28 October, 2016

A quick guide to Mage: the Ascension

As one of my favourite games, I had to chime in when someone on G+ asked about Mage, why it's good...why it's current version is a 700-odd page tome...what could be done to streamline it...

I thought my answer was pretty good, and thought it needed to be shared.

Having played and run all editions, here's my thoughts...

1st (WW4000, 1993) is wild and a bit clunky when it comes to rules. It's probably the edgiest of the settings, in that it was opening an amazing concept to the world but no-one really knew what to do with it at the time. The players were fighting a war for reality.

2nd (WW4300, 1995) streamlined the rules a bit, instead of different rolls, coincidental and vulgar magic basically now used the same rolls with varying difficulties. The setting was reined in a bit, and like most White Wolf second editions it became more "professional" and more sterile. A bit more effort was made to address global cultures as complex entities rather than stereotypes. The players were losing a war for reality (but the option to play the technocratic side of the conflict was opened).

Sorcerers Crusade (WW4800, 1998) was pretty much the same as second, but ported back to the rise of science and the renaissance. Magic was easier, a few spheres were tweaked to reflect the era better. The players were swashbucklers in a world where anything goes and the future of reality was unfettered and fueled by hope. Very Eurocentric, but exploration of the world outside as "exotic other cultures" is built into the setting.

Guide to the Technocracy (WW4014, 1999) gave us everything you needed to play the "hidden masters", who suddenly weren't a monolithic entity, but a complicated hot mess who presented themselves well. New spins on a few spheres to give them a more technologically friendly feel. This wasn't a complete game in itself, and relied on having a copy of 2nd edition to play. 

3rd (no product code on my version, 2000) formally introduced the resonance concepts that were alluded to and half formed in previous editions. This made magic a more reactive force in the game with effects pushing back in a method more quantifiable in the rules...this in turn increased book-keeping and took out some more of the mystery, but on the other hand it reduced player backlash to events because the rules were more player facing, rather than hidden by GM obfuscation and chicanery. The setting didn't have a whole lot of time to flesh out, but generally the players had lost the war on reality and were dealing with the aftermath. Many of the smaller factions developed in second edition were subsumed into major factions or killed off.

Mage: the Dark Ages (WW20002, 2002) was a very different beast. Where groups of willworkers under different factions of magic used different spheres to one another, a grand unified theory of magick was not in existence in those days. There was often overlap between spheres of different factions, but flavoured differently to match the ideologies of each group. A character had access to their own faction, but with exceptional difficulty might learn one of the spheres from another. It generally seemed to be an attempt to hybrid the concepts of Ars Magica and Mage, but didn't seem to do so particularly effectively. Even more Eurocentric than Sorcerer's Crusade, focused internally rather than on external exploration.

M20 (I only have the PDF, 2013) was designed as a monstrous beast, where games could take place at any period in the Mage timeline, with any of the factions, traditions, crafts, conventions as potential sources for player characters. It tries to be everything to everyone, with many of the quirky rules from previous editions pulled out of the central mechanisms as optional sidebar rulings. This version finally detached practices and paradigms from the traditions, conventions and crafts (yes it sort of brought the crafts all back after 3rd killed them off), allowing a more flexible creation of characters. It has some really nice concepts that 20 years of development and hindsight will bring, but ends up as a massively unwieldy tome.

Just my thoughts...

with the follow up post saying...

...with the addendum that on average, each edition was larger than the previous one. (Don't even get me started on that Awakening abomination)

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