This article originally appeared in Pyramid #16
THE FRAGILE PATHPublished by White Wolf Game Studio
Written by Beth Fischi, Owl Goingback, Tina Jens, Nancy Kilpatrick and James A. Moore
Development and Editing by Phil Brucato and Laura Perkinson
So much less like "religious scripture" than The Book of Nod, the previous World of Darkness background/prop book, The Fragile Path (for Mage) instead tells an elaborate story of the complicated relationships between members of the first Cabal, representatives of the Traditions of magick (you remember, the good guys) and their quest to travel across Europe, struggling against the rising forces of the Order of Reason (you remember, the bad guys). The five stories that make the gist of the book tell the stories of the survivors, and it's a little grim. I won't spoil it here, but it's a killer read. Unlike their conceptual counterparts in The Book of Nod, and in keeping with the spirit of Mage, the members of the Cabal are painted not as gods or even demi-gods, but as people with the same feelings and frailties that all humans possess. And it is because of that quality that people who don't even know about Mage will fall into the book heart-first, and people who already get into the world will devour it completely and scream loudly for more.
Each chapter is written in a style that best reflects the character of the Tradition being represented - for example, the Celestial Chorus' rep has her story elaborately transcribed as a French motet - and explains not just their own personal viewpoints, but also illustrates the perspectives of the different magickal Traditions toward each other. Kathleen Ryan's graphic design is a smooth integration of text and art. Each person's story is even printed on different paper stock. (My heart goes out to the coordination that must've followed between the print buyer, the editorial department and the design staff over that.)
I'd call the book's overall story "epic," except we don't get very much of what actually happened to the characters during their years of travel together. The narratives instead focus inward, on how the Cabal came to be together and how it eventually came apart. It's no big secret what happened in the end, though I'm not of a spoiling mind anyway - the mystery is instead why it happened, and what forces were working across centuries to pull it either way.
In another fine game magazine, gaming fiction was described as about the worst fiction out there - and generally, I'd have to agree with that. Now sure, the prose in The Fragile Path isn't going to win Pulitzers or anything, but its emotion is genuine and excellently serves to draw you deeper into the main characters, flawed creatures that they are. The dance of destruction that follows our protagonists through the overall plot of the book is beautiful, with lots of flavor added around the sides that continue to echo long after everything's over. This isn't just airplane-back-from-GenCon reading. This is some of the only RPG fiction that ever made me feel the characters were more than props to illustrate game mechanics.
Not that the book isn't dripping with cool ideas for gamers. How many people wanted game stats for the secret tradition of mages in the Arctic who are supposedly descended from Bernadette and Akrites, two surviving Cabal members? Like, everyone I talked to. Most of them had already worked it out in their heads; game-freaks'll do that. Now if Mage could only be re-done, using the knowledge from this, Book of Shadows and some of other excellent supplements - what? It is? Oh, okay. Look for Mage, Second Edition real soon now. (Maybe Pyramid will get a copy.)
At times romantic, never dull, The Fragile Path succeeds in exactly the way many (if not most) other works of its kind fail - it inspires not just the mind but the heart. It doesn't merely give you roleplaying tips or adventure hooks, all wrapped up in some shallow sentimentality with the patronizing tone of instruction; it makes White Wolf's vision for the psyche of Mage characters more accessible to players, and inspires the effort to delve deeper. While Mage's basic premise of passion-over-logic may seem at odds with itself by being such an intellectual puzzle of a game world, it has easily satisfied that complex framework with the flesh and breath and humor and emotion of this book, humble in its nearly-illegible red cover. You would do yourself a favor to pick it up.
- Derek Pearcy
Article publication date: December 1, 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.