Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Cover to Cover: Mage the Awakening: Through Awakened Eyes

Image result for mage the awakening 2nd editionSo onwards into Chapter Two, which is the basic world detailing chapter, dealing with cosmology and the society that Mages operate in.

To begin with though, there's another piece of fiction. which deepens the mystery we encountered in the first chapters and seems to add almost an element of romance to the narrative. It's well enough written but feels a bit slow.

The actual chapter starts with a statement about the nature of the world, comparing to a lake where most of us only see across the surface of the water. It also explains the nature of the Lie, and how it is self perpetuating, because people who see through it will not only be condemned by society they will condemn themselves, dismissing the things they see as evidence they're 'cracking up' rather than accessing another form of reality. This analogy is then picked up on and expanded as we learn about the Abyss, the void between the world of the Lie and the world of the Truth that lie beyond it. It also talks about Quiescence 'the Sleeping Curse' which affects most humans and leads them to deny supernatural encounters they have. How this fits into need for a masquerade or for the other codes of omerta that are common in the World/Chronicles of Darkness games I'm not entirely sure. It feels as if its something that works for Mage but not any of the other games. There's always been some dissonance between Mage and the other titles, and this edition looks like it will just continue that.

We also, in this small section, get a fairly poetic description of what causes Paradox, the idea that the Abyss sometimes breaks through into the World of the Lie when a Mage casts magic (as they reach through the Abyss to bring part of the Truth down into the world. There's also the intimation that the Lie is something purposeful, not an accident and that the Exarchs are behind it.

Expanding into the Supernal World, the chapter starts to explore the 'backstage' area that mortals don't typically interact with. The prose is rather woolly and poetic here, explaining that the Supernal Realms are a world of symbols and imagery, where Truth is expressed in platonic ideals. This is coupled with a description of what may happen when someone Awakens, which has with this edition been tied into the idea of obsession. We are introduced to the concept of Watchtowers, onto which Mages carve their Shadow Names (their magical names, which act somewhat like code names in Superhero fiction or street names in Shadowrun) and  which then cement their relationship with the Supernal Realms. Each Watchtower represents a Path, which were discussed in the last chapter. In some ways I do wonder if this should have been in the last chapter, rather than diving straight into the Paths (but at the same time I think introducing the game with 'this is what you play' makes a lot of sense). The process of Awakening is then taken for each Path, For example, the Acanthus deal with breaking their mortal patterns, going to new places, sleeping with new lovers, while the Obrimos begin by spotting flaws in their own thinking. Each Path speaks of change but those changes manifest in different ways. Once within the Supernal, the person Awakening undergoes a psychic journey, crossing the realm appropriate to their Path and experiencing it in different ways. One person might encounter Arcadia, for instance, as a thorny hedge maze, another might find it full of warehouses, old houses and factories, full of secrets and significance.

Each Path sees the world differently, from branching trails to a babble of minds and thoughts that are more or less homogeneous but in reality follow the same patterns, to seeing the pulse of life everywhere. Mundane objects will look different, one Path sees the potential of a knife, for example, while another will see the flaws in the metal. This sight is what underlines the game and how magic works.

The next section of the chapter concerns various aspect of being a Mage, starting with Patterns, Forms and the Tapestry. These concern Supernal symbols and how the things in the Fallen World correspond to them. Patterns are simple, Forms, complex and the Tapestry is what you have when you tie everything together. It's something that's skipped over quite quickly, really. High Speech, is the language of magic learned during the Awakening, it's basically magic's lingua franca and the tongue that reveals truth because of its Supernal origins. After that we get Mysteries and Mystery Plays, things Mages must explore to deepen their understanding of magic. In practical terms these serve as Adventure Delivery Systems, reasons for Mages to poke their noses into other people's business.

The section rounds out by explaining Shadow Names and the idea of Numbuses, which is really just the idea that each Mage has a magical 'fingerprint' that lets others identify them (and can lead to exposure, hence the Shadow Names).

Mage Society: Divided into various different groups, from the sects of the Diamond, the Free Council, and the Seers of the Throne, to apostates, the nameless and Nameless Orders, Mages are thrust into a new world, one that they cannot avoid. The most basic social construct is the Cabal, basically the Player Character group that forms the focus of the game. The chapter gives a breakdown of what they are and why Mages form them. This is something I'd actually throw to the players, as I feel it's proper that they decide what their motivating factor is.

Pulling out, we have the next level up, the Consilium, basically a city and region based organisation with duties that are more legal and political than the cabal. The various roles of the Consilia are laid out, as usual seeming to take up more spaces than it seems there should be Awakened to fill them. This has become common with this sort of game, though it isn't as egregious here as it is in Vampire. Consilia are responsible for enforcing the Lex Magica, laws governing magic, which are divided into Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. Of these we're only actually given the Bronze laws, which boil down to: keep it secret, don't use magic to harm others, don't spy on or raid other cabal's stuff. and the last that lays down the ways in which Mages may fight.

No other laws are elaborated upon, and its left up to GMs to define their own laws. I have no real objection to that, apart from that I feel they've pretty much covered most of what I'd want in a game already. There's one last note that the Consilia hunt 'left handed mages' down - meaning Mages who practice harmful magic, rather than Mages who are left handed. It's an old term and it seems odd to see it here.

Caucuses, organisations of one single Order are next, each getting examined as a single entity, and discussing their structure. Dealing with the Diamond Orders first, and then moving onto the others. We find out the Free Council organise into Assemblies, which are democratic and then move up the ladder to Convocations - basically what you get above Consilia where they work together.

After that we get a breakdown of the Seers Ministries and an idea of the Exarchs they serve. These figures are archetypes for control and oppression, Essentially these figures are Faith, War, The State and Surveillance. I'm not sure why money is missing as that would seem to be a logical extension. I'm not sure if this is intended as a satire, as Ascension's Technocracy was. It feels more serious somehow.

Lastly there's a section on Legacies, essentially groups of advanced Mages you can join in time and a large lexicon of game and setting terms.