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Mage Translation Guide
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Todd V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/27/2013 19:29:30
This is the second version of my review, after giving it some thought.

I still feel this came out to be a mediocre product, honestly. The price may be right for some, but running down...

The interiors are pretty. It's a pretty book.
The conversions of the major "splats" for each gameline are fairly simple and not anything most hack-minded people couldn't come up with themselves, aside from a mildly interesting take on the Avatar background as a Merit (it alters certain aspects of your Gnosis).
There are simple rules for Ascension's customized foci as a replacement for Awakening's High Speech and brass chalices. They're workable, though I found the Magical Styles system provided in the Mage Chronicler's Guide to be a more effective system for unique magical methodologies. There are rules for beefing up rotes in Ascension to the level of Awakening's rote spells, which were satisfying.
A lot of rules are, effectively, copy-pasted from one gameline to the other with minor tweaks, and again, aren't anything somebody already inclined to hack two gamelines like this couldn't figure out on their own: Legacies for Ascension, the aspects (vulgar/not) of magic, and (glaringly) the translation between Arcana and Spheres and the Paradox systems (Awakening's Paradox systems converted to Ascension fare a little better than their counterpart). This is by design, but the effect fell flat for me.
Certain other rules are so vague as to be almost superfluous, such as those for Marauders and the Mad.
The translation of cosmologies and invisible worlds fares well, as does the translation of spirits and the introduction of the Tremere Liches to Ascension, which I think hold a lot of potential.

Overall, a lot of the major features one would come to this book for, I feel, can be done without it just using the twin Mage corebooks and a little spit and polish. (Do not actually spit on your books.) I can't really recommend it, but your mileage may vary.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mage Translation Guide
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World of Darkness: The God-Machine Chronicle
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Todd V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/01/2013 12:09:09
Buildings move on secret tracks at night. Complicated constructs of gears can be briefly glimpsed hovering over the Autobahn. Men emerge from graffiti tags to forcibly separate two Seattles.

If you have the World of Darkness core rulebook, this book is two-fifths of a major rules overhaul and rebalancing, and three-fifths a guidebook to running adventures centered around the God Machine, detailed in the popular core rulebook fiction about the Pain Prophet of New Delhi.

If you don't have the World of Darkness core rulebook, you will require the basics of the nWoD system to run the God Machine Chronicle, but so much is replaced, and in such thorough detail that the books need not be cross-referenced, that the Nightmare on Hill Manor free quickstart will effectively do fine to supply that; almost everything needed on the fly is in the God Machine Chronicle book.

The God Machine is universe as malfunctioning clockwork. There is some manner of gestalt entity, composed of worldly "infrastructure" (ranging from buildings to machines to organizations of people) and bizarre "angels" (which may be anything from spiritual beings in human form to lion-headed serpents or mirror-sculpted vultures), working to some grand design which requires countless occult plans that feed into each other, wheels within wheels. While the existential dread of Lovecraftian overgod stories is present, the book does a good job of presenting how players, even on smaller scales, can still achieve victories and thwart the overgod's plans. The overgod is explicitly fallible; many of the adventure hooks, indeed, are results of the God Machine's plans going awry and setting off unforeseen consequences.

The chronicle section of the book is organized into an excellent extended Introduction, packed with short but punchy story hooks; a strong chapter of general Storytelling advice; a chapter of individual, modular adventures divided between Local, Regional, Global and Cosmic scale; and a rogues' gallery chapter consisting of NPCs and antagonistic God Machine angels mostly provided to supplement the previous chapter's adventures. The adventures, which form the centerpiece of the prepared chronicle, largely continue the blue book line's theme of frightening mystery, and can largely be used even isolated from the overall God Machine concept; indeed, I felt the chronicle felt less immersive the more assumptions were made about how much the player characters knew about the God Machine and its workings and interconnections. The adventures are short to the point of largely being premises. Rather than full adventure paths to walk characters through, they're situations the players may find themselves caught up in. The scope of the Global and Cosmic scale adventures is sometimes harmed by this lack of detail; the This Is Hell adventure especially feels insubstantial and lacking necessary detail.

The remainder of the book is a large Appendix consisting, effectively, of the Storytelling System, second edition. The rules overhaul is mostly positive. The anachronistic Gothic Morality system, where mental illness was caused by being a bad person, is replaced by Integrity, which is a less strictly defined system gauging mental stability and loses the "derangements" of the previous system. Introduced are Conditions, which are somewhat overspecific and unwieldy, but tie into the new experience system and Integrity, and boil down to a more explicit form of hanging modifier. The new experience system provides a reason to make dramatic failures, vanishingly rare in the old system, more frequent; players can voluntarily exacerbate rolled failures into dramatic failures in exchange for experience currency. Merits from all over the World of Darkness, including certain supernatural abilities from Second Sight and miscellaneous Merits from other game line supplements, are presented with updated rules, notably getting rid of some overpowered mechanics like the multiple attacks granted by certain Fighting Style Merits. The Storytelling System update gives a full accounting of every mechanic updated, rather than cross-referencing the core rulebook and only printing that which is changed, massively cutting down on any need to jump between the two books.

Of note in the Appendix are the new rules presented for ephemera. The World of Darkness core rulebook has rules for ghosts. That was nice, but always felt to me insufficient to run the esoteric brushes with the supernatural the setting demanded; the rest of the book presented a setting much more varied than a series of ghost stories. The God Machine Chronicle unites the ghost rules with rules for spirits (animistic predators from beyond the veil) and God Machine angels. This addition finally gives the World of Darkness blue book a feeling of a good baseline to work from without having to purchase more specific monster books. The expanded presentation of Numen powers for the ephemera to use is also appreciated. Less useful is the new system for ephemeral manifestation, which keys into specifically defined Conditions and complicated enough that it is presented with a flowchart. Conditions really don't feel designed to be used this way, and it's all unwieldy and probably best elided. The manifestation rules weren't great in the original rulebook either, though, so perhaps that's a wash.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
World of Darkness: The God-Machine Chronicle
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Shards of the Exalted Dream
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Todd V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/22/2012 20:22:24
Four detailed alternate settings for Exalted, including one that uses a greatly simplified and completely new martial arts-based combat engine. Support for modern and futuristic technology out of place in Exalted's usual fantasy setting. Rules hacks to simplify Sidereal astrology and moderate the effects of Abyssal Resonance. Charms for the King of the Primordials before his fetich death.

I'll say more, but chances are you can decide whether to buy this book on that paragraph alone. This is something of a niche product, and if you came to Exalted for its unique and detailed setting, you might not be interested. (Although Gunstar Autochthonia, the first of the alternate settings, hews fairly close to the tone of Exalted's standard setting, if high on the magitech action.) If you want to divert from the standard setting, Shards might be what you need.

Gunstar Autochthonia is the standout surprise from the book, an alternate history where the Exalted Host lost the Primordial War. A militarized microcosm of the First Age now plays out within the fleeing body of Autochthon, while enduring sabotage attacks from Infernal forces and mysterious intervention from an Abyssal third party. This is easily the setting that feels the most Exalted out of the four, though it won't appeal to those looking for lower-scale swords and sorcery tales.

Heaven's Reach is a space opera where humanity's advanced technology is the origin of both the Exalted cores and the Stellar Intelligences who were defeated and rendered into Tomb-Stars and Yozis, where Solar Exalted rise in frontier worlds on the edge of the hegemonic Central Empire ruled by His Divine Lunar Presence. It left me cold; it felt like an exercise in transferring, renaming and reskinning the various elements of Exalted into a science-fiction milieu in the most prosaic ways. Others' mileage may vary.

Burn Legend is the freshest material in the book, a setting that diverges massively from standard Exalted. For one, it happens on Earth. For a second, the various "Exalted" aren't the chosen of the gods, but martial artists who've honed ki power from spiritual lineages, dark pacts, lifelong training in secret arts, or sheer determination. That might sound like a turn-off, but I greatly enjoyed the very different feel of the Exalted in this setting, who feel much more flexible and versatile narratively. Burn Legend uses a completely different system from standard Exalted, a David Sirlin-esque mindgame of emergent complexity where numbers come into play, but the most essential element of battle is predicting your opponent's technique and choosing a counter move to shut it down. I found Burn Legend's system to be a fun diversion appropriate for one-shots and short arcs, but while the system is easy to learn, the mindgame is taxing enough that longer campaigns might prove exhausting. That may not be too much of a problem, as Burn Legend is also the least detailed setting of the four, with fewer grand setting mysteries or wide-spanning hooks to hang an entire campaign on.

The Modern Age took time for me to warm to, but I follow it enough. It's essentially a spy thriller where Solars and Alchemicals new to the world are on the run from a world-spanning conspiracy of the Exalted Host. The setting resembles Earth more than it does Creation, despite using names like Meruvia and An-Teng, but there are some nice touches, like a less immediate and more transcendent view of the nature of the Yozis. It could have done a better job of conveying the thriller atmosphere it means to present, but it's a solid enough setting to run in. I expect that most people looking for a Modern Exalted will swipe the Drive and Firearms rules from the appendix and mostly run things in Earth instead, though.

Players of regular Exalted games looking for rules hacks alone probably shouldn't look to this book, as hacks that could be implemented in the standard Exalted setting are few. What is there is good; simplified Sidereal astrology is not only easier to run but more thematically appropriate, and the Doom of the Black Exaltation, while hewing a bit too close to being a Limit Break painted black, is a more playable level of curse for Abyssal players. The Charms of the King of the Primordials could also fit into a standard Exalted game if some appropriate plot device were employed, for Infernal fans. The chase rules presented aren't setting-specific, though I found them more complicated than they needed to be. Unless you want guns in your game, that's about it. But I know people like their guns.

Overall, more of this book is good than not, and some of it is excellent. The question is whether the reader is looking for it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shards of the Exalted Dream
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The Broken-Winged Crane
Publisher: White Wolf
by Todd V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/12/2010 06:55:19
This book completes Infernals.

Here's what you get: half a page of nice fluff on the Broken-Winged Crane, the in-game book of inauspicious prophecy. Four pages of Infernal hearthstones, making this the first publication of Infernal-aspected hearthstones besides maybe two of them in Scroll of Exalts. A new Background which raises the in-game support behind loyalist Infernal Exalted, sort of a counterpart to what Abyssals get in the Liege Background. The truth behind the length of Infernal lifespan. 24 pages of additional Charms for the five caste patron Yozis. 11 pages of the Kimbery Charms that were promised in a sidebar in the Infernals hardback, including her Excellency and General Charms, as well as her Urge, Torment and Act of Villainy. (Spread across those pages of Yozi Charms is one new Shintai Charm for each Yozi except the Ebon Dragon.) 7 pages of Heretical Charms, an entirely new type of Infernal Charm exclusive to the Green Sun Princes. Scattered among the Infernal Charms presented in this book are important mechanical technology for Infernals to keep pace both with content released since their hardback book and content that existed long before their hardback was released. Much (but not all) of the Heretical technology presented exists at the high end of practical in-game play and permits Infernals to achieve unprecedented effects, forging a personally defined Infernal Charmset, altering the nature of their own Exaltation, and expanding to contain souls and worlds. In total, including the front and back cover, 52 pages of dense content.

That's for five bucks.

This is a very pretty book, probably one of the most visually attractive Exalted books. The front and back cover are gorgeous continuations of the tarnished motif began on the Infernals hardback cover. All of the art assets are taken from preexisting Exalted products, but the recalibration of coloring to a faint green and the effects against which they are juxtaposed make you look at them a little differently, and the effect is nice.

The Charms presented range from low to higher power, from a simple Essence 2 Malfeas Charm with one Charm prerequisite to digest anything you eat that isn't indestructible (Matter-Eater Lad), to an Essence 5 Cecelyne Charm with twelve Charm prerequisites that transforms you into an immaterial presence spanning a mile across that turns everything it passes over into desert. (This and other Charms of similar showiness and power, as well as the new Infamy background, are nice fodder for Storytellers who wish to use Yozis, akuma or Infernal Exalted as antagonists, as well as Infernal players who like the Grand Theft Yeddim mode of wild unleashed power.) Charm repurchases extend the breadth of effects. Most of the Heretical Charms presented (but not all; they go as low as Essence 2, making Heretical an available avenue for Infernals from the start) skew higher, hovering almost entirely around Essence 6 (note that this supplement introduces a General Yozi Charm to break the age cap on raising Essence by one tier, permitting Essence 6 at any age) with a shorter coda that quickly ramps up to Essence 10. The Essence 6 tree effectively tells the story of why the Infernal Exalted should be feared and in what way they have the potential to eventually exceed the Yozis that spawned them, and contains effects that active online fans have been eagerly anticipating and that might take less active fans by surprise. Making your own personal Charmset, as if you were a Yozi with your own thematics, is in here. So are making your own Urge, Torment, Caste and Act of Villainy, disconnecting your Exaltation from the Yozi control mechanism, containing an alien inner world to travel to and shape as you will, and at the high end, growing third circle demon souls of your own without the drawback of vulnerability to fetich death. This tree effectively answers the question of why Infernals cannot redeem in the way Abyssals can redeem themselves into Solars; because Infernals instead, at the high end, redefine the nature of their own power. In this respect, the running theme of the Broken-Winged Crane is the lack of foresight shown by the Yozis in their genesis and an expansion of Infernal themes beyond the tight focus on Yozi loyalists in their hardback, expanding support to renegades, whether their intent is to ally with Creation or simply rule or wreak havoc in their own right and on their own terms.

This supplement is especially geared towards fans who were attracted to Infernals by the way their Charm descriptions, structures and mechanics illustrate and define their flavor; there is very little in this supplement of just straight-out fluff unrelated to Charms or mechanics, but the Charms and mechanics are almost universally stuffed with fluff in their descriptions and nature. There is also very little in this supplement relevant to a game that does not involve the Yozis, akuma, or Infernal Exalted in any way, either as players or NPCs, protagonists, antagonists or supporting cast. (Although mechanics for the Charms could be altered, reflavored and repackaged for other purposes, and the Infernal hearthstones can be claimed as spoils of war.) If your game involves the forces of Hell, however, I absolutely recommend this book unless you're too strapped for cash for leisure purchases. It's just five dollars, though. It's pretty affordable, and so dense in content that, after this book, Infernal Exalted effectively want for no further content. They feel complete now.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Broken-Winged Crane
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