I am now back to where I started. I purchased Angels & Ashes almost a month ago with the desire to review it, and finally, here I am. Like Celestial Wisdom, it advertised a supplement that put a technological spin on classic fantasy tropes. Angels & Ashes stood out to me because it spoke of a more arcane game within Numenera, as well as new takes on cyphers and 22 new foci. Rather than wait for the conclusion, I have to start this review with: Go out and buy this book now. It is that good. Then follow along with this review.
Angels & Ashes
Angels & Ashes is an 87 page pdf that is available on Drivethrurpg.com (for $5.00 at the time of this post). We are back to a two column layout, which I find is significantly easier to read. Each chapter begins with a short piece of fiction. These one page vignettes follow an apprentice in the arts of the arcane found within. They provide a nice break in the flow of the book and are well written. The fiction serves as a narrative background for the rest of the book.
Angels & Ashes is about nanotechnology in the Ninth World. And, in the theme of the previous books, how that technology is indistinguishable from magic in the mind of the Ninth Worlders. What this book is really about is bringing a number of familiar magical tropes and powers into your Numenera game. It primarily does this through foci and a new type of ability called charms. It introduces these new mechanics through a series of Mysteries. These cults are magical traditions that pass down their ritual manipulations of the nanotech to new students, perpetuating their continued existence, e.g. wizarding schools and traditions. This introduction also touches on the organizations already in the Ninth World who maintain these traditions or dabble in the arcane nanotechnology.
In this book, Ryan Chaddock Games introduces a new type of cypher that feels very Vancian in its implementation. We have nearly 50 new ‘learn and burn’ cyphers that are very much like the magical effects found in Dungeon and Dragons and other traditional fantasy games. Like Celestial Wisdom, these cyphers are arranged so that you can print and cut them out to use at the table.
The cyphers presented in Angels & Ashes are technological versions of classic spells: Tongues, Identify, Magic Weapon, Regeneration, Eagle’s Splendor, Polymorph, and many more. In additions to these familiar effects, we are also given some great new cyphers, as well as five new artifacts.
This section is the meat of the Angels & Ashes. The 22 foci are broken up among 10 Mysteries. Each Mysteries has two foci, representing twin aspects of their teachings. The Mystery of Ceremony, being the study of magic itself and the basis for most of the other Mysteries, contains four foci. Besides the foci, included within the Mysteries are charms and adversaries. Charms are small powers that practitioners of the Mystery can buy for 1 XP. These charms allow a player to become more steeped in the trappings of their chosen mystery, and provided them with interesting expressions of the knowledge they wield. All the Mysteries also contain adversaries, so you are getting a mini-bestiary within this product as well. Each adversary is tied to its Mystery, either through creation or the use of powers the Mystery bestows.
Rather than give an in-depth look at the foci, which are all of the high quality I have come to expect with from Ryan Chaddock Games’ products, I want to look at the mysteries.
Mystery of Blood – Here we have a school that deals with the dead and gone. Those that summon spirits or engage in necromantic reanimations can be found practicing this mysteries’ techniques.
Mystery of Ceremony – This mystery revolved around the study of magic itself. Players and adversaries that hail from these cults are enchanters. They bear items of power and craft arcane symbols. These are the hermetic mages of the Ninth World.
Mystery of Chaos – This mystery relates to probability and chance. Its foci and charms fit the tropes of Wild Mages and chaotic wizards that prevail in fantasy literature and gaming.
Mystery of Dust – Hands down my favorite mystery. This mystery seeks to control the nanites that coat the world and make magic possible. What they seek is to move or destroy the nanite dust that enables magic. The authors take the trope of meta-magic, the magic that controls magic, and give some fantastic flavor and mechanics for how it plays out in the Ninth World. The adversary of this Mystery, the Dust Eaters, seeks to consume the very essence of Ninth World’s magic.
Mystery of Fae – What book of magic would be complete without mention of the Fae? The tropes of fairy geas and travel are both touched on with this mystery.
Mystery of Flesh – Shapeshifting and flesh sculpting are the purview of the flesh. Nanites pervade the whole of the Ninth World, including the living, and those who study this mystery are able to control the substance of bodies. Both theirs and those around them.
Mystery of Form – Automata and homunculi are staples of magic going back to the myth of Pygmalion. Within this Mystery, the art of bringing the inanimate to life or imbuing flesh with magical power can be learned.
Mystery of Motion – This is a bit more esoteric than the others, and seems to be drawn from more eastern inspirations. It encompasses the art of controlling one’s body to control the magic found within. This includes unveiling the power of ritualized dance as well as the more martial applications. The foci ‘Unleashes Inner Power’ enables you to build a monk the feel of a Wuxia hero.
Mysteries of Nature – Here we find the home of those who would walk the druid’s path within the Ninth World. What I found very interesting is that while one foci seeks balance, the other creates paradise through destruction. It felt very much like a nod both to the true neutral druids of standard Dungeons and Dragons as well as touching on the corrupting Defilers of Dark Sun fame.
Mystery of Sound – The last Mystery rounds out the translation of Dungeon and Dragon tropes by introducing bardic powers. Whether by playing music or telling tales, the masters of this Mystery wield the power of sound to their benefit.
University of Aomi
The final chapter of this book covers a setting within Qi, the University of Aomi. Outlined is a weird school of magic, complete with strange occurrences, places and NPC’s. We are given enough information here to use Aomi as a base of operations, an adventure site, or even a school of magic based campaign.
When Numenera first released, it was easy to see the parallels to Dungeons and Dragons. It tied itself to the fantasy experience that the role-playing community was familiar with, and then turned them on their head. Glaives were fighter-like, Jacks were roguish and Nanos were magic users. Through combinations of descriptors and foci you were able to replicate other classes of fantasy fame if you so desired. Within Angels and Ashes, we see not only fantasy classics like the Necromancer and Enchanter translated into the Ninth World, but Bards, Monks, and Druids.
If, like me, you enjoy the ‘technology indistinguishable from magic’ aspect of Numenera and want a product that expands upon that ideal, you need Angels and Ashes. First off, you get a great twist on cyphers that brings a classic magical feel to the game that can and should be used in conjunction with the base system as written. You also get a wealth of new foci and adversaries that fit very well within the techno-magic, science-fantasy setting of the Ninth World. Finally, the Mysteries provide a wonderful frameworks for the cults and societies of Aeon Priest, scholars, and adversaries that will enrich your campaign world and smooth the translation of other fantasy tropes and adventures into the world of Numenera.
Perhaps the best part of this product is how it opened my eyes on how the Cypher system could be hacked for other worlds beyond Numenera. In two weeks, I will be looking at Cypher as a system for my fantasy world of Ta’nar and that is all due to this book.