In the world of Mage: the Ascension, Reality as we know it is a lie. While certainly there are a few baseline “rules” that govern our everyday existence, a vast majority of the things that humanity takes for granted are in place simply because people believe in it.
The primary conceit of the setting is that Reality is the product of the Consensus, the sum of human belief in a given area. This is the battlefield upon which the Mages do battle. In a very real sense, Mages fight a battle for the hearts and minds of humanity, knowing that every victory they score in swaying the Consensus towards their chosen system of belief and their methodologies gives them the advantage.
Given such a state, two major factions of Awakened Willworkers have come into being: The Council of Nine Mystic Traditions, and their opponents, the Technocratic Union. Player characters are assumed to be working with the Traditions, as they are the default protagonists of the setting, but we’ll get to talking about the Technocracy as a playable faction a little later on.
The Council of Nine Mystic Traditions
The Traditions are an eccentric collection of Mages from an incredibly diverse range of magical belief systems: from the classic wand waving wizards to mad scientists with ray guns, they are the last survivors of countless outmoded faiths that no longer have a place in the rational modern world.
To most of “civilized” humanity, the Tradition Mages are pretty strange. They live on the edge of civilization most of the time. Their methods are unorthodox and more than a little intimidating. The Traditions flourish in sub-cultures, counter-cultures and in extreme lifestyles, making their current bid to sway the Consensus to their cause something of an uphill battle.
The thing I find most interesting about the Traditions is the fact that they’re often marginalized from normal society, but that doesn’t really matter to them because they know better. They’ve experienced how it is to change what is “real” by the use of Magic, and that kind of experience changes a person. These are people who no longer consider the status quo to be meaningful. Social mores, common sense, morals, ethics and all the normal rules that people obey for the sake of being a “good person” are now open to study and re-evaluation.
This puts them in an interesting position. On one hand they’re on the losing side of a war. On the other hand they’ve found a new way of fighting for their ideal world after the Avatar Storm… but more on that later.
The Council of Nine is composed of the following traditions, which we will be studying in further detail in a later entry on this series:
- Akashic Brotherhood
- Celestial Chorus
- Cult of Ecstasy
- Order of Hermes
- Sons of Ether
- Virtual Adepts
The Technocratic Union
On the other side of the Ascension War is the Technocratic Union. A group of mages who utilize science (and super-science) to further their ends, the Technocracy is the modern manifestation of a group of individuals known as the Order of Reason. These were a group of individuals who saw and experienced the excesses of the Mages of history, and fought to bring mankind freedom from this kind of magical oppression. With the use of Science as the basis of their paradigm, the Technocracy was able to empower humanity against the Mages, and their influence has only grown as the Consensus grew to accept and promote their methodology over that of their rivals.
The Technocracy is the primary antagonist faction of the setting. In the present day, the Technocratic Union’s vision has grown sterile and paranoid. Their efforts to “protect” the mortals has turned into an Orwellian Nightmare. Control has taken precedence over liberty, and freedoms are brought to heel under the banner of conformity.
The advantage of the Technocracy lies in the fact that their Paradigm and methodology is very compatible with the Consensus. They know how to operate within the system because they are the system. This makes them dangerous opponents, and every mage who has earned their ire would do well to avoid electronic surveillance, public records and using cellphones or credit cards.
Like the Traditions, the Technocratic Unions is composed of subgroups known as Conventions. These are:
- New World Order
- Void Engineers
Of course, not all mages fall under these two groups. There are a host of other factions in the setting, from Crafts, who are mages of a given culture who have refused to join the Council of Nine to Orphans, self-awakened individuals who are walking a dangerous road of self-discovery and experimentation with powers beyond their understanding. More dangerous mages exist in the form of the Marauders, insane mages whose mental instability has warped their magic to the point that their madness seeps into the reality around them, twisting it and changing it to suit their vision. This can manifest in slight changes in reality to truly dramatic shifts that can put countless people at risk.
The most frightening of the mages are the Nephandus, these twisted mages have made deals with things from beyond, offering their bodies and souls, or worse for power. This results in a fearsome mage with access to powers beyond other mages, and a twisted desire to use those powers to pull the world down to hell.
Mage: the Ascension is a gave with a very broad scope. One could easily run games of different scales here, from a street-level game of sorcery akin to Hellblazer’s John Constantine, to games of worldwide conspiracy and even games of cosmic scope. There’s no short supply of villains and opponents for a Mage: the Ascension game, and that’s without tapping into the other supernaturals of the Classic World of Darkness.
I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the variety of character concepts for Mage: the Ascension. Once we start digging into each of the playable factions, I’ll be working on a few character concepts with a snapshot of their individual paradigms that will work in any modern setting. Each of the Traditions is a goldmine of various character concepts united by a core philosophy.
Tomorrow we kick things off with a discussion of the Akashic Brotherhood.