I still haven’t read much from the new Mage; what I’ve read has failed to really resonate. The core book is dull beyond words, and the “Gnostic prison” world is interesting in theory but poorly implemented – the bad guys are so vague they may as well not exist at all… and let’s not even start on “Atlantis”. I’ve heard that there is a pretty good game hidden inside all the crap, but so far I’m not totally convinced. I’m trying to keep an open mind, though.
Anyway, I recently got the Silver Ladder book because it was on sale at the game store. Now, having read it, I’m still not quite convinced by the game. It’s not a bad book by any means, but neither does it contain enough to really wow me. It does have some pretty cool small tidbits, though.
The book describes one of the five major Orders, the “Silver Ladder”. In the core book they are placed in the “leaders” slot, like the Ventrue are in Vampire. As such this isn’t a very colorful role, so they were left quite bland. This book expands on that core idea and describes what the Order really is about, and it’s more interesting than the core book proposition at least. The Order wants humanity to ascend, and want to be their guides in that path and take the role of “Vizier Behind the Throne”; benevolent guiding voices. That’s the theory, anyway. Obviously, many individual mages are in it purely for power (even though the Order tries to weed out the pure power-seekers), others may have good intentions but lack the personal drive and commitment to really push for change. The Order has no use for the weak – after all, they posit themselves as the “spiritual leaders” of future ascended humanity.
Perhaps the most interesting bit in the book has to do with the methods the Order uses to achieve its goals, one of which is “Cryptopolies”: small-scale secret societies formed by and guided by the Ladder, populated (mostly) by normal mortals. The members are monitored and subtly nudged in “correct” directions (as defined by the Ladder mentor), and especially promising individuals are exposed to magic to see how they react. Some even Awaken at that point, which the Ladder contains a huge win. Of course, most do not and some even go insane, such is the price of transcending the human condition.
There’s a lot of other stuff here to expand the Order from a two-dimensional “we’re the leaders” bunch to a more subtle magical transcendentalist society, and much of it is pretty good stuff on the idea level. The problem is the execution; while the book isn’t as dry a read as the Mage corebook, it’s still dry in most places and was frankly a bit of a chore to read through. In contrast the Vampire “Ordo Dracul” book, which describes a vampiric group with some goal-level overlap with the Ladder, was an extremely interesting read. I’m not sure how much is due to the base game (the new Mage forces the writers to resort to language usually only found in philosophy textbooks), and how much is due to the writers themselves, but there it is. In the end, this book had nice bits but overall wasn’t a very engaging read.