Ok, review incoming
Overall: I would have paid double for this issue and been considered it to be cheap. Keep this comment on mind when reading. Remember that you only criticise what has caught your eye, generally
The general layout has improved, and now it even includes colour images of the new supplements!
Storyguide’s Handbook: Visions
I have always had some problems dealing with visionary characters, both the passive dude that gets bouts of LSD visions when I fancy it and the dude that actively drinks flasks of LSD to get these same visions (the "active" visionary). This article helps in structuring visions that do not look like you (the SG) are high on LSD. For my taste it went a little bit overboard in some of the suggested uses, but the general article is solid. We are not huge fans of divination methods IMS, though, so I do not think I will be using this much. This is extremely saga dependent and I am sure other people will find uses for this.
The "this vision is not for you" bit has so much potential that I am bound to be using it.
The Spear of Longinus (adventure)
Nice adventure that pitches the characters in a quest for a certain spear that the title of the adventure barely mentions
The setting for the adventure is good for a starting Ars experience, but it is a little bit railroaded. OTOH, a railroaded adventure might be the thing to do in an uncontextualized introduction adventure. So in that role it is very good. However, it has some problems if you try to put it in your own saga, since the access to the Hermes Portal network is quite a need here. it can be reworked, though.
The adventure is straight and easy to do, but it has a pair of nice twists that make it really interesting. Hermetics stumbling into the classical heaven-hell conflict? Oh yeah, baby. I would run this adventure at a convention for introductory players, even of some background on how the covenants interact with each other and about the politics of the OoH are important to have.
I specially liked the "other followers of Christ" bit. Insightful.
The Juno: protector of women (creature)
A nice spirit of protection and vengeance for mistreated women. A good creature that can bring fun to your saga. My only criticism here is that being tied to humans so much it looks like a Faerie creature more than a Magical one, but hey. The story seeds are cool. You do not need to be a serial rapist to have this creature presented to you, and you can even interact with it without being its target. I find this later part specially interesting. Bargaining with a spirit of vengeance (well, more or less) is always cool
Grand Tribunal 2011 (pre-event hype)
It is an information and pre-event hype. I ended up cursing you all (beware: I can develop the Hex ability easily since I do not have any supernatural talents yet) who will be able to assist. so yes, it did its job.
The Unicorn's Ransom (adventure)
A really cool adventure. I liked it a lot. It can be used as an introductory story ,like the spear of longinus, but it has a much more easily adaptable setting (IMHO, YMMV as usual ). The fact that the thing mixes mundane politics and long term events (both mundane and supernatural) into the conclusions makes it even better for me. it is not a "filler adventure", but one with meat behind it, both if it is a success or if it is a failure. It is also easy to see how you can fail miserably on purpose and get on top of things with some political manoeuvring. It can also be solved in a multiplicity of ways, so it is a straight adventure, but one that encourages the openness of the system for me. It can range from a high powered battle with archmages to an adventure solved by grogs alone (well, not only grogs if you want to solve it using pure muscle) depending ion what approach you take. The enemies and allies you develop here will accompany you through a good many years of your saga.
Darren Miguez (Vrylakos) is certainly someone with a knack for writing this kind of stuff, and I look forward to read more pieces by this author . One is never satisfied with his own work, but I found this adventure to be good and easily adaptable.
I also liked a lot the drawing of the magus and the giant. It is one of those drawing that brings forward what "size +4" means.
Companion Piece: Intisar abd al-Quadir Fazim, the Elemental healer (long-named character)
Besides having a name that is difficult to write down, let alone pronounce correctly, this is a water elementalist healer (yeah, like it is said in the title, I am this smart).
I found it to be a really good character when it comes to story building. As a story hook this guy is quite good. There is enough info to build a whole saga around this guy if you want to use it as a PC.
However, I was looking forward to reaching this part of the ezine, since Elementalists are the characters that I have the most problems dealing with and understanding how to use effectively. This chapter did not solve my doubts The story hooks are very well thought of, and the character is well designed, but everything deals on how he evolves spiritually and how he uses his medicine skills, but mostly mundanely. The current write-up is amazing as extra pages to be included in Hedge Magic, but do not give much extra info on how to use a "useful" or interesting dude that does bring stuff that a normal Salerno doctor would not provide. At least this was my impression. It is a kind of "decaffeinated" supernatural practitioner: he could do 90% of his stuff without being a supernatural practitioner....
The potential of his supernatural abilities is mostly glossed over in a sidebar. I found that disappointing. I think that Elementalists are the "ugly girl" in Hedge Magic. You only need to check what is talked on in the Atlas Forums to see they are the least talked over Hedge tradition, mostly because we do not really understand how they should work, I think. Something to make them more interesting would have been useful to me. I am a lover of the underdogs, after all
Rereading this, it sounds harsher than I wanted it to be. Sorry
From the Journal of Vulcanis Argens (fluff)
An interesting piece showing that things are not black or white even if you know the exact answers. Knowledge does not determine the correct path of action here. Interesting. The story seems truncated, though. I do not know if this is a "to be continued" ending or a "woops! we forgot a page!" ending. A good read in semi-journal/semi-"letter to Self" format.
Companion Piece: Adrastos of Candia
You are always the good guys? Are you sure? Well, here comes an annoying Greek to put you in the rightful place when it comes to moral ethics. A kind of "converted" Greek priest: he used to be a normal guy doing his priestly job, now he is a Fanatic of God. Not one that will immolate himself in the name of the superior being, but that by his very nature will try to show you that you are a jackass for doing innocent stuff like mass murder, desiring the vis sources of your neighbours and stealing. And doing so without even needing to criticise you directly, only acting by being an example. A really good chap that would make most of the unsavoury people in my covenant push him down a cliff at the first opportunity.
As mentioned in the write-up it is a moral character. His strength is in showing you (your character) how weak your ethics are. For stories dealing with good and evil he is a great guy. It is the dude that is so good that makes you ashamed of yourself. He is a driven character, though, and that can bring his own duplicitous morals sometimes. If morals and good-evil stories is something you like, make sure you find this guy in town.
I found it quite god the suggestion in the end (the 200-mile distance one) since it would be a blow to the character after all this hardship. One that can make him stronger in the end, or smite him. In general the "buts" in this story are really refreshing and cool, after reading a guy that is basically above the pettiness of humankind.
Mappa Mundi (Ars Magica in the Internet)
A really good guide if the main internet Ars sites. I missed the Ars wiki link, but besides that a good list
Hope you liked it.
PSD: do I get my free Sub Rosa #7?