Mage: the Ascension

Welcome back, Willworker

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“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”
― Robert Jordan

The benefit of being old is that sometimes you get to the point where you can reevaluate your history, and go back to the beginning and improve on it.

For me, the beginning of my drive to improve as a GM began with Mage: the Ascension (Revised Edition). And now, in 2018, the world has evolved so much from when I started with M:tA back in 1999 that it feels like a good time to come back to it.

Thankfully I backed the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage: the Ascension, and I have a complete (if intimidating) tome of everything that’s worth knowing and coming back to.

Whose side are you on?

Now that I’m looking at Mage: the Ascension from the point of view of a husband, a father and a productive member of society, it’s easy to figure out where I can kick off a campaign: the Technocracy.

Don’t get me wrong, stories of the Traditions are still near and dear to me, but in this current point in time, I think the Technocracy has a lot of stories to tell in the games I can run for my group.

What do you believe in?

The central question of the game doesn’t change, except now you’re taking the point of view of the stewards of balance and stability. Innovation and such is all well and good, but in the end, humanity as a whole must benefit.

Given the number of interesting alternative viewpoints that have been given a voice and a community with the invention of the internet and smartphones, the Technocracy is suddenly awash with all sorts of problems. Diseases once thought all but eradicated are back in full force, dangerous ideologies flourish in communities that are geared towards incubating them, and ignorance has become a far more destructive force on the planet than it ever was.

We’re living in a world where everything has finally become political, and lines of battle are drawn and redrawn over rapidly mutating ideologies that fracture and fork into new strains, each with their own prophets and zealots each convinced to be superior to everyone else.

In my mind as a GM, there’s no better time to sit down with a group of players who are willing to dig into the heart of such ideologies and pick them apart and examine them than now. And I can only trust one game to make it possible.

[M20] Amalgam-X Campaign Research

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post I’ve started planning for a game of Mage: the Ascension’s 20th Anniversary Edition. Unlike my previous campaigns though, I’m running it as a Technocracy game. The Technocracy, to those unfamiliar with the setting is originally presented as the antagonist faction of the game. Agents of control who seek to stifle the creativity and freedom of true magic and force mankind into the gray mediocrity of the mundane.

A lot has happened since then, and the Technocracy has had many years to fix their reputation, and now they represent a counterpoint to magic. In their world view, Science and Reason are the best methodology to do “magic” in the world, as they can be codified, measured and hopefully once the world in general has accepted it enough, replicated by common people without the need of an Enlightened practitioner.

The campaign concept is that of a modern Technocratic troubleshooting team known as Amalgam-X, who are sent on missions to deal with all manner of strange things stemming from the supernatural. What I’d like to explore though is a much more specific subset of supernatural phenomena that could happen in the world of darkness, those relating to modern superstition and urban mythology.

As the world gets increasingly more and more advanced, the normal person understands less and less about how things work. Some of us might have an inkling of how basic machines work, but some might as well be magic to us.

And that’s the opening that the world of darkness needs to add something freaky in the universe.

So, despite the rational, scientific paradigm “winning” in 2016, there are still far too many people with their own superstitions and odd beliefs that are horrific on their own. From modern day horror stories like the Slenderman to the various bizarre experiences as recorded in Creepypasta, there’s a ton of unverified (and unverifiable) experiences that could be associated to the supernatural living just underneath this mundane world of ours.

Amalgam-X is the team that has to deal with those shadows.

[Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition] Pitch: Amalagam-X

In celebration of the first mini-con game I’ll be running this coming January, I’m putting up an early pitch for the game I’ve got in mind. A bit premature, perhaps but still fun!

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Netrunner: The Hours Tick by Macarious

The world should have ended in 1999.

Since then, there have been no less than 37 other End of the World Scenarios that have taken place. But we took care of them just like we take care of everything else.

Welcome to Amalgam-X, a cross-convention team of Technocratic Union Enlightened personnel dedicated to confronting extinction-level events from whatever source. From the awakening of ancient slumbering proto-gods from the depths of the sea, to recent “weird” phenomena like Internet-propagating Mass Murder Memes, we’re always on the front lines keeping the end of the world at bay.

I’ll be running my first-ever Technocracy game for Mage: the Ascension, and I find that now that I’m older (and I have a child of my own), the Technocracy viewpoint is much more attractive than it was when I was a cocky young college kid.

2016 paints a different world of superstitionism and proto-occult belief systems, ripped straight from Creepypasta and the Dark Web. The existence of a continuously wired community becomes a breeding ground for demons born from the darkest elements of humanity and it’s up to Amalgam-X to stop these as they happen.

That said, I’ll be taking the Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary rules for a spin. First Impressions on an Actual Play of the rules to follow, I promise!

[Let’s study Mage: the Ascension] Part 6: Review and Conclusion

Mage: the Ascension remains relevant even in this day and age. While the Revised era rules and books might be a little dated to modern readings, I’m confident that the upcoming release of the Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition will remedy that.

The much-feared (or loved) Metaplot is still prevalent, but doesn’t really stop you from running something your way. Mage has always been a game of possibilities and stories, and even back in the cWoD days, they were quick to state that GMs have priority when it comes to the “Truth” of a given game.

In this age of new games, it’s hard to find one that hits the same niche that Mage: the Ascension occupies. It is the one game that really made a player wonder at their beliefs, and examine as many sides as they can to a situation. It brought the conflict of ideology to the forefront, bringing out the kind of conflicts that we see played out in real life, but in the relatively safe context of a game.

Maybe I’m going overboard on this, but Mage is a game that has made me a much better person in a way. It taught me the value of understanding multiple points of view on a given conflict, and the virtue of being open to multiple truths to a certain thing.

Overall, Mage is perhaps a difficult game to judge properly, so I’ll see if I can compress it all into a list of bullets:

  • Dense metaphysics offset by fantastic potential
  • Dated writing may make it difficult for younger players to grasp the tone
  • Mechanics are very loose, leaving lots of room for GMs and Players to end up arguing
  • Ambitious setting which stands unique even among games that talk about modern fantasy

I’d certainly recommend Mage: the Ascension, but at this point, it would be best to wait for M20 and go for that.

[Let’s study Mage: the Ascension] Part 5: Opposition & Challenges

The funny thing about Mage is that everything could be your enemy. Tradition mages, the technocracy, other supernaturals, ghosts, other-dimensional threats, unexplained phenomena, they’re all there.

The trick to Mage is understanding that no matter what happens, a Mage cannot simply “unsee” what they’ve encountered. Their ability with the Spheres leaves them susceptible to seeing exactly where all the cracks of this broken world are, and that propels them with morbid curiousity to see what makes it such.

As such I’d recommend structuring a Mage campaign that doesn’t think in terms of opposition, as much as situations that they have to unravel. To “fix” something in Mage is easy, as they all have Spheres that can do all sorts of nifty things. However, the fallout of their actions is where the fun really starts.

While the most obvious example is the Technocracy going on an investigation to determine the source of magic in an area, I prefer to take the magic that they’ve cast and see what other interesting things might happen because of it. Not to discourage players to use magic, but instead to make them consider their options heavily before employing it. Messing with reality calls down paradox, but actually successfully casting a spell is a plot hook in itself.

Mages always need to find out new things, and that makes them ideal investigators. The trick is recognizing that as a GM, you don’t have to hide things from them, but rather make them wonder at what they should do now that they know… and worse, make them wish that they’d never discovered about it in the first place.

[Let’s study Mage: the Ascension] Part 4 Scale & Conflict

Mage: the Ascension is very complex game that can do all sorts of stories depending on the GM’s preferences. In fact, I would highly recommend that a GM who plans to run Mage: the Ascension should really take the time to decide what the campaign should be about in order to lend focus to the game.

One of the easier ways to do it is to look at two things: Scale and Conflict

Scale

This is where we discuss the scope of the game. Mage: the Ascension can go all out and tackle things like the far realms, alternate dimensions, fighting in the spirit realm and other locations and times.

This suits games of high adventure very well, but there’s also an opportunity to run games that run the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the low-key street level tales of mages who struggle with every day life and work to improve their immediate community rather than trying to change the world.

By selecting the scale of the campaign, the GM can then work on creating the kind of opposition, situations and conflicts that work within that range. Mood and tone of the campaign are likewise influenced.

Conflict

It is impossible to have a game about having an Ego strong enough to change reality, and not run into conflict. Mage is all about having people with powerful wills with agendas that don’t agree with each other. As such the conflicts that best suit a mage game are those that have valid motivations.

Nobody is truly evil in a mage game. Everyone just thinks that they’re the good guy, even the ones that sell their souls to demons to get what they need believe that they’re protagonists… in their own twisted way.

Mages are very good investigators, and can easily be exposed to all the sides of a conflict. My preferred methodology is to get the players to realize why the opposition believes what they do, and see how the players plan to resolve the conflict (through peaceful or violent means)

Specificity in a mage game’s Scope and Conflicts is a good thing. For the GM, it allows them to bring the game into better focus without being all over the place. Players also will appreciate the consistency of the campaign, as opposed to punching Cthulhu in the face one moment and then worrying about a marriage that is falling apart in another.

[Let’s study Mage: the Ascension] Part 3.9 Traditions: Virtual Adepts

Pics or it didn’t happen.

One way of analyzing this overused statement in the internet is that people demand proof of having been somewhere before they believe it. The other way is that if you can fabricate data well enough, people will believe anything. The Virtual Adepts are the masters of Correspondence in Mage: the Ascension’s Council of Nine, and their specialty lies in the mastery of connections, perception and space.

Despite being among the more technologically oriented of the Traditions, the Virtual Adepts have a decidedly un-Technocratic approach to the practice of their magic. They’re free spirits, who believe in the natural meritocracy inherent in cyberspace and who believe that rules are meant to be broken for the sake of experimentation and learning.

Magic

The Virtual Adepts specialize in magics that propel their consciousness to distant places. Scrying through technology, and even entering into Cyberspace through virtual selves wrought from programming code and magic. To them, the Digital Realms is a playground, and their mastery of being present in two places at the same time (the Real and the Virtual worlds) make them a natural fit for Correspondence magic. Correspondence is a tricky Sphere, working on the manipulation of space and sympathetic connections, of relationships in terms of distances both physical and metaphysical.

Weakness

Virtual Adepts are often saddled with a paradigm that is closely tied to their tools. Take their toys away from them, and many find themselves helpless in the face of danger. This is somewhat mitigated now with the presence of so many computerized gadgets in the present day, but when robbed of these, a Virtual Adept usually needs a stronger metaphysical paradigm in order to survive.

Opportunities

There’s a computer in everything. From cellphones, to smart watches and even car engines, you’ll be hard pressed to find a place in the city that isn’t wired somehow. Add the fact that humanity is perfectly willing to trust in technology that they don’t understand, and you’ll see why the Virtual Adepts thrive in this kind of setting. Their methods are maturing, as gone are the days of the 90’s hacker, and in their place are the CEO’s of tech corporations that can push the Consensus towards new modes of thinking. By growing up, the Virtual Adepts develop the kind of patience and methodology to introduce lasting change to the Consensus, and might just be the best hope for the Traditions moving forward.

Character Concepts

Software Angel Investor – You used to be a hotshot. You had big dreams and bigger balls but it call came crashing when you got too hot and the Technocracy came down on you, your partners and your business. It took nearly everything you had and every favor you could pull, but you managed to get out alive, wiser for it and with a better appreciation for a more moderate approach. Slowly you put back your business on track, and had the funds to bankroll the future. This time, you turn your eyes towards other up and coming businesses, sorting through the trash and finding the ones with the spark of true Inspiration, the kind that can push the Consensus forward. That’s when you move in and inject the funding that the Technocracy would deny, giving the start up the break they need to make things happen.

E-mail Activist – You run a network of keyboard activists. Individually, each voice would be nothing, but you collect each voice, and put them together to form a greater whole, an overwhelming bomb of opinion, fact and criticism that you can level to any target you want. It’s a simple process, a carefully crafted email meant to present facts in the light you want. A gathering of outrage, and some donations to your cause… and the result is an explosion of will that can change the course of mortal policy, and even make a dent on the Consensus.

Mathemagician – Computers are so last decade. They call you a hipster, but you’ve come to understand and appreciate the fact that information technology is based on the basic principles of computation. You’ve learned to eschew the trappings of modern Virtual Adepts, instead relying on mental processes and your mastery of presenting and re-presenting information in charts, data and graphs to twist the truth around your world view. Sometimes it’s not about changing the world, but how people perceive it. All it takes is a little bit of magic.

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