Bizarre Tales & Unusual Characters is a book built to expand your Victorian Age Mage: The Ascension games, with a vast range of story hooks and seeds and new characters for play right from the outset. Here’s how the introduction describes the content:
Chapter One: Magick by Gaslight presents adventure seeds and plot hooks for street-level Victorian Mage chronicles. These are perfect for fledgling mages looking to better understand their cities, as well as the movers and shakers within their neighborhoods. This chapter takes mages around the world in search of solutions to threats that endanger multiple regions. These seeds and hooks provide a broader look for the world, with the characters and their antagonists racing each other in the trains, ocean liners, and automobiles. This chapter then explores the stakes off the planet, with ideas for intrigue and danger spanning the Umbras. This chapter explores the bizarre and interesting dynamics of the Umbras, from foes lurking just beyond the Gauntlet to problems in the furthest reaches of the High Umbra to the current concerns in Horizon.
Chapter Two: Unusual Characters features 17 characters who represent interesting facets of the fast-moving history of the Victorian Era. It then offers ways to better understand the Victorian era, including how advancing technologies change the world, as well as ways to make running chronicles during this time period easier and more exciting.
Let’s have a look at a couple of those initial story seeds in Chapter One:
Think of these like a chess board, set up and ready to play, the pieces laid out for you and your players to move. While these stories all start as local problems, they have the potential to leap in scope, posing serious challenges to the characters — or their foes. Most offer opportunities for Order of Reason, Traditions, or unaffiliated mages. Although each is set in a specific location, most can be easily adapted to fit seamlessly elsewhere.
- Death and the Spirit: Germany, 1895 — A Sleeper engineer accidentally photographs spirits with his X-ray machine.
- The Devil’s Flute: Amsterdam, 1885 — Ghostly music haunts the halls of a Dutch museum.
- The Diner Club: Paris, 1851 — An elite magick club is missing its bull.
- Every Man is an Island: Rural India, 1870 — A Chakravanti ritual goes awry, imperiling villagers and colonizers alike.
- The Future Element: Saint Petersburg, 1872 — A Sleeper scientist creates a new chemical element, puzzling multiple communities.
- The Long Folk of the White Hill: Rural Wales, 1852 — Strange creatures, seemingly from folklore, plague a village.
- These Satanic Mills: Rural England, 1872 — A loom feeds on the souls of its workers.
Death and the Spirit
Germany, 1895. Wilhelm Röntgen has discovered the X-ray. It’s a marvelous, if unsettling, invention which will open new doors for medical science. There’s just one, tiny magickal problem; x-rays record spirits. Röntgen has revealed a sickness spirit embedded in a patient’s thigh bone, and a luck spirit hovering around a fae-blessed mortal. So far, he’s dismissed these documented spirits as faults in the plate Still, the invention represents a potential shift in mortal understanding. Worse, some spirits have caught on and seem to delight in being recorded thus, clustering around Röntgen’s laboratory.
Involving the Characters
Spirit X-rays pose a problem for all factions. Proof of the existence of spirits could reawaken Sleeper imagination and thwart the Order’s goal of predictable, organized Ascension. However, Paradox spirits clustering hinders the Council, whose magick is rapidly falling out of step with reality. Tradition mages are asked by a mentor to investigate the effects and encourage Röntgen’s research, so he discovers a “more refined method” which does not capture spirits. Meanwhile Order luminaries are sent to falsify Röntgen’s research and render it useless before returning the actual data (and the machine) to their handler.
- Any magick around Röntgen or in his lab is more vulnerable to Paradox backlash.
- Röntgen is protected by an Inspiration Spirit, who does not look kindly upon anyone — Sleeper or mage — hindering the inventor.
- Some factions within the Council and Union want the discovery of X-rays crushed outright, medical science be damned. They hired another coterie to do just this.
Antagonist: Frank Kohl, mage. His task is to halt the development of X-rays in its tracks entirely, by any means necessary. Depending on your group, he is either a member of the Skeleton Key or Order of Hermes — whichever has the bigger potential for drama.
Bystander: Wilhelm and Anna Bertha Röntgen, Sleepers. It’s Wilhelm’s discovery and legacy the coterie stands poised to tamper with.
Potential Ally: Angela von Hamburg, mage. She wants X-rays to survive and serve medical science — even if that means exposing spirits. Depending on your chronicle, she is either a member of the Hippocratic Order or Ahl-i-Batin — for more drama, make her an agent of an opposing faction.
Wildcard: Hannah Schmidt, Etherite (p. XX). Hannah thinks exposing the world to spirits, or aliens as she calls them, is a wonderful idea. She seeks to bring Röntgen’s machine to the masses.
X-rays in the modern era do not record spirits, so someone intervened in the main timeline. Mage is filled with Future Fates though, and this is exactly where one of them could branch off. Tangible, photographic proof of spirits would drastically change the world — and maybe in your chronicle that’s exactly what happens.
The Devil’s Flute
Amsterdam, 1885. The Dutch Rijksmuseum re-opens in a new, grand building designed by Pierre Cuypers. Visitors and staff alike hear strange music in the museum’s halls after dark. The sound is initially discounted as a minor ghost, likely attached to some museum piece. The museum’s Chorister guardian recently ran off several Skeleton Keys who broke in — prompting the mages of Amsterdam to take a closer look at what secrets the museum holds.
Involving the Characters
Amsterdam’s mages run a wide gamut, lauding compromise and cooperation over sectarian quarreling. They trend to either mercantile or philanthropic pursuits trying to “uplift the common man.” The Chorus Celestial is particularly strong in the city — the Dutch fought a costly war for the right to be Protestant, and it will be a while before their religious fervor grows lax. The museum’s Chorister protector, Elan Bouwer, hand-picks a crew to find and protect whatever the “burglars” were after. He appeals to the characters’ sense of national pride (this is the Rijksmuseum after all), offers a reward, or plays on their thirst for fame (again — the Rijksmuseum). If the characters themselves are Skeleton Keys — run this adventure from their point of view.
- Whether the coven works to guard or steal from the museum, there’s a rival coven out there trying the exact opposite.
- The museum is haunted, but not by a musical ghost. It’s the figures within Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht, who’ve taken it upon themselves to guard the museum. They view Bouwer as an honorary member, even though the ghosts have never spoken with him.
- The source of the music — and the object the Skeleton Keys want — is an old bone flute. The tag names it the Devil’s Flute and claims playing the flute may awaken the devil himself while driving both listeners and flutist mad.
Antagonist: Jan Simons, leader of the Skeleton Keys. She tries to trick the characters into moving the flute to a “safe location” instead of keeping it in the display secured by Bouwer.
Bystander: Dirk Broekman, Sleeper museum guard. He’s a man of little talent backed by a lot of determination. He takes his job very seriously.
Potential Ally: Elan Bouwer, Dutch Protestant Chorister. He drove the Skeleton Keys off on their first attempt, largely because they didn’t anticipate him.
Wildcard: The Nachtwacht. They defend the Rijksmuseum against intruders, which to them includes the coven — unless they can be mollified.
The bone flute does what the legend claims, though it’s up to the GM to determine what “awakening the devil” entails. Its music hadn’t driven visitors mad yet, but only because it lacks a mortal flutist. Amsterdam is in for mass hallucinations and visitations once a mortal, Sleeper or mage, actually puts lips to it. Letting the Skeletons Keys take the flute would be a phenomenally bad idea. Unless, of course, the characters are the Skeleton Keys — then it’s a brilliant one.