|Written by Beth Fischi|
The Sandmen Guildbook's like most of the others of its ilk, with the history, new abilities, templates, etc.
The history is complete, and goes as far as Classical Greece in its origins, and (to appease the non-Eurocentrics here) suggests that it was developed in other cultures at the same time (no great amount of detail, though, just hooks). More importantly, it also says that the Sandmen have NOT always been actors, and furthermore says that not all of them are. Instead, it gave a gradual evolution of the Guild becoming actors, since Phantasm's use was often originally used for morality plays and the like.
What most impressed me was the fact that, for once, White Wolf didn't do a direct rip-off of the Sandman comic, which must have been difficult not to do given the topic. While there are references to the comic (such as the description of truly powerful Sandmen, the tools of the trade, and the claim that Orpheus may have been one of the first of the Guild), they are only references and nothing major. They also went the entire book without saying the words "Freddy Krueger." Congrats, guys ;>
The Sandmen's place in Shadowland society is explored in depth; some Sandmen are merely actors, while others use their talents for plots to Machiavellian use (a term unfortunately being used far too often in WW, BTW). Some Sandmen are Heretics, delving into their traditional role as teachers to mortals. Others ride dreams for fun. Mostly, though, they are Renegades. Apparently, Phantasm does violate the Code of Charon, but there's little evidence that the Code's been broken unless the investigator uses Phantasm himself (and, by association, announced himself to be a Sandman). This was the reason the Guild was officially disbanded by Charon (unofficially, however...).
Details are given on the Pagaents of the Sandmen, wherein they entertain either themselves or an audience (mortal or otherwise). Though it never directly says it, the similarity between the Pagaents and Harrowings are noticable, and the effects of a malignant Pagaent are theoretically the same. The fact that the Sandmen do everything they can to hunt down their Spectral counterparts furthers this notion. The Sandmen know well the power of dreams.
There are also the usual asides in the book, offset from the bulk. They vary in value, from prep knowledge that most psyche students will know (the kinds of sleep) to the Sandmen's deepest, most important secret (the Dream Ring). With the exception of a single box of sleep trivia, all of these have direct importance to the book.
Also important is how the Sandmen view the other Awakened in the WoD, wherein forbidden pacts with mortal mages are detailed; the query of the relation a certain Garou Totem may have to the whole of the Guild; the effects of a lunatic vampire on dreamcraft; the explanation of Dream-Pits and why the Changelings fear the Sandmen. This section was clearly written with crossover plots in mind.
The new powers are mostly variations on the old (with the quite notable exception of Mending). Most important of the exploration of Phantasm is the realization of who the real master of dreams is (ironically, the most dangerous use of Phantasm may be a level one art). The new artifacts are useful to the Guild (though, for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would claim a Mirror of Memory). The templates are fewer than I'm used to, but are also higher quality, with the characters actually baring little similarity to each other aside from the use of Phantasm. Finally, the Big Players list off some famous Sandmen, not including Rasputin. These bios are detailed and would make excellent basis for NPCs in any Wraith campaign.
As an aside, there's a reason for non-Wraith players to be interested: in the history section, there's a somewhat Sandmen-centric view of how the world was created, and it's got nothing to do with the Triat and Gaia.
The book is excellently done, with no obvious flaws of real severity. The Sandmen are balanced, with their power neither making them gods nor weaklings. Litterally dozens of potential plots are suggested, and very few of them overtly (meaning, yes, STs CAN let their players read!). I'm glad I bought this book, and I'm planning to buy Artificers as well now, though I swore off the Clanbooks last year. All involved should be proud of themselves, as the Sandmen book defies all of the traditional prejudices held against White Wolf.