however as well as a fair bit of detail about the way that the operate.

Then Chapter 2: Serving the Exarchs gets down to the philosophy, beliefs and dogma that membership in this order entails. Complete obedience to the will of the Exarchs is central, no matter what their request, however costly at a personal level or even to your soul. This chapter also describes how they operate and are organised.

Next, Chapter 4: Heads of the Hydra delves more deeply into organisational matters... they are full of factions and sub-groups, sometimes cooperating and sometimes resulting in friction. There are plenty of examples to provide you with ready-made groups to throw at your mages - or have working away behind the scenes thwarting them covertly, often a more likely way of operating. (The Appendix: Antagonists has more fully-detailed individuals, complete with game statistics, to be used as both combatant and non-combatant NPCs.)

Finally, Chapter 5: Gifts of the Exarchs lays out the magical resources that the Seers can access. The usual collection of magical traditions, spells, artefacts and so on to play with.

This is a neat approach, giving some of the major adversaries your mages will face the same type of structure and resources as their own orders have. It certainly provides plenty of scope for machinations and devious plots, and a wealth of suggestions as to how to use the Seers to best effect in your game. For the sake of your mages' souls, though, encourage them not to enlist with the Seers!



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Seers of the Throne
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Secrets of the Ruined Temple
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/06/2016 09:05:27

This chronicle book, containing the very sort of adventures I love that combine cod-archaeology with the game world, get off to a bad start - the flavour fiction at the beginning is virtually illegible, block printed on a dark, heavily-patterned background. As far as I can make out it's an account of a mage-driven expedition to South America in search of Atlantean secrets and there's something about a solar eclipes in there too, but something that should have set the scene admirably falls flat on its face through poor layout.

So, moving on swiftly to the Introduction, there's a summary of the history all mages teach their pupils about the past glories of Atlantis and how only scraps remain... but maybe, just maybe, there is more out there to be discovered. This book is a guide and resource for those who want to have the search for further material as part of their on-going adventures. But it doesn't do it in a way you might expect. The Storyteller won't find complete maps and inventories of Atlantis ready for the cabal to explore. Rather, it actually makes things more mysterious, presenting multiple possibilities and even more questions, rather than answers. The idea is that you use these resources to come up with your own version of Atlantis and are then armed with appropriate clues to scatter throughtout your ongoing chronicle for the mages to pick up on. Neat, and novel, idea.

Chapter 1: Atlantean Apocrypha starts with what it says in the core rulebook, then builds on it and twists it out of all recognition with variant legends of Atlantis for you to pick through and decide which (if any) works for you. Or you may be inspired to come up with your own, of course. Don't discard the bits you don't decide are the truth, though. They might be deliberate misinformation, or erroneous information that has crept in through the generations.

Next, Chapter 2: Beneath the Sediment provides a wealth of advice about planning and running cod-archaeology adventures involving finding and exploring Atlantean ruins. It includes ways to get your mages interested (and the things that their elders might say to dissuade them) as well as hints and tips on designing the actual places they will go poking around in... and the perils they might find there, which are covered in Chapter 3: Gatekeepers and Treasures, along with ideas for the sort of loot they might possibly escape with if they are really, really lucky.

Finally Chapter 4: The Living Temple takes matters to an entirely new level... the Astral Plane. Those who dare to poke around within dream and myth may find awesome secrets... or their own undoing. To round everything off, there's an Appendix: High Speech and Atlanean Runes jam-packed with the mysteries surrounding the language and writing of the ancients, a new look at the magical words and glyphs all mages work so hard to master.

Overall, this is a fascinating tome to dip in to: there is a lot to digest, and you'll have to do a fair amount of preparatory work before you have a chronicle ready to run... but this work will give you tools and ideas to run enthralling adventures delving into the Atlantean past - so despite the opening, it's 5 stars :)



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Secrets of the Ruined Temple
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