I’m going to be running Mage: the Awakening again soon. This is quite a big thing – I enjoy running Mage but the little chronicle I’ve put together has stalled for about a month owing to various people not being available for various reasons. Doubtless the sessions will yield something I can blog about in lieu of Educating Shiny (we’ve gone about as far as we can with that – he beat my Cryx in a fair fight last week and Deneghra is boring the balls off us both), but I thought it might be amusing to set the scene for any discussion of Mage that does happen, and talk a little bit about why my chronicle ticks the way it does.
So. It’s a Mage game. It’s about ordinary people who, essentially, wake up one morning to discover that they have Powers. Said Powers come in a variety of flavours but essentially reduce down to “tell THIS assumed law of physics/level of consensus reality/limitation of the human body, mind and soul to SIT IN THE CORNER because I’m trying to work here.”
It’s a White Wolf RPG, which means it comes under that nebulous heading of ‘Personal Horror’. White Wolf have long been promising this sort of thing but have thus far not entirely managed to deliver. The previous iteration of Mage (the Ascension) was, like its sister games Vampire and Werewolf, buried under a seething great mound of writhing metaplot, slathered all over the individual game group (‘troupe’ is a bit pretentious even for me) like so much wordy vermicelli. The new Mage organises its metaplot and archetypes better but it still forces the people playing and running it to make a difficult choice.
Storytellers (that word is not too pretentious for me and I’ve always preferred it to ‘Games Master’ or ‘Dungeon Master’ or ‘Keeper of Arcane Lore’… okay, I like ‘Keeper of Arcane Lore’ but I’d never ask anyone to call me that) are essentially confronted with the choice of using the game world as written (in which case their players’ characters’ personal histories, desires and ambitious are largely irrelevant in the play of political forces and Ancient Evil From The Dawn Of Time) or abandoning much of the published material (in which case players’ characters become the centres of their own narratives but operate largely without context, access to lore/exposition/background information that could inform and guide their actions and give them full access to Cool World-Changing Stuff).
The various different flavours of magical powers cluster around five magical archetypes: the necromancer, the Goetian soul-searcher, the divine warrior, the fey reality-warper and the wild woodland druid-type-thing. The political archetypes have been divorced from the magical archetypes, which helped to dismantle the ‘all [archetypes] are [personality trait/political allegiance]’ associations that tended to find themselves institutionalised by the old Mage. The archetypes run to ‘protector of forbidden knowledge’, ‘power-monger extraordinare’, ‘soldier in the war against Evil From The Dawn Of Time’, ‘keeper of arcane lore’ and ‘devil-may-care anarchist type’. Four out of these five are tied into the game’s metaplot, which is quite long and complicated but basically boils down to ‘Mages ruled Atlantis, they had a civil war and broke reality, and now magic is dangerous because if the mundanes see it, reality breaks open and WEIRD SHIT GOES DOWN (that’s ‘Paradox’ to you)’.
I’m burbling on about all this because my Mage game has (quite by accident) ended up attempting to both do the metaplot thing and the personal horror thing, which probably isn’t what I should have set out to do. The characters, you see (well, two out of three of them), were veterans from Call of Cthulhu games I’d been running over the last couple of years; I liked the way they’d been played and really wanted to have them back for something as intense as a World of Darkness thing.
The plot, however, was one that I’d had knocking around in my head since Mage came out, and it tied in to one of the biggest political conflicts in the setting – namely that between the Seers of the Throne, the inheritors of Atlantis and the arguable ‘winners’ of its civil war, and pretty much everyone else. The chronicle’s Big Bad is a Seer. One of the player characters has joined the Mysterium (the ‘keepers and seekers of arcane lore’ archetypal faction). The group of NPCs the players know and trust are mostly Free Council anarchists. Metaplot is a part of their experience, basically – but the things that make these characters worth bringing back have nothing to do with metaplot and I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have just left well alone.