Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition FAQ, Part 1
We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the setting and system of m20. In the first half of our FAQ, Satyros Phil Brucato answers some of the most frequent ones. View the second half here.
• What IS Mage: The Ascension?
An interactive storytelling game about people whose beliefs can change the world, Mage: The Ascension deals with folks who have “Awakened” to their true power. These “mages” literally rework reality through magick, faith, technology, and combinations of the three. Because they don’t agree on what should be done with such power, mages often wind up waging a shadow-war over the many ideals of “ascension,” the ultimate transcendence of Earthly limitations. And in the process, they realize that “reality” is flexible, controlled by the people who believe most in their ability to change it.
• Isn’t Mage kinda ‘90s?
Nope. Mage is dynamic, not static. The original 1993 Mage was a product of its time. This one reflects our 21st-century era. And although you can “Tarantino it” – cross-pollinating decades to get the look and feel that you want – Mage 20 is very much a game of Now, not Then.
• Are you incorporating recent technological/ social/ political elements?
• How are you handling things that have changed since 1993?
With what I call “Future Fates” sidebars. In Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade, those sidebars helped to show major events in that setting’s historical timeline. Storytellers had three options they could use when dealing with a “future fate”:
A: The event happened (or happens) according to the “official” history.
B: The event MIGHT happen, or have happened, but with major changes from the “official” version.
C: The event never happens (or happened), and the history stays under the Storyteller’s control.
This way, history and metaplot don’t get forced down anyone’s throat. Every Mage chronicle suits the players and Storytellers involved. Those various options reflect Mage’s dynamic themes of subjective reality, and allow each Storyteller and group to run Mage as they see fit. You get the Mage you want, not the Mage we give you.
• Is m20 like Mage 1st Edition, Mage 2nd Edition, or Mage Revised?
It’s a synergy of elements from all of them, updated and clarified in an all-new and hopefully definitive edition. We set out to make “A Mage for all Mage fans,” and I think we’ve succeeded in reaching that goal as much as we possibly could have done.
• Do we have to deal with the Avatar Storm?
No. Many of the Future Fates address the Storm and its effects. You can use them, alter them, or ignore them as you choose.
• But is the Avatar Storm “canon?”
Sort of. In my personal “official” Mage chronology, the Storm happened as a result of many other catastrophes in the Awakened world at the time (the Ascension Warrior’s rampage, the Horizon War, the Great Whiteout in the Digital Web, and so forth). It happened, but it passed, and the world has been recovering ever since. Some things changed, others didn’t, and many things shifted but have since returned to more or less “normal.” Change is a fact of life, and this seems like a natural choice for my approach to the game. Thanks to the Future Fates, however, it does not have to be YOUR choice. You can totally ignore the Storm and its effects if you want. It’s your game.
• Is the Ascension War over?
Things aren’t that simple. The War is based upon different factions fighting on many different levels over what they believe in – possibly even acting out some metaphysical struggle that’s bigger than human belief – and although the nature of that War has changed, the conflict still remains.
Also, the world is far larger than the United States, however, and Mage 20 takes the entire world into account. As events since 9/11 have shown, many people around the world – even in the States – believe deeply in the so-called “supernatural.” Science, faith and magic can, and do, co-exist in the real world, and Mage 20 reflects that reality as well.
• How does Mage 20 handle the Technocracy?
As an entirely playable option, equal to the Traditions in terms of game-utility. Although the Union is a flawed, dangerous, and potentially corrupt organization – just like the Council of Nine Mystic Traditions – you can use that Technocracy as the center of your chronicle. Mage 20 doesn’t default to “good Traditions/ bad Technocracy.” Both groups are valid, damaged, powerful, and really screwed up behind their lofty ideals.
• What are you doing with my favorite Tradition/Convention?
You’ll have to wait and see. (Heh heh heh…) Let’s just say that they’re still the groups you remember, in most regards, but we’ve updated them to reflect a more mature, modern, and culturally inclusive tone.
• Do you detail the many different groups within the Traditions and Technocracy?
All nine Traditions and five Conventions have two-page spreads for each group. Given that there are over 100 sub-groups, however, we did not have enough space to explore them all in detail. Those details will appear in future sourcebooks.
• What about the Disparate Crafts? Aren’t they all gone now?
Yes, we deal with them, and no, they’re not gone. Very much the opposite… .
• The Nephandi and Marauders?
*evil laughter* Oh, yes – in glorious detail.
• What about the Umbra and Digital Web? Are they in Mage 20?
• Do you have crossover material with Vampire, Werewolf, and so forth?
Some, but not a lot. The emphasis of Mage 20 is on mages.
• Why did you bring back that pretentious “k” at the end of “magick”?
Words have power, and the magick-with-a-k word reflects an important theme within Mage: Magick is an extension of the person who uses it, changing the world in accordance with that person’s will to change it. “Magic” is fundamentally different from “magick,” and so we brought back the original Crowleyian spelling of that word. Those two words mean very different things.
• Didn’t people forget the difference between magic and magick?
No. Given that only a few weeks passed between the beginning of the Avatar Storm and the time when everyone had supposedly “forgotten” the true nature of magick, that was unlikely.
• Did you revise Mage’s magick system?
We fixed a number of flaws, clarified a lot of muddy subjects, and added plenty of optional rules, but did not change the essential system. My brain-trust and I worked hard to bring out the best elements of Mage’s freeform magick rules without making changes that would mess up over 20 years of source material.
• Does Mage 20 include Path-based sorcery, the Pillars from Dark Ages Mage, the Technocratic Spheres, or the magic system from Mage: The Awakening?
Yes, Mage 20 does include the Technocratic Spheres, in an optional section of the magick-rules chapter. But no, we did not include the other stuff, because this book is already H-U-G-E and that material would not have fit into its already titanic word-count.
• Can I be part of the playtest group or writing staff?
Thanks, but that work is already done. Mage has been written, and although we’re still making small revisions and cuts, the design work and writing were completed several months ago.
• Does Mage 20 include all the various Traits and rules?
As much as possible, yes. Mage 20 includes the rules you need in order to play the game. All of the Backgrounds, and many of the secondary Abilities, have been incorporated into the main book, along with updated rules for computers, combat, drugs and poisons, martial arts, crossover games, spirits, the Otherworlds, and plenty more.
Due to the huge number of Merits and Flaws, we were not able to feature all of them in Mage 20. We’ve got roughly a dozen of both, but over a hundred of them have appeared in various sourcebooks, so they simply would not fit. The same goes for optional rules like adversarial Backgrounds, although many other optional rules have been included – several of which have never appeared in Mage before now.
• How are you dealing with paradigms and foci?
A mage changes reality through the force of belief. And so, Mage 20 combines a character’s belief (or paradigm), practice (originally known as “magick style”) and instruments (originally called “foci”) into a single category: focus.
Focus reflects what your mage does in order to make things happen. That character’s beliefs guide his practice; the practice directs his actions; and the instruments turn those actions into results. A computer-based technomystic, for example, believes that she can “change the Reality Code”; she uses the practice of reality-hacking, which employs instruments like information technology and computer codes (in game terms, a language). Mage 20 features an array of paradigms, practices and instruments, all of which can be combined in nearly infinite ways to suit the character you choose. This way, you build the mage and her abilities outward from her beliefs, using an integrated approach to magick that suits the character you create.
• Does this mean you can’t outgrow your foci, the way you used to be able to do in Mage?
No. It just redefines what “focus” is. Most Mage characters can still grow beyond their need for tools; even then, however, they still believe in what they’re doing, and that belief focuses their ability to change Reality.
• Are you explaining more about that paradigm stuff?
Chapter Two features a selection of the most common “models of belief” within Mage’s world: “Might is Right,” Creation is Alive,” “Technology Holds All the Answers,” and so on. Although you’re not restricted to those options, they cover many different approaches to magick and belief, from religious faith to hardcore materialism that still has enough wiggle-room to admit the existence of advanced technology, if not “magic spells.” This way, we skirt the complex metaphysical debates that made the concept of paradigm so hard to grasp in previous editions of Mage. You can still have all the metaphysical debates you want, of course – you just don’t need to have them before you can play the game.
• What about the lines between coincidental and vulgar magick?
Chapter Ten has a section called “Coincidental Magick vs. Vulgar Magick,” which goes into great detail about the practical applications of coincidence… and the limits of it, too. And while only your Storyteller can decide what does and does not fly in your particular chronicle, this section ought to clear up a lot of the current arguments on that subject.
• Will I be able to understand the damn magick rules this time?
I hope so. Unlike previous editions, Mage 20 addresses rules in straightforward language. The florid metaphysical tangents get confined to the first five chapters, where the setting concepts are explored. Every system has examples of those rules in action, and I’ve kept the explanations as simple as possible.
• Will Archmastery be in m20?
No, it won’t.
• Please tell me that this book will be written in plain English.
Yes, yes it is.
• Can I turn a vampire into a lawn chair?
Only if you’re willing to deal with the consequences.