[$15.00] [20-Jan-95] (Mature readers)
This sourcebook for Mage: The Ascension explores the often neglected world of the mage's mortal partners, the Custos. It includes: rules for non-mage player characters, including a variety of ready-made acolytes; a mortal's eye-view of the Traditions, Technocracy, and Nephandi; and details about mystic crafts, cults, familiars, and more.
Capsule Review: "This isn't a book for reading. This is a book for laying down and avoiding."
Full Review: Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it does have its moments when you feel like throwing the book across the room in utter, utter frustration. The problems with this book seem to go to both ends of the spectrum, from poor layout to poor conception. Before I go any further, however, let me 'splain myself a bit.
I, more than most people, understand just how difficult a book like this can be to create. I tried to design my own hedge magick system, a way of empowering non-mages, without overpowering them. I understood that the system had to be as flexible as True Magick, and slaved to get it just right. When I heard that White Wolf was developing its own Hedge Magick system, I at first was miffed that someone had beat me to the punch, but eagerly awaited what they had come up with. Considering all the possible types of hedge magick, it should have been one heck of a ride.
As it was, I need not have bothered. The system was primitive in the extreme, and actually bothered to reference the hopelessly flawed system found in Hunters Hunted. What's worse, it wasn't even a system, but rather an agglomeration of "paths." Dribbles from the lips of greatness, I called it, and I still agree. What was called for, what was needed was some loose rules for creating your own paths, talking about what a "Level Three Power" means. A quick survey of the Paths introduced shows that they have no idea what it means. Instead, they seem to have thought up five kewl powers, and listed them in order of increasing potency. One can argue that this was useful, especially for those who don't have the time to develop the system themselves. But really, it wouldn't take that much effort establishing a system, and standing by it!
But that's not all that Ascension's Right Hand is about. It gives rules for running custos, the special helpers of Mages in the game. This can range anywhere from mortal friends and servants, who are quick with a gun, and skillful with a chamois, to familiars, to supernatural buddies, such as vampires, werewoves, etc. These custos could be as normal as all get out, or you could buy special powers, which vary from extra limbs to numina, which include psychic powers, True Faith, and hedge magick. However, flipping through the section, you got the sensation that you were passing through a poorly managed Quickie- Mart, with a twinkie going for $12.50, and a set of tires for $2.99. As any refugee of the Hero system will testify, balancing is hard, but they could have done it a wee bit better. I don't demand perfectly balanced rules. I do enjoy well thought out systems, no matter how open they seem.
So far, it's been rip-rip-rip, right? What's good about this little book, then? Well, this is where we leave the safety of the righteous review, and tread in dark waters. The answer is: all of the above are just spiffy, TO THE RIGHT PERSON. White Wolf has an incredibly diverse fandom, probably more diverse than they'd ever admit to. They need to appeal to a lot of tastes with each new product. The perfect example of this is Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand, which I loved to DEATH, and which certain folks at White Wolf despised as a manual for twinks. Ascension's Right Hand, then, did not appeal to me, but somewhere out there, I know this will be exactly what the doctor ordered. Some people like and need sourcebooks to have rules, some people love the theory, while others want everything spelled out for them. So realizing that this review is, on every level, highly subjective, we'll push on.
I like the spin this book put on the Mage game. It made me realize that even though a mage COULD get pretty damn powerful, chances are, he's not, and he needs normal people to save the day, normal people who don't give two damns about Ascension Wars and Horizon Realms. With this book, I would feel better about running a game consisting of Awakening people, a group slowly and surely becoming aware of the World of Darkness. I could do this definitely with Vampire, perhaps with Werewolf. Mage was normally out of the question, but now new possibilites are open. Not only that, but ideas are presented to make this option preferrable. Still, there's some serious problems. They seem to indicate that if you REALLY wanted to, you could build a vampire or shifter consor in this game, and screw Vampire and Werewolf's already well balanced system. But that's just not happening. The purchase system is way too capricious. One wonders why they even TRIED. There's too much needless cross references to other books. Why doesn't this book mesh well with the Familiar rules on Book of Shadows and Book of Madness? If you have a 5 in allies, how many freebies is that ally? What if DON'T own Hunter's Hunted? What about miracles, and non-Christian True Faiths? How about a little explaination? By cross-referring to another text, you're assuming all the flaws of that product onto your product, and no matter how kewl Hunter's Hunted was, it DESPERATELY needs a rewrite.
Most of all, though, I missed the theory. Mage is a wonderful game, well grounded in metaphysics. How do custos modify the mage's paradigm? How does hedge magick and true faith and numina work? You don't have to be specific. Heck, we'd prefer three different theories for each, thanks very much.
In the end, this book needed a LOT more work before it's ready to go out. Like a botched first edition, you could use it, but while flipping through it, you'd curse the flaws. The old spectres of dropped text, big blank spots (c'mon, guys! Fill them with conspiracy theories, or cookie recipes!), typos, and screw ups (Green Lantern and Kato) reared their ugly heads. Normally, they'd just annoy. Now? Now they hurt.