Sub Rosa Issue 9 review

The Ars Magica magazine Sub Rosa has been regularly published for many years, and through that time the contributors have assisted in the creation of many new ideas into the game system.

Issue 9 was released on Feb 3 and it is a great read for Ars Magica fans. I agree with the blurb from the mag’s website:

“Emerging from the Winter cold, Sub Rosa #9 is here with 68 pages of content, including bonus material for the recently released The Cradle and the Crescent.

We offer up beasts, jinn, sahir, companions, and all manner of juicy details to expand your stories in the Mythic Middle East, straight from the designers and playtester Jason Brennan.

We’ve also got articles on a pious Companion knight, over 30 mythic texts and Gerald Wylie’s Storyguide’s Handbook offers up great advice for simplifying covenant creation!…(cont)”

Overall: Sub Rosa is well worth the money, full of material that either has a direct application to Ars Magica games, or is fascinating reading / fluff which will expand your appreciation of the setting and scope.

I plan on buying every issue. Issue 9 is one of the best I’ve seen.

Quick Review: If you purchased the Cradle and Crescent sourcebook you should also purchase this issue. There is so much material in this issue which directly relates to that source book, and expands on that book that it is an absolute no-brainer. The mag authors have stated openly that much of the material is information that could not fit within the published book, and so its like getting a USD$5 expansion to the book.

The mag is always high quality, well presented, and has regular contributors who are the authors of the source material. So Sub Rosa is generally almost as good as the source material itself.

It is clearly a work of a passionate dedicated team, who take the quality of the material very seriously. I’ve read a few issues now and I find something in each issue to use in my Ars Magica games.

Longer Review: Yup, everything above stands, and here is why:

  1. As a GM (ok, storyguide) who likes to read meta-game material, the article “Storyguide’s Handbook – Covenant Building” is mandatory reading. This article is worth a few dollars alone. One of my major issues with Ars Magica is that the covenant creation rules in the core rulebook do not go far enough, and this article helps to address that. A caveat is that you’ll also need to understand the material in the Covenant source book, which is fair given the readership.
  2. The Pdf distribution means I can actually get this product without waiting one to two months. Australia might be a wonderful land, but we’re in the east of frigg’n nowhere when it comes to getting material shipped to us, and its frustrating. Sub Rosa does not make me wait. And if I spill my coffee on it I can just reprint it (happened to the last issue).
  3. An introduction and summary from David Chart which always gives a perspective on the development of Ars Magica. As an Ars fan I’d want to read this, as silly as it might sound – knowing what is inside the mind of a dev lead on an RPG is information that I find fascinating. Sometimes the messages are straight on brand, other times David gives away a few tidbits that are not widely known.
  4. I’ve not read The Cradle and the Crescent, but this looks like great additional rules, options, and fluff. The issue is heavily dedicated to material for that setting (over 20 pages I think) and as I wrote above – it is detailed and looks like a huge amount of energy went into the production.
  5. The art is good, and suitable. The exterior art in this issue is great.
  6. Presentation is as slick as you could desire in a pdf. I’ve thought about a way to get it printer in true magazine format from the pdf, but that might be getting a tad too obsessive.
  7. The companion article, Off the Shelf, and summary of medieval books in ArM 5e are both material that I won’t directly use as presented, but are darn good. I especially like how the article about the Companion Knight goes into some background on the Pilgrimage, Church and the Holy Orders. This is material that could potentially trigger all sorts of story seeds and be useful.
  8. Mappa Mundi article gives some nice alternate resources for stories and setting for Ars. Nice touch.

The stuff I don’t like:

  1. The format is some strange non-A4 size (yes, I know what it is, and that it is an American standard, sheesh) which means it prints poorly. Trivial, but it irks me.
  2. I was looking for some write ups on spells and/or effects/items. I suspect that the community is mature enough now that new spell and item details might be past their interest, but I have a table of new players who might find that material useful. It has been presented in other issues, so this this is a small gripe.
  3. Some of the interior art is average, generally good but there are a few items that appear off to me.

Aside

My intent with the aside is to explain what I am looking for, and also to acknowledge that I will not always be the target audience.

In reviewing the mag I’ve realised that rpg material is often written for different styles of audience, and that it is useful to be aware of your own style when reading source books. I come from a very action orientated rpg style (gurps, dnd, rifts, warhammer), where enjoyment of the story is as important as a bit of combat and trickery. I’m not a large proponent of fluff heavy material unless it is very specific, or really pings a mental trigger of interest I have. And that is a selfish trait if ever I thought of one.

What I do like is sample spells, new items, and all the material that years of Dragon mag subscriptions have trained me to expect in a new issue (heck look at the content here, its all kaboom!). Getting a new pdf triggers the skinner box, and I go in search of food – I can’t help it.

What that means is that game material needs to be focused before it is readable to me, as that focus helps me put it in context. Sub Rosa is a targeted magazine, which means that issue by issue there will be material which has direct application, or is all but irrelevant to you as a player or storyguide. I accept it, and love it.

Some issues I struggle with the amount of fluff, but it is the fluff that keeps the wider community reading and playing, so it is critical that this material is still produced; and supported.

I plan on buying every issue.

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