Mage: The Ascension (1995)

Mage: The Ascension (1995 second edition) is the third World of Darkness game, following Vampire and Werewolf. Unlike the previous games, which explore the idea of player-as-monster, Mage casts players as spiritually awakened and seeking to either wake or keep sleeping the masses of humanity. The main attraction is the open ended magic system (we’re gonna barely scratch the surface here, sorry).

In brief, the world of Mage is a reality defined by consensus. Magic is the process by which the awakened can alter or subvert that consensus through force of will. If that magical effect is too exposed to the consensus (basically, if enough normal people witness it and recognize it as breaking the laws of reality) then reality will re-assert itself and the mage will experience blowback called Paradox, which generally involves the mage getting their face blown off. So the idea is to basically…choose the effect you’re looking to achieve, pick the type of magic you’re going to use and come up with a clever way to pull the wool over reality’s eyes so you don’t melt or explode.

This is really, really cool. And made more so by the fact that the framework for the game draws on real world esoteric traditions and philosophy. So it feels…I don’t want to say real, but I guess plausible and familiar is a good way to put it. Because real world esoteric tradition is rife with complexity, the complexity of the fictional systems inherit a bit of verisimilitude.

This is either going to sell the experience for you, or drive you absolutely insane (or, in my case, both simultaneously). And that’s as a player, who only needs to be conversant in a small slice of magical mechanics. GMs need to understand all nine traditions, how the interact and the vast web of White Wolf lore that seems designed to obfuscate everything. That means a Mage GM is a very, very specific and perhaps non-existent sort of person. You could not pay me enough money to run Mage. I’d rather run Shadowrun. But I like reading Mage!

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