Ascension [Mage: The Awakening]

Mage: The Awakening, Open Development


What seems like a lifetime ago, two months before the first of these Open Development posts, I was on holiday (that’s proper English for “vacation”) in the Orkney Islands. One day, I visited a Distillery and bought a reasonably old whisky. It’s sat, undisturbed, in its bottle in the corner of my living room ever since.

Three hours before I bought it, I sent the Writers’ Bible for Mage to the second edition writing team. The week after I returned, the Outline followed, and then we were well and truly on the road of producing a new corebook for this vast, complicated, wonderful game. The whisky was a present to myself. I’d drink it when we were done.

I’m drinking it now.

Mage: The Awakening Second Edition is now in Editing. This brings us to the end of Open Development.

Open Development Retrospective

It’s been a wild ride, this. Early days of readers voting for which core concept they’d see explained next, the satisfaction as details of our refinements to the game’s mechanics slowly came out and the fandom found them (for the most part) good. The terrible long months of redlining, when the blog went on hiatus, and the triumphant return. The cramming of the remaining Orders into the weeks before GenCon, as I realized I wouldn’t show you everything I wanted to before the game was locked off if I stuck to one post a week.

I always knew Awakening’s fans were a sleeping giant. You have (mostly) been a pleasure and an inspiration to interact with. I’ve found myself in far-flung internet fora I never thought I’d even visit.

And the feedback. Always the feedback.

I know, from experience, that it sometimes feels like we don’t listen. But I have read every message, every comment, every forum post. I asked for playtest groups, agonised when nearly a hundred volunteered, selected 10% of them and have been incredibly pleased by the detail and thought they’ve put in. Every single item they’ve reported has been considered. Granted, a handful have been “no, we’re not changing that,” but far fewer than you’d maybe think. Counting them on my fingers fewer.

Even setting aside the playtesters and just focusing on the comments here, in response to you lot, we have;

  • Built a better Spellcasting Quick Reference, adding it to the very end pages of the book for ease of finding it.
  • Tweaked the wording of almost every spell and Merit you’ve seen (yes, Egregore has been adjusted).
  • Beefed up the Mage Sight rules, enhancing the feeling of seeing the Supernal World that you seemed to really latch onto.
  • Changed some of the sample characters – the Arrow lawyer is a public defender now, not a prosecutor.
  • Changed “real name,” to “sympathetic name” and spent more time explaining it.
  • Recruited fans from the forums as setting consultants when they came forward with local knowledge about our featured cities. Who knew one of you lived in Salamanca? I didn’t, but I’m glad you got in touch.

And a host of tiny adjustments, refinements, and iterations. Everything from our explanation of Proximus’ powers to how we lay out mage society.

You haven’t been in charge, and I’ve stuck to the initial vision I had for the game back when we were writing God-Machine Chronicle. Right there in the Introduction is the heading “Addicted to Mysteries”. I read the Bible, and its the same game we’ve written over a year later. Where Open Development has come in handy is the small-scale specifics, clearing up misunderstood wordings and sparking ideas of what needed a few more words.

At GenCon, we announced the next game I’m Developing. Deviant doesn’t have an existing fanbase, so we won’t be able to do Open Development for it in quite the same style, but I am pleased with how this has gone, and I’ll be back.

Mage is now in the hands of its editor. Soon it’ll be with Art Director Mike Chaney to work his own kind of magic on it. I have supplements to outline – we’ve announced Signs of Sorcery and Tome of the Pentacle.

The Last Word

As promised, I’m going to close with the last section of the new corebook, by “I’m so glad we got her before she got *really* famous” writer Lauren Roy. This follows immediately from the text in the “Fate of Atlantis” post earlier on the blog.


Whether the Fall was orchestrated by the Exarchs, caused by a war between factions of mages, or whether the sheer amount of magical energy was too much for reality to handle is a debate that’s raged on for thousands of years, probably since the first Awakened left stranded in the Fallen World first picked themselves up and brushed the disappearing dust of Atlantis from their knees.

The cautionary tale here is not do not seek Ascension. It’s don’t make their mistakes. Ascension — the desire to cast off the trappings of the Fallen World and return to the Supernal World, to once more taste magic at its source and be a part of that source — is a desire that survived the Fall. The path to Ascension is neither easy nor straightforward. Willworkers have poured oceans of ink onto pages laying out the rumors they’ve heard of other mages who have achieved it for themselves. Rarely are these eyewitness accounts — the testimony of an apprentice, the careful notes of a peer within one’s Order — but instead come from friends of friends, a Mystagogue who heard it from a théarch who overheard a pair of Arrows discussing what their archmaster saw.

As with the scattered tales of lost cities, there’s truth to be gleaned from rumors of Ascended mages. No two legends are exactly the same, which is both heartening and despair-inducing for the Awakened who wish to bring their own about. With such differences, how can anyone know what’s required of him? With no single, clear, way to attain the Supernal, anyone is a candidate for Ascension.

Just about every mage has heard an Ascension story. They’re topics of philosophical discussion in Order sancta. Cabals debate details over bottles of whiskey late into the night. They whisper Shadow Names to each other, not their own, but the names of those mages who embodied magic itself.  Mages who no longer exist in the Fallen World because they’ve become so much more. Their names and faces, the items their contemporaries associated with them or their magic style, are symbols now, contained within the Imagoes conjured in the mind’s eye when the Awakened cast their spells. Following are two names modern mages might have heard bandied about.

An Acanthus in the Silver Ladder, Xeras spent his life pre-Awakening studying string theory and special relativity. He never fully quit himself of his Sleeper life — his passions turned easily into Obsession, and he discovered you saw a whole lot more when you used mage sight to observe photons smashing into one another. Xeras saw time as a vine, sinking its roots deep into the soil, travelling and branching out below ground far from where the plant breaks the surface. He was last seen on his way to gain access to the Tevatron at Fermilab in Illinois, though no records exist of his presence there. Notes he left behind are a mix of complex Sleeper formulae, commentary in High Speech, and several pages written in a language whose origins are yet a mystery. Time mages have used vines, his name, and some of the symbols from his last set of notes to power their spells.

All stories about Phrygia are stories of lonesome roads late at night. She was a Nameless Moros, and in the early part of the 20th century, she walked from one end of the United States to the other. Not quite a phantom hitchhiker, but perhaps the inspiration for the legend, the somberly-clad woman convinced many and more a driver to let go of the things that weighed heavy on their hearts. Phrygia was the passenger you unburdened yourself to as the clock swept on past midnight. After a ride with Phrygia, you were a better version of yourself. Lighter. She disappeared after the start of the Great Depression and hasn’t been seen since. Her likeness appears in several Tarot decks made by Awakened crafters, on cards signifying upheaval and change.

Neither Xeras nor Phrygia, nor any other Ascended, are remembered by the Sleepers who once knew them. The Ascended slip out of Sleeper memory like water through a sieve. The Quiescence sits heaviest upon close friends and family. People who saw the Ascended every day, if she kept any in her life, wax nostalgic for a short while, as though their loved one had simply gone on a long trip. They quickly change the subject, and resist attempts to return to it. The more distantly a Sleeper orbited the Ascended’s life, the foggier the memories get, until no one remembers her at all.

Mages, however, don’t forget. They seek out evidence of the Ascended with as much fervor as they hunt for evidence of lost Atlantis. More, perhaps, in the case of mages who feel it’s time to move on from what the Awakened were and focus on who they might best become.  Finding proof of an Ascended mage’s passage is akin to a Sleeper of abiding faith coming into the possession of a holy relic: What you hold ties you, even tenuously, to the Mystery.

Ascension is an act of transformation. When the mage’s soul joins with the Supernal World, what she leaves behind at the moment she Ascends may be transformed as well. Bones turn to crystal. Locks of hair might become the finespun metal of her Watchtower, strong enough to string a talisman on and hang about one’s neck. These Sariras are powerful Artifacts, sought-after by dedicated mages as signposts to escaping the Fallen World. The place where the Ascension happened might also be affected: the Fallen World grows thin in that spot, opening a Verge to a realm that reflects the mage’s final moments.  The environment itself can be profoundly, permanently changed — the waves of Life radiating outward from her body makes flowers bloom in the desert; the burst of Prime alters the area’s Ley Lines.

Atlantis’ fall put that reality out of mages’ reach. It separated them from great feats of magic, set most of the world to Sleeping. But the Awakened haven’t given up hope. The Supernal World is still there, the Watchtowers calling across the Abyss, come home, come home, come home. And the mages have heard the call.

  44 comments for “Ascension [Mage: The Awakening]

  1. Sean
    August 15, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Deviant sounds intriguing. After reading the teaser, I thought “If Orphan Black isn’t on the list of inspirational material for this one, I’ll be shocked.” Just got into that show, and I remember thinking, “Wow, this would be great for a WOD game, but there isn’t really a designated splat for this.”

    So Tetsuo, Robocop, and the ladies from Orphan Black walk into a bar…

    • Dave Brookshaw
      August 15, 2015 at 5:36 pm


      Back in, oh, 1998 or so, I ran a Mage: The Ascension chronicle where one of the characters turned out to be the product of a Progenitor cloning experiment. When I saw Orphan Black a few years ago I thought “this is what I always wanted to run.”

      Or Develop, as it turns out.

      • Andrew Thomas
        August 17, 2015 at 3:39 pm

        Thank you, both for this post, and for validating my read of what’s been said so far about Deviant.

      • Joe
        August 18, 2015 at 11:14 am

        I admit, I have run more than my fair share of “you’re the product of a weird experiment” games and they are super sweet. I think of it like a mortals game where the bad guy is the technocracy. Good stuff. Very excited, especially after seeing your work on mage.

  2. Rosicrucian
    August 15, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    As fascinating as this is, I’d love to see a passage or even a whole book exploring the opposite approach: Ascension is the biggest lie, perhaps even one of the underpinnings of the Lie itself. The Exarchs were never human but came from somewhere beyond our imagining, and Seers that work their way up the ladder aren’t so much promoted as consumed, or changed incomprehensibly.

    • Firanai
      August 15, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      Now that is incredible dark, but also extremely cool. I may use it in one of my games. 😉

      • Rosicrucian
        August 15, 2015 at 6:18 pm

        I could also see it playing out a bit like Ken Hite’s Madness Dossier. Who’s to say that the world before the Fall was a better state? Or if it was a better state, who was it a better state for? Mages? Mankind? Or something else? What if the Fall was a net positive?

    • Asaram
      August 15, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      That idea is a freaking gold mine.
      Could be used as a sort of “mage apocalypse”, that truth being revealed to them all, without the rest of the world changing at all.

      The death of a religion really, the death of the purpose of life for hundreds if not thousands of awakened. Imagine the waves that would cause, the things some of them might do to deny it, or yet worse, embrace it.

      Perhaps the Ascension Lie was created by the abyss, which is in fact another world (perhaps?) in an attempt to get mages to try to cross it? Get them to willingly throw themselves into reach to be taken, consumed or maybe changed?

      Seriously, I think I want to set up a thread somewhere to discuss this idea further 😛

      • Sean
        August 15, 2015 at 10:53 pm

        That may be the bleakest thing I’ve read in the new WOD since that “what if True Fae make Changelings to fight something even worse?” theory. This is some Madoka Magica stuff here. Only this time, there’s not even… well, what happens in Madoka Magica… happening to save the day.

        Is it possible for the WOD to get too dark? Cause I think this idea may be that.

        • Rosicrucian
          August 16, 2015 at 12:33 am

          Well I’m not saying make a metaplot around it or anything, but making it an OPTION appeals to me.

          And if it were my campaign, it would be a persistent doubt that gets seeded and never fully disproven. It’d slip off the lips of a Scelestus in all too convincing an argument. There’d be mysteries to chase down about just what happens to Seers when they ascend. There’d be characters who wonder if assuming a Legacy is refining your soul or more just… mutilating it.

          And it doesn’t have to be true. It also doesn’t need to be completely false. The point is that the characters should never get TOO cozy with their answers.

          If you really wanted to, you could say the Fall is the point in the timeline where the God-Machine retroactively inserted itself. The Lie serves the God-Machine pretty well, as does a humanity cut off from its Supernal birthright. The Exarchs are mechanisms of the God-Machine, fashioned as the most potent mechanisms for the negation of self. Or maybe they’re just the first humans who saw the writing on the wall and chose to serve.

          I dunno. I think I just like it because there’s lots of room to play with it.

          • Sean
            August 16, 2015 at 1:50 pm

            I’ve mulled over the idea of the God-Machine causing the Fall in some way. My idea went something like this:

            At some point before the Fall, humans were getting so experienced with arcana that the God-Machine got freaked out. Maybe humans were becoming aware of the God-Machine and were attempting to interfere with its plans via arcana; maybe it calculated that humanity was approaching a mass Ascension event. Whatever the reason, the God-Machine decided that things needed to change.

            So the God-Machine cut a deal with some early Mages; it was prepared to let a few humans Ascend, provided they agreed to keep other humans from Ascending as well. These handful of Mages became the Exarchs; they instituted the Lie (perhaps with a little reality retconning help from the God-Machine). Of course, the Exarchs may not be having a fun time of it; the God-Machine may have made “plans” for those traitors to humanity…

          • Ryu
            August 16, 2015 at 4:57 pm

            Won’t let me reply to seans post strangely.
            About the traitors to humanity. One could take it even a step further. Those awakened never did a pact or did something traitorous. They were just cultists of the machine that awakened and calculating the danger of the others…..unaccounted for variables the god machine gave them the order to disrupt the stairs and to make ascension impossible for all others. That is aside from the servants it itself chose as it calculated them being loyal enough to it.

            Or maybe……the god machine was a creation of them in the first place…..and came back to make sure it was built and no one any longer interfered with its plans.

        • Mocka
          August 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm

          Isn’t that Changeling idea a little too similar to the development of the Winter Court in the Dresden Files?

  3. Firanai
    August 15, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Hey there Dave, glad to hear that Mage the awakening gets closer, it sounds better every time you talk about it! 😉
    Now, Deviant sounds like an amazing idea and I can’t really wait to see what you have planned for it, but I have a question: Is there any specific origin that you will favor?The trope of the person who is changed against its will has a lot of origins: mad science, curses, aliens, mutation, cyborgs, infections, etc…I’m curious to see what kind of deviants you have in mind. 🙂

    • B
      August 15, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      I especially want to see how they’ve been altered by magic.

  4. Peter
    August 15, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Rich likes to drink, did you share your whiskey with him?

    • Ian A. A. Watson
      August 15, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      Given that Dave lives in the UK and Rich is in the US, probably not.

      Rich probably got plenty to drink at Gen Con, anyway.

  5. August 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Well done, David! Enjoy every drop.

  6. August 15, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    These look inspiring. Excellent job, more than deserved the present!

  7. Wildeyes
    August 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Your writers are giant bullies. They make me cry.

  8. tzar1990
    August 15, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Pretty good! I like the emphasis on ascension as something legendary, something that marks the world and what you have touched, even as it wipes you from it.

    One minor nitpick – particle physicists collide particles (electrons, positrons, protons and charged atoms), not photons. In fact, photons cannot be collided! When studying them, physicists instead collide charged particles which will emit photons.

    • An Fhuiseog
      August 16, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Actually photons can be collided, however it’s very rare. One of the photons briefly becomes an electron-positron pair and the other photon is absorbed and re-emitted from this pair, before the pair convert back into a photon. See “Two photon physics”. Although it’s only three in a billion interactions do this.

  9. Kevin
    August 15, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Having read over most of the core books for the various NWoD game lines, it seems (to me) that each tries to present its own heavy philosophical question to the table. Neither mood nor theme, but the third set in a three element Venn diagram.

    For example, Vampire: The Requiem’s implicit question qas “How do you handle eternity when everything else is only temporary?” And Changling: The Lost stuck me as having strong similarities to the narratives of soldiers returning from Viet Nam, especially after reading Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Changling’s question, to me, would be “How do you develop a new ‘normal’ in a world that has become increasingly alien to everything you’ve been experiencing?”

    I’ve had trouble getting a handle on what was being asked in Mage: the Awakening. From this post, I get the feel that Mage is posing a very heavily gnostic question. Am I far off in my assessment?

    • The Cowardly Scion
      August 16, 2015 at 4:18 pm

      I think Awakening’s question is something along the lines of “If knowledge was literal power, what would you do to acquire it, keep it and who would you try to keep it from?”

      • Dawngreeter
        August 16, 2015 at 5:38 pm

        Or maybe, how much are you willing to pay for the truth.

        • Xavier Aubuchon-Mendoza
          August 17, 2015 at 4:38 pm

          That’s the motto for the Seers. You pay for power. For each little Truth in the great Lie. The great journey is a toll road.

          A Diamond Mage would say that these things are our birthright, stolen from us, replaced with shiny baubles. On the journey you will cast aside those baubles, leave behind burdens keeping you from reaching the highest peaks.

          In both journeys some things are lost for more to be gained, but the entire framework is different.

          I suppose, in the new framework, the Free Council as a separate order might reject the notion of a “great journey” at all. Everything is already here, it is already ours. Arise, you have nothing to lose but your chains!

  10. Michael Stein
    August 15, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Great to see that archmastry and ascension will be a distinct thing among Awakened society. Not a well understood thing mind you, but a thing. Imperial Mysteries remains the most existentially horrifying book in either World of Darkness for me.

    As for Deviant, I can finally play the Street Sharks in NWoD . . .

    Rose, Dave, What have you wrought? <_<

  11. August 15, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Congratulations Dave! It’s been a wild ride and you and your writers deserve the rest. Open Development has been an awesome experience for me too. You turned Mage from one of my least enjoyed games into one of my favourites. Hearing your stories of going from fan to writer to developer has helped to inspire me and into picking up the pen and starting to write fiction again myself. Maybe one day I get to barter that into writing for you. Whatever happens, what you’ve written for Mage 2e and Dark Eras has pushed me to improve myself, and for that, I owe you thanks. Looking forward to Devient, it’s a game I’ve been waiting to see for a while!

  12. Dawngreeter
    August 16, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I’m just going to say that Deviant has become in my mind the game that I never knew I wanted so much. We don’t know a lot about it, of course, but what we do know is like the best pieces of my favorite stories. I am very much looking forward to it.

    As for Mage, it was never my favorite nWoD line but it had a lot of very interesting themes that made me wish I played it. Being the default ST in my group and never having gotten the hang of Mage, I usually defaulted to other lines I knew better… But I’m sure I’ll very much enjoy reading the new edition. Maybe this time I’ll bite the bullet and actually try to run it.

  13. Murder_of_Craws
    August 16, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Congratulations Dave!

  14. August 16, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Great post! Are there any plans to bring the Imperial Mysteries book forward to 2nd Edition?

    • Dave Brookshaw
      August 16, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      We discuss archmasters in the corebook. We couldn’t include Chantries and Wendings in the rundown of weird places mages encounter, or describe how the Seers of the Thrones’ politics work without giving them some room.

      In terms of games mechanics, though, not much. Archmages automatically win any Clash of Wills against lesser beings, they treat all Arcana as Ruling, and they break the Spell Factor rules. But we don’t even describe the Imperial Practices, beyond a list of things the 13 known ones *can’t* do.

      • August 16, 2015 at 4:51 pm

        Given the rework on the 13 Practices, has any of the Imperial Practices changed? (if so, did they change very much?)

      • August 16, 2015 at 11:11 pm

        I figured there wouldn’t be room in the core book but you mentioned that there are at least two supplements already in the works. I was wondering if details for Archmastery were among them or at least planned for further down the line.

      • muon
        August 17, 2015 at 6:34 am

        Is archmastery incompatible with Ascension?

        • Aiden
          August 17, 2015 at 12:41 pm

          Archmastery is actually one of the only reliable and semi-well documented paths to Ascension, at least in first edition.

        • Dave Brookshaw
          August 17, 2015 at 9:47 pm

          Nah. You’re thinking of Mage: The Ascension, where archmages were less likly to Ascend according to Masters of the Art. Awakening archmasters are the only ones with a clear idea of how to go about it, but they’re the subject of about 800 words of a 220,000 word corebook, and *this* section, like the rest of it, is written for the experience of initiates to masters.

  15. Matt Lutz
    August 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    I can tell you that your updates managed to take a nWoD game that I was only mildly interested in before, and turned it into (potentially) one of my favorites moving forward. Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

  16. Grunt
    August 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Of course this gets posted while I’m on vacation 😛

    So, I’ve been waiting for this since the Atlantis spoiler. It was mentioned that Lauren Roy did an excellent job and ho boy, was that an understatement.

    Come Home, Come Home, Come Home.

    That says so much about the game, in terms of the setting and the mood, its both scary and amazing. Nobody could have asked for a better end.

    Congratulations to a long and open development of Mage 2E. It was a pleasure being this close to its creation.

  17. Phersus
    August 18, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Ey Dave! As many others have said, congratulations to this great open development.Each new post has kept us on our toes wanting for more, and it seems our wait is at an end finally.

    I want to thank you personally for letting me contribute with my knowledge to the city writeup, it was an incredible feeling.

    I should be patient, now, but i cannot help myself, got to ask: did you manage to include the Vítores? 😀

    • Dave Brookshaw
      August 24, 2015 at 7:30 am

      We did!

  18. Joe
    August 18, 2015 at 11:18 am

    So where can we go if we want to watch as new information unfolds about Deviant?

  19. fra angelico
    August 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Maybie here is for this question to be asked, but i try anyway : will there be a prestige/kickstarter edition, or only PoD version ?

    • Ian A. A. Watson
      August 19, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      No Kickstarter. We haven’t done Kickstarters for any of our 2nd Edition rulebooks.

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