Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Mage: the Descent

Started by Jared A. Sorensen, March 30, 2002, 04:57:52 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

Ron Edwards

Hi Gareth,

I'm not sure what I can add to what Seth and JB have already said, except just the theoretical point (important though) that Director Stance is probably easier to employ for Simulationist-tending goals than Author Stance is. I figure you guys know this, but people do tend to miss it. So I'd think that the Coincidential magic in Mage tends toward Director rather than Author ... but I'm interested in what real play has generated.

JB, I suggest checking out the old discussion at the Sorcerer mailing list archive, at the Sorcerer site, and clicking on the Magic Systems threads. Lots of good stuff there.



Yeah, I agree that it is relatively easy to use in overt or tacit sim.

So by corollary with observing directorial power here, would mage benefit from an explicit discussion of directorial play?  Lets say I found the implications of coincidental magic where far beyond the brief game text discussion - does anyone feel that those who had problems with mage would have been aided by a more explicit description of how coincidental magic rapidly tends toward directorialism?

A thought realms beyond earth - again tending a bit toward actual play, but I found that this sort of "home ground" thing gave the potential for a kind of protagonism, in that in controlling the setting, in effect, meant quite a lot of control over how other characters would experience your character - it was an opportunity to play to your strengths, as it were.  Is this a valid perception and are there any conclusions to be drawn over local setting control as a means of auto-protagonism?

Lastly, a player in the long-standing game I was in is now running a mage game with HW/HQ mechanics, which appears to be going swimmingly - in fact he says better than the original, but he's an HW partisan.  Do any of those who've had good experiences with mage think that their games would have benefitted from scene-based resolution mechanics?
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Blake Hutchins

In a word, yes.  Scene-based resolution would speed Mage up greatly, in my opinion.  From a coolness standpoint, I've noticed in each of the three Mage chronicles I've run that players typically only get one really meaningful effect off during climactic moments.  The rest of the effects feel more like whiffs.  Part of that is because most players steer away from small nudges to reality at those times, trying to achieve huge effects in a short time frame, but still....  In task-based scenes, the number of rolls multiplies to the point where it dilutes the color of Mage's magic.  Magic becomes just another skill under those circumstances.

Let's contrast that with moments where the group is engaged in a cooperative ritual or an individual takes the time for a single effect in a scene.  Far more powerful from a storytelling standpoint, partly because the end result lends itself more to directorial shaping and partly because people are more invested in bringing the color to the foreground.  Every time the use of magic worked toward scene resolution rather than task resolution, it absofuckinlutely rocked.

Regarding the directorial power in Mage:  coincidental magic IS basically a delegation of directorial power to players, as far as I'm concerned.  It's usually far more interesting and impressive than vulgar, throw-a-fireball magic, and it requires more creative agility on the part of the players as well.  In my view, coincidental effects represent the core design strength of Mage.  Everything else says "generic modern magic" to me, though I agree the vulgar component likely has to be there to serve as a contrast.  The coincidental components remind me of the end of the movie "Dragonslayer," where the hero says when he was little, magic for him was simply saying, "White horse," and a white horse would appear.  Right after that line, he and his companion hear a whinny, and a white horse steps over the ridge.  A little sappy, sure, but that's the kind of magic that I find deeply intriguing, not the point-finger, issue-phaser-blast spellwork.




I've done a fair amount of work for the line in the last couple of years so I thought I'd share my opinion for contrast.

Mage isn't really about Pirsig's sophism (the actual school, not the insult) anymore, and hasn't really been for a while. Mage is starting to really more take a stab at genuine postmodernism (rather than the cartoonish "create your own reality" New Age version thereof). All the same, it does carry characteristics of it as well as lots of other influences from various sources. It's "legacy drag": the kind of thing you see in most games that have been actively supported for a long time. It's probably one of the reasons that Aeonverse Storyteller wasn't extensively used for any of the Revised editions' rules, even though it's a good, clean system. I know that many of the game's quirks result from that as well as the fact that the Storyteller system really uses a sort of toolkit based appraoch over an integrated set of contingent systems.

The setting is intended to be used for a number of different kinds of games by shifting emphasis on one part or another, but always with a default available. You could do Schism with Mage without making major (or any, if you abstract it enough) changes to either game -- then you could drop Schism's setup without losing any sort of continuity to do psyhic wuxia, cinematic espionage or occult pulp. I think it's a valid criticism that having other possibilities be inherent in the setting undermines the dramatic weight of each one, but it's part of Mage's whole subjective trip.

Mage could do with some of the things that some people dislike about Vampire: a setting that emphasizes social ties and customs and  pretty explicitly discusses the setting's default assumptions . Vampire (and to a lesser extent Werewolf) got some overkill on this are are now both emphasizing the role of the individual and the tension between characters and the setting's scheme, but Mage never really had a coherently expressed version of that scheme in the first place.
Malcolm Sheppard


Arrgh! Exceeded character limit!

Anyway, I'll condense my points down into the following:

1) I'm not big on the methodology taken for granted here, but I do agree that Mage does force you to share directorial privilege, both for coincidetnal magic and sensory magic (since most starting cabals can discover things that you as GM, aren't necessarily prepared to answer, it's good to explicitly discuss what the characters should know and what that information is to fulfil story goals).

2) "Happy Dice" are pretty much like Drama Dice from Adventure!/Exalted. Certainly a good idea. I also give out 5 XP/session (in 10-20 point chunks so that character development makes a dramatic difference instead of being a slow crawl), but I don't think that invalidates the XP system.

3) I largely agree with the political metaphor thing, but the Traditions wouldn't really propagate a set of fascist fiefs if they had the chance. Most of them have always been marginal, it isn't the 15th Century any more; the basis of the Traditions is roughly anarcho-syndicalist. The Master may be hosing you, but you choose him/her as voluntarily of the strictures of being a mystic flunky. Of course, there's sometimes some immense social pressure involved, but it isn't the same as trying to retire/leave and being sent to the Village, Technocracy style.
Malcolm Sheppard


Anders Sandbergs take on mage-as-politics: A Democratic Paradigm

I also recommend the text on "Practical Paradigm Engineering (Realitybending 101)"

PS: I regard postmodernism as too weak to carry Mage.  I recently discovered an anti-postmodernism mini-rant on an anti-Creationist page; in fact I think postmodernism would constitute a technocratic paradigm, as a mechanism for the transmission of ignorance  :) My prejudices are showing, or perhaps merely my paradigm.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


Sandberg's stuff is interesting enough, but I don't find it representative of my approach for these reasons:

1) In my view, Traditionalists aren't really that antiquated in their beliefs. They're more concerned with distinctiveness and synthesis with what exists now instead of returning to a Golden/High Mythic Age. The 1st Ed. idea that people actually lived just as well back then is dead. Since, as I've said, most Traditions can't even claim they were ever really top dog in their region's paradigm at any point in the past. The Traditions are about adding diversity to what exists rather than rolling the clock back.

2) I think the Technocracy is really more suited to being used as a source of pervasive influence than as the outright authors of global events. Otherwise, they might have just used absolutism to impose J. Gergory Keyes style Alchemitech 2 and a bit centuries ago (though this wouldn't be a bad idea for an alternate game).

3) I'm a pretty big supporter of genuine postmodernism (though I'd say that beyond a doubt, most people don't really understand how its relationship to academia differs from other fields). I'd say a more accurate description of Technocrat-spawned pedagogy is what you might find at and in other discussions about technological metaphors being both central and objective. Then again, this is one of the problems/benefits of Mage: lots of people turn it into "Mage: The Polemic," and tweak their understanding of the game to lighten up on belief systems they're particularly enamored with. Postmodernism doesn't really suit the Technocracy. It's better as an implied practice of the Traditions, if only to counter the idea that the Traditions are pre-modern in focus.
Malcolm Sheppard

Jared A. Sorensen

Quote from: eyebeamsSandberg's stuff is interesting enough, but I don't find it representative of my approach for these reasons:
(reasons snipped)

And this is why I have a problem with Mage.

It doesn't tell you any of this.

Screw the "define your own reality" navel-gazing. What is the game about? Ostensibly, it's about two rival groups trying to Save Humanity (by Any Means Necessary) and two more that aren't really dealt with too much (oh, are the REAL bad guys. Right.). But what do you DO?

The game has no focus. There's nothing to do. What do I do? "Anything you want to do, it's Mage, man...define your own reality. Here, take a hit off this..." That's crap design. Oh wait, it's simu...(edited to spare innocent lives)

- Jared, and with that, he sprayed himself with that stuff they use to put out grease fires.
jared a. sorensen /


Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
The game has no focus. There's nothing to do. What do I do? "Anything you want to do, it's Mage, man...define your own reality. Here, take a hit off this..." That's crap design. Oh wait, it's simu...(edited to spare innocent lives)

Well, I don't think its that unfocussed - I mean, what was Cyberpunk 2020 but sticking some gear in your bod, popping some dangerous pills, and doing whatever you wanted to do.  Such structure as existed was the Mr Johnson.

Mage has a conflict - the present order is screwed and needs to be fixed.  It has several flavours of badguys, with differing motivations.  And all of your allies approach the world and employ methods in radically different ways.  Thus, "what do you do" IS the first problem, tackling that IS the first thing that you do.  And then you have to figure out a way to implement it, and then actually implement it in the teeth of opposition.

It is absolutely true that there is no pressing compulsion to do any of this, however, and so in play the game did exhibit a tendency for navel gazing and what can be thought of as mutual invitiations to tea at home.  But this also meant that when we did something, we did it with a lot of care and planning and attention to detail (in principle, anyway - fuckups happen).
There are no easy answers - you have to select your methods, you have to consider your intervention, you have to be sure that the intervention will be productive.  I found the formlessness of the game quite, well, I hate to say it, realistic.  The question was not only if you fought the Ascension war, but why and how.


I love Anders Sandbergs stuff, IMO he is the Mage guru.  Of course I yield to an actual line developer, and its true that I do not have the 2nd edition (nor am I likely to get it).  So, I can't really comment on its current incarnation, but I certainly had great and powerful fun with the first.  I enjoyed the traditions as recidivists, and given the number of techies in the game, it was hard not to at least some degree sympathise with the technocratic ideal.  Lastly, we don't need to go too far down this path, but my personal opinion is that postmodernism is a bit premature, as IMO we have not escaped modernism yet.  Mileage differs.  Can't find alchemytech, so I'm not totally sure what you are suggesting, but I have certainly argued in the past that that the technocracy essentially came to power by providing cannons to the european monarchies.  
PS: I did have a good chuckle at
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Mike Holmes

Saying that Mage is focused because it isn't as unfocused as Cyberpunk is like saying that Osamma bin Laden is a good person because he's not as bad as Adolph Hitler.

And, what's this? Jared thinks simulationism is bad design? I'm totally stunned! I'm sure the flames will rage high into the sky over that one.

I think that we can probably safely agree that the extent that a Premise is capable of being Narrativist for some is higher than for others. And that Mage is probably not on either end of the spectrum, but somewhere in between, still a little on the Simmy side. Would the game be more Narrativist with an explicit discussion of director stance and other Narrativist toys. Certianly.

I'm just re-emphasizing Ron's point about this being old news.


P.S. I'm of the belief that Postmodernism is dead, having anihilated itself in a cloud of philosophical dust around the time that Illuminati: the New World Order came out. So what age are we in now? Post-post-modern? Reconstructive?
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Seth L. Blumberg

I actually agree with Jared about this. Mage isn't a Narrativist game. It has no premise (in the Narrativist sense). There's no underlying dramatic conflict. It doesn't build Story. So what?

Not every game has to support Narrativist play.
the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Gordon C. Landis

Every (read: both, as in two) succesful Mage game I ever heard tell of was INCREDIBLY modified and customized, both as to system and setting details.  The players in both these games LOVED having played it, but were very dubious that they could ever catch lightning in a bottle again - totally unrelated groups, very similar experiences/explanations.  Also a very small sample, so apply meaning to these facts with great restraint.

Post-modernism - I was recently reminded that virtually everything of value in what gets called "post-modernism" (well, of value to my mind, anyway) . . . isn't post-modern at all.  The ideas are gettin' on a hundred years old now.  I like where Richard Rorty has brought things (though not neccessarily what he does with 'em), but . . . I'm not sure how I'd bring that to bear on an RPG.

Anyway, IMO the vast majority of RPGs out there exist merely to provide ideas and wrinkles for what inevitably become a maze of "house rules".  And many people are just fine with that.  If you stop expecting them to be gems of coherence like Sorcerer and etc., they stop being so confusing.  At least, that's what I'm thinking nowadays . . .

Gordon (under construction)

Ron Edwards

Hi folks,

I'm pretty certain that Jared's purpose in this thread has been fulfilled, and since he is not interested in forcing anyone else to agree regarding the value of Mage, since he was interested only in (a) pointing out the game's non-Narrativism and (b) bringing up Schism as a contrast ... well, I think the purpose is done.

My reading of Seth's post is that it's time to call the thread concluded. There is no "so what," beyond the (admittedly interesting) exposure of Jared's identity as a role-player.

That said, I think that points made by everyone on this thread may represent one of the few incredibly meaty dialogues I've ever seen about Mage, by which I use "dialogue" to indicate that everyone is not necessarily in agreement.