Monday, 27 June 2016

Cover to Cover: Mage the Awakening Chapter One

Chapter One: Faces of Magic, looks at what makes a Mage, focusing on the Paths and Orders and as a result starting to lay out the building blocks of Mage society.

For me there's an important distinction between first and second editions here, one of the things I didn't grasp with first ed is that the Paths represent different kinds of magic user, something that in Ascension was nested into the Order equivalent, the Traditions. As a result Awakening felt rather bland. So it's refreshing to see the game breaking the different Paths down to show how they represent different mages, and actively pin different labels on them. (I have an uneasy feeling that this was always there if you looked hard enough but that first ed simply didn't sell the idea to me in anyway that was memorable).

Before we head down the path... there's the next piece of fiction to consider.

This, the second part of The Door, leads the reader into discovering more about the accused woman's past in the form of a confession she has started to write. It illustrates something of the life of a Mage, led by signs and visions to go to where they're needed, rather than being tied to one location. It's well written and actually added to my perspective of what a mage was.

Image result for mage the awakening cosmologyTo understand this chapter you have to understand something about the cosmology employed by the game. The illustration to the right shows the 'map' the game uses, with our world at the bottom, divided into spiritual and physical versions, the Abyss above it to show the disconnect between the 'fallen world' and the pentagram represents an idealised world, which mages call their magic down from. Each section of the pentagram is a different 'realm' tied to a different type of magic. Thus, we have the five realms, Arcadia, Stygia, Pandemonium, the Aether, and the Primal Wild (which is a pretty awful name when you consider that the other places all get airy fairy magical names).

To break down the paths we have:

Acanthus: enchanters and witches, specialising in Fate and Time magic, the Acanthus are all about coincidences and strange happenings.

Mastigos: warlocks and psychonauts, whose magic relates to the mysteries of Space and the Mind. These sinister figures are often master manipulators.

Moros: necromancers and alchemists, the Moros are depicted as stoic figures wielding Matter and Death magic.

Obrimos: theurgists and thaumaturges, these mages wield the power of Prime and Forces.

Thyrsus: shamans and ecstatics, the Thyrsus are masters of Life and Spirit.

In addition to this each Path has a form of magic that they are weak in, so the Acanthus are not very good at Forces magic because they can't manipulate it to do their bidding. It isn't just something mechanical, the implication is that Forces are cosmologically set against their abilities as mages, which adds more flavour. It also adds another reason for mages to work together, if your Acanthus con artist can't wield Forces that well it makes sense to ally with an Obrimos monster hunter who slings fireballs like a bandit. Likewise if you're playing a shaman who suddenly has ghosts to deal with, cutting a deal with your local Moros antiquities dealer becomes a no brainer.

Each write up for the Paths delves into their natures, their abilities, their backgrounds, symbols and myths, and provides three insights into how a mage on that path might look, giving us such images as an Acanthus who is performs to challenge her audiences to awaken, a Mastigos who tracks ghosts and ghuls through Mogadishu and others.

Touching on the Orders, there's also a break down of the functions and attitudes of each Path to them, exploring the different roles that they take, including the Seers of the Throne, the game's main mortal antagonists. In addition we get a small sidebar for each Path with commonly held stereotypes about the other types of mage.

The Orders form the second part of the character in the game. If the Path is the 'who are you', Orders are 'what do you do?' Each group has a specific function, dividing into fighters, leaders, policemen and spies, and archivists in the Diamond, a group that trace their past back to antiquity and cluster around a myth of a forgotten mystery that's been associated with Atlantis. In addition there's the Free Council, a hodgepodge of mages who have a more scientific, or at least modern approach to magic. Lastly there's a section on the Seers. who try to keep the Lie in place, serving the tyrant gods who have imprisoned humanity. They're here as a viable player character option, though it feels as if running a game with them featuring as PCs would have to be something stand alone.

The sections explore the Orders structures, their strategies and recruitment techniques. It underlines what they are for, far more so than first edition. Here, I think the game has really benefited from the decade of books that have already been published for the line. The Orders feel stronger for that legacy, more rounded and deeper than they did before. They feel like they have a purpose rather than just being 'this is the option for fighty characters' and so on. They have philosophies and ideals behind them, principles that make them work.

Image result for adamantine arrowTo take the Admantine Arrow, our 'fighty' Order as an example, we find that their principles are as follows:

  • Existence is War
  • Adaptability is Strength
  • Service is Mastery
  • The Supernal is the Self
  • Enlightenment is Honour

Contrast this with the Silver Ladder's (the self styled leaders and priest kings of the Diamond) ethics of:

Image result for The Silver Ladder
  • Thunder: Imperium is the Sovereign Right of all Humanity
  • Diamond: The Awakened are One Nation
  • Blood: The Sleepers Follow
  • Star: The Silver Ladder are the Path to Victory

The very wording gives us an idea of different ideals and aspirations, with the Arrow being far more grounded, and focused on combat and honour in comparison to the Ladder's focus on leadership and shepherding the flock. There's a disconnect too in terms of their sense of purpose or duty, Where the Arrow are focused on personal enlightenment, almost for its own sake, the Ladder are intent on bringing everyone else with them.

Image result for mage the awakeningBeyond this the write ups delve into the origins of each Order, charting a potted history and provide ideas about their central mysteries, and magical symbolism. Lastly, each part touches on Hubris and how each Order views it.

We get a batch of stereotypes about each Order and how they view each other and then we're onto the Seers.

I'll speak about this group specifically for a moment because they're rather different to the others. First, as I said, they're the bad guys, the slaves of the big bad jailers who are intent on keeping humanity in the dark as long as they can, while at the same time scrambling to collect their own power. They're embedded into the Establishment, hiding in the chinks of government and business. Basically they're every paranoid fantasy about abusive power manifest in one body. Unlike the other groups, which are all about defiance and self discovery, the Seers are about supplication and, one might argue, degradation. While the other Orders focus on merit, the Seers are about unearned authority, and about keeping the rest of humanity down. It's not hard to see why they're the villains of the piece, really. One interesting thing, for me anyway, is the use of an Architect as a character concept, suggesting that you could build a chronicle around sacred geometry and urban planning (this makes me stupidly happy).

That's it for this chapter, next we'll look at the Awakened World and how their society functions.

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