[Mage: the Awakening 101] Arcana Basics – Death


The Death arcana is by far one of the most esoteric, and misunderstood of the ten Arcana.  In order to fully comprehend its scope, it is necessary to understand Death as it is defined in Awakened metaphysics.  To mages, the function of Death is to be an anchor to one’s material existence, while at the same time being the means to release a soul to continue it’s journey towards the Supernal Realms.  Furthermore, shadows are considered to fall under the Purview of the Death Arcana, instead of being the absence of light as it is understood in mortal physics.  Shadows are the “Element” of death, a material reflection of the weight of inevitability that draws all things to decay.  Another important distinction of Awakened metaphysics regarding Death is that ghosts are not “beings” per se.  Instead, ghosts are mere emotional residuum, hollow imprints of a soul that has passed on.

Sphere Levels:

Death is a tricky arcanum to get used to, but it can be useful for a number of interesting effects.  Among the phenomena that fall under the purview of the Death arcanum are: darkness, decay, ectoplasm, enervation, ghosts and soul stealing.  The following is a general list of effects that a mage can pull of with varying degrees of mastery of the Death Arcana:


  • Perceive ghosts
  • Perceive magic using the Death Arcanum
  • Determine a corpse’s cause of death
  • Determine if a subject is dead (useful for spotting zombies and vampires)
  • Determine the state of health of a subject’s soul (i.e. the presence of any derangement)
  • Scrutinize a subject for death resonance, determining the “weight of death” upon a person
  • Counter an incoming Vulgar Death Arcanum spell
  • Sculpt / reshape ectoplasm
  • Sculpt / reshape shadows
  • Speak with the dead


  • Animate Shadows
  • Alter the appearance of a corpse, possibly altering the apparent cause of death
  • Corrode or Decay an object
  • Generate Ectoplasm
  • Create an armor out of the Death Arcanum
  • Suppress one’s own Aura
  • Trap a soul into a vessel
  • Summon ghosts
  • Bestow the ability to see ghosts
  • Physically interact with ghosts


  • Compel ghosts to obey simple commands
  • Destroy Ephemeral objects
  • Destroy Material objects
  • Replenish Willpower or Mana by causing physical harm to a severely injured human being
  • Bestow another with an armor made from the Death Arcanum
  • Create a gateway to the Twilight realm
  • Transform a material object into an ephemeral object
  • Raise a corpse as a zombie
  • Heal ghosts
  • Sculpt Ephemera
  • Sever a mortal’s Soul from his body
  • Summon Shadows
  • Temporarily “kill” oneself, effectively becoming a corpse until a chosen, specified trigger dispels the effect.


  • Weaken a subject, draining them of their strength
  • Force a recently dead subject to haunt a physical anchor rather than to pass on to the afterlife
  • Force a recently dead subject to remain in its deceased body as a Revenant
  • Force a subject’s body to decompose and putrefy


  • Kill one’s Aura
  • Bind a soul into a soulless body
  • Temporarily “kill” another, who effectively becomes a corpse until a chosen, specified trigger dispels the effect.
  • Transform oneself into a Twilight state of existence without the need for a gateway
  • Replenish Willpower or Mana by causing physical harm to a healthy human being or ghost
  • Destroy Mana
  • Dispel any spell that the Mage can perceive
  • Make ghosts more powerful
  • Steal years off another’s lifespan
  • Instantly summon a ghost to answer a question


Usage & Tips:

At early levels of mastery, the usefulness of the Death Arcana is not immediately apparent.  At the Initiate level of proficiency Death is already a fine choice when it comes to investigative uses.  Being able to accurately determine a corpses cause of death with just a glance will save time, and the ability to call upon the ghost of the departed for an interview are just a few of the ways that a Death mage can get important, first hand information even before the CSI get to unpack.

Should stealth become necessary, a Death mage can sculpt and modify shadows drawing them close to provide concealment bonuses for both in the approach, and in the event of an unexpected firefight.  Investing in a Death Arcanum Mage Armor spell is always a good idea, and if the Death mage is amiable enough, he might already be able to assemble a small group of allied ghosts to serve as backup.

Moving on towards the Disciple and Adept level, the Death Mage gains the ability to apply more… direct methods.  Raising a few zombies, summoning shadows where there shouldn’t be any, and shattering the enemy’s weapons becomes possible at this point.  Being able to rob an opponent of their tools, vehicles and weapons provides an excellent tactical advantage.  Being able to boost a numerical advantage by hauling a few dead friends is also a good idea.

In terms of direct damage, the Adept level ability to literally rot an opponent’s body is nearly unmatched when it comes to shattering morale.  It’s hard to keep even hardened criminals from panicking when they see someone’s face putrefy in front of them.  While terribly Vulgar, sometimes just one spell is enough to swing the tide of a fight to make the enemy reconsider their assault.

Finally at Master level, the Death Arcana is almost a substitute of Prime in the sense that it can “Kill” any spell that the mage can perceive, as well as traveling into the Twilight realm without the need of a gate.  In Twilight and the Underworld, the Death Mage is practically king, capable of reshaping Ephemeral substances to forms pleasing to him, transforming loyal ghosts into forms only limited by the imagination.

Recommended Rotes:

  • Speak with the Dead – The Mage’s primary weapon is information, and being able to gain knowledge from the dead is a valuable asset
  • Destroy Object – Sometimes you just need to break something that belongs to someone else… like a gun pointed to your head, or the car that’s chasing after you.
  • Summon Shadows – The ability to call up a physical object made out of shadow in a specific shape or form is more useful than it may seem at first glance.  Erecting temporary barriers, solid objects with no complex parts like a shovel, or even a ladder to scale walls are among the number of fun shapes that it can take.
  • Enervation – The ability to drop an enemy’s strength to next to nothing is a great way to neutralize an opponent without killing them.

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