Guildbook: Masquers

"...a fine, fun and informative treatment of one of Stygia's most misunderstood - and secretive - Guilds."

Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

After the mind-curdling miasma of incompleteness that was Guildbook: Sandmen (sigh!) we return to form with Guildbook: Masquers, which puts us back on more sure footing. Like Guildbook: Artificers, the first in the series of Guildbooks, Masquers covers what a traditional "splatbook" is supposed to, and does so very well.

The art in the book is a lot better than the previous two Guildbooks, and I'd say about 75% of it's either good work, or at least works well with the contents and has some punch to it. There are some sad exceptions, but they're the exception rather than the norm. And, once more, on pages 2 and 3, we have an excellent piece of sculpture by Henry Higganbotham: I know it's supposed to be a mask, but whenever I see it I always think of Darth Vader's shoehorn.

The text of the book gets off to a deceptive and pugilistic start with part three of Ghost Story: A Road of Steel and Souls, entitled Feints and Ripostes. It serves to underline just how many layers of deceit there are within the Guild itself.

A full half of the story is taken up with a fight between the infamous Slander and Lord Ember, who gets to go have a nice Harrowing at the end. While that event is an important part of the overall story - now quite clear, with the printing of Ends of Empire - and worthy of attention, I would have liked to have seen more of the Masquers as a whole in those two pages. Still, seeing Slander go at it is a treat and very educational for would-be Masquer players, and I'm always happy to see Lord Ember get his pompous ass spanked.

Chapter One: Life at the Masque takes a nod from Guildbook: Artificers' use of the infiltrator to tell the story, only this time the outsider not only looks in, but becomes what she beholds. I have no idea why she'd write that darn letter to her former collaborators and admit she's turned to the Guild, though - some ultra-devious disinformation campaign, or the narrator's rather ham-fisted way of shucking off a lousy Gang of Renegades? You'd think Masquers would be more... subtle?

In the letter, we discover the Masquers initiation ritual - rather sensible and very nervewracking - the Guild's attitude and recruitment policies, internal strata and possible motives. I'm very glad of the fact that the Guild has an extra "bottom" rung, known as Novices: those that the Guild have agreed to consider training, but aren't yet worthy of Apprenticeship. This would make a great place for a starting Wraith to begin from, or try out for.

Once the letter ends, we get onto the Callings of the Guilds - typical jobs the Guild might wind up doing, only some of which are fairly obvious. I found all of them to be evocative, interesting and good sources of inspiration for player characters. Helldivers, in particular, were something I would never have thought of, and make a weird kind of sense, and I can't help but fall in love with the name of the "beauticians" of the Guild - known as 'Idunn.' I have no idea what the hell that really means. I love it.

There's little, black text boxes with IC or OOC info, a good deal of which is setting and backdrop. We get info on artists signatures, patience and the like. We also get a look at the dreaded Anonymae: those Masquers who have turned their back so completely on their lives that they are someone entirely new. Me, I thought that was part of the point of becoming a Masquer in the first place, but the concept makes for something to shoot for. This is where the infamous Slander comes into play: it mentions that it's speculated that some Anonymae are actually multiple Masquers with a similar style all acting in concert under the same name...

We also get one hell of a good question, here, with a look at the Masquers' relationship and past history with the Mnemoi. The Masquer historians say that they were the ones who tipped Charon off to the Mnemoi's corruption. Of course, we've since found out that simply wasn't true, so either (1) they're lying (wouldn't be the first time) (2) they were manipulated into doing it by Charon (probably also wouldn't be the first time) or (3) some of the oldest Masquers were in on the gag from day one...?

Chapter Two: Truths Told by Liars is the history of the Guild. The title's got an amusing double meaning, as it's based off of a look at the Guild by a Monitor, but commented on in the margins by a Masquer. So who's the liar, here: both, either or neither? In a choice between a Monitor and a Masquer, one's hard-pressed to pick a side.

The history itself is a lively, informative, and amusing ride through the ages, most of which is spent on this side of the Shroud - so we avoid any spurious, boojum-centric claims of influencing Humanity's progress, thank goddess. It reveals more of the Guilds' thoughts on matters, and the like, and offers some tantalizing ideas of what might be going on... provided they're not lies.

My only complaint is the typesetting: the Monitor is done in this fancy-dan churchbook font that's a bit long in the tooth for easy reading, and the Masquers scribbles - while not so bad - make your eyes squirm when you're going back and forth from Emmano to the Masquer. It's nowhere near as bad as some fancy fonts that WWGS slings at us to promote macular degeneration in America's youth, but it's still a bit much.

Chapter Three: Taking the Stage is all about how the Guild relates to its fellows, and others. It's pretty short and to the point, and packed with info on fitting in with others, what they think of the Hierarchy, Renegades and Heretics, other Guilds (including the forgotten three) Oblivion and folks in the Skinlands. What comes across is the air of neutrality that they try to keep, both for better business and self-protection.

The bit on the skinland supernatural set was just perfect for a splatbook. It's short, full of half-glimpsed truths, lacking in shop talk and raising more questions than answering them. The bit on Vampires was a real stitch if you're a Tzimisce player.

Chapter Four: Chisel and Clay is the mechanics part of the Guildbook, with all the neato Alternate Arts, Artifacts and Merits and Flaws. There's a good section in here on the nature of plasm, which answers a lot of questions as to how Plasm reacts when torn from someone's body, or whatever. We also get it said in no uncertain terms that Moliate and vampiric Vicissitude are NOT interchangeable, and how those awful Moliated torches work.

This section also gives a Secondary Skill called "Soulshaping." This new Skill allows folks who learn to use it to replace it for Moliate when they roll to use Arts, or roll an appropriate Attribute + Soulshaping before starting on an involved project to reduce difficulties. It's recommended that only Masquers learn it, so they can keep an edge over ordinary schmucks with Moliate, and I agree.

The Arts section has a lot of Alternates, all of which seem useful and none of which seem super-cheesy. All the same, I'm not sure if some of them belong at the levels they're given at: I would have moved "Calcify" to Level OOO, and Girding - by which you can use Martialry on other Wraiths - should be Level OOOOO in my humble opinion. I'm also not sure why Soothe is Level OOOOO, even if it is a big honking secret.

The Merits and Flaws also seem pretty decent, though I would have liked to have seen more flaws, and more evocative ones at that. The Artifacts were a bit of a disappointment, as there were only two of them. With the amount of Artifact-making the Guild can do via Moliate, you'd think there would be more? The ones they list make sense and don't seem terribly overpowered, though.

Chapter Five: Faces is the templates section, and all of them are good ideas to base a character from without being too stereotypical. Once more, the characters have Relics which aren't reflected in their Backgrounds (including a motorcycle? agh!) but past that none of them are too shabby.

And then we have Appendix: Famous Faces, which include THE Shahrazad and THE Moliere amongst them. We also get a look at Slander ("it is certain that Slander is only one person, and not several Masquers operating in concert" - snort snort chuckle chuckle) and a dead Revenant all set to ruin the good sense of misunderstandings about the World of Darkness and tell the whole Guild what she learns... bleah. I hope she's a spittoon by now...

All in all, Guildbook: Masquers is a fine, fun and informative treatment of one of Stygia's most misunderstood - and secretive - Guilds. You can't go wrong by picking this one up both for Storyteller information and player use, and I'll gladly give it 4 out of 5 Skulls

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