Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/-
When Catalyst Game Labs first teased Magical Societies, I was expecting a larger sourcebook, one possibly filled with adventures. Something more akin to Jet Set, Hazard Pay, or Corporate Intrigue was what I had in mind. So I won’t deny that I was a little disappointed when it turned out to be almost pure Meta-game fiction without any adventures or in-game mechanics. Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed what was here. I just went with the assumption that this would be bigger and more inclusive than it actually was. Alas, perhaps we’ll get something more akin to that down the road. I’d love to see some adventures doing a run on (or even for!) the Black Lodge.
So what do you get in Magical Societies? Well, you get a gorgeous piece of cover art, a nicely done two page short fiction piece about the Gate of Ishtar (I almost wrote Order of Hermes. Wouldn’t that be an interesting RPG crossover?) that tells the story of said cover, and then the rest of the book is JackPoint storytelling, this time led by Smiling Jack, who long time players might recognize (and who I was surprised to read isn’t a Jackpoint regular). Jack gives a basic overview of magical socities, how to join them, the pros and cons of being a Shadowrunner in a society and then a list of several societies, none of which include the really big magic groups in the Sixth World like the Black Lodge or on how any of the Mega-Corps cloister their Awakened employees away, if they do. I was glad to see a focus on very small organizations. The largest is the size of an A Level corporation, but most are only a few hundred strong, meaning a good GM can really flesh out the organization and even run a chronicle where all the characters are in an organization.
The Societies covered in this PDF include: The oddly named Brotherhood of Darkness (The closest thing to an all white hat/Lawful Good grouping as I’ve ever seen in Shadowrun), The Gate of Ishtar, the voodoo society Cracking of Bones, the Order of Saint Sylvester, Ordo Maximus, Mana, the Magical Investors Club, The Painted Horse Lodge, the Society of the Phoenix Arisen, and the oddly named Seattle United Corporate Council Contractor Society. There are couple of others and a all-too brief write-up of cults that lasts only two paragraphs. Cults in the Sixth World could have easily held a few pages, if not a small standalone PDF like this. Perhaps it will get one someday.
Again, if you’re looking for a lot of game mechanics, new items like foci and talisman, new rules and the like, you won’t find it in this PDF. You get a very small sideboard for each magical society, but you don’t get enough information in them to truly run a society comfortably. The PDF does give some very light in-game info about how to advance in a society (one paragraph), how to use a society as a “Group Ally” or contact, and a new stat called the Secrecy Rating. The higher the number, the more secure and enigmatic they are.
I personally really enjoyed the JackPoint fiction here complete with the occasional comment by various runners, but I still feel this could have been a lot more than it was. Five bucks for meta-game fiction isn’t terrible, but the PDF ends abruptly and I think anyone reading this could tell that CGL could have gone a lot more in-depth with this topic than they did. I’d have happily played $15-30 for a more complete book on the same topic, with some adventures and the fleshing out of larger, better known magical groups, cults and groupings in the Sixth World. Basically, if you are a fan of Shadowrun fiction, this is well worth picking up. If you’re looking for something more mechanics based or that is easily adapted to your current campaign, you might want to look elsewhere. Magical Socities is all fluff and little substance. It’s well-written entertaining fluff to be sure, but it’s not something any Shadowrun player needs nor will feel like they are missing out if they pass this up.
[3 of 5 Stars!]