Mage: The Ascension Revised F.A.Q.
Excerpted from the upcoming
Mage Storytellers Handbook
Visitors of the White Wolf website will recognize questions from the Mage game Frequently Asked Questions herein. In some cases they've been expanded upon, as necessary. You'll also find answers to several other questions that may have come up in the course of a long-term chronicle.
What happened to the numbers on the book spines?
The numbers on the spines of various Mage: The Ascension,
sort of reminiscent of the Halo numbers from various Nine Inch
Nails CDs and videos, provide a method of keeping track of which
Mage books you do and don't have. The numbers existed
in the waaaaaay back very beginning on the first books, but they're
not used any more.
By the time of the Revised edition, it was clear that the spine numbers, while perhaps whimsically flavorful, didn't serve much purpose, yet conversely could cause problems. (Yes, people actually complained when a typo led to a duplicated spine number on one printing.)
Perhaps more noteworthy, some Mage books - the Tradition books - never had a spine number, so there was no way to fit them into any sort of comprehensive list.
This is a list of all of them, including editions that are no longer in print:
01 Mage (first edition)
What happened to (my favorite stuff that wasn't in any book)?
Victims of word counts. Mage Revised, for example clocked in with 90,000 words over what we could print. For reference's sake, that's about equal to an extra 160 pages of material that just couldn't fit in the main book. It's unfortunate but it's also a law of publishing. It's up to the developer to decide what's essential and what can be held until later. So, if you thought something was at the heart of Mage but you didn't see it in the book, chances are that it was held for a later release.
Of course, with the release of revised books and updated Guides, a lot of material's finally made it to press. Still, every once in a while something doesn't fit because of space (like Merits and Flaws in Laws of Ascension) or manages to slip through the cracks into obscurity (like Lions of Zion from the revised Storyteller's Companion - see p. XX).
I'm confused by the new Paradox system. Does Paradox always backlash? Does it always release the entire amount? The descriptions seem contradictory.
Paradox is a fickle force. Sometimes it backlashes; sometimes it waits. Sometimes it's a hammer and sometimes it's like sandpaper against your skin.
Paradox usually ignites as it's garnered, but not always. Figure about a one-in-ten chance that Paradox will hang on a mage instead of backlashing immediately. And, of course, the player can always spend Willpower to prevent the Paradox from going off all at once. Ultimately it's up to the Storyteller to decide whether the Paradox explodes as gathered or whether it hangs in the balance.
When Paradox backlashes, it's usually easiest to simply fire off all of the Paradox accumulated at once and look up the results on the appropriate damage and flaw tables. However, if you want to run with more uncertainty in your Paradox, you can roll a die pool equal to the Paradox rating of the mage; each success (6 or more) causes one point of Paradox to discharge from the pool in a backlash. (Permanent Paradox can still discharge in this case, but it doesn't go away.) Take the results for the amount of total Paradox that backlashes; the mage stores up the rest.
In the event that a mage has some hanging Paradox left in his pool, it still disperses at a rate of one point per week, as stated in the rules.
What are the differences between vulgar and coincidental magic? What happens when a mage casts coincidental magic, and how much does the player have to describe? The rules seem kinda sketchy.
Vulgar and coincidental magic are described on pp. 137-138, but the descriptions leave a lot of leeway. Ultimately, the full limits of what counts as "vulgar" versus "coincidental" is up to the game that the Storyteller wants to run.
In brief, coincidental magic is anything that could reasonably have happened without the intervention of magic. If a mage does some mojo and a couple of cars crash, well, they could've crashed anyway; it's a coincidence. Likewise, if the mage prays for intervention while an enemy is chasing him and suddenly the enemy's elevator gets stuck, it's a coincidence - not because all miracles are coincidental, but because an elevator could conceivably just happen to become stuck.
Vulgar magic is anything outside the bounds of coincidence. The mage hurls lightning from his fingers - that couldn't plausibly happen in the real world, so it's obviously magic! Similarly, if a mage steps into a bathroom in one city and steps out of one in another city, it's clearly something that couldn't have "just happened," and it's vulgar magic.
The boundaries of coincidence and vulgarity aren't set, though. The Consensus has some effect: What people believe is possible shapes what is possible. Thus, if a mage manages to convince people that he has some incredible gizmo that really works and lets him appear to hurl lightning, the effect may well be coincidence - the mage does his magic and waves his hands, but the device is doing the work, right? As far as people can tell, anyway. Similarly, a mage may have special knowledge about some little-known "fact" of science that he leans on, but if it's not widely-spread and believed, it won't appear to be a natural part of what could have happened, so it'll be vulgar magic or science.
When a mage does vulgar magic, (s)he cuts loose with an effect and fires off something that clearly violates the natural order. Simple. A coincidental effect is usually much more subtle, though. The mage sets magic in motion, but then weaves that magic into the Tapestry. The magic nudges events into a certain direction; those without magic can't even tell that anything unusual happened. The mage might not even know what is going to happen! The player should describe a plausible coincidence, but the mage merely sets up events and probably doesn't even know if the end result came from chance or from magic. For instance, a Hermetic mage could invoke the power of Forces to strike an enemy down coincidentally. The mage weaves the magic into the Tapestry and hopes that it works. Lo and behold, a severed power line hits the foe and shocks him. Unusual, but it could happen it's a coincidence, and nobody could really tell if it was magic or not. The player knew by rolling dice, and the player described the plausible coincidence (subject to the Storyteller's approval), but the mage only knows that he relied on magic, he believed and lo, his enemy was struck down.
Individual Storytellers should play with the boundaries of coincidence as it suits the nature of the game. Coincidence and vulgarity will shift from time to time, place to place and person to person, too. See p. XX.
Okay, smarty pants, so if the Consensus says "reality is what people believe," then how come the Consensus works? Most people don't believe that reality is whatever they want to believe, so it shouldn't be, right?
The Consensus is one of those niggling aftereffects of the creation of the Tellurian. Like the existence of Prime energy, it's not really subject to interpretation. Prime energy (Quintessence) exists in spite of the fact that most normal people don't believe in it. In some cases there are things that just "seem to be," whether due to historical inertia or cosmological constants.
And we said so. So nyah.
Of course, you can play around with the idea of who makes up the Consensus, exactly. Or you might shuck it entirely - magic just works, and has nothing to do with what people believe in.
When stepping sideways, does the Avatar Storm cause damage from failed Spirit dice, or from a separate roll of Arete + Paradox? And does the Storm affect anything other than mages?
It's Arete + Paradox. The Storm only affects enlightened individuals and creations - that is, mages and Talismans.
So how come the Avatar Storm doesn't affect shapeshifters, spirits, what-have-you?
The Avatar Storm is attracted to strong, powerful Avatars. It's like lightning striking a magnet. Shapeshifters aren't exactly human and certainly don't have Avatars in the Mage sense (they have spirits, but they are part spirit). Spirit entities, by the same token, are not necessarily Avatars.
Why did the Avatar Storm happen the way that it did? It seems like a cop-out to take Masters and the Umbra out of the game.
Some people think the Avatar Storm is just a plot device that
came out of nowhere.
In a game-world sense, the Avatar Storm is a gross consequence:
it's a reminder of the impending Sixth Age/ Armageddon, and a
slap in the face to arrogant mages (and others) who thought that
they could meddle around with cosmically destructive forces.
See also the metaplot wrap-up on p. XX.
It seems really hard to build a fast Effect. With penalties for fast-casting, required successes and the like, most mages will have trouble getting more than one or two successes in a turn.
This is deliberate; mages should take time to prepare, cast their Effects wisely and use brains, not brute force. Magic turns the universe on its head - this is not something done quickly or lightly! And, again, magic is not an instant cure-all for everything. A mage can't rely solely on magic to fix every problem.
A mage under stress is probably better suited using some subtle magic to nudge events into her favor, or splitting dice pools to get a simple personal Effect backing up a normal action. Real titanic workings will take time and effort. If a mage just has to do something phenomenal in one turn, that's what Willpower and Quintessence expenditures are for. Remember, too, that if all that your mage wants to do is kill someone with vulgar magic, that successes on the attack roll do add to damage as with any other sort of attack, so even a one-success fire blast can inflict some hefty damage with a good shot.
If a Storyteller wants to let mages build faster Effects, then it's easiest just to get rid of the fast-casting difficulty penalty and to loosen up the success chart so that one or two successes can still score useful results.
Now you know what was intended - that magic be a demanding but rewarding craft. If you want to change it, you can. See p. XX!
Um, what are the Technocracy's Conventions, anyway?
Blast, that sidebar just didn't make it into Mage Revised. In brief, the Technocracy has five Conventions: Iteration X, concerned with computer and material sciences; New World Order, which works with social engineering and information distribution; Progenitors, who practice medicine; the Syndicate, which works with money and economics; and the Void Engineers, who explore and chart unknown places and dimensions. Together they uphold the Precepts of Damian, a set of guidelines that exhort them to protect humanity and explore the cosmos.
What level of Life magic is required to heal other people?
As implied in Life 3, "To more complex creatures, she can exert change, causing the entity to grow or change as she desires," a mage can heal or injure other people (and complex animals) with Life 3. Transforming the Pattern into something else requires Life 4.
What's the deal with the metaplot?
See p. XX for a discussion of all things metaplotty.
How are Geasa (Mage Rev pp. 298-299) supposed to work?
A geas Flaw reduces the value of a corresponding Merit or Flaw. The point table, unfortunately, is backwards (oops). So, if you have a very simple geas, it's worth one point - it reduces the cost of a Merit or Flaw only slightly, because you're unlikely to break it and thus unlikely to lose the Merit or suffer the Flaw. If you have a very nasty geas, it can be worth up to five points - it will mitigate a Merit because you're almost certain to lose it. Of course, a geas' value can never be more than one less than the value of its corresponding Merit or Flaw.
For a straightforward example: Say that your mage has Sphere Natural: Spirit (a 5-point Merit). Then say the character has a geas to always leave a small sacrifice of food for the spirits when eating - a minor geas, worth about 2 points. The cost of the Sphere Natural Merit is now only 3 points, but if the mage ever fails to fulfill the geas, he loses the Merit.
As a Flaw, consider a mage with the Crucial Component: sunlight Flaw. This is a 2 point Flaw. The mage also takes a geas: always eat your vegetables, a 1 point geas. This means that the mage gains one freebie point for the Flaw, but if he ever fails to eat his veggies, he suffers from the Flaw in the future. (In this case, you're getting points for a Flaw you don't even suffer unless you break the geas. Pretty sweet.)
Can a mage change Traditions?
Conditionally yes. A mage who switches through different Traditions during early training gains the Dual Traditions Merit (see p. 298 of Mage). Similarly, a mage might gain this Merit during the course of play at a cost of 14 experience points and lots of role-playing. This grants a mage the indoctrination and skills of both Traditions at once, which is why it's such an expensive Merit.
A mage might change to a wholly different Tradition and abandon a former one at some point. The mage probably gains the Probationary Sect Member Flaw or a similar social penalty. Making such a change is akin to a life-changing experience like "getting religion" or suffering a personality shift. The mage isn't just learning a different way of magic; the character's tearing apart what he knew to be true about the universe and trying to put something else in its place.
A mage's Arete doesn't go down as a result, but it's quite likely that the mage's Sphere knowledge might suffer. After all, a trained Hermetic mage knows that by opening the appropriate gates and calling the right binding spells on angelic powers he can conjure fire, but if that Hermetic mage discards this as useless rubbish and instead tries to learn to use intuitive technology like a Son of Ether, he must essentially re-learn, from scratch, his Spheres.
The best way to handle this is to use the rules for a mage who loses a unique focus (see p. 203) or wants to learn to use other foci in addition to a unique focus. The mage has a couple of choices: he can cast spells by "surpassing foci" and just forcing the magic to work, or he can start learning a new focus - the new Tradition's focus set - for a Sphere by re-buying his existing dots at half cost. Yes, this is a very expensive proposition, which represents how much work it takes to change worldviews so drastically, and shows why mages so rarely try to switch over.
The mage retains rote knowledge, mundane abilities and mystical backgrounds. Resonance almost certainly increases or changes as a result of such a shift.
What happens when a Tradition mage is Conditioned into the Technocracy (or vice versa)?
See the rules for changing Traditions, above: The mage essentially learns a new way to do things, but this makes old Sphere knowledge inaccessible until the mage can figure out how to apply the new tools. The mage's experience isn't wholly lost - the mage is only paying half cost to regain the Spheres, after all - but it's still a long road.
Of course, such a character also gains the Probationary Sect Member Flaw. Mages jumped into the Technocracy almost certainly suffer a high level of Conditioning (see the Guide to the Technocracy).
This is still better than trying to Awaken someone from scratch, and it's easier for a former Traditionalist to re-learn old Spheres than for a newly Enlightened operative to learn them, which explains why the Technocracy places a premium on capturing and reconditioning Tradition mages instead of always killing them. (This also gives you great plot hooks for "rescue our friend before he's Conditioned.")
Say, could I use those rules above
for changing my mage's foci?
You bet. You can overcome the need for a unique focus and replace it with the normal focus limits of the Tradition by paying an extra 50% for the cost of each Sphere level in that Sphere. This strips the penalties for the unique focus and allows the character to use the normal Tradition set. Why would you ever do this? Because you still garner all the bonuses for using the original unique focus, if you keep it.
What does Resonance do? Why'd you bother putting it in if it's so vague?
Resonance is expanded upon in Guide to the Traditions. It's listed as a statistic primarily to draw attention: while Resonance existed in prior editions of Mage, there were literally dozens of people crawling out of the woodwork thinking that it was a great new rule unique to the revised edition.
The basic idea behind Resonance is that a mage's drives, emotions and personality all affect her magic. Resonance statistics help to show what those emotions are and how strong they may be. A very, very angry mage has a lot of anger Resonance - and her magic spells show this!
Similarly, Resonance is a magical "scent" or "flavor." A mage's spells have that sort of Resonance and it's almost always unique. Remember when Darth Vader senses Obi-Wan's presence on the Death Star in Star Wars? Resonance is like that - your mage casts a spell and suddenly her old enemy recognizes her due to the Resonance.
Because Resonance represents emotion and desire channeled through magic, it changes in response to them. Mages who go through a lot of magical stress or who have lots of power tend to have lots of Resonance, so mages often gain Resonance from Quiet or from Seekings. Mages who have profound traumatic emotional episodes or who have personality shifts might gain new types of Resonance.
Can you have multiple different types of Resonance in the same category (like Entropic)?
Yes; see the optional rules, below.
Why did mages do (random stupid thing)?
Because mages are human, too. They make mistakes. Sometimes they do things because "it seemed like a good idea at the time." Mages do have special abilities, but they are neither omnipotent nor infallible.
Why aren't Technocrats and the Umbra in the core book any more? How do you play the game without the spirit world or the main antagonists?!?
Technocrats aren't supposed to be the main antagonists any more. In early editions they had a very one-dimensional "black hat" caricature, painting them as lurid villains against the Traditions. With the release of books like Guide to the Technocracy, they're now playable as misguided humans with their own agenda. Since they're not "the enemy," they don't really belong in the adversarial position of the core rules, and putting them there would've only propagated the idea that they were still "the enemy." Instead, "the enemy" for mages is much more pervasive and subtle - it can be anything from personal issues that the mage must face in the real world, to the attempt to win back Sleeper hearts away from the Consensus of apathy.
The Umbra is indeed a large and vibrant realm - a place that's far away from most of the tragedies happening on Earth. For better or for worse, modern mages have to deal with their problems at home. Fighting in the spirit world won't accomplish the things that the Traditions need to do. For this reason, the Umbra presents a great vista to play in, but it's not the stomping ground for newly-Awakened mages, who still have all of their old life problems but now have new ways to deal with them. Similarly, the sheer scope and complexity of the Umbra aren't really done justice by leaving it in two pages of text.
Better to give the Umbra its own sourcebook.
The Mage core book is, essentially, a primer for someone playing a new mage. Newly Awakened mages rarely have a history of run-ins with the Technocracy (you usually don't get hunted down until after you start doing magic), nor do they have the experience to go traipsing about the spirit world.
The experience rules say "new rating x" for Mage, but they're "current rating" in the other games. This is a mistake, right?
No. As Justin Achilli explained during development of Vampire revised, he'd always understood "current rating" to mean "rating you're currently buying." It makes more sense to some people that learning more of a skill (the second dot) is harder than learning the rudimentary basics (the first dot) instead of the other way around, which was a strange artifact of the old system. This also seemed appropriate for Mage but the new wording was adopted to make it clearer.
Of course, you're always free to use whatever experience system floats your boat, so you can use "current" if you like. You should probably use the same "current" or "new" definition for all characters in your game, just so that your players don't beat you up. Ethan Skemp preferred the "current rating" system and left it intact in Werewolf revised.
What's the relationship of Ars Magica to Mage?
The old Ars Magica game was originally done by some of the people who later went on to become White Wolf, and was published for a while by White Wolf. While it certainly influenced Mage early on, ArM has since parted ways. The two games have diverged and while they have some similar elements it isn't really correct to assume that ArM is the "history" of Mage at this point.
How does Mage reality fit in with the other games?
It doesn't - not really. The idea of laws of the world influenced by the consensus of human belief obviously wouldn't be the same one that's overrun with the machinations of vampires, or one where animals (at least wolves) have as much say in the "truth" of things as humans.
Mage posits a world with humanity as king, but not knowing it except in a few rare cases. In Vampire humans are victims, unknowingly having predatorial monsters in their midst. In Werewolf, there's a very specific way that the cosmos works, with delineated good and evil.
In short, if you try to collide the games, they're not really made to mesh smoothly. You pretty much have to decide which game is "right." This will influence your theme and the powers of all the characters in that game.
Why are the rules on ghoul mages so harsh?
Ghouldom is a form of parasitic servitude. A ghoul essentially is dependent upon the whims of the vampire master for survival and power - it's a curse handed down. Mages, on the other hand, are mortals who're empowered to change reality by their will. The two states are incompatible - one is a state of slavery, the other a state of total liberation.
How come Hunters have the role as humanity's guardians when that's what mages do?
Technically, mages aren't humanity's guardians. They're a next step in human potential, true - but nothing says that mages are required to use that for the good of all mankind. Some mages take it upon themselves to help and advance humanity. Others believe that they must use their own powers for their personal development.
Hunters, on the other hand, were given their gifts by entities with very specific goals in mind (see the Hunter Storytellers Handbook). These agendas don't necessarily always mean protecting humanity but they are more focused than mages, who can use their powers for just about any reason at all.
Remember that even if players' mage characters are heroic, the same isn't necessarily true of the mage community as a whole. The existence of mages like Voormass and Jodi Blake should underscore this.
Is the Umbra the same as outer space?
No. The Gauntlet is extremely thin in space, though, so much so that it's easy to slip between the two places. Mages beyond Mars can often slip through into the Umbra as if it's a Shallowing. Still, places in the Umbra aren't visible from Earthly space - otherwise, planet-bound amateur astrologers would've spotted the Tradition-Technocracy wars over Jupiter back in the early '90s!
How come mages with fae blood or shapeshifter kin Merits can't use Gifts or cantrips?
Because their supernatural powers don't work that way. An Awakened mage doesn't have the same tie to the Gaia-cosm as a werewolf, or to the Dreaming as a changeling. She's become something else - something human-like, yet on the pinnacle of what it is to be human. Such a being is in touch with inner powers, not with gifts from some other heritage.
Still, a mage can use Spheres to simulate Gifts or cantrips that she's seen. Under the right conditions, this might even be coincidental ("Other kinfolk can do this, so can I!").
My friend says that Virtual Adepts are technomancers. I say they're Traditionalists, obviously. Who's right?
You both are. A technomancer (lower case t) is just a mage
who uses technology to mystical ends. Such a mage might be a
Virtual Adept, or a Dreamspeaker techno-shaman, or a Euthanatos
from the Lakshmists. Conversely, some Virtual Adepts eschew mysticism
entirely and more properly use Enlightened Science.
Can my mage become a vampire or werewolf and keep his magic?
No; a mage who becomes a vampire dies and loses his Avatar.
Werewolves are born with their predisposition and someone destined
to become a werewolf will never Awaken as a mage because his
soul is already part of the Gaia cosmology.