In recent gaming, there seems to have been a split between the narrative driven games and system driven games. The narrative games (once generally characterised as “indie”) tend to be compact booklets with minimal rulesets, but some of these have a decent collection of background information and minimalist plot hooks. The system driven games on the other hand are veritable tomes of hundreds of pages, much of which are carefully integrated with other parts of the rule system and designed to cover every little aspect of play.
The more I read through it, the more I think that Mage 20th Anniversary Edition seems to sit in that second camp. It has an awesome freeform magic system that could probably be described in a few pages, tacked onto an elaborate and baroque system (which in turn evolved out of a fairly simple general system). It tries to straddle the space between allowing players to embrace the full potential of their imagination, and constraining them to “realism” within the virtual space of the game.
It’s trying to be everything to everyone, and the lack of focus is causing problems. It’s always been chock full of awesome ideas, and the latest incarnation has even more in it than previous versions, but it suffers from the problem even more. A lot of the fun rules have been pushed into “optional sidebars”, a lot of the changes in the setting over the past 20 years have also been made optional, and the metaplot points that drove many of the supplemental books have been stripped from canon.
This new version of the game is a great toolkit, with all sorts of potential built into it, but it still sits on a base that’s a bit unstable and generally fiddly. That’s why I’m working through this rebuild. I want a game with a simple coherent system that applies in a variety of situations, but with rich characters that start with a decent amount of detail and can become more refined through the course of play.
I’m hoping my aims toward those goals are generally intact at this stage and I’m not overcomplicating things. After this post finishing off the major arcana I’ll get stuck into one of the most fiddly bits of the storyteller system, combat.
…and maybe finding a way to expand narrative potential within a conflict.
Upright (and): Balance, moderation, patience, purpose, meaning
Physical: …and this seems to have had no negative consequences at all.
Social: …and they are more willing to be amenable to you in the future as well.
Mental: …and the true meaning behind this situation is revealed.
Combat: …and your action gives your allies a boost in morale.
Magic: …and no one has any knowledge you were involved at all.
Reversed (but): Imbalance, excess, lack of long-term vision
Physical: …but you think you might have pushed yourself too far.
Social: …but this will only work for the short term.
Mental: …but the mental strain is leaving you feeling drained.
Combat: …but your overkill has damaged the weapon you were using.
Magic: …but it ends up looking a bit more flamboyant than expected, and has caused new issues.
Upright (and): Bondage, addiction, sexuality, materialism
Physical: …and it feels good.
Social: …and they want more of what you’re offering.
Mental: …and this should get you everything you want.
Combat: …and they are incapacitated and unable to act.
Magic: …and you look good while you do it.
Reversed (but): Detachment, breaking free, power reclaimed
Physical: …but you are unable to contain what you were seeking.
Social: …but they reclaim the advantage in this situation.
Mental: …but you are unable to get a fix on certain aspects of the situation.
Combat: …but they manage to get away, and will probably be back at an inconvenient time later.
Magic: …but paradox spirits manifest to reclaim the energies you’ve expended.
Upright (and): Disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation
Physical: …and the tables turn to your advantage.
Social: …and a truth is revealed that you may exploit.
Mental: …and false assumptions about the situation are torn asunder.
Combat: …and a cataclysm befalls your victim.
Magic: …and this brings deeper insight into the true nature of things.
Reversed (but): Avoidance of disaster, fear of change
Physical: …but you’re struggling to make the last bit of effort.
Social: …but you lose confidence in your words.
Mental: …but you can’t quite think of the last pieces that put it all together.
Combat: …but they avoid the worst that you throw their way.
Magic: …but there are still things that don’t make sense.
Upright (and): Hope, spirituality, renewal, inspiration, serenity
Physical: …and a sense of calm spreads across you.
Social: …and you inspire confidence in everyone around you.
Mental: …and there is a sense that there could be more achieved very shortly.
Combat: …and as they take the hit, it inspires you to do it again.
Magic: …and your faith in your powers is reinforced.
Reversed (but): Lack of faith, despair, discouragement
Physical: …but this is taking longer than you had hoped.
Social: …but you get a bad feeling about this.
Mental: …but this will require a rethink.
Combat: …but the attacks just don’t seem to be getting through.
Magic: …but there is something in this that doesn’t match your view of the universe.
Upright (and): Illusion, fear, anxiety, insecurity, subconscious
Physical: …and your hidden preparations have served you well.
Social: …and their anxieties are playing right into your hands.
Mental: …and your subconscious thoughts give you new insight.
Combat: …and the strike has instilled fear into their hearts.
Magic: …and any anomalies in your effect are seen as a trick of the light or hallucination.
Reversed (but): Release of fear, unhappiness, confusion
Physical: …but you didn’t account for the next thing that happens.
Social: …but this just seems to confuse them.
Mental: …but even though this is the right course of action, it doesn’t make you happy.
Combat: …but that action seems to have inspired their confidence to attack harder.
Magic: …but this makes no sense at all.
Upright (and): Fun, warmth, success, positivity, vitality
Physical: …and you want to do it again.
Social: …and this feels like a win-win situation.
Mental: …and more mysteries seem to be unravelling.
Combat: …and a rush of adrenaline makes you forget some of your injuries.
Magic: …and your power is obvious to any who know what to look for.
Reversed (but): Temporary depression, lack of success
Physical: …but you’re feeling really tired.
Social: …but you get the feeling they really don’t like you
Mental: …but you don’t feel good about it.
Combat: …but you may have over-exerted yourself.
Magic: …but a niggling doubt makes you think it could have been better.
Upright (and): Judgement, rebirth, inner calling, absolution
Physical: …and your instincts steer you true.
Social: …and they cannot argue with your reasoning.
Mental: …and you feel that your situation cannot be challenged.
Combat: …and justice has been served.
Magic: …and you feel an inner calling directing your next action.
Reversed (but): Self-doubt, refusal of self-examination
Physical: …but you pull back at the last minute.
Social: …but they doubt your resolve, and now you doubt it too.
Mental: …but you can’t go any further, something just feels wrong.
Combat: …but you think it might be a good idea to change your tactics.
Magic: …but a shiver runs down your spine.
Upright (and): Completion, integration, accomplishment, travel
Physical: …and you reach your goal faster than you thought.
Social: …and now their mind is one with yours.
Mental: …and it feels like you taken into account every possible variable.
Combat: …and you knock them a significant distance in the process.
Magic: …and they won’t know anything mystical occurred at all.
Reversed (but): Lack of completion, lack of closure
Physical: …but there feels like something you’ve missed.
Social: …but they still want something more to finalise the deal.
Mental: …but there are too many loose ends.
Combat: …but something doesn’t feel right
Magic: …but you probably could have done better.