[nMage Japan] Campaign Development Diary: Soul Searching

Posted: February 13, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Campaign Design, Mage: the Awakening, Roleplaying Games, World of Darkness

Mage: the Awakening is a game that demands a lot from the person running the game, and I’m the type of GM who demands even more from himself. I’ve said countless times on this blog that Mage: the Awakening is my favorite game, but amusingly  I’ve never finished a campaign I’ve run. Something or another pushes the game towards a direction where I just have to stop the game.

Honestly? I blame myself.

I’ve always been prone to overthinking things, and certainly Mage: the Awakening was no exception to this. Often, in a mad scramble to try and do everything right, the campaign collapses under the weight of my own overwrought expectations. Thankfully the Never a Dull Blade campaign has sort of restored some of my faith in my ability to run complex games.

The question now then becomes: How do I make Mage: the Awakening equally interesting, and equally compelling? My default answer is to look at the player characters, and work from there. As such I think I’ll have to start early in terms of interviewing the players, checking their character concepts and histories and seeing what might work best as plot hooks for them.

Unlike L5R, player characters in Mage tend to be more “real” which I appreciate, but losing the standard crutch of stereotyped behaviors is also a little bit of a drawback. Hopefully talking to the players and helping them generate characters will give me the necessary insights to work with and come up with a campaign that fits the player characters.

Some GMs accuse me of not having a plot, and for the most part they’re right.  My plots don’t happen before the player characters are presented to me.  I usually rely on a single premise to serve as the spine of the campaign, but the stories remain firmly rooted in the characters as protagonists.  Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I enjoy running games for player characters who are heroes in every sense of the word.  Sure some of them might dip into sneaky bastard territory (like Hikkikomori’s own Akodo Kenji) but ultimately they are all out to do the right thing.

I’m also a GM firmly rooted in simulationist patterns when it comes to the World of Darkness, and so I tend to have a dim view of characters who act more like beings from comic books and anime rather than rational individuals.  Such characters tend to be the source of no end of trouble, and at this point, I just want to be able to run and enjoy a Mage game without having to worry about having concepts that don’t really fit.

I know that the Mage game is still a ways off, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it now and then.  I’ll be posting additional entries as I try to shape things up, and perhaps begin to introduce the various characters as they are submitted to me by my players.

  1. Matthew says:

    IMO, part of the key to Mage is to have some background action going on that that the characters can get involved with or not as they choose, plus some general antagonists that you can choose to throw at the players if they’re not taking an active role on their own. The potential for interesting player-driven stories is huge in Mage, but sometimes the players just don’t have that drive and need you to give them someone to fight. If they’re idealists the background plot may do that. If they’re mind your own business types then you might have to bring someone in to directly mess with them.

    It doesn’t even have to be an enemy. I had a player once who actively resented any attempts to get her involved in an overarching plot. She had set up a nice life for her character and just wanted to live it like a boring soap opera, ignoring her magical abilities completely. Since it was the WoD, i would have her run into vampires and stuff, but she always fled, shrugged it off, and tried to keep her head down until I gave her an ally – a really dumb lupus Bone Gnawer who thought and acted more like an eager puppy than a werewolf. She got into trouble one time and he jumped in to help. After that, despite the fact that he would track mud all over her apartment and eat all her food, I could count on her to go looking for him if he didn’t show up for a couple days. Really dumb lupus Bone Gnawers get themselves into all kinds of trouble.

    • Hey Matthew,

      Thanks for the advice! I think that more than in any other nWoD game, Mage tends to be the one with the most disruptive opponents. In one of my earlier M:tAw campaigns, I had a player character witness (and strangely enough, remember) the loss of an entire building and it’s inhabitants thanks to a vicious spell that erases items from reality. While said player would have been happy to stick with their own personal plots, they quickly realized that as the only witness they were the only one who could do something for those poor souls who disappeared.

  2. Matthew says:

    And another thing…
    The big metaplot that WW puts out there is tempting, but imo, you really need to keep players out of it. All the big names and earth-shattering events just make players want MOAR POWER and make the interesting personal stories dry up and disappear in favor of trying to make your character a REALLY BIG DEAL.

    • I’m actually pretty glad that Mage: the Awakening doesn’t have a Metaplot anymore. Back in Mage: the Ascension everyone was out trying to be better than the NPCs. I’m working with a custom city (instead of Boston) to avoid that sort of metagaming temptation. Hopefully being able to push individual player agendas will work as well as it has with my L5R campaign.

  3. Hikkikomori says:

    Archmagery here I come!!

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