Mage: the Awakening 101

[Mage: the Awakening 101 ] Villain Week – The Awakened

I would be remiss if I had not mentioned that one of the greatest sources of villains in Mage: the Awakening would be the mages themselves.  Perhaps more than the Seers of the Throne, Mages are capable of committing some of the most disturbing of atrocities in their Hubris.  Unlike the Seers, the Awakened community is well aware of what they are, of their gifts, of the fact that in many ways they stand apart from most of humanity as their superiors.

It’s this kind of Hubris, coupled with a very human weakness that other Mages are the most dangerous of the villains that the Player Characters can face.  Unlike the Seers, they’re not died to some sort of unfathomable mystic agenda.  Unlike the Banishers, they can’t hide behind the reasoning that they’ve somehow gone insane.  These Mages are aware of what they’re doing, and have the free will to make a choice, and chose to do their atrocities anyway.


Mages are only human, and yet they are more than any human can hope to be.  This alone causes a ton of problems as human frailty often wins over the ideal wisdom of an Awakened Mage.  That being the case, Mages can use their magic for the pursuit of everything from wealth, sex, love, power, influence and revenge.  A jilted lover could formulate a spell to bind another person’s affections to him permanently.  A man with a serious hate-on for his boss might find it trivially easy to destroy the man’s life, one facet at a time using any of the Arcana without even being imaginative.


Honestly, nothing serves better as an exercise for someone to think of what could make a vicious Mage villain than looking into a mirror.  Taking a moment to examine your life, and look back at those moments when you truly wished ill or misfortune on someone.  Now think about what would have happened if you had the means to actually do it with a thought.

While this might seem rather self-righteous, let’s go back to the fact that nobody really thinks that they’re villains, or bad people.  As many Psychology students will agree, man has an amazing capacity to justify their actions, good or ill for the sake of absolving themselves of guilt.


Of all the villain types, the other Awakened, that are not somehow coerced or insane are the ones that strike me as the most dangerous of all.  They’re deliberate, clever and convinced that what they’re doing is the best course of action.  If anything this makes them a perfect match against the PCs since they share no advantages over them, and don’t suffer from any other debilitating conditions.

[Mage: the Awakening 101 ] Villain Week – the Abyss

Few things strike fear into the hearts of any Awakened mage than the Abyss.  In Mage: the Awakening’s cosmology, the world was shattered by a cataclysm long before written history.  The Abyss was the result of this event, a rift that divides this, the Fallen World, and the Supernal Realms.  Magic is drawn down from the Supernal Realms and through this Abyss to the Fallen World.

If anything, the Abyss is the antithesis of sane and logical Reality as we know it.  Trapped as Mages are now in the Fallen World, every act of magic runs the risk of ushering in a little bit of the Abyss with it.  The Abyss poisons magic, so that should a spell go awry, the Abyss seeps into reality and takes one form or another.

The tricky part about these Intruders from the Abyss is the fact that they never usually manifest the same way twice.  Each intrusion is unique, which make researching it and understanding how they work very difficult.


It’s hard for me to go into detail in terms of motivation since the Intruders are not exactly like any other kind of entity in reality.  Perhaps if there’s something that unites them it would be the fact that they active seek out to erode reality in whatever shape or form they take.  Some are overtly destructive, taking on forms that erase entire chunks of reality, while others are more subtle, corrupting the laws of nature around them.


Again talking about specific forms is pointless.  The best way to think about the Intruders from the Abyss is to take an aspect of reality and screw it up.  One of the best manifestations I’ve seen for the Abyss are Brain Spiders.  Not to go into too much detail but the excessive use of Mind Magics may provide the tiny cracks in reality necessary for these things to creep into people’s minds.

Partially a bug, partially something else, these Spiders multiply and inhabit minds, seeking to spread themselves to other hosts by virtue of magic.  Sure they’ll kill the host, but by then, hopefully they’d have migrated to other minds.  Other Intruders may take the form of a particularly disruptive meme, a virluent disease, or even full blown entities that can take more direct methods of carving out a niche here in our reality.


Intruders are some of the creepiest things that Mages can end up fighting against because they’re often phenomena that exhibit no logical behavior.  Unpredictable, mysterious and always dangerous, the Abyss strikes against Mages by being that which they cannot comprehend.  If the Seers are an obsession over power, and the Banishers are power without control, the Abyss is the unknowable, the ultimate mystery and the darkness that lies in wait for those foolish enough to dig far too deep.

For more information on the Intruders, and a host of excellent and creepy examples, check out Intruders: Encounters with the Abyss.

[Mage: the Awakening 101 ] Villain Week – Banishers

Being initiated to the world of magic in Mage: the Awakening is hardly a pleasant experience.  The process of Awakening is traumatic, as an otherwise ordinary person is suddenly forced to confront the Supernal Realms in all their naked glory.  A neat analogue I’d use is exposing some poor guy to the sight of an angel.  Not the sanitized, blonde-in-white-robes-and-wings angels… but the real deal:

Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:

His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.

-Daniel 10:5-6

Not exactly the kind of thing that most sane people would consider to be a benign experience.

That said, it is no longer any surprise that not everyone who Awakens comes out sane.  The Awakening breaks people, shatters their sanity and fills them with dread.  Others survive the process but come out with the idea that Magic is bad, that they’ve been cursed with it, and any others like them can’t possibly be up to any good.

These would-be Mages, broken by either the Awakening, or their experiences with the occult, have rededicated themselves to the destruction of other Mages.  These are the Banishers.

What Makes Them Villains?

Banishers are tragic villains, Mages that turn against magic decrying it as foul, or wrong.  Some are insane and want nothing more than to return to the life of normalcy denied to them, while others take on a personal crusade to end every Mage they encounter, convinced that in doing so, they are making the world a better place.


Banishers don’t usually share a singular organization, unlike the Seers of the Throne.  Therefore there’s as many reasons for Banishers to go off on their bloody crusade as there are individual Banishers.  This lack of singular purpose, agenda or modus operandi is what makes them scary.


  • Witch Hunter –  These Banishers are methodical, logical and downright scary.  By stalking their prey and understanding the daily activities and life of a given target, these Banishers increase their chances of making a successful kill.  Unlike mortal Hunters, the Banisher has a leg up in the sense that he has access to the same kind of powers that his prey has, allowing him to dispel or counter anything that his quarry tries to throw at him.
  • Zealot / Fanatic – The scary thing about Banishers is the fact that once they actually managed to find enough common ground to team up, they can become so much more destructive.  A team of Banishers are more than just an increase of power, their morale shoots up, and they won’t mind playing very dirty to get the job done.
  • Chaos Incarnate – The Joker from the Batman comics is a perfect example of a Banisher with a penchant for chaos.  Rather than make sense of things, the Banisher revels in the madness and destruction, eager to tear this world apart around him, to break it in the same way that his Awakening shattered his own mind.


Unlike the Seers of the Throne, which have a boatload of things to pull on, the Banishers don’t have a lot of an established support system for their kind, since a Banisher who runs into another Banisher could easily just end up turning into fight between the two of them.  That said, they have access to some interesting in-game Merits that make them capable of stalking and taking down their prey even if they don’t have the formal training in magic that Mages and the Seers do.

Plot Hooks

  • Mages start disappearing while on the trail to find a powerful Grimoire that was rumored to be in the possession of a traveling Apostate.  Concidence, or is it part of an elaborate trap for a Banisher group to pick off individual and power hungry mages that come looking for the book?
  • A known Seer agent shows upon the doorstep of one of the PC’s bloodied and begging for sanctuary.  If the PC takes him in, he reveals that he was ambushed by an unknown mage who doesn’t seem to use any of the formal methods for casting magic, but was able to tear his own spells apart.  The Seer offers a truce, cessation of hostilities until this Banisher has been found and dealt with.

Banishers are forces of Chaos by virtue of their unhinged natures.  They’re the serial killers and psychopaths, the manifestation of power without control, in contrast to that of the Player Characters.  While the lack of a proper organization can be a weakness, their ferocity and devotion to their task of killing people makes them a broken mirror to mages.

[Mage: the Awakening 101 ] Villain Week – Seers of the Throne

There is no one group so utterly dedicated to making things difficult (if not impossible) for Mages than the Seers of the Throne.  The Seers are a group of Mages that work for the godlike beings known as the Exarchs.  Few know the truth about the Exarchs, but it is believed that these beings were once mages who managed to breach the Supernal Realms, and are intent on keeping the Fallen World separated.

Many of the Seers view themselves as working for the “Winning” side.  Since the Exarchs were so successful in their own personal apotheosis, it would make absolute sense to actually work for them, rather than against them.  After all, who would be so foolish as to go against the whims of a god?

The hidden price for this sort of power and access to the backing of a divine being is your freedom.  To work for the Exarchs is to give up your independence.  The Exarchs are capable of giving their followers access to special abilities known as Prelacies, which modify the way a Seer’s magic works, giving them quite the leg up over other Mages.  But to earn these Prelacies, a Seer must submit himself to receiving visions from the Exarchs in their dreams, giving them cryptic instructions to do particular tasks, with little to no explanation of the bigger picture.

What makes them Villains?

The Seers of the Throne are diametrically opposed to all other mages, as the Exarchs do not want anyone to be able to traverse the Abyss and find a way into the Supernal Realm.  The Exarchs are selfish as they are powerful, and do not want anyone having the slightest hope of being a threat to them.

The Seers themselves are a tragic sort of villain.  Whether by short-sighted ambition, a lust for the material world, or a need to “belong” to a powerful organization, these mages have sold their individuality to serve an uncaring god, in exchange for promises of power, safety and material gain.


The best way to describe a Seer’s motivation is that he or she is obsessed with maintaining the status quo.  They have access to nearly everything in the material world.  Money and influence come naturally to them, and they enjoy being the lords of their tiny slice of reality.  The Mages present a very real threat to that sort of stability, and no Seer will be willing to part with their life of material excess because of the meddling of a few Mages who just don’t know when to stop struggling.

  • Ambition – Seers who aren’t lulled to complacency by obedience and access to wealth are dangerous opponents.  Those who have their sights set on the next rung of the corporate ladder that is the Seer structure will see Mages as a perfect sort of prize, recruiting them to join the Seers, or eliminating them to please his masters and improve his chances for a promotion.
  • Fear – As I said before Seers are afraid of losing the cushy status that they enjoy.  These are the ones that don’t care for the Supernal, or higher aspirations, but are deathly afraid of losing that which they’ve worked hard to gain.  Paranoid, wary and prone to lashing out with excessive force, these Seers will seek to destroy Mages rather than risk anything by recruiting them.
  • Righteousness – Some Seers don’t see themselves as a bad guy.  They’ve got the world on lock, and the Exarchs are clearly powerful, so there’s no point in this senseless struggle.  These are adherents of Order vs Chaos, Tradition vs. Innovation.  These Seers are among the most dangerous because in their minds, they are the good guys.  Bringing mages to the fold, saving them from their ignorance is a perfectly valid and noble goal.


Think of the ruthless social climber, the corporate snitch, Judas Iscariot from the Bible, Cypher from The Matrix.  Seers are powerful, paranoid and treacherous.  Eager to advance their standing, or deny others a chance at achieving what they have, they manifest Hubris at an entirely different level.  All of the Vices in the corebook fit these mages perfectly, making them a dark reflection of just what can happen when Mages forsake enlightenment and wisdom for material gain and power.


The Seers of the Throne are nothing but well equipped.  Mages that work for the Exarchs have access to artifacts like the Profane Urim, which allow a Seer to hijack a mortal’s mind and body from a distance and use them to enact their plans while wearing someone else’s body.

Aside from access to Spells and Artifacts, Seers also have access to absurd amounts of material wealth.  Being part of the Seers alone can give one enough money to make an Oil Baron ashamed.  This also translates to being able to bribe authorities, win over politicians and membership rights to nearly any sort of organization.

Plot Hooks

  • A Seer Pylon takes notice of a PC, and decide that he or she would make an excellent member of their team.  The Seers use every angle, from bribery, seduction and promises of power to win them over, and when that doesn’t work, then perhaps a little bit of intimidation is in order.
  • A close friend of the PCs is starting to act a little strangely ever since they joined that Assertiveness seminar last weekend.  It might be nothing, but it’s like she’s an entirely different person at times, including her speech patterns.   It seems to be a positive change…
  • Someone in the Consilium is making remarkable breakthroughs in spell research, gaining influence and power within the ranks.  If he remains uncontested, he would be Hierarch, but where is he getting all his breakthroughs?  The characters are then tasked to gather dirt on this prodigy, a dangerous task, and doubly so if he happens to have Seer contacts.


If this article has made you interested in finding out more about the Seers, including their organization, methodologies, advantages and history, then go check out Seers of the Throne for Mage: the Awakening, available in PDF form from DrivethruRPG for $16.00 (roughly Php 720.00)

[Mage: the Awakening 101 ] Villain Week – Introduction

In the interest of drumming up more attention and support to a game that truly deserves more notice from a broader group of people, I’ve decided to do a short series on Villains for Mage: the Awakening.  Every day, I’ll be giving a short writeup on a given faction of villains for any game of Mage: the Awakening, along with their potential motives as a group, suggested tactics and maybe a plot hook or two.

Mage: the Awakening is a game that asks a lot of the difficult questions about power and responsibility, and because of that, the villains tend to be focused on the issue of the abuse of said power.  Magic is power incarnate, and because of it, many people tend to be driven down paths that they would otherwise never have considered if they didn’t have the means to do so.

Other villains for Mage come from the fact that they were not strong enough to control the power, and Magic itself warps them, drives them mad, breaking their fragile minds.  Madness is, in a way the direct opposite of a Mage, who must constantly weigh issues of wisdom when conducting his life.

Still other opponents come from the Mortal realm.  Just because Mages are capable, doesn’t mean that their immune to bullets all the time.  A group of hunters can be a very dangerous opponent, as they often attack from angles that the Mage may overlook or underestimate.

Given the fact that Mages don’t divorce themselves from the world around them (since they don’t turn to ashes in sunlight or lose control and turn into monsters in stressful situations,)  Mage has a great deal of possible plot hooks and interesting opposition.  Tomorrow, we take a look at the first set of antagonists:  The Seers of the Throne.

[Mage: the Awakening 101] Legacies

I’ve noticed that one of the bigger points of confusion for some people who are just getting into Mage: the Awakening would be the concept of Legacies.

Mechanically, Legacies seem simple enough.  Upon reaching Gnosis 3, a Mage may then learn a Legacy.  This often involves buying up all the perquisite merits / skills and paying 1 Willpower Point to seal the deal.  The mentor who is going to induct the character into the Legacy spends 1 Willpower Dot to establish the link between master and apprentice and the Mage gains access to the Legacy’s first Attainment, a supernatural ability that does not incur Paradox even if it behaves like a spell.

But what does it all mean?

Let’s start at the basics.  Mage: the Awakening has a built-in assumption that Magic springs from the soul.  Without a soul, a Mage loses the ability to cast magic.  Therefore, Magic is a function of channeling your deepest, most intimate self to enact changes to reality.

With that out of the way, Mages have managed to find ways to use that fact to their benefit.  The first way (which we will not go into too much detail for today) is crafting a Soul Stone, which involves a ritual whereupon a Mage actually tears off a chunk of his soul and fashions that piece of himself into a physical object, which he can then use to craft a Demesne, a territory upon which his magics encounter less resistance, granting a bonus to spellcasting rolls and reducing paradox.

Legacies are the second way.  Joining a Legacy is not just learning a secret handshake.  To join a Legacy is to willingly alter the most essential part of yourself, (i.e. your soul) to become something other (some say better) than human.  Undertaking a Legacy is a huge step in the life of a Mage.  It is the moment whereupon the Mage commits himself to a given cause or philosophy so completely that the process alters who he is.

Legacies cannot be unlearned.  You can’t just unsubscribe to it.  When you take on a Legacy, you’re in for life.

This in turn answers the question of why Legacies seem to have a very distinct set of priorities and behaviors.  In undertaking a Legacy, the alteration to the self is so absolute that the core values of the Legacy is as natural to you as breathing.  You don’t question why you breathe a certain way, it simply is.


We’ve already taken a look at what undertaking a Legacy involves, but we have to take a little glimpse at the most important question:  Why?

Taking on a Legacy (or forging one yourself) is no easy undertaking.  As we’ve noted earlier, it involves essentially rewriting the most essential part of who you are, and there’s no way to take it back.  Therefore it takes a huge amount of two things to even consider doing this:  Hubris and Willpower.

Some people find the conviction necessary to take this step to dedicate their lives to a given goal.  Whether it’s the perfection of the self, evolving to the next step of humanity, punishing the wicked, exploring magic, communing with the spirits… there are goals that a person could wholeheartedly dedicate their lives to.  Many priests, monks and other similarly inclined individuals are living proof of this sort of conviction.

Legacies don’t have to be high-minded ideals either.  There’s also a very simple motivation in the form of Power that everyone understands.  Less spiritually inclined Mages might take a given Legacy to give them a leg up in Consilium politics, the power they need to kill off a rival, or otherwise advance themselves in this world rather than the next.

Personally, my ideal take on Legacies is to have ones that make sense to the Players.  Joining any of the prebuilt Legacies in the corebook and supplements are fine, but there’s something to be said about the kind of sacrifice, and personal stories that emerge from a player character that tries to make his own Legacy to fulfill a personal goal.

[Mage: the Awakening] Well… that was a fun ride.

I just caught word from that the Mage: the Awakening Chronicler’s Guide just came out in pdf format.  But while that is awesome news, it was also quickly brought to the attention of the people in that it was going to be the last book for Mage: the Awakening. This was evidenced by the following Afterword by Bill Bridges, the original developer behind the line.

Mage Chronicler’s Guide Afterword

And so, once more, we come to the end. A sort of well-deserved sleep after being Awake for a time, perchance to dream anew. As a certain fictional archmaster of Time said, “Nothing ever ends.” This Mage is ending, but your Mage can go on. That’s the wonder of roleplaying games – unfettered imagination to a degree unknown in traditional forms of storytelling. Okay, it sounds silly and pretentious, but roleplaying is a form of will-working. Every participant can change the story, mold what happens, and so shape time. Sure, it’s not too different from what an author does when he sits down to write, but in an rpg, anyone can do it in collaboration with others and on the fly. There’s no time for revisions and second drafts – in the heat of the game, what happens happens. An rpg session is a spontaneous group spell.

While I haven’t personally guided Mage’s line of game books for a while now, I’m damn pleased with the quality and imagination of every book in the line. Every book has made me want to play a new character – even a Seer of the Throne or a Banisher. Mage: the Awakening was launched as a step away from its Ascended predecessor, as a more purposefully occult setting, one that fit better into the murkier and more mysterious World of Darkness of its new siblings. It also aimed to provide a magic system that was less daunting to new players but still retained a wide-open malleability, one that both represented that hoary old trope of the “laws” of magic and the sheer, unbridled creativity of a will-worker. I like to think it succeeded in these goals, these purposes, these teloi. But don’t take my word for it – judging from sales figures, it was quite well received, despite some grumblings about Atlantis.

Ah, Atlantis. I’m pleased that the exegesis on that fabled isle’s legendry throughout history, as presented in Secrets of the Ruined Temple, better established its place in the setting not so much as the literal, historical realm of some New Age crystal gazers, but as a primordial archetype of the Magical City on the Hill, a Supernal idea casting many distorted reflections into the Fallen World. A memory of what was lost. A legend of the Fall.

Excuse me as I get this out of my system: Certain Forces have worked to bring us to this moment, but Mage is Primed to continue in the Minds of its players. While I can’t reveal what Time holds for Mage, I suspect Fate will conspire to revisit the Spaces it chartered. Think of this not as a Death but a new form of Life, in the hands of those who love it most. Its Spirit lives on with its players, and that’s what Matters.

All right, enough with the analogies. I’m supposed to be writing a farewell here, and this is becoming an elegy for something that’s not really going away. The books will still be here, even if in the years to come they’ll be primarily accessible to new players as PDF downloads — digital traces rather than ink on paper. In a sense, Mage is becoming more Supernal. Its truths will continue to emanate from its world of ideas into the games of its players.

I hope you continue to peel back the Veil of the Mysteries.

Stay Awake,
Bill Bridges
August 2009

I suppose this does lend some credence to those that were calling the radio silence of White Wolf to mean the end of the new World of Darkness.  Still, I don’t feel particularly bad, because honestly, Mage: the Awakening was a fantastic line.  Sure it had a rocky start for me, with nearly a year of unlearning Ascension, and re-learning Awakening.

But learn it I did, and I completely loved the game.  Now Mage: the Awakening joins it’s older sibling on my shelf as games that I absolutely have no regrets in buying, and will continue to play in the years to come.

I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone who made Mage: the Awakening possible, the artists and writers of White Wolf, and the forum people that have continued to preach the wonders of this game for these past years.

That said, I’d like to invite those who have tried to figure out Mage but have had difficulties with the concepts to check out my Mage: the Awakening 101 series of articles detailing some of the Mage Cosmology and Concepts.  Who knows, they might help you get a better handle, and give this fantastic game a chance.

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