Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Cover to Cover: Mage the Awakening 2nd Edition.

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Mage the Awakening is a Chronicles of Darkness roleplaying game from Onyx Path Publishing, published under license from White Wolf Publishing. It describes itself as a 'Storytelling Game of Modern Sorcery'. Having recently purchased the second edition (which only came out recently) and wanting to dig deeper into something new, urban fantasy/horror based RPG, I thought I'd take a long, deep swim through its pages and see what's on offer.

I should say at this point, that I was a huge fan of Mage: the Ascension and was disappointed with the first edition of Mage: the Awakening. Part of that was what felt like an overly strong focus on Atlantis, something I associate with Hippies and crystal wavers, even though I know that mythical place forms a strong part of the Western Occult Tradition as laid down by the likes of the Rosicrucians and Aleister Crowley. As I'm not a fan, even though it's a fun idea that fits the fiction of evil mages trying to become gods by usurping the realm of magic (to use basic terms) I didn't like it.

Image result for mage the awakening 2nd editionAwakening's second edition, seems to be moving away from the 'certainties' that had been baked into the Mage games up until this point, and new ideas and systems seemed to be being introduced (based on what I'd seen online) and with the way that Vampire: the Requiem's second edition had been laid out I decided to take a gamble.

I'll take it chapter by chapter, and just give an overview of each part.

So, onto the opening fiction: part one of 'The Door'.

This opens with an older mage performing his duty as an investigator and interrogator, setting up a story of contrition and, I suspect, hubris. We don't get much information from the first installment, though some background details of the situation for Mages in New York are forthcoming (we learn they have lost Manhattan, and that the city has a Hierarch). It gives us an insight into the mind of the Guardians of the Veil, one of the mage orders in the group that defaults to being Player Character fodder.

The Introduction: Opening with a quote from Alan Moore, this is, unsurprisingly, where the authors lay out the game's basic principles. Mage is a game about secrets, magic, and hubris (along with gut-wrenching terror, things from outside reality, the power of symbols and the past, and rebellion against authority). It's quickly laid out that the world we see is a lie, designed to make us knuckle under and conform, for fear of what might happen. Tyranny and conformity are omnipresent in this vision of the world, and few people have the will, wit, or power to deny that. Most of us are caught in this trap, asleep and susceptible. It is only the Awakened, Mages ni other words, who are open and aware of the true picture (though it's pretty clear that they only see part of the framework). It also lays out the concepts of the Paths, which are the 'nature' aspect of building and playing a Mage, and the Orders, which fill the 'what you do with the power' part of the character.

The Acanthus Symbol.
Following on from this, the reader gains an insight into what being a Mage is like. Essentially, you basically have a mystical radar, which picks up on everything weird and is always on. The Awakened pick up on everything (which seems to offer a challenge for a GM, because if it's like a spider sense, does that mean there's more chance of it tingling at the wrong moment and being a distraction to the PCs)? I do like how this interpretation of being Awakened supports the 'Addicted to Mystery' maxim, which Onyx Path used in their marketing, as it means that they will pick up on so much more than other characters. It also allows Mages a back door into the rest of the Chronicles of Darkness world, which facilitates crossovers.

Nonetheless, it sounds incredibly stressful for the average Mage, and I'm somewhat surprised that only a few of them burn out, or go over the edge into insanity. Perhaps this is one function of the Orders and the other social aspects of the Mages' society, providing a way to lessen the effects of the mage sight.

The chapter then delves into the book's structure, providing a precis of each chapter, from the character creation and magic systems to running the game, systems, and sample settings and much more besides, and laying out what the Games Master and the Players are meant to do in play.

There is also a sidebar outlining what Mages are and are not, tapping into common myths and explaining why they don't apply or why they can be considered part of the setting. To be fair, there are a lot of exceptions here, for instance, there are no seventh sons of seventh sons in the game, but at the same time, there are rare magical lineages where Awakening is common. So each of these items feels a little like a  bit of a fudge, to be honest.

Image result for mage the awakening 2nd edition the abyss
The Guardians of the Veil symbol
Inspirational media is covered, and it's quite sparse (something I've noticed in the past with these games), covering Hellblazer, The Invisibles, the Watch novels, House of Leaves, and the Dresden series. I have some knowledge of all of these and seeing Hellblazer and Invisibles on the list actually makes me quite excited because I love them. I'm not so fussed on Dresden (the world's too busy) and got bored of the Watch books quite early on... House of Leaves is sitting unread on my shelf, so I guess we have a date. Moving on to the other nonmagic orientated resources there's True Detective, Dark City (one of my favourite films), John Dies at the End, and This Book is Full of Spiders (trust me, that last one isn't getting into the house, I live with an arachnophobe).

Beyond that, there are handful recommendations of books from First ed that might be helpful with the game.

All in all, this feels serviceable and introduces things in a welcome, easy to understand fashion. The setting feels as if it's been explained in one easy to swallow section, and that's great. My concern is that Onyx Path would end up blinding everyone with science.

Next time we'll talk about Chapter One, starting with part 2 of the Door and then plunging into... Faces of Magic, which is about the Paths.

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