Mage: The Ascension
The third of White Wolf Game Studio's World of Darkness games and the final member of the Big Three, Mage: The Ascension is a role-playing game of magic and fantasy set in the modern Gothic-Punk. In this setting, players take the roles of mages, who strive for mystical enlightenment in the form of Ascension. To this end, they are given magic, a highly malleable source of supernatural power that is activated through combinations of spheres, raw metaphysical realms that mages act through. The subtitle of the game, variously A Storytelling Game of Modern Magick or A Storytelling Game of Modern Mysticism, reflects that Mage: The Ascension is, at its core, a modern variant of classic spell and sorcery games, fusing the fantastic with the ordinary.
Mage: the Ascension presents the life of the mage as one of conflict, due to the many incompatible theories for how Ascension can be attained. The Traditions who represent the wonders of the occult and mystical world, clash with the Technocracy, who claim to represent advanced science and seek to guide humanity towards their own view of Ascension. Each of the mad Marauders have their own visions of inflicting chaos upon the mortal world... whether the mortals desire it or not. The infernal Nephandi represent a dark reflection of both the Traditions and the Technocracy, and seek to destroy all that is with the help of their masters from Beyond. These four factions represent the battle-lines in the four-fold Ascension War.
Published in 1993, as with all First Editions, things were significantly simpler than they would eventually become. The Marauders and Nephandi were largely blank checks for the Storyteller, and the number of predefined powers to each Sphere were relatively small. Despite this, the First Edition of Mage was still the most complex of the three First Edition texts.
In 1995, the Second Edition of Mage: The Ascension expanded on the interplay between Spheres, involving all nine into a complex cycle that relates to all that occurs in the universe. Rotes that combine multiple Spheres together into one action appear for the first time. The Hollow Ones are demoted from a Tradition that merely lacks an affinity Sphere to a non-Tradition. Paradox, which was a relatively simple mechanic in First Edition, has been expanded into a much more dangerous and ever-present force in the life of all mages.
The Revised Edition of Mage: The Ascension, with a relatively short run from 2000 to 2004, was defined by an event called the Avatar Storm, in which the realm of Spirit, the Umbra, became hostile to the Avatars that permit mages to weave spells. Though every mage could conceivably reach the Ascension at different times, during this edition the tenth Sphere, a rumoured Sphere that would guide all mages to Ascension, is eventually revealed, causing a mass event allowing all mages to Ascend. Gameplay changes included a more formal definition of Quiet, and a new Resonance system that causes a mage's Avatar to hold a "spell memory," improving spells cast often, and penalizing rarely used spells. After the end of this line, Mage: The Awakening was released to replace it in 2005; despite being very mechanically similar, the two Mage lines have few similarities of setting. As of 2011, books from this edition are back in print, in the form of a new print-on-demand service offered by White Wolf Publishing and Crowd Control Productions.
List of Books
All magic begins and ends with the nine Spheres; each represents some fundamental force that mages can influence. Spheres can be combined in order to produce novel effects that exist outside of one single Sphere's influence. Besides the nine Spheres, there is also an undiscovered tenth Sphere, believed to be the key to Ascension itself.
- Correspondence: Deals with spatial relations, giving the Mage power over space and distances. Correspondence magic allows powers such as teleportation, seeing into distant areas, and at higher levels the Mage may also co-locate herself or even stack different spaces within each other. Correspondence can be combined with almost any other sphere to create effects that span distances.
- Entropy: This sphere gives the Mage power over order, chaos, fate and fortune. A mage can sense where elements of chance influence the world and manipulate them to some degree. At simple levels machines can be made to fail, plans to go off without a hitch, and games of chance heavily influenced. Advanced mages can craft self-propagating memes or curse entire family lines with blights
- Forces: Forces concerns energies and natural forces and their negative opposites (i.e. light and shadow can both be manipulated independently with this Sphere). Anything in the material world that can be seen or felt but is not material can be controlled: electricity, gravity, magnetism, friction, heat, motion, fire, etc. At low levels the mage can control forces on a small scale, changing their direction, converting one energy into another. At high levels, storms and explosions can be conjured
- Life: Life deals with understanding and influencing biological systems. Generally speaking, any material object with mostly living cells falls under the influence of this sphere. Thus, being alive protects a thing from direct manipulation by the Matter sphere and vice versa. Simply, this allows the mage to heal herself or transform simple life-forms at lower levels, working up to healing others and controlling more complex life at higher levels.
- Mind: Dealing with control over one's own mind, the reading and influencing of other minds, and a variety of subtler applications such as Astral Projection and psychometry. At high levels, Mages can create new complete minds or completely rework existing ones.
- Matter: Matter deals with all inanimate material. Stone, dead wood, water, gold, and the corpses of once living things are only the beginning. With this Sphere, matter can be reshaped mentally, transmuted into another substance, or given altered properties.
- Prime: This sphere deals directly with Quintessence, the raw material of the tapestry, which is the metaphysical structure of reality. This sphere allows Quintessence to be channeled and/or funneled in any way at higher levels, and it is necessary if the mage ever wants to conjure something out of thin air (as opposed to transforming one pattern into another). Uses of Prime include general magic senses, counter-magic, and making magical effects permanent.
- Spirit: This sphere is an eclectic mixture of abilities relating to dealings with the spirit world or Umbra. It includes stepping into the Near Umbra right up to traveling through outer space, contacting and controlling spirits, communing with your own or others' avatars, returning a Mage into a sleeper, returning ghosts to life, creating magical fetish items, and so forth. Use of this Sphere became more difficult after the Avatar Storm. The Technocrats, who do not believe in spirits, call this Sphere Dimensional Science.
- Time: This sphere deals with dilating, slowing, stopping or traveling through time. Due to game mechanics, it is simpler to travel forward in time than backwards. Time can be used to install delays into spells, view the past or future, and even pull people and objects out of linear progression.
- Tenth Sphere: Though many sourcebooks hinted at the nature of this Sphere, it was deliberately left vague, and consequently every Tradition had a different theory as to what it might be. Endgame scenarios in Time of Judgement suggest the Sphere could be named Telos. The Sphere of Death from Mage: The Awakening appears to be an interpretation of this Sphere.
Traditions, Conventions, and Crafts
Every mage is a member of either one of the Traditions, nine secret societies that help protect magic from being disproven by mortal society (default for most players of the game), a Convention of the Technocracy, dedicated to proving magic as just another facet of science, a mad Marauder, a demon-worshiping Nephandus, or a member of a Craft so small it is barely noticed in mage society. Membership in these groups determine which primary Sphere a mage specializes in, as well as what Focus, or magical implement, they channel it through.
Sometimes referred to as Hedge Magic, Sorcerers and other groups within the World of Darkness practice arts very similar to magic, but are not truly magic, at least not as the Traditions would define it. Some mages choose to work closely with these groups, as a means to discover more about the nature of magic, and find the path to Ascension.
Every participant in a Mage: The Ascension game must create a character to play. Your character is your alter ego whom you control and through whom you vicariously experience the World of Darkness.
This section covers aspects of the game outside your character, including some of the people your character can meet. NPCs are Non-Player Characters, characters played and controlled by the Storyteller, which can include other Mages, mortals, antagonists (enemies), etc. The section also covers the political landscape of the Mage: The Ascension and the World of Darkness, including the Tradition or Convention to which your character belongs and some of the other Factions which may influence, empower or endanger your character.