Archive for the ‘Mage: the Awakening’ Category


The team regrouped later on outside of the crime scene, and discussed their options in Prism’s Sanctum.

“What we know is that this ‘mage-killer’ tracked our victim down somehow.” Prism reviewed their notes.

“And that the assailant has some proficiency with Life magic.” Reynard confirmed, “I saw it, nobody can snap a neck that easily unless it was in the movies. He’s pumped with magic.”

“So it could be that he caught our DMV guy snooping around? Are there any locations on the board that match up?” Jane asked as she peered at the board again.

“I’ve got an idea.” Reynard pointed out a trailer park, “My post cognition also showed me that our military man had a trailer. If our DMV guy had been snooping around there for ley lines, then he might have tripped the Military Guy without knowing it.”

“Victim of circumstance.” Jane frowned, “Hell of a way to go.”

“Better him than us.” Reynard shrugged.

Prism decided to case the trailer park and see if he could get a bead on their military man. After five hours of frustrated searching (and a failure on the first investigation roll) she finally found his trailer… and was caught snooping around.

The Military Man packed his trailer quickly and drove off, eyeing her suspiciously as he pulled out of the park.

Reynard sat on the park bench, looking at the vagrant that spoke to him. “Thanks to your investigations, we had the tip we needed.” the man spoke in a familiar tone, sharing a faraway look, “Thank you, Detective. We’ll make sure you’re compensated fairly. Don’t worry, we take care of our business cleanly.”

Prism called for backup, and Reynard and Jane cased out the second trailer park where the Military Man moved to.

“I need to know what he’s got in there.” Prism said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”

The Mysterium Mage layered several spells carefully on herself. Invisibility, a spell to conceal her magic, and a spell to make her inaudible. Prism felt herself struggle with the imago, feeling it slip and forced herself to contain the screwup. Trying to force reality to your will was very much like wrestling a snake covered in oil. One mistake and you could pay for it dearly.

Soon she was ready, stepping outside, she approached the parked trailer, and disconnected the generator.

After twenty minutes of waiting, the Military Man stepped outside to check on his generator, and Prism slid inside, turning on her Mage Sight to see if there’s anything in there of note.

What she found was a strange metal bell encrusted with jewels… but strangely, no clapper inside. She was supposed to inspect it further when she felt the trailer sway and the door close.

“I know you’re there.” Military Man said, brandishing a hunting shotgun, “You witches think you’re clever. I can’t see you. I can’t hear you… but I can still smell you, little girl.”

Prism kicked something over, goading the Man to fire his shotgun, before she deflected the pellets away, shattering the windows of the Trailer and jumped out, quickly casting a spell to conceal the bell, feeling paradox surging and twisting something inside her head as she did so. Too much magic, too quickly. Prism was dizzy with pain, but she powered through, hearing the sirens of the police coming to respond to the gunshots.

She paused by a tree, catching her breath as she watched the scene, police lights, officers responding… each one with a strange High Speech rune on their person, superimposed somehow. What was the meaning of that?

Jane observed the proceedings with a clinical eye. She wasn’t Jeanne right now, she was someone else, an assassin for the Guardians of the Veil. The response from the police officers on the scene was like clockwork.

Nobody responds within seconds of a reported shooting.

There were other forces at work. And this was high profile enough to get the Consilium’s attention. Time to see how much this Banisher has kicked the hornet’s nest then.


This marks the first session of our run through on Mage the Awakening’s 2nd Edition. I’ve been light on the mechanics on this one, but here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting parts:

  • Paradox is much more common, akin to Ascension than the 1e of Awakening. This is a good thing, and gives spellcasting more risk than just simply failing. To that end, Prism is now carrying an Abyssal Condition upon failing to absorb all of a 4-success Paradox roll.
  • Reynard is now bestowed with the Connected condition to the Seers of the Throne. He has a bonus to dealing with them, but can be occasionally coerced to doing them a favor now and then, at risk to himself being exposed to the Consilium.
  • Jane Doe is now looking at an opportunity of getting in good with the local Consilium’s Guardians of the Veil faction with the information she’s gleaned. Add the fact that the cabal has managed to secure a strange artifact and suddenly the team has some strong leverage… if they can figure out what it does.

After the game, the players had a chance to give their feedback so far. They enjoyed the new casting system, even if it was a slog to understand the first time around. It felt more deliberate, consistent and fair.

They also realized that the way the new experience system works, it encourages player characters to take more risks and get into more trouble. Failing isn’t a bad thing now, and getting yourself into trouble is the fastest way to get experience. It’s tempered somewhat by the fact that you still want your Mage to live, so that should balance out the temptation to throw yourself headlong into trouble all the time.

Besides, you gain beats upon resolving a condition. You need to get out of the trouble you’re in, or suffer through it first to earn the experience as opposed to just amassing it by being a sociopathic ball of bad juju.

I’m enjoying it so far, and I’m glad I was able to get my feet wet again with this game. Next session, we get to meet the Consilium, and find out just how much this encounter with the Banishers will shake up the status quo.


Last weekend was the kickoff game of my Mage: the Awakening 2e game set in Chicago. It was a fairly straightforward re-entry into the Awakening universe for me and my players, but since this was only the second time we’ve had a chance to really run the God-Machine Chronicles rules through the paces, we came out of the session with a much deeper appreciation for the system.

But before that, let’s go over the characters:

Detective Jack Lawson, Shadow Name: Reynard (Played by Hikkikomori) Thyrsus of the Free Council. A dirty cop who does whatever needs doing… for a price.

Penelope “Penny” Spencer, Shadow Name: Prism (Played by Miguel) Obrimos of the Mysterium. A photojournalist specialising in the Occult with an obsession over Ley Lines and the flow of Mana in the city.

Jeanne Donnely, Shadow Name: Jane Doe (Played by Silver Countess) Obrimos of the Guardians of the Veil. A woman without a past, but an abundance of identities, somehow hoping that one of them will be a clue that leads her to the truth.

The story begins with the three characters gathered in a torn-up bedroom of a tiny flat in a bad part of town. Illuminated by just a single feeble lightbulb, the room looked like it was torn right out of a horror movie. The bed was soaked through in dried blood, but the room was otherwise untouched. Whoever lived there was a recluse and a bit of a hoarder, with stacks of papers piled up around a work desk, and a wall with a large inboard featuring a web of threads and articles tacked to a map of Chicago.

All over the room, little yellow plastic evidence markers dotted the room. indicators of the team of forensics people and cops that scoured the place already. The corpse was long gone, but the iron smell of dried blood clung to the air.

Reynard stood quietly, keeping an eye on the front door that had been cordoned off with police tape. None of them had a right to be here. This wasn’t his case, but it seemed to be a cute enough lead to look into and make a quick buck from. Both Prism and Jane had a thing for occult stories so a cut from their work for what was a quick in-and-out didn’t seem so bad.

Prism was already working through the place, taking photos on her phone, using a pen to lift the evidence markers out of the way before each shot. Jane on the other hand, had her eyes on the pinboard.

“What do you make of it?” Jane asked.

“We’ll find out.” Prism acknowledged, looking at the threads and expanding her senses, reaching out to peer into the Supernal through her understanding of Prime and Forces, adding with it a touch of Space.

The familiar faraway look of a mage gazing at something that was beyond normal sight came over Prism as she analysed the board, as she came to the conclusion that the board was somewhat magical. It had a weak Sympathetic Link to all the places on the board, possibly through the events marked down.

“Looks like our dead guy was one of us.” She said, “Jane? Fancy a look?”

Jane nodded, adding her own touch of the supernatural, accessing the vagaries of Fate. “What are you for?” she whispered to herself… as Fate replied in her head. Your answers will come right through that door.

“Someone’s coming!” Jane warned, and Reynard stepped into the living room as the other two hid away from sight.

Reynard assumed the stance of a detective at work, turning towards the figure of a slight woman, clearly from the streets, unwashed, wearing a ratty shirt and torn jeans.

“I’m going to have to ask you to stop right there, ma’am.” he said, taking out his badge and flashing it, “Detective Jack Lawson, and this here is my crime scene.”

“Hello Detective.” the woman’s voice held a funny accent. Educated, enunciated. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you. This crime scene belongs to another Detective. You shouldn’t even be here.”

A cursory scan and Jack felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He caught the dark lines under her eyes, the rank smell and bad teeth. He saw the marks on her arms, scars of substance abuse. Whoever he was talking to, it wasn’t this girl.

“I’ve come to tell you that you should leave well enough alone.” The girl said, “Whoever did this took one of our own. And we mean to resolve our own business.” She glanced over his shoulder to the doorway leading to the bedroom, “That said, we’re not against overlooking this transgression in exchange for information on any leads you might find. You are a detective after all.”

Jack frowned, “You’ve got me at a disadvantage.”

“Just as it should be.” the girl replied with a wry smile, “We’ll be in touch Detective Lawson. If you play well, we’ll make sure to reward your effort handsomely.”

Lawson said nothing else, instead tailing the woman as she walked out, watching as her confident stride fell into a junkie’s staggering gait not long after she’d left the apartment building.

He lingered outside, before messaging the others, “Do what you need to do. We’re being watched.”

He met up back with them not long after. “All done?”

“We know what the pinboard does.” Prism replied, “Sympathetic connections across a whole range of places. Weak, but serviceable.”

“But no motive, and no suspect.” Jane added, “Aside from our little visitor from the other guys a while ago.”

“The dead guy’s one of them.” Reynard confirmed, “But now it’s time to see what really happened.” He cast the spell, crafting it with his will, setting it’s parameters and fashioning the Imago with High Speech before letting it go, and peering into the past… just before the time of death.

The vision was crystal clear, and Reynard recounted the details to the rest of the Cabal, how the victim came home from work, settling in on the bedroom to work on the inboard. The victim was some mid-level employee working for the DMV, a regular nobody that kept track of records that could be used to track people down. A perfect position for a non-ambitious member of his conspiracy.

He heard a sound, startled, heading to the door as it was kicked open. He was supposed to say something when the sight of his assailant silenced him. Seven feet tall with muscles straining from under a military surplus jacket. Rough, massive hands reached for him, and snapped his neck, ending him even as he was desperately scrambling to put together a spell.

“All your fault.” the military man whispered, talking to himself as he hoisted the dead man into the bed. “You’re all puppets.”

He stepped outside and pulled in a large duffel bag, again, military surplus. “Nobody else can do this.” he muttered, “I’m the only one that can.”

Reynard continued to narrate how the giant stripped down naked and began to break the man’s limbs at key joints, threading some heavy duty fishing line through them like one would a puppet, tying them in a strange formation above the bed. It was painstakingly slow work, and when he was done, the man took a hot shower, scrubbing himself clean of the blood, and left.

The detective turned to his two companions. “Things just got a lot more interesting.”

“Not one of ours.” Prism said, “Both the victim and the suspect. This has nothing to do with the Consilium.”

“But it does.” Jane corrected, “Remember, this is a mage killer. Just because his first victim belongs to the other team doesn’t mean he won’t strike one of our own next time.”

“But what led him to the guy?” Prism turned to the pinboard on the wall, “I think the answer is staring right at us.”

This writeup is getting a bit long so I’ll cap it off here. I’ll pick up on the second half of the session where the team confronts the killer in my next entry, and reflect a bit on just how the new 2e system works to push the atmosphere of horror and influences how people play.


Now Renegades are the people with their own philosophies
They change the course of history
Everyday people like you and me

– “Renegades of Funk”, by Rage Against The Machine

Welcome back! Today we’re talking about Themes and Moods. These are old tools that I’ve admittedly cribbed from the World of Darkness games, but I’ve found them quite useful so I figured I’d pass it on.

Themes

Themes, in the literary sense, is the main idea of a literary work. In the context of RPGs, a theme informs what the campaign is about. The events of the game, the way the conflict is structured and the kind of encounters that the players will find their characters in are all informed by this.

For my Mage: the Awakening game, I’ve decided to focus on two themes:

  • Family is Everything – Being a Mafia inspired setting, the Mage game will have moments where Loyalty is painful, and Betrayal doubly so.
  • Magic is a Drug – The temptation to use Magic is a constant in the lives of a Mage. While some spells are “harmless” there’s always a more compelling motive to use it beyond what is considered moral… But if you’ve seen the truth of the world and know that there are no Angels or Demons watching over you, then what’s stopping you?

Okay, so you’ve identified one or two themes you want for your game, now what? Well, if you’re planning your session, see if there are ways by which you can enforce these themes, either symbolically or directly. Maybe in this game an NPC that the Cabal loves like a brother betrays them in a moment of weakness, or the love of a woman, or some other cause. Or perhaps that “harmless” floozie from the other cabal is finally revealed to be in a constant haze because she’s been feasting on the dreams of those around her, driving them to misery and she just. can’t. stop.

That said, learn to mix it up so that you don’t end up sounding too preachy, or too heavy for your players.

Mood

The other half of the equation is the Mood of the game. If the Theme is the cerebral part of it, then the Mood is the emotional tone.

While Mage is often about power struggles, this particular game should be a mix of emotions. I want Mages to forge incredibly intimate ties with one another, to see each other as Family. Much like the Mafia movies, weddings and friendships are key moments that deserve their spot in the sun. That said, when the rain comes, it comes down hard.

The Moods for my Mage Game are:

  • Joie de Vivre – The exultant celebration of life. Mages have seen wonders that so many mortals never will, and it is because they hope to see it again, Mages cling to life with a ferocity that is unmatched.
  • Paranoia – The flipside of this is that Mages also live in a world surrounded by so many threats that it is also possible that a single misstep could cost them dearly. This Paranoia could poison friendships and ruin reputations or worse.

Motif

Here’s something that isn’t from the World of Darkness, but is in line with the Themes and Mood of a game. Being a game inspired by the mafia culture, society and conflicts, the game also carries some of its motif.

A Motif is a distinctive feature or element in literary work. In this case, I plan to give the mage game a strong 1920s’s art deco vibe. From fashion, to architecture to automobiles, there will be elements that harken back to the heady days of the Prohibition era. Cabals will meet in renovated speakeasies to conduct their business, wear snazzy pinstripe suits to high society functions and have jazz music playing in the background.

The setting will still be 2016 of course, but these elements will help paint the world and make it much more memorable.

So, what do you guys think of Themes, Moods and Motifs? Is this something you think you can use? Let me know in the comments!


A few days ago, while entertaining the idea of running a  Mage: the Awakening 2e game, I asked a local RPG facebook group if they were interested in reading a blog about designing a campaign. The response was very positive, and so I find myself putting my money where my mouth is.

And so here we are.

In this series I’ll try to be as methodical as possible, breaking down my own personal thought processes as I build a Mage: the Awakening Campagin from scratch. Take note that I’ll be focusing mainly on the stuff that will apply regardless of game, so don’t worry about running into too much game-specific jargon. Also this series will deal with custom campaigns, as opposed to running adventure modules.

Anyway, without any further delay, let’s get started.

Establish Your Foundations

The first part about planning any campaign is often already established way ahead of any deep thinking. These will appear very obvious, but it helps to keep them in mind all the same. Let’s go over the basic questions:

What game / system are you running? Often this question is answered way ahead of any kind of planning, unless you’re the type who comes up with a story first and then looks for a matching system later.

What is the setting like? It’s one thing to say that you’re playing D&D, and other to say that you’re playing through the Curse of Strahd Hardback adventure. This is important because while a game’s setting might be huge, the GM cherry picks which parts of the setting to highlight.

What (if any) modifications or houserules are you applying? I’m not so hot on modifications myself, but if you’re applying them to your game, then make sure to note them and inform your players.

What are you looking to get out of the game? If there’s a time to be honest with yourself, this would be it. Understanding your motivations for running a game help a lot in guiding your decisions. If you’re in it for a tactical challenge, then own it.  Likewise if you’re looking to tell a story of intrigue and manipulation, then go whole hog into it as well.

Who are you running it for? A game consists of you, and your player’s inputs. Without them, you’re pretty much left putting together a game for some strange unknown future. The reason why I feel that it’s important to know your players is that you can tailor the game to their interests while still being true to your enjoyment as defined in the prior question.

Now that we’ve gone through that exercise, let me go ahead an answer my own questions:

What game am I running? Mage: the Awakening, 2nd Edition

What is the setting like? A world of darkness take on Chicago, the Windy City. A place whose history of organized crime and corruption has been glorified to an ideal. The times have changed, but the hearts of those who live there haven’t.

Any modifications or houserules? Nope, running this one pure vanilla, although I’ll be creating a new set of Mage NPCS as opposed to the ones in the World of Darkness: Chicago book.

What am I looking to get out of the game? A memorable campaign that draws parallels between organized crime with magic. Both are dangerous activities, conducted by clandestine operatives with arcane organizations and severe loyalties who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to get a leg up in their world.

Who are you running it for? My home group of players are a wide spread of personalities who have a penchant for clever (if ruthless) solutions of both the social and physical nature. Given the setting, I’m hoping to give them plenty of opportunities to pull off great “Gotcha!” moments and occasionally indulge in the darker side of their Obsessions… all while fearing for their lives.

Now that we’ve gotten the easy stuff out of the way, our next entry will deal with Themes and Moods in your campaign, and how to use them.


Now that we’ve got our sample character, let’s get to work on learning how the spell casting system works in Mage: the Awakening now.

For our scenario, Kibo has gone to investigate the latest in the Memento Mori suicide pacts. Three students had apparently killed themselves in their respective homes using suicide bags in their respective homes while streaming it to an anonymous image board for people to watch.

Thanks to her contacts with Psychologists and other counselors, she was able to get permission to visit the victim’s home, and get access to their room.

Upon entering, her Mage Senses could tell her that the ghost of the victim still lingered. With that, Kibo decides to cast Speak With the Dead, a spell that is also one of her Praxis.

A Praxis is a spell whose Imago your Mage is intimately familiar with.

While it isn’t a rote (and therefore cannot use Rote Mudras) scoring 3 successes on a casting with that spell makes it an Exceptional Success instead of 5.

You get 1 Praxis for every point of Gnosis you have.

STARTING DICE

Her starting spellcasting Pool is her Gnosis + Death Arcanum rating. With her Gnosis of 1 and Death of 3, that means she starts off with a paltry 4 dice.

SPEND REACH

Since Speak with the Dead is a Death 1 effect and her Death rating is 3, Kibo therefore has 3 free Reach to spend to tweak the Spell Factors beyond the basic settings.

She spends her Reach on:
– Moving the spell range from touch/self to sensory range
– Change the spell from Ritual to Instant Casting Time
– Change the Duration from Standard to Advanced

Kibo does not Reach beyond her Free Reach points and therefore does not generate Paradox at this step.

SPELL FACTORS

Kibo feels no need to expand her Spell Factors for this casting, and so incurs no further dice penalties.

DETERMINE YANTRAS

with her limit of only 2 Yantras from her Gnosis rating, Kibo uses the following: Concentration (+2) and Mantras (+2) for a total bonus of +4 to her Spellcasting dice pool.

ROLL SPELLCASTING

Kibo’s player then rolls 8 dice (4 base spellcasting +4 from Yantras) and gets 8,2,3,4,6,9,10,1 rerolling the 10 again to get a 4.

That gives her 3 Successes, which ccounts as an Exceptional Success for the spell. This allows her to regain 1 point of Willpower and allows her choose from a list of possible effects.

Kibo’s player opts to not choose any of the effects, the willpower return was good enough. She turns to the ghost of the victim and begins her interview…

Later on we find Kibo forced to fight for her life as she is confronted by a band of three Memento Mori cultists. She has been confronted in a late night subway train ride, and her assailants are taking advantage of the abandoned nature of the sparsely populated Subway car to try and kill her!

As her objective for the scene, Kibo has “Escape alive.” Normally this would mean that she would take actions to get away from the knife-wielding cultists, but as she’s trapped in a moving subway car, she is forced to use her magic against her opponents and in front of Sleepers!

On her turn, Kibo wants to cast Rotting Flesh (Death 3) on the target as an Improvised Spell.

STARTING DICE

Her starting spellcasting Pool is still the same with Gnosis 1 and Death 3, resulting in a pool of 4.

SPEND REACH

Unfortunately, now she’s forced to cast a Death 3 spell. This gives her only 1 Free Reach to work with!

She is forced to spend her Reach on:
– Moving the Casting time from Standard to Instant
– Changing the Range from Touch/Self to Sensory
– Change Scale from Standard to Advanced to affect up to 5 Subjects

Given that she has only 1 Free Reach, that 2 extra Reach she’s attempting is going to risk Paradox. Her extra attempt gains 2 Paradox die.

SPELL FACTORS

Kibo wants to be able to hurt the Cultists enough to stop them and make them run away, so she takes a -4 penalty to her dice pool in order to increase the Potency of her spell to 5.

DETERMINE YANTRAS

With her limit of only 2 Yantras from her Gnosis rating, Kibo uses the following: Persona +3 and her Dedicated Order Tool to mitigate paradox Pool by -2 dice.

DETERMINE PARADOX POOL

The Paradox Pool was initially 2 dice. It also gains an additional 1 die because of casting in front of one or more Sleepers witnessing an obvious casting of magic. After removing the 2 dice from the use of a Dedicated Order Tool, that leaves one paradox die left.

The GM Rolls and gets a 4. The magic does not invoke a Paradox.

ROLL SPELLCASTING

With her Spellcasting Dice Pool reduced to 3, Kibo’s player spends Willpower to add 3 more dice.

They roll 10,5,5,9,8,2 and rerolls the 10 for a 6 for a total of 3 successes!

In her desperation, Kibo turns to her assailants and reaches out with her will, calling on her command over the forces of Death to forcibly tear away at their bodies.

At Potency 5, this deals 5 Bashing Damage to each target.

If we were applying the Beaten Down & Surrender optional rule at this point, the 5 Bashing would then be compared to the Memento Mori cultists’ Stamina ratings. Since 5 would likely exceed their Stamina Rating, they would be Beaten Down and definitely Surrender.

They recoil away from her in horror as chunks of flesh start sloughing off their bodies.

As the train comes to a stop at the next station, Kibo runs out in hopes of finding safety.