The Game: Mage: The Awakening
The Publisher: White Wolf
Degree of Familiarity: Not as much as I'd like, though I do want to run a game.
Books Required: Mage: The Awakening and the World of Darkness Rulebook
Hrm. This one’s proving surprisingly tricky to write. Though that may just be me.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a massive fan of Mage: The Ascension. As such, I didn’t really get in to Awakening. I tried, but for the most part a lot of my attempts and hacks were trying to recapture the flavour of a game that I already had and enjoyed. Moving Ascension over to the Storytelling system makes a lot more sense than butchering Awakening to do so, and has the added bonus that I can approach Awakening as its own game.
I also think that it didn’t help that a lot of what later became Awakening’s flavour didn’t really shine through until some of the supplements: Secrets of the Ruined Temple, Intruders, and Keys to the Supernal Tarot all helped me comprehend what was cool about this particular game of modern magic. Unfortunately, I only read these later. My first two purchases were Tome of the Watchtowers and Tome of the Mysteries, which explains my dislike for the game. One a bone-dry attempt at adding flavour to concepts in the corebook without adding any new ideas, the other a patronising diatribe on how you’re too stupid to understand freeform magic, though with a good section on Wisdom. Those books stopped me paying any attention whatsoever to Mage for the longest time.
And y’know what? That actually helped.
I’d initially thought that, in line with Vampire and Werewolf, Awakening would be more local in scope, and so I ended up fighting with the game, trying to interpret it as local when no, the Orders really are global organizations. The shift to a fundamentally different model of reality and metaphysic of magic logically means that less should change elsewhere, so the Tradition-replacements still having the same scope and importance makes sense.
Were I to run Mage, I’d prefer to have a more local flavour, with the Orders being groups that people second themselves to because they agree with the group’s goal, not because they’ve been inducted into a world of bullshit politicking. You choose to sign up, and if what you see changes you, you can choose to go to another Order, or just to walk away. In addition to making Orders properly optional, I’d make Legacies mandatory, because I want my Mage games to be about more than just the Path as being the source of power—you’ve got to choose how you approach that Path, and in doing so you become more and more in tune with your particular way of working magic. Rote Skills and suchlike would come from Legacy, not Order.
Actually, I do kinda want to run Awakening now. Though for the purposes of this exercise, I’m running it straight.
On with the chargen!
Step 1: Concept
Life hasn’t treat Marcus Rowland particularly well thus far. He’s thirty-five, and a year out of his second divorce—a foregone conclusion, given the whole damn thing was a bad idea. His first wife took off five years ago. She took with her his best friend, his life savings, his car, his daughter, and his sobriety. He didn’t take it well. Dana was a rebound, a pathetic attempt to grab the normal life he saw through the bottom of a bottle of Jack. That rebound also cost his job as an engineer, as he slumped further into a world of bullshit, trapped by chains of his own devising.
Marcus has been sober for three months now. The decision to get clean wasn’t his. It was God’s. He awoke one morning around five, in an unfamiliar part of town, covered in his own urine. And he saw an angel. It wasn’t a happy angel—if Samuel L. Jackson were the voice of God (and who’s to say he isn’t?), this would be one of his wingéd bad-ass motherfuckers, Shaft with wings and a flaming sword. This angel took one look at Marcus and turned away in disgust, carving a hole in the world like it was cheap linen. Marcus could see that through that hole was a place of divine fire, a place that would consume him—but in doing so would make him pure. He lurched through that gap, and into the fire.
Every second in that other place was agony. Everything Marcus thought about himself was super-heated and either burned away or tempered in the flame. With every step, a new facet of his life: His addiction. His depression. His work. His ‘family’. Deeper things: His need to define himself by the people who loved him. His quest for meaning by turning his life into a narrative. His constant ego-games, turning the mythical into the mundane. The core of his being: His shallow understanding of a the One Truth, the machines that throw their shadows on the walls of Plato’s Cave. His love for his daughter. He reached out with a trembling finger and wrote his name on the pillar of fire in front of him while angels swooped and tried to pluck morsels of identity from his soul. The pain in his finger intensified as he wrote. The flesh bubbled and peeled. Nearly done. His finger was stripped to the bone. The last letter. He screamed.
Marcus opened his eyes in front of a smouldering building, the fire department not long gone. His phone—a gift from Dana—told him it was three in the afternoon. His right index finger was black with soot, but he couldn’t see anything written on the wall. Picking a direction at random, he gave the phone to the first person he met.
He’s a changed man. His Awakening didn’t purge the alcoholism from his gut, but did show him in excruciating detail what he’d done so far. For all the guff spoken by some Théarchs about self-mastery, he firmly believes that only an idiot tries to master himself without the assistance and understanding of others. At least, that’s his justification for going to AA meetings. He’s fallen in with the Silver Ladder, mostly because he thinks the transformative experience he went through is the first step to the perfection of humanity. How that works when only one-fifth of the Awakened will touch the Watchtower of the Golden Key, he’s not yet sure of, but it’s early days yet.
Step 2: Attributes
Right. That’s got me somewhere. Now, to Attributes. I know I want Mental primary, Social secondary, Physical tertiary—he’s building himself up physically, but he’s got a lot of damage to undo.
Mentally, he’s not too dumb, but since going through the fire he’s got a whole new handle on his own thoughts. Two points into Intelligence and Resolve, one into Wits. Socially, he’s likeable enough but is easily lead. Two points into Presence and Manipulation. Physically, he’s not a slouch in any particular area, so I spread my points across the board.
Step 3: Skills
Okay, Social primary (if only because the Silver Ladder’s Rote Skills are all Social), Mental secondary, and Physical tertiary.
Physical Skills first. Since being reborn, he’s taken his ass to the gym, and to martial arts classes. One dot in Athletics, one in Brawl. He’s no stranger to the Park Bench Hilton, so I put two points in Survival.
Mental Skills, well, I know he was an engineer, working for a major oil company until too much boozing took him out. Computer 1, Crafts 2, Science 3. Add a dot of Occult, since he’s been trying to figure out what happened.
Finally, Social. Socialize 3 is a given. Streetwise and Subterfuge 2—he’s been covering for himself for a long time. Finally, two dots in Expression and Persuasion. Especially since Awakening, he’s been a lot more direct at getting himself across, and making people come to his way of thinking.
Step 4: Specialties
Hrm. Some things to think of here, but it’s falling into place. The Science specialty is “Engineering”. Survival gets “Streets”. Expression is “Direct”.
Step 5: Apply Template
Okay. I’ve already picked a Path and an Order. I get a free dot in Resolve due to being Obrimos, and I mark the Rote Skills for the Silver Ladder. I also note Gnosis 1.
I now have to mark Arcana. The ruling ones are Forces and Prime, and I’ve to allocate 2/2/1 then a free point, including dots in both ruling Arcana. So the real breakdown ends up being 2/2/1/1, 2/2/2, or 3/2/1. I wish the book would just come out and say that. It’s much simpler. I want Forces 3. Fucking with energy is a fine and noble way to go. As an engineer, Matter 2 is a dangerous weapon. The final dot goes into Prime.
Now to pick six Rotes. I’m going to borrow some of Matt’s expertise and avoid Mage Sight and Armor rotes, and instead focus on effects that benefit from potency. Turn Projectile is a Forces 3 rote that just calls out to me. Alter Conductivity is another nice one that will work nicely with Forces—especially with Influence Electricity, my third and last pick.
Other notes: Marcus starts with Mana equal to his Wisdom, and High Speech (a Merit). I believe that’s everything for this step.
Step 6: Determine Advantages
Easy maths. Willpower’s 5. Initiative modifier is 3. Defense is 2. Speed is 9. Health is 7. Wisdom is 7, as is Mana.
I think his Virtue is Charity. He’s been through a life-saving experience, one that quite literally turned everything he knew on his head, and he wants other people to experience the same thing. He’s not evangelical, but he’s quite willing to help people out at any point.
Vice-wise, Gluttony fits best. He’s an alcoholic, and though he avoids booze wherever possible, he can lose control even if he’s just gobbling down fast-food.
Step 7: Merits
Hrm. I have a problem here: for the first time since whenever, I can’t think of many Merits I actually want. Barfly is my first pick. He prefers energy drinks now—what else can give you the resting heart-rate of a serial killer in a knife factory?—but he can still get in just about anywhere with a liquor licence. Two dots of Occultation: he’s big and brash in person, but he leaves behind a memory of an ideal rather than a man. He speaks fluent Spanish, as well as English. The final three points go into a second dot of Gnosis.
I believe that’s everything.
Name: Marcus Rowland
Order: Silver Ladder
Concept: Remade Man
Mental Attributes: Intelligence 3, Wits 2, Resolve 3
Physical Attributes: Strength 2, Dexterity 2, Stamina 2
Social Attributes: Presence 3, Manipulation 3, Composure 1
Mental Skills: Computer 1, Crafts 2, Occult 1, Science (Engineering) 3
Physical Skills: Athletics 1, Brawl 1, Survival (Streets) 2
Social Skills: Expression (Direct) 2, Persuasion 2, Socialize 3, Streetwise 2, Subterfuge 2
Merits: Barfly, High Speech, Language (Spanish), Occultation 2
Arcana: Forces 3, Matter 2, Prime 1
Rotes: Influence Electricity (Forces 2), Turn Projectile (Forces 3), Alter Conductivity (Matter 1)