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. 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. 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.
: I'll take this as a moment to pimp this game again
: 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.