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Chronicles of Darkness: The Contagion Chronicle
by Henry P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/23/2020 14:19:48

This is a must have for anyone running multi-splat chronicles in the Chronicles of Darkness. It provides a framework of rules and lore reasons for why different splats should work together to overcome a greater nemesis.

Myself with a few others have been building a shared wester marshes style chronicle world using the Contagion as a basis. But, this can easily work for smaller scale chronicles and provides a number of plot hooks and pre-made settings.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chronicles of Darkness: The Contagion Chronicle
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Beast: The Primordial
by John C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/23/2020 00:32:10

It's basically a power fantasy for abusers/people on the sociopath spectrum. It's TERRIBLE as a game, as bad as Changing Breeds, but valuable as an insight into the minds of abusers. The head writer, Matt Mcfarland, actually was fired for sexually assaulting a young teenage girl, and based on this book he's one of the most obvious socios I've ever encountered.

The one good thing is that you can easily write up a homebrew with Beasts as antagonists and Heroes as player Hunters, or neutral/good supernaturals. The book railroads Heroes into being antagonists even though they're more or less correct about Beasts, and Beasts have no other weaknesses than Anathema. It's all part of the psychopath's power fantasy. Being able to get revenge on the people who protect them from their victims, and the narrative/universe itself agreeing with them that their victims deserve it and it's the anti-psychos that are in the wrong.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Beast: The Primordial
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Trinity Continuum: Terra Firma
by Benjamin R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/18/2020 17:01:53

This supplement provides an overview of Earth (and Luna) in the 22nd and frankly it's great stuff. In some ways I would suggest that it's possibly a more vital supplement than the excellent Æon Æxpansion. To anyone starting on running Æon I'd certainly recommend picking this up as the first non-core book purchase. Some of the regional setting material may seem familiar to fans of the first edition game but there is plenty of new and updated material to make this a valuable addition to the line. If that wasn't enough the sections of weird and mysterious locations could keep a campaign going for months if not years and the new character options are diverse and original. If you need any further convincing - two words "Monster Buddy", it's a new Edge, look it up when you buy the book, you'll thank me for it (and if you are anything like me and my players the plot ideas will start flooding out).



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trinity Continuum: Terra Firma
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Night Horrors: Shunned by the Moon
by Henry P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/15/2020 18:24:14

This is an excellent supplement for Forsaken. Werewolf has the best rogue's gallery of the gamelines and this book includes both new versoins of said rogue's gallery and entirely new rogues by their own right.

Some standouts include:

  • An idigam that exists within the boundary of the gauntlet waiting for something to slip near it.
  • New gifts/merits/rites for Pure characters.
  • Versions of ghost wolves that have become true monsters with forbidden power.

If you run Werewolf the Forsaken or just looking for new awful things for your chronicle this is an excellent book to get!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night Horrors: Shunned by the Moon
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V20 Beckett's Jyhad Diary
by Tyler P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/15/2020 17:40:00

This is a phenomenal read whether you are looking for lore bits or just a journalesque novel. I enjoy Vampire the Masquerade and trying to remember everything that has happened is like trying to remember all of history, but this slips in alot of the metaplot along with new ideas or expansion on them. It is also a treasure trove for those true lore junkies that can go, "Hey isn't that... OH MY GOD IT IS."



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Beckett's Jyhad Diary
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Dystopia Rising: Evolution
by Tyler P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/15/2020 17:06:35

Considering that most of the people that I know play this game are LARPers and few actually ever touch the tabletop I think that this book is a great way to try and bring those people to the table. It supplies enough information about the world and how it has changed because of the bombs and Zeds. I enjoy that it has used the Storypath system, but it does not feel as though it is a retread of other games. I am planning on running this game for Startplaying.games, and believe this will give players a fun post-apocalypse zombie game that addresses horror and survival without it being hand waved or too gritty.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dystopia Rising: Evolution
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The Chicago Folios (Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition)
by Leonhardt S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/15/2020 10:30:39

This is a collection of interesting plot hooks and characters for V5 Chicago. Really useful especially for a new storyteller like myself.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Chicago Folios (Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition)
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Chronicles of Darkness: Hurt Locker
by Edward C. O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/14/2020 20:35:00

Hurt Locker is one of those, if you need it has amazing information! if you don't, you'll be fine without it.

its well written and expanse on CofD base corebook, with more merits, and tilts and conditions for violence and trauma. it also has ways to not kill your player's character's, but they have a permenant pain or something of the sort. its pretty good.

like i said, an amazing book to expanse on Base CofD, but it isn't neccessary.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chronicles of Darkness: Hurt Locker
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Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition
by Robert G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/14/2020 18:25:16

I received the book today and wow it's huge. 20 years of collated information and rules will do that I guess. It brings a lot of information from the various editions and source books into one big huge tome of knowledge for your players and GM.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition
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Titanomachy (A Collection of Threats for Scion Second Edition)
by Tony A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/10/2020 18:35:32

Disclaimer: At the time of this writing, this book is released an Advance PDF. Some details may change between now and the final version.

Introduction: Short and sweet, but it sets the tone for the whole book. Scion is a game that has to balance "real world" vs. "game world." This is a book that is very much "game world." But it's up front about it from the beginning. The Titanomachy itself, the premise the book is based on, is a "game world" idea and has no basis in the "real world." So there are going to be liberties taken and stories written to manufacture a Titanomachy. Some things are going to be attached to pantheons that don't make sense but they're there for organization purposes only (and besides, the Titans are enemies of the pantheons anyway, they don't actually "belong"). There's going to be "game world" decisions going on here and the introduction doesn't shy away from that. Rating: 3 out of 5 (Gets the job done but there's nothing really more to say on it than what it is.)

Chapter One - The Titans: I personally feel that this chapter is a little hit or miss with me. Which is disappointing because this was the big selling point of the book. The Titans! Writ bold and big. Let me clarify though. This is disappointing, not because any of it being inherently bad when taken within the context of the book's earlier conceit, but because this is the chapter that is most "game world." Which means, depending on your table, this could actually be the chapter that gets the least use from you. I think the idea of Ymir being reborn through his granddaughter is a fascinating idea and a great storytelling device, but there's a very real possiblity that it won't fit into the tone and mythic setting of your table. I like the idea of Cernunnos being an errant Scion who got his hands on the power of a fallen god and became a Titan, but can see how that may not fit everyone's vision of the game. I like a lot of the ideas that are presented here in this chapter, but recognize that they are the most divisive part of the book.

One major note in this chapter's favor, however, is the opening which features the introdution of Titanic Callings. While these are used primarily to define Titans, these can be applied to non-Titans as well to flesh out the existing gods or provide options for a player's Scions. These are fun and engaging and even if you don't like the sample Titans that are presented, these provide some additional tools to add onto the "create your own god" systems out of the Companion to make your own Titans. Rating: 3 out of 5 (The pick-and-choose nature of this chapter leaves something to be desired and makes this the overall weakest chapter. But the ideas are solid and enjoyable when looked at on their own.)

Chapter Two - Storyguiding: Regardless of your feelings on the chapter on Titans, this is the real meat of the book and the most important chapter. This explores several methods and options for including conflict with the Titans and their spawn into your games. It addresses matters of scale, presentation, conflict and collusion and the best way to handle procedural, intrigue and combat situations when dealing with the titans and their spawn. It touches on the relationships between Titans and Dragons (touching on the upcoming Scion: Dragon which some of the Titans in the last chapter are certainly mingled with) and delves into different ways to interact with Titan Scions and other titanspawn.

It closes out with several mini-adventures that serve as examples of how to put these concepts into play and serve as jumping off points for further adventures. Neither of these adventures are very beefy, but as idea starters and examples of concepts in practice, they're quite sufficient. Rating: 5 out of 5 (Easily the most useful chapter in the book and well worth the price even if you use nothing else in here... though you will because...)

Chapter Three - Antagonists: If Chapter Two is the meat of this book, then Chapter Three is all the juicy bits. It includes a system to add in some Titan-specific threats as Archetypes and includes new Qualities and Flairs to tailor your titanspawn. And then the rest of the chapter is a very crunchy collection of pre-generated antagonists of all sorts, including several sample Scions of the Titans of various sorts, including of Titans that weren't presented in the book to jumpstart a Storyguide's creativity. This chapter, if nothing else, is the bestiary that the Scion game has badly needed in my opinion and while it may not be as important to the book as the Storyguide chapter, it's easily the most interesting and most rewarding reason to purchase. Rating: 5 out of 5 (All the most fun parts of the book can be found here.)

Appendix: For the most part, Titanomachy is written as a Storyguide resource. Titans, how to run them, a whole array of antagonists from them, it's clear that this mainly exists for the sake of the Storyguide. Until you get to the Appendix. Here's where the crunchy bits for the players can be found. New optional rules on Collateral damage, plus an assortment of Titan-themed Birthrights which can be used for Titan Scions or even your normal child of a god. Finally, it closes out with the Knacks that go along with those new Titanic Callings and... oh boy these Knacks all sound very fun to employ for characters who don't mind taking a villainous angle. Rating: 4 out of 5 (While the book could do without it, I love the fact that this is all here to use and enjoy)

Final Thoughts: This book isn't without its warts. But that's not a bad thing either. If you approach this book out of context and expect it to read like every other Scion book, you're going to be disappointed and have a bad time. But when taken into context and approached from the angle presented in the Introduction, this book is a welcome addition to the overall Scion game line. And even if you don't like the presentation of the Titans, the wealth of information to be found in the chapters on Storyguidng and Antagonists are well worth the cost and definiely have a place in your games of Scion.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Titanomachy (A Collection of Threats for Scion Second Edition)
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Titanomachy (A Collection of Threats for Scion Second Edition)
by David A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/10/2020 01:24:21

TL;DR: There were some good bits of lore and mechanics, but this book reverts to bad, '1st-edition-ish' philosophy far too much.

So, let me start off with saying the things I did like, and why I'm giving this two stars rather than one.

There are good sections. The Orisha's section is awesome, predominantly because it essentially mocks the premise of the rest of the book. The Deva have some really cool and well-done members in there, and while the Theoi are questionable here, Echidna is great.

The mechanics are good, too. The new callings are nice, there's some good antagonists and other new Storyguide mechanics that I enjoy. If mechanics is predominantly what you want, this is definitely a solid recommend - although if you're a player and not a Storyguide, seeing as the new callings are the only parts that pertain to you, you might want to wait for Demigod as I hear they'll be republished in that.

The Internet Trolls are incredible.

There's a few parts of the book I won't comment on, such as the Kami and the Manitou, simply because I haven't got enough knowledge about those cultures.

But now, the stuff that was bad, and that I think I can comment on.

The Tuatha Dé Domnann are just... inaccurate and insensitive. The implication that Balor caused the Potato Famine is just... that wasn't anything to do with supernatural. That was the British being horrific.

Belenus and Cernunnos don't belong here, they're the gods of long-dead continental European religion and are part of the Nemetondevos according to another book in 2e. Admittedly these other 'versions' are acknowledged, but it just... doesn't sit right. It feeds the 'Celts were all one culture' concept that many have. And that concept is wrong. Not only that, claiming Cernunnos is the Horned God of Wicca (as in, this Cernunnos, not the idea that an old remnant of the power that was Cernunnos has somewhat been revived by Wicca as that god - that's a cool concept, this isn't) is really dodgy when, while he may be the most 'good' amongst these guys, is still associated with the 'evil side' of a pantheon. These are bold claims about what you claim to be the god of a living religion.

I can't really comment much on the other Titans of the Tuatha. But, as far as I know, one of them we know next to nothing about, and the other's writeup seems to imply Ireland's in the UK. So yeah.

Final thing on the Tuatha is something I didn't notice the first few times I glanced through, but is honestly one of the most grievous things done to them. Indech, who was the King of the Fomorians, who would have been an incredible choice for a Titan instead of, you know, the Gaulish Gods, has been turned into Frankenstein for the sake of having an excuse to put the Monster in. If you want the Monster, as a more modern story to add to the game, invent someone to create it. Hell, have them be a sample Scion of Prometheus (and writeup Prometheus) and really go full-on with the 'modern Prometheus' vibe. I'd love that. Don't appropriate someone with nothing to do with any of that.

The Aesir are weird. Nidhoggr is written as if he has a rivalry with the Dragon Níðhöggr, who I assume is coming in Scion: Dragon. A few reasons why this is confusing: first, IIRC, Dragon is intended to be optional. A potential addition to your games if you want it, portayed like the Nemetondevos, Teros, and the upcoming Masks of the Mythos. I honestly quite like the idea of Dragon, but having lines of this book, which is supposedly part of the World's mainstream 'canon', refer to it is odd. The second reason is that if you want a rival for Nidhoggr, he has one. Right there in the myths. The unnamed eagle, who sits at the top of Yggdrasil. They send insults to each other via Ratatoskr, the squirrel. Neither the eagle nor the squirrel, unless I'm missing something, is once mentioned here. Also, the whole thing about spelling being an argument, albeit a somewhat sarcastic one, about Níðhöggr being older, is a bit odd.

Ymir's dead, so not a threat. Reviving him... like, it's somewhat understandable, but not including, say, any of Loki's children (I'm aware Jormungandr and Fenris are more animals than logical thinkers, but Hel could surely fit in) and deciding to revive someone long dead... it's an odd decision. And, come to think of it, the Monster purview works fine for more 'bestial' Titans so yeah. What the Hel. Throw in at least one of the children of Loki instead. (And yes, I know they're mentioned, but none of them get a proper writeup.)

The Netjer have problems, but not really any more so than their godly counterparts' writeup in Hero. Aten is better than he was in 1e. That's not saying much, admittedly, but overall, I find his writeup okay. Apep/Apophis is another victim of the Dragon references, but it's dealt with a bit better. Isfet should probably be a Primordial, not a Titan, but I can deal with this. In fact, the writeup says she has the 'Primordial' calling; I'm assuming that typo was caused due to the writer having similar ideas to me, and meaning to write 'Primeval'. I should submit that to the errata. Finally, in the art, Apep is depicted with a cobra-like head fan, and as far as I know, he's not really depicted like that in Egyptian art. Just a plain old giant snake, no flourishes.

That's about all I can talk about with my knowledge. Oh, and looking back, the description of merfolk... like, the vicious concept presented here is fine, but there are also mermaid tales that do cast them as beautiful women, or even men, luring people to their doom - or perhaps not, perhaps falling in love with them and taking them back into their home under the waves. The idea presented here kinda contradicts the 'All Myths Are True' premise.

So, a final thing. Years ago, a young me stumbled across Scion First Edition, and was fascinated. Here was a game that was inspired by the tales I loved, and would allow me to play in worlds like those written about by Rick Riordan as a child of the gods. I plunged in, and expected the people making the book had done their research, and I took in a lot of misconceptions about the gods presented.

Now, 2e is here. Someone in a similar position to me back then will probably go for it over 1e - it's more up-to-date, more revised. New editions are meant to be better, and 2e is better. It's balanced, and it's pretty well-researched, and on its failings in research, it still tends to be respectful. And so someone in that position won't find the awful ideas that were present then, and instead find what Scion 2e has done, and take that as the truth about these religions. And that is good.

But then that someone may find this book. And, seeing as the research and respect so far has been good, they think to themselves, why shouldn't this be the same? And they'll take it, and they'll be plunged into misconceptions in the same way I was, and they might not be as lucky as me and find out that what they read was wrong. And that makes me beyond sad.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Titanomachy (A Collection of Threats for Scion Second Edition)
by Florian W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/06/2020 04:13:45

Awesome art and very solid mechanics, but with few exceptions (the Orisha chapter is a delight), the attitude of the product towards real-world religions is troubling. Continuing a trend from Companion, certain faiths are apparently deemed less worthy of respect than others and are subject to much stronger fabrication. Wicca and Neo-Paganism come off as empty, meaningless faux-religions here and Latin American (specifically Mexican) deities are once more called out as incompetent and lazy. There's a lot contradiction here with earlier books and with the promises and advertisements given when the project of a new edition of Scion was first introduced. Hopefully, this book remains the exception rather than the new rule for how Scion is done.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
M20 Book of the Fallen
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/03/2020 21:01:45

This review is based on the backer copy of Book of the Fallen. As such, it will ignore minor issues likely to be corrected, such as spelling and grammar or incorrect sphere ratings, and will instead focus on broader themes and things sufficiently interwoven that they cannot be changed in any significant way.

It is with a heavy heart that I say that this book is a failure. It is far from Brucato's best writing and though he warned people it would be offensive, the implication was that the offense would be at the actions of the Nephandi, not at the writing's implications. Unfortunately, rather than taking a route wherein the Nephandi are described as antisemitic and incorrect, or that there are many many ways that things can be views, this book took the route that the Nephandic paradigm relies on Jewish mysticism, that that mysticism has objective truth, and, in the light of other books, that this malevolent version of Kabbalah is the only objective truth in Reality. More details on the problem will appear below.

Let's start with the content warning. This is a good thing, though the "we handle such subject matter with maturity and sensitivity" applies certainly only to non-Jews, and not necessarily to all of them, but I can't speak on traditions that I don't know. It also overstates somewhat how graphic the whole thing is. While it does describe the atrocities involved, it's often at a higher level, avoiding truly graphic descriptions, which is good.

Evil is not a Toy

This section starts by asserting that this isn't a Player's Guide to the Nephandi. That is wildly incorrect, as this book can hardly be interpreted as anything BUT a player's guide. Many of the things that follow are fundamentally unnecessary unless stories are told from a Nephandic point of view, in which case they are players. For one simple example, non-Nephandic PCs will never once see what a Nephandic Seeking is like, and so describing them is not necessary if this isn't a player's guide.

The rest of the section, though, describes some real-world encounters with evil that Brucato has had, and is easily one of the strongest, and most graphic and difficult to read (due to the intended effects, at least) sections of the book.

Introduction: Eaters of the Weak

This is one of the best chapters of the book. It contextualizes Nephandi as abusers and as ultimately selfish, as opposed to the Traditions, Technocracy or Crafts who, though they have selfish elements, in theory strive towards some common good for some group of people. However, the first sign that worried me about the content was in the Lexicon section. I expected "qlippothic" and "qlippoth" or the like, as those have been attached to the Nephandi from the beginning, but the sheer number of Hebrew terms worried me, with terms like Daath (more commonly da'at in modern transliteration) and the Tree of Knowledge with the ten qlippoth associated with it (rather than just being a term used to refer to the Spheres, marking Nephandic methods as "empty/dead shells"). At best this paints the Nephandi as basically all being Hermetics, but at worst (and it was at least somewhat worse) it paints them as Jewish, and the last thing the world needs is a game book that identifies world-destroying levels of selfishness, greed and evil with Jews.

Chapter One: The Awful Truth

This is one of the stronger chapters. It is an in-character chapter, which means that errors of the authors can easily be attributed to the speaker, and nothing said is 100% certain, especially as it is coming from the mouth of a Nephandus. So, it's much, much more forgiving of other problems, but oddly, this chapter avoids much of the worst of it. The narrator attempts to sell the Nephandic worldview to the reader, and does a decent job of it, but a careful reader will see the cracks in the arguments, the areas where the speaker is ignorant but pretending knowledge, but it does require that that attention is given. I strongly suspect that this was somehow both the easiest and hardest chapter to write: easiest because it flows, it's a rant, a manifesto, and the reader can believe that this is just a lecture some evil bastard is giving. The hardest because it would really require inhabiting the mind of the speaker to make it flow like that, and this effort is appreciated and impressive

The sidebars point out weaknesses in the arguments, reminding the reader that the Nephandi can't be trusted. The argument starts with "The world is awful" and continues with "We are beyond morality." It also explains the Nephandic view of Descent, as becoming one with the Absolute, either through the annihilation of Reality or through becoming an embodiment of it and the god of their own universe. One fun piece of irony here is that for such a selfish world view, the ending of the path involves the ultimate negation of the self, either actual nonexistence or transformation into something fully unrecognizable as the original being.

The two takeaways here are the Lex Praedatorius, or the Law of Predation, which is the backbone of the Nephandic worldview, and sums up to "kill or be killed" in many ways. The speaker builds it up as this profound truth when the reader should be able to see that it's an empty statement of someone who has given up on humanity, and the laziest of philosophical points. The continued "It sounds good on the surface but doesn't stand up to scrutiny" facet of the Nephandic worldview is great and mimics the fact that they can be tempting and offer power, but it's a poison that hollows out the tempted.

For all the issues I have with Jewish mysticism and beliefs being brought into this book, the Leviathan aspect here doesn't bother me. The Nephandus is speaking in-character, for one thing, and for another, Leviathan is mostly as described: it's a giant sea monster that is promised to be slaughtered and served at the end of time. From there, it departs strongly, but the core is used correctly, even if the Nephandus is putting a particular spin on things, as a Nephandus would.

Unfortunately, we get more "Daath" mentioned in the sidebar about Cauls. We'll get into that more in Chapter Four.

Chapter Two: The Road to Leviathan

The opening fiction of this chapter is bad. For all the mentions of "avoid cartoon evil" it's downright cartoonish to describe some random people (who we know nothing of their paradigm and scant little about their motivation) butchering others in a way that allows them to put their eyes in a bag but somehow they still see out of them and are grinning after being cut to pieces while still alive. Aside from being gratuitous, it requires such over-the-top effort to even attempt this in the setting that it really comes off as trying too hard. I found myself rolling my eyes more than being horrified.

This chapter continues from Chapter 1, but here, as in the rest of the book, the tone of an objective game book is taken rather than an in-character tone. This is important, as the issues that come up would be bad but less so if they came from a specific character, rather than the authors of the book. It starts with talking about how to the Nephandi, Light is the problem and Darkness was already extant before it was injured by the Light, and then proceeds with some ruminations on the nature of evil and the various sorts of evil in the world. One sidebar is the first (of far too many) mention of Jung in the book, and, for those who are even slightly up to date on psychology, it's well-known that Jungian archetypes are pretty much considered pseudoscientific nonsense in the modern world, taken as seriously by psychologist as the Zodiac is by astronomers. This comes back in Chapter Four (you'll hear problems "come back in Chapter Four" many times in this review) but we don't address it again except to say that this concept of Jung's is not actually particularly coherent, is obsolete, to be generous, and is overused in this book when other, more accurate descriptions of psychology would do the trick.

A side issue, the discussion of Sociopathy, Narcissism, Psychopathy, and the Fallen is ok for establishing how terms are used in the book and acknowledges that their usage isn't perfect. It's an ok sidebar, but it always seems strange when a sidebar is a page and a half long, and that it should have been more smoothly integrated into the text somehow or edited down substantially.

The chapter next dwells on Descent, again, reiterating and expanding on what was in Chapter One. (Honestly, Chapter One is the most useful chapter in the book and could easily be used while ignoring the rest of it and taking it as a viewpoint among the Fallen.) Here is really where the discussion of the qlippoth goes downhill and starts bringing in the Tree of Knowledge in ways that are frankly bizarre and antithetical to the real source material for it, but which is treated as an accurate description of that material by the book, with nary a sidebar in sight to say "This is a Nephandic interpretation of a real-world belief system, and contains many inaccuracies" or the like. Aside from this, which is mostly ignorable, the section is a good expansion of the discussion in Chapter One.

Next, we get a description of the path of Descent, and it dwells a bit more on the qlippoth. Here's the closest to a disclaimer: "Although the modern concept of this reputed Tree of Knowledge comes from heretical applications of medieval Jewish mysticism (as well as from later occult practitioners who claimed the concept without being themselves Jewish)" however, it goes on to say that these things have reality. It does suggest that this is because occultists poured energy into the concepts, but if that were the case, then truly divergent interpretations of whatever is underlying this would have to be included, instead of making Nephandi Evil Hermetics and/or Jews. After this is a bit more discussion, mostly good.

Nephandic "awakening" is discussed, both in the sense of walking into the Cauls and turning barabbus. Interestingly, this book suggests much more strongly than either Book of Madness that widderslaintes, those born with Avatars that had gone through the Cauls in a previous life, are not automatically Nephandi, but must enter the Cauls themselves, and can turn away from the path, though with difficulty. As for barabbi, it gives reasons for members of literally every group in the world of Mage to turn. Next, Nephandic avatars are discussed, with nearly random and unnecessary mention of Daath, and the Fallen interpretation of the Avatar Essences are fine inasmuch as they don't discuss the qlippothic realms (again, more in Chapter Four on these).

The chapter closes with a frank discussion of abuse tactics that's quite strong, and clearly owes much to Bancroft's excellent "Why Does He Do That?"

Chapter Three: But Darkness Visible

The opening of this chapter shows that the authors have done their homework, referencing Nick Land's execrable "The Dark Enlightenment" manifesto, and then proceeds with some non-cartoon evil, as it involves completely believable levels of brutality from mercenary companies.

The main thrust of this chapter is Nephandic factions, and so the review will be brief. Most of the factions are quite solid, though some involve interesting changes from the previous manifestations (for one thing, the K'llashaa seem less likely to just die horribly a week after joining than they used to). Jodi Blake makes her only appearance in the book as a famous Infernalist who seems to have turned away from Descent (which might make her an Inverted Oracle? The term Oracle has changed meaning a few times, after all.) Of the classical three faction, the only one that I take real issue with are the Malfeans, who now specifically are tied to the Wyrm, rather than to abstract representations of destruction and decay, which I feel is much stronger. Then again, I am also one of the people who prefer to keep Werewolf cosmology out of Mage and force it to be subject to the same "reality is subjective" rules as other things, which is quite hard to do in many cases.

The new groups are in general quite good, though I'm disappointed in the writeup for the Heralds of Basilisk. For one, here is one of the places where the Fallen start to take on Villain Sue properties, where they seem to be better than everyone else at their specialties (leading me to question how they haven't won yet with that and with millions of unsuspecting people doing their bidding every day. Reality should have ended by now) but also it would be substantially stronger with a more accurate description of both what a "basilisk" is in this context and what Roko's Basilisk, the one referenced, actually is, which is quite different from the "What if a godlike Artificial Intelligence was to come into existence, and it was evil?" description in the sections.

To put it simply, a "basilisk" is any concept that will cause you harm by just being made aware of it ("you look at it and it hurts you"). Roko's Basilisk is an argument popular in certain circles (which has many flaws but that's not the point here) that is a godlike artificial intelligence ever comes into existence, even if it is benevolent and trying to minimize suffering, then it will STILL have an incentive to torture people alive now in extreme ways (essentially creating hell) in order to encourage modern humans to work hard to bring it into existence, so that it can alleviate far more suffering that it causes. This fits better with the Nephandic "existence is pain, nothing we can do can stop it, except ending it all" ethos visible throughout this book (and in several Final Fantasy villains). It's fundamentally an argument that even a benevolent god will not remove all suffering but instead will inflict immense amounts of it.

Aside from the HOBs and a bit with the Malfeans, though, the factions in this section are well thought-out and coherent and will make good antagonists for many games.

Chapter Four: Dark Tree of Knowledge

And now, we've reached the shitshow.

The lesser problem with this chapter is that there is SO MUCH JUNG. I explained why Jung is not a good basis above, so I won't reiterate it, but there's just a lot of it, starting with the opening quote.

So, onto the cultural stuff that is the true nightmare of this book. It starts with a brief sidebar acknowledging that they used real-world beliefs here, and then acknowledge that you don’t really need this chapter to run a game. So, this chapter is something that could be cut, that the players will never see unless PC Nephandi are permitted, and yet, it wasn’t cut. Honestly, before the section “The Qlippoth: Plumbing the Nightside” it’s mostly a lot of “some mages use dark practices without being Fallen” and “Carl Jung said” sorts of things, but this section is really where I want to focus my energy.

From the beginning, it treats the qlippoth as worlds that are truly believed to exist by large fractions of mages. For one thing, no non-Kabbalist believes much of anything about qlippoth, because non-Kabbalists don’t even know the word in any real way. We also get a bit more of the “everyone knows a little, but the Nephandi understand this is a deeper way than anyone else” suggestions that 1) they have objective reality and 2) the Nephandi are the best.

It’s really hard to focus on any specific errors, bizarre statements or disrespectful treatment of these concepts because the entire chapter is almost nothing but that. It does truly introduce objective reality into Mage: the Qlippoth are real and meaningful, which implies the Sephirot are, which implies that the Kabbalistic paradigm is true. “In Mage terms, the Qlippoth is essential to the Nephandic Path. Even if a Fallen mage does not herself believe in Kabbalah or view her Path through such occult philosophies, the essence of these forbidden shells forms an intrinsic element of her journey from Awakening to Descent.” There is also discussion of Nephandic Seekings, again, something that is fully unnecessary unless stories are being told from the point of view of Nephandi, and as something that is supposedly not a player’s guide to Nephandi, the inclusion of so many such things is suspect. It includes what sorts of things the Nephandus will learn from each of the Qlippoth.

There is a sidebar titled “Metaphysical Canon” which I reproduce here that disputes all of this, but with the quotes above, it’s quite clear that this sidebar has no bite, especially given that a staggering 15 pages or almost 7% of the entire text, is devoted just to this section describing the Qlippoth as the foundation of the Fallen in terms of Jewish mysticism, i.e., the Kabbalah.

> Does this section mean that Mage’s world ultimately follows mystic Jewish monotheism, with all the requisite demons and myths? No. Metaphysics are never a one-size-fits-all proposition, especially not in a game world where subjective reality is the foundation of the game. Although the Qlippoth emanations do exist in a metaphysical sense, at least as far as the Fallen are concerned, they can be viewed through any number of philosophical lenses, most of which — like some divine kaleidoscope, shift and change depending on who’s looking at them and from which perspective. This section explores a small slice of the Qlippoth as Fallen mages see it. The ultimate reality is, as always in Mage, elusive and unique. Every Mage player or Storyteller will view these elements differently. The ultimate reality is yours, not ours, to decide.

The book then spends less than one full page on the qlippothic spheres, pointing out that the main difference between the standard ones and these is intent, and then we’re on to “Daath and the Cauls” and the Qlippothic Domains. It continues to treat Daath (da’at) oddly, and almost wholly in a negative way, which is very much not how it is perceived by actual Kabbalists, but then, the Tree of Knowledge is entirely different than the thing that this book describes as though it could be identified with it.

The book goes on to describe this Tree of Knowledge as consisting of 10 realms, one for each of the qlippoth, connected by tunnels which would correspond to the paths in the Tree of Life. This again cements the Tree as derived from Jewish mysticism as being a real and objective part of Reality. Rather than describe how bad the descriptions of the qlippothic realms are compared to what Jewish mysticism suggest they should be, in the description of Thagirion, this appears as one of the rulers of the Realm (and remember, this is JEWISH mysticism that is being drawn from, in theory): “Sorath, the Sun Demon, “the Adversary of the Lamb” and an embodiment of human wickedness and opposition to the Christ-self”

Finally, we finish Chapter Four with a discussion of the Black Diamond and can move on.

Chapter Five: And All the Powers of Hell

This chapter focuses on game mechanics to handle Nephandic characters (totally not a player’s guide) including merits and flaws, infernal investments (mostly for their cultists), rotes and wonders. While some of them look like they’d be fun (Qlippothic Radiance would lend itself to great flashy climactic scenes where the Nephandi has been hidden for the rest of the story) they do largely feel like they’re balanced for players. After all, they have normal freebie point costs associated with them. This is more jarring because Wonders in this chapter are not given costs (despite the costs being relatively simple to calculate from the mechanics) to discourage player characters from having them.

The Infernal Investments are basically completely unbalanced. In some cases, they are entirely broken. As an example, “Object of Affection” is a 7-point pact, which does make it quite costly. However, it’s also a win button for an unscrupulous (as all of them are) Nephandus with a cult that they can force to commit crimes and make pacts. The person who gets it picks another person, and now that person “loves” them. Though it is mentioned that magick and faith could both break the control, there’s no resistance possible. So, any Nephandus with a decent cult and a cabal after them should just force their cult to bond the mages of that cabal in this way, and problem solved. Though the book does indicate not to do this to PCs (under the “violations of the character without player consent are super bad” discussions) this falls into that category of “powers that break the setting if they’re actually available” even if it never appears in a game. That said, “Regeneration” as a 9-point investment seems overprices for what it is, being considerably weaker than many of the lower level investments.

The next section is on Focus for Nephandi, Paradigm, Practice and Instrument, as well as higher level organizing principles. It falls into the trap of mistaking a rabbinical SATIRE as a rabbinical legend, claiming “In all forms, Lilithianism reveres the First Woman who — according to rabbinical legend — was created equal to Adam, refused to be his inferior, rebelled against God’s dominion” which is an oft repeated error (and indicates a lack of research, as the Alphabet of ben Sirach is not subtle about being a satire, for instance it is full of masturbation puns and fart jokes).

The paradigms themselves are mostly fine, though nothing terribly out of the ordinary and several of them (as well as practices) are just evil versions of things that exist, and I question whether they really need to be separated out. Is Infernal Science that is science plus evil really different enough from Hypertech to deserve a separate discussion? Would it not have been more useful to go through the already existing paradigms and practices and explain, in brief, how they get twisted by Nephandi?

The most interesting bit of this section is the part on hypersigils and egregores, which actually adds something to the game.

The rotes in the next section are badly over-written, to the point where clarity is lost. Each entry should be cut by almost 50%, for example, we have 75% of a page on “Beautify or Deform” which amounts to “Better Body” but evil, and Better Body is well enough understood that it’s been in Mage since 1e. On the other hand, the rotes are flavorful, but much of that flavor would come out better with shorter, more tightly written descriptions.

Finally, we get to evil books and wonders. Though I’ve heard others complain about full pages on books that don’t really exist, that doesn’t bother me. While I do think many of these entries needed editing, it’s more that the prose got a bit purple in this section than due to length. If there had been more editing but then more content, that would have been excellent. In fact, this would be a great place for in-character writing, with “quotes” from the books that could be found, and those can get as purple as desired. After books come the wonders, which aren’t given costs in order to discourage player use, which as I said, left me unimpressed. This section really dragged, and I found myself unable to focus on many of them, but among the wonders are big-ass swords, slave collars, a whip that causes its target to be unable to use a safe word in BDSM (and thus useless outside of sexualized roleplay with a Nephandus, something few groups are likely to engage in) and a few others.

Chapter Six: Your Friends and Neighbors

This chapter feels to me like it should have been combined with Chapter Three. It’s got a lot of good things in it, and both of them involve factions and examples. Here, it starts with cults and other Nephandus-led but mostly Sleeper groups, including evil clothing companies, a shoe company that’s a front for online harassment, an evil nightclub, and an organization for corrupt cops, each with a template attached to it.

It moves on to less mundane allies of the Nephandi, such as evil spirits, companions, familiars and a bit on fomori. It covers some basic goetic demons, and honestly gets a bit immature and trivializes them somewhat, especially with Stolas, whose description includes “He’s a demonic owl with a fucking crown, and thus he’s cooler than you will ever be.” The memetic entities section covers Baphomet, the Basilisk (which I discussed above) and “Zagglaaw” who is recognizable to the Creepypasta crowd as an analogue of Zalgo. And then there’s three Paradox spirits (called nightmares) that tend to torment the Fallen. The true heroes of the book.

The most interesting section is the “Fallen Magi” section, and of all the pieces, this is the one that belongs in Chapter 3 the most. Some of them are useful and have clear horror movie inspirations (the Caller), while others (like Garrick Browne) barely hang together as a character concept and definitely needed rewrites (or could have been cobbled together from multiple versions of the character or multiple characters). Jane Daugherty is one of the more interesting Nephandi, being a K’llashaa who manages regular human contact without being caught, and the Reids are quite interesting, and left me wondering if they had any tie to Charles Reid from Technocracy: Progenitors, though the surname is likely random, there aren’t that many name collisions that are coincidental in the World of Darkness.

Chapter Seven: Theatre of Cruelty

Aaaaaand, this chapter is the player’s guide. It says it isn’t, but it is, and cements that impression of the book as a whole. It starts out strongly with a description of the cycle of violence and different sorts of abuse, it talks about how children can’t abuse adults (though in the discussion of why no Widderslainte children, it only mentions that but ignores the possibility of children abusing other children).

Finally, instead of at the beginning, a brief recommended reading section happens, specifically on recovery from abuse with 8 references. This sidebar is far too small, and the lack of a more in-depth section for other resources both on portraying and recovering from abuse is a serious flaw in this book. It is also right in a section on ST and Player responsibilities for playing with these themes safely.

And then, the book gives up pretense with a section “Nephandi as Protagonists” though it does protest a bit “We warned you” rather than avoiding making a player’s guide. It has a few hints and tips, a bunch of questions that the players should ask about their characters and then it asks if Nephandi can be redeemed.

The chapter (and the core of the book) ends with Nephandic metaplot options. They’re mostly good options, and fit the M20 model of not picking a metaplot but giving a tool kit. They include a fractured Nephandi model and various models where the Nephandi control another faction. The final part of the section is on Nephandi win scenarios, and I feel that this section needed to cite Ascension several times. After all, the ELE section (extinction level event) feels a lot like “The Earth Will Shake” with an asteroid about to hit Earth, and the section on Those Who Dwell Beyond The Stars is “Hell on Earth” which also ends with the Spitting From the Heart of Hell scenario, leaving only The Hungry God in this book as not having any tie to the final book of the original Mage line.

Not on My Watch

The book ends on a call to action to stand against the evils of the world. Important words to end on, and well written.

Conclusion

This book could have been far worse, but it could have been much better. Between the bizarre decision to make the universe objectively Kabbalistic, but for a bizarre version of Kabbalah, which leaves quite a bit of an antisemitic stench on the book (after all, the secret evil masters of the world being Kabbalists plays into MANY old antisemitic canards and beliefs that are still active to this day), the cartoonish evil that kept coming up, and the insistence that it isn’t a player’s guide while including things that would never be useful outside of one, the book ended up being mostly a negative for me. The parts that are good are worth keeping but disentangling them from the bad parts is a lot of effort, and unless someone has very specific reasons, I’d recommend skipping this book. If it could be given a proper editing pass, removing most of the gratuitous things mentioned above, and likely cut down to more like 130-140 pages, the book would be very strong and a proper successor to both versions of the Book of Madness and to Infernalism: the Path of Screams but as it stands it is not.



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M20 Book of the Fallen
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Nemetondevos: Revised
by Moros F. H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/02/2020 11:45:46

If you are playing a game featuring the Nemetondevos, you should absolutly get this. I can't empthize how much I prefer this to the official version, it's so much more accurate and fun, with a PSP that doesn't have an innate power that's partly useless or a motif that can be mechanicaly removed. The rewrites for the gods are so much more intresting, I love Ceronnus's write up empthathizing he's a god of commerce and trade not the wilderness just to name one. I also like how much the writer tries to inform about the cultures that the pantheon comes from, about how it lived and how it functioned, which is definatly helpful for running a game that focuses on the Nemetondevos. All in all this is a must have no question



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Nemetondevos: Revised
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They Came From Beneath the Sea!
by David F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/31/2020 12:10:06

I played this at a convention and had an amazing time. I have never laughed that much while playing a TTRPG. Highly recommended.



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They Came From Beneath the Sea!
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