" If you wanted story, you got it. If you wanted rules, you got story. If you wanted anything, you got… story. "
Title: The Spellbound by White Wolf
Format: Hunter Enemy Book
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: The Spellbound is the fourth Enemy Book for Hunter: the Reckoning, following on the heels of the Moonstruck and detailing the most insidious and human of the Imbued's foes--mages. Ordinary people with extraordinary powers go up against… well, ordinary people with extraordinary powers. I know what you're all thinking--"who kicks whose ass, Genghis?" In the end, I kick everyone's ass, but as for the Imbued versus the Awakened….
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: White Wolf never fails
to deliver on the story side of the equation, and so the Spellbound is as full
of flavor text as one would expect--75% full, to be precise. The bulk of the
book is taken up by three stories told twice (once from each side), each one
distinct and interesting as an object lesson about Hunters dealing with Mages.
There's also a great opening fiction piece wherein we revisit "Purple," the
Mage befriended by Bookworm55 early on in the Hunter saga. The first story is
of a high school teacher who discovers a student he believes has been Imbued,
but who is in fact a Mage going through his Awakening. It details the similarities
and differences between their power, and how easy it is to confuse the two groups
in their chrysalis stage, and ultimately the disastrous consequences of the
Imbued meddling in Mage affairs. The second story is a more visceral head-to-head
account of a group of Hunters (with the illustrious Soldier91 making an appearance)
taking on three Mage bikers who set fire to churches. The third story is the
diary of an Imbued college groundskeeper who stumbles upon a plot by Technocratic
mages and attempts to help one of the Progenitors get out of the rather dangerous
situation she's in. Seeing the stories through multiple sets of eyes isn't something
you often get to do, and makes for an enjoyable read (unless you've got the
attention span of a gnat).
The stories and characters are compelling, we get more Hunter-net posts (which are always great reading), and we get to see the Mage mindset when it comes to Hunters--story-wise, the book is rich and exciting. This is the case with almost all Hunter products, which is why it's so doubly unfortunate that the vast majority of gamers passed on the game line because Hunter "lacked depth," and that the story details are so grand in a book that is supposed to be a gaming supplement. I mean, I love flavor text--love it in a way that is both unhealthy and immoral, and will result in my soul being drawn and quartered so I can end up in four different Hells--but when it sacrifices usefulness in-game for the sake of story…. 4.5 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: The book is laid out by rote for a Hunter Enemy Book--opening fiction, introduction, three stories from the Hunter perspective, three stories from the Mage perspective, and finally game info. Navigation is ridiculously easy (if you need something for use in the game, it's in the back, and if you're looking for something from the fiction, you just need to remember what story it was in), so only those monkeys who get lost within their own t-shirts need fear an inevitable page-flipping wild goose chase. The cover is decent if not great, with Mark Jackson depicting a Hunter attempting to gun down a Mage who just doesn't want to be gunned down, and has decided to channel Trinity from the opening sequence of the Matrix. Artwork within waffles between great and crummy, and for obvious reasons. Christopher Shy does the full-page chapter headings, and for once his work isn't eye-rendingly retarded, and actually sort of fits the theme of the book. No Dreamspeakers in power armor here, just good ol' fashioned chapter art, which is sometimes a little dark (in color, not subject matter) for this monkey's taste. Drew Tucker once again throws dung on paper and sells it to White Wolf, who is gullible enough to keep buying this crap. When will they learn that his artwork looks like inverted ass? It's sloppy, overly black, and it isn't really "of" anything. Guy Davis throws in a few pieces of varying ability, but mostly his art is still bloated, sketchy, and of the same fat bald guy over and over. Stowe chucks up a few more people with the shiny skin of demon apples, and his artwork remains just on the shallow side of good. All of this leaves Mike Danza in the uncomfortable position of batting clean-up, and while his work is fantastic and all, he isn't in the book much, so we're left mostly with a burning shitbomb on our porch once again. With all the talented artists you employ, White Wolf, you'd think you could cut out the bush leaguers by now. 2.5 out of 5.
Playability: It is an unfortunate fact of roleplaying games, but nevertheless, you cannot play flavor text. Flavor text is not rules, flavor text is not kewl powerz, and flavor text is not new bad guys to fight. Flavor text is story, and story has limited use in direct porting to the tabletop. I'm not saying it isn't useful--it is, if you want to be entertained, educated on theme, or kept up-to-date on the ongoing plot in the Hunter universe--but it's really hard to take that with you to the table and actually use the experiences of Soldier91 and Boi341 unless you intend to actually play a Hunter who thinks the Heralds are aliens, or one of the Imbued who happens to be a good-looking homosexual actor. It's got a goodly bit of info on how Hunters interact with Mages, but it's pretty much what you'd think--it goes on a case-by-case basis, depends entirely on the personalities of those involved, and usually ends badly because the two groups don't understand one another. There are some rules for playing Mages by Hunter rules, and those are really useful if you don't have the Mage book (or don't want to learn how to play Mage just to make an NPC). Still, the use falls heavily under the 'limited' category because there are so many factors involved in deciding whether or not you need the book. 2 out of 5.
Desired Content: If you wanted story, you got it. If you wanted rules, you got story. If you wanted anything, you got… story. I wanted story, so I'm pretty satisfied, but anyone who bought this thinking it'd be a great way to write up Mage NPCs will be disappointed to discover that it's more a jury-rigged way to write up Mage NPCs. Nothing replaces the actual rules for a given supernatural group in the World of Darkness, and that goes double for the Hunter rules, which feature extremely low-powered special abilities by comparison to other games. You'd be better off using the Mage Revised rules if you're serious about creating Awakened NPCs and villains. 2.5 out of 5.
|In the end, what we find is that the Spellbound is compelling, well-written, and ultimately useless in a tabletop RPG setting. Completists, die-hard Hunter fans, and metaplot followers will enjoy the richly detailed text and the additions to the setting, but gamers looking for hard and fast rules are ultimately going to be disappointed. There's nothing wrong with the book, it just isn't a "must have" in your World of Darkness collection.|
The Good: Great flavor text, good art by Chris Shy, and more Hunter-net.
The Bad: God-awful art by Drew Tucker, very little in the way of rules
The Overall Ugly: Sort of a novelty book in a continuing series of novelty supplements for Hunter
What it's Worth: See if you can't find it on sale somewhere. Market's a bit steep.