Game: Arcana: Societies of Magic
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 13th, January 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Hmm. Um. I’m not entirely sure what to make of Arcana – Societies of Magic. I liked the book, it was well written, conceived and presented but I’m not entirely sure of just how much use it will get. The book needs a little thought and the more I think, the more it grows on me.
I have the tendency not to like pre-written adventures because they, in turn, tend to be rather too linear for my tastes. There are exceptions, Interludes: Brief Expeditions to Bluffside is certainly not linear and Of Places Most Foul just oozes value for money. Societies of Magic is not a pre-written adventure but it certainly is a campaign supplement.
The book presents six different groups of people with different takes on magic. It’s more than just six different magical cults, though. The Dragon Gang, for example, is an organised society of thieves with an actual dragon patriarch.
I got the pre-written adventure feel as I started to read through the book as the authors developed their first arcane society, introduced the key non-playing characters and set out the group’s motives. Rather than then going on to detail an adventure in the setting and with the NPCs the authors jotted down some possible plot hooks and then, well, then they started on the next of the different societies.
So it continues, each society, in turn, is explained in detail, being presented with some vague idea of how a GM might be able to use them in their game and sometimes things like appropriate prestige classes are introduced.
Actually, that’s probably the best way to do a prestige class. I’m increasingly fed up with the throwaway prestige class that seems to be increasingly popular.
In other books, you might find details for a one of a kind encounter with a spooky cleric in an out of the way temple and sure as fire’s hot you’ll find that this isn’t any ordinary cleric but a brand new prestige class.
A better idea, the Societies of Magic approach, would be to put the effort into explaining the different world-view and teaches of some strange cult, create enough information as to why wizards from it would be significantly different from the normal wizard type and then, finally, suggest the prestige class. I think it is this, for me, that moves Arcana: Societies of Magic up from the “pretty good: 6/10” to the “good: 7/10” score.
The societies tend to be on the powerful side. I was disappointed at first since I was hoping for something on the nitty-gritty side but after I’d put the book down and had some more time for thought I can see why all six of the groups were fairly powerful.
For a start, there’s less scope in a minnow society, besides a group of low powered characters can be introduced to the fringes of the society and as the campaign draws out they can, if they want, get more involved. It’s that “if they want” that makes buying the book worthwhile.
If you don’t want to make the magical society the main thrust of your game (in which case, I suppose, you’d create your own) these six societies are here to save the GM a lot of work – a lot of potentially wasted work.
For example, if your players don’t get curious as to why the local thieves guild were so successful in being able to track down a rare magical potion then you won’t have wasted the time detailing the Dragon Gang yourself, if the players do get curious and ask some questions, then you’ve got your answers and if the players get so involved that they start to actively investigate, try and join or try and defeat the group then the book should have enough information to keep you steady for a while.
On the other hand, you might argue against that and say that you’ve got just enough to whet your player’s appetite but not enough to give them a meal.
The book itself, the actual physical book, is pretty good. A rather spooky front and back cover hold between them 64 sides of paper. The side margin is given over to the name of the society currently being studied rather than some pictures of skulls or a clever shelf trick.
Game mechanics are often presented as white text on a black background and since some of the mechanics can extend into a new prestige class or a list of items you can find yourself facing a double spread of black pages. There are a few maps in the book too and I’m pleased to say that they’re actually useful maps that depict complex connections of rooms and not just a single square room with a table in the centre.
Overall, I would recommend the book if you are about to run a large campaign (or if you’re already in one) and you need to concentrate on your core plot but don’t want to sacrifice quality elsewhere.
My own personal recommendation is that you don’t pick up the book expecting to get six different “hold-my-hand” style of pre-written adventures because they’re simply not there. They’re not supposed to be there either.
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