Welcome back, faithful readers!
Mage: The Awakening Second Edition is firmly into Development now. My pasted-together working copy of the book, all of the drafts from authors assembled into a single file, is 420 pages long in Word. I ran the game last week, and I’m much happier with some of the systems. So, it progresses, and we’ll see further blog posts on a couple of extra topics as the game moves forward to release and I start thinking about supplements.
Last time I blogged about World of Darkness: Dark Eras and its Mage content, I gave you a look at the expanded Hellenistic Mage setting. That was the earliest-set chapter in the original text, set in 323 BCE. 2338 years between then and now makes for a very different World of Darkness, almost alien at first glance, but human beings are human beings whenever they live, and Malcolm Sheppard and Danielle Harper’s writing gets that strangeness and familiarity across.
When we started the kickstarter for Dark Eras, Matt, Rose, and Rich asked the Developers for ideas for further eras we could add as stretch goals. I submitted a couple. A handful of those made it a poll, and one of them – the African Mutapa Empire – made it to the Dark Eras Companion.
The first Mage setting to come up on a poll wasn’t one of the ones I suggested. It took me by surprise, first when it appeared, and then when it won.
“Neolithic Mage” was Rose’s idea. Mages are so bound up in the idea of civilization, her musing went, that it would be neat to see a really early era for them. How does Atlantis manifest in a world without cities?
Quick (pre)history lesson – when archaeologists refer to things like “Stone Age” and “Bronze Age,” they’re talking about the dominant material culture in the time and place they’re describing. Because human culture isn’t homogeneous, the various ages have different dates depending on where you are. Some human societies were effectively “stone age” up to relatively recently, and in general the classic Stone-Bronze-Iron three stages only really work when you’re talking about Europe and the Middle East. African archaeologists in particular don’t use it.
So. First thing I had to work out. When and where should Neolithic Mage be set? Some of the fine folks at Onyx Path had suggestions – the Stone Circle builders of western Europe are iconic, but very late in the Neolithic, to the point that (to pick one very obvious example) Stonehenge is more Bronze Age than Stone Age. My wife suggested the Orkney Islands, site of the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in the UK, but that would end up like Shadows of Iceland, as the population is (and was) too small.
The clincher came when a special funding level backer asked for the Neolithic setting to be expanded with a Werewolf crossover. I suddenly knew exactly where and when to set it.
The Vinca culture of South-East Europe are named after the site in Serbia they were first identified in, but have since been found all over the Balkans, dating from 5700 – 4500 BCE. They had several things setting them apart from other cultures; they practiced Copper mining and used the metal for decoration for centuries before becoming one of the earliest Chacolithic (Copper Age) societies, they produced a wealth of ritual paraphernalia like masks, statues, and amulets, and traded it between settlements, and (perhaps most importantly) they appear to have invented writing.
Or rather, Vinca writing is the oldest human script we’ve found. It’s completely untranslatable, but other old forms (like Sumerian) appear to be descended from it.
And that got me thinking. The Vinca shamans scientists have found buried with ceramic disks covered in undecipherable script? High Speech. If this was to be a Werewolf crossover, how did that relate to the way we’ve linked First Tongue to early human languages? What were the Vinca gods- anthropomorphic, animal-headed deities like the one in the photo above?
I tentatively asked Stew “Danger” Wilson if he would mind if I portrayed the Werewolves in the setting as being very early. Pre-Oath of the Moon, even. Or, I added half-joking, maybe Pre-Sundering.
Stew is a brave man.
The Neolithic World of Darkness 5500-5000 BCE
The Neolithic era portrays the last days of one civilization, and the early steps of another. Human beings have turned away from being the greatest hunters the world has ever seen to a settled life of toiling in fields and husbanding cattle, but away from the villages and their halo of agriculture the World of Darkness is a wild, dangerous place, where the weather and wild animals can kill you as easily as any supernatural monster. Some people still do hunt – to kill dangerous beasts that threaten the villages, to provide extra meat, or because they’re ill-suited to a sedentary life – but they’re a brave minority. The horizon is close, and the night is full of terrors.
Mages, or the Wise, aren’t isolated from the rest of humanity as they often try to be in future millenia. They’re an accepted, lauded, part of society. Everyone knows magic works, even if the Sleeping Curse still means that the Wise must practice their obvious spells away from the people. Potters craft magical tools for the Wise and hearth-magics for everyone else; jars to keep your soul safe from spirits, amulets to break for luck or to keep unwelcome beings from your door. Circles of the Wise meet in the Astral, binding their fellowship together.
Ruins of the Time Before
As far back as the Neolithic is, the world is still Fallen. The Wise tells stories about the paradise that was lost, long ago, the Time Before that not only ended but has been replaced by the long, slow ascent of the people from their hunter-gatherer pasts to their agricultural present. The world’s wounds still bleed in places; pockets of shattered time, screaming ruins from impossible peoples, strange artifacts of the Time Before. Even now, they’re shrinking, worn away by Dissonance when Sleepers encounter them, but the world isn’t so mapped as to remove them all as entirely as they will be in later times.
The Border Marches
Spirits are a notable but not unknown sight for people in the Neolithic World of Darkness, because the worlds of flesh and Shadow have not yet been Sundered. Travel far enough into the wild, untouched places of the world and you will find yourself in an entirely different place – the Border Marches, a mixture of material and ephemeral, a land of extremes and changes, where the hunt is supreme. Inhabited by both material animals and the native spirits of the Shadow world that lies beyond it, the Border Marches also has native beings of its own. These Pangaens resemble spirits but are made of flesh, not ephemera. The Wise say that some of them may be Gods, trapped in the world by the disaster that ended the Time Before. The greatest are iconic symbol-gods with animal features, worshiped by the people as a pantheon of deities. Bird. Bull. Snake. Rat. Spider. Wolf.
If the mages are the champions of the settled, Neolithic civilization, then the children of Wolf – the Uratha – represent everything humanity was in earlier times. Tribes of wolfblooded range through the Border Marches, hunting alongside the few blessed enough to be full werewolves. Wolf itself is a distant god, a figure most werewolves will only see once or twice in their lives, hunting the greatest of prey surrounded by the primal monsters of the First Pack and Firstborn. As the avatar of hunting, the Border Marches – or Pangaea – belongs to him, and Wolf forbids other gods and spirits from crossing into the world of flesh. But Wolf is fading, growing old and slow, as humanity slowly turns away from the hunt. He still brings down his prey – Rat was torn into a thousand pieces by his jaws – but his wounds fester, and the werewolves argue about what to do about it.
Hearts of the Gods
Enough spirits and pangaens make it through to the world of flesh that the people are beset by the supernatural. Even the children gathering wood for fires know to check the trees for faces, and wanderers who become lost in the wilderness often come back Claimed. The hearth-magics of the people offer some protection, but the constant pressure of the supernatural is in large part responsible for the Awakened’s place in society. The people need mages, to negotiate with the strange and uncanny, to defeat monsters, and protect them from the myriad dangers of an untamed world. The greatest symbols of this arrangement are the omphalos stones – squat menhirs marking the gathering-spot of each village. The stones protect villages from wandering spirits, and generate Demesnes in the fashion of latter-day soulstones. Each is the heart of a Pangaen god, stolen by the Wise.
The Neolithic chapter, then, is about the beginning of settled human civilization and the looming death of the werewolves’ world, captured between the apocalypses of the Fall and the Sundering. One day soon (although, in the spirit of things, we don’t say *how* soon!) Wolf will fall to his own children’s fangs and the Border Marches – and everything in it – will be consumed by the rising Gauntlet. The only surviving Pangaens are the Hosts, the Werewolves, and a few escapees that transform into spirits. Without the obvious and constant threat of the supernatural, mages fall from their place as humanity’s leaders. Eventually, the Vinca are replaced by more warlike tribes wielding metal weapons, and across the sea to the south, strange beings who sometimes have the heads of animals gather tribes in the building of a great city.
And, now that I’ve whetted your appetites, I’ll stop there! Neolithic Mage/Werewolf will be published in World of Darkness: Dark Eras.
Until next time!