Avatars The Traditions and the Technocracy
Mage is a game about the quest for enlightenment and the madness of power. Every mage walks a fine line between godhood and hubris, trying to sort truth from perception, changing reality even while striving to understand it. When you can redefine existence itself, how can you tell what is real? And yet you must, for your own soul is driven with a need you can't deny. The rewards are beyond your wildest dreams. The price may be greater than you can imagine.
This document is a homebrewed edition of the Mage game, compatible with the nWoD universe. As such, it is designed to be used along with the existing Mage: the Ascension core book and the nWoD World of Darkness core book. It also happens to contain several house rules in use among my gaming group, mostly in the Character Creation section, such as the use of Freebie Points (officially done away with in nWoD), the number of dots allowed and their method of allocation, and so on.
Large sections of the old game stand. Traditions and Technocracy and their battle for the fate of the universe are largely untouched, though their group dynamics are slightly altered. The history of magic in the World of Darkness hasn't really changed, although the reasons it played out that way might differ in the nuances. Anything I haven't changed won't be included here.
To create a mage character, follow this process. It needn't be in this order: every player, and frequently each character, will find a different order of progression most comfortable. Don't forget the character's personality while figuring traits. Ideally, while assigning these stats, you should be considering what they mean to your character, and how they tie in with, reflect, or affect the character's background and personality.
A mage character starts with one free dot in each Attribute. You get more 15 dots to distribute among them. They are rated on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 is abysmal. 5 is spectacular. No Attribute can go over 5. Check the WoD corebook, beginning on page 42, for further details.
You have 29 dots to distribute among Abilities as you see fit. Rated on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 means that you are a beginner, or that you have some know-how but you are poor at it while 5 means that you are among the top of your field. During this stage of character creation, you cannot raise any Ability beyond 3. Abilities are described in the WoD core book, beginning on page 54.
Once you have all those dots assigned, you may now purchase extra traits for your character. The ST may do this in one of two ways: by assigning each character a beginning amount of experience which can be spent to raise traits before the game begins, or by assigning a number of Freebie Points (typically 15), which can be spent according to the chart below.
In either case, Attributes and Abilities cannot be raised above 5. Arete should not go above 3 for a beginning level character. Merits usually can't be raised above 5, unless the ST gives permission. Spheres cannot exceed the character's Arete rating, and the Arete rating cannot exceed the character's Willpower (though that isn't usually a problem with beginning level characters).
Flaws: At this point, you may also choose Flaws for your character. These are negative traits the character may possess, and they award you extra Freebie Points depending on their severity. They may be psychological, supernatural, social, or physical. A physical handicap, a hereditary curse, a past faux pas among polite society, or a mental disorder may all be Flaws. Lists of Flaws can be found among the various WoD books, or you may make up your own.
|Freebie Point Costs|
|Attributes||5 per dot|
|Abilities||2 per dot|
|Backgrounds||1 per dot|
|Arete||4 per dot|
|Willpower||1 per dot|
|Spheres||7 per dot|
|Quintessence||1 point per four dots|
|Sanity||4 per dot|
Now that the character's stats have been finalized, you can calculate secondary traits. For more on these, see the WoD corebook, beginning on page 90.
Once all that is done, it is time to figure out the character's personality, background, and history. Ideally, you will have come up with some ideas on this while building the character. Flesh those out, and answer questions such as: how and where did my character grow up? What is their family like? What about friends? What job (if any) do they hold, and how do they support themselves? What are their goals in life? Greatest fears? Greatest hopes? How did you Awaken? Smaller details such as your character's favorite food or quirks of speech can add realism and enjoyment to play. And don't forget to decide physical characteristics such as age, appearance, and style of dress.
Sanity is equivalent to the Morality trait for mages. Though it represents the same ethical code as Morality, it serves a somewhat different function. For a mage, morality is a form of self-discipline and a filter for the assault on their minds that comes with their magic.
Mages live in a world that no mortal could ever imagine. Their Awakened state sets them in the center of a universe gone mad. The truths they believed in turn out to be merely perception, and they must always doubt whether what they think they know is simply another lie they have created for themselves. Their Avatar drives them ever forward, striving toward Ascension or some other goal the mage can only barely comprehend and pushing them toward ever greater heights of power and knowledge. If the mage isn't careful, if he doesn't work to consider and understand all the information he takes in, all the powers he can wield, he can easily go mad.
Early in his career, a mage is still very much a human being. He doesn't experience the change of form that a werewolf does, or the alteration in state of a vampire. His body is mortal, and his mind, newly Awakened, clings to the tatters of the small, quiet reality he was raised in. He grasps at straws, looking for things that seem familiar, truths that still hold. As the mage grows in power and enlightenment, however, his paradigm inevitably changes. One by one, experience contradicts even the truths he clung to, and he must adjust his understanding, growing ever more distant from the simple world of mortality. It is easy for him to leave behind the rules and emotions that once bound him. If a mage does not carefully preserve his old mentality, he can find it dissipating around him like mist.
But why should it matter? Why should he cling to old and perhaps outdated truths?
It matters because even mages need something to ground them. If a mage has no reason to hold back, nothing to make him slow down and proceed with care, he can quickly lose himself. Feeding like a glutton on knowledge and power, the mage takes in more than he can handle without processing it into his own paradigm. He is driven to question his own understanding, begins doubting everything that forms his own personality. Under this onslaught, the paradigm that loses is, as often as not, his own. If the mage looses his grasp on his own beliefs, his mind begins to unravel and his soul fragments. His will shatters and he loses control of his magic. It overtakes him, so he quickly descends into a cycle of madness, fed by the reality he is capable of creating around himself. Thus is the Marauder born.
Many mages try, however. They often see their old moral codes as holding them back, arbitrary restrictions of 'right' and 'wrong' limiting them from everything they can do. Often, a mage will purposely begin deconstructing his own morality, and even more often, the mage is so taken up with his own abilities and visions that he simply forgets to hold on to it. As he slips slowly downward, he feels liberated. He needn't respec the boundaries set by others. He can ignore the needs and suffering of the people around him, doing whatever he wants without concern. But if a mage cares about nothing other than himself, then the only thing left for him to care about is power. Though he seldom realizes it, the price of this degeneration is almost certainly twofold: his own sanity, and his quest for enlightenment. When a mage casts away his own beliefs, he sacrifices his context. Enlightenment cannot come without a foundation to build on. His quest for Ascension becomes nothing more than greed, a desire for accumulation. The mage may continue to gather knowledge and power, but these are only ashes.
In the end, the sad truth of a mage's existence is that they can easily fall into this trap. When everything you think you know may be nothing more than belief given form, how do you discern the truth? What do you hold to, and what do you cast away? How do you recognize a solid step from a false one? Can you ever be sure whether you're moving forward or back?
In game terms, when your character commits a sin that falls at or below your Sanity rating, you roll a number of dice equal to the dice pool associated with the level of that sin on the following table. At the ST's discretion, the dice pool can be adjusted up or down, depending on extenuating (or incriminating) circumstances, good roleplay, and so on. If the player gets at least one success on the roll, the character does not lose a Sanity point. If the player gets no successes, then the character loses a point of Sanity and the player must check to see if the character gets a Derangement as well.
|Sanity||Threshold Sin||Dice Rolled|
|Selfish thoughts (ex. hurting someone's feelings)||
Roll 5 dice
|Minor selfish acts (ex. cheating on taxes)||
Roll 5 dice
|Injury to another, accidental or otherwise (ex. physical conflict)||
Roll 4 dice
|Petty theft (ex. shoplifting)||
Roll 4 dice
|Grand theft (ex. burglary)||
Roll 3 dice
|Intentional mas-property damage (ex. arson)||
Roll 3 dice
|Impassioned crime (ex. manslaughter)||
Roll 3 dice
|Planned crime (ex. murder)||
Roll 2 dice
|Casual, callous crime (ex. torture, serial murder)||
Roll 2 dice
|Utter perversion, heinous acts (ex. combined rape, torture, and murder; mass murder)||
Roll 2 dice
Beyond insane, Marauders have lost themselves completely. The threads that bind their identities have unravelled, leaving only impulse and flickering memory. They dwell in their own little world, as reality warps itself around them according to whims of the moment and deep-seated desires alike.
Marauders are most often created when a mage completely loses Sanity. However, they can be made in other ways, as well. A mage who somehow loses all permanent Willpower becomes a Marauder. Very rarely, mages have been known to willfully turn themselves into Marauders. Essentially, a Marauder is a mage whose identity has disintegrated to the point where he can no longer control his own mind. Though there are always rumors, no one has reliably been able to cure a Marauder.
Very few are even willing to approach near enough to try. Tragic as they are, Marauders are unfortunately not harmless. Marauders who suffer from delusions (and most of them do, sooner or later) can actually bring those delusions to life. In fact, this effect can be so powerful that if someone gets too close they can be drawn into the Marauder's little "pocket reality" as well, as if into a waking dream.
What's more, their magic lashes out at their every fleeting whim, warping reality around them unpredictably. This raw power often renders them resistant to Paradox's effects, as they distort the fabric of reality around themselves so badly that it simply has no chance to settle in any particular pattern. Frighteningly, this twisting of reality's threads allows them to affect the Paradox in other mages' bodies, like pulling upon random strands of a tangled skein, as the Marauder's twisting of the tapestry yanks on the kinks and knots that form within other mages' patterns. Mages may find their own Paradox going off in random, untriggered backlashes, or that they garner Paradox from simply being near the Marauder. Even stranger effects can result, as well, as some of these random twistings of the mage's being begin to take shape in reality.
Willpower measures your character's self-confidence, determination, and emotional resilience. A character with a high Willpower is focused, driven to achieve his goals, and capable of resisting impulses. Willpower does not equate to altruism, however. A criminal can have steely resolve as easily as a virtuous man can. Rated on a scale of 1 to 10, it has both permanent dots and temporary points. The character's permanent score fluctuates rarely. Temporary Willpower, however, can move up and down frequently. When temporary Willpower is all spent, the character is emotionally exhausted. This can be a danger zone, as a mage with no temporary Willpower risks the loss of a permanent point in some cases, such as his magic going badly awry, or someone else attacking him with Mind magic.
At any time, any character can spend a point of temporary Willpower to gain bonuses on various dice rolls. Mages, however, have additional benefits. A mage's magic is essentially the manifestation of his desires. A mage's will is therefore typically greater than that of other beings. To practice magic safely, he must be controlled and self-aware.
Spending Willpower Points:
Losing Willpower points: mages can lose temporary Willpower points when they suffer powerful setbacks or trauma. A strong shock, such as a backlash from a botched magic roll, a Mind magic attack, or a personal disaster, can cost a mage a temporary Willpower point. Extended trauma, such as a disastrous Seeking, severe tragedy, torture, etc. can cost a mage a permament Willpower point. Botching a Willpower roll when the character has no temporary Willpower left can also induce this.
The Avatar is the part of the mage's soul that enables them to Awaken and perform True Magic. There is much debate as to exactly what they are, where they come from, and what their purpose is. Mages are uncertain as to whether these things are personified aspects of their own souls, fragments of past lives, or even individual entities that inhabit (or merge with) a mage's soul. Some mages believe that every mortal has an Avatar hibernating within them, and that mages are simply the ones whose Avatars have Awakened. Others say that only select people have Avatars, or even that Avatars are beings that seek out likely mortal prospects and merge with them, instigating the Awakening.
A mage first knowingly encounters his Avatar during the Awakening, though it might be more accurate to say that the mage unites with his Avatar at that time. For a blinding eternal second, the mage sees through his Avatar's eyes, coming to an understanding with it that surpasses explanation. And yet, this does not mean that the two will coexist harmoniously afterward. Whatever an Avatar is, it is a greater thing than the human mind can consciously comprehend. After the throes of the Awakening fade, the mage does not carry a solid recollection of the truth about his Avatar. Rather, he is influenced by it, just as a person may display certain behaviors for his entire life because of events that happened when he was too young to remember. The Avatar, for its part, remains enigmatic. Whatever influence it might have taken away from the Awakening is difficult to judge. Does it find the mortal mind as difficult to comprehend? Does it even care?
Though the direct effects of the Awakening fade, the Avatar does not. Once it has Awakened, it remains conscious and aware (though exactly what it pays attention to is an open question). Even if it does not interact with the mage on a quantifiable level, the mage can feel it as a constant presence within him. Depending on what mage you ask (if they're willing to talk about it) they might express it as a pressure or a dream, the same feel as a looming deadline, a wish to fulfill a desire, or even an obsession they can't shake. Some mages seem to experience the force of it to a greater degree than others. In every case, though, it goads the mage toward something that most mages describe as a desire for completion or perfect understanding. They call it Ascension. The Avatar seems to be the source of this craving for enlightenment, filling the mage with a need to move ever toward that elusive goal.
Each mage experiences his Avatar differently, and each Avatar seems to have its own personality. They do appear to be sentient. Some Avatars manifest visibly, each with an appearance unique to itself. Others communicate though whispers in the mind, or perhaps even by simply nudging the mage along with emotions and intuitions. All Avatars apparently have a definite agenda. Whether they all share the same one is hard to discern, because the concept of Ascension is so hard to define, but every Avatar seems set on pushing its mage forward to learn. Many mages believe that Avatars are a aspect of their own souls, and in general they have a positive view regarding these enigmatic beings.
An Avatar's Essence could be said to be its personality. The details of Avatar personalities differ between individuals, but they can be roughly grouped into behavior patterns. The exact meaning of this is, again, a mystery. Some mages theorize that "Essence" is simply the remnant of the last incarnation's personality. Others say that it indicates the role or 'alignment' of the mage according to cosmic principles. In any case, an Avatar's Essence has some influence upon (or is a reflection of) the personality of the mage.
Avatars come in five Essences: Primordial, Dynamic, Pattern, Questing and Subtractive. Longer descriptions of the first four can be found in the Mage books, but Subtractive is new.
Dynamic is an unsettled Essence, flitting from one thing to another, always erratically searching for enlightenment. Unpredictable and unconventional, they are constantly in motion, spawning new projects or concepts.
Pattern is a stable Essence, seeking to learn through organization and creation. Rational and solid, they find enlightenment in bringing things into the world, in studying what is and why.
Questing is a focused Essence, goal-oriented or following a distinct journey that will lead to wisdom. Active and visionary, but not flighty.
Primordial is an ancient Essence. These Avatars are almost always extremely old. They seek for wisdom in unusual places, or accept it wherever they find it. Calmer than the Dynamic, they nonetheless seek everywhere--often including the dark places of existence where others fear to tread, for the Primordial remembers the elder Dark and is not afraid.
Subtractive is a deconstructive Essence. Active but not visionary, they are natural observers. They have no innate drive to organize, but they are often quite methodical. Extremely curious, they have a drive to disassemble structures, constructs and ideas alike, to learn the secrets within. They are excellent at analysis, naturally peering into the nature of things and learning from the way they unravel. Their skills may be put toward good or bad use. Some become philosophers or logicians, while others dismantle on a more physical plane--demolitions workers, doctors, or serial killers. Subtractive Essences may be stable or erratic, methodically breaking things down into their component parts or tearing apart everything around them in a conflagration. They tend to take the greatest interest in things that already in the process of breaking down, structure and expression dissolving into essence.
The heart of Mage, magic is nothing more or less than a mage's ability to reshape reality with her own will. She, unlike other humans, is able to do this because she possesses an Avatar, which allows her to connect to reality on a deeper level than other beings. If a mortal or a vampire is able to swim along the surface of Reality, then a mage is capable of diving into the depths. This power is both a great blessing, and a terrific danger. While their ability allows mages to pursue their quest for Ascension and to wield incredible power, it also makes it difficult to pursue that quest. After all, when you can reshape reality to suit yourself, how can you be sure what the "real" truth is? What's more, messing about with the warp and weft of reality isn't as easy as it seems. Reality prefers to maintain its shape, and a careless mage can find that when they try to bend it, it comes slashing back into their face like a fine swordblade.
Billions of humans live on this planet, wandering around performing their day to day activities. They play, they work, they reason and wonder. Many of them spend their entire lives trying to draw back the curtain of existence through science, philosophy or art. Occasionally, someone will make a breakthrough, and the world will seem like a slightly more rational place. One more piece fit into the puzzle of understanding.
Mages know better. They know because they have seen, and that vision was called the Awakening.
Every mage starts life as a Sleeper. She's one more puzzled mortal trying to stagger through life. But for some reason, she is singled out. No one has ever been able to determine a solid characteristic that all Awakened share, so there is no way to reliably predict who might Awaken. Chances are, the subject won't realize it at first herself. In some cases, a person might go through their entire childhood being labeled as "weird." Maybe she sees things others don't, or perhaps strange events surround her. She might have weird luck or an unusually brilliant, intuitive mind. Then again, she could be perfectly normal. There's no hard and fast rule about when someone will Awaken, either. Some sort of stressor seems to be more common than not, but by no means is it a requirement.
Most often, for some time before the Awakening, the subject starts experiencing increased weirdness. This is a build-up as her magical soul begins to stir in fits and starts. Occasionally, without realizing it, she might be reaching out with her will to influence her surroundings. This usually goes on for two to four weeks. It often draws the attention of other mages in the region, who can feel the erratic waves of reality surging through the area. These surges of magic can be quite strong. They are propelled by pure emotion on the part of the nascent mage--no control, just pure strength--and this can make them very dangerous. If they can manage it, local mages will frequently track down the budding mage, to be there for her when she Awakens as a confused new mage, to try and recruit her to their cause, and to try to head off the worst of the potential damage.
Eventually, this erratic stirring comes to an end. The Awakening happens. No matter what brings it on, it is almost always traumatic. From within her surges up an alien consciousness that might seem somehow familiar. This awakening Avatar engulfs her mind. All at once, her view of reality as she has always known it is swept aside. Strange vistas suddenly lay before her. Things that were familiar a moment ago suddenly seem bizarre as she sees them in ways she never imagined. Her vision might even pierce the veil between the worlds, and she could gaze into the realms of Spirit, or even through time and space. The mage might well think she is going insane, and in a sense perhaps this is true. Some strong emotional response is almost inevitable to such an experience. The Awakening mage might panic, or might be drawn in with a desire to know more. In either case, her magic responds to her will, trying to grant her wish. In some cases, her will begins to warp reality in the area to match her belief in what she sees. This is perhaps the most dangerous scenario, as the mage risks a chance of getting caught up in her own delusions made real.
Internally, however, all this takes second stage. In her mind, the newly Awakened mage is suddenly meeting her Avatar for the first time. As it rises into consciousness, the Avatar envelops her mind and she suddenly gets treated to knowledge and visions that nothing external could match. A sense of the oneness of all things might be imprinted on her. She might see a perfect vision of the whole of reality's intricate tapestry, or an image of God. The exact vision is unique to the mage, but what actually happens is that, through her Avatar, her mind briefly gets a direct connection into the Truth.
And then it's gone. The entire whirlwind conflagration of magic dies down as quickly as it rose. The Avatar finishes its post-nap stretch and sinks back down into the depths of the mage's soul. The visions fade, the fluctuation of reality dies down, and if nothing unfortunate has happened, the mage's panic will fade along with its effects as reality rights itself. She finds herself grasping at the visions she was just privy to, even as she claws at the scraps of the reality she knew a few moments ago, trying to wrap it back around herself. But neither can be regained. The mage cannot regain her naivite any more than she can regain her union with Truth.
After that, the mage will forevermore be drawn toward that perfect harmony. Every mage spends their life questing after fragments of it, trying to rebuild that glorious vision of oneness from the scraps of Truth that litter Creation like jewels. They delve ever deeper into the murky layers of perception, knowing that if they can only put the pieces together then they'll be able to understand and regain it, and this time it won't fade. No two mages can agree on what it is, but each knows that it's Ascension.
Mages only experience the Awakening once. However, every so often, a mage will gain enough wisdom that they can feel themselves approaching a new threshold of understanding. In game terms, when the player wishes to purchase another dot in Arete, the character must endure a Seeking.
A Seeking occurs when the mage enters a trance and approaches her Avatar (or when the Avatar approaches the mage), turning her awareness inward upon herself and traversing the imaginary landscapes of her own mind. She tells her Avatar what she wants, and it tests her to see if she is truly ready or not.
Most often, the test will happen then and there, but it is not unheard of for the Avatar to put it off and test the mage when she is not expecting it. When the test comes, the Avatar creates a scenario, and the mage must proceed through it. It can be literally anything: a crossword puzzle, an event from the mage's past (or future), a conversation with another person, a scene from a movie or video game, or some symbolic situation that is nothing like reality at all. Since it's all in the mage's head, anything can happen. In any case, the mage is often not even aware of what she should do. The Avatar seldom tells her what the parameters for passing the test are. She must simply perform and hope that she's doing things right. If she does, then the scenario will end, she will wake from her trance a little wiser than she was before, and the player adds a new dot of Arete to her sheet.
Even though they're only imaginary, Seekings are by no means risk-free. A mage can easily fail her test, in which case the experience the player gathered is lost, and the mage does not gain the new dot of Arete. Less often, strange accidents can occur. If a mage uses magic during a Seeking and botches, the magic can turn inward on herself, since after all she is really using magic on her own mind. The consequences of such an occurrence could be disastrous. Also, if a mage does a poor enough job, it is well within the Avatar's abilities to discipline her in some manner. Most often, this involves the Avatar witholding the mage's ability to use magic in certain ways, although Avatars have been known to temporarily affect their mages by hindering physical abilities, inflicting temporary derangements, or even wounding or disfiguring their mages somehow until such as time as the Avatar feels the mage has shaped up. Seekings are not only tests for the mage to gain power. They are also important periods of interaction between mage and Avatar.
The dictionary definition of the word paradigm is "A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline." It is nothing more or less than the lens through which you see the world.
Paradigm is all-important to a mage. Every person has their own idea of how the world works. Mages are no different. For a mage, pParadigm denotes the truths they think they know. It forms the basis from which they work as they accumulate knowledge and power, influencing the way they direct their studies, and even more importantly, the "truths" they accept and discard. It also rules their magic. Few beginning mages have a concept of magic as being the exertion of their will. Even if someone explains that concept to them, almost anyone would have difficulty truly believing that simply by wishing for it to be so, they can literally change reality in any way they wish. Paradigm sets the "rules" that they imagine magic goes by--what they believe can and can't be done with it, their vision of what each Sphere can do, and perhaps just as importantly, what they believe should and shouldn't be done with it.
When building a mage's paradigm, keep in mind their background, their history, and interests. The lessons ingrained into them as children and their religion (if any) or code of behavior will form important foundations for their paradigm. Also, what they saw during their Awakening, and how it happened, will also probably influence their paradigm strongly. Things that happened or that they saw during Awakening are manifestly possible. Having witnessed their own magic first-hand at that time, many mages use it as a guide to their capabilities. On the other hand, if it was a bad experience, the mage may well decide that certain forms of magic are evil.
In short, every person, every character, has a paradigm. As living beings who make decisions regarding what they believe, it's an issue that can't be gotten around. Your job as a player is to fish out what those beliefs are.
Remember that a mage's paradigm will change as the character grows. They will learn that some things are possible that they never believed in before, and that other things are lies. They might encounter difficulties that "teach" them that something can't be done, and break through mental barriers impeded their accomplishments. As a mage's paradigm grows and evolves, he gains power and enlightenment. His Arete will go up.
Arete is simply the measurement of a mage's true grasp of reality. A mage's Arete powers every spell he casts. It is the interface between understanding and will, allowing you to perform an act because you you truly believe it is possible.
Spheres are a character's knowledge about a specific aspect of reality. A character who knows nothing about Forces will be lost when trying to affect them. He has no conception of how Forces fits into his paradigm, of how to manipulate them, or what he believes them to be. A certain amount of intellectual knowledge is required here, as well. Arete cannot be taught, but Spheres can. Another mage can show you how the Forces sphere works, imparting their own beliefs and experiences with the Sphere to you, so that you can more easily form your own opinions as to what it is and what you wish to do with it.
Foci are the means through which a mage channels her power. Most mages have difficulty believing that they need nothing except their own will to change the foundations of reality. Every mage will have a Focus for each Sphere. This can be anything from equipment the mage believes she requires to manipulate the properties of that Sphere, to a mental crutch such as a father's watch that a mage associates with the concept of Time magic. Sometimes a Focus is simply a belief. A mage might think that by dancing, spirits will be drawn to her so that she can deal with them, or that a certain set of tattoos hold a spiritual property that enables her to channel Life magic more easily. She might even think that Mind magic is simply a psychic phenomenon.
Foci are not always hard and fast. For each dot of Arete that a mystically-based mage gains, she can choose one Sphere that she doesn't require her Focus for. Using the Focus will give her bonuses to her rolls as a concentration aide, but she has learned that she doesn't actually need it. A scientifically-based mage typically cannot rid herself of any Foci until she gains her fifth dot of Arete, however, and then she is able to free herself of two Foci per dot. Mages who base their paradigm on science typically rely more heavily on their tools than mages who conceive of it as a mystical or spiritual force, but once that illusion is shattered, the rest falls into place quickly.
Foci should be chosen according to the mage's paradigm. Pick things that the mage believes would give her power over the related Sphere, or things that she believes can ease her manipulation of it. In some cases, it might be a simple mental association. A mage who finds Time hard to grasp may be able to understand it more easily when she holds a 300-year-old coin in her hand.
Mana, Chi, lifeforce, juu juu--Quintessence goes by many names, but they all mean the same thing. Quintessence is the name the Traditions use to indicate spiritual energy. It flows through the world, and through every living thing, gathering in pools and streaming like rivers in certain places. The Awakened have the ability to gather up this energy and store it within their own beings. They use it to power their spells and to protect themselves against the magic of others.
The most common source of Quintessence for most mages is is their own Avatar. Avatars naturally produce a certain amount of Quintessence, which automatically accumulates in the mage's body. For each dot in the Avatar Merit, the mage will receive one point of Quintessence each week.
The second most common source of Quintessence is from Loci, which mages typically call Nodes. These are places where, because of strong emotion or some natural property, spiritual energy accumulates. Such places are prized by the various supernatural denizens of the world. They function rather like watering holes for magical beings. As such, these places often come into contention, one faction fighting another over who gets access to the place.
Other sources of Quintessence are many and varied, so long as the mage has the proper knowhow. It can be found as Tass, which are objects formed of or imbued with crystallized power. The blood of vampires contains Quintessence, as does that of werewolves. Spirits are made of Quintessence, and a mage can either cajole one into sharing a bit of its power or trap it and rip it apart. Finally, mages with a store of Quintessence will sometimes barter it to other mages for favors or items they need.
Quintessence is valued highly by mages because of its uses. A mage who knows how (has at least one dot of Prime) can "attune" Quintessence in a certain way and use it as countermagic. Also, Quintessence is required if a mage wishes to make a magical item. Quintessence can be used to give an advantage on magical rolls. Each point of Quintessence a mage spends on a spell they cast gives them 1 extra die to roll in the dice pool (this only counts for a single roll, if the mage is casting an extended ritual). These are simply the common ways Quintessence is used. A creative mage with the right knowledge may be able to find many other applications.
Paradox is the kinking of a mage's pattern in response to their twisting of the fabric of reality. When a mage fumbles his magic, he tangles the threads of the Tapestry. This tangle slips back upon the mage like a knot in a cat's cradle pulled from one side to the other. Paradox is created when the mage fails to cast magic properly (botching), or when disbelievers view the mage working magic. Disbelievers aren't as strong as the mage, but the force of their will pulls upon the Tapestry in a small way, yanking the mage's weavings out of whack. Partly for this reason, mages of different factions fight over control of paradigm. The mage who is able to shape belief to his liking is able to do magic more safely whenever and wherever he chooses.
Paradox accumulates as points in opposition to Quintessence. Any time a mage fails (not botches) a magic roll, he gains a number of points of Paradox equal to the Spheres he used in the effect, plus one point for each disbelieving Sleeper who observed the failed spell. These points are marked in the mage's Quintessence pool, beginning at the far end and encroaching toward the first box. This Paradox limits the amount of Quintessence a mage can hold, so if a mage with a Quintessence pool of 20 has 8 points of Paradox, then he can only hold 12 points of Quintessence. If the mage already holds some Quintessence and his Paradox encroaches into that, the Quintessence is lost and the Paradox takes its place. Thus, the aforementioned mage's current Quintessence total would drop to 11 if he gained one more point of Paradox.
A mage can rid himself of Paradox in several different ways.
The accumulation of Paradox has several dangers. First, of course, it blocks the collection of Quintessence, which can be a problem for a mage who needs that extra power. Also, other mages can conceivably use a character's Paradox against him, though this is extremely risky. A mage can use a straight Arete roll to try and yank on the Paradox in another mage's pattern. If he succeeds, then the Paradox "goes off" as if the other mage had just botched a magic roll. However, if he fails the roll, he will gain the Paradox the other mage had before. If he botches, then all the Paradox that both mages possessed goes off--on him. Finally, a mage with Paradox in his system who encounters a Marauder could be in terrible danger.
Finally, the worst, and most common, danger of Paradox is a Paradox backlash. When a mage botches a magic roll, it indicates that the mage has not only failed to properly tweak Reality to his desired ends, but he has managed to totally lose control. As the mage's own magic spins wildly out of his grasp, the Storyteller can roll all the Paradox in his system as a magic pool for any desired effect. Preferably this relates to the mage's failed attempt, or perhaps to some long-standing issue on the character's mind, reflecting the fact that this magic is powered solely by the mage's desires and fears, untempered by self-discipline. This is completely out of the mage's normal limits or understanding of magic, and can be a far more powerful effect than anything the mage is normally capable of. If the Storyteller desires, additional "ones" rolled on the botch can be added to the backlash dice pool, or (for particuarly evil STs) may even multiply it. Obviously, it is in the mage's best interest not to let his Paradox accumulate too much.
Each level of a Sphere allows for a certain level of manipulation of the aspect of reality it represents. These Spheres can be mixed and matched. When performing magic, it's easiest to think of something you wish to do, and then figure out what levels of what Spheres are needed to accomplish it. There is often more than one way to perform an effect. So long as you can find a way to do it with the Sphere dots your character possesses, the character can do it.
The dice pool for a magical effect is Arete + the highest Sphere used in the effect. This can be modified up or down through various means. A number of examples are listed below. The Storyteller may also assign bonuses or penalties based on ritual preparation, good description of the casting, difficulty of the spell being cast, and so on.
If the dice pool is reduced to 0, then the mage cannot cast the spell. However, instead of accepting die penalties to the magic pool, the player can always choose to take them as extra successes required on the roll. This has its own dangers, as it decreases the chances of success and increases the likelihood of a botch, especially in the case of fast-casting.
|Possible Bonuses||Possible Penalties|
Fast-casting: When in a hurry, a mage can make a single roll, as an spell cast in one round. It has the advantage of speed, but gives the mage only minimal time to prepare his mind and act. Thus, the mage takes a 1 die penalty for casting magic this way.
Ritual: When possible, a mage will find it preferable to cast a spell as an extended ritual. This has several benefits. A mage may more safely apply penalties as extra successes required. Also, the mage has a chance to accumulate extra successes beyond those needed, which the ST may choose to apply toward exceptional success. It also provides the mage with more time to prepare, which the ST may choose to apply as additional bonuses to the dice rolls.
Once you have decided upon the effect and the Spheres you want to use, you roll Arete + the highest-level Sphere used in the spell. You may spend a point of Willpower and/or up to three points of Quintessence to add extra dice to the pool. If the effect is being cast as an extended ritual, Willpower and Quintessence must be spent separately for each roll. Also, if casting an extended ritual, decide how long the ritual takes and how many rolls will be made. Any successes that come up for each roll count toward the final total. Any "ones" that come up on each roll cancel out a single accumulated success. If any "ones" are rolled, at any time when the character has no successes currently accumulated, then the spell is botched and a backlash may result. See Paradox for more information, above.
If the required number of successes is met, then the spell goes off as planned. If the required number is not met, then the spell fails and nothing happens. The mage almost certainly garners Paradox, which must be marked down in the character's Quintessence pool. The mage may try again, although the ST may choose to apply additional penalties. If the spell is botched, then not only may the mage not try again, but his magic may go haywire, creating a Paradox backlash.
Rotes are simply spells that a mage has practiced and perfected. Because the mage is more experienced with these spells, they are somewhat more powerful.
Mages are not confined by the same dice pools that they use for freeform magic. Whenever a mage gains a dot in Arete or in their preferred Sphere, they learn a new Rote for free. A character can also learn or create new Rotes as she wishes, but in that case, she must pay for them with experience. A new Rote costs 1 experience point per Sphere dot involved.
The dice pool for a Rote depends on the individual Rote. In general, the dice pool is highest Sphere + appropriate Attribute + appropriate Ability. As an example, Healing is a Life 3 effect. A mage who learns Healing as a Rote would pay 3 experience. The dice pool would change from Life + Arete (for freeform magic) to Life + Intelligence + Medicine. If the Rote is chosen well, this will probably grant the character a larger dice pool than Sphere + Arete alone.
In some cases, it may not be beneficial for a mage to learn a spell as a Rote. Rotes are typically most useful when they complement areas the mage focuses on. A theoretical physicist might well wish to learn a number of Rotes involving the manipulation of Forces or Time, while an Indian medicine woman would find Life and Spirit Rotes more helpful.
The Traditions are a council of affiliated mystical Traditions, struggling against the Technocracy for control of paradigm. The Technocracy is still a powerful shadow organization that has risen to influence the growth of a scientific paradigm around the world. These two struggle for control of the minds of Sleepers everywhere.
The Technocracy originated centuries ago, when several groups of mages came together to form the Order of Reason. This Order's sole reason for existence was to protect mortals from the depredations of supernatural beings they were powerless to face. Though it has changed in many ways through the centuries, the Technocracy's stated goal is to manipulate the world's paradigm in order to give mortals the power to defend themselves. They reshape Sleepers' beliefs in order to weaken the power of mystical magic. They work to suppress worldviews that allow the supernatural to flourish, in order to protect humans. They back the growth of science and technology, hoping that with such tools mortals will be able to learn how to stand by themselves.
Hermetic mages, in fact, believe that science and technology may well be a form of magic. Why can Sleepers use and manipulate it, then? Some believe that the Technocracy is slowly indoctrinating the masses into an elaborate form of sorcery and creation of magical items that we call technology. Others theorize that every time a Technocract performs magic, it has a secondary effect as a ritual that strengthens the efficacy of the scientific paradigm.
In any case, the Traditions struggle against them. This alliance of mages opposes the Technocracy because, they say, the Technocracy's methods remove the ability for Sleepers to make their own choices about what they wish to believe. To a mage, whose entire existence is based upon will alone, repressing free will in such a way is anathema. Still, while these mages trumpet the righteousness of their cause, some among their number have fallen into the same trap as the Technocracy. For such people, it is a matter of power and self-preservation, rather than about protecting mortals.