Blood Magic: Secrets of Thaumaturgy

WW 2106 $19.95
Written by Bruce Baugh, Chris Bjork, John Goff, Alan I. Kravit, Robin D. Laws, and James Moore

Review by Eric Christian Berg (15 Feb 2000)

I've been waiting a long while for this book. Not because I'm a big Tremere fan, but because I'm a big Samedi fan and I was informed that there was more than just 'stupid Tremere tricks' in here. Well, as it happens, I was disappointed with the reason I wanted the book in the first place but pleasantly surprised with the bits I thought I could do without. As usual, I'll give the chapter by chapter rundown of what's there and how I feel about it. I'm also going to rate sections, just because the material in this book jumps around a lot in quality. One initial observation: The artwork is minimal and there is no fiction other than the introductory piece. This is a good thing in my opinion. More of what I bought the book for, less 'filler'.

The little piece of starting fiction is amusing. It gives a general idea of how the Tremere manipulate vampiric affairs and how they use the flexibility of their arts to greatest advantage, though the bit itself wasn't particularly well written or inspirational. The Introduction is everything we've come to expect of such. It gives a run down of the subject and how the authors intend to approach it, then a few short blurbs on the practitioners and how they view themselves and their art. The obligatory disclaimer is included and it ends with a glossary which is incomplete (three quarters of a page of blank space wasted and only one of several voudou terms is defined). Rating: 3

Chapter One is the history of blood magic, from Caine on to the modern nights. Much of it is more vague than I would have liked but it is comprehensive and gives a good feel for the development of the discipline of Thaumaturgy and the roots of the other vampiric 'Traditions'. Of particular interest is how the Tremere leveraged their power to keep from being destroyed, using the flexibility of their arts to make up for their lack of numbers and age. One thing which did annoy me was the added 'crossover' detail that the Tremere lost their magic on transformation and had to reinvent themselves as Thaumaturgists from scratch. This is not only a needless crossover, but it stresses the True Magic v Hedge Magic distinction which I've never felt was a line that could be drawn in character. But that's a personal gripe, in my history, I ignore it and I feel the Tremere make a lot more sense. Rating: 3

Chapter Two delves first into Hermetic theory, with stress on the means by which the Tremere use their quasi-scientific approach to adopt and sanitize other magical systems, paring them down to their bare essentials and discarding the spiritual, religious, and traditional baggage. It then goes on to discuss the major and minor principles of Hermetic magic. These are vital in understanding how the Tremere approach magic and are perfect for better describing how blood magic works within the game without a lot of extra mechanics or requirements. Mostly, it is a discussion of paradigm which segues into a discussion of other approaches and how the principles manifest (or don't manifest) in them, or what principles they use instead. It is a nice approach to the topic, easy to understand and quick to use. The reasoning for the use of both paths and rituals is particularly well thought out. Rating: 4

Next we get a short but sweet section on spirits and demons and how the Tremere deal with both, particularly how the principles of Hermetic magic are applied. Also included is the creation of servants possessed by both. The distinction between spirits (wraiths) and demons (umbral spirits) is actually very well done, much better than in other books, and the wariness of the Tremere when dealing with either sort of entity is well played. Rating: 3

Next is a section dealing with other 'traditions' of magic and how they are adapted to Thaumaturgy through the process described in the beginning of the chapter. Particular stress is placed on how the principles are used and variations on the perception of them in each tradition. Covered here are Kabbalism, Voodoo/Santeria, Wicca, and Dark Thaumaturgy. They are all rather well done. The treatment of Voodoo, in particular, is actually better than the more verbose bit in the last chapter. Rating: 4

Next, we get a section on chantries, including ranks, organization, advancement, and a bit on Certamen. It is all very clear and well written, giving a good picture of how the Tremere hierarchy is set up and how it is maintained. Next, the physical form of chantries is dealt with, including security considerations and size (1 or 2 for a small city up to seven, the optimum). After that, a short bit on research stresses the meritocratic aspects of the clan and the approach taken to path development. All in all, useful information that gives a much clearer picture of how the clan operates. Rating: 4

The next section focuses entirely on what it means to be a Tremere apprentice, from duties to one's master to means to advancement. It is very well done and gives a much clearer picture of the life of a Tremere neonate (and the everyday life of the Tremere in general) than any of the main books. It also makes a bit more sense of the mechanitions and the reasoning behind them which are rife within chantries. The section closes up with a discussion of the perks and problems with taking non-Tremere apprentices (it is rare and done only in secret) as well as attempting to learn Thaumaturgy without a mentor (time-consuming and dangerous). Rating: 5

The last section is about Thaumaturgical texts, in the Call of Cthulhu tradition. They are a nice sampling, though it would have been nice to have some system stuff for them, like was included for the Infernalist texts in Path of Screams. Following it is a quick blurb on the potential of the Tremere to manipulate the whole world through Thaumaturgy and another on the weakening of blood magic and the approach of Gehenna. Nothing too spectacular here. Rating: 3

Chapter Three has all the fun system stuff that the power gamer looks forward to. More paths, more rituals, and rules for creating new ones. The new paths presented are a mixture of new ones and rewrites of ones which have appeared in various previous supplements. Thankfully, they are not geared towards the power gamer but often towards simple utility and even research purposes. The Hearth Path, for example, focuses on control over one's haven and Alchemy is more suited to the laboratory than combat. Most of the paths are elaborate, with more than sheer numbers and mechanics. They have flavor. Rating: 4

The rituals section also starts with rules for creating new ones, like the previous section, and guidelines on how long it takes to learn them (anywhere from a week to a year). Then there are rituals. Lots of rituals. Eleven pages of rituals, up to some wicked level six, seven, and eight ones. All in all, they are very well done. Also, in a page and a half sidebar, a number of Storyteller options are presented relating to blood magic, including charging experience for rituals, increasing times to learn, cooperative path research, and the optional background Occult Library (which I found a touch unbalancing, even if it only applies to research). Rating: 4

Chapter Four deals with non-Thaumaturgical blood magic and had a lot of potential, though I found myself more disappointed than I was intrigued. First off, we deal with the other major practitioners of magic in the vampire world, the Giovanni. Necromancy is given a bit of a new life by this chapter which was much better than I had expected. First off, there is an intelligent and insightful history of necromancy, as well as trends and changes in how it is practiced. Here is introduced the 'principles' of Necromantic magic: Authority and Taboo. This is further extrapolated in the next section, which covers practical aspects of how necromancy rituals are performed and the reasons behind the ritual elements. This is nice, it makes the trademark Giovanni perversity utilitarian rather than gratuitous. The rituals that follow are generally pretty good, with a nice mixture of grotesqueness and power. Rating: 4

Next, we are treated to the Voudoun branch of Necromancy, as practiced by the Samedi, Serpents of Light, and an odd sect of Lasombra that dwell in Haiti. This is the main reason I bought the book and I was very disappointed in the treatment. Rather than explore the depth of the faith, it seems to focus entirely on Baron Samedi. It doesn't reference any of the copious amounts of material published about the Creole dead, which is a sheer waste. Finally, and inexplicably, it has three pages of material on a hitherto unmentioned Samedi-worshipping sect of Lasombra, and less than half a page each on the Samedi and Serpents of Light, the major practitioners of voudou in the World of Darkness, and even what is there is vague and the space is mostly wasted talking about the relationship of these groups to Samedi and his pet Lasombra. Further, the voudou ritual items presented are also vague and poorly researched and none of the hallmark items of voudou rituals (like drums, the asson rattle, or the peristyle) are mentioned at all. No new paths are presented, just odd tweaks on the existant ones, and the new rituals are uninspired. All and all, an utter waste of space. Rating: 1

Next, we are treated to Setite Sorcery, which the book tells us is very different from Thaumaturgy as it is tied up in the spirituality of the Followers. While there is some interesting and bizarre material here relating to Egyptian beliefs, most of it is half-assed and spends way too much time stressing the 'eeeeevil' cliche that the Setites generally are. The entire philosophy of the magic presented makes it seem like the Setites exist merely to spitefully break things like some petulant child. Not the sort of sophisticated belief system I expect from subtle and powerful manipulators of vampiric affairs. The paths themselves aren't all that bad. There are two, one dealing with addictions and the manipulation of them, and the other dealing with breaking down and corrupting things (beauty, trust, love, hope, and authority respectively). The former, however, inexplicably has only four levels defined. I assume an editing error. The rituals are actually rather interesting, though some are pure cheese and more fitting for fomori (another 'eeeeevil' bunch). Rating: 2

Now we come to Assamite Sorcery, starting with some history and a short bit on its roots, and wrapping up with a discussion of the goals of the viziers who are searching, we are told, divinity in their drug induced visions. The concepts are good but still didn't grab me, much like the other Assamite material. I think it just needs some more depth and integration. It just seems detached and not well worked into the rest of the clan (which still hasn't grown beyond its stereotype anyway). Also, I was uninspired by the near-sentient telecommunications network which the viziers are apparently speaking to in their dreams. It just seems more in keeping with Mage than Vampire and I wouldn't use it. Lastly, after all the talk of spirituality and the search for divinity, the path presented is all about killing things, sneaking up on things to kill them, and finding them so you can do the aforementioned two. The same sort of uninspired assassination-related powers that Quietus gives us. The rituals, for the most part, follow suit. The only sign of the previously mentioned history and roots are pretentious names and playacting of events in Babylonian mythology in order to kill shit better. Rating: 2

The last bit is on Koldunic Sorcery and is another disappointment. Mostly because I have little actual knowledge of the belief system behind it and the book provides almost nothing to work with. Barely a page is devoted to the background, the rest of the section given over instead to five elemental paths which are grossly overpowered in many respects (the Way of Fire allows you to summon forth magma) and frustratingly vague in others (the entire Way of Spirit). Further, references to 'volcanoes found throughout Eastern Europe' suggest to me that the author hasn't really researched the area all that much, as I fail to find any reference to such. This would also explain the lack of any substantitive Koldunic background or philosophy. Rating: 1

The Appendix is fairly unremarkable. The first part deals with magical creations, like gargoyles, homonculi, blood brothers, and various sorts of zombies. Useful, but not particularly remarkable. The second part gives a one page 'splat' to two previously untouched revenant families. The first is the Ducheski, who defected to the Tremere during their war with the Tzimisce. The writeup is okay, but there isn't much to distinguish them from other revenants (same hangups, same problems, same isolation). Then we are given the Rafastio, who were touched upon briefly in the Storytellers Handbook. Here, we are given their disciplines and weakness, but not much is added beyond what was covered in the other book. Both of these revenant families, it should be noted, are dying off, which really makes them more of a footnote in vampiric affairs. Rating: 3

In the end, it is a real mixed bag. Some of the material I'll really use and is a great addition to the game. Some of it is a backwards step and should be discarded with prejudice. For Tremere fans, the good news is that almost all of the good stuff is in the majority of the book which deals with that clan and its pet discipline. For those looking for more meat on the other blood magic paths, I fear disappointment is the rule.

Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)