Mage: The Ascension
|Mage: The Ascension|
|Role-playing game published by
|Rule System||Storyteller System|
|Authors||Stuart Wieck, Chris Early, Stephan Wieck, Phil Brucato|
|Essential Books||Mage: The Ascension|
Mage: The Ascension is an "epic storytelling game of reality on the brink" created by White Wolf and set in the Old World of Darkness. Unlike most of White Wolf's World of Darkness gamelines, Mage centered not on stereotypical horror movie monsters (mostly), but on the force of "magic" and the various people who practice it, from mad scientists to angry druids to stereotypical old men in beards and pointy hats, all of whom can do cool stuff by punching reality in the balls. They are loosely united in their attempts to get humankind to "awaken" and become wizards like themselves, but keep running into problems from reality punching back, the Man, crazy and/or evil corrupted mages, and their own petty grudges with one another and incredible ability to turn any progressive, cooperative project into a territorial fistfight.
The innate problems of being a White Wolf game aside (namely, the design team's obvious sympathy with the 90's-counterculture vs. the "square" factions), M:tA is generally regarded as one of the best settings in the original World of Darkness's repertoire, at least by Second Edition. Unfortunately... well, keep reading.
- 1 Paradox, Or Why Being a Mage Sucks
- 2 The Magic System, Or Why Playing Mage Sucks
- 3 The Nine Spheres of Magic
- 4 Herding Cats: Organizations
- 4.1 The Nine Traditions
- 4.2 The Technocratic Conventions
- 4.3 Independant Crafts
- 4.4 Orphans
- 4.5 Others
- 5 Ascension or Armageddon
- 6 See Also
- 7 Links
Paradox, Or Why Being a Mage Sucks
Congratulations. You're an arrogant dick who got a hold of God's power tools! Now what's stopping you from Wingardiam Leviosaing some skirts and summoning succubi to worship your tiny manhood? Well, while magic is cool, it only works well when no one can see you do it. Like all awesome things, the moment you try to show off to impress your friends, it backfires on you. Since reality functions on Consensus (whatever is believed by the most people is "true") in MtA, and since doing most magic involves at least swimming against the currents of reality a little, flagrantly breaking the laws of what is commonly believed to be possible generates something called "Paradox." This is called vulgar magic. Such as:
The moment an "awakened" Mage tries to throw a fireball in front of a "sleeper" (an average person), bad things happen. Backlash happens. Backlash allows your GM to work out their sadistic streak and protect their special NPC at the same time, turning a fireball of plot derailment into an exploding lighter that sets your character on fire. On a good day. On a bad day, all of your character's futuristic prosthetic organs fail when an NPC so much as glances at them. Then they explode and set your character on fire. Paradox backlash wasn't as severe during periods where superstition and belief in the supernatural were more common, but became increasingly difficult for mages as technomages pushed their own form of Enlightened Science on the masses as being "true".
To avoid Paradox, mages (and technocrats) develop methods to avoid the effect. Of course, a fireball in public would be Paradox rich as hell (unless humanity collectively believes humans can cast fireballs at will), but it would be far less dangerous if, say, said mage caused a gas main underneath their enemy to explode (whether or not there was actually a gas main to blow up is immaterial). The closer their magic is to consensual physics, the easier it is for your average person to rationalize, the less chance Paradox is invoked.
As opposed to the mystical practices of most mages, the technomages of the Technocracy practice Enlightened Science (magic with a digipunk coat of paint). The Technocracy has terminator robots and spaceships, proton guns that melt your face, bio-engineered superhumans, and cyborgs. How? Most of it operates CLOSE to actual science - and is easy for your average sleeper to rationalize. It's likewise important to note that the Technocracy has carefully groomed society to believe in their type of magic as being possible - and so, most of their effects can easily pass as not supernatural (with magic that causes Paradox being strictly punished). Said technologies, however, would NOT work in the hands of a non-Awakened, such as a nanobot-rich healing canister that would be used by a Progenitor easily. Non-awakened Technocracy personnel think it's a fingerprint system so reality isn't threatened. So basically Awakened people stretch the limits of existence without making it too obvious.
Then there are Zoroastrian mage assholes that flout it entirely, but we'll get to that.
The Magic System, Or Why Playing Mage Sucks
To make a long story very short, Mage is extremely complex and difficult to understand. The game relies on some basic knowledge of Occultism and metaphysics, and likewise requires a good deal of creativity that isn't present in games like Vampire: The Masquerade. The rules are often criticized for being simultaneously OP as shit in crossover games (once he or she gets to about Arete 3, an individual mage of equivalent "level" will, one-on-one, reliably curb stomp any other supernatural in the oWoD gameline if they can get the first shot off, and can, depending on the opponent, give whole teams of other types of PC a run for their money), frustrating to manage (virtually anything can be too "cool" to avoid Paradox in public, and the rules aren't great at examining different levels of "acceptance"), and possessed of intensely, artificially complex mechanics (For those of you not up on your game design, complexity and depth are two different things).
Making a Mage
The difficulty often begins right at character generation, since newly Awakened mages are almost always incapable of grasping their capacity to bend reality. They're forced to fit their newfound powers into methodologies and belief systems that help them rationalize what they're able to do. This is called a "Paradigm" - and is by far one of the most difficult character creation experiences you can come across in table-top gaming. A paradigm is not only a belief system but also delves into your character's backstory and psyche - you have to craft an entire, logical reason for your character to be able to do magic. Maybe they're a Wiccan who believes they're chosen by the Goddess, or a devout nun who practices humble miracles on behalf of the Lord, or a strung-out hippie who believes they can see beyond reality and time when they listen to the Grateful Dead; it's a fair bit deeper than just picking a nature and a demeanor.
Crafting this "reason" for their magic likewise brings with it the process they use to cast their magic. While someone who believes themselves a hermetic mage may chant in Latin and have specially prepared ritual circles, the nun example above would have her rosary beads and meaningful passages from the Bible to make her magic. The concept and Paradigm of a mage naturally flow into the process of their magic. While having your character be a member of a Tradition (discussed below) helps with figuring a lot of this out, you more often end up with people tossing aside interesting characters to just play easy-to-make Neo-Pagans.
Wizzads 'n Shit
So, once you have all that bullshit figured out, how do you start casting spells? Magic in Mage is different from other systems in that you aren't assigned pre-created spells that you can cast - but rather a mix of "rotes" (tried and true magical effects that are a bit easier to cast) and "spontaneous magic" (whatever you BS in the moment). You use "spheres" (designated segments of reality that your mage has studied) as your guideline of what you can and can't do. Spheres provide rough outlines of the areas they govern, and how many dots are required to do certain things within them. Spheres are discussed in depth below, but a rough approximation would be this: Sister Agatha, our Nun, is focused in the Life sphere, granting her power over bodies, biology and anything alive. Agatha has two Dots in the Life sphere, so she has the ability to sense all the various aspects of life - age, sex, health, race, species - anything related to its biology and anatomy. Since she has two Dots, she can also gently encourage the plants in her garden to grow strong and healthy, and heal herself when she gets hurt. But, Agatha can't heal other people quite yet - as this requires three Dots in the sphere.
Actually using magic in the moment is a game of artful bullshit. Mage is a game about bending rules - be they the rules of reality, or even of the game system. Much of the nit-and-grit is left nebulous, so that it can be taken advantage of by creative players. A player needs to figure out what they want to do, what spheres they intend to do it with, and how they're going to get away with it without getting their teeth kicked in by Paradox. Not every act of magic will cause paradox, especially if a player is creative and can soothe the ego of their overeager GM. Multiple different effects can be accomplished by using different combinations of Spheres - it ultimately boils down to how creatively a player has their mage perform it (and how creatively the player rationalizes the magic to the GM). If we use Sister Agatha as an example again, she's going up in the world with three whole dots in the Life Sphere, now! So, she's started healing the sick and lame. When she wants to heal someone, she goes through the same ritual: she applies a handmade poultice of monkshood and chamomile to the damage area, "to ease the pain", and sings a hymn while ritualistically applying bandages or a splint - and just like that, the person feels better already. Blood might be staunched, pain from a sprained limb eased, a fever might ebb. But, something like a broken bone might just heal faster (since that's much easier to believe than it just healing immediately).
But I Don't Have My Degree From Hogwarts
Odds are, this sounds really fucking arcane to you (pun intended). That's because it is, and while some people may love it, you most likely do not! Thus, any player who wants to play Mage: the Ascension has to beat a completely different game first: namely, the game of finding another set of magic rules to use in place of the ones provided in any of the three editions of MtA. The GURPS version of MtA was a common pick back in the day, as it has roughly the same fluff. (And if your players are running to the "Generally Unplayable Role-Play System" to get away from the rules, that's how you can tell you've got a special level of rough on your hands.) Nowadays, the most common choice is to back-port the nWoD Mage: The Awakening rules via the Mage Translation Guide. Both keep the basic idea of not using magic in public and stuff but aren't quite as blunt and over-complicated about it. Or maybe just play Ars magica and be done with it.
There's a reason why Mage is the game that you love to read all the awesome fluff of but never quite get a group together to play.
The Nine Spheres of Magic
Mage divided all magic into different spheres, like D&D schools but more clear, since they encompass the building bricks of existence. People like to argue over what sphere is the best and like to argue even more about if you can do X with X sphere and if the X and Y spheres overlap, but hey, they're fa/tg/uys and like to argue about anything and everything. Mages have rankings in each sphere, from one (sensing some aspects of the sphere without changing anything) to five (doing mostly anything with it). All of them are awesome in their own ways, and most factions are particularly good with at least one of them.
Controls space and distance. You can detect stuff at distance, teleport yourself and others (extra bonus points if you manage to teleport a vampire into the Sun), punch people (or simply pull levers) at a distance, warp bullets around, stack people onto themselves, make several copies of yourself, and even create planes. Becomes both crazy, drug-worthy and awesome at high levels, considering that you are in fact, telling reality to divide by zero AND IT DOES SO. Two words: black holes.
The EDGY sphere (so naturally the sphere that White Wolf likes the most). Entropy controls luck, fate, odds, and well, entropy. You can sense luck, sense "weakness" in items, do predictions, cheat at cards, alter probability, detect lies(for some reason), curse people or alternatively make them lucky fuckers, make people/machines destroy themselves with age and wear. At the highest levels, you can even affect thought and ideas with entropy. Yes, you can make ideas grow outdated. Or the opposite. Awesome sphere is awesome. Also, enjoy your Jhor.
FIREBALLS FIREBALLS FIREBALLS- Oh, shut up, there's more than blasting to this sphere. Forces is about controlling energy, that is fire, cold, lightning, kinetic energy, gravity, radiation, and light. Even the nuclear forces at high levels. Forces is hilarious and varied, and while being the prime offensive Sphere it has also lots of varied effects. At first, you can only control a small amount of Forces, but then you can transform energies into each other. One of the best uses of that is setting fast people on fire with friction (changing kinetic energy into heat), get infrared/ultraviolet/sonar vision, shut down electrical appliances, change gravity so the Technocrat here is going to faceplant into the ceiling at a few meters per second, pick up a phone line and intercept messages by reading electric impulses (You'll need to know how it is encrypted though), or for the more classic uses summon storms, fly, call lightning, use telekinesis, and the aforementioned fireball.
Control over living beings. The quintessential druid sphere. Includes healing, but ALSO ripping people in half, physical transformations (you can transform into your inner super-special animal if you want), and physical augmentations. Very varied, you can give yourself winged flight, gills, super-strength, poison bite, regeneration, immortality or whatever. Also, you can turn others into cancerous masses of still-living flesh if you really want... or even yourself. At high levels, you can create life (feel free to cackle maniacally and make as many references to Frankenstein as you can), and permanently transform into stuff. Ever wanted to be a dragon ? Now you can! Only bad thing with this sphere is that at low levels of control if you transform into animals, you can start to change mentally into an animal. How many furries were in the White Wolf team at that point? Well, apart from the inherent potential for yiff, this sphere is really pretty cool and you can do manly stuff with it.
Control over all inanimate matter. Very, very varied. You can transform matter into other matter, change the properties of matter (yup, trapping enemies in solidified air), or simply create matter from nothing. Or just change air into rocks and let them fall. You can also use telekinesis with this sphere, which means all kinds of lulz when someone has a gun and it is inappropriately pointed and you pull the trigger with Matter. You can make items rust and/or become worthless, or alternatively build shit out of your wildest dreams, for the architects in you. Summon fighter planes out of thin air? Go on, man, if you have the skill to create a fighter plane, this sphere is crazy. And then you can remote control it with the same sphere! Also good for turning vampires into lawn chairs, since they're inanimate matter.
Mind magic. What you see is what you get: telepathy at low levels, then you can start to influence people (and find an interesting way to mess up with the Storyteller's story), also you can boost your intelligence or will to superhuman levels. Alternatively, you can make vegetables out of people with Mind curses/debuffs, or restore madness. At high levels, you can create minds (total combo with high-level Life for that Dr. Moreau feel). Alternatively, cast it on a broom and get sentient broom familiars), or project yourself astrally (since you aren't going through the Umbra it isn't Spirit). Very, very good for shenanigans. However, it only controls humans and animals, not spirits (Werewolves, fae, etc).
The meta sphere. This basically allows you to control the raw, quintessence energy that makes up all of the other spheres and is the equivalent to mana in the game. It mostly deals with things like enchanting to enhancing or debuffing yourself and others, as well as creation and destruction. However, while it is OP as all hell at high levels, it's best used in conjunction with other spheres, especially in the beginning.
Like all Spheres, Prime allows you to sense it's specific element, which is quintessence in this case. This means that a mage can sense if a person is supernatural, if an item is a fetish, or if a spell is being casted nearby. In the lower levels, a mage can do things like project magic holograms of themselves, store quintessence in an object, blast people with pure energy, and make simple patterns like a block of stone or a small organism (provided they have the appropriate sphere). They can also enchant objects, giving it unusual properties like a shotgun that can destroy spirits or electronics that don't need power to function. Mid tier powers include enchanting (read: Buffing) life forms to make them stronger and faster, channel quintessence, and make weapons and objects of pure energy like a green lantern. At higher levels, you can create permanent enchanted items, and they learn how to drain quintessence from objects or imbue them to make them incredibly powerful. And max level is just BROKEN! Not only can drain or imbue living things with energy, but you can create nodes, which are springs flowing with pure quintessence, or nullify paradoxes, and make the only weakness a mage has virtually useless (Also a good way to make the GM violently angry).
Everything to do with the Umbra, which is essentially the spirit world. It lets the user tear open the Gauntlet, the protective Saran-wrapping around reality created by the Technocracy's consensus, and slip outside of the universe. Masters of this sphere can conjure, bind, and control powerful spirits and other entities, create "bases" for themselves out in the Umbra, and travel around inside of it. If, rather than fight a useless war you already lost to restore a bunch of incompetent fucks who did a shitty job of running the world the last time they took a crack at it, you just want to relax in a palatial extradimensional mansion while your harem of adoring monstergirl waifus feeds you fresh meatbread mouth-to-mouth, this is the sphere for you... unless you're playing Revised, which essentially nuked the entire Umbra to prevent that sort of thing, consequently making your entire sphere nearly useless. The Void Engineers' version is essentially identical, but they call it Dimensional Science instead.
Well, it's temporal magic. Actually, manages to be not completely broken because time travel is HARD. Like if you travel into the past, you lose yourself in history or something equally trippy. At low levels you can perceive time accurately (yay!), then you can do more interesting stuff like sensing the past and trying to sense the right future between all the possible futures (prescience is hard, go read Dune again), controlling the flow of time on targets (actually slowing down your relative time means you get super speed and probably get extra turns. Broken ? Yup), and then you can time travel at high levels. Interestingly, traveling to the past is harder than going to the future because the past is already set in stone while the future has yet to be determined. Think of it like gravity forcing things down, while it is possible to fly and go up, it's much easier to simply fall. Also, it makes for a good deterrent to avoid munchkins doing ridiculous stuff with time travel.
Herding Cats: Organizations
The Traditions are a loose association of even looser organizations,
led represented by the Council of Nine who are doing what they've always done: pursuing independent agendas. Their meetings take place every nine years and only three Masters even bothered to show up in 1988, it's unknown if any were there for 59th and last planned council of 1997.
The alternative is the Technocratic Union, who are currently winning due to being much better-organized than the Traditions and generally having something resembling a unified agenda. See, scientists, doctors, bankers, and bureaucrats tend to be better at the whole rational planning thing than fat Wicca chicks, drug addicts, scattered patches of Indigenous peoples, steampunk losers, Bruce Lee wannabees, and Jesus Christ an actual tradition of wizard serial killers seriously somebody stop them. The Technocracy grew out of the late Medieval and Renaissance-era Order of Reason, who decided that a world ruled by elite cliques of insane reality warpers, vampires, werewolves, and demons was pretty shitty if you weren't part of this 1%, so they decided to Occupy Consensus Reality. They are responsible for adapting Consensus Reality to a rational, logical, and consistent materialistic form, and uplifting humankind out of the Dark Ages with ideas and technology, but they've since decided on a much more conservative course of trying to control the world before guiding it into utopia. This paradigm has pissed off enough people that two member organizations eventually left the Technocracy, and those remaining are starting to split between the ones who want to make a positive difference in the world, and the tubby old farts who just want to keep their power and make everything the same forever. Unfortunately, the Old World of Darkness wasn't always that great about inter-gameline continuity, and whether or not they're heavily corrupted by the Weaver from Werewolf: The Apocalypse is difficult. At the very least, though they're still aligned against Pentex and its Captain Planet-villain shtick.
The Technocracy are one of the most highly praised aspects of the whole game setting; while most villain factions in the old World of Darkness tended towards pure evil, monstrous indifference, or violent insanity (the Sabbat, the Wyrm-tainted, the Nephandi, etc.) the Technocracy are relatable. Most fans either see them as misguided, corruptors of a good purpose, or even morally superior (if still a dark gray) compared to the Traditions.
The Nine Traditions
Kung fu Buddhist wizards. They can flip over cars with flying kicks and their super-special martial art, which is called Do, Japanese for "the Way," (both the suffix of every martial arts ever and a reference to Taoism, the basis of their magic). They specialize in Mind since they're basically Jedi anyway and need to do the mind-trick to make it complete.
The religious, "miracle worker" class, mostly comprised of various Abrahamic religions and their followers. They focus more on the ecstatic, "spirit-filled" religious practices than on old-fashioned tradition, with the Kabbalists joining the Order of Hermes and the hyper-traditionalist Muslims sticking with their ethnic craft, the Batini. Unfortunately, given the largely-paganist bent of White Wolf's design team, this also meant they didn't get a ton of focus or cool new stuff outside of their one write-up. Their sphere is Prime.
Cult of Ecstasy
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, man. But, like, not for their own sakes, man, but so that they can, like, free themselves from the concerns of the material, temporal world, and, like, achieve a higher state of pure... like... I dunno, pass me some more of that ganja goodness, man. ...Yeah, can you tell that the development team was full of hippies yet? It will be a running theme in this article. There are ways to do the Ecstasists right (the ones who hunt down child pornographers to make pleasure as a whole more clean were welcomed for being an extension of the concept that wasn't just more of the same), but a lot of people just played them in very boring, "more of the same" ways. Have mastery of the sphere of Time, either as a play on "living from the moment," or because all the various substances inside of them make them lose track of it all the time, and they needed some way to get it back.
The Dreamspeakers represent old-tyme tribal magic from indigenous peoples throughout the world. Which part of the world? All of it. Wait, so like, all the different Africans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans get lumped together because they're all "primitive?" That's racist as shit! Yes. Yes, it is. Welcome to early White Wolf, you poor sap. We've got support groups. (To play devil's advocate for a moment, an alternate view of this is that the various ethnic mages realized that they were too few and scattered to have any real power unless they worked together. No one is going to pay attention to the two remaining shamans of a tradition most people can't even pronounce. A hundred of them from a variety of sources bound into a coherent group with unfamiliar powers and an ax to grind; on the other hand, is a different story.) Later version made this explicit, with the Dreamspeakers themselves aware and resentful of the fact that the other Eurasian-dominated factions clumped a bunch of minor ethnic crafts together to make a coherent tradition for condescending political purposes. Their mastery is the sphere of Spirit, which mostly focuses on summoning and binding magic. Every sphere has its powerful, broken-ass exploits, and for Dreamspeakers, this means making like a D&D mage and abusing the fuck out of your ability to conjure things with their own powers to do whatever you like whenever you like it.
Crazy Hindu/Buddhist assassin wizards, who serve the Wheel of rebirth by killing "bad" people so they can reincarnate into better people. They attracted their share of emo roleplayers and Vampire: The Masquerade immigrants, but there were always some good bits thrown in too. Their sphere, Entropy is all about influencing luck, fate, and decay, which is good because "luck" doesn't necessarily ding the oppressive system of Consensus quite as overtly as some of the others.
Order of Hermes
The old-tyme wizards, with the beards, staffs, and so on. Used to be the top dogs and run the world, but they were such dickheads that they more-or-less forced the modern Technocracy into being to keep them in check. Their upper guard is extremely bitter about this, and while they're more united than most Traditions their hidebound ways prevent them from actually getting anywhere. In fact, they are divided into stiffly rigid and systemized "houses" with harshly defined specialties, now more prone to infighting than combating the rise of other Traditions and the Technocracy. Just as well: they didn't do a great job ruling the world the first time around. They use hermetic magic, which involves old Medieval stuff like Decanic Trappings, Sepiroth, and the Seal of Solomon. They master the sphere of Forces. Tend to be pretty fun, but Hermetics also tend to explode into giblets due to Paradox pretty easily if they stick to tradition, and the politics of the Order demands that they do. They also have an embarrassing tendency to fuck up everything in the back story and create terrible splinter groups. The most infamous and important of these are House Tremere, who became Clan Tremere over in "Vampire: The Masquerade."
Sons of Ether
By general consensus of the player-base, the coolest tradition. They are mad scientist-wizards, each following a vision of Science! that hasn't been current for at least half a decade. But it still works, because they will it so. Formerly aligned with the Technocracy, but they defected in a huff once their brother Technocrats approved letting the Michelson-Morley experiment go forward. (The joke is that it disproved the Luminiferous Ether. Don't worry, they got their revenge by slipping the wacky fun-house world of quantum mechanics into the Consensus on their way out.) Nowadays they've gone from Technocratic organization to being even less united that the other Traditions, constantly fighting over which outdated bit of mad science is right. This is usually accomplished through intellectual sniping in underground scholarly journals, and sometimes through actual sniping via lightning guns and disintegration beams. They have the Matter sphere. The possibilities are endless... so long as, in a bit of Technocratic heritage, it remains internally consistent with your gobbledegook non-science technobabble. In the 20th Anniversary edition, the Sons got officially renamed to the more P.C. "Society of Ether," though lady Etherites had been lobbying for it in the background of several previous editions.
Think a D&D druid and you'll be in the ballpark since their progenitors were the original article. Full of Wiccans and tree huggers, but they also cling to the less-savory side of the druid game in blood-sacrifices and a general discomfort towards the modern world. They aren't all crazy eco-terrorists, but enough are that one hopes they don't end up on top. And because White Wolf is full of hippies, neo-pagans, and New Age-types, we are supposed to find them sympathetic anyway. They have the sphere of Life, naturally, and can use it to instantly cause a Technocrat's body to instantly reject all of its gene-mods or cyborg bits. Because of course, the neo-pagan eco-crazies need an "I win" button when taking on Team Establishment. How long have you been in town, mister?
Very literal computer wizards, and the other Tradition that emigrated from the Technocracy. In their case, it was a one-two punch of finding out they'd had Alan Turing chemically castrated and murdered, and learning that the Internet was being released to the Masses. The philosophy on why this was a bad thing had its good points ("They aren't equipped to handle it yet! It'll turn them all into lazy basement-dwelling trolls obsessed with trivialities!" which was pretty fucking prescient for the time) and its bad points ("Waaaaah! Newbs on mah Internets! I'm not special anymore!"). Since they cast spells with programs and the Internet, they're great for nerds who want to play nerds and don't want to stretch. Masters of the Correspondence sphere, which lets them work with space and distance. Their shit works because the Internet is just the upper layers of a great Web of information that connects all things, which is how they can hack your wallpaper and make it change color to send messages. And we don't mean your computer background.
|Members of the Council of Nine Mystic Traditions|
Cult of Ecstasy
Order of Hermes
Sons of Ether
The Technocratic Conventions
Back in ye olden days, otherwise known as the Mage: the Dark Ages spin-off, the Daedalans of the Order of Reason formed out of the Awakened mages who weren't total asshats. Seeing that their fellow wizards were grinding the common people under heel, and, on behalf of God and the greater good, they began to create a new form of magic that anyone could use, otherwise known as SCIENCE! It was a roaring success, and it quickly became so popular that other mages' shit stopped working right via the "consensual reality" mechanics of the setting.
Unfortunately, that was ye olden days. Since then, they've become known as the Technocracy, and they've gone from being the man to being the Man. There were a lot of factors involved, but the biggest one is that they started to shift away from trying to make life better for everyone with clever inventions to trying to control everyone for their own good. Nowadays, the Technocracy is basically a hybrid of a boring government agency and a greedy, money-grubbing business, less actively malicious than sullenly satisfied with the status quo and opposed to change for reasons of sheer inertia. They've even lost two of their old Conventions to the Traditions, the Sons of Ether and the Virtual Adepts, and are finding it harder and harder to get the ordinary people excited enough about their new inventions to actually stop them Paradox-ing.
Their original draft made them out to be, in keeping with the heavy Romanticism of the original World of Darkness, villainous curs out to crush all wonder and joy out of the world to make room for more boring urban developments and soulless industrial complexes, but over time they gathered more and more fans who pointed out that anyone who invented public libraries, democracy, and toilet paper couldn't be all bad. And, after all, with Traditions like the Verbena wanting to knock us back to the Stone Ages or the Order of Hermes trying to take over the world and rule over the muggles with an iron fist, they clearly weren't the worst game in town.
Eventually, White Wolf got out of their patchouli and weed-scented cave and, blinking in the sun, agreed, making them playable and implicitly retconning their earlier portrayal as Tradition propaganda. It was a smart move that improved the game immensely. Nowadays, they're pretty much an alternative playable set of factions, with their own "reforming a corrupt, stagnant monolith from within" game feel compared to yet another "scrappy rebels fighting against the modern world" plot you can get anywhere else in the World of Darkness. After all, even in their original portrayals, they were the front-line fighters to keep ordinary people safe from supernatural threats, and they still have their share of people who genuinely want to make the world a better place.
A long time ago, they tried to wipe out the Traditions by force in a program of attack called the Pogrom. It was largely successful, but for a number of reasons they dropped it a while ago, and only splinter elements want a return to it. Nowadays, the Technocracy is largely committed to "winning the argument," and only intervening when local mages are getting out of hand. The Traditions and the Technocracy hate each other, but since they ultimately both want humanity to "ascend," no matter how sharply they disagree on what that means, their hearts are both in the right-ish place, and they both regularly declare truces and cooperate to fight Nephandi, Marauders, and regular-old human evils like child pornographers. And that makes them among the best foils/opponents in the tabletop gaming community.
Talking about the It X'ers inevitably means talking about the biggest divide between them. On the one hand, you have the old guard of master craftsmen and inventors, the cool ones. On the other, you have the crazy transhumanists worshipping the "Xth Iteration" of the Master Computer they've built with their own hands. Naturally, there's a lot of friction there. As a whole, they are the Technocracy's R&D division, focusing on cybernetics and robotics, and they focus on the spheres of Forces and Matter.
New World Order
If the Technocracy is the Man, then the NWO (no relation to the professional wrestling stable of the same name) is the Man's Man, man. They are the leaders of the Technocracy, acting as advisers around the world to governments and industries, trying to steer humanity in what they think is the right direction. Their leaders are the Men in White, and their foot soldiers are the Men in Black, the iconic uniforms using the organization's mastery of the Mind sphere to tap into the Masses' brains to make them hard to spot. They also handle the basic indoctrination every Technocrat goes through, and they're the foremost Technocrats in terms of trying to "recruit" mages. Not initially as sinister as it sounds (they were the biggest advocates of dropping the Pogrom, and their leader is a former Ecstacist who swapped sides during the Second World War), since convincing mages to turn peacefully is preferable, but they'll break out the dystopian equipment if they have to.
The biological sciences division, specializing in everything from medicine to genetic engineering under the umbrella of the Life sphere. Used to have a bunch of horrible eugenics and transhuman types, but after discovering them collaborating with Nazis and Nephandi during the Second World War, they purged that division, and are today some of the chillest, most bro-tier Technocrats... mostly. They really, really, homicidally hate homeopathy, healing crystals, reiki, and all that other New Age pseudo-medicine. Like, they think of it as an honest-to-God war crime. This tends to make them the most predisposed towards violence against the Traditions. Others Conventions regard them as either pathetic throwbacks and relics of a bygone time or a reliable, resourceful enemies who at least aren't as crazy as the Nephandi or Marauders - to a Progenitor, the Traditions are FUCKING KILLING PEOPLE WITH NONSENSE, and force is completely justified to stop them and save ordinary people from their manipulation.
Probably the Convention that hews closest to its stereotype, the Syndicate are the Technocracy's business and marketing division. Naturally, this means they're a bunch of cut-throat Gordon Gekko-types who love destructive, Darwinian competition, and so conservative that they think the biggest problem with the Technocracy today is that their fellow Conventions are rocking the boat too much and need to focus less on what could be. (Yes, this is the same organization we called a "corrupt, stagnant monolith" several paragraphs up). The closest thing to something sympathetic about them is that they honestly believe in being the Masses' partners rather than their rulers and that they just can't or won't see how flawed and cruel their philosophy really is. They focus on the spheres of Entropy and Prime for their hyper-economics, but they have a lot of cross-training in other areas to look into marketing the other Conventions' stuff.
As the Sons of Ether are to the Traditions, the Void Engineers are to the Technocracy. Why, you ask? Three words: Wizard Space Marines. Fuck yes! Regarded by mages as "the good ones" and their fellow Technocrats as the loose cannons, the Void Engineers are masters of exploration. In ye olden days, they searched the bottom of the sea and the furthest reaches of the land, and in modern times they chart the Deep Umbra and run a thriving community of space stations throughout the solar system. They are masters of the spheres of Correspondence and Dimensional Science, a heavily-modified version of the Traditions' Spirit sphere. The Engineers are the most free-spirited of the Technocrats, and the most likely to collaborate with the Conventions (they are especially friendly enemies with the Euthanatos), but they're still loyal technocrats. In fact, while they retain informal ties to the Etherites, they were the ones who pushed to remove the Luminiferous Ether from the Consensus to keep their brother Convention in line. They also tend to be viewed by the other conventions as the "less corrupt" faction only because they don't have to get their hands dirty running the 'real world' like their brethren. On the other, other hand, they are the single most likely mage-group to get a multi-faction party together to get shit done and pull awesomely pragmatic feats like frying a sub-continent darkening vampire Antediluvian by using orbital mirrors to reflect and concentrate light from the other side of the world. They had a whole subplot in Revised where they recruited Traditions to help fight Threat Null, but it's a long story and M20's probably going to make it obsolete when it finally comes out, so long story short, a contingent of Void Engineers wandered off into the Deep Umbra (the extra-extra-dimensional realms of pure possibility- aw fuck it just good old OUTSIDE OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM) and found something that freaked them right the fuck out and sent them running back home to militarize - a bunch of high-level Technocrats fucked off to the edge of reality and became the Borg.
Too small or specialized to join the Conventions and either disliking or outright opposing the Technocrats, the Independent Crafts decided to band together to form a power block of their own.
The former Seat of Correspondence before the Virtual Adepts jumped ship. They were a group of Arabic mystics who had mastered spacetime; then they saw how things were going and performed a mass NOPE! ritual off to the depths of space. Whether they were legitimate Sufi mystics or Arabian Nights parodies depended on the supplement's author.
A group consisting of former slaves in the Americas. They got voodoo, they got hoodoo, they got things I didn't even try! And they got friends on the other side. Are the servants of Les Mysteres, which translates into the Spirit Tradition.
Children of Knowledge
Alchemists turned drug users, using all sorts of crazy shit to power up their senses and use their magic. Party even harder than the Cult of Ecstasy. See magic as a method of improving themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. Changed their name from some unspellable garbage to distance themselves from an old shame involving a big-time traitor to the Trads back when they were the Seat of Matter. Tight with the Order of Hermes, so tight in fact that some of them recently went to join the Order as a new House.
The Councilor faction has been trying to join the Traditions since the 1900s, despite not having a Tradition to join with. Stereotypically goth/emo "no future" club kids/ravers. No one takes them seriously, save for the Cult of Ecstasy (gotta sell that dope to someone, right?)
Yes, the real deal. Once part of the Order of Reason they were betrayed and went into hiding. Are a very secretive group and communicate mostly through the Internet in messages that can only be deciphered by someone with extensive knowledge of scripture and the Templars themselves. Gather in lodges, some of whom are charity-minded nuns while others are monks/soldiers of Christ. Very few mages, but they're one of the only societies in the series where mages(or really supernaturals of any sort) work side by side with ordinary humans as equals. One of the most unambiguously good groups in the setting, partially due to focusing on protecting normal people from monsters rather than hunting heretics these days, and partially because most of them(not many, most) have the normally impossibly rare ability of True Faith, which is essentially God's personal seal of approval. A few went off to join the Celestial Choir and take the fight back to the Order of Reason/Technocratic Union, but most remained behind, not particularly caring about the Ascension War. After all, in their minds, God is the final auditor of Reality. Why fight over it when you could be saving lives and souls?
Polynesian mages using all sorts of stuff related to their culture to protect their lands from The Man.
Practitioners of traditional high ritual magic in Classical Africa. Their predecessors got their shit several kinds of wrecked and now seek to recover lost knowledge. Are frequently amongst the richer and more successful people in Africa.
Sisters of Hippolyta
Descended from the Amazons, and use a mix of martial art, Wicca and Greek ritual to practice their (frequently Life and Mind-oriented) magic. At best, they are some of the most caring and loving healers in the world. At worst, they are caricatures of Social Justice Warriors.
Arabic Zoroastrian-influenced mages who think the Consensus can go fuck itself, so they enslave djinni, make flying carpets, make brass palaces out of deserts, and other overwhelmingly vulgar magic straight out of the Arabian Nights. They don't give a shit about Paradox either, hell, they consider it is a badge of honor. They also have fought the Technocracy and won, and they make their lands acceptive of Paradox. Basically, they're wizards who not only kick reality in the balls but kick her in the balls a thousand times in a second and screaming really loudly "FUCK YOU, I'M A WIZARD" that reality got afraid of them and got the fuck out of their lands. Fuck yeah, Taftani,
of course, if you can stomach them supporting the Iranian "Revolution" and Taliban just because the fucking mountain yokels or the fucking Besij believe in mystical bullshit like Djinni can live in bottles or Allah watches you fap. Yes, this being World of Darkness, Taftani defend horrific ideologies that kill people over bullshit if it makes their own lives comfortable. This has not been canon for many years now actually. White Wolf dropped the details of them supporting the Taliban after 9/11 and their support of the Iranian revolution was only for overthrowing the Shah not putting a theocracy in. In fact, they have a severe distaste for not just Islam but Monotheism in general.
Arrogant Chinese mystics, they got blinded by their hubris and had their asses kicked during the War For Drugs (the Opium Wars) and the Cultural Revolution pretty much broke them. Now they seek to rebuild their power in the great tradition of "China takes over the world". Mages are urged to become powerful bankers and money brokers. The majority of their number are pure-blooded Chinese men, but they have begun to accept women and those of non-pure blood out of necessity. They've traditionally got a mutual hate-boner with the Akashic Brotherhood, and a few recently ran off to join the Hermetics... for some reason.
Lions of Zion
Orthodox Jewish Kabbalists. Normally only accept Orthodox Jewish men of age 40 or older. They have spent centuries defending the Jewish people and still do. Lost many members during the Holocaust, as they are one of the few groups in Mage that will actually sacrifice their lives for the normal people.
Wholly independent mages. The Caitiffs of the Mage setting. Typically never had a mentor. Stumbled into magic by themselves and never had another Craft or Tradition to guide them. Completely self-taught. Jacks of all trades, masters of none. They're a totally blank slate for those who don't really like how the other Crafts/Traditions are themed. They usually don't last long in-universe.
Two different flavors of batshit crazy. Nobody likes either of them, and the Marauders are even willing to stop being asshats to put down a local Nephandi.
Insane mages that can somehow avoid Paradox by passing it off to other people. When John the Barbarian gallops through New York on the back of his pet T. rex Gundar, blasting cars aside with his magic crystal sword and bellowing war-cries as he rides off to fight an imaginary menace( which, of course, will only be imaginary until he finds it anyway), it's not his problem, it's society's problem. Very powerful due to their Paradox immunity, and while they're tragic figures, they're also dangerous enough that the mages and Technocrats will team up to keep them under control.
The setting's darkest, most depraved characters, amazingly even moreso than the Tzimisce or even most Baali (Most Baali are idiots or tragic villains who NEED to commit atrocities so Malfeans can sleep): Evil mages that worship either insane demons or most of the things Lovecraft came up with, they seek to cause not Ascension but Descent, encouraging humanity to transform the world, and the universe into a literal Hell so that their masters can take possession of it. Part of becoming one involves inverting your soul through a horrific process so evil that it can corrupt the Avatar and persist through everyone else who inherits it, but unless you inherited or were kidnapped and tortured into accepting the job there's nothing sympathetic about these monsters, and in a world of gray and gray they are the blacker than black, especially considering part of the process that makes them involves confronting your own personal idea of evil, and swearing to serve it forever. Another threat that forces cooperation between the Traditions, the Technocracy and EVEN the Marauders, most famously in World War II. (Unsurprisingly, many of the Nephandi were Nazis, which was expected of White Wolf.)
There are Nephandi that are born with an Avatar from a former life, called Widderslainte. Most of these fucks are just a bunch of sociopathic children(until they grow up and become sociopathic assholes) unless they Awaken, and when they do, the "fun" begins. Then there are Mages that turn themselves by their own choice. Fuck those faggots.
Ascension or Armageddon
Just like the other two big games, Mage: The Ascension got special treatment when it came to the Time of Judgement, with it getting a book all to itself. A central theme is that of Judgement, the Tenth Sphere that many Mages have looked for so long. It's not a traditional Sphere in that you can take dots in it to use magic: it is a manifestation of the judgment that is to come to all of magic and its users.
Quite infamously, Mage didn't have endgame scenarios as up-to-snuff as Vampire or Werewolf. One is seen as pretty good, one as good but situational and tied to a particular style of play, and the rest are just mediocre to bad, pulling huge, important characters and plot points out of nowhere or just not really being a good fit for the gameline.
Or, The Pretty Good One.
Essentially, the World of Darkness is fatally flawed by nature, and in order to fix anything, it is first necessary to end everything. When the world ends, all humanity will Awaken, and everyone will get a happy ending. Unfortunately, one crazed Marauder is trying to save the world, and it's up to you to stop him. The irony of this situation is never directly addressed but is skirted around obliquely.
Said crazed Marauder is, in fact, Voormas, the former head of the Euthanos, and he's split away to start strangling reality to death in an attempt to save it by tearing apart the Gauntlet between the realms of the living and the dead, to instead put himself into the place of the Death aspect so that mankind need never suffer loss or death again. (Kinda sad if you think about it, the poor bugger must have been badly traumatized. Still...) So, with the signs of the End Times clear, the heads of all nine Traditions gear up to actually have everyone attend a Council meeting for the first time in a while, and the Technocracy can't resist the temptation to try to decapitate the snake by assassinating them all. Disruption keeps them from doing this until the situation is laid bare before the heroes, and some drama with the Rogue Council having the Tenth Seat takes place, but eventually, Technocratic hit-men warp in and start killing everyone, even calling in mundane police and Riot cops for backup, as the Tenth Seat gets stolen by a group of people trying to fix the world, who then grab the party. They have them start working on a spell to create a rubric for the new world, and if they do so, they end up becoming major, major political players in the Traditions.
From there, the Euthanoi lose the Realm of Entrophy to Voormas, choosing to believe that he can be beaten rather than kill the world outright to stop him. The Gauntlet gets shredded, causing mass, haphazard Awakenings all over the globe that tax the Technocracy's ability to suppress them to the limit. However, it also unleashes the Avatar Storm into the physical world, which fucks up the Traditions even worse. The menagerie of spirits from Werewolf start causing metaphorical, spiritual rot to become very-literal structural rot, destroying countless pollution-spewing factories and the like. In the end, a desperate Technocracy directly moves to control several Earth governments, declares the Traditions terrorists using advanced technology to destroy civilization, and moves from the usual bullshit to open warfare, with a final objective being the mass capture and internment or outright elimination of all Reality Deviants.
The Hollow Ones step up to the plate and take a new role as leaders of the resistance against these forces, while the Traditions finally put aside their petty differences and come together to try to make strides in fixing the world's problems once and for all in a War Council. Both gather their forces for a massive battle in Australia, where there is some protection from the Avatar Storm, but a message comes to the PCs: they need not to destroy the Technocracy, but save it from itself. Its aid will be needed against coming threats. So, hopefully, they set out to visit the Ivory Tower itself, the heart of the Technocracy.
The place is deserted, dusty, and mostly unused, and they find that all but one of the leaders of the Technocracy have just withered away into nothing, faded into their pure intelligence and drives, devoid of humanity. The only one left is the leader of the Void Engineers, in the cloned body of a young boy, who explains things to the PCs, claiming that he and the rest of his faction are buzzing off to a new universe they've discovered, rather than engage in any kind of transhuman ascension like that of his former peers. He also warns them that the Marauders are coordinating together to assault whoever wins the battle between the Traditions and the Technocracy and that while they might not like each other he doesn't want that freakshow to take over either. Then, he gives them an artifact to help with the whole world-ending-transhumanist thing, shows them the control panel that broadcasts orders to all Technocrats, and peaces out.
From there, hopefully, the party figures out a way to get the Technocrats to stand down and accept the ritual they've cooked up without frying their brains or activating their programming. Without, you know, backlashing the entire Technocracy with Paradox or losing themselves to the mass-mind. And maybe laying some groundwork for both sides putting down their guns, if you bother to try.
Then, everyone hopefully gears up to get ready for full Ascension. But first, the party will have to deal with Voormas, who's going to try to kill Death itself, to make sure the new world is without pain and loss... and either not realizing or not caring that doing so will lead to a world of stodgy stasis, just as deformed and flawed as this one. At the same time, the combined armies of the Technocracy and the Traditions stop the Marauders from literally driving all humanity mad... or, if you failed, whichever group survives tries and utterly fails to do so. They storm the ruined realm of Entrophy, past armies of undead, and stand before him, as he tries to complete his ritual while blasting at them. Killing him outright is hard and counterproductive (his death curse causes his killer to inherit his madness and take up his work), so preventing him from successfully aligning what he needs to complete his ritual and forging a new universe free of karma or death is the favored outcome here. This is easiest by having the artifact the leader of the Void Engineers gave you merge with his staff, destroying both and leaving him helpless to achieve his purpose.
If they succeed, it's all roses. The Nephandi get what they always wanted, and are snuffed out or tortured forever, the Marauders all fuck off into their own little worlds and stay there, alone forever, and the rest of mankind collectively Awakens, then Ascends, with the Traditions and the Technocracy somehow managing to make their mutually-exclusive end goals work.
It's easily the best-designed scenario, and it does play with the themes of the overall gameline quite well. Better, it manages to make the PCs important to the action all the way through. There are a few problems here and there, mostly with the complex mythology it tries to bolt onto proceedings that I mostly left out, but it's not that important for the purposes of playing a good, rousing game of Good End.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
The Technocracy End.
Essentially, the better elements of the Technocracy have always been stockpiling power, waiting for the more xenophobic elements to fully clear the Earth of dissenting magical philosophies before seizing power themselves as the Unionists, and bringing back that old-tyme religion: the old, positive ideals of the Order of Reason, reborn in the 21st century. They are opposed by the Loyalists, Technocrats who just want to take over the world and rule it for its own good forever, reshaping the bodies and minds of all humanity to their will.
Suddenly, the Avatar Storm overtakes several Horizon Constructs and cuts off the Ivory Tower from the rest of the Technocracy. They can send orders, but not move around troops.
As the Gauntlet starts to fall apart, letting through all manner of supernatural critters from other planes and causing the cataclysmic events of other gamelines, these two super-factions start a conflict with one another just shy of all-out war, as ham-fisted Loyalists use more and more extreme methods to seal dimensional breaches and deal with witnesses, while angry Unionists argue that the current crisis is just the culmination of their failures and proof of how far the organization has drifted from the noble goals of the Order of Reason. Some Unionists even collaborate with Traditions to protect the innocent caught in the crossfire.
Then, Control falls silent, isolating many Technocratic parties for a long period of time. Just long enough for them to get used to making their own calls, in fact, before suddenly communications resume, demanding mass status reports for new supervisors no one's ever heard of. In the meanwhile, lots of Technocrats collaborated with Traditions or went against procedure, and now they're being cracked down on for it. Worse, the supervisors are clearly not at all informed of how bad the situation is up in their Ivory Tower, and send people into crazy-dangerous situations with useless-ass restrictions or insufficient equipment.
Revolution brews. Mid-level managers start ignoring orders. More and more ground-level Technocrats turn Unionist. Many begin collaborating more and more openly with the technically-minded Traditions. And, finally, when the Avatar Storm hits the physical world and people start Awakening en-masse, things boil over. Both sides work to contain the damage while actively working to destroy one another. Many Loyalists go completely insane rather than bend their worldview to accommodate the wackiness going on. It also frees up the Technocratic leadership trapped in Horizon to come back into the physical world as spirits, so that's fun.
Paradox gets supercharged as a panicked consensus tries to protect itself, fucking up all non-techomantic magic. From there, the Unionists, assisted by cabals of Virtual Adepts and Etherites, gets ready for a massive conflict against the Loyalists, as the Loyalists prepare to eliminate all Reality Deviants and take over the world, regardless of collateral damage, while more and more monsters come out through the Umbra. In the end, hopefully, the Unionists emerge triumphant, creating a Technocracy Good End, where the reborn ideals of the Order of Reason triumph over the corruption of the Loyalists, in a new world of Enlightened Science.
It's a good idea for a finale. Better than most of these others. Unfortunately, it's not very well-designed. It just tells the story, barely bothering to talk about what the PCs should do, or even if they should be a Traditional cabal or a Technocratic amalgam. More of an idea-mine than an actual module... but still, it has a vision, and it actually addresses the long fascination with the positive side of the gameline's traditional antagonists.
Unfortunately, it's all downhill from here...
The Earth Will Shake
Good old meteor apocalypse, some mages plan to escape into the Umbra, and other Traditions and Technocracy attempt to blow it up.
A Whimper, Not a Bang
Aliens from another universe kidnap Mage avatars and drain magic because they need it. Faggots.
Hell on Earth
The first Nephandus, Aswadim, Nameless One proceeds to play most of reality like a fiddle through the clever plan of waiting until literally everyone else fucks up badly enough. By the time he starts taking a direct hand in things, he's running both sides of the Ascension War and forces the Avatar storm into an unprotected world. Senex manages to give him a booboo. And then things get worse - he kills the Alder Bole, most remaining tradition forces die trying to retake Mus, and he summons his undying masters into the world before becoming one of them himself. There are no good endings. The best hope the world has at this point is for a new set of Awakened to somehow kick off the forces of hell, when those forces include multiple incarnate Aswadim who own the planet and one has a war form that's almost impossible to look at without tearing up your sheet, let alone fight.
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- Mister Gone's Character Sheets
- Weaponmark: An Open Source Weapon Comparison Utility for Mage - all-new 8/15/2017