Continuing with our series on Ten Things to Know about various settings in the Chronicles of Darkness, in this post we’re going to take a look at Mage: The Awakening. This gameline is steeped in lore like all the rest but also
6. X Splat is Path, Y Splat is Order
Mashed are normal people until they Awaken to the real, magical side of the world. They might still live among the Sleepers (get it?) but they are forever changed by the experience. What does Awakening look like? Well it’s different for every mage but it involves finding one’s way to one of the five Watchtowers that are the bridges to magic. There will be more about this cosmic stuff below but for now just know that the inherent axis (X-splat) for mages is their Path.
- Acanthus mages gain their connection to the Watchtower of the Lunargent Thorn in the realm of Arcadia, a kingdom of enchantment and illusion.
- Mastigos mages are forceful and tyrannical types who gain their connection through the Watchtower of the Iron Gauntlet in the nightmare realm of Pandemonium.
- Moros mages are necromancers tied to the Watchtower of the Lead Coin in the realm of Stygia, one of many Underworlds in the World of Darkness.
- Obrimos are the shining lords of the mage world, gaining their connecting from the Watchtower of the Golden Key in the celestial realm known as the Aether.
- Thyrsus mages are shamans and totemists who are connected to the Watchtower of the Singing Stone in the realm of the Primal Wild.
Once they’re Awakened, mages get to choose what they do with it. This leads to the social axis (Y-splat) which is a MM mage’s Order, one of the five magical fraternities that make up the default community of mages. Called the Pentacle, this community consists of four Orders who date back to at least the Middle Ages and claim to represent traditions from Atlantis itself… as well as one group of troublemakers.
- The Adamantine Arrow is made of the most militaristic mages, out to fight the enemies of the Pentacle (see below) and magical threats of all sorts.
- The Guardians of the Veil are enforcers of the secrecy of magic, finding mages and artifacts that threaten to expose it all and silencing them.
- The Mysterium is devoted to seeking out the lost lore of Atlantis and bringing it to light. They have developed some of the most amazing innovations but also unearth trouble now and again.
- The Silver Ladder mages have big plans and seek to lead the Pentacle in uplifting the Sleeper population and returning the world to its former, gloriously magical state.
- The Free Council is the newest Order, formerly a group of outsiders that joined the traditional four at the beginning of the twentieth century. They are committed to shaking things up by looking for the connections that science, media, and technology offer to magic.
8. The world is Fallen
Right, so here’s where it gets crazy. Back in the misty depths of time magic was everywhere and people could access it whenever. On the beautiful island of Atlantis, so the legend goes, the most powerful mages gathered and learned from great dragons. They created wonders and everyone was happy forever.
Just kidding, they screwed it all up.
The rulers of Atlantis went to the source of magic, the five Supernal Realms, to claim them for themselves. They made it but the Realms were sundered from the mortal realm by a dark and horrible reason called the Abyss. Today, only mages who are shown a path to the Supernal Realms through one of the five great Watchtowers can begrudge this gap and work magic.
Actually, the jerk rulers in the realms are still alive too and calling themselves the Exarchs. They’ve got their own cadre of magic users called the Seers of the Throne who want their cruel masters to rule on Earth again. You should stop them if you did them. Oh and there are those mages who are twisted by the Abyss to be terrifying nightmare-people. More formally called Scelesti, these crazies are just outto hurt people so you’re supposed to stop them too. Good luck!
9. Magic is a matter of will
If you’re used to Vancian magic from D&D, the system in Mage might be confusing. Just know that it’s come a long way.
Rather than schools of magic, Mage uses Arcana: five Major and five Minor. It’s all illustrated on the chart below but mechanically you have some Arcana that you’re better at thanks to your Path.
Each of these Arcana does a thing: Arcana like Death and Matter are hopefully self-explanatory, though things like Prime might require a read. There’s time for that, but the upshot is that you have ratings (“dots” in the parlance of the Chronicles of Darkness) in each Arcanum and the higher your rating the more you can do. Want to see ghosts? That takes Death 1. Want to command ghosts? That’s up to Death #. When you want to do something, the Storyteller looks over the guidelines and tells you what rating(s) to use for it, then you roll.
So are there any actual spells in this game? Yes, sort of. It’s all freeform but mages do have certain spells called rotes that are sorry of routine applications of magic (a bit like cantrips, although they can get pretty powerful). Partially this is to give Storytellers and players reference points for handling freeform magic, but your character’s rotes are also mechanically easier to use. Lastly, you have a pool called Mana which powers your spells and a pool called Gnosis which you can use to boost your rolls in important moments. Keep an eye on these and don’t let them get too low.
The downside, though, it’s called Paradox. Sure you can do whatever you want but the universe isn’t too keen on you doing that. When you cast spells, there’s a chance that the universe will snap back on you like an over-stretched rubber band and crack you across the magical knuckles. If you play it safe by using rotes or staying in your lane then things will go better but the more you push things the harsher the backlash can get.
10. There’s this thing called High Speech…
Like the First Tongue used by werewolves, mages instantly know the ancient language of Atlantis, called High Speech by modern mages. This allows mages from Kentucky, Tokyo, and Caracas to all communicate easily but it’s also the language of those magical artifacts that the Mysterium is always digging up. The High Speech is something that sets mages apart from Sleepers in the way that Latin set the academics of the Middle Ages apart from the laypeople.