Wednesday, April 1, 2020

(M: tAs) Book of Mirrors

I'll admit, I was kind of dreading this one, but it wound up being relatively painless. As I read the table of contents, I was expecting a trademark White Wolf storytelling chapter, extended to 150 pages, and Book of Mirrors was fairly close to that, but it mostly avoided the trap of feeling like a remedial high school literature textbook, and was barely edgy at all (the essay at the end about feminism in rpgs was practically modern, even), so a lot of the worst case scenario territory was avoided.

The book's biggest weakness is that its authors seemed to have a very . . . elevated view of what they were doing. Not necessarily regarding their status within the hobby (the chapter about playing a historical Mage game was astonishingly generous in recommending supplements from other rpgs - even one of the AD&D green books got a shout-out), but in the importance of the hobby as a whole. I don't want to be too down on them, because I myself take rpgs fairly seriously (don't laugh), but when you start throwing around terms like "modern mythology" and "better than sex," even I think it might be time to dial it back a bit.

Truthfully, I don't have a lot to say about this one. It seems like every game that gets big enough has to release a book that talks about the social contract sooner or later, and Book of Mirrors doesn't embarrass itself here. And the rest of the Storytelling advice strikes a better balance between the literary and the pragmatic than we usually see in comparable sections of the core, but that's probably down to having more room.

The developer FAQ chapter didn't do a lot for me, but I suspect that's because Phil Brucato and I have fundamentally incompatible views on metaphysics (though at least we can both agree that colonialism is bad).

90s watch:

  • Some shockingly ableist language in the Marauders section. No demerit from me, though. I doubt I'd have even noticed pre-2010. 
  • The Technocracy has infiltrated all of our most trustworthy travel agencies! Can the newly revealed and thus far uncorrupted spy agency, the NSA, save us? They can if their allies among the Virtual Adepts have anything to say about it! (Sorry, that bit about magical white hat hackers making the NSA the one government agency not suborned by the Technocracy is hilarious to me, regardless of where you place the Technocrats on the villain-antihero-hero spectrum).
  • Some of the hypothetical players in the example campaign "don't have email."
  • Orson Scott Card says cyberpunk is "virtually over."

Pet peeve watch, only one item: "Most mages dismiss [the grim reaper collecting souls at the moment of death] as just a little too superstitious for their tastes." It's not so bad, because unlike certain problematic D&D supplements, this isn't trading in a racist trope, but still, what a thing to write in your rpg's Grim Reaper stat block.

Finally, let me wrap up with a couple of miscellaneous observations  - Someone at WW HQ was not quite as jaded about Samuel Haight as we were led to believe, because The Chaos Factor gets unironically name-checked around 2-3 times. And there's probably going to be no better place to talk about it, but the ongoing saga in the opening fiction, the story of the Euthanatos novices dodging the remnants of House Helekar, told in a series of vignettes stretched, so-far, between three unrelated books (this one, Book of Worlds, and Book of Crafts) barely works for me, a guy reading every Mage book back-to-back, more than 20 years after the fact. I can't imagine it was at all follow-able in its original context - specialty books for the second-most-popular game publisher's second-most-popular game, which would have surely enjoyed only a limited window of being available on a local book store's shelves before being out of print (seemingly) forever. I don't know where I'm going with this except that it's a bold move to start a book with a niche-within-a-niche Easter egg, though I guess if you're reading The Book of Mirrors at all, there's a good chance you're that kind of fan.

Ukss Contribution: The genuine best thing in this book is an idea that was too good to waste on a Marauder faction - The Fantastic 26. They're a magical cabal with code names based on the NATO phonetic alphabet, which I chose to picture as a superhero team whose powers are also appropriately themed. But I have no idea how I would organically introduce the concept of the NATO phonetic alphabet to a fantasy setting.

So I'll go with my second choice, but unlike a lot of the times I do this, the choice was actually genuinely close.

Apparently, the biggest challenge for the Technocracy when they took over the FBI was ousting the vampires that had already infiltrated it. Let's just let that sink in for a moment. . .

Once more, an rpg supplement just casually tosses out a throw-away line that could support a whole franchise. Nineteen-fifties G-men rooting out a vampire conspiracy in the FBI. . . I think I'm going to have to change my "top 5 WW Netflix adaptations" list.

Although, in the context of Ukss, we can dispense with the masquerade and just have a state security apparatus run by vampires, which is its own special kind of chilling.


  1. Have to say,I'm a little at a loss for what powers could possibly flow from Oscar, Mike, or Charlie.

    Though I guess the most obvious answer is that they would get the generic "good at punching" thing which makes up at least 3/26 super-types anyway.