Ultimate WoD‎ > ‎Venues‎ > ‎

Mage

The Premise

You probably don't know it, but your soul is composed of three parts, the highest of which is your Avatar and the lowest of which may one day become your Shadow. You can think of this triune soul like the Freudian psyche: your lower soul wants you to give in to hedonism and selfishness, your higher soul wants to elevate you above the imperfection of your existence, and your soul proper tries to balance these two demands, synthesizing an identity. This being the World of Darkness, however, your Avatar is asleep. You get little hints as to what might be right or better, but most of your life is spent choosing not to give into your baser urges and not really knowing why – you probably trust in religion or the charisma of someone you admire or an abstract idea of morality, but maybe not.

And you don't ever realize that life really is what we make it. The fancy term for this is consensus reality, but the idea is that the composition of the world is based on people's beliefs, and if enough people agree on what is and isn't real, the dissenting few are forced to live in the reality of the Consensus. The why of this is that everyone's Avatar can push reality into what they want it to be, and even though they're quiescent, there are billions of sleepy pushes molding existence into the world we know.

One day in a moment of great stress or personal need, your sleeping Avatar wakes up. In that moment, it (not exactly you, but kind of) sees the entirety of reality for what it truly is, and it knows its purpose. Trouble is, you've spent your whole life in the reality you know – dealing with your lower soul and trying to do what you think is best – and you wouldn't be able to comprehend the Truth. It would break you.

So your Avatar gives you a piece of the big picture. This Epiphany is life-changing, and your Awakening allows you to affect reality in ways beyond the ken of normal people. The only thing you're certain of is that the world you thought was real is just six billion people's opinion. You have thoughts of your own.

A Good Idea 

Read up on Mage: The Ascension. If you find a copy of the revised second edition, get it. There are some differences, but an awful lot of the story lore for this game is right there.

Traits

Resonance

Instead of multiple resonances sorted by metaphysic trinity, you've got a single, thematic adjective that encapsulates the personality of your magic and flavors the descriptions of your spells. Relate it to your Avatar concept if you want, but I think it's just as cool to have a Firey resonance expressed as a vision of steam and an ancient dragon that is nevertheless Recursive. Remember that your resonance is a theme, not a style, so play with the concept a little – making plants grow with Synchronous resonance could as easily give onlookers a sense of unity to see it as have all the vines sprout at the same rate.

Paradigm and Tradition

You know from your Awakening that there's more to reality than you supposed, but you also feel your Avatar pushing you further and further away from your old system of understanding. Your paradigm is what your Avatar's pushing you through: a set of ideas and beliefs that more readily handle the wider viewpoint you're developing. Think of your paradigm as training wheels for your soul: one day you'll (hopefully) be able to comprehend the grand Truth of existence, but until then your magic is funneled through this broader vision of reality.

This is where the Traditions come in. Most mages fall into one of these seven major organizations, and probably at least one of their many subgroups and factions. You don't have to join a Tradition, but it's a pretty good deal – with Tradition membership comes the possibility of training, mentoring, guidance, or at least social common ground. Members of the Traditions get a break on the costs of their Tradition's specialty Sphere.

Those who don't (or aren't able to) join a Tradition, whether as a personal choice, an iconoclastic paradigm, or any other reason, are Orphans. Orphans miss out on the benefits mentioned above and have trouble interacting with those of established Traditions, suffering a +2 difficulty penalty on Social rolls with mages outside their cabal.

Spheres

Spheres are, again, very similar to the original. They are these seven.
  • Correspondence Connections, directions, space, and dimension.
  • Forces Otherwise unqualifiable elements like fire, light, electricity, sound, and so on.
  • Matter Objects and materials.
  • Mind All things mental: telepathy, enlightenment, thought itself.
  • Life That which lives and grows and probably dies.
  • Spirit Interaction with the non-material world and its denizens.
  • Time Causality and temporality.
Your Tradition's specialty Sphere costs 5 freebie points, while all other Spheres cost 7. If you're an Orphan, you pay 6 for all Spheres.

Arete

You don't really have the wisdom to comprehend all that your Avatar does, but it's giving you as much Truth as you can handle, and the mere having of it is enough for you to work you will on the world. Your Arete is a measure of this. When you're ready for more, your Avatar gives it to you in the form of a vision, called a Seeking; it's part test and part lesson, and you can fail both, but that's okay. Your Avatar is always eager (in its way) to help you to the next plateau.

At character creation, Arete begins at •••.

Rotes

When you're casting spells, you're either fast-casting or using a rote. You've practiced and persevered and come up with a reliable way to create a particular Effect, whether it's a hermetic formula or a specific command-line macro or a combination of recitation and gestures. Casting a rote spell is easier than fast casting, but by its nature it isn't as flexible.

Health

A new problem: aggravated damage, magical harm to your pattern. For mages, it comes from Paradox and the Avatar Storm. Mark it in your Health as a star (*). Aggravated damage can't be soaked or healed with magic – it heals only naturally, at the same rate as lethal damage.

Experience

Here's the augmented Experience table.
Trait Cost
New Ability 4
New Sphere 8
New Merit 3
Attribute Current Rating X 5
Ability Current Rating X 3
Sphere Current Rating X 7 (5 if Tradition specialty); X 6 if you're an Orphan
Merit Current Rating X 2
Arete Current Rating X 6
Humanity Current Rating
Willpower Current Rating
Rote 2
Ritual <total number of Spheres> X 2

Magic

Arete

When you use your Arete, roll your rating as a dicepool. If you botch, you incur Paradox (see below).

If your Arete is ever greater than your Humanity, the difficulty for all social interactions (even with other mages) rises by the difference and the difficulty of Humanity rolls increases by one. You also lose access to your Arcane Merit, if you have it.

You roll Arete to cast spells and to participate in ritual casting.

When you roll Arete, you may give up a speck of Humanity to lower the difficulty of the Rage roll by 1, to a minimum of 0. This represents a voluntary degeneration of your human side as you give in to your (unnatural) magical nature.

Casting Spells

Invoking the power of a Sphere in a manner that fits your paradigm is a spell. You typically won't need to use multiple Spheres at the same time, but if you do, take a look at the rules for rituals, below.

Hollywood magic

Storytellers who want flashier, easier spells may allow players to roll (Arete + Sphere) when casting. This counts as an Arete roll.
Once you figure out exactly what you're trying to accomplish and how you mean to effect it, roll your Arete. Assuming there's no resistance, the difficulty of the roll is the Sphere level that best describes the Effect. If this spell isn't a rote – that is, you're fast-casting – add +1 to the difficulty.

Hold on there, big tuna. You chose a focus for each of your Spheres, so you've got to incorporate that into your spell. If you don't, you can spend a point of Willpower and still cast the sucker.  If you don't spend the Willpower and you don't have your focus, you can't cast the spell.

Coincidence, Vulgarity, and Witnesses

Like the old system, magic doesn't fit in with the Consensus, so you've got to keep it under wraps for it to work right. If your spell is something that could conceivably be mundane (like a broke mage using Matter to pull $20 out of her pocket), it's coincidental, and it works as described above. If the Effect is patently impossible in the normal framework of reality, it's vulgar. Unless performed in a node, vulgar magic always incurs Paradox, and botched vulgar magic always brings Backlash (though it can be staved off as usual; see Paradox, below).

Either way, magic is harder to work in front of normal people. If you perform an Effect with at least one unAwakened witness, the difficulty increases by +1. Storytellers are free to increase this penalty in the case of large crowds, television broadcasts, or other preponderances of disbelief in magic.

Rituals

If you have to pull off a major Effect or one that uses multiple Spheres at once, you can perform a ritual. They take an uninterrupted scene to perform and usually require a heavy dose of the trappings of your paradigm: circles of glyphs and candles and mandalas, a server farm with multi-threaded tasks liberally dispersed, a hidden grove and the sacrifice of a pure white doe. All these trappings count as the foci for your ritual.

The Sequel

Players who normally enjoy the cinematic (Arete + Sphere) roll for spellcasting are going to be disappointed by rituals: use the rules as written here. Rituals are big mojo, and hard to pull off. Good luck.
Performing the ritual is similar to casting a spell. Describe the Effect you're trying for and figure out the applicable Spheres. Then make an extended Arete roll, difficulty the total dots of each Sphere involved. You can keep trying if any of these rolls are a failure, but if any rolls botch, you incur Paradox as usual and the ST uses the difficulty of the extended roll (see Paradox, below). If you perform your ritual in a node, add its rating to one of these Arete rolls.

If you want other Awakened mages to assist in the ritual, they have to share your paradigm (though those of other paradigms don't count as unAwakened witnesses). Each assistant can each contribute a single Arete roll's worth of successes to the ritual. Of course, if any participant botches, all the participants incur Paradox (though each rolls to resist Backlash separately).

Learning a ritual requires that you have the Sphere ratings which comprise it (obviously). Rituals are always rotes that cost Experience to learn equal to twice the number of Spheres it comprises.

Paradox

When you botch an Arete roll or you use vulgar magic, you incur Paradox – you've pushed reality too far and you're at the epicenter when it snaps back into place. You can postpone Paradox until the beginning of the next scene by making a reflexive Willpower roll at the same difficulty as the spell you cast or botched (or the number of 1s you rolled, whichever is greater).  If you botch the Willpower roll, you suffer Backlash (below).

Assuming you succeed in postponing Paradox, you can continue your current scene as normal. Should you incur Paradox again in the same scene, you can choose to take it all – that is, the Paradox you just incurred and the hanging Paradox – or roll to hold off this new batch of Paradox as well. If you're successful, the newly-incurred Paradox is added to the hanging Paradox.

When Paradox (finally) hits you, the ST rolls dice equal to the difficulty of the spell you cast or botched; if you incurred Paradox multiple times in a scene, the ST rolls the total difficulties of those spells. Every success on this roll deals you a level of unsoakable aggravated damage. There's no way to prevent or reduce this damage, and aggravated damage can't be healed magically.

Your Resonance flavors Paradox (and Backlash), as does the magic you used to incur it. If your Resonance is Irritating, Paradox from a Forces Effect might manifest as a nasty, itchy sunburn, and Paradox from a Mind Effect with Shining Resonance could give you dreams of bright lights from which you can't help but awaken.

Backlash

When you botch your Willpower roll to postpone Paradox or when you botch a vulgar spell, you suffer Backlash. If you're a fan of Paradox spirits or Paradox Realms, you're welcome to drop them on a mage who suffers Backlash, but it usually manifests as Paradox flaws. When the ST rolls your Paradox damage, she'll use her successes on that roll as the rating of the Paradox flaw that you gain. Check out the table below.

Paradox Flaw Duration Possible Scope
1 ••••• One hour Attribute category
2 •••• One day One Attribute
3 ••• One week One Ability
4 •• One month Purview like a Specialty
5+ A year or more Circumstantial

Flaws function as reverse traits, removing dice equal to their rating from applicable pools. Flaws with higher ratings are worse for you both in dicepool penalty and in scope due to their limited nature: a five-dot flaw of your skin turning to wood and sprouting would likely give you a penalty to all social rolls, but it lasts only for an hour; a one-dot flaw of your watch running backward might impose only circumstantial penalties involving never being on time, but it's for a lot longer.

Storytellers are welcome to take their Paradox successes and divide them among multiple different flaws, but they'll probably never have more than seven successes to play with – eight levels of aggravated damage usually means you're dead, dead, dead, but I can see a Storyteller deciding that Paradox incurred by Time magic might throw you into a causal loop, so your Backlash is to suffer your damage again and again without dying.
Comments