Mage: The Awakening
|Mage: The Awakening|
|RPG published by
White Wolf / Onyx Path
|Rule System||Storytelling System|
|Authors||Justin Achilli et al|
|First Publication||2005, 2016(2nd edition)|
Mage: The Awakening is the New World of Darkness version of Mage: The Ascension. They basically removed all the cool diverse traditions and organizations from the old one and substituted vague, indeterminate, inscrutable new ones. Much more emphasis on the the fate of the real world, now that Mages no longer have their own special spirit world to care about (LOL Astral Realms). Mages Awaken and find that (according to some of the earlier fluff - this gets pushed by the wayside later) they're the inheritors to Atlantis. The Seers of the Throne (a version of the Mage: the Ascension Technocracy) are out to get them. Have fun eating Paradox like a chump!
Neckbeards hate it so much that they play it more than they did the old one, and people who barely ever played the old one but felt entitled to an endless, non-playing discussion circlejerk feel sad that the expertise they developed arguing about a particular imaginary world has been reduced to its actual, marginal social value. The second edition has since fixed up the fluff to make things more flavorful, though.
It's a fucking chore trying to understand these rules straight out of the book.
As it goes with White Wolf, the book itself jumps all over the place when it comes to explaining both Fluff and Crunch. Rules for casting magic can be found in sections about awakening and vice versa. Not only that, but it doesn't help that the entire wording of rules in the book goes along the lines of "this doesn't matter and is abstract but also important," while burdening the newbie with additional information that they shouldn't have to worry about just yet.
All this means you better pray to Tzeentch that he puts you in a really understanding group (or one made up of similarly new player) with a GM who knows what the fuck is going on and is able to clearly explain the rules and can help you with casting the spell you want to cast.
Most of your first sessions will be spent adding up and subtracting the numerous amount of dice you'll need in order cast spells and also buff them so that they can actually DO something, and if you've got a shitty GM, referring to the scattered rules of magic that are found all throughout the book, one which doesn't have a GOD DAMN INDEX!!!
That being said, though, once you get used to the layers of complexity and the mechanics of it all, you have quite the comprehensive magic system that allows for some fun adaptation and dickery. The flexible and abstract depictions of magic means that you can really do anything with magic and also means that you can imagine how magic looks in your own head, and also means that spells aren't bound to their simple descriptions.
Just because it's a level one spell, doesn't mean it's useless at higher levels.
Once you get the right amount of Yantras, dedicated tools, power and other such aids, you can turn a passive first level spell into a real magic monster, just by roiding it up a little.
All in all, it's a complex, but worthwhile system, and it's better than its predecessor.
Mages come to be when an ordinary person going about their business suddenly undergoes an Awakening, in which their soul goes a-walking among the Supernal Realms and inscribes their name on a Watchtower located there. It's not unlike Plato's Cave metaphor, except where leaving graffiti outside of the Cave gives you hax magical powers. After having done so, the person is forever Awakened to an understanding of the truth of the world.
The Supernal is the metaphorical fire and objects (which we'll call symbols, from now on) that cast the shadows in Plato's cave, with the shadows here being the 'Fallen' World where everyone lives and dies. The reason it's called the Fallen World is because there's a whole (un)realm of (un)reality called the Abyss between the Supernal and the real world. This happened because eleven assholes-turned-symbolic Truth didn't want anyone else to get a share of their pie. The eleven god-assholes became symbols of Tyranny; the mages call them the Exarchs (Greek for 'ruler from outside'), whom the Seers of the Throne serve for sweet, sweet power.
Now you're probably asking "What are the Supernal Realms then?" The thing about the Supernal is that if you enter it willy-nilly you get obliterated, as in 'never-existed' obliterated. The Watchtower filters the Truth, creating a realm in which a person can Awaken without being deleted from reality. In fact this is how Archmasters enter the Supernal, by imposing their own vision into it.
So to make things simple, the Supernal is the source code for reality, with the realms being programming languages, and the Exarchs are viruses that created a mass of glitches called the Abyss that threatens to wreck it all.
There are five Paths which one normally Awakens to. These determine your two favored Arcana (the replacement for the Spheres), as well as the Arcana you're worst at. Each Path corresponds to one of the Supernal Realms.
- Acanthus: The Enchanters, who walk Arcadia. You toured fairyland. Not the same one as the one these poor bastards escaped from, although the Changelings would prefer it if these mages didn't keep trying to test that theory. Acanthus Mages have the primary Arcana of Fate & Time, with the inferior Arcana of Forces. Acanthus are stereotyped to be flexible and fickle artsy types.
- Mastigos: The Warlocks, those who walk Pandemonium. Your awakening was hell, literally. You faced down your inner demons, and either outwitted, out-gambled, or just out-muscled the hellish pricks, so that you yourself become the Ur-prick. Mastigos have the primary Arcana of Mind & Space, with the inferior Arcana of Matter. Mastigos are stereotyped to be diabolical and suave manipulators.
- Moros: The Necromancers, those who walk Stygia. You walked through Stygia, the platonic ideal of death (contrasted to the incredibly shitty Underworld). Moros have the primary Arcana of Matter & Death, with the inferior Arcana of Spirit. Moros are stereotyped to be dour and resolute down-to-earth types.
- Obrimos: The Theurges, those who walk through Aether (aka Not-Heaven). Your Awakening was all Old Testament Ezekiel - tongues of fire, wheels studded with eyes, seraphim chanting hymns to God, the works. Obrimos have the primary Arcana of Forces & Prime, and the inferior Arcana of Death. Obrimos stereotypes paint them as zealous and devoted champions of ideals. They see Magic through structures and order, making it pretty good for classic wizardry, holy priests, arcane scientists,or even a mix of the above (call upon the secret name of God hidden in e=mc2).
- Thyrsus: The Shamans, those who walk the Primal Wild. You took a walk on the wild side, and are basically the walking manifestation of the Circle of Life song from The Lion King. Thrysus have the primary Arcana of Life & Spirit, with the inferior Arcana of Mind. Thrysus stereotypes are those of down-to-earth and hippie back-to-the-landers.
The Chronicler's Guide has a 6th Watchtower of Brass and Flame (Spirit & Forces), along with the option of 10 Supernal Realms each with their own Arcanum, or possibly even an additional 20 different paths around two ruling Arcana for the Seers of the Throne. Also, the Tremere liches (a Left-Handed Legacy) have a legend about a "final" Watchtower of the Soul, but it's more likely a Watchtower image reflected in the Abyss like those described in Tome of Mysteries. Introduced in Imperial Mysteries within Imperium, is an ultimate ability that can create a new Realm, Watchtower, or even another Celestial Ladder.
The Pentacle Orders
Originally starting as the Diamond Order, the first four factions were joined by the Free Council at the turn of the 20th century after the Seers asked them to join forces against the Diamond Order. While the Free Council is still a bit seperate from their peers, the Diamond Order has now become the Pentacle Order. The five factions are:
- The Adamantine Arrow: The Mage army. They teach magical kung-fu and shit. ZAP MUTHAFUCKA! They believe existence is war, which leads to infighting for dominance or just practice, with themselves or with other factions. They actually get along great with the other Orders, because 90% of their schtick is protecting other mages. Honaraburu.
- The Guardians of the Veil: They're the Mage secret service. They keep shit that should stay hidden, hidden. Particularly from Sleepers. They oppose the Seers of the Throne, because they think magic should be hidden and the unworthy should be prohibited from becoming mages, which is far too much like the Seers than they'd like (the main difference is that if the Guardians see you Awakening despite them, they presume you are worthy until shown otherwise). Oddly enough, they're one of the few Orders that think there should be strong ethical guidelines for magic, even taking upon themselves the burden of doing evil and losing Wisdom so others don't dirty themselves (in short: they get to do bad things so nobody else has to). They oppose the Free Council and Silver Ladder for their recklessness, and the Mysterium for keeping secrets from them. The other Pentacle Orders don't like them, but they don't like themselves either considering their work to be disgusting but sadly necessary. They also secretly believe Mage Jesus will one day come and fix everything, and he/she will not come from the disgusting Guardians.
- The Mysterium: The Mage equivalent of Indiana Jones or wise old sages (sometimes both!). They collect and study magical mysteries, keeping secrets from other mages unless they are worthy or have another mystery to trade with, which leads to other factions trying to steal their lucky charms. Tied with the Ladder for "Pentacle Order most like the Seers".
- The Silver Ladder: The leadership caste of Mage society. They play politics and think Mages are superior to mortals. A combination of revolutionaries, apocalypse cultist, and priesthood (of HUMANITY FUCK YEAH). They consider it the divine right of mankind to wield magic, but there are different tiers of enlightenment before and after you become a mage (hence ladder) and believe that even if you don't Awaken you can find a rung best suited for you - basically a meritocratic caste system. Even though both are mankind-loving rebels, they dislike the Free Council because of their views on hierarchies and the Guardians of the Veil because when you have one organization that considers hubris a Mage's greatest enemy and another that has the saying "Hubris is a coward's word", of course they're not going to get along well.
- The Free Council: the "Ordinary Humanity, Fuck Yeah!" faction. They believe that the mortal world isn't quite as worthy of dismissal as the other Orders believe it to be, and that Mages can learn a lot from things like mortal technology. They push for democracy in Awakened society, as opposed to the meritocracy that the Ladder usually sets up. They oppose the Silver Ladder, because they think magic should be for everyone (which is arguably something they have in common but the mage superiority angle the Silver Ladder has rubs then the wrong way), The Guardians for hiding magic from sleepers (sometimes - older members of both orders tend to see their roles as complimentary), the Mysterium for being too fixated on Atlantis, and the Seers for being like the Guardians but worse (they work for the Exarchs and aren't at all complimentary).
Seers of the Throne
The Seers of the Throne want to be the Imperium in a world where Chaos and real HERESY as they define it does not exist (i.e. the only thing to them is cartoonishly evil wannabe Nazis played straight). If you play those guys as actual heroes rather than your secret supervillain fantasies, you are doing it wrong. And we're not talking the Doctor Horrible "lashing out against everyone who mocked your scientific genius and making the world a better place if you won no seriously you aren't kidding or deluded" secret supervillain fantasy (that would be the Technocracy, or to use an example from the actual game, the factions of the Pentacle at their nastiest). No, you want Seers for the "grind the world beneath your heel while you anally rape it using your magic-empowered dick and take photos to show off to your fellow global anal rapists before going off to eat puppies grilled on the infernos of a burning oil slick sea and washing them down with the tears of abused orphans" supervillain fantasy. Seriously, grimdark is a feature of the world they want, even more so than the current fucking World of Darkness! The Seers are a bureaucratic fuckfest of backstabbing, infighting, and bureaucratic power-jockeying between a bunch of "ministries," even more so than the Pentacle. While some Seers might go on about trying to "protect humanity from magic's dangers," that's either lip service or self-delusion. If they really wanted to protect sleepers, they'd join the less-crazy of the Banishers (which is itself an oxymoron, for reasons described below).
There are four big ministries, divided into how they want to make the world miserable as shit, as well as a few minor ministries (eleven in total, one for each Exarch). The big four are:
- The Praetorian: The Weak Fear the Strong The ministry that governs violence. The Praetorians like cold-blooded strategy just as much as burning rage, and war just as much as serial killing. These ensure that humanity remains a pack of mewling whelps unable to even consider obtaining enlightenment. They serve the General, Exarch of Forces.
- The Panopticon: Vision is Power You don't need to literally enslave people to enslave them; make people believe they are being watched and they will chain themselves. The Panopticon is based on this philosophy: to them paranoia is sacred, and their ideal is a world without privacy, where Sleepers will not act because everyone else is watching. They serve the Eye, Exarch of Space.
- The Hegemony: The State is The Soul Utopia is attainable. Sleepers must never be allowed to attain it, can never know it’s truly possible and above all, can never be allowed to find out that it used to exist. The Hegemony carry a contradicting duty, to divide humanity by uniting them under a banner or ideology, erasing individuality yet creating opposition. The Hegemony are dying, corporate greed eating patriotism as the Ministry of Mammon wish to usurp them. They serve the Unity, Exarch of Mind.
- The Paternoster: Faith is an Unbreakable Chain It takes faith to manufacture faith, and devotion to deceive the devoted. The Paternoster, unlike the other ministries, buys into their own hype, all of it. They truly believe if no-one Awakens and all Supernal truth is gone from this world then it would become paradise. They serve the Father, Exarch of Prime.
These are just the big ministries - there's always four of them (and always those four, even if another Ministry usurps a spot), but while the other seven are much weaker they're just as dedicated in grinding down the world and backstabbing each other for more power.
Banishers are mages who awakened "wrong" and developed an instinctive hatred of magic as a result. Their awakening was traumatic and not at all empowering, so they wreak havoc on other mages with fear and flame, creating their own Mage-style paradigms in the process. Supposedly, all Banishers have a choice as to whether or not they hunt other mages, but little effort is devoted to Banishers who "go straight," except to mention that some Banishers try being regular mages for a while but fail, and that some Banishers who teamed up with the Pentacle to fight the Seers miss their old "war buddies". Banishers often embody the opposite of what their Watchtower stereotype is - Acanthus who are far beyond driven; compassionate mage-killer Mastigos; Moros who reject life's cruel realities, blaming mages for them in a form of denial; hardcore atheist/nihilist Obrimos; and Thrysus who have become captains of industry. They organize into various cults, from wildman cannibals, religious nuts, performance artists, alien abductees, pyromaniac cathars, thinly-veiled Scientologist knockoffs, and more. The Banishers have a whole lot of wild possibilities, as they aren't caught in the Jungian/Atlantean straitjacket of the Pentacle and Seers. Then again, so do Apostates/Nameless (AKA everyone else, or the Orders too small to have any real influence).
There are ten Arcana, which are the different domains that magic has control over. Similar to the Mage: The Ascension Spheres, except with easier crunch.
- Death: Deals with death, darkness, decay, ghosts, souls and other such spooky stuff. Is more or less a "new" Arcana not directly taken from the original Mage game, but it's got some elements of Entropy.
- Fate: Mostly stuff like luck, fate, fortune and oaths, but at the highest level you can go Old Testament on people's asses and summon rains of frogs, swarms of locusts and otherwise turn probability into your bitch. Derived from Ascension's Entropy.
- Forces: Fire, wind and electricity, heat and cold, light, sound, gravity and even radiation: Forces is a potent Arcana indeed. At lower levels you're a bit limited, but at higher levels you can shit lightning like there's no tomorrow and cockslap physics in the face by creating or destroying energy. And then you can give someone cancer by radiating them.
- Life: The Arcana of healing and sickness, of rebuilding life and disassembling it, but also working with animals or shapeshifting: Life is a very useful support Arcana. At higher levels you can almost bring people back from the dead, rip the life straight out of them, or even create brand new species of life.
- Matter: The Arcana of solids, liquids and gasses, of form, shaping and changing: Matter is a real hands-on Arcana. This works with both base materials and machines, allowing a mage to mess with electronic devices, reshape matter, fuse machines together so you have a shotgun that shoots nails, create golems or create matter ex nihilo.
- Mind: Jedi Mind Trick, the Arcana. With some extra abilities involving the Goetia and mindfucking people to death. Also allows for telepathic networking and creating friends.
- Prime: The Arcana of Metamagic. This allows a Mage to mess with the Aether, Tass, Nodes and allows Sleepers to become Sleepwalkers. Has less to do with making objects permanent like in the original Mage, but it still allows for messing with the trappings of magic like back in the day.
- Space: Correspondence, but with the connections between things played down slightly. This Arcana allows the mage to mess with three-dimensional space to move faster or keep people away from certain locations, lock them in rooms that air can't get into, warp someone's flesh, fold space or even create pocket dimensions. Space can still mess with connections between things or people, but this is not Fate or Mind magic: it is merely the connection itself which can be returned to its original state.
- Spirit: The Arcana to deal with the spirit world. Allows the Mage to commune with spirits, survive in the spirit world, create fetishes and familiars and at the highest levels alter or even create new spirits, Loci or a permanent residence in the spirit world. Remember that it is unwise to annoy the spirits, and even more so if the Uratha have to get involved.
- Time: Precognition and postcognition, prophecy and change and even compressed or reversed time: while difficult to use Time is a very potent Arcana. At lower levels a Mage can alter minor events or see a bit into the future, at higher levels they can see far into the future, rewrite history, age someone to death on the spot or have time around them slow to a crawl while the Mage has hours to spend.
Practices are the codification of magic. They simply identify the effects of spells rather than having mechanical benefits. You don't need any levels in these to use them: having a high enough Gnosis and Arcanum rating lets you do use them. There are thirteen of them for regular Mages, five for Archmages and an Ascended one. The base Practices are:
- • Compelling: Urge a phenomena to do something it would otherwise already do.
- • Knowing: Figure something out about a phenomena that falls within an Arcanum.
- • Unveiling: Discover information about a phenomena that the Mage cannot otherwise see.
- •• Ruling: Control a phenomena.
- •• Shielding: Protect an object or person using the Arcanum.
- •• Veiling: The opposite of Unveiling, duh.
- ••• Fraying: Damage a target with a phenomena or damage the phenomena itself.
- ••• Perfecting: Refine and repair phenomenas within an Arcanum.
- ••• Weaving: Alter the properties of a phenomena.
- •••• Patterning: Transform a phenomena into just about anything as long as it falls within an Arcanum.
- •••• Unraveling: Negatively alter a phenomena or greatly damage something with a phenomena.
- ••••• Making: Create a phenomena ex nihilo.
- ••••• Unmaking: Destroy a phenomena or use a phenomena to destroy something.
The Imperial Practices are:
- •••••• Dynamics: Create phenomena that changes and adapts to conditions it encounters.
- ••••••• Entities: Permanently graft Arcanum to a target's pattern, usually to grant it supernatural abilities.
- ••••••• Excision: Permanently strip a target's pattern of Arcanum, usually to remove certain capacities from it.
- •••••••• Dominions: Create Chantries and split the Archmage's soul into multiple entities.
- ••••••••• Transfiguration: Only has one spell: temporarily merge with the Arcanum so that any feat is possible.
- •••••••••• Assumption: Purely theoretical, theorized to allow a permanent merging with the Arcanum. The only thing the rules confirm about it is that it exists.
Recently introduced in Imperial Mysteries. When a mage hits Gnosis 6 and Arcana 6, if they obtain the proper Quintessence (basically, a one time mystical quest item), they may attempt to cross the Abyss and awaken a second time, becoming retardedly powerful if they succeed, and becoming a witch from Puella Magi Madoka Magica if they don't, complete with barrier, flocks of abyssal intruders around them, and so on. They get their own pocket dimension where they cannot be harmed, but cannot affect anyone else as long as they stay inside of it. Archmagi are so powerful, they can kill people so hard that they never existed in the first place, but all level 6+ arcana effects require arcane experience and quintessences, and it's recommended that the PCs only manage to obtain quintessences after decades and decades of work.
Why don't they run the World of Darkness, you ask? The short answer is "there's lots of sides". The slightly longer answer is "they're mostly immortal, mostly hiding in their reality-proof bunkers in case you do go nuclear in a way they don't approve of, and mostly can undo your work eventually". Also (hopefully), the lesson less exalted Magery grimly hammered home session after session: "hubris is dangerous". With power of this magnitude comes commensurate punishment for ambition or failure; your Supernal screwups have consequences as far reaching as any of your other spells of that scale.
Imagine walking into a library where everything is books - the walls, ceiling, floors, and furniture - and also the words inside are the source code for the universe. In order to make one careful alteration - let's say you want dogs to be human-level intelligent - you walk across the room, scribble in your correction, and leave. Let's also say you forgot to wipe your feet when you came in and tracked mud on an early 20th century historical document. When you get home, you discover that Germany won WWII, and your new intelligent dogs are mostly Nazi German Shepherds, and so kind of assholes. Now imagine that also recorded here are phone books of true names, or the last quarter million years of terrestrial evolutionary history, or the blueprint for the human soul, or the definition of Love, or any other common noun, for that matter.
Cosmic horror is COSMIC.
Despite being stupidly powerful, Archmagi are potentially easier to ST for than ordinary mages of equal XP; it costs about 205 experience points, all focused into Gnosis and one Arcana, to become one, and although they become unbelievably good at their chosen Arcana, at that rate, you can pretty much expect them to do something really good with that one Arcana and not much else. This is in contrast to a regular mage of the same XP, who could have voraciously spread out his experience points in all directions and accumulated every arcana effect worth having and being utterly unpredictable. But YMMV.
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