Mage: The Ascension

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Mage: The Ascension
Revised Edition cover
DesignersStewart Wieck, Christopher Earley, Stephan Wieck, Bill Bridges, Sam Chupp, Andrew Greenberg
PublishersWhite Wolf Publishing
Publication
  • August 19, 1993 (ed. 1)
  • December 1995 (ed. 2)
  • March 2000 (Revised Edition)
  • September 23, 2015 (20th Anniversary Edition)
GenresModern Mysticism
SystemsStoryteller System

Mage: The Ascension, is an urban fantasy, tabletop, role-playing game, which was first published by White Wolf Publishing on August 19, 1993. Set in the World of Darkness, it was influenced by the mechanics of another game from the same publisher, Ars Magica.

History[edit]

Following the success of Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension was released as the second of four games within White Wolf's shared universe. The inaugural edition was launched by White Wolf Publishing at the Gen Con Gaming Convention[1][2] on August 19, 1993, marking the first chapter of the Mage series. A second edition followed in December 1995,[3][4] with a revised edition released in March 2000.[5] In 2005 White Wolf Publishing merged with CCP Games, and as a result of company layoffs in October 2011, White Wolf's Creative Director Richard Thomas founded Onyx Path Publishing to continue publishing tabletop role-playing games.[6][7] Onyx Path Publishing later introduced the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage: The Ascension in September 2015,[8] representing the fourth iteration of the game.

Game setting[edit]

Mage: The Ascension is set in the fictional, "Gothic-Punk" World of Darkness, a reflection of contemporary Earth with the inclusion of magical abilities.

History[edit]

Early times[edit]

The beginning of the story describes powerful mages with detailing fables of the original mages meeting in Kemet. This period of historical uncertainty also saw the Nephandi and the Marauders rise in the Near East.

It is continued that the mages saw varying success until the Late Middle Ages. Eventually, mages belonging to the Order of Hermes and the Messianic Voices attained a significant influence over European society. Absorbed by their pursuit of occult power and esoteric knowledge, they often neglected and abused humanity. They were at odds with mainstream religions, envied by noble authorities, and cursed by ordinary folk.

The Order of Reason[edit]

Mages who believed in protoscientific theories banded together under the banner of the Order of Reason, declaring their aim to create a safe world with man as its ruler. They won support by developing the useful arts of manufacturing, economics, wayfaring, and medicine. They also championed many of the values we associate with the Renaissance. Masses of sleepers (normal humans who have not yet "awakened" their potential and inner magic) embraced the gifts of early technology and the science that accompanied them. As the beliefs of the masses shifted, the consensus amongst the populace changed, and wizards began to lose their position as their influence waned.

The Order of Reason thought a safe world would be one devoid of heretical beliefs, ungodly practices, and supernatural creatures preying upon humanity. They intended to replace the dominant magical groups with a society of philosopher-scientists as shepherds, protecting and guiding humanity. In response, non-scientific mages banded together to form the Council of Nine Traditions, where mages of all the primary magical paths gathered.

Rise of the Technocracy[edit]

After the turn of the 17th century, the goals of the Order of Reason began to change. As their scientific paradigm unfolded, they decided that the mystical beliefs of ordinary people were not only backward but dangerous; they should be replaced by measurable and predictable physical laws and respect for human genius. They replaced long-held theologies, pantheons, and mystical traditions with "rational thought" and the scientific method.

However, the Order of Reason became less focused on improving the daily lives of sleepers and more concerned with eliminating any resistance. Following a reorganization under Queen Victoria in the late 1800s, the Order of Reason began referring to themselves as the Technocracy, or the Technocratic Union.

Contemporary setting[edit]

The Technocratic Union maintains an authoritarian rule over the sleepers' beliefs, suppressing the Council of Nine's attempts to reintroduce magic.

Between 1997 and 2000, a series of metaplot events destroyed the Council of Nine's Umbral steadings, killing many of their most powerful members. This also cut the Technocracy off from their leadership. Both sides called a truce in their struggle to assess their new situation. Chief among these signs was the creation of a barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds.

These changes were introduced in supplements for the game's second edition and became core material in the third edition.

Later plot and finale[edit]

Aside from the common changes introduced by the World of Darkness metaplot, mages dealt with renewed conflict when the hidden Rogue Council and the Technocracy's control encouraged the Traditions and Technocracy to struggle once again. The Rogue Council only made itself known through coded messages, while the surveillance created by the leaders of the Technocracy was to counter it.

This struggle eventually led to the point on the timeline occupied by the book called Ascension. Ascension provided multiple possible endings, with none of them being definitive.

Factions[edit]

The metaplot of the game involves a four-way struggle between the technological and authoritarian Technocracy, the insane Marauders, the cosmically evil Nephandi, and the Nine Mystical Traditions (that tread the middle path) to which the player characters are assumed to belong. This struggle has in every edition of the game been characterized both as primarily a covert, violent war directly between factions and as an effort to sway the imaginations and beliefs of sleepers.

Council of Nine Mystic Traditions.[edit]

The Traditions (formally called the Nine Mystic Traditions) are an alliance of secret societies in Mage. The Traditions exist to unify users of magic under a common banner to protect reality (particularly those parts of reality that are magical) against the growing disbelief of the modern world, the spreading dominance of the Technocracy, and the predations of unstable mages such as Marauders and Nephandi. Each of the Traditions is a largely independent organization unified by a broadly accepted paradigm for practicing magic. Though unified in their desire to keep magic alive, the magic practiced by different Traditions is often wildly different and entirely incompatible.

The nine traditions are:

  • Akashic Brotherhood: ascetics, martial artists, and monks, largely drawing from Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, and Hinduism. They are masters of the sphere of Mind.
  • Celestial Chorus: a collection of many religions that believe in one supreme creator. They are masters of the sphere of Prime, the raw essence that fuels magic itself.
  • Cult of Ecstasy: intuitive seers using sensory stimulation, consciousness-expanding techniques, and meditation. They are Masters of the sphere of Time.
  • Dreamspeakers: shamanistic emissaries to the spirit world. They are masters of the Spirit World.
  • Euthanatos: workers and killers drawing from a legacy of death cults in India, Greece, and the cultures of the Arabs and Celts. They are masters of the sphere of Entropy.
  • The Order of Hermes: formalized high ritualists, ceremonial magicians, sorcerers, alchemists, and mystics drawing from classical occult practices. They are masters of the sphere of Forces.
  • Sons of Ether: inspiration-oriented scientists dedicated to fringe theories and alternative science. They are masters of the sphere of Matter.
  • Verbena: blood shamans, healers, primordial witches, and warlocks. They are masters of the sphere of Life.
  • Virtual Adepts: technological experts capable of informational wizardry. They are masters of the sphere of Correspondence, magic dealing with three-dimensional location, space, and communications.

The Technocratic Union[edit]

The Technocracy is likewise divided into groups. Unlike the Traditions, however, they share a single paradigm and instead divide themselves based upon methodologies and areas of expertise.

The technocracy groups are:

  • Iteration X: experts in the arena of the physical sciences.
  • Progenitors: masters of the biological sciences as a whole.
  • New World Order: controllers of information and knowledge.
  • The Syndicate: controllers of the flow of money and power between disparate groups.
  • The Void Engineers: explorers of the unknown.

Marauders[edit]

Marauders are chaos mages, and like other mages, they appear immune to paradoxical effects, often using vulgar magic to accomplish their insane tasks. Marauders represent the other narrative extreme: the corruption of unrestrained power and unchecked dynamism. They cannot become Archmages, as they lack sufficient insight and are incapable of appreciating truths that do not suit their madness.

In the revised edition, Marauders were made darker and less coherent, in keeping with the more serious treatment of madness used for Malkavians in Vampire: The Masquerade Revised Edition.

Nephandi[edit]

With the Technocracy representing Stasis and the Marauders acting on behalf of Dynamism, the third part of this trifecta is Entropy, as borne by the Nephandi. The Nephandi are morally inverted and spiritually mutilated. A Nephandus retains a clear moral compass and deliberately pursues actions to worsen the world and bring about its end.

The Technocracy and Traditions have been known to set aside the ongoing war for reality to temporarily join forces to oppose the Nephandi, and the Marauders are known to attack the Nephandi on sight. All Nephandi have experienced the Rebirth, wherein they embrace the antithesis of everything they know to be right and are physically and spiritually torn apart and reassembled.

The Disparate Alliance[edit]

The Disparate Alliance is a newly created network of independent Crafts that have chosen to take the matters of the Ascension War into their own hands. During the Age of Information, small mage societies and groups called crafts began reaching out to each other. With no desire to join the Traditions and a general hatred for the Technocracy, they decided to band together.

The five founding crafts are:

  • The Ahl-i-Batin, Arabian mages originally based in the Middle East and North Africa, this group has expanded worldwide. They practice magic with a strong focus on subtlety and seek to bring Unity to the world.
  • The Children of Knowledge are LSD and other psychedelic-using alchemists hoping that these drugs can open people's minds.
  • The Hollow Ones are mages who have either been orphaned by or rejected the Traditions and refused to join the Technocracy. They are a craft composed of ragtag who take what they like from every tradition and fuse it. Their magic often uses whatever they have to work with, referred to as gutter magic. They draw members from various subcultures and counterculture groups such as afrofuturists, cosplayers, cybergoths, emos, goths, new agers, skaters, hip hop, and ballroom voguers.
  • The Ngoma, proud sub-Saharan African ritualists and knowledge-seekers who strive to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos and the gods.

They were then joined by five other crafts:

  • The Kopa Loei, Polynesian mystics who are working to return ancient wisdom and culture to their people and balance to their islands.
  • The Knights of the Temple of Solomon, also known as Knights Templar, are dedicated to the Christian God.
  • The Taftâni, Djinn-binding Persian mages who craft bold spells and displays of magic.

Other Crafts that have been considered for membership include:

  • The Uzoma, Yoruba mediums, and spirit intercessors.
  • The Navalon, breakaways from the Utopian faction within the Technocracy who revere the ideal of Camelot and King Arthur.
  • The Mirainohmen, Japanese techno mystical tricksters who use psychic bonds with technological spirits to rearrange identities and undermine social preconceptions.
  • The Red Thorn Dedicants, a cult of magic-using Bahari that revere Lilith.
  • The Go Kamisori Gama, technomantic ninja assassins with a vendetta against the Technocratic Union.

Rules and continuity[edit]

The core rules of the game are similar to those in other World of Darkness games; see Storyteller System for an explanation.

Like other storytelling games, Mage emphasizes personal creativity and that ultimately the game's powers and traits should be used to tell a satisfying story. One of Mage's highlights is its system for describing magic, based on spheres, a relatively open-ended 'toolkit' approach to using game mechanics to define the bounds of a given character's magical ability. Different Mages will have differing aptitudes for spheres, and player characters' magical expertise is described by the allocation of points in the spheres.

There are nine known spheres:

Correspondence[edit]

Deals with spatial relations, giving the Mage power over space and distances. Correspondence magic allows powers such as teleportation and seeing into distant areas.

Entropy[edit]

This sphere gives the Mage power over order, chaos, fate, and fortune. A mage can sense where elements of chance influence the world and manipulate them to some degree. The only requirement of the Entropy sphere is that all interventions work within the general flow of natural entropy.

Forces[edit]

Forces concern energies and natural forces and their negative opposites (i.e. light and shadow can both be manipulated independently with this Sphere). Essentially, anything in the material world that can be seen or felt but is not material can be controlled: electricity, gravity, magnetism, friction, heat, motion, fire, etc. This sphere tends to do the most damage and is the most flashy and vulgar.

Life[edit]

Life deals with understanding and influencing biological systems. Generally speaking, any material object with mostly living cells falls under the influence of this sphere. This allows the mage to heal herself or metamorphose simple life forms at lower levels, working up to healing others and controlling more complex life at higher levels. Along with Matter and Forces, Life is one of the three "Pattern Spheres".

Mind[edit]

Dealing with control over one's mind, the reading and influencing of other minds, and a variety of subtler applications such as astral projection and psychometry. At high levels, Mages can create new complete minds or completely rework existing ones.

Matter[edit]

Matter deals with all inanimate material. Thus, being alive protects an organism from direct manipulation by the Matter sphere. With this Sphere, matter can be reshaped mentally, transmuted into another substance, or given altered properties. Along with Life and Forces, Matter is one of the three "Pattern Spheres".

Prime[edit]

This sphere deals directly with Quintessence, the raw material of the tapestry, which is the metaphysical structure of reality. This sphere allows Quintessence to be channeled and/or funneled in any way at higher levels. It is necessary if the mage ever wants to conjure something out of nothing, as opposed to transforming one pattern into another. Uses of Prime include general magic senses, counter-magic, and making magical effects permanent.

Spirit[edit]

This sphere is an eclectic mixture of abilities relating to dealings with the spirit world or Umbra. It includes stepping into the Near Umbra right up to travelling through outer space, contacting and controlling spirits, communing with your own or others' avatars, returning a Mage into a sleeper, returning ghosts to life, creating magical fetish items, and so forth.

Time[edit]

This sphere deals with dilating, slowing, stopping, or travelling through time. Due to game mechanics, it is simpler to travel forward in time than backward. Time can be used to install delays into spells, view the past or future, and pull people and objects out of linear progression.

The tenth sphere[edit]

One of the plot hooks that the second edition books put forth was persistent rumors of a "tenth sphere." Though there were hints, it was deliberately left vague. The final book in the series, Ascension, implies that the tenth sphere is the sphere of Ascension. As the book presents alternative resolutions for the Mage line, Chapter Two also presents an alternative interpretation that the tenth sphere is "Judgement" or "Telos" and that Anthelios (the red star in the World of Darkness metaplot) is its planet (each sphere has an associated planet and Umbral realm).

Sphere Sigils[edit]

The various spheres sigils are, in whole or in part, symbols taken from alchemical texts.[9][unreliable source][10]

  • Correspondence is a symbol for amalgam or amalgamation, "Amalgama."
  • Entropy is a symbol for rotting or decay, "Putredo/putrefactio."
  • Force is part of the symbol for "boiling," "Ebbulio."
  • Life is a symbol for composition, "Compositio."
  • Matter, like Correspondence, is another symbol for the process of amalgamation, "Amalgama."
  • Mind is a symbol for a solution, "Solutio."
  • Prime is a symbol meaning essence, "Essentia."
  • Spirit may be derived from the symbol for fumes, "Fumus."
  • Time is the symbol for dust, "Pulvis."
  • The tenth symbol depicted in Ascension is a symbol for vinegar.[11] Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade also presented a symbol for the tenth sphere, a combination of the symbols for stone and distillation.[12]

Reception[edit]

Adam Tinworth of Arcane gave Mage: The Ascension's second edition a score of 8/10, calling it good for those who like involving and challenging games. He noted that it could be difficult for new players to grasp the entire background and how magic works, and to develop their style of magic, but found the game-play system itself to be easy to understand for newcomers.[13]

Mage: The Ascension was ranked 16th in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular role-playing games of all time. The magazine's editor, Paul Pettengale commented: "Mage is perfect for those of a philosophical bent. It's a hard game to get right, requiring a great deal of thought from players and referees alike, but its underlying theme – the nature of reality – makes it one of the most interesting and mature roleplaying games available."[14]

Awards[edit]

  • In 1994, Mage: The Ascension was nominated for Casus Belli's awards for the best role-playing game of 1993 and ended up in fifth place.[15]
  • Mage: The Ascension, 2nd Edition won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules of 1995.[16]

Reviews[edit]

  • Dragon No. 202 (February 1994)
  • Shadis #27 (May 1996)
  • Pyramid for Second Edition Revised[17]
  • Rollespilsmagasinet Fønix (Danish) (Issue 12 - Mar/Apr 1996)[18]
  • Envoyer (German) (Issue 27 - Jan 1999)[19]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Varney, Allen (December 1994). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. No. 212. TSR, Inc. pp. 90–91.
  2. ^ McLaughlin, Tom (May 1993). "Get ready—here comes the 1993 Gen Con Game Fair!". Dragon. No. 193. TSR, Inc. p. 83.
  3. ^ "White Wolf". Casus Belli (in French). No. 91. Excelsior Publications. February 1996. p. 14.
  4. ^ "Mage : The Ascension (1-56504-400-2)".
  5. ^ "2000 Release Schedule". White Wolf Publishing. Archived from the original on 3 March 2000. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Gaming Industry Innovators CCP and White Wolf to Merge". GamesIndustry.biz. 13 November 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2024.
  7. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions – Onyx Path Publishing". Retrieved 16 March 2024.
  8. ^ "Now Available: Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition!". 23 September 2015.
  9. ^ From Symbols, Signs and Signets, Lehner, Ernst (1950) published by World Publishing Co., Cleveland by way of a post to Everything2.com (possibly containing the archived contents of an email to the old wizards.com Mage email list). Accessed 15 December 2006.
  10. ^ Latin terms obtained from The alchemy website's copy of symbols from Medicinisch-Chymisch- und Alchemistisches Oraculum, Ulm, 1755. Accessed 15 December 2006.
  11. ^ Symbols.com, accessed 15 December 2006
  12. ^ A post to Bill's Mage Forum by Enantiodromos, 14 September 2003
  13. ^ Tinworth, Adam (April 1996). "Mage: The Ascension 2nd Edition". Arcane (5). Future Publishing: 62–63.
  14. ^ Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane (14). Future Publishing: 25–35.
  15. ^ "Trophées Casus Belli 1993 du jeu de rôle". Casus Belli (in French). No. 80. Excelsior Publications. April–May 1994. pp. 16–17.
  16. ^ "1995 list of winners". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  17. ^ "Pyramid: Pyramid Review: Mage Second Edition Revised".
  18. ^ "Anmeldelser | Article | RPGGeek".
  19. ^ "Mage The Ascension | Article | RPGGeek".

External links[edit]