Thursday, April 9, 2020

World of Darkness: Sorcerer

This is probably the game you should play instead of Mage: the Ascension. Don't get me wrong, I love the beautiful mess that is Mage, but this here . . . it's a book about occult societies, operating out of the shadows, exploring mysteries and pursuing their agendas, both sinister and benign. It's about hidden magic in the World of Darkness, people who are in over their heads with predators on all sides and those who keep ancient traditions alive in a world where it's all too easy to blind oneself to the sublime.

Plus, the magic rules sort of work. The paths could probably use a bit more precision, but sorcerers use reasonably sized dicepools and have quantifiable powers that can be compared to other supernatural templates. Buy 3 dots in Hellfire and you deal four dice of damage. Not something you're going to want to give up your guns for, maybe (although actually Hellfire has a bunch of neat elemental effects that make it more useful than its raw damage might indicate - fire does aggravated damage, dust storms can blind the target, etc), but when you compare it to, say, a vampire's Fortitude discipline, you can at least eyeball the likely result. It's not like Forces magic where you get 3 dice, but you can roll them an infinite number of times, meaning the target is going to face an unstoppable attack several days from now.

Ironically, the biggest weakness of World of Darkness: Sorcerer as a book is its connection to Mage: the Ascension. The text draws a fiddly technical distinction between what sorcerers do and what mages do that ultimately boils down to "magic" vs "magick." It's unbearably pretentious (and this is me saying this, so . . . you know), but also not something anyone in the setting is going to have a clear handle on. At best it's a distraction.

But setting aside comparisons to Mage, World of Darkness: Sorcerer is a fine book in its own right. The available paths of magic cover a fairly comprehensive cross-section of what you'd want a modern urban fantasy protagonist to be able to do and the occult organizations are all pretty interesting. The Ancient Order of the Aeon Rites is yet another reinvention of the Order of Hermes whole shtick, but this time they advance in rank through doing good deeds. Yes, they've got to undercut that by implying an unresolved scandal surrounding the Order's now-dead founder, but it's refreshing to see "wizard" types in the WoD who actually have a moral code.

Later on, we get the Uzoma, which is White Wolf's attempt at African magicians based on actual research. They're a decent faction, and their presentation here feels respectful, though I do feel a need to call out one line in particular:
According to NWO information, the Uzoma form an offshoot of the Dreamspeakers. This simplistic view underscores the traditional dismissal of many things African; "Well gee, they all look alike, so they must belong to the same club!"
Bad White Wolf, bad! The admonishment itself is fine, and likely something the fandom needed to hear, but that logic is fundamentally the Dreamspeakers' raison d'etre and it wasn't the Technocracy that created them, nor the Traditions. It was you. You made the Dreamspeakers to lump together four continents worth of people, and while it's great that you're starting to take an interest in specific people, like the Yoruba, you can't launder the original concept like this.

Apologize. Retcon. Do better. That's the procedure.

That said, the Uzoma do feel like a big step forward. World of Darkness: Sorcerer as a whole prefers a much greater degree of specificity than mage. There's a faction here called the Thal'Hun, which at once corrects the glaring oversight that was Mage: the Ascension's lack of a Ufology Tradition and manages to be a weird, narrowly applicable example of a group that might exist within such a hypothetical tradition (OMG - just imagining a version of Mage where Ufologist take the Spirit seat on the council and American, African, and Australian mages are assigned to groups like the Celestial Chorus or the Cult of Ecstasy based off their specific cultural practices and theological inclinations and it's pretty damned great). They manipulate the harmonic frequencies of sound in accordance with the scientific principles of the Hui:xa aliens who visited Earth thousands of years ago. In short, they're too good an idea to waste on The Sons of Ether (their canonical "awakened" allies).

Overall, this book is a stealth MVP. Within the White Wolf canon, it has the ridiculous niche of "Mage for people who don't want to play Mage," but honestly, freed of the need to "be Mage," this book has the opportunity to actually focus on the magic, and as a result, it's just jam-packed with good ideas, many of which you could even steal for your game of Mage.

Ukss Contribution: Secret Agent Sabrina! One of the sample characters is a dashing international woman of mystery who supplements her spy training with witchcraft. That could be a whole fucking genre.

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