Today I’m here to talk about the new sourcebook for Mage: the Awakening 2e: Signs of Sorcery. There’s a lot packed into this book so I’ll be splitting it into two sections, first the character options and then the cosmological stuff. Let’s start on this journey!
I haven’t done a lot of Chronicles of Darkness reviews here (or the World of Darkness for that matter) for the same reason I haven’t done many D&D reviews. There are so many people out there writing about these systems so I’d prefer to concentrate on things that people might not be able to find reviews of. In this case, though, this book is about the thing I like best about CoD: the cosmology and mysticism. I love the metanarrative of this setting and I’m interested to see what’s lurking in Signs of Sorcery.
The back cover of Signs of Sorcery lets us know that this book is about upending apple carts. “Did they tell you magic is sealed away by the Abyss?” a quote from a Mastigos mage asks. “That the Supernal Realm can’t affect the Fallen? That you’ll never see the Watchtower again? Nothing is ever that simple.” If you haven’t played Mage (or read my Ten Things to Know post) then you might not appreciate what this quote means. Essentially this book is asking, “You know the foundational assumptions of this game? Throw ’em out.”
It’s an interesting premise and it begs the question how you can do this without breaking the structure of the game. Is this a book of advanced options for skipping some of the setting’s rules? Is it a supplemental book for people who’ve played a bunch already and want something new? Let’s find out together.
The Mage’s Tools
We’re doing things a little out of order here but I’m going to start with Chapter 2 which is all about the Yantras used by mages (also called Instruments or Chains among the Seers). These are what used to be called rotes in the first edition of the game: quick and easy magical workings that are simpler to cast than the sort of freeform magic that do the most incredible things in the game.
The core book has a short list of the sorts of tools that each path commonly uses (glass and silver for the Acanthus, steel and double-edged swords for the Obrimos, etc). In Signs of Sorcery there is a longer chart the provides materials, weapons, and tool qualities but also tarot cards, places, Chinese and Western elements, jewels, plants, animals, and more. There are also path examples of the five common tools (coins, cups, mirrors, rods, and weapons) which have some interesting ideas. I never thought of using a prisoner’s tin cup for a Mastigos caster or spent bullets as coins for a Moros.
More intriguing, though, is the section expanding the concept of “tools” to abstracted vows and obligations. Aside from offering an excellent crossover mechanic between Mage and Changeling, these are an interesting blending of the mystical and concrete. The book is about bringing the Supernal into the Fallen World, after all… Obligations for mages follow two universal rules. The Law of Significance requires that the vow must have an effect on the mage’s life and the Law of Transaction means that you can’t use magic to “cheat” a vow.
Nine example vows show how this can work out in your game, from the obligation to change that requires a mage to take risks when they get an opportunity to the obligation of silence and how you can make this workable in a game. There are also Dedicated Tools that are attuned to your mage’s magical energies and, therefore, more powerful. Just don’t lose them or your enemies can use their sympathetic energies against you.
Expanded rules for mudras and patron tools give mechanics for using these approaches. There are also new Yantras including basilisks (adding magic into an image that affects anyone looking at it), cleansing rituals, and investitures (membership in a society). Ritual magic, new conditions, and Merits to go along with all this stuff round out an already-packed chapter.
The Crafter’s Trade
While the previous chapter discusses mental constructs, Chapter 3 describes physical constructs. Magical items require the use of Perfected materials, substances made into their ideal form through the use of the Matter Arcanum. The most common Perfected materials are the idealized versions of the seven metals from antiquity which is another great crossover opportunity (this time with Promethean).
Three spells are provided to start your crafting projects: Forge Thaumium (protection against magic), Forge Sophis (a Mana battery), and Forge Dumanium (for making magical weapons). These are just examples and you could definitely expand your crafting abilities with your Matter-powerful mage character. You can even make more Perfected substances like Perfected Glass, Perfected Water, and so on.
Information on using living materials (i.e. blood sacrifices), specific items to craft for each Arcanum, and an expansion/clarification on the Imbued Items rules from the Mage core book make this probably the best chapter in the book.
Lastly today, and in the book generally, is Chapter 6 which is all about Awakening. Even if you know nothing else about this game, you can probably tell that this is a central topic to Mage: the Awakening. A good portion of this chapter is dedicated to metaphysical discussions of who awakens and how they do it and it’s got some pretty interesting ideas. I’m going to concentrate, though, on the new character stuff since that’s the focus today.
First off, there’s a tweaked Mage Template for playing characters who Awakened just yesterday. Normally your mage character has been living their best magical life for at least a few months if not years but what if you want to have a character Awaken mid-campaign? This is an interesting campaign idea but it also offers the opportunity for “half-Mage, half-other” characters. While the CoD position (reiterated here in a sidebar) is that no supernatural creature can Awaken, there are always edge cases. What about a Hunter or a human in a mummy’s cult? These folks are still human but in Awakening they break out of the supernatural world they know and into a new one.
Then there are Metamorphic Awakenings. These are alternate sorts of Awakenings that affect some mages (the book postulates about 5-10%) and leaves them with very different experiences. These are interesting alternate takes from the story in the core book, but they also challenge the established paradigm of mage society so it creates a potential crisis of faith if you’d like it to.
Thoughts so Far
I’m going to come back and talk about the other half of this book but right now I love it. There are so many different options, so many expanded cases that I think any mage player would benefit from it. It’s certainly most appealing to veteran players, though, who have already dipped their toes in this world and are either looking to make a different sort of character or give their favorite character more options. Next time, we’ll look at the tools for the Storyteller which include some options for showing to players of all experience levels.