One of the things that needs to be highlighted in Mage: the Awakening is the fact that it is essentially a horror game. Like many of the protagonists of the World of Darkness, Mages are monsters lurking among humanity.

While we can be philosophical about the whole thing about Mages actually being a potential force for good, a slightly more pessimistic angle to Mage can show just how utterly frightening Mages really are.

I’ve been putting a bit of thought into that way of presenting Mage: the Awakening and I’ve been reviewing the little things that most Mages players take for granted.

Let’s take Oblations as an example. In Mage: the Awakening, an Oblation is a small rite or ritual that a mage performs to draw Mana into themselves. While the book has the usual methods of meditation, I want to push the boundaries of the concept and highlight the magical concept of sympathy as a means of drawing down Mana into themselves.

For example, let’s take a Mastigos, a mage whose specialty is Mind and Space magics. One who awakened to the hellish realm of Pandemonium. A potential Oblation for him would be to take a pet project, to “adopt” a person and follow them, prodding at their emotions and their mental state, studying their responses to various stressors, from hallucinations to creeping stress. This isn’t because the mage has anything against the human, but the human makes for a beautiful canvas upon which to study the Mind and how it adapts and changes to the presence of the strange, the abhorrent and the absurd.

Wisdom is often at risk to these cases, but if we’re looking at monstrous mages, then we don’t have to look very far.

That said, if you’re looking at the possibility of other Oblations that aren’t wisdom sins, consider a mage whose oblation is that of self-mutilation, exploring the boundaries of pain and endurance. It’s not exactly a widsom sin, but self-mutilation is rarely a pleasant experience.

Mages are people who have been opened to the Truth of things, an awareness that leaves them different. They react differently to events as compared to other people, and DaveB’s conversion notes shows this elegantly with the rule that they do not roll to lose Integrity if they are exposed to horrors and atrocities committed by anything in the Fallen World. These are… normal to Mages. These instances aren’t something to run away from, but to witness, observe and perhaps act upon to learn more.

This view of Mages is perhaps decidedly pessimistic, but it ought to be tempered by the fact that the protagonists are meant to be much better people. Wisdom, the central “morality” stat of the game reflects this. Infinite knowledge leaves the responsibility to use such knowledge with care and consideration for the self and others. And while the player characters are usually the ones which are meant to adhere to this, NPCs are excellent characters to use to show just what happens when a Mage doesn’t have Wisdom to hold themselves back.


Life is Magic. From the miracle of childbirth to the power of adrenaline and the mysteries of our DNA, the very fact that we are alive is the greatest of all mysteries. The Verbena know this, and have worked with the magic of life as their focus for centuries, and continue their work even until now.

They are among the oldest practicioners of magic, with means ancient and arcane, a magic of intuition and blood over formula and rote. As such the Verbena tend to have a very strong female presence, with roots in Wicca and Druidic practices in their traditions.

This makes them very challenged in this day and age of modern comfort and medicine. The world turns all too readily to synthetic chemical solutions to address anything from a simple cold to fancy new diseases that seem to happen every year. The Verbena are not too easily replaced however, and have proven to be the hardiest of all the Traditions in the face of prosecution.

Magic

The Verbena mage has incredible command over the Sphere of Life. This grants them the ability to heal wounds and cure disease, as well as to take on physical characteristics of other people and animals. Shape-shifting is a typical of most Verbena. More modern Verbena might find new means to take advantage of subtle changes, like copying fingerprints to get through security, for example.

Weaknesses

The Verbena are a Tradition steeped in history and with methods that have all but been eradicated by modern life. Few people believe in the old ways anymore, and while they still have several enclaves where they can practice their craft, they are also experiencing difficulty with those who would exploit the old ways to make a quick profit.

Opportunities

The recent trend of defying “Big Pharma” and “GMO” foods is one that the Verbena can take advantage of. The trend of celebrity chefs advocating naturally sourced foods that are locally grown is a great springboard for the Verbena to advocate their magics and philosophy of leaving nature to do it’s job rather than manipulating it for mass production.

Sample Characters

Agricultural Consultant – Sutainability is not a buzzword, but a lifestyle. In the age of mass-production, it is the consumer that suffers the most from all the cumulative shortcuts taken by manufacturers. Your job is to open the eyes of farmers to alternatives that are profitable, sustainable, and retain the genetic diversity of local crops. You think in terms of two ecosystems, that of the planet, and that of the economy. It’s a tough job, and few people would imagine you being a “witch” but your approach to magic is a patient one, much like a gardener cultivating his plants to grow at their most beautiful.

Camp Counselor – Kids these days could learn a thing or two from being out of doors. In an age where they’re perptually stuck with their eyes glued to the glow of a mobile device or a TV, you’re here to open their awareness to the wonder of nature. You’re a tricky one, using a combination of discipline and encouragement to whip these kids into real people, ones who are aware of their presence in the world, not lost in some sort of fantasy world.

Cultural Activist – Globalization has it’s fair share of benefits, but the eradication of unique cultures is one of it’s greatest sins. You fight for the right of people to retain their cultural identity in the constant pressure of popular media to homogenize everything. You’re more than aware that diversity is the key to survival, and that magic gets weaker with every culture lost to consumerism. Your methods are harsh, and people think that your cause is lost, but you’re not about to give up the fight.


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Among the recent releases for the new World of Darkness, Demon is perhaps unique in the sense that you play a supernatural creature that was never human at any point of their history. The Unchained were formerly Angels, agents of the God-Machine, an ancient and unknowable entity whose true scope, nature and motivations are alien to everyone, even the Angels that serve it.

At a crucial point in their time as Angels, the player characters chose to disobey the God-Machine. Whether from pride, anger, love or pity, these Angels fell from the God-Machine, severing their connection in their first act of true independence. This act of free will is what defines the Unchained, and their new fallen state is something that they bear with pride or shame, and how they react to their new existence forms the basis of their Agenda.

The resulting game is an intriguing game of espionage, as the Demons find ways to subvert or destroy the Infrastructure of the God Machine in order to keep their hard-earned independence, while investigating what makes the God-Machine tick in order to keep one step ahead… or to gain an advantage. The player characters have a host of interesting abilities, from being perfect liars to being able to Spoof detection as being anything but a normal person in the presence of supernatural scrutiny. Demons also have access to a remarkable number of Embeds and Exploits, powers that take advantage of loopholes in reality, allowing them to perform specific tricks that can upstage even Mages, but lack the same kind of flexibility.

Interestingly enough, my experience with Demon has been less about horror and more about supernatural espionage. The Demons excel at being able to get into where they’re not allowed, and their ability to shift Cover makes for intriguing roleplaying opportunities, but I can’t help but feel that the players themselves are somewhat divorced from the horror of their actions. Don’t get me wrong, my players were well aware that their characters were involved in some very monstrous activities, but maybe it was the idea that their characters were never human that dulled the sense of shock at the atrocities that they were committing.

Overall, Demon: the Descent is a great game, featuring a protagonist that is truly capable of being an outright monster while fighting opponents that are far more alien and malevolent than they. The powers and abilities of the game are imaginative and interesting, and there’s a whole slew of antagonists that the Demons can contend with. There’s plenty of opportunities to play up espionage tropes, including stories of trying to maintain dual lives, making deals with the enemy and the possibility of double-agents and betrayal within the team. Demon: the Descent is a worthy addition to the new World of Darkness.

Demon: the Descent is available in PDF format from DriveThruRPG for $24.99 or roughly Php 1,125.00


Science! is nothing without Imagination. The Sons of Ether are a strange group to exist in the Council of Nine, but their open approach to the possibility of anything makes them a staunch ally against the Technocracy.

Often labelled as Mad Scientists, the Etherites rely on pseudo-science and barely-understood theories to create effects that exist only in the realm of science fiction. Jetpacks and rayguns are common to the stereotype, but for every crackpot Etherite, there is a member who uses more “grounded” theories to power their effects.

Their understanding of science makes them interesting allies against the technocracy, as the Etherites can understand the workings of Enlightened Procedures used by the Technocracy and subvert it with a little bit of tweaking.

Magic

The Etherites bear an affinity to the Matter Sphere. This allows them to perform a dazzling array of effects by simply adding or subtracting characteristics of one type of matter to another. Running on water, for example by bestowing qualities of non-newtonian fluids to the surface, or imparting the excellent electrical conductivity of gold to wood.

Weaknesses

The Sons of Ether are composed of unique individuals with their own special theories. This in turn makes for a poor union as members occasionally clash with others in hopes of discrediting each other’s work, and their preference for odd or outdated technologies make it difficult for people to take them seriously.

Opportunities

In this day and age of rapidly accelerating technology, the Etherites are finding it easier to ride the wave of innovation. Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter are allowing them to release experiments to the general public, and winning acceptance from the consensus thanks to innovations done by Sleepers themselves. There was a time when people used to think that wearing Ether Goggles would be too obvious, but in the age of Google Glass, that might just change.

Character Concepts

Crowdsourcing Genius – You knew that the Sleepers were onto something with Kickstarter. The very concept of Crowdsourcing was a marvel, getting people to vote with their wallets and fund something even before it actually existed was novel in itself, but the underlying concept beneath it was better: They were participating in the creation process. It was subtle at first, how your inventions could tweak a little bit of reality, a faster processor, a refined fuel… but with each Backer, the device in question functioned better, experienced a reduced risk for paradox. Now you’re working on injecting the component parts of more complicated machines, letting the Sleepers work on skimming Paradox off the little parts so that the big project… the real project, can finally get off the ground.

Pseudo-Psychologist – Handwriting analysis, color theory, facial analysis, if there was a personality test that became a fad before, you knew it by heart. What has been largely debunked by modern Psychology is your playground. Unlike the narrow-minded practicioners of the science today, you possess the imagination to truly make accurate readings using these tests. What’s better, you don’t even have to resort to talking to a subject about anything remotely related to the topic you’re investigating. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with these tests… it’s all in the interpretation.

King of Restoration – It’s all in knowing a thing. You’ve never had any difficulty identifying the use of an object, so it was just a little jump to become a restorer of… unique items. From broken artifacts to ruined charms, you’ve made a name for yourself by being able to restore something to the point that it was good as new.


Magic is a mirror of science. Through dedicated study, adherence to proper forms, and knowing the right signs and commands, one can codify magic into a set of repeatable phenomenon.

This is the mindset of the Order of Hermes, an ancient and revered Tradition of Mages who possess an affinity for the Sphere of Forces. The Hermetics consider themselves the leaders of the Council of Nine Mystical Traditions, and it is their methodology and lexicon that is most prevalent in discussions of magic between practicioners of magic.

Their methodology and sense of organization has been a powerful asset to uniting the Traditions against their enemies. However, the Hermetics are also infamous for their Hubris, making them difficult to work with at times, and a danger to others at their worst moments.

Magic

The Hermetics specialize in magics involving Forces, the sphere of energy in all its forms. By far one of the most vulgar magics, Forces allows a willworker to create light and sound, shoot lightning and fire from his fingertips and transmute one form of energy to another. A wily Mage will also find a myriad of coincidental effects for the Forces Sphere, from listening into radio transmissions, to being able to see in low-light conditions.

Weaknesses

The Order of Hermes is an ancient organization full of internal strife and power struggles. It’s this kind of mentality that threatens to destroy the Order, leaving their mages too caught up in games of politics and power to be able to see the big picture of Ascension.

Opportunities

The entire Awakened community has been shaken up by all sorts of big events, and it is up to the Order of Hermes to take the reins and guide the other Traditions to a better future. Without its masters, the Order is now free to explore what they can do for the world, rather than be too focused on keeping up with the other Houses. This is the time they can break free from antiquated systems and establish a new future for the Order.

Character Concepts

Magical Messenger – Hermes was the messenger of the Gods, and in some ways, so are you. You’ve never been much for games of powers, but you do know that these games all rely on the flow of information. You work as a freelance agent that promises speedy and secure information transfer. You carry artifacts, tomes of magic, vital messages and even the occasional spell to your intended recipient. You can circumvent security, encrypt information on the fly and ensure that there’s not a single bit of residual electronic information for anyone to track once you’ve made your delivery. This has made you quite an asset to all the Houses of the Order, and puts you in a unique situation to capitalize on that when you need to spread your own message to all the other Houses.

Firebrand – You’ve always felt that fire made for a fine metaphor. You’re a speaker, a motivator, the man or woman who could inspire people to take a stand, to take action, to make a difference. You’ve worn different faces, different bodies and spoken for different creeds, but ultimately you’ve been the motive force for revolutions that have changed the world for the better. Your real name and face don’t matter, what matters is that you’re doing what you can to be a symbol of the next big change, the world won’t turn unless people make it happen. All they need is the right words to get them going.

Mentor – Magic is real. Children knew this long before schooling erased that from their minds. Now, in the midst of a troubled time of young adulthood, you’re letting them rediscover that lost truth. You’re a quiet one, the professor that teaches history with a passion that encourages your students to ask questions. When someone asks the right kind of questions, you teach them something else… the secret of culture and the magic behind it all.