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new awakening

One of the things that's been hacking me off something chronic about gamers over the past year is their inability to move on. Specifically, the number who whine about how Mage: The Awakening is not the same as Mage: The Ascension but with the bits they didn't understand about the setting and metaphysics removed.

I'ma go out on a limb and say that at least 90% of people posting about the game online didn't get something about Ascension. I persoanlly don't believe that I'm one of them[0]. No four people could agree on what should be removed from Ascension to improve it. In other words: Ascension isn't broken. Your interpretation of it is. Fix that, not a perfectly good game.

I'm hacking Awakening[1]. Lots of people are. All of them, it seems, are hacking it to make it Ascension-without-bits. That's fine for them, but it doesn't show the bigger picture. In other words, my message to these people is simple: Shut the fuck up about Ascension already and start thinking about new things!

See, Awakening is a good game. It's not about personal beliefs in a slightly-fuzzy fictional world where everything is true. Awakening is, at core, about discovering ancient truths that mankind has forgotten. Reclaiming a lost legacy. Mystery archaeology. All that good shit. Also, some high-school level politics, but let's not dwell. It's external truths and power, wheras Asecnsion was internal.

The problem that I have with Awakening, and thus the reason that I'm hacking it, is that even with Secrets of the Ruined Temple, the hidden truths all stem from the same basic tradition. Details about the past are fuzzy (there could be more than one Dragon Isle, f'rex) but an underlying core tenet is that everything comes from Atlantis or the "barbarians". That's a bit too monocultural. It's like saying that it's a game of discovering religious secrets, then having the underlying tenet be that those secrets are "Christian" and "Other".

Give me relativism or give me death. My hacks for both setting and system shift the focus of the game from discovering the multiple facets of one truth to discovering multiple facets of multiple truths—and deciding whether to hush it up or blow it wide open.

The Pentacle Choir are the Atlantean orders of the book, the result of years of revisionist history. They have the mindset set forth in the Awakening books. Everything's Atlantean or Barbarian—and that's fine. They're not the "bad guys". Such fevror can be wonderful to explore, the people who refuse to take a personal stand and offload their beliefs about magic to a larger organisation. Sometimes they're even right. They know about magic, but don't believe that any one person has the right to make a decision about it. There has to be structure supporting the decision.

The Free Council are a set of new orders who keep each other sane by constantly arguing. They practice a range of ancient and not-so-ancient styles, from Aleutian shamanism to drug-fuelled pop magic. They're a small group, but they can work odd rotes better because they don't have to break things down to Atlantean roots, and can develop new magic on the bleeding edge, rather than retooling time-honoured crafts. On the other hand, most of them are all hepped up into thinking that they're somehow "against" the Choir. They're not—in a perfect world, they could co-exist—but these are the FOSS community facing Microsoft. Unfortunately, there's a lot of magical equivalents to Gentoo ricers in the mix, along with purists living the hermit life, the equivalent of doing magic off Slackware 1.0 because it's always worked for them.

What does this achieve? It explodes the monoculture of Awakening and brings in some magical relativism without destroying what makes Awakening it's own game: the truths are external, not internal, and the world isn't fuzzy. That's more the sort of game that I want to play. I also have an idea, very rough, for a sample group. I'll post more tomorrow.

[0]: I'll take this as a moment to pimp this game again
[1]: Link is to where I was last time I thought about this. Bits will change, especially as that's an in-character diatribe from someone who doesn't know all the truth.



( 18 informants — We want information! )
Jan. 5th, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
Can I please ask to be added to the list of people who can see the "[1]hacking awakening" post.

I'm really interested, as you seem to have nailed exactly what I find wrong with the new stuff.
Jan. 5th, 2007 08:37 am (UTC)
I've unlocked it.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:40 pm (UTC)
Despite unlocking it: that's not the final form it'll take. See my reply to eyebeams below for more of what I hope to mutate it into.
Jan. 5th, 2007 12:48 am (UTC)
The section on culture I did for Tome of the Mysteries might be helpful to you, since it demonstrates how divergent things can be even in the canonical setting. This even includes the High Speech being more of a metacontext than an actual language (your "High Speech" can be Hangul or Shona, but done a *certain way*).

The reason there's a hugely dominant occult culture in the game is that unlike Ascension, Awakening mages are not an inherent reaction to mass colonial culture. In Ascension, you had extreme multiculturalism because the Trads were resisting the forces thet controlled the mass media monoculture and its roots in Western privilege. In Awakening the Seers of the Throne are more users and jailers than an active, driving social force, so Western mass culture has never been an antagonistic force for most occultists. So when people formed their secret societies, the mages with the greatest global reach and wealth -- Western mages -- got to tell the dominant story. But there are other interpretations of magic, perhistory and the 5x5 splats (some of which are actually *not* 5x5) out there that fit the existing evidence just as well.

Now outside of canon, I myself decided that I really wanted something different from both Mage games, as I've been up to my eyeballs in them for ages. I made my political groups more like V:tR's Covenants with more competitive agendas and created two "prime" Legacies for each Path, effectively making magical styles more of a given. Lastly, I made Mana acquisition mostly dependent on harvesting it from a cult that believes that your praxis works.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:17 am (UTC)
I'm really just waiting for the "Barbarians" to rear their heads. The Pentacle magi, as-written, are amazingly good antagonists, but like I said, the game needs some more compelling protagonists. At least, for my needs.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
Actually Amado, most of the subaltern mages *are* "Pentacle" mages as well. They just have much different practices, models and stories -- and these are more than just a fresh coat of paint on Atlantis, too. They have High Speech, but it isn't recognizeable to mainstream mages. They have their own magical symbols and tools that different but work just as well, they have orders that attach different values to their functions, too. Some of them even believe that there are 10 Watchtowers, or none. But in truth, they all have an equally valid claim to the most accurate theory and mythology. They might *look* "barbaric" in many cases because these groups do not necessarily recognize what they have in common, or think that it's important enough to work together.

The Western Pentacle is powerful because the West is powerful, not because it's right. Take a look at ToM; the game supports very radical variations now, even down to things like tools, gestures and languages. And the emphasis I was *very* careful to put there is that you are not "translating" Atlantis in any sense. Mages have some common *very* basic ingredients to work with, that the West (with synthesis with other cultures, as the Pentacle is not an insular group) turned into Atlantis, and other people turned into very different things.
Jan. 5th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
I'm aware that there are subaltern Magi who are a part of the pentacle. Just as with the factions in V:tR, though, they are still a part of the Western power structure due to their involvement in the wider organization. The way I've run it is that most subaltern Magi, when offered the choice of hanging out with some weird, soulcrafting freaks who claim to be the "pure" representation of their culture, and the easier, faster, and seemingly more comfortable way to power codified through the Western Pentacle, they choose the Pentacle. Of course, buying into the Western Pentacle isn't inherently bad, as you said, Mage: the Awakening doesn't posit that The West is evil, and neither do I.

I've been trying very hard to work on viewing the entirety of Mage society as somewhere between the Masons and, say, various think tanks and academic entities. It just gets hard (and probably borderline personally offensive, which is my own issue) when within the Western dominated-spheres, you have to be humping a computer to be anything like Ashis Nandi. You know?
Jan. 5th, 2007 02:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm not talking about Legacies. There are thousands of mages who belong to five orders with particular talents and no how to speak magically, and from where they live, *they* are the heirs of real magic. They don't necessarily belong to Legacies at all. They're standard-built mages who have constructed their own mythologies out of the essential ingredients in the same way that the Pentacle in the core constructed *its* ideology. ToM even has rules for how they use different magical tools, speak a different magical language, use things other than Atlantean runes, and what they might use instead of mudras. I really did take pains to allow radical reconstruction without being totally subjective, to the point where the Western symbolism is pretty much gone completely when it comes to what's necessary.

But at the same time, you can't be too generic in the core, and there is a certain political reality there that is reflective of real world biases, but at the same time is a handy instrument for consistent play. You can play a very deep game, but for accessibility's sake, you absolutely *need* an outlet for people who want to make up characters and start playing right away. The old Mage nearly *died* because it didn't have this feature and it was surrounded by a fandom that actively discouraged practical playcraft.

Jan. 5th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)
And for the record, I think people glomming onto the Free Council as the "technology mages" is awful, and not the intent of what I wrote for the order at all. Then again, I have almost *never* seen anybody talk about the actual order descriptions. They talk all kinds iof shit about them, but not with any reference to the text.
Jan. 5th, 2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
From my simple reading of the corebook, I kept wondering why people thought the Free Council were tech-mages. The term is "Libertines", not "Technomages".
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
I'll pick up Tome of the Mysteries when I have both the cash and the time to read it. I must admit that I haven't really been keeping up with Mage releases, so knew nothing about it.

Having given things a bit of thought, I've realised what I'm really doing, and it's got not a lot to do with relativism after all.

A total monoculture is impossible unless said monoculture is so broad as to be no culture at all. The software metaphor is a good one: the Western mass culture (MS) is the dominant story beacuse it won, no question. However, there's always people on the inside—those who would see no disadvantage in remaining with the dominant culture's practices—who don't want to hew to that, whether through high ideals ("magic must be unfettered from the past!"), need to rebel, or a desire to experiment without outside interference.

These people join up with those outside the fold, those who stayed under the Western mages' radar, and form a reactionary group. However, that doesn't mean that the reactionaries are either better or right. A lot of them are frothing children who don't understand what they're spouting or ivory-tower wonders *coughRMSchoke*. Meanwhile some of the best and most experimental magic is going on inside the Pentacle because it can afford the magical equivalent of DirectX and VBA memory management. These are magical equivalents of Raymond Chen and Joel Splosky.

The real handle is that there's always going to be a reactionary group who deliberately throws off the dominant culture in search of something else. It has what some researchers would consider more open ideals—it doesn't reduce everything to Atlantis/Barbarians—but are those ideals enough? After all, when a lot of good stuff is coming from the Pentacle and most of the Council do more harm than help, are your ideals valuable enough to stop you switching sides. Moreover, does it matter? If you switch, who's going to care?

To be honest, I find a game that does those things a lot more gripping than Awakening as it stands. Though with my current record, it's likely to be no more than a thought experiment for a while yet.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:14 am (UTC)
I've mostly just been interested in defaming the Pentacle Mages. They've been evil infernalists (without knowing it), Fascists, tools of the Exarchs, and complete imperialist pricks who kill anyone that can prove roots of magic other than Atlantis.

I just wish the game gave me more interesting protagonists than dangerous, crazy fringe Magi. But, then...I kinda like it that way.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
I think that's a little extreme. They just have privilege, really. People with privilege aren't stupid or evil. They merely have self-interest incompatible with subaltern interests. This isn't necessarily black and white. Look at class and identity clashes where you have gay fiscal conservatives tolerating abstract homophobia to keep what they've earned outside the mainstream middle class. Look at capitalism in Hip Hop, for God's sake.

I think it's really more nuanced to have this confusing about legitimacy built right in; separating out a cadre who are just better doesn't wash in actual politics, so it's not my taste for a politically involved RPG.
Jan. 5th, 2007 04:29 am (UTC)
No, I do agree. I don't think the dangerous fringe magi are any better, and I haven't portrayed them as such. They're just as arrogant as any Pentacle Magi, they just happen to be on the wrong side of the gun when it comes down to the situation when they have to choose sides.

At the same time, I simply find the Orders, as presented in the Core, to be pretty unsympathetic, if not outright unlikeable. Which is, I believe, the whole point of the game, right? The Pentacle Magi are horror protagonists, we should be comfortable seeing them smeared all over a wall by an Atlantean horror as a result of their incredible amount of pride.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)
Just because I like to hear myself talk...

I like Awakening. Really. I have no bones with it. Nor do I with Ascension: I love that one, too.

My "Awakening Ascendant" hack was sort of a challenge to myself to see if I could combine both settings together in a way that worked for both, so that the cultures, themes and splats of both games worked within a single continuity.

I'd still like to do the same thing for the other games sooner or later. Reading Promethean now, I'm tempted to combine it with both Mummy and Hunter.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:38 pm (UTC)
My problem is not with hacks in general, it's with the nth post of "Here's my Ascension with Awakening rules hacks" without any new ideas or content.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:51 am (UTC)
Chiming In
Y'know, I've got no problem with either version of Mage. Ascension served one purpose, Awakening serves another.

That being said, I like looking at various hacks on M:tAw. It gives me ideas for things to move into the Free Council (at least in my setting) to make them rebels with a cause.

(It took me almost nine months to be able to like them, then I realized that in some settings, they are tilting at windmills, while in others they do have the good fight.)

Jan. 5th, 2007 01:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Chiming In
My problem is not with hacks in general, it's with the nth post of "Here's my Ascension with Awakening rules hacks" without any new ideas or content.
( 18 informants — We want information! )



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