Rather than rehash decades old thoughts on gaming, the focus instead turns to new ground. This book tweaks the core principles–setting, magic mechanics, and character–before setting loose some ideas on actual Mage chronicles. I’ll try to go chapter-by-chapter once I get the artwork out of the way. Before I do, one pointer: there is never a reason to quote Ayn Rand. Ever. Seriously.
For me, the book’s artwork isn’t very special. I do like the cover art by Imaginary Friends Studio; however, the interior art wasn’t engaging. It did tie directly to the fiction, which earned it a step up.
Chapter One offers seven different takes on the setting/feel of Mage. Do you want to make your magi more like the badasses of Feng Shui or maybe capture the feel of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Various rule tweaks can make that happen. This is a meaty chapter that looks at the entire process to make sense of the changes. There are character creation changes, combat twists, and more so that each world fits as easily as possible. Also, seeds of story ideas are scattered out, ready for Storytellers to snatch right up.
Chapter Two asks this question: what if magic doesn’t work like players think it does? What if weird science, psychic powers, or something else is the root of all power? I like these questions and where the authors went to find answers. It almost felt like they worked off assumptions that some of the original line’s traditions were wholly in the right. Here is what I mean. The Virtual Adepts are basically weird science meets magic (one could say the Technocracy is too). The Cult of Ecstasy, while not originally designed to say drugs equals magic, does not rule out the inherent power drugs offer some Willworkers. Of the magical source variations, I enjoyed the ideas behind the drug-fueled magi the most (probably because some people would be pissed off to find a game suggesting drug-fueled magi running around).
They do suggest a little Unknown Armies option to counter this: any vice will do. Maybe Wrath or Lust are your poison. I’m just not sure how dangerous a Mage of the Sloth vice will be. The ideas of being consumed by your obsessions is rich for gaming. It just may not be for everyone’s liking.
Chapter Three’s character creation variations look at two distinct aspects of the process, the story and the system. The first ten or so pages of this chapter sound familiar to me. Cooperative character creation. Check. Flags. Check. In-game character additions versus XP character additions. Check. Revisiting these ideas isn’t a bad idea, especially since are mixed differently for this game. Once you get past those pages, the chapter becomes fresh ground that is very specific to the Mage line. Every aspect of the character is examined HARD. I’m not sure NASA puts as much thought into their science as the authors did the latter part of this chapter.
It’s probably more information than most groups would use, but, Hell, it’s there if you want it!
Chapter Four looks at the Chronicle. How do you want to run your game? The writers contribute the largest part of this book to this question. You want to run a game without orders? Fine. Want a game touched by four-color comics? They got that too. This is the most “advicey” chapter in the book and my second favorite. With the additional rule tweaks in this chapter, I found myself wondering how seamlessly interlocking advice from multiple chapters would be.
If, for example, a change from Chapter One directly opposed one from Chapter Four, which has superiority? In the end, I suppose it boils down to house rules and your group’s decisions, which is really what these books are all about in the first place. Each of these alternate takes on Mage has probably occurred on a table already (albeit without all the nifty design changes). The writers are just opening up new avenues in an attempt to get the most mileage from your game.
And there isn’t anything wrong with that.