Word of the Fates
Reviewed by Josh Roby
Three out of Seven Fatimas
Word of the Fates
by Christopher J. Gunning, David M. Jacobs, Jason P. Prince
Page count: 128
I fear I must begin this review with the following word: Mediocre. Where the Word of the Fates could be filled to bursting with myth, mystery and mystique, it instead suffers from poor characterization, irrelevant plot elements, overpowered game mechanics and all the other weaknesses I have come to expect from other game lines. In a word, mediocre.
Which is not to say that the book is worthless -- far from it. The Yagans are drawn with a deft hand, the Magdalite intrigues are labyrinthine and devious, and the Evans... well. They can run for days, apparently. Of course, when one can run from Westholm to Bazaar (which measures about 30 clicks, about the same distance as the Olympic marathon) in a couple hours, Zbri attacks notwithstanding, one wonders where these Evans are running to. Inconsistencies from the minor to the monstrous, both in setting and in theme, cripple what could have been an incredible book.
The Pulse is Faint: The Word of Magdalen
I have always found it ironic that of all the Tribes, Magdalens is the least vibrant to my eye. Magdalen sort of loses coherence as she simultaneously tries to be one of the enigmatic, obscure and elusive Fates as well as being the hip and present twenty-something demigoddess. She gets lost in the shuffle between Baba Yaga and Dahlia, always trying to be both at the same time and not achieving either. Her Tribe seems to have the same problem, listlessly following after their Fatimas identity crisis. Sadly, where David Jacobs, the author of the Word of Magdalen, should have brought the most vibrant Tribe to life for me, he only gave me information.
The Word of Magdalen has as many good points as bad. On the positive side, the Magdalites stranglehold on power within the Nation is explained in a plausible way consistent with the theme of Tribe 8. Their economy is based on prostitution and drug trafficking, and their place in the Nation is assured by the secrets they know. While it might be difficult to argue that the Magdalites are essential to Tribal society, it is certain that they have an iron grip that will assure they remain a fixture, needed or not. Their search for Truth rivals the Tera Shebans obsession for fact and befits their Fatimas inclusion in the Fates, which has always mystified me. I also greatly appreciated the sections describing Magdalites lost to addiction and hedonism; all too often writers of splatbooks overlook the failures and drawbacks of their given group, which is a pity since the underside of society is often more telling than the obvious facade presented to outsiders.
Most of the above is given in plain, workaday descriptions as Anshar Demorion gives Mareta Deanakin an orientation to her own Tribe. Magdalite children are raised by Evans, away from the adults, which frankly makes the tribal societys stability questionable at best: if their children are raised Evan, they will not turn into Magdalites overnight. Anshar also explains how the Maskers, a guild of dancers and performers, keep alive a tradition of assassination techniques within the steps of their dances. Why they are not members of the Bloodied Roses, the assassins guild, is not explained. The information David detailed was intricate and well thought out, but its presentation was neither intriguing nor alluring, two qualities that the Magdalites should have in spades. For all the work he put into his monster, he never gave it the spark of life that distinguishes a walking talking breathing feeling tribe from mere clay.
Swiss Army Knife of the Nation: Word of Eva
Chris Gunnings portrayal of the Evans was, if nothing else, enthusiastic. He describes the Tribe of the Mother with the vibrancy that Davids Magdalites lack, and the entire section is based on a strong and well defined sense of the Tribes identity. What is unfortunate is that I find that identity almost completely implausible and at odds with the setting and theme of Tribe 8 as a whole.
Citing that Evan settlements are often far-flung from Bazaar and the Tribe is often out of touch with the rest of the Nation, Chris concluded that they have had to do for themselves without the support of their Tribal brethren. While this is not too implausible, the fact that the Evans have not only done for themselves, but kicked ass and taken names in every field they dabbled in, is ridiculous. Let us take the Nannies as a prime example. These hardy souls stand guard over the Evan fields and workers, and can fight for hours on end and run for days without tiring. With their BLD+2, FIT+3, STA 45 and their Melee skill of 2/0, they can also trounce the typical Joanite (BLD+1, FIT+1, STA 30, Melee 2/0, Companion p112) hands down. The only advantage the Joanite has is (typically) better equipment. Now, when the Dahlians and Magdalites are subjects of scorn, the Agnites are to be patronized and the Yagans rites and rituals are disgusting, why do the Evans remain in the Nation at all: they certainly dont need the other Tribes.
Where Word of Magdalen reveals where Magdalites fail and the darker side of their natures, Word of Eva is nothing but praise for every aspect of Evan society. They have no doubts and no regrets, nor does the Tribe ever make mistakes. Storm Cry, depicted in Vimary as a Shaman rallying rural Tribals against the Fallen, is a member of the Shaman Lodge, but every other member of the Lodge knows he is a selfish blowhard. The Shamans apparently cannot be fooled. The Tribe of Eva also practices rituals of rebirth and purification, leaving the participants spiritually clean and restored. Apparently the Evans do not miss Mary the Forgiver, Fatima of Purity, as the other Tribes do. While were on the subject of Mary, another jewel from Word of Eva is the revelation that the main character is a Marion. The revelation serves no purpose, nor does she change in any appreciable manner. Why was it included?
Word of Evas subtitle, A Nation within a Nation is sadly appropriate: I can see no reason why the Evans remain with their Tribal brethren. The Tribe has no discernible weaknesses, frailties or problems, and when presented with a grueling life changing revelation, do not suffer. The archetypes listed in the resources are overpowered, and the aspect Euthanize, basically Smother without requiring the Dreamer to touch the target, has no place in Tribe 8. I must conclude that Chris was writing for some other game, one whose slogan is something other than Blood and Sacrifice.
The Deft Touch of Fate: Word of Baba Yaga
The material incarnation of death and fate whispers secrets while rooting through a pile of bones cached in a decaying mortuary. The society of men and women devoted to her worship retain a calm exterior of self-assured knowledge even as they hide their own doubts, uncertainties and fears. What it feels to be a Yagan is masterfully portrayed through the eyes and in the head of the main character, Robyn Verkin, as she completes the final stretch of her coming-of-age apprenticeship. Where Davids portrayal of the Magdalites was heavy on detail and light on feel, Jasons Yagans, while light on details, revealed a voluptuous depiction of what it is to be a servant and worshipper of Death.
I admit I would have liked more detail on the occult systems of the Tribes of the Fates throughout the book, and the Yagans especially. It is all well and good to say that the Mordred witch-kin know the most potent curses, but when one plays one, it would be nice to know what powers and knowledge they call on to do so. The Mordred, I might mention, are one of the few discrepancies I took issue with in the Yagan section. Somehow, between the Rulebook and Word of the Fates, the Mordred go from being witch-kin and feared sorcerers to being... guards. Talk about a demotion. On the whole, however, Jasons Yagans displayed an intriguing and thoroughly disturbing complexity.
It is hard to expound on the Word of Baba Yaga without falling into the feel and mood which permeates the section. It would be easy, for instance, to write Understood by no one, feared by all, the Yagans follow a lonely path with little company
The zeitgeist of the Tribe is well-developed, and stands out as the most prominent and most finely-crafted aspect of both this section as well as the book as a whole. In addition to Yagan headspace, however, there are excellent portrayals of diving into the River of Dream, contrasts between the Yagan respect (or obsession) of Death with the Evan respect (or obsession) of Life, and character concepts in the Resources section that provide, not walking combat machines for PCs to encounter, but starting points from which players can begin the process of character creation.
If you want to play a Yagan or Fallen of Yagan descent, the Word of Baba Yaga is an essential tool to show the thoughts and neuroses of the Tribe. If you thought the Yagans were disturbing on the outside, just wait till you find out what goes on inside; and if you were scared of them, perhaps take some comfort in the fact that they hold eachother in just the same distrust, and fear is one of the things that keeps the Tribe together.
Maiden, Mother, Crone: Putting Things Together
Unfortunately, one of the things that I was really looking forward to was overlooked: how the three Fates and their tribes stick together to form the most powerful and adamantine faction in the Nation. The tribal perspectives were not enough to show the political interdependencies, and the book as a whole was lacking a unified feel that would explain why and how three Fatimas of sometimes vastly different outlooks and aspects find so much in common with one another. This is no doubt due the the books trio of authors, each with different themes and concerns, rather than one author with one vision that had three (or preferably more) facets.
As a gaming resource, Word of the Fates comes across as a moderately useful, but by no means essential, book. The Magdalite and Yagan resources sections provide a number of ways to involve these Tribes into your campaign, some of them obvious, some of them promising. Evan involvement spells quick death to any plot, as the insurmountable Tribe that can do anything and do it well cannot be bested or circumvented, only marvelled at. Gaming resources have two sides, however, one for Weavers and one for players, and the resources made available to players are a trifle poorer. Little is added to the Magdalites or Evans that could not be easily extrapolated from the basic information in the Rulebook, and few new character concepts are presented. The book will make it easier to get into the heads of Yagans, and a few new concepts, such as Daemonseekers and Bonecrafters, offer a few new options to players.
The Tribes of the Fates, enigmatic and occult, are presented -- and not presented -- with varying degrees of skill and style. After this treatment, however, the Fates remain enigmatic: Word of the Fates presented too little information in too loose a manner to give these Tribes the definition they deserve. While the book may indeed prove useful, utility is not its sole purpose, and the book lagged behind the Rulebook and Vimary in terms of holistic quality and worthwhile addition to the game world. This is not surprising given the foundation books mastered crafting, but we should at least hope that new Tribe 8 sourcebooks can keep up with the flagships.