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Tome of the Mysteries
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/22/2016 10:36:57

The opening fiction is a tale of a youngster growing up in a house where one parent is Awakened and the other is not, and worse, finds it difficult to accept. Sad truths... perhaps some one of your mages might have to face, or have as part of their background.


The Introduction explains the underlying concept of this book: magic as Art: a craft that must be studied, learned, honed, thought about and practiced... not mechanical cause and effect. Indeed magic often seems to have a will of its own. Presenting a scheme to classify magic in terms of the elements, it's at pains to point out that the classifications are more philosophical than anything else. Each element has associations with emotions and capabilities, and it is these that are reflected by the magic grouped together under it. In summary, will comes under fire, for intellect air is the proper element, with water for feelings and emotions and earth for the manifestation of ideas. Not everyone thinks this way, of course. Some mages like to visualise a temple with many halls, visiting different ones depending on what they are doing. Others claim that there are various fields of study within the whole that is magic - just as the academic study of say, history, might include the study of different periods, different places, or themes such as warfare or religion. But here we stick to the elements as a framework, with this book serving as a toolbox for how to go about using magic.


Chapter 1: The Way of Fire - Making Magic looks at that exciting area of how to devise your own spells. If creative thaumaturgy is your thing, this chapter will light your fire. The element of fire is associated with intuition, imagination and the higher will, just the tools you need to come up with innovative new spells. Here you can read about the 'rules' that make magic work: the Thirteen Practices, spell Aspects and the practicalities of creating a new spell.


Next, Chapter 2: The Way of Air - Spell Lore explains the look and feel of magic, how to describe what's going on, what can be felt and seen as a spell is cast. Seek inspiration here when you want to get creative when telling people what is going on when the magic starts to fly. There are lots of new spells here as well.


Then Chapter 3: The Way of Water - Magic and Being is about how magic interacts with culture and society, and as an extension of that, how mages get on with day-to-day life, and what sort of beliefs they might hold. There's also a discussion of the ethical aspects of magic (quite entertaining given that I teach the ethical aspects of computing in real life!). These are the sort of questions that the modern mage ought to wrestle with.


Chapter 4: The Way of Earth - Magic Manifested presents spells which are used to enchant items. There's also a look at alchemy and an array of salves, sprays and other substances that can be made with this craft, and a fair bit about soul stones.


Finally, Chapter 5: The Way of the Void - Greater Secrets takes you down paths best trodden with caution if at all... this is the Storyteller chapter and includes all manner of things from running antagonist spell casters to the legendary capablities of archmages and the dread Abyssal Watchtowers (which if you haven't heard of, you are probably very lucky!). Your NPC mages need to be as rounded, as knowlegeable as any player-character, but a bit of careful planning can make this less arduous than it might sound. There are lots of helpful hints and tips here.


Ending with a comprehensive spell index, this is a mage's vade mecum, a reference book or manual. OK, you don't need to read it to play an effective mage... but if you do study its pages, it will give your mage and his magic considered depths, a greater understanding of the Art he practices.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of the Mysteries
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Tome of the Watchtowers: A Guide to Paths
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/20/2016 10:15:35

Every mage has his story of how he Awakened, generally involving an immersive vision of their Watchtower, a mystical and extremely personal experience. In the opening fiction, a group of young mages - who initially think they are facing certain death - share their stories and through them find what they need to save themselves.


Mages use symbols and imagery a lot to describe the Supernal Realms in ways that help them make sense of it. This begins, unknowing, with their dream of Awakening, but as time passes and they learn more about what they have become, their imagery becomes more focussed and they grow in understanding of what they see. This is not a book which a mage could read, but it is one their players should: to understand what their mage character makes of his experiences, what he understands and how he sees it. It's different for everyone, of course, and even people who are of the same Path won't view it in completely the same way, although there may well be similarities. For those who want to revel to the full in the mystical internal development that being an Awakened mage brings for their character, this book will enable them to share something of what their character, in his alternate reality of the game world, feels.


The book is made up of five chapters, each concerning one Supernal Path. Each contains lore, the history of that Path... and also indications of how mages on the Path view those who follow the other Paths. There's history, rites, notes on character creation, all manner of information to help you really get into the skin of your character. It's all legend and supposition - but things that your mage will have heard and read. Whether or not he accepts them as truth is up to you (and him).


The concept of a discipline - a vow taken and kept - is also introduced. In game mechanical terms, it provides the mage who keeps his vow faithfully with extra Mana. But a wise choice of discipline can shape a whole character, mark him out as distinctive. It's a bit like a religious vow or restriction - just like Mormons choose not to drink tea or coffee, or Jews to avoid eating pork. It's voluntary, and can be something that a whole cabal decides to adhere to, or just a single mage who feels the need to impose such a stricture on his life. Once taken on, however, it pervades everything and breaking it can cost a lot more than Mana - loss of relationships, of standing, and more. Take a discipline on with caution... and then role-play it to the hilt.


It's a bit difficult to know just when you should read this book. When creating a Mage: The Awakening character, you choose his Path along with everything else, yet in the alternate reality of the game, the Path chooses him rather than the other way around. The information about his Path will be acquired along with much more during his initial training, something most games do 'off screen' even when intending to start with new and inexperienced mages... mages who know nothing at all are not much fun to play, after all. Best they have acquired at least some knowledge of their new capabilities and learned a few rotes before the game proper begins. So sometime during the early stages of the game, as the character learns, so do you. Of course, that only applies for the first time you play the game. Next character around, you might well pick a different Path so have a whole new lot of stuff to learn... and try to forget some of the old, which a fledgling mage of another Path won't know! The age-old issue of character knowledge and player knowledge.


Yet for those who really want to understand their mage and play him to the full, this is an excellent resource replete with lore and beliefs and suppositions and half-known histories. Revel in it and use it to inform your role-playing!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of the Watchtowers: A Guide to Paths
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High Guard
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2016 12:04:53

What's Traveller without, well, some travelling... especially in space? High Guard is designed to provide a toolbox to empower every aspect of spacefaring in your game from designing and operating starships to using them in spectacular combat.


The Introduction begins by explaining where the name 'High Guard' comes from in the first place - it refers to a vessel standing overwatch in a position that is higher in a gravity well than other ships. That's a useful place to be, as if combat should take place when under the influence of a planet's gravity (or indeed that of any object in space) it's advantageous to be higher in it than your opponent. Harking back to the age of sail, one would speak of having the 'wind guage' when in a position where the wind conferred an advantage - here it's the 'gravity guage' instead, but a very similar concept.


Other topics explored in the Introduction cover terminology, the various types of space navies to be encountered - Imperial, subsector and planetary (assuming you are using the Third Imperium default setting) - and the concept of the Ship's Locker (standard equipment carried aboard all ships such as vacc suits and emergency equipment). It ends with a listing of different types of ship, including a useful size chart.


Chapter 1: Ship Design then gets down to detail of how the process of designing and building ships work. You can use existing designs 'as-is', modify them or come up with wholly-new ones... but will need to hire a naval architect to oversee the project. For those who want to have this level of control, there is a thirteen-step process to follow starting with creating the hull. It's a detailed process, one that will keep you happily occupied for a while and, like many design processes in this game, can become an end in itself, an enjoyable pastime rather than the more ulitarian designing of a ship for your next game. As well as cost, you need to keep track of tonnage and power requirements.


Next is Chapter 2: Weapons and Screens. This goes into detail about the weapons and defensive systems that can be mounted on a spaceship. There's a huge range of weapons that can be employed, and this chapter concentrates on what you need to know to install them: cost, power requirements, hardpoints to attach them and so on. Fighting with them comes later, never you fear! There's also a bit about defensive technology, mainly point-defence weapons and screens. Physical armour is covered in the construction chapter above.


Still looking at building ships, Chapter 3: Spacecraft Options gets quite interesting as it looks at how to customise your ship and presents a wide range of options from alternative drives and power systems to adding acceleration couches... and far more. Everything is described in terms of cost, tonnage and power requirements, linking it all back to the original ship design process.


Next, Chapter 4: Primitive and Advanced Spacecraft looks at vessels which differ from the norm presented in the previous chapters. These range from custom-built ships utilising the latest concepts and technologies to ones built by less-advanced species who have at least begun to reach for the stars. This is followed by Chapter 5: Space Stations, which looks in equal depth at space-based constructs designed for living in space rather than travelling through it. A similar thirteen-point checklist is provided for you to work through if you wish to design one from scratch, and there are also notes on some of the specialised space stations that are to be found out in the black.


We then take a look in Chapter 6: The Ship's Computer at the 'brain' of your space vessel in more detail. It's an interesting balance between modern advances in computing and the original Traveller concept of ship computers as being massive - a concept derived when real-world spaceship computers had about as much power as the average smartphone of today and computer facilities covered acres of land! There's information on the sort of programs you might need for your ship computer and how much they cost. Next comes Chapter 7: High Technology which explores some exciting ideas about what happens beyond TL15 (the upper limit covered by the construction rules presented so far). Perhaps you'd prefer not to use a Jump drive at all... well, here are details of alternate drive systems such as hyperdrives, warp drives, space-folding drives and even time drives allowing temporal as well as spatial travel. There are equally exotic weapons and screens and other equipment to browse through as well. Here it's a matter of what the Referee is willing to let you have or, if you are the Referee, how you want your universe to look.


OK, now we know how to design a ship from the keel up (and how much it will cost) but what does it look like? Chapter 9: Creating Deck Plans... hey, hang on a minute! We've lost Chapter 8! Seriously, there isn't a Chapter 8 in this book. Fortunately this appears to be just about the only error I've found, and all the indexing and hyperlinks work, so it's no real biggie... So, this chapter looks at how to draw deckplans that reflect the ship you have just taken so much trouble to design accurately. It's all a matter of scale, and relating the known tonnage of different elements of your design to the whole. Some talent at technical drawing or a good drawing package might help here, though.


This is followed by Chapter 10: Fighters. Never mind these big ships, what about those swarms of single-seater ships you see swarming about in science-fiction movies? For a start, they are generally more fun in a space battle than capital ships from a player perspective. There are some design notes, although the main process introduced in Chapter 1 is sufficiently flexible to construct fighters as well as larger ships. There are also notes about how they are used in combat and even how they are recovered by their mother ship when the fight is done.


Next is the bit you've been waiting for - combat itself - in the shape of Chapter 11: Capital Ship Battles. Whilst it is possible to use the core combat system presented in the Core Rulebook - which does work for ship-to-ship battles as well as for when people brawl - it gets a bit cumbersome if you want to stage a mass battle of capital ships. So here is a vastly streamlined system based on, but separate from, the space combat rules detailed in the core rules. It takes a while to set up, but once that's done the actual battle proceeds at a suitably dramatic pace.


Finally, there is the Jayne's Guide to Spacecraft of the Third Imperium (presented by the Travellers' Aid Society, of course). This provides a whole host of ready-made ships (using the design process outlined in this book) complete with statistics, price, running costs, crew requirements, external illustrations and isomortphic floorplans - starting with a single-seater light fighter and working all the way up to battlewagons like fleet carriers and dreadnoughts. There are a few interesting ones along the way - the Type S Scout and the Far Trader are still in there, which will be remembered by many Traveller players from previous versions of this game, a laboratory ship built on a ring structure, and even the Annic Nova... an alien craft which formed the basis of a classic exploration adventure back in the days of the Little Black Books!


Overall, this contains pretty much all you need to know to get travelling... with an elegant design system that's infinitely scaleable and flexible whatever sort of spaceship you need.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
High Guard
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Grimoire of Grimoires
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2016 11:36:54

The classic image of a mage is a fellow in a robe with his nose stuck in a book. The Awakened may or may not go in for robes much - they tend to be a bit conspicuous in the modern world unless you are a LARPer or a member of a religious order (as an academic, mine only comes out once a year for graduation week!) - but books figure large in their lives. However much they may want to be active and hip, they need to study... but what is it that they read?


The opening fiction is (mostly) a mage's diary, in which he recounts a raid on some Seers to steal books on behalf of the Chicago Athenaeum and some really odd effects that centre around one of the books - it's all 'handwritten' and quite hard to decipher, but it's a good facsimile of what mages do most of the time - few grimoires are typeset, let alone available in e-book format, after all! It highlights how some books can be dangerous... and not just for the ideas contained within their pages.


The Introduction talks a little about books in general, then explains that this book basically consists of a collection of some eighteen grimoires each of which is ready to be dropped into your cronicle either to provide information that one of your mages seeks or perhaps as something an enemy possesses and could even be using against them. They can be tricky things, these books - one masquerades as a series of fantasy novels, another changes its appearance from time to time - whilst some of the items listed here are not books at all... one, for example, is a vinyl record!


Of course, the grimoire itself is only part of the story. Mages often need to do research even to find out which one contains the information they are after, or to identify a mysterious tome that has come into their hands. To facilitate this, each grimoire is accompanied by notes about how best to research it. There are plenty of other snippets that should spawn additional ideas about how to involve each of these grimoires in your plots.


The level of detail is quite amazing, and any one of these grimoires could provide the focal point for at least one if not a whole series of adventures. This work provides a novel way of using that archetypical tool of a mage, the book, as an integral part of what is going on in your chronicle and is well worth adding to your collection of resources.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Grimoire of Grimoires
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Astral Realms
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2016 07:28:29

The opening fiction tells a tale of a couple of mages chasing around... their minds? Spaces other than the real world, anyway, yet real enough to those venturing there. It's all a bit confusing, compounded by a heavy background with shadowy images that makes it hard to read in places.


The Introduction tries to explain further, that being Awakened opens access to many worlds that are contained within each individual's soul. Dreamquests and astal voyages are needed to tap their potential... and one hopes that somewhere along their training, lucid dreaming techniques are included. Others can participate in these trips inwards, and secrets can be discovered. The scope of such dreamquests is immense and limited only by the imagination, and it is intended that they should play a part in the chronicles you tell. The theme is that of introspection, reaching truths that are otherwise inaccessible... but they are not safe to travel, either.


First, Chapter 1: Shaping the Mists takes a look at astral magic - how does a mage's magic work there at all, and what spells and rotes will give practical help. As you might imagine, magic doesn't work the same way it does in the real world, and the results might surprise you. For a start the laws of astral space are quite different from the physical laws we are used to, here they become mutable and changeable - sometimes so much so that the term 'law' doesn't really apply any more! Fortunately magic does follow some rules, at least sometimes. Astral space is all about symbols and meaning, so if you can figure those out you have a starting point from which to start manipulating the world around you, however odd it might appear.


Then Chapter 2: Mapping the Impossible provides a guide to the three levels of Astral Space: Oneiros, Temenos and the Anima Mundi. It talks about finding your way around, and describes the wonders to be found. To start off, getting there involves going inwards, deep into your own soul, through there to your dreamspace and deeper still into shared realms. It always feels like a journey, however you get there and whatever you want to do once you arrive. It all begins with a mental exercise, likely different for every mage who makes the attempt. Crossing from your own dreamspace into the shared spaces that are the astral realms takes you outwith your own control and mental discipline.


Next, Chapter 3: Denizens and Things gets down and dirty with what might be found there. Needless to say, not all are friendly and some might be quite surprising! Even in the bits you might think are 'yours' there many be intruders and once you venture forth into shared space, it's likely to be crawling. So here we learn about daimons - constructs that mimic the dreamer and can manipulate dreamspace towards their purpose, which it to 'improve' the dreamer, generally in some ethical or ideological direction. However it may seem at the time of an interaction with your daimon, its intentions are benign, helpful even. Handled with respect, they can be useful guides. There are plenty of examples to give you ideas, but each daimon has to be custom-built for each individual mage. Naturally there are less friendly entities out there, and plenty of detail is provided on them as well.


Chapter 4: Dreamquests contains Storyteller resources with ideas and advice as to when and how you might introduced events involving the astral realms into your game. Basically, you can put whatever you want in there, a blessing and a curse at the same time... for in such complete freedom there lies the difficulty in nailing down precisely what you do want in order to tell the story you want to tell. There is a wealth of ideas here about the sort of stories you might prepare and how to go about it, retaining the weirdness and strangeness yet maintaining some kind of internal consistency that reflects the plot that will unfold. There's masses here to help you plan and run sessions involving a visit to astral space, essential reading if you are even contemplating going there. Finally, Chapter 5: Realms presents some actual places all detailed out and ready to visit... if you dare!


This sort of adventuring may not be for everyone - you may even find that not all of your group wish to engage in astral travel whilst some revel in it. It can however be powerful and thought-provoking, perhaps something to be used sparingly with reluctant travellers, characters who may only visit the astral planes once or twice in their entire lives; but which can be more frequently visited by those who enjoy the experience. It might also be useful when not everyone is available for a game session - those who are there engage in some astral travel, whilst time stands still for the absentees. Other groups may decide to avoid it altogether or make it a regular part of their mages' development and explorations of their own selves. Whatever you decide, here are the tools you will need.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Astral Realms
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An Icy Heart (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2016 12:13:59

Do you pay any attention to prophecy? One says there's a white dragon poised to attack, another says nothing but an icy grave awaits those who visit its lair...


Said lair is located in a high mountain range, the sort where the snow and ice never really goes away. Locals call it Krikk’s Range, to the rest of the world it's the Cloudtouch Mountains (or, of course, any suitable mountain range in your own campaign world). The map for the lair itself first appeared as part of the October 2001 offering in the Map-of-the-Week series on the Wizards of the Coast website (as of the day of writing, it's still there if you use the link in the PDF, but the bits you'll need are also included in the PDF in case they've gone by the time you look for it).


Now, Krikk the white dragon is a remarkable beast, she limits the area over which she holds sway and although she takes tribute in return for not eating the locals she doesn't ask for more than they can afford and has even been known to help protect them from barbarian raiders. Local lordlings have been unsuccessful in ousting her: heroes never return and mercenaries are bought off. Still, a nearby king alarmed by the prophecies he's heard, is now looking for adventurers... and that's just one of the hooks provided to get the party up there. There's also some information for parties inclined to gather it (or to access bardic knowledge, if a bard is around).


Although a map is supplied, only one chamber in the lair is described in any detail. Krikk is presented in great detail, not just a stat block but loads of information about what she'll do... and an impressive amount of material to assist you if the party is willing to enter into negotiation with her. There are also notes on her current projects and plans, her assistant and more, including a new magic item and a new spell.


It's a nice straightforward adventure for high-level characters, with the considerable support for those characters who want to try talking to Krikk a bonus. If it does come to a fight, though, there's ample material on how she will give battle too!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
An Icy Heart (3.0)
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War of Dragons (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2016 12:08:44

The backstory tells of a township living in harmony with a gold dragon, seeing to her needs in return from genuine protection (as in, actually defending them rather than running a protection racket!) until a marauding black dragon with evil intent came along... now the town is victimised by the black dragon and their gold defender is nowhere to be found! In this high-level adventure, it's up to the party to sort things out however they can.


Several hooks are provided to help you catch the party's attention and get them to the town, Silversands by name. This can be located anywhere suitable in your campaign world, you need somewhere vaguely coastal - anything from the seaside to a large river will do - that's near a mountain range and which has a nearby marsh as well.


The adventure itself is primarily site-based, the sites being Silversands itself and two detailed encounter areas. There's a reasonable amount of information provided about Silversands, but plenty of scope for you to develop it further. There's plenty of information to be had there if the party asks around a bit. If the party heads up into the mountains, random encounters - with monsters and people - are provided. Some of these will present quite a challenge in terms of combat, even for such a high-level party. Likewise, the nearby marshes have several random encounters for those who wish to visit them.


Both dragons - the gold and the black interloper - have established lairs which have been described although there's only a map supplied for one of them. There are also copious amounts of information about both dragons, to facilitate the characters meeting with them.


It's all fairly open-ended, the party can decide how to deal with the situation, which is not quite as straightforward as it appears. Some suggestions are provided for follow-on adventures, but it really depends how they handled this situation! It should make for an interesting challenge for a high-level party, possibly even a final fling before they settle down...



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War of Dragons (3.5)
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Dungeon of Terror #3: Mad Mage Chambers (East)
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/07/2016 13:08:51

Part of the Dungeon of Terror series, this presents just part of the quarters of a so-called 'mad mage', Infidus the Black, who drove out the creators of this underground complex - a bunch of dwarves - and made his home here, conducting all manner of magical experiments... until an assassin sneaked in and put an end to him! Various other opportunists have moved in since (and nobody's quite sure what happened to the assassin) and the place is ripe for exploration. The part dealt with in this product is part of Infidus' personal quarters, and nobody has breached it... until now. This is despite this area including one of the main entrances to the underground complex.


This area consists of some 27 chambers presented as an overview and then as separate 'tiles' you can print out and use with minatures or other markers. Whilst the plans show all manner of intriguing things - from strange and cryptic markings on the floor to abandoned barrels - it's up to you to decide what they are (or were) and what their significance might be. But there's plenty to conjure with!


0one Games display their usual mastery of PDF technology, allowing you to customise your maps before printing by choosing various options like square/hex/no grid, grey or black fill, whether or not you want doors or furniture and so on. You can also pick which tiles to print from the overview, or just go to have a closer look before deciding.


If actually drawing dungeon floorplans is the bit you find difficult, all the work has been done for you. You just need to decide who lives there...



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon of Terror #3: Mad Mage Chambers (East)
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Sanctum & Sigil
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2016 13:07:50

The opening story combines the intense political manoeuvering of the Silver Ladder with action, negotiation, power plays and high drama, a riveting read in its own right. The Introduction then draws out the main theme that concerns this book: scanctums. Even Sleepers have homes, places in which they feel safe. A mage's sanctum in so much more, a place to study as well as somewhere to rest, recharge his energies and far more. But in such places you find the bedrock of mage society, individuals and cabals. From there the greater assemblies arise, but the cabal is the core bastion against the Abyss and other threats, and the central point around which Awakened politics revolve. Assembkies and other groupings are made up of cabals, not divided into them. The cabal and the scanctum it uses is the mage's refuge, shelter, the place to return to when the work is done... or when something nasty is chasing you. Sanctum and Sigil, then, starts with the permutations of Awakened politics, from the inception of a cabal and the inter-cabal politics of a Consilium right to the mage's home - the sanctum. It provides details on the inimical opponents that move to hinder such institutions and the magical resources that are used to protect a sanctum.


First up, Chapter 1: The Polity explores core concepts about how a cabal is set up - will it consist of mages from but one order or the more modern pattern where individuals of several traditions join together. It looks at a cabal's protocols, the rules that govern members and the oaths that bind them and the sigil that is their symbol. Then it moves on to the Consilium, the forum where inter-cabal politics play out, and also the 'Lex Magica', the laws that govern mages and their use of magic.


Then, Chapter 2: Pride of Place looks in detail at the physical - and magical - construction of a sanctum. Essential reading when your cabal comes to set down roots. There's also plenty of information about Hallows, ley lines and Demesnes too.


Next, Chapter 3: Pylons and Cults examines how the opposition organises itself. Banishers of course, but also Seers, those lost souls that seek far past Watchtowers into the far depths of mystery - but what do they do and why are they a threat?


Finally Chapter 4: Storytelling explores how to actually run all those political machinations and make them really come to life for your players, get them to care about the outcome. There are also ways to get your cabal into trouble (if they don't manage to find it for themselves) and three sample cabals you can drop into your own chronicles: a Pentacle cabal, a Seer pylon and a Banisher cult. Ready-made rivals, opposition, threats...


This book makes for a fascinating read, but you do need to be well-embedded into Magic: The Awakening traditions and terminology to make the most of it. The material herein will aid you in building a deep, rich, vibrant world for your mages, one in which there is plenty going on and with opportunities for them to get involved (whether they like it or not) at every turn. Drag the more bookish mages out of their studies, make the muscular ones stop and think about the consequences of their actions, devise and run the local power structures of mage society with a sure hand... well worth reading if you want to scale the heights (and plumb the depths) of a living world and make your mages far more that mere spellchuckers but part of a real community that exists just out of reach of everyday Sleeper life.



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Sanctum & Sigil
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Boston Unveiled
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/04/2016 12:26:46

Opening with some evocative fiction that tells the tale of a lonely girl on a nasty cold and wet evening, who finds strange people down back alleys she hasn't explored before and the promise of something more, then the Introduction lays out the nature of this work: a setting sourcebook for what is intended as the home and setting of Mage: The Awakening, the city of Boston in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Even if you know Boston well, this is not quite the Boston you know. Building on the information provided in the core rulebook about the city, this book looks behind the scenes at the intrigues of the Awakened world and provides inspiration for many a chronicle, with plot ideas a-plenty. It is a place replete with history and rife with secrets… just the sort of place in which mages can flourish - or perish.


Chapter 1: Maps and Legends takes a look around, but it's not the sort of guidebook that a tourist would find useful. Starting with the local Native Americans, it's naturally a good place for those who would work magic, with ley lines in profusion and other features which any willworker might appreciate. Even once colonists arrived from Europe, there were those who picked up on the local characteristics and began to build their power. But sometimes the landscape itself fought back, and sometimes malign spirits were summoned by accident or intent, not all was well. Yet these early days were exciting ones and many seeds were set and organisations founded and alliances forged that began to shape the landscape of today.


Next, Chapter 2: Cabals presents some of the better-known groups of mages to be found in Boston, along with the politics and enmities that provide for alliances and rivalries. It's a place full of history, with several hundred years of cooperation and conflict setting the scene for today's Bostonian mages. Just as regular Boston society tends to the stiffly formal, so does that of the Awakened. A local mage may navigate this uptight society with ease, but a newcomer will find it difficult, baffling even. Mages who Awaken in Boston are welcomed and nurtured, shown around and properly welcomed by exisiting mages - whilst this is a benefit, it can drag a fledgling mage into local politics before he's really ready or has even had a chance to decide where he stands. There's plenty of detail here, with many groups for mages to join or to oppose, people to ingratiate themselves with, who might become trusted friends and mentors or bitter enemies. Absolute heaven for those who want to play a social game jam-packed with intrigue and political manoeuvering.


Then Chapter 3: Renegade Mages takes a look at some local inhabitants who do not fit into regular arcane society. There are quite a few Banishers - perhaps stemming from the city's Puritan past - who are presented in considerable detail ready to come after your mages. Story ideas are littered through this book, and there's a delightful one here: an old Chinese mage who rarely practises magic these days has just realised that a young relative has not only Awakened but taken up with the Banishers, so to whom will he turn for help? There are other individuals and groups here too. The Scelesti use their magic to their own unsavoury ends, and others follow their own agendas as well. And then there are the Sleepers. Some of them can prove problematic too - there's an overly-curious journalist, for example... be cautious how you deal with her!


This is followed by Chapter 4: Off the Map which explores local spirit realms and other places of mystery. As you can imagine from such a historical place, there are plenty of locations that resonate, and this chapter provides even more plot ideas - overt sidebar 'story hooks' and those that spring to mind as you read over the entries here.


Finally, Chapter 5: Beast of Burden provides some plot to get your adventures in Boston off to a flying start. It's aimed at a young cabal yet to establish themselves (but could be run with more experienced mages if you beef the antagonists up a bit), with a Tibetan student asking for help in combating a monster he says ate his master when an experiment went wrong. Taking the action from the docks and through the streets of the city, there's plenty of mythology to explore as well as fights to be had - a good adventure to get the cabal involved in Boston society as they aren't the only ones interested...


Boston makes a good base for those who want a political game, yet there is plenty of scope for people who prefer more direct action and even those who wish to pursue a scholarly approach to their magic. Indeed, there's something for everyone here... all rooted in the fascinating city that is Boston.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Boston Unveiled
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Force of Nature (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2016 12:32:53

The city of Porthaven has grown and prospered over the past three hundred years, with a reputation for being peaceful, a safe harbour from storms and with a temperate climate. It wasn't always like that... the place where it was built was originally unstable both geologically and meterologically (perhaps not the best place to found a settlement?), and the way in which it reached its present serenity has been lost over the years to all but a few... and they don't really understatnd it.


The DM's backstory explains all, and as soon as a bunch of high-level adventurers like the party turns up they will be shown the mysterious 'machine' built by a traveller through the planes called Khyber Mercane and some creatures called modrons - noted for a love of order matched only by a thirst for knowledge - that he encountered in his travels. For a while, modrons came each year to service the machine, but they have not been back for a long time and, according to the leading priestess of Wee Jas - who has been studying ancient texts in an attempt to find out what's wrong - it has run out of fuel. So trips to the four elemental planes are required to obtain what the machine needs.


Some hooks are provided to help you get the party to Porthaven, once there they find that there is a massive storm raging and then a nearby volcano erupts... amidst the chaos the party will be shown the machine and the priestess explains what she has discovered so far. The rest of the adventure consists of visits to the elemental planes with brawls with the inhabitants and occasional chances to talk to a few of them as the party collects the material that they need.


It is a fairly straightforward adventure which may be a bit simple for parties accustomed to planar travel - and perhaps a bit hard for those who have never attempted it before. There are a couple of vague ideas for follow-on adventures, and a neat new monster which is encountered for the first time on one of the planes, and that's it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Force of Nature (3.5)
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Silver Ladder
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2016 08:11:41

Treason, plots, conspiracies, networks of power, political manoeuvering - the opening fiction sets the scene for the essence of Silver Ladder belief: that it is a duty for those blessed with magic to seek power and wield it responsibly, using both other mages and sleepers as tools to achieve their goals. Power and influence make them tick, and all those studies are but means to an end rather than a route to personal enlightenment.


Chapter 1: Hand Over Hand discusses the history of the Silver Ladder, starting with chaos and the establishment of order - by people working together, by individuals of wisdom and power taking the lead and directing the others. The dream of an ordered cooperative society draws members of the Silver Ladder on, a dream that has them at the pinnacle of society, of course, wielding power. Many legends and stories are told to reinforce this concept, that those who rule must be the ones who are most fit to rule... but who decides? That's where it gets interesting!


Next, Chapter 2: The Silver Dream examines the internal culture of the Silver Ladder, their philosophical approach and the way in which they organise and regulate themselves. At its core, the Silver Ladder regards every member as a prince in search of a kingdom to rule and seeks to equip him to take his place at the head of the Awakened, for if only those mages would just work together under proper leadership, just think of what they could accomplish! Their entire philosophy is wound around this concept.


Then Chapter 3: An Enlightened Crusade takes matters further, looking at Silver Ladder society and practices, and even their rituals. They see themselves as leaders and moral guides to the rest of the Awakened and work towards getting themselves into positions where they can exert influence and control. They don't see themselves as aristocracy despite their conviction that they ought to be the people in charge. This chapter looks at how they select and recruit new members, and at what said new recruits find once they are inducted into the order. It also talks at their controversial use of Sleepers.


This is followed by Chapter 4: Factions and Legacies, which looks at the various groups that all vie for power within the order. Unity of purpose does not mean a shared view of the methods or even the goals that should be pursued, and so this is perhaps the most politically active of orders with different groups vying to push their ideas - by debate, by subterfuge, by brute force... it doesn't really matter at times. Tread carefully through this morass, pick your way through the myriad groups... plenty of scope for those who like lots of intrigue and political manoeuvering in their game.


Finally, Chapter 5: Magic explores the resources at the Silver Ladder's disposal, including spells and artefacts. Their techniques tend to the traditional, conservative even, but this gives their style the weight of history, and of course the methods they employ are tried and tested ones, none of this experimental stuff, these magical fads. Very much the Establishment in a wizard's gown!


The Silver Ladder is an intriguing organisation, power-hungry yet with purpose beyond just being top dog or amassing power and the wealth that often goes with it just for its own sake. If your players like intrigue and politics a chronicle built around this order might work well, but nobody is safe from being caught up in their machinations - mages can get involved whoever they might be, as pawns or standing up in opposition to what they view as an abuse of power or a wrong-headed idea. Even if they don't play a big role in your game, they ought to be muttering along somewhere in the background...



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Silver Ladder
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Banishers
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2016 12:53:09

Opening with some fiction, a disparate tale about strange killers (which would be improved with a clear font and a less-heavy background, a combination which makes it hard to read), this work deals with the Banishers, those who have Awakened but become twisted, turning against other mages and magic itself. They are a varied bunch, their hatred of what they are making it difficult to build up much of a body of tradition, indeed many turn against their magic soon after they Awaken and so are self-taught in what they use... for even whilst eager to rid the world of magic, or at least other mages, they continue to use their powers to their twisted ends. They tend towards violent ignorance, driven perhaps by a fear of powers they do not understand, a fear that turns to hatred.


Chapter 1: The Purpose looks at how Banishers arise in the first place. Known as the 'Timori' or fearful ones, their origins are unknown although a matter for some speculation by the other Traditions who'd quite like to see the back of them so study them closely... yet some accuse those who study them of being secret sympathisers to their views. Nobody knows their origins for sure - and this includes the authors of this book, who leave it up to each Storyteller to decide for themselves what is really going on! What is known is that they can turn up everywhere and anywhere. Some hide as cults, others study magic more openly, others appear not to study it at all, at least not in public. Some see it as almost a disease, some claim that people with particular attitudes towards matters mystical are predisposed to become Banishers if they Awaken. Lots of speculation, no real conclusions. Do Banishers choose their path? If they don't it changes them from villains to victims - it's up to you! Some Banishers only become such later on in their magical career, having previously developed as normal. There are, of course, many theories as to how that happens as well. This chapter also provides templates and rules for creating Banisher characters and the sorts of organisations they might join and beliefs they might hold. These are clearly intended for NPCs, but there's potential for a twisted chronicle that focusses on a group of Banishers if that's what you want.


In Chapter 2: Weapons, we get down to detail: spells used by Banishers when about their deadly (well, if you are a mage anyway) work. It's quite a copious collection, and reading through them spawns quite a few ideas about how Banishers could cause problems to your mages. There are also artefacts - including a neat 'Permit' which appears as if it gives appropriate authority to the Banisher wielding it (similar to Doctor Who's psychic paper), sonething any mage might find handy - and imbued items available for their use.


Next, Chapter 3: Cults and Cabals presents some sample organisations for Banishers to join, groups which may make trouble for your mages as they go about their normal business. They are all developed in considerable detail and one or more can easily be infiltrated into wherever your mages live, possibly innocuous-sounding until they make a move against them. This chapter includes fully-developed individual Banishers, complete with game statistics, ready for use or as examples when developing your own. Ideas for using them, possibly spawning an entire chronicle or just an adventure or two, are scattered throughout. Excellent reading if you are contemplating adding Banishers to the mix in your game.


Finally, Chapter 4: Wielding the Witch-Hammer looks in more detail at how you can use Banishers in your chronicles, based on their view that magic is a curse, and mages are the perpetrators. They are definitely not good guys, if only because of their unwillingness to accept that others hold different views from their own. But it also addresses the challenges of actually playing a Banisher, and goes into more detail about creating Banisher characters, this time with an eye towards player-characters rather than NPCs.


This book raises some interesting ethical questions, ones that can be used to make a group stop and think - Mage: The Awakening is quite a contemplative game anyway, but analysing this quirk of opposition from within is thought-provoking. It's interesting to speculate about the reasons why a Banisher is the way he is - even if you are running like the clappers to get away from his latest murderous assault at the time! For of course this is not a purely philosophical standpoint, it's an all-out war on mages fought from within their ranks, quite different from the squabbles that arise between more ordinary mages jockeying for position or defending a pet theory. There's scope for excitement, real danger... and above all, epic storytelling.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Banishers
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Advanced Arcana Volume VI
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/31/2016 10:17:12

Opening as usual with a note to a student working his way through the Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft (how long is the course? He's been there six years now, maybe he's doing a PhD!), apparently the poor lad lost his mentor in rather tragic (if unspecified) circumstances and has had to apprentice to somebody else. It also appears that he now has to start assisting with teaching more junior students (all the more likely that he's doing a PhD as you often get a teaching assistant role at that point). Mention is also made of a new area of study, psychic magic, which is touched on within this tome. In a rare formatting error, the two pages of the letter are superimposed on what appears to be the Credits and Table of Contents pages, which fortunately appear in their own right, the Credits before the letter and the Table of Contents on the following page, so you do get to read them!


Next comes the Foreword by the compiler of the tome, Kabaz Anvitz, who is full of excitement at the discovery of an entire new branch of magic, the psychic magic mentioned in the letter. In previous volumes he's explored and questioned conventional magic, and here the study of psychic magic has led him on to examine spell components in detail. The theme of Advanced Arcana I was the 'cost' of a spell, so returning to that approach, can material components - and indeed the caster's gestures and words - also form part of the 'cost' of casting a spell? An interesting thought that leads him to the concept that it might be possible to cast a spell without the required material components by casting it at a higher level (i.e. using up more magical energy) than normal. Or increase the spell's effects by adding extra components... exciting stuff indeed!


We then move on to more detailed game mechanics to support these ideas. Psychic magic was introduced in Paizo Publishing's Occult Adventures rulebook for the Pathfinder RPG, where the concept of thought and emotion components joined the familiar verbal, somatic and material ones. It's all about the drama and excitement of spell-casting, words and gestures and other elements combining to bring about the effect the caster intends. So here we have intricate components - words or gestures so complex that skill checks are needed to get them right - and other components based on energy, alignment, sacrifice or even terrain. There's a lot to play with here! Detailed game mechanics are provided to help you get to grips with the ideas presented here and translate them into spellcasting within your game.


The actual spells themselves are presented first as spell lists by caster type and level, and then in an alphabetical collection of full descriptions of each one. Read, enjoy, imagine... some of these spells, however, are quite dark, evil even - after all, sacrifice of a sentient being merely to power a spell is rightly deemed an evil act, most of the time.


The appendices present new feats designed to aid interaction with the new game mechanics introduced in this book, new archetypes which mix up the way in which different types of spellcaster engage with their magic, a collection of new (sometimes bizarre) familiars, and finally biographic notes and game statistics of some of the legendary spellcasters who aided Kabaz Anvitz in researching this book - along with a further note from him about the process.


What can I say? These books just get better and better, casting new and interesting light on the study and practice of magic. Particularly appealing if you like to take an academic approach to magic, there is plenty for the more practical spellcaster too.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Arcana Volume VI
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Advanced Arcana Volume V
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2016 10:41:22

Opening, as with the other books in this series, with a letter to a now-quite-senior student at the Aubergrave Academy of Magecraft, where he is about to enter his fifth year and now needs to choose a senior mage to whom he will apprentice. In stressing the importance of choosing a mentor wisely, there's an interesting glimpse into mage society - it's quite like the real-world academic society that I inhabit! The author also warns that some of the spells in this volume are 'unruly' if not downright dangerous.


Next we hear from Kabaz Anvitz, putative author of this tome. He states that magic is a tricky subject, that for every answer you get two more questions arise, that even after a lifetime of study there are things that still elude him totally. He then raises the question: is magic in some way alive? An idea that is widely discredited in academic circles yet... he cites research that suggests otherwise. Certainly a matter which could be disputed at length within academia, and perhaps by scholarly mages in your campaign world too.


Next, stepping out of character, the introduction identifies the core question of this volume as being "What would a spell with a mind of its own look like?" Magic is generally represented as either a scientific process, cause and effect studied and understood, or as a primal force that is cajoled and manipulated, with the first being more common in role-playing games as it's easier to write rules for! But a lot of the... well, MAGIC is lost if you get too scientific in your approach. The spells herein are an attempt to regain some of the feeling of wonder about spell-casting, even if they still abide by the rules. There are various different methods employed, including Patron spells (for those whose magic comes from an outside source, clerics and the like), Automatic spells (which go off apparently at random without the caster having much control), Capricious spells with random effects based on a Spellcraft check made when they are cast, Interactive spells which the caster can attempt to modify after he's cast them, and Unsafe spells - which have a tendency to get out of hand. Plenty to conjure with here!


After outlining and explaining the rules mechanics necessary for these new spells to operate within the game and notes on various ways of handling an influx of new spells into your campaign, we move on to spell lists (by caster type) and the detailed spell descriptions of over an hundred new spells. As always, just reading through them spawns plenty of ideas for their use... and they make for fun reading as well.


After the spells, there are four appendices. To start with, some new feats designed to be used by those who would cast the spells presented in this tome. Next come familiar traits, a new mechanic for giving your familiar assorted beneficial, mixed or awkward traits - each has a points value and the sum of your picks must equal zero. Then come notes on sentient spells - neutral outsiders whose abilities and personalities are based on a specific spell, literally a spell come to life. Wierd... but with potential. Finally there are biographical details (and game statistics) for various luminaries of the magical world - who knows, maybe one of these will turn up to discuss the nature of magic with your party wizard.


Overall, another collection of thought-provoking spells, these ones with considerable potential to cause havoc on your tabletop. Enjoy...



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Advanced Arcana Volume V
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