Posts Tagged ‘Mage: The ascencion’

Mage: the ascension magic, doing it like the Lady

My parents are moving out of the house they’ve lived in for the past 25 years and moving into something significantly smaller. This means that they want to get rid of all the stuff they don’t have room for – including my old stuff. And so, my mother brought a big box of old roleplaying books. Among these books was Mage: The Ascencion, one of the roleplaying games I liked best, but never really got to play, except in brief, one shot sessions – and this is really a game where you need to have a campaign in which to define your character and, not least, the way you cast spells.

Mage: the awhatening?

If you don’t know Mage, it’s a very post-modern game of ordinary humans who suddenly Awaken to find that they can influence the world with their will. In this world, reality is literally a product of the collective minds of every ordinary human (the “Sleepers”), and so reality changes with the mindset of each new age. Magic that follows the rules of the current reality will be easier to perform, while magic that breaks it risks incurring “Paradox,” reality’s way of fighting intruders.

Each Mage will quickly find himself a certain style of magic and join a corresponding group that centres around that style of magic. Player characters will usually join one of the nine traditions,* such as the Order of Hermes, specializing in “classic” magic with spells and symbols, the eastern artial artists of the Akashic Brotherhood or even the mad scientists of Sons of Ether or the Cybermages of the Virtual Adepts. Opposing the Traditions are three other factions, chief among them the Technocracy, divided into technical Iteration X, biotech Progenitors, political New World Order, financial Syndicate and space-faring Void Engineers. The remaining two factions are the mad Marauders and the devil-dealing Nephandi.

Magic in Mage is left very open. There are nine “Spheres,” each of which you can have up to five Dots in – as per WoD standard. Each dot allows you to do more things with what that sphere governs. Dot 1 usually deals with sensing, dot 2 allows minor manipulations, 3 is minor transmutation (so changing something into something else, or creating from nothing), 4 is major manipulation and 5 is major creation, at least when talking about the spheres that deal with “things”: the spheres of Forces, Matter, Life and Mind (to a certain extent). So in order to halt a speeding bullet, you’d need Forces 2, throwing lightning bolts or powering your computer without a power source is Forces 3, while Forces 5 would allow you to create a major thunderstorm.

Casting a spell involves describing what you want to do, finding out which spheres you need, then describing how you are going to go about casting that spell – what kind of ritual you’ll use, etc. Then you roll your “Arete” (a stat for your magical prowess) to find out if you succeed.

*: In the revised version, there is a tenth tradition, “The Hollow Ones,” but I was never a fan of them.

Problem: the Solving

I always loved the feeling of the book, but the magic rules always seemed a little too stiff to me. You’re supposed to design flashy, showy spells, but the rules seem to encourage precise, inconspicuous spells, and there’s little in the rules to encourage flashy storytelling – that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s not that well integrated into the rules.

There’s also an issue with the spheres: they are sometimes quite rigid, to the point when it seems a little silly. A beginning mage can do almost nothing, and sometimes you want to do a little effect when you realise you can’t, because you haven’t got the right sphere. Also, with each dot of a sphere being such a big step, it makes little sense that increasing your knowledge of, say, Forces doesn’t always increase your ability to manipulate forces

So, a more flexible system that encourages storytelling great spells would be good. As written, there is a big difference between the magic system and the rest of the system, and the book even devotes a chapter to magic, independently of the other rules. This to me makes a lot of sense to me: the game is about ordinary humans who attain the ability to bend reality to their wills while still essentially being humans – as opposed to Werewolf and Vampire, where you actually turn into a supernatural being. Of course the reality bending is going differ from doing mundane things.

With this in mind, and with Apocalypse Drow still relatively fresh in my mind, I had a thought to change the way magic works, using parts of the system from Lady Blackbird to better simulate magic.

Gathering: the magic

In Lady Blackbird, you have a number of traits, each with a number of tags. When you want to act, you take one die, plus one per applicable trait plus one per applicable tag. So, for instance, the character Cyrus Vance has these traits and tags:

  • Ex-Imperial Soldier: Tactics, Command, Soldiers, Rank, Connections, Maps, Imperial War Ships
  • Smuggler: Haggle, Deception, Sneak, Hide, Camouflage, Forgery, Pilot, Navigation, [Repair], [Gunnery]
  • Survivor: Tough, Run, Scrounge, Endure, Creepy Stare, Intimidate, [Medic]
  • Warrior: Battle-Hardened, Shooting, Two-Gun Style, Pistol, Fencing, Sword, [Brawl], [Hail of Lead]

It strikes me that a lot of these are very much like “skills,” and that they are a little boring, really. What I’d like to do is convert all the things about a character that affects his spellcasting into traits, and then give him a bundle of tags to attach to that. The tags should be aspects that are easy to weave into a spell, and which improve the play experience of playing the game.

The things that could be turned into traits are for instance: the Mage’s tradition, the Mage’s specific group (if he has one), the Mage’s concept/personality, and the mage’s spheres.

Let’s exemplify with my old character from a one shot thing I did. My character was a hermetic mage (he was a member of the Order of Hermes) who was an avatar of Odin, as such using runes to cast magic, and who used his PDA to write runes on. He also had a spear-like thing as a focus, and he had a glass eye. Being hermetic, he had a fair amount of Force magic. His Traits might look like this:

  • Order of Hermes: Scholary, secrets, language, ritual, secret names, House [whatever]
  • Avatar of Odin: Lost eye, spear, rune magic, crows, Old Norse
  • Technomage: PDA, Computer, Programming,
  • Forces sphere: Speed, Lightning, Electronics, Weather, Battle Magic, Spear
  • Entropy sphere: Soothsaying, Wyrd, Throwing Runes, Looking into Mimirs Well

These traits and tags could use some work, but you get the idea: have effects and foci connected to the traits. You then take one die per trait and tag that applies to the spell you are casting and roll them all, determining success based on how you roll.

Something else that might be imported is the Pool: in Lady Blackbird, you can add more dice by spending your “pool.” In Mage, you have something called quintessence which is originally meant to lower difficulties and power certain effects. But I think it would make sense to have it give you extra dice, as well as doing all the other things it does.

There is probably more that would need changing. But this is an outline for making a spell-casting system for Mage that makes a little more sense to me.