Review- Lost Paths: Ahl-i-Batin and Taftani (Mage: the Ascension)

Hailing from the Year of the Scarab (aka May 2001), Lost Paths presents two Middle Eastern crafts/traditions – the Ahl-i-Batin and the Taftani. Lost Paths effectively serves as a dual-Trad splatbook, with each getting almost 50 pages of material, so there’s a lot to dig into.

Of the two, the Ahl-i-Batin have a significantly more prominence in the world of Mage, as the former holders of the seat of Correspondence. A geographically restricted Tradition, they left the Council of Nine when the other Traditions were unwilling, or unable, to assist the Ahl-i-Batin in preventing Technocratic inroads into the Middle East. Calling themselves the Subtle Ones, Ahl-i-Batin philosophy focuses on the concept of Unity, but this unity can be both a unity that concerns a connection to others and a unity that cuts those connections (as the Ahl-i-Batin achieves greater unity with the Tapestry and begins to fade as the result of an extreme form of Arcane). Although their primary Sphere is Correspondence, the Subtle Ones focus a lot on Mind magic, including a lot of mental manipulation, such as how they indoctrinate prospective and new students (there is a thoroughly unconvincing sidebar on how this is not really brainwashing).

The Taftani are an ancient style, but one long past its prime. Their central concept is a mage who lives so far out in the wilderness of the Middle East or Central Asia that vulgar magic becomes possible, and then constructs himself a magical paradise, probably with heavy use of djinn servants (Suleiman was not a Taftani, but they rely heavily on his work). The Taftani insistence on practicing ‘pure’ (vulgar) magic ties into their focus on truth and purity – they refuse to bow to the new paradigm. In their most significant modern (that is, early 2001) locale, Afghanistan, the Taftani are often warlords (for example, Abdul Rashid Dostum is presented as a Taftani) allied with the mujahideen/Northern Alliance (with the Taliban in control in the south). The Taftani are generally blunt and belligerent, even with other Taftani (where these two traits can combine to deadly result). As such, Taftani socialize little outside of master/apprentice relationships and occasional gatherings.

A third chapter, spanning about 20 pages, covers the djinn themselves. Djinn are a particular sort of spirit, and as much as it can in limited page count, Lost Paths seeks to give them almost a mini-splatbook treatment, including history, powers, and their views on various sorts of mages. Djinn are, however, quite wily and (relatively) potent, so their presence must be managed with care.

While Lost Paths makes for an interesting read, and takes the time to discuss the possibility of things like single-Tradition campaigns with the Taftani or Ahl-i-Batin, neither is terribly well-suited for use as a major part of a Mage campaign. They are too philosophically and geographically insular, situated far from the usual Mage conceptualization. An Ahl-i-Batin character might be fit into a standard chronicle, but even that level of Taftani presence would be difficult to integrate, given how focused their concept is on living in isolation where they can practice vulgar magic at will. Rather, both the Taftani and Ahl-i-Batin are better suited to NPC guest appearances. Likewise, the suggestion of an all-djinn campaign is hard to take seriously.

I’d note that, out of all the White Wolf books I’d read, this is the first one that made me raise an eyebrow at its political/historical bent. For example, there’s a pro-Ayatollah/anti-U.S. skew when the book is discussing the 1979 Iranian revolution, an event that did not, it turns out, result in a magically pure reality. Sorry, but even in a fictionalized setting, I can’t get on board with attempts to rescue American hostages being conflated with the evil Technocracy. And I’m pretty sure that if this book had been published a year later the Taliban would not have been treated so lightly in the discussion of the Taftani in Afghanistan. Between this, and things like the brainwashing-related sidebar mentioned above, it felt like the author was trying too hard to make the subjects of the book (and their mortal compatriots) come across as ‘good guys’ in a World of Darkness, rather than another shade of grey.

Despite that, Lost Paths is a worthwhile pickup up for fans of Mage: the Ascension, presenting a thorough look at a distinctive part of the world that really isn’t otherwise covered. As discussed above, I think that having a significant present of even the Ahl-i-Batin would be difficult in a game (and Taftani and djinn are even more difficult. However, even if the Taftani and Ahl-i-Batin aren’t likely to appear in your game anytime soon, Lost Paths is worth reading for a fan of the world of Mage.



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