Astral Realms is a very interesting sourcebook for the new Mage game. It expands the “astral realms” lightly described in the main game into… much larger and more detailed entities, and it also expands the default options mages have for accessing those realms (largely making access easier). The realms themselves are somewhat confusing; some are private “headspaces” detailing the internal landscape of a single mind (though this stuff is not traditional telepathy in any sense, these are true realms). while others are much larger shared realms detailing things like mass shared consensus and “pop culture”. So it’s the movie Inception, old Australian “dreamtime” and Dr. Strange all rolled into one.
There’s a lot of story fodder here. Starting from scenarios like Inception where you engineer changes on a target’s mental landscape (which may or may not reflect on later actions or mindsets), to expeditions into lost realms which may at one time have existed in the “real” world but now only exist as shared dreams. While dying in these realms usually just means that you are dumped out and wake up, that’s not necessarily the case – it’s possible to get trapped, sometimes for good, and losing or risking your sanity is a very real danger.
If there is a fault here it’s that the concepts involved are somewhat complicated, and the reader can become confused at times at what is actually being discussed. Fortunately, the abstract stuff does not form a huge part of the book, with most emphasis given to more practical in-game applications and descriptions of example astral realms (some of these are extremely interesting and could be used as-is in most Mage games).
Good book, and a surprisingly nice read too; this game line isn’t exactly light reading at all times, but here the writers have (mostly) managed to take an abstract and somewhat difficult subject and write a very readable and interesting book about it. One of the better Mage sourcebooks I’ve read, though to be fair I haven’t read all that many yet.