So I mentioned to Hark that I’d like to run a tabletop RPG again – somewhere outside the house, but not with gamer gamers, if that makes sense. I mentioned that D&D was giving me a headache because I never know how I want to run it. Hark said she’d quite like to give another World of Darkness game a try. Mage sprang to mind. Mage continues to spring to mind. I’ve approached a couple of WoW-RP friends who happen to live in London and they’ve responded with cautious optimism and YES. I’ve found the PDFs of the WoD and Mage core books (I bought them legitimately, all right, but Shiny has custody of them at the moment – in fact I think I sold them to him…). One small problem has sprung up, though.
I don’t think you don’t need seven hundred pages of rules to pretend you’re a wizard.
That’s what it all comes down to, ultimately. All the other stuff I’m about to say, about player accessibility, about buy-in, about self-indulgent logorrhea, about game worlds and gameable concepts – all that’s dust in the wind compared to the central truth that you don’t need all that to play let’s pretend.
We’re grown-ups, so we can’t let ourselves just make stuff up, and imagination generally thrives under constraints of some sort, and if it’s going to be a role playing GAME it needs some sort of rules and structures. That’s fair enough. Doesn’t need to be this many, though. Doesn’t mean that the quick-fix summary for casting a spontaneous spell needs to be a page and a half long.
Vampires have it easy. You bite someone, you drink their blood, they (usually) get off on it, you accidentally or deliberately kill them (or not), the end. It all feels fairly fluid and it’s not that hard to execute. The core, central thing about Being A Vampire is smooth to conceive of and relatively so execute within the game’s rules.
Spellcasting, in Mage, doesn’t feel that fluid. I feel like it should be easy – that casting a spontaneous spell should feel quick and, well, spontaneous, as mechanically graceful as “OK, he’s cast Acid Arrow, save vs. spells or 3d8 damage”. It shouldn’t involve stopping the play while you wade through dense paragraphs of White Wolf fluff-in-the-crunch-and-the-crunch-ain’t-all-that-smooth-anyway page-padding, and while you’ll get to know the system EVENTUALLY that mode of presentation ain’t gonna help you get there.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the process, as such, I just think it needs to be more clearly represented for reference in play. Something like a flowchart, left to right, that you can execute in about a minute; that’s about right, I think, for a sense of bullet time, for the events in game to hit slow-motion and the mage to hold out their hand and say the words and extend the mind and then KAZAM, resolution.
That’s got me thinking about all the other padding in Mage. As usual, I’m running for one tabletop novice and one player who’s only ever sat in on a few sessions of diceless Mage. I need those new players to understand what the Mage setting is about without having to trudge through four pages on each of the bloody Paths or Orders. Less Fantasy Encyclopaedia, more key words and core concepts and stimulating hooks. TVTropes manages to do the background very succinctly indeed – not a hundred per cent accurate but good enough for jazz – and so I want to do the same thing for the rules.
Here are the principles I’ll be abiding by as I create and run One Page Mage. Some of them are writer’s rules, some of them are guidance for storytelling, all of them are focused on eliminating the Things I Don’t Like About Mage and cutting through to the Things I Like About Mage.
- Everything must fit on a single A3 or A4 page. The DM screen comprises one A3 and two A4 panels and should include the essential rules and references.
- Systems must be described in simple, easy-to-follow terms – commonplace actions should not take more than sixty seconds of real time to resolve.
- Fluff must be kept to an effective minimum – where possible, it should be expressed via gameable concepts or short, inspirational hooks.
- Character generation should be possible through actual play – no new player should be told that we have to fill out forms for an hour before we can start.
- Players’ electronic devices should be actively engaged in play – those toys with which we fuss and fiddle can be repurposed as tools rather than distractions.
- Paper character sheets should be integral – they encode that we are Playing A Game, not Sitting Around Fiddling With Our Toys.
That’s it. Let’s see how it works out.