||Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/11/16/tabletop-review-left-ha-
It’s been a while since White Wolf released something for Mage: The Awakening. I think the last piece was Imperial Mysteries back in January. It’s too bad, because M:TA has been my favorite branch of the New World of Darkness. Also releases for M:TA are sporadic at best, they tend to be high quality and Left Hand Path is no exception. This book lets you see how the other half lives, doing the same for Left Handed mages that the Sabbat books did for the Camarilla’s archenemy back in second edition Vampire: The Masquerade. Now Storytellers and players alike can learn more about corrupted legacies, Mad Ones, and all the other different Nefandi out there. I should make it clear that unlike the aforementioned Sabbat, Left Handed mages are not organized by any means. Sure there are some groups out there like the Tremere, but for the most part they aren’t large clutches. It tends to be small groups or solo mages that have gone their own way for a myriad of reason, even good intentioned ones. Even more importantly for the Storyteller, you can see how someone can be Left handed to a degree and yet still an active member of the Consilium.
For those who have never played Mage: The Awakening, I realize that first paragraph probably read like gobblygook. Basically a Left Handed mage (Or Nefandi, in vulgar argot) is a mage who has lost their way. Perhaps they’ve left the large collective of Mages because they didn’t like the rules, because they went mad, because they were a psychopath, or even had good intentions that could only be achieved by breaking the laws of their specific Legacy. The spiraling road down to Left Handedness is a very diverse one. There is no one particular path. Each Left Handed mage has a story all their own, and although they can fit into a neat little stereotype, like a Scelesti, that doesn’t mean they are all the same. A Good Storyteller will use Left Hand Path to help aid them in creating memorable antagonists and excellent stories. Remember, the best “bad guys” are those that believe they are right. This book does more for Mage: The Awakening in terms of helping one understand the Antagonists of this system than anything else yet released for the system.
So what do you get in Left Hand Path? Well there are four chapters, a fiction story to start off the book and a long introduction that’s as long as some of the other chapters so it really should count as one in its own right. The fiction story is terrible, although there is a wonderful piece of art to start it off. It’s badly written and quite dull, so skip it and get to the good stuff.
The introduction is oddly the true meat of the book, where you get explinations and an in-depth discussion of what it means to be “Nefandi.” You are given a rough background on terminology, various groups that Left Handed mages can fit into and how some are more tolerable than others. You are given Storytelling advice on how to play various Left Handed mages and a very important reminder that this doesn’t necessarily make them evil or even antagonists. Honestly the entire intro should be required reading for anyone running a M:TA chronicle.
Chapter One is entitled “Heretics and Apostates.” These are the Left Handed mages that are on the fringe of the Consilium. The ones that are still in it actually. These tend to be the mages that disagree with bits of the order or feel certain rules don’t apply to them. Its their own personal Hubris that brings them down. These aren’t the guys that will be devouring souls or making deals with demons…yet. This chapter goes into great detail about what starts a person down the road to Nefandi and their eventual break with their order. You also get some new merits, flaws and backgrounds for Left Handed mages and some sample characters.
Chapter Two, “The Mad Ones” is about exactly what you think – insane mages. Of course, insanity is relative and some of the Mad Ones are convinced of their sanity, as are others, until that one crucial moment when their façade drops. Being insane doesn’t mean being like those terrible Malkavians we’ve all encountered at one point. Madness takes many different forms and this chapter is VERY clear on that. You have three core types: Malefactors, Savants, and Walkers, but a antagonist Mad One doesn’t necessarily have to fit into one of these categories. As well, you’re given the sample characters and some mechanics for these guys as well.
Chapter Three is “The Scelesti.” If you’re new to Mage: The Awakened, these are the equivalent of your demon worshipping mages. Scelesti have a particularly perverse relationship with the Abyss and they definitely are considered evil. These guys are NOT meant to be player characters and the book even has a sidebar devoted to the fact that playing a Scelesti (or allowing it in your campaign as a PC) is borderline stupid. This chapter is best left for the Storyteller or simply to help a player flesh out the world his character lives in. There’s some great information here and honestly, this chapter could easily have been its own sourcebook. There’s so much more that could have been covered.
Finally we come to Chapter Four, “Reapers.” This is the chapter Mage players will be most familiar with due to the Tremere. I should add a caveat to Old World of Darkness (aka The Onyx Path these days) that these are NOT the Tremere from Vampire: The Masquerade. Same name, somewhat similar core concept, but a completely different delivery. These are basically Liches, mages kept alive through magical absorbing the souls of others. As the Tremere are the most common antagonists in M:TA, players and Storytellers alike should be well familiar with them. Because of that you’re probably wondering why there is a full chapter on Reapers. Well, Tremere aren’t the only Reapers out there. You’re given a look at several kind of Reapers, information on how to deal with soul loss and so much more. In regards to the Tremere, you get a lot more information on them and in a nod to V:TM, there’s even a way to crossover the Tremere from Mage: The Awakening with Vampire: The Requiem. Fans of both versions of the World of Darkness will love the Tremere back story here and how one will see shades of the other in it.
All in all, Left Hand Path is by far the best supplement for Mage: The Awakening I’ve come across. The one black spot on the book, besides the terrible fiction at the beginning, is that it is littered with typographical errors. Words or even whole phrases are missing from sentences at times. The good news is your brain fills in the missing bits, but when you read the book with an editor/reviewer’s eye, you find far more than should be in any professional publication. Aside from that, Left Hand Path is a must buy for any fan of Mage: The Awakening and even V:TR players can get a good amount of use out of Chapter Four. Definitely consider picking this one up.
[4 of 5 Stars!]