" If fighting against a nigh-invulnerable enemy for the beliefs of a populace of Pabst-swigging, Jackass-watching plebes is your cup of tea, by all means, pick up a copy. "
Title: Mage: the Ascension, Second Edition Revised Core Book by White Wolf
Format: Roleplaying Core Book
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: The much-anticipated update of the popular Mage game line core rules and theme, for compatibility with the system "upgrade" White Wolf has performed on its three most popular titles (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage) and all later releases (Hunter, Exalted, Adventure). Find out the results of the great Ascension War and update your story and plot resources while revisiting the familiar system and finding new alterations and fine-tuning. Is it an improvement on the old, or is it the New Coke of RPG alterations? Read on, dear viewer.
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: When it comes to back story and complicated plotlines, White Wolf is the king of beers… err, roleplaying games. They are renown for their ability to reach into the deep annals of history and plant the roots of their story, creating intricate and complicated histories that stay believable all the way to modern nights and leave the reader neck-deep in theme and detail. This, of course, keeps the readers coming back for more, and leads to the grand sales of many White Wolf supplements tailored specifically to broaden the players' knowledge of the theme rather than the systems. Mage itself deals with the Awakened, people who have gone through a spiritual metamorphosis and found themselves able to manipulate reality itself. In this latest addition to the game line, the immensely popular Mage is updated for modern times, and does not fail to disappoint with its already rich history supplemented by a heavy dose of recent events, which turn the willworkers' world upside-down. You see, for centuries the Nine Traditions (a society of Awakened individuals with the ability to alter reality in ways we would call magic) have fought against the Technocracy (an organization of Awakened individuals whose abilities lend themselves to science and the codifying of reality) in a great philosophical battle known as the Ascension War. In previous editions of Mage, the intent of the game was to play a Tradition mage who railed against the Technocracy in defense of magic, but Mage Revised blows that theme out of the water by presenting a definitive end to the Ascension War in which no side wins. The Technocracy, in their quest to influence the masses into believing that magic does not exist and that science is the answer to all life's problems, has all but crushed the Nine Traditions under their boot heel and convinced the modern populace that magic is a fairy tale. Unfortunately, they've done their jobs too well, and the couch potato society they've fostered no longer cares about science, either, thus leading the war into an uncomfortable détente. At the same time, a storm in the Umbra (the spirit realm which exists outside of but parallel to our own world) has separated the world's greatest mages from those on Earth, and all who try to cross the Gauntlet between realms find their Avatar (the source of their magic) shredded and destroyed by cutting Umbral winds. You are set to play the role of a young, newly-Awakened mage, cut adrift from the elders of your society and a refugee of a war that can no longer be won. So the major changes are that the Traditions lost the Ascension War, mages are cut off from the Umbra (for all intents and purposes), and the focus of the game is now a last-ditch rage against the dying of the light in the world. This is, unfortunately, too sappy and angst-ridden for this Monkey, who finds himself unimpressed by making an already losing battle lost, and then asking you to play a character who gives a damn. 3.5 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: The book is set up in the formulaic White Wolf core style, which lends itself to easy navigation-Story and background information, character generation, rules systems, and the storyteller information, including equipment, opponents, and plot ideas. This is a format easily perused by the casual gamer, with the sections set up intuitively and with a very complete index in the back for quick flipping. The artwork ranges from pleasant to passable, with nothing truly impressive standing out-White Wolf has made the unfortunate mistake of letting Christopher Shy run free on the chapter art again, thus resulting in tribal Dreamspeakers clad in power armor and most Traditions' chapter representations showing nothing distinctive to label them as Euthanatos, Chorister, or Virtual Adept. The borders and settings to the pages are interesting, with an amalgam of mage sigils lining the page edges, and the general page layout is familiar and enjoyable. 4 out of 5.
Playability: The changeover from Second Edition to Revised Second Edition has resulted in fewer systems changes than it has new complications to deal with in the form of Umbral winds and the increased difficulty to alter reality. The Umbral Winds are by and large an unwelcome addition, adding little to ambience and likely the first rules change to be thrown out the window by any given gaming group. A few alterations were made in rolling systems, such as changes to how multiple actions are rolled and how initiative is determined, but the largest obvious change is in how experience points are spent. In previous editions, the cost to raise a given attribute was based upon the current rating, multiplied by a modifier (which depends on what is being raised-abilities are x 2, attributes x 4, spheres x 7). In Revised rules, it is now based upon the new rating-what the stat will be after you raise it. Thus, everything costs more to raise now than it did in previous editions. I don't know about you, but monkeys like me don't like paying more for their abilities today than they did yesterday. There are enough problems with inflation in the real world without having to deal with it in the World of Darkness. Spheres and Rotes are as complicated and unintuitive as they ever were, much to this Monkey's chagrin, and figuring out how best to perform a given "magic spell" will result in just as many arguments and semantic debates in internet chatrooms with this edition as they did in previous incarnations of the game. 2.5 out of 5.
Desired Content: For those of us expecting as revolutionary and gratifying a change in Mage Revised as we received in Vampire Revised, this book is a flat-faced belly flop in the shallow end of the wishing well. All the familiar rules systems from Second Edition are present, and making a character now is the same as it ever was (with the addition of a couple new Backgrounds cribbed from Second Edition Mage supplements), and anyone in possession of that Second Edition core rulebook already had what they needed to play in the palm of their hand. By and large, Mage Revised presents you with updated storylines you didn't want to hear, altered rules systems you didn't want to see, and brand new artwork you'll forget once the book is closed. While it doesn't fail to deliver the basic goods, and it puts everything in a pretty package for ready viewing, it doesn't bother to give you a reason why it is superior to its predecessor. 2 out of 5.
|So the Ascension War is over, and the Traditions lost- though the Technocracy didn't win. If fighting against a nigh-invulnerable enemy for the beliefs of a populace of Pabst-swigging, Jackass-watching plebes is your cup of tea, by all means, pick up a copy. If you'd rather have a bit more of an edge on the odds, and you want your hard-earned experience points to go a little further, pick up a used copy of Second Edition from Half Price Books and have at it. Either way, it's the same basic system, but the previous edition won't leave you wondering why you bother to play after five sessions get you no closer to Ascension.|
The Good: An update to the somewhat out-of-date Second Edition version of the already popular game.
The Bad: Any major changes are bound for your personal cutting room floor.
The Overall Ugly: Good intentions gone unfortunately wrong, bucking the interest curve and leaving you wanting.
What it's Worth: $15.00 on eBay from an unsatisfied gamer.