‘Magical Societies’ is in line with the short-form books that Catalyst is using to supplement their larger, substantive titles. That is, a short, focussed, quality piece of work which seems like a mini-sourcebook, or left-over chapter which can still stand in its’ own right. This book, whilst not essential to gamers, is interesting and relatively well-priced enough to warrant further interest.
In twenty-three pages, the book fleshes out why Shadowrunners would want to work with Magical Societies (and more importantly why the society would want anything to do with shadowrunning potential members), with thoughts offered through the usual suspects of the Shadowland BBS (or at least its’ more modern equivalent). The rest of the book is then given over to a host of societies.
The sampling is quite good in terms of the types of flavour offered by each group. Mixed in are street-level houngans, multi-gang mages, globe-spanning megalomaniacs (who may or may not be blood mages), and arm of the Vatican, the unofficial back-up of local law enforcement, a dojo with a social justice bent and more societies besides. Each is given about a page and a half, complete with an ‘stat block’-like entry covering the requirements for membership, secrecy levels and connection ratings. Where possible, there is commentary either from other shadowrunners or law enforcement reports to contextualise the information.
The product does feel like a mini-sourcebook of sorts, but presents no new mechanical information at all. It might have been a nice touch to include a few new spells, foci or talismans unique to each group, but this is a minor gripe. When reading through this, I thought it would make a fine companion to the first chapter of ‘Hazard Pay’, especially given the flavour fiction in the latter book. Combined, they would be a great tool for a run involving a secret society when things have gone horribly wrong.
The writing is up to standard (although the editing is not, and shows some spelling, capitalisation and grammatical errors consistent with the last couple of Catalyst books I have reviewed) and the art is of a high quality. What is clear is that Catalyst doesn’t regard the recent spate of short sourcebooks to be a lesser, cheaper option – but rather puts the same production qualities into these. It is easily on par with other short books such as ‘Safehouses’ and ‘MilSpec Tech’. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these, provided that they are seen as supplemental to, rather instead of, the larger more substantive sourcebooks.
[4 of 5 Stars!]