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?

Oh, yeah.

• 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?

Big-time, yes.

• 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.

42 thoughts on “Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition FAQ, Part 1”

  1. “Can I turn a vampire into a lawn chair?

    Only if you’re willing to deal with the consequences.”

    That’s the best answer to that question ever.

    • But the better question is: “Can I turn a vampire into a lawn chair *permanently*?” is much more important.
      And when it comes to the point of the mage’s life when he has to ask that, I’d say he’s probably ready to deal with the consequences :P.

    • I’ve always been more interested in the question: “Can I turn a lawn chair into a vampire, and what would I need to do that?”

    • Malcolm Sheppard and I wrote the Mage Translation Guide about a year ago. It’s been available for ages.

      Updating it to Fallen World and M20 (it’s Ascension revised and the current edition of Awakening right now) would only be possible next year at the earliest. Phil and I would have to coordinate it if there’s enough demand and we both want to do it.

    • The Hollow Ones are now classified among the Disparates. It’s not explicitly spelled out in the FAQ; but reading between the lines, every major Disparate faction will get a two-page spread the same way every Tradition and Convention will.

  2. We already have some sourcebooks that will be sent to backers and, hopefully, published in print soon. Will any of the already attained stretch goals deal with Path-based sorcery, the Pillars from Dark Ages Mage, the Technocratic Spheres; Merits and Flaws; adversary Backgrounds or Mage the Awakening magic system? or the other material that got cut from the M20 book? Could you tell which material will be added to each stretch goal?

    P.S. I hope no Mage the Awakening magic will get into the Ascencion game.

  3. a “common paradigmatic points of view” section (the “Might Makes Right” et all bit) sounds great! handing over some clear worldviews will help players a lot, I think.

    sooo glad the Technocracy are getting an even say. I absolutely loved what was done with them with last year’s Conventionbooks and hope that our mini-Reckoning was enough to keep their transformation into the more fractured, post-authoritarian model we saw there.

    I’m not sure what to expect from the reworking of Foci into the three-part system, so I’ll just remain optimistic.

    minor booooo for inclusion of all those goofy backwards crunch-for-the-sake-of-crunch systems like complicated martial arts and secondary skills and stuff, but I guess some people like em. but I’ve always been an “ultraconcise, statistically rigorous rules” boy. A Dirty World, mm. it’s my biggest regret with the 20A books, actually, that you guys didn’t go all the way and port em into the nWoD dice system. but I guess a lot of their selling power is in nostalgia value, and some people enjoy dice systems that make statisticians’ lobes throb.

    I always found that “vampires into lawn chairs” article kind of…insulting. giving me a superpower then telling me that I shouldn’t use it unless it’s “dramatically appropriate” gives me a frowny face. it’s one of the problems I have with Mage (or any game where players have a lot of supernatural powers) sometimes, that a lot of situations can only have any tension if characters constantly suffer selective amnesia about the kind of magicable shit they can do. I’ve always thought “restraint” was a poor balancing mechanism–players ought to be rewarded for using their edges cunningly, not censured because “cunning use” is totally gamebreaking, the way the Spheres/Arcana have traditionally been. so I hope that there -are- consequences for belawnchairing vampires! if the only restriction is “staaahp you’ll ruin my gaaahme,” you might not as well hand out those superpowers in the first place. I remember one edition of Call of Cthulhu presented psychic powers in an appendix but basically said, “NOTE: if you give these to your players, you can’t really expect investigations to take very long.” y’know? it’s that scenario up to 11 in mage a lot of the time.

    all idle musing, though, I’m a $135 fan whatever the case =D

    • “I’ve always thought “restraint” was a poor balancing mechanism–players ought to be rewarded for using their edges cunningly, not censured because “cunning use” is totally gamebreaking, the way the Spheres/Arcana have traditionally been. so I hope that there -are- consequences for belawnchairing vampires! if the only restriction is “staaahp you’ll ruin my gaaahme,” you might not as well hand out those superpowers in the first place. ”

      I agree that asking players to subdue their abilities only for the sake of preserving the story plan is weak. On the other hand, Paradox is a very natural and flexible way for storytellers (and the other players) to keep things on the level. Mages are transhumans holding the keys to reality, and they are capable of doing incredible things that might cause incredible problems. All this is handled most naturally through story rather than mechanics.

      Turning a vampire into a lawn chair is an opportunity for interesting development. I could imagine the dark energy of possessed furniture spreading through a neighborhood, siphoning the life force of those sitting/sleeping in them. Perhaps thousands of tiny mouths spring from these furnishings and suckle at the blood of their occupants.

      I’ve always run the system such that if players want to do crazy things, they have crazy results. If they want to do subtle things, they have subtle results.

      • doesn’t that kind of run counter to the idea that Paradox tends to kill mages while leaving buildings standing, though? I know that idea is mentioned at least here and there, at least in Revised, that Paradox consequences are usually orbital lasers pointed at the people responsible rather than orbital bombardments spreading to the vicinity.

        and you have to consider “more plausible” (whatever that really means) effects that would have the same effect: vampire into lawnchair gets attention because it’s silly, but what about “vampire into stone?” he’s just as dead, but the act has a lot more miffic resonance.

        (my usual response to this is to say that most effects that incapacitate need to do the equivalent of at least the target’s healthlevels in successes scored like and possibly even applied as damage. sure you can turn him into stone or an attractive vase, but it won’t be any faster than pelting him with celestial fire.)

      • You want a flexible open ended system like Mage uses then you need a measure of restraint to have a coherent story and long game. Or you ditch it and play a game with set powers and mechanics. (And can still probably “break” it with the right choices)

        The problem with letting PCs do whatever is it only takes a moment and a few rolls to lawnchair that Big Bad and thus destroy your STs days/weeks/months of work. Not only does that piss all over someone else’s hard work (to entertain you) it leaves you without an easy replacement. Oops folks game night over come back in three weeks when I’ve wrote a new story! Who wins in this scenario?

        So preserving the plot is pretty much the best reason in gaming to do anything.

        No restraints isn’t better gaming its…. wide open sandbox and probably PvP style because that’s who’s really the driver’s seat.

        Which is one thing if everyone wants to do that but its only one style of play. Personally I find it far less satisfying then a bit of railroading to tell an actual story. Going wide open has pretty much always become just a “series of random events” in my experience. Which is pretty unsatisfying if they’re supposed to be epic occurrences, they lack the dramatic support to give them context and meaning..

        Mage’s flexibility can support any number of tales, but unless the game you have in mind is godlings dueling each other with “infinity+1 powahs uf ultimate supaness” then it requires some restraints to keep everything on track for what the particular game is supposed to be.

        Preferably with the coordination of both ST and PCs. And if one dude isn’t on board with that Consensus they’re the Reality Deviant. Paradox can and should eat alive whole and its only what they should have expected.

    • Can’t remember its name (my Ascension books are all in storage) but it’s in the essays in the Book of Shadows, the 1st ed player’s guide.

  4. I haven’t followed the 20th anniversary editions to this point, so I’m not clear on how the rules compare to the original versions.

    Are they basically taken from the original versions with errata integrated, rewritten entirely, mostly the same but tweaked where need, or what?

    • Vampire and Werewolf were comprehensive editions with small tweaks. Mage is going to be a bigger upgrade, though you’d have to ask Phil about the individual mechanics.

  5. For me, the whole core of Mage was always three words: “Belief creates reality.” The thing I always loved most was that just about everything else in the game flowed logically from that one basic idea. (As an aside, I think that’s why I was so dissatisfied with nWoD Mage.)

    As long as that concept is still at the core of M20–and it seems that it is–I’m willing to accept pretty much any other changes. In fact, I’m really excited for some of them!

    • As with V20 and W20, new borders will be created.

      Fonts are up to the layout & design team, and we’re not anywhere near that stage yet.

  6. If the Avatar Storm came and went how are the events from Ascension being handled. Obviously those events can’t have happened yet (with the world ending and all) but without the Avatar Storm it kinda makes the “official” end from Ascension (Chapter 2) hard to use. Does M20 essentially get rid of the events from Ascension or are these covered in a Future Fates section?

  7. I’m so excited to see this. I’m running a technocracy game that is a spin off from a mage game my friend was running. It’s been so tough and I’m really excited to see them included.

    Much fun to come I imagine. ^_^

  8. Which version of the Resonance rules will be used?

    I can think of the Core book, Fallen Tower and Mage Storytellers Guide.

    Given that many players and ST’s “missed” those rules, will the be a bit more clear and prominent than they were in Revised?


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