Mage: The Awakening
Mage: The Awakening first edition cover
|Designer(s)||Bill Bridges, Conrad Hubbard|
|Publication date||August 29, 2005 (First Edition) May 4, 2016 (Second Edition)|
Mage: The Awakening is a role-playing game developed by White Wolf Publishing and based in their Chronicles of Darkness setting. The characters portrayed in this game are individuals able to bend or break the commonly accepted rules of reality to perform subtle or outlandish acts of magic. These characters are broadly referred to as "mages". Mage: The Awakening is loosely based on a prior White Wolf product, Mage: The Ascension, which had similar game mechanics, though the terminology differs.
Mage: The Awakening won the 2006 ENnie Award for Best Writing.
Background and setting
As with the other games in the Chronicles of Darkness, the history presented in the game provides for some ambiguity. However, the "origin story" of magic and mages is less ambiguous (or at least given more lip-service) than that of vampires or werewolves.
In the mythic past, a mysterious island existed with a single towering mountain, encircled by dragons that lived upon its summit. The mountain called to humanity through dreams and visions. Over time, the dragons left and the mountain continued to call. Some humans answered the call and sought it out. The humans who moved there discovered the first secrets of magic, and through magic they created the mighty city-state now known as Atlantis, Meru, Lemuria, etc. though its true name has been lost to time.
Over time, the mages became filled with hubris, and began fighting over how best to lead the world. The battle separated the Earth into the Fallen World and the Supernal Realm, with the chasm of the Abyss in between. The Fallen World is the world where humanity now exists, and the Supernal realm is the realm of magic, where the victorious mages of long ago now reside. The Abyss that separates the two worlds prevents most of humanity from awakening to magic, and hampers the power of mages trapped in the Fallen World.
Mages believe that the Supernal Realm is the truth of reality and the origin of magic. It is ruled by the Exarchs, powerful mages who had established themselves as rulers of it. The Exarchs wish to snuff out the memory of "Atlantis" and knowledge of magic so they will remain the supreme masters of reality. They are more god-like forces than human beings now, however this means that they must influence the Fallen World through servants.
Resistance against the Exarchs is possible because of the Oracles, a small number (probably five) of Atlantean mages who also reached the Supernal Realm. They each created (or maybe are) one of the Watchtowers, which are locations in the Supernal Realms that can cut through the Abyss. They serve as paths towards magic, allowing Sleepers (humans unaware of magic) to awaken to it. Each mage visits a Watchtower during their Awakening—through means perhaps accidental, or perhaps resulting from a person's nature or understanding—and their magical abilities are forever affected by that journey.
Fragments of the organizations, artifacts and writings from the First City survive to the present day, and mages hope to use this knowledge to further their various causes, by gaining a stronger connection to the Supernal Realm.
The process of awakening can be slow or fast, but there are two major ways in which the event may manifest: the Mystery Play (in which the mage's senses blur the real world and the magical symbolism of their awakening) and the Astral Journey (which takes place entirely within a dreamscape of the prospective mage). In both sorts of "awakenings", the mage-to-be goes on a journey that culminates with them arriving at or in their respective Tower and inscribing their name upon it.
Paths and Orders
There are five Paths of Magic that have a sympathetic connection to one of the Five Watchtowers, each with a particular style and focus. A Mage's Path is decided with his or her awakening.
- Acanthus: Enchanters who work with luck, intuition and destiny.
- Mastigos: Warlocks who work with perception and inner demons.
- Moros: Necromancers who work with death, mortality and material things.
- Obrimos: Theurgists who work with the divine energies infusing the world.
- Thyrsus: Shamans who work with all aspects of the natural world.
After awakening, a mage typically joins one of the five Orders, although some choose to remain free of political connections, or remain outside of mage society due to ignorance, and are called apostates. The Five Orders are united in their opposition to the Exarchs, and four claim a heritage going back to the First City.
- The Adamantine Arrow: spiritual warriors and masters of conflict, who claim a heritage going back to the First City's defenders. Currently, the Order of the Arrow could perhaps be described as something akin to a knightly sect, though bushido and other warrior codes find a place in The Arrow. These mages conduct intensive physical and mental training, honing the minds and bodies of order members into deadly weapons which magical society may then wield against its enemies (such as vampires, werewolves, Seers of the Throne, and so on).
- Guardians of the Veil: spies and conspirators who claim their descent from the intelligence officers and enforcers of the First City's laws. Currently, they bear a resemblance to a combination of many occult conspiracies, such as the Thule. Many obscure their activities and identities even from other mages, and act as a check on humanity's dangerous curiosity for "that which man was not meant to know".
- The Mysterium: dedicated to pursuit of magical lore and the acquisition, cataloguing, and study of mystical and occult knowledge and artifacts. The "mystagogues" (as they are called) continue the ancient heritage of the scholarly and intellectual of Atlantean society. Their internal structure often resembles the academic structures of the part of the world in which they reside. The Mysterium gathers, catalogues and maintains items of all types of magical and historical significance.
- The Silver Ladder: dedicated to ruling, guiding and reshaping the world, the viziers, senators and priests of the First City remain in force. Politicians and authoritarians, the théarchs believes in creating a perfect hierarchy (with themselves at the top, of course) which will seize control of reality, subjugating it to the will of mankind; this dream is not without its altruistic appeal. As a member of the Ladder might point out, control over reality could bring an end to human suffering in all its forms.
- The Free Council: modernists who wish to create new forms of magic, a union of mages who have discovered ways of using magic that do not adhere to the Atlantean methods, joining the Pentacle during the Industrial Revolution after their previous form rejected an offer from the Seers. The "Libertines", as they are also called, possess a strong belief in democratic process and anti-authoritarianism.
The Orders have competing agendas and opposing beliefs, leading to a lack of cooperation and trust, however this does not lead to open warfare between the Orders. When enemies of the Orders, such as the Seers of the Throne, appear, the Orders put aside their differences, as their squabbles are petty compared to the battle between the Oracles and the Exarchs.
Legacies are an optional third grouping, literally portrayed as refinements of one's soul that are passed on from master to student. These grant additional innate benefits, including abilities and gifts called Attainments, which are exempt from the usual Paradox. There exists certain Legacies—which might practice unwholesome arts such as necromancy or infernalism, or perhaps simply espouse political views that are unpopular amongst local mages—known as Left-Handed Legacies. They are largely meant as antagonists rather than player characters. Many who practice these have a low Wisdom score, representing a progressive moral decline that comes from practising them.
Magic is simply the ability of a mage (or "willworker") to impose their will onto reality. Mages are able to do this because of their sympathetic connection to the Watchtowers in the Supernal Realms, because their names are inscribed upon it, and because they realize the Fallen World is a lie.
A mage's power, or level of awakening and understanding of the depths of the Supernal, is called Gnosis.
Arcana represent the understanding a mage has over particular facets of reality, and govern their ability to affect those aspects. Subtle Arcana (Death, Fate, Mind, Prime, and Spirit) are those that deal with the more ephemeral matters of existence, while Gross Arcana (Forces, Life, Matter, Space, and Time) are those relating to the physical aspects of the world.
Covert and Vulgar Spells
Covert spells are those that do not outwardly appear magical, and therefore do not automatically risk backfiring (called Paradox), while Vulgar spells are unmistakably magical, and risk backfiring. All spells have a greater risk of Paradox when they are cast in the presence of Sleepers, or non-Awakened humans. Supernatural beings, or humans that have some hint of the supernatural about them (Ie: Ghoul, Sleepwalker, Wolfblooded) do not contribute to Paradox
- Seers of the Throne: The Seers are Awakened who have sworn service to the Exarchs. They claim to follow the will of the Exarchs, and seek to remove magic from the world, enforce power structures that support unquestioning obedience, and strengthen the Lie. Seers believe that an Exarch is a man-made-god, and serve them in the hopes that once they succeed in destroying those that oppose them they will be rewarded by their distant masters.
- The Banishers: Banishers are warped Mages who dedicate themselves to destroying other Mages. Generally speaking, their Awakening was traumatic, undesired, and misunderstood, and they do not accept their mystical powers. They exist outside of normal mage society, and are often obsessed with hunting and killing other mages, usually driven by a desire for repentance or a belief that doing so will cause their life to be returned to normal.
- The Mad: Mad are Mages whose Awakening caused them to lose their minds, rendering them insane mystics who use their magic for their own mad ends.
- The Acamoth / The Gulmoth: The monstrous, alien beings that originate beyond the threshold of existence, in the Abyssal gulf between the Supernal Realm and the Fallen World. Because of their nature, they are incapable of contacting or having any power in either the Supernal or Fallen World, and as such they require agents to grant them potency. Gulmoth are the entities that normally reside in the Abyss until summoned either by catastrophic Paradox or deliberate summoning by insane or desperate mages, existing only for a time in the Fallen World to further the Abyss' overall goal of destroying the cosmos. Acamoth are those Abyssal beings that have somehow become trapped in the cosmos, and offer mages pacts in return for using their souls as vessels to mentally journey back to their home - a proposition that deeply threatens their sanity.
- The Scelesti: Mortal mages who serve/worship the Abyss are known as "Scelesti" (sing. Scelestus), or simply "The Wicked". They serve the "Divine Purity" of the Abyss and seek the end of all things. They are hunted as heretics and abominations by all other Mages.
- Goetic Demons: Goetia is a practice that mages use that summons the vices of their minds into a physical form, in the belief that it will make them possible to subdue, or even destroy. Quite often, however, a Goetic mage will summon an "inner demon" that is too powerful for him to defeat, and it will escape, or even take control of the overconfident mage.
- Tremere Liches: A Left-Handed Legacy of Liches who consume the souls of others in exchange for immortality and power. Their name and origins are a reference to the clan of the same name, from the old World of Darkness vampire game.
- Witch Hunters: Mortals who seek out and destroy mages for ideological reasons.
Differences between Ascension and Awakening
While both this game and its predecessor center on mages—people who are specifically described as "awakening" to the power of magic—and use some similar mechanics, the two have many differences within both system and setting. The differences between the old and new Mage games include:
Mechanics and terminology
- The original nine "Traditions" (and to a lesser extent the four "Essences") have been replaced by five "Orders"—delineating a character's political affiliation—and five "Paths," reflecting his spiritual affinities. Some Orders, Paths or combinations thereof correspond roughly to the original Traditions, while others are unique to the newer game.
- "Arete" has been replaced by "Gnosis", the latter a term lifted from Werewolf: The Apocalypse, another game from the previous World of Darkness line, meant to evoke the strong gnostic themes in the new setting.
- "Rotes", practiced spells, are a more established mechanic, and play a stronger role in the game.
- The nine "Spheres" have been replaced by ten "Arcana." In particular, the Entropy sphere has been separated into the Death and Fate Arcana.
- "Quintessence" has been replaced by "Mana". "Quintessence" now refers to specific magical components necessary for spells cast by Archmasters.
- Mages, like all characters in the Chronicles of Darkness, are now subject to a morality system. The specific morality scale applicable to mages is called "Wisdom"; it measures how far a mage has fallen into hubris.
Background and setting
The concepts of consensual reality and magical paradigms are essentially gone; while the core concept behind magic in Ascension was that belief was reality, in Awakening mages are tapping into the Supernal Realm using the Truth and underlying or alternate reality. "Paradox" represents the Abyss striking back at a Mage for daring to alter the world, rather than a deviation from the process of reality.
The closest thing to Ascension's setting-defining and perpetual "Ascension War" is present. Rather than an ongoing and present conflict, however, it occurs within Awakening's origin story: a group of mages—the Exarchs discussed above—achieved that control and severed the world from magic in the distant past. Instead of centering on a battle over paradigms, Awakening shifts the conflict to returning magic back to its natural state, unified with the world of men.
Due to the differences in the setting themes and core concepts, critics question whether it is appropriate to call Awakening a successor to Ascension or a completely different game.
- Mage: The Awakening (August 2005)
- Boston Unveiled (October 2005)
- Sanctum and Sigil (November 2005)
- Legacies: The Sublime (January 2006)
- Guardians of the Veil (February 2006)
- Tome of the Watchtowers (April 2006)
- Secrets of the Ruined Temple (May 2006)
- Reign of the Exarchs (July 2006)
- Tome of the Mysteries (November 2006)
- Legacies: The Ancient (January 2007)
- Intruders: Encounters With the Abyss (March 2007)
- The Free Council (May 2007)
- Magical Traditions (June 2007)
- The Mysterium (September 2007)
- Astral Realms (November 2007)
- The Adamantine Arrow (January 2008)
- Banishers (March 2008)
- Lines of Power (PDF Only)* (April 2008)
- Grimoire of Grimoires (May 2008)
- Silver Ladder (July 2008)
- Keys to the Supernal Tarot (November 2008)
- Seers of the Throne (February 2009)
- Summoners (April 2009)
- The Abedju Cipher (PDF Only)* July 2009
- Night Horrors: The Unbidden (September 2009)
- Mage Chronicler's Guide (July 2010)
- Mage Noir (November 2010)
- Imperial Mysteries (January 2012)
- Left-Hand Path (November 2012)
- Mage: The Awakening Second Edition (May 2016)
* Storytelling Adventure System