Sanctum and Sigil is a book about Mage society and politics, and if we’re honest, I was expecting this one to be a bit of a tedious read: a book in a game line not best known for being a great read, and one that focuses on internal organization and politics. Well, I’m happy to be proven wrong; while there are some slightly tedious bits here, it’s mostly very interesting and well-written.
The first part of the book focuses on the internal organization of a typical “pentacle mage” society, with various titles and areas of responsibility. Maybe more emphasis could have been placed on this being just a template, not a uniculture (a big problem in the whole game line, in my opinion), but ignoring that it’s an interesting enough discussion. Next up there’s discussion on how mages choose their sanctums, with various options and some rules crunch. Lots of good stuff here for PC groups wanting to flesh out their “home base”. The book finishes off with some example sanctums, and also includes some antagonist groups along with their own home bases. We also get an example nutshell of an initial political setup to throw your players into, with some NPC groups and their motivations detailed. Very nice for kickstarting a new campaign, and quite easily portable to whatever location you want.
I found this to be a surprisingly interesting book, with lots of information directly usable in a game. It does a good job in filling in lots of useful information about the day-to-day life of mages and the practical side of things.
Tome of Corruption is an in-depth look at Chaos in the Warhammer fantasy world, much like Realms of Sorcery was for magic. There’s a lot here, and it’s mostly very good – it’s close to a “must-have” if you intend to seriously use Chaos in your game (at least in any nuanced form). It’s a big book: even though 256 pages doesn’t sound like much, the smallish font and full layout used in this game line means it’s quite a hefty tome, information-wise.
The book explores Chaos from many directions. We’re given descriptions about the various types of typical Chaos worshipers and how they differ from each other, and also on how their cults differ in their aims and behavior. There’s a huge list of expanded mutations, for extra fun in inflicting your PCs with new… features. We get a pile of new Chaos equipment, most of it in the “unique artifact” category. In general, the first part of the book concentrates on general description of Chaos workings within the Empire, including the old “why would anyone want to serve Chaos in the first place?”.
The second part takes a look at various Chaos-related beasts, monsters and peoples, including information on how to play one as a PC. Also included is some info on Witch Hunters and other enemies of Chaos. The third part moves the viewpoint North, to examine the faux-Viking Norsca and the northern Chaos Wastes. Lots of adventure potential here, it’s a nasty and lethal place, filled with nasty and lethal people and monsters.
The book winds down with an examination of the major Ruinous Powers and their (very different) goals, along with Chaos Sorcery and the armies of Chaos.
It’s a great book, and does for Chaos much what Realms of Sorcery did for magic: expands and enhances it for game use. Without the background here, it’s all too easy to portray Chaos as mindless destruction and corruption for the sake of corruption. While it can be that, there are also lots of other options, some quite subtle.
Traitor Hangout, by “WJ MacGuffin”, the pen name of a certain Paranoia designer/writer, is part of the roll-out of new Paranoia fiction from Ultraviolet Books. It leans more on the “zany” side that the other books, somewhat mimicking the “Zap” style of gameplay in the new Paranoia edition. Since that style isn’t my favorite, I wasn’t really expecting much of this book to be honest… but I must say I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s an extremely fun book, and isn’t at all as much “zap” as I had feared.
The story features Efficiency auditor Clarence-Y, a “mandate nerd” who can cite any of The Computers mandates word by word, but is quite lost in the wild world of human interaction. While generally well-meaning, Clarence-Y is hopelessly naive and actually believes that the Computer has everyone’s best interests at heart. Normally, such blue-eyed optimism would lead to a very short career and a possible end run as reactor shielding… but somehow, Clarence is doing fine. Maybe it has something to do with his one treasonous act, the sheltering of a small lab mouse (named “Ignatius”) which he feeds with food scraps and carries under his coat.
In any case, in the name of Alpha Complex security Clarence is recruited to impersonate a notorious traitor, “Superstar Pirate”. An obvious suicide mission which nobody expects him to survive, making his survival all the more remarkable. Not to mention that he gets caught up in more and more conspiracies while doing his “job”, forcing him to infiltrate a number of additional secret societies armed with… nothing much. It should be impossible, but somehow Clarence, oblivious of danger, survives. And then things get messy.
It’s a fun and well-written situational comedy, with Clarence acting as the naive foil to all sorts of crazy stuff. Sure, people get incinerated, terminated and killed in various other ways – but it’s still a lighthearted romp.
Some time ago, I finally finished The Witcher. The “finally” there is relevant, since I’ve been playing this game on and off (mostly off) for years and years. I started it before the current “Enhanced Edition” existed, quite enjoyed it despite the poor English translation (from the Polish original) and other woes. Left it for a bit, and started again when the (awesome!) Enhanced Edition was introduced. Played until midgame, where the endless swamp and its deadly denizens tired me out… and it’s been sitting on my hard drive ever since. Until a short time ago, when I got a twinge to finish the thing. Glad I did, it was a great story and a very good game as a whole.
It’s also a huge game, and the fact that it’s very uneven doesn’t help. There are lots of great sequences and characters, but especially the quite freeform midgame portion has some problems. You get tons of side quests, most of which are boring Fed Ex ones, but you’re never quite sure of what’s relevant and what’s not. At some point the main plot kicks in again, and things start moving. The game interface is, frankly, a bit weird and takes some getting used to, but it’s fine after a while. The combat is a bit tricky and can be somewhat frustrating, especially since some of the fights are quite difficult.
The best thing here is the “shades of grey” plot and the general Slavic fantasy tone, quite welcome after your generic D&D-inspired typical fantasy game world. Sure, there are elves and dwarves here, but neither are quite what they tend to be in other games. Elves are especially interesting, since here they are at the brunt of racial discrimination and have by and large turned to terrorist tactics. In many rpg games, you do get choices, but the choices are of the stupidly black/white “help old lady cross the road” vs “kill her, take her stuff, and set the corpse on fire” type. Not so here, the game specializes in choices with no really good options available. You can choose to help the elves… but in this case you are specifically helping terrorists, the sort that thinks killing civilians to support their cause is fine (especially if said civilians are lowly humans). You can choose to help a knightly order trying to fight the elves… but then you’re helping a bunch of self-righteous bigots, whose attitudes are the root of many of the problems. And of course, you can try to stay neutral, in which case everyone will hate you (and potentially try to kill you).
The main plot is fun pile of political maneuvering, with lots of false fronts and wheels-behind-wheels.
Much has been made of the sex in this game. I mostly thought it ok… sure, it can be viewed as somewhat sexist (why are so many of the women in skimpy dress and why do pretty much all of them want to jump in the sack with Geralt?) and the “cards” you get after each sexual encounter arequite juvenile. On the other hand, the main character is both sterile and immune to sexual diseases, so it’s more in the “safe sex” department than most fantasy rpgs – and also, there are quite a few strong female roles here. In the end, I found the sex content here mostly entertaining, if a bit juvenile in places.
My final score on this one is very positive. It’s a huge, complex game based on Slavic mythology, with many interesting and personable NPCs and a good plot. The action is fun once you figure it out, and the same can be said for the character advancement mechanic. Some minus points for a very uneven game experience and an over-abundance of semi-useless side quests, and also for a UI which really takes a bit of getting used to.
One of the better fantasy roleplaying games I’ve played.
Rites of the Dragon is both a piece of fiction set in the Vampire: the Requiem game world, and a possible in-game artifact. In the first role it’s only so-so, someone reading thing with no background information about the game won’t get much out of it – it’s basically a quick-read variant of the old Dracula myth, as narrated by Dracula himself. As an in-game artifact it works better: this book also outlines the source of the philosophy of the Ordo Dracul (which claims Dracula as its founder) and something like this might well be something that is given out to new recruits as background. To help reinforce this notion, the book has a fancy felt cover and is in a smaller format, looking more like a “normal” book than a “game book”.
It’s not the first time White Wolf has done this, of course. The new Vampire also has The Testament of Longinus which is the counterpart for the Lancea Sanctum, and the old Vampire had lots of similar books, starting with the old Book of Nod. It’s a fun concept.
The tale itself is nothing spectacular. We’re given a bit more background on how the Ordo came to be (well, supposedly anyway) and on some of the other leaders of the Order. There are some fun historical bits, but in the end, this is very lightweight stuff and it’s a quick read; the word count is quite low and there are plenty of pictures. Still, it’s a moderately entertaining expansion on the game background.
In the end, this book really isn’t worth the high(ish) asking price, unless you really want this for an in-game prop in a LARP or some such (in which role it’s great). That’s not to say that it’s a bad book; it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the game and can get hold of a copy for a lower price.