Digital Raven (digitalraven) wrote,
Digital Raven

Character Creation 62: Mage: The Ascension

It’s ben a while since I did a character creation post. innocent_man asked me to do Mage, but didn’t specify which. I’ve already done an Ascension character over here, but that’s not going to stop me doing another one. And an Awakening character later this week for good measure.</user>

The Game: Mage: The Ascension
The Publisher: White Wolf
Degree of Familiarity: Let’s say “Intimate”.
Books Required: Mage corebook, Tradition Book: Order of Hermes

One of my greatest regrets is that I started working for White Wolf too late to write for Mage: The Ascension. To me, it remains a formative game—one of a handful of games that shape how I think of RPGs. More than just the magic system, Mage showed that it was okay to have a game that was overtly political, a game that explicitly took sides on a number of issues—complex, nuanced sides, that if you don’t understand it’s not going to explain because it assumes you’re going to do some damn research. It also shows that it doesn’t matter what online fans think, because people actually playing the game are the ones that matter, not the amateur philosophers arguing about it on the internet.

That’s not to say that Mage is perfect. The setting’s mired in millennial tension, and often exhibits the worst traits of metaplots. The magic system, once revolutionary, had weird opaque bits and some areas that made no mechanical sense. The setting also took a while to solidify into what it wanted to be—I have a copy of the first edition core, along with several of the supplements, and it’s a weird, gonzo trip.

I think Mage is too wrapped in nostalgia for me to give a critical appraisal of, but it’s also one of the original World of Darkness games that I think stands on its own merit, despite the wonky system. The other one’s Wraith, and while when I next run Mage (I fully intend to) I’ll use the Storytelling system, Wraith needs something else entirely. But I’ll get to that when I do Wraith. Right now, I’m looking at Mage and feeling my mind bubble.

Step One: Character Concept For all manner of reasons, my character creation urges have mostly run to technomancers in the past—Virtual Adepts and Sons of Ether. Naturally, I think it’s time to change things up a bit. Flicking through the Order of Hermes tradition book, mine eye alights on House Skopos: a tiny little House that believes in “quantum reality”. Oh, I can do shit with this.

The theory is really very simple, assuming you’re intelligent enough to follow. Wave-particle duality means that events at a quantum level are fundamentally unpredictable. The cat’s not “dead and alive at the same time”, if you tiime it through a single half-life it’s 50% dead and 50% alive. Even money. But certainty doesn’t exist until you crack the box open and take a peek. The act of observation changes that which is observed. Collapse the probability matrix. Fix the event in spacetime—only active observation can do that. The cat doesn’t count as an observer—not that I’d ever use cats, you understand, I like cats—but they don’t have the same hooks into the quantum foam to decisively collapse the waveform and fix reality. Humans do.

I hope you’re all taking notes because there’s going to be a short quiz next period.

The theory, of coursse, only applies to quantum events—the behaviour of photons, radioactive decay, that sort of thing. So it’s fundamentally useless, save for the possible implications of quantum parallel universes requiring a redefined theoriy of energy due to the infinite amount available by tapping other universes, but I’ll get to that later.

The theory isn’t as useless as it seems. Ontological solipsism means that the outcome of any complex-enough system can be modelled as a probabilistic event. Hell, that model is both faster and more accurate than trying to step through the extant model. And thus we can run probability simulations of complex systems, from weather to the cognitive abilities of other people. Naturally this isn’t strictly solipsistic—we’re not discounting their existence, only pointing out that the same techniques used to handle quantum events do not have to remain mired in the quantum realm.

A practical example. You take a midterm. On the multiple-choice questions the marks can’t be probabilistic because it’s a straight-up 25% chance that you’re right if and only if you don’t understand the question. As soon as you bring understanding to the situation, as soon as you can deterministically prove the correct answer, it remains deterministic. But the essay questions are marked according to the whims of whoever marks the paper. Sure, they’ve got guidelines, but in the end it’s down to human minds to come up with the answer. At best, you can weight your chances of high and low grades by what you write but you cannot determine what your mark will be until you get that paper back. Until you see your grade, you cannot be sure what grade you’ve got.

How do we benefit from this knowledge? Well, if we look back at what the Western mystery tradition considers “classical” magic, it all comes from either the Keys of Solomon or the collected writings of Hermes Trismegistus. All these ancient spells and enchantments are actually rather primitive tools for manipulating probabilistic systems. In some cases, you get the classic results of manipulating the quantum state of reality—changing the outcome of an unknown event. In some cases, the spells can induce a change by swapping a tiny part of this reality with another where the desired outcome occurred. In some cases, the spells punch through to another reality and siphon off the energy—we’ve got at least an infinite number of realities, possibly a Cantorean transfinite number each with a finite amount of energy, meaning that those who try can access a functionally infinite amount of energy. Only a few people can do that, the few who exist as known minds in this system of ontological nearly-solipsism. I’m one of those minds. Are you?

Thom Duncan is theoretically a postgrad research assistant in classical mythology, focusing on the religion and occult systems that became the Western Mystery tradition. He sat in on one too many quantum physics classes that he didn’t understand, and took more amphetamines than are strictly required, resulting in his Awakening, and his bizarre fusion of Hermetic ideas with “quantum reality”. Fortunately, he wasn’t alone—one of the students who frequented his bullshit sessions was a member of House Skopos of the Order of Hermes. She introduced him to the Order, and inducted him. Then she was exsanguinated by a vampire in some insane shadow war. His magic is mostly updated versions of classic summoning spells—think of the sort of stuff used in the Laundry novels, lasers and beam-splitters and energised pentacles.

From what I’ve come up with, I figure on a Dynamic resonance—he’s always after something, but he never quite knows what. Nature is Pedagogue, demeanour is Perfectionist. I’d forgotten how restricted these were…

Step Two: Select Attributes
Priorities… Social first, then mental, then physical. Born into old money so he gets the best education Daddy’s trust fund can afford, but he’s smart enough to actually make use of it. 7/5/3 split among the old-style.

Four dots each in Charisma and Manipulation. He’s often driven and passionate about what he knows, but if you get him talking about anything else then he’s the life of the party. The rest goes into Appearance. Mentally, he’s bright but not too bright. Intelligence 3. He’s got keen senses, but too much speed has frazzled him a bit. Perception 3, Wits 2. Physical, he’s average across the board.

Step Three: Select Abilities
13/9/5 with the old split… damn, but when I next run this I need to use the nWoD system or a derivative, because this is a bit crap. Knowledges first, Talents second, Skills third.

I need three points in Academics to begin with. Two more in Enigmas, and two in Law (most of his family are lawyers, and were it not for his Awakening he’d have gone on to Law School after getting his Masters). Three more points in Linguistics—he can read Ancient Greek, Ptolomeic Egyptian, and Enochian. Occult 3 as well. Onwards!

Two points of Awareness, I think—he’s got a good sense for when something isn’t right. Couple that with two points of Alertness and one of Athletics—his personal trainer insisted. A point of Leadership, which he takes for granted, the same as his two points of Subterfuge. A point of Streetwise as well, because he knows who to ask if nothing else

Crafts or Technology? Reading them again, definitely technology. Energised pentagrams, Hacklherber-Trismegistus circuits, and the like need a steady hand to create, and dual-slit experiments don’t set themselves up. Two points. Etiquette two (he’s old money), Meditation one.

Step Four: Advantages
Seven points of Backgrounds. He’s got three points of Resources just kicking around, and his name’s good for a point of Influence. Mystically, he’s got access to a two-point Library, and a one-dot Avatar.

Step Five: Finishing Touches
I can’t believe that all this is just one step. Now I see why it was rephrased as “Apply Template”.

So. I start with Arete 1. I know I want more, so I drop four Freebies into the second dot. Willpower starts at five, and again I drop a couple of Freebies to raise it to 7. I also start with a point of Quintessence. On to Spheres.

I get Forces 1 for being a Hermetic, and five points left to spend. I know Entropy 2 is on the cards, as is Prime 1. Two points to go. With them, I pick up the first two dots of Correspondence. Seven Freebies raise Forces to 2. Finally, I take a point of Dynamic (Random) Resonance

Two Freebie points to spend. Looking things over, I really want to increase his Occult to 4. So I do.

And with that, I believe I’m done.

Name Thom Duncan
Tradition Order of Hermes
House Skopos
Essence Dynamic
Nature Pedagogue
Demeanour Perfectionist
Physical Attributes Strength 2 Dexterity 2 Stamina 2
Social Attributes Charisma 4 Manipulation 4 Appearance 3
Mental Attributes Perception 3 Intelligence 3 Wits 2
Talents Alertness 2 Athletics 1 Awareness 2 Leadership 1 Streetwise 1 Subterfuge 2
Skills Etiquette 2 Meditation 1 Technology 2
Knowledges Academics 3 Enigmas 2 Law 2 Linguistics 3 Occult 4
Backgrounds Avatar 1 Influence 1 Library 2 Resources 3
Arete 2
Willpower 7
Spheres Correspondence 2 Entropy 2 Forces 2 Prime 1
Resonance Dynamic (Random) 1
Quintessence 1

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Tags: character creation

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