Lost Paths:Ahl-I-Batin & Taftani
Lost Paths:Ahl-I-Batin & Taftani Playtest Review by Bradford C. Walker on 17/02/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
It's a meaty book that does very well to make one old faction new again, presents another new one, and makes them both very playble. Check it out.
Product: Lost Paths:Ahl-I-Batin & Taftani
Author: Kraig Blackwelder
Company/Publisher: White Wolf Game Studio
Line: Mage: The Ascension
Cost: $17.95 (US)
Page count: 128 pages
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: yes
Playtest Review by Bradford C. Walker on 17/02/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Historical Horror Conspiracy Gothic Other
If the title of the book and it's evocative cover art--an obvious Arabian magician and a Djinn amidst a treasure trove of goodies--was not enough, then here's the jist: Lost Paths: Ahi-i-Batin & Taftani is a Mage Revised splatbook that covers these two Arabian Traditions in sufficient detail to make them the focus of an entire campaign.
The Introduction to this book is a brief couple of pages. As is usual in these books, what you see here is an overview of the book's content as well as what you're intended to do with it. The next two chapters, in order, go on to detail the Batini and the Taftani. The final one is all about the Djinn, how they factor into this mess and how to use them in your Mage campaign. There is no lame gamer fiction, no lame pretension elite jargon and nothing other than straight-to-the-point communication from writer to reader on what this book's about. This is wonderful stuff to see, and a vote in its favor.
Chapter One, as I said above, is the Batini chapter. There is a short-short fiction piece to open the chapter; it tells the story of a demon's attempt to abduct a Batini en route to the U.S., and how it went down. This short-short isn't lame, which is a first for me in quite some time, as it's both competantly written as well as exemplar of the Batini way of getting things done. After that is the lexicon, much of which stems from its Middle-Eastern foundation, with a note that Batini tend to use terms that they are familiar with regardless of location.
This chapter is a splatbook shrunk down to fit, so it's logical to expect a lot of the same features that a full splatbook would have: history, doctrine, influence in mundane life, geopolitics of the current Batini, internal divisions (benign and otherwise), external relations and their magical paradigm. Together, within a single chapter you receive a firm depiction of an ancient mystic tradition that values a strong internal discipline and self-exploration as a path to Ascension-cum-Unity. You see how a man Awakens into their way, receives his training and becomes a full-fledged Batini; you also see why he's trained as he is, and what the purpose of this training is, so as to better understand what the Batini are all about. This makes it so much easier to properly portray this Tradition, both as NPCs and especially as PCs.
Compared to previous editions' depictions of the Batini, this chapter was a god-send. Never before did I consider using this group in my Mage campaign because what there was to work with was so thin and so vague that I had nothing to build upon. There was nothing I could do with a Batini that I couldn't do better with another Tradition. This book ended that problem; now I'm looking not only as using Batini NPCs in my current game, but at playing one in future games.
The range of Batini characters presented--within the text and as character templates--goes a long way towards recitifying my above-mentioned gripe about the Tradition. They truly are The Subtle Ones now, and they are a power waiting to express itself upon the late World of Darkness. To compensate for the lack of Entropy magic, the Batini receive exclusive rights to Arcane ratings above 5; this is not without peril, as going above 10 wipes you out of existence altogether, but it does give Batini characters a real edge in a very dangerous cosmos. The sample rotes in the end of the chapter show the Tradition's prefered methodology in magic use as well as how they make up for the lack of Entropy magics. Damn, but I am impressed; this is a meaty chapter in a meaty book.
Chapter Two is about my preference of the pair presented: the Taftani. Unlike the Batini, these guys are as sutble as a nuclear warhead and just as brimming with raw firepower. The short-short that begins this chapter shows it well as a Taftani veteran easily puts down a cyborg from Iteration-X, twice: once during the flying carpet/ultratech jet fighter engagement, and then on ground when the Taftani has his djinn slave put a hole through the cyborg's armored chest.
The content follows the same formula: lexicon, history, paradigm, beliefs, magical theory and prefered effects, etc. in roughly that order. These folks are also a justified and ancient group of mystics that are best known for being the ones that used discoveries of King Suleiman to enslave the Djinn and end their plague upon humanity back in the ancient days nearly a millenia before Christ's birth. Since then, they're the ones known for keeping djinni in all sorts of little receptacles (not just bottles or lamps).
The core of Taftani belief is the search for Truth, and its pursuit by direct confrontation. This is usually meant literally, and so they often duel one another with fatal results. They also feel no need to hide their magic--which usually works well in the Arabian world--so they often die of Paradox accumulation. If it weren't for their love for life, and their desire to see Truth realized and brough to Man, no more apprentices would ever be taken; fortunately for them, they are everywhere in the Middle-East--from Mecca to Mongolia--and beyond.
They are also the most effective foes against the Technocratic rule of the paradigm, and (in my best estimates) the ones who've kept their piece of Earth open to Traditional magic--especially their own--better than any other. Put another way, they put the lie that it's best to fight the Ascension War (Which they certainly still fight, if no one else will.) with--forgive the pun--vulgar displays of power. They pay for it, and dearly so, but it works.
Despite their disdain and disgust for the Traditions/Batini and the Technocracy/Nephandi (respectively), they are viable characters for a more common Mage campaign. Poltically, they are very seductive to the new generation of willworkers Awakening around the world as they tell the youth to stick to the Techies directly; in an action game, they are as useful as a Hermetic of House Flambeau or Shea and have better links to third-world allies as well as command of the Djinn.
While the previous chapter turned my opinion of the Batini around, this one was just one long gee-whiz festival for me. The Taftani hit a few of my buttons just right, turning me on to them faster than I ever did to the Order of Hermes. As with the Hermetics, there is a less-fireslinging side to the Taftani and that's their poet-mages: the Sha'ir, who specialize in curses and are surpreme at djinn-wrangling. This softer side, coupled with their craft-centric mental discipline (which can be artistic, as in poetry), is what keeps them from going Marauder and what kept me from dismissing them as lunatics. Their sample rotes--especially the Taftani answer to Ball of Abysmal Flame--showcase what this heroic group of ragged individualists and anarchists value, how they express it, and why they do what they do. The same to their NPC heroes and templates.
Chapter Three is all about the Djinn. These are a host of spirits, with all the usual rules for them, that are unique in that they are not considered Nature spirits and otherwise are not a part of the usual World of Darkness' array of spirit pantheons (angels, demons, Wyrm/Weaver/Wyld, etc.). As they are a host or house until themselves they are both immune to many of the stratagems that work with other spirits, while they are also vulnerable to those few that do to such a degree that resistance is futile for all but the most powerful. It must be said that djinn and Taftani are a package deal; admit one into your game and the other follows, no exceptions and no substitions.
That said, djinn are still spirits and use the same rules. What makes they dangerous is that they are--as a rule--more intelligent and more powerful than other spirits. This is not just in terms of stats and Charms, but also in that they--and, apparently, they alone--have the power to grant wishes. They are also sly, cunning liars and fraud who do not regard Humanity highly (if at all) and will not hesititate to trick, exploit or bald-faced lie their way into getting one over some mortal (even mages); as the Taftani and Batini say, djinn are not to be trusted. (Yes, this makes their Disney image less than accurate.)
As for their use in most Mage games, unless there's any real Batini or Taftani presence there is no reason to use djinn at all. Like I said above, djinn are a package deal with the Taftani. The appeal isn't there for stand-alone use, unless it's a crossover game of some sort.
Playtest Notes: Well, no one will either flock to or outright dismiss either group of mages. Both sides have just enough going for and against them as a matter of course that chosing to play one will be a balanced decision. The djinn are another story; they have no reason to be in a game unless the Batini or Taftani are involved (or their counterparts, outside of a Mage context). In gameplay and dry runs, their abilities didn't outshine that of any of the Traditions or play second-fiddle constantly either. I do see that these two groups will not see much play time simply due to the lack of cultural sympathy for many gamers.
Conclusion: Damn good on the whole, but certainly not for everyone. As usual, if you're not certain then check it out for yourself--get a pal's copy or something--before taking the hit to the wallet.