It has been a long time but now it is here. One full year since issue 19. It may have been the longest period ever. I just checked, it wasn't according my chart because issue 6 was in december 2010 and 5 in june 9. Second. Not that bad so anyway.
A general note, this issue has a new system for the margins on the right/left side of the page, where is marked the "type" of article you are reading: scenario, bestiary, fiction, setting, rules, character or editorial. It is probably meant to help. Since I'm mostly reading the pdf version on a screen I find it harder to always have visible, but on paper it is more useful (I read some articles in the subway coming back from work).
I have read it and I just wanted to share my review, in case it may help someone to decide to buy it.
So[size=150] Subrosa #20 [/size]here we go.
I liked a lot the introduction - Under the rose - because it introduced the theme with appeal.
My first intrigued eyebrow was while reading the second page, Tales from gencon, a novelty - replacing the now extinct Direct from atlas which was about new books, but since there aren't new books,... Ben did speak about a bigger surprise, and I'm really wondering what it may be. I think it may be bigger than an actual sub rosa future issue, and I hope it will be related to the real atlas game books. Maybe a new book, or tribunal books everyone always wanted to have converted in 5th edition ("crowd funded book"). That's my hope, but still I don't know. Remember, secrets and lies? I hope this is more about secrets and less about lies because Ben's words got me excited. Anyway, direct message towards Ben: when that project will be about, please, do not only advertize on those social media I dislike. Advertize here too, and why not, by mail to every subrosa buyer. I wouldn't mind to support it (expecting the crowdfunding to be available not only from the states... because we European like Ars magica too, but do not like heavy shipping fees ).
After this, my enthousiasm was raising, since I was already enthousiast from the beggining, when we heard the next issue was about secrets and lies. I would just quote myself from one year ago (february 2017 when I reviewed the subrosa #19): "There is no mappa mundi this time and we will certainly have a difficult time the next time, to decipher the lies and secrets which will lie in the next issue... hoping that it will not be in one year, because one year is (too) long!"
I'm a psychic. A futur psychic like Elan would say in the Order of the stick!
So next piece is from Gerald Wylie, the "academician" of the subrosa if I may say. He analyzes spontaneous magic, and gives tips about how you could improve your character about it, and how to consider spontaneous magic in a roleplay fashion, such as that spontaneous/5 without gestures and voices may well be called "gestures magic", etc. It comes with a tool (html page). I tried it, but perhaps I'm not understanding it well, but when I roll a die in the tool, and choose to simulate "ceremonial casting" it gives me a "2" from casting score without that I change anything. I undertood after that it was "loud voice" and "exagerated gestures", but I'm not sure if that choice is a convenience of Gerald (why not use those since you are already spending so much time casting a spell so do not really worry about unwanted attention from the sound) or if that is mandatory - which I may well have missed from the first day I played ars magica.
For new players, it may well be a very useful guide since, IMO spontaneous magic is the most useful tool of any magus. (And that's why any tradition/package which comes with a weak spontaneous (or in a lesser fashion, difficult spontaneous) magic is bad IMO.)
Next is the Midsummer cult. It is not magical by nature, their attention is turned to the faeries.
The mystery is well introduced, and scripts are provided. There are story seeds and ideas of how to use the cult.
The scope of the cult is a village, so they may well be never of use, or once during a local scenario. I don't expect to have it used in more than one adventure because the cult has nothing to fight against hermetic magi who would want to unravel their secret. Secret which lies with their rites and faeries, something which may not be worth the time and investment of any magus but you may think otherwise.
The beast that is not a beast is about a regio where animals have heard the holy word from a real man (Francis of Assisi). It can provide a place for adventure, a mythic place or a story seed, if you like the Divine.
The cult of shape-stealers is a setting which loosely serves to complete the background loosely open of the pomeranian witches (foes of Bjornaer). It is clearly intented for the Rhine Tribunal, and while it could be transposed to another location, it may lose what makes his interest. All start from new supernatural abilities, which I think are build from the rules in HOHS. 3 magi are provided as NPC should you want them to appear and introduced the cult in your saga.
Set piece: an urban merchant company like a previous set piece I clearly remember (wasn't it the inn? yes it was, issue 17 and the mill, issue 19), this bit is about a setting description of what it says right on the title: urban merchant company. For a city companion oriented adventure, it gives wonderful setting, characters ideas, roleplay opportunities. I think for beginning saga, or breaks for the magi who wish to stay studying in the covenant while the player want still to play those years, companions may take a leading role while investigating such a place. It may also provide the background required for other adventures, such as some of the Tales of mythic europa, or even Thrice told tales (the story of Summer is icumen in, for example).
Franciscan doubts is more a saga seed than a story seed. It is designed for years 1229-1230 (due to historical accuracy I believe) and revolve around Frederic II holy emperor. I'm not myself fond of such "historical figures"/divine-themed philosophical adventure, but I know my alphastory guide and another player who has started a new saga group with other players may find interest. It involves a lot of philosophical discussion, and may prove very interesting for troupes with players interested in those matters. The bibliography provided by the author is quite huge.
From my point of view, it may be the most "intellectual" adventure I have ever seen for Ars magica. From a simple reading, I think the RP is clearly the proeminent factor, because it involves question one should/could have if Mythic Europe was a real place. It is not only about good and bad or wanting something, but it is also about philosophy and the bible.
Another secret society: Legio lupii, from the now dead roman empire, but they still lives and continue to worship the pagan gods. Again, the cult, his setting, ideas, are provided. You have the organization of the cult fully developped with cool latin names which bring more credibility to the thing. You need to have the need for them (either as background for PC or NPC or as story target/saga seedn, etc.) but if you have, you have a full explained package ready to use.
(Oh a commercial for peripheral code. Sweet. It's not often we see magazine A advertize for magazine B in the non-fandom. Or maybe I know nothing, Ygrid.)
Hidden words and codes! Okay that article was the most anticipated because I used a lot of real code in props I provided to the players, during my years as SG. Sometimes the player catch the code quickly (Cesar code) sometimes not (vigenere method). Some players are good at it, most are not, and this is not easy to balance because:
- if I want to avoid a pure dice roll (which is what I refer as a group roll meaning failure is rarely an option since ONE player can suceed and everyone succeeds), I need to roleplay it.
- but if I want to roleplay it, I need to have props, which are then given to players, which may have NO insight on how to analyze a text.
I had the luck to have a player who was clearly adept of those cryptographs (is that even an english correct word? sorry if not!) and he worked well. Now I haven't him, so codes are almost cheap... but they still require a lot of preparation.
So this is about dice rolls, and in fact, why not.
I now have some guidelines to use, so that the decyphering/coding is not anymore a random thing which I invent in my head at the time a player ask. Which is good.
And last, but not least, Mappa mundi which provides not places, but ideas and "mysteries" of the real history. Each of those may be a storyseed.
Additional note because I realize it is never obvious: in this issue, I found the illustrations beautiful. Notably pages 11 and 12 (for spontaneous magic) and the cover page. (The cover page is not my favorite, I would vote for #13 but it has quite good colors.
So that was it. Next issue will be heaven and hell.
While I personaly think some very old issues already touched the Divine (or at least the templars) I'm quite curious to see what will arise from that. Should I say "see you next year" again? Naa I won't o it. See you again this year!