Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/09/tabletop-review-the-lau
This book is a supplement for The Laundry, a role-playing game about a top secret British governmental organization that deals with the paranormal and the occult. Since this book is mainly a reference for magic, the review will not be as in-depth.
So uh…What do you want to cast?
The first section of the book deals with “computational demonology”, which is basically the department term for spell-casting. Sometimes spells are cast with old-fashioned chanting and ritual etc., but sometimes all you need is an app on your mobile device and a few accessories. This section is very thorough, going through all of these different types of magic and adding a few spells in each one. For instance, you have “entropy manipulation” which can be used to control physics like light and unstable particles; Gates for movement between dimensions; Prognostication and Scrying; and of course summoning. These are just a few examples of magic types described in this chapter. Each type of magic details how it is used, who has access to it, some spells, and mechanisms governing in-game use. In addition, there are sub-headings covering magic used in the traditional way, through macros, mass-produced spells, and just every way in which magic might end up in the mind and hands of a potential sorcerer.
The next section is really fun, it’s about gadgets. I got a distinct feeling of reading through some Paranoia manual or something with all the strange and humorous (yet well-rationalized) pieces of equipment available to Laundry agents. Right off the bat you have your Anti-Zombie Spray, which creates a line that zombies will not cross or which can be used to simply spray them in the face. You also have a “Miscalculator” which disrupts the use of magic nearby, since magic (and reality) is highly dependent on very precise mathematics. Want something really useful? You might need “Sans-Sans-Serif”, a font that has been engineered to be especially conducive to magical energies. Ahem, I quote: “…digital spells written in sans-sans-serif will be more powerful…” Occult departments in other nations may have items that are more traditional and less engineered. For instance, the Russians may have Rasputin’s Tea, and the Chinese a Fire Vampire Grenade. Yes, a Fire Vampire Grenade, which essentially summons a fire vampire on the spot where it lands. I don’t think I could make half of these up if I were given a room of highly imaginative children and a crate of Jolt.
Dreamers and Psychics
Bookending a chapter on grimoires are chapters on two entities existing in the world of The Laundry: “The Morpheo” and psychics. The Morpheo are a special division of the department that carries out missions in the Dreamlands(!). I think this is really awesome and only opens up the already crazy world of the game to the even crazier possibility of adventuring within that paranormal realm. The chapter on psychics is as you might expect, you’ve got ones that can read the future, kinetics, aura sensors, mind readers, and the like. A short chapter, but since a psychic is a pretty familiar idea to people, I am not surprised that it didn’t take pages to expound on it.
Some other sections talk about magical research and the dangers that those who use magic may be subject to. The first is called “Faustian Research” and, as the name may imply, is about making contact with anything from demons to Great Old Ones in an effort to gain some understanding or eldritch technology. Needless to say, consorting with the extra-dimensional is a tricky business. The second section on magical dangers discusses “Thaumic Resonance”, the idea that magic leaves a sort of residual radiation on those who are exposed to it, and if it builds up in your system it can really make some weird (and dangerous) stuff start to happen. One of the great things about this chapter is the scale of “Resonance Poisoning”; basically what happens to someone who has been exposed to magic in non-insubstantial amounts. It might start with animals acting strangely around you at level one, and at level five you might experience a gate opening when you get agitated.
An Adventure and then Thoughts
At the end of this book there is an adventure, “Case Goblin Willow”, that is about the fascinating topic of stealing ideas from the dead. Yet another wonderful moment of reading in this book when I pondered how insane yet totally rational the idea sounds in the context of this game world. Undead are no big deal where Laundry is concerned, they use zombies for filing. When someone disturbs the graveyard of one of the Laundry’s key burial sites containing the bodies of several powerful wizards, they know that a corpse or a soul can be contacted for department secrets and alarm bells go a-ringing.
Overall, this book expands on magic in many excellent ways: spells, explanations, magic items, magic organizations, and magic effects are all laid out thoroughly and in a most entertaining fashion. There are some typos about, either translated letters or in one case a footnote number that had not been put in superscript. Nothing major, and the layout and art are all top-notch. If you are a fan of The Laundry I would definitely recommend this book because it just fleshes out the magic in a really nice way. Beware though, the tone of this book leans toward the absurd, and while I found the humorous possibilities well worth considering when I imagined characters requisitioning some of the items, I could see where a more serious table would think a lot of the items were just fluff.