We all know how the world works. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Dense objects fall and airy objects rise. Birds fly, horses run, and fish swim. Society has a consensus about how things work. The basics never change.
But what if they did change, but only for you? What if a little something Awakened in you, giving power to your own personal way of understanding the world? Your own bag of tricks, used according to practices handed down to you, let you break reality altogether?
Would you get arrogant? Would you take power for yourself at the expense of others? Would you try to rule your nation? Or the world? What would happen if others with these powers challenged you over your ambitions? What if you had to stop those ambitions in others?
Mage: The Ascension
Mage: The Ascension is not a game about monsters hidden among people. Mage is a game about how power and hubris can turn people into monsters, and how the powerful will fight each other to protect humanity from the monsters among themselves.
In Mage, the Awakened or Enlightened is a person who has a little special something awakened inside. That something is called an Avatar. A person with an awakened Avatar can do things others can’t.
The Awakened don’t have to accept how the world works. What they believe about the way the world works, their Paradigms, actually has meaning for them. Their beliefs, those paradigms, come real when they implement their arts, crafts, or other Practices. Those practices, made real with their Instruments, make reality follow the Awakened’s own paradigm, not the consensus view of reality.
In Mage, the Awakened break the rules because they believe the rules work differently. The Awakened tell the universe “Well actually,” and they get their way. Usually. Sometimes if the Awakened bend reality too hard, especially in front of the unawakened, reality bites back in the form of Paradox.
The more the consensus of the Sleeper world turns against an Awakened’s paradigm, the more Vulgar and Paradox-inducing the Awakened’s effects get. So if the world stopped believing in Magick, and instead believed in Science, Magick-wielding Awakened might have trouble functioning, while Scientific Enlightened could have the roam of the universe.
And thus a War was inevitable: The Ascension War.
A Brief History of Mage
Witches. Oracles. Medicine men. Priests. Fortune Tellers. Throughout human history, the Awakened have blended in among the wise and the powerful. At first they were alone, independent, using their powers according to their own beliefs and morality.
But then they started to band together into great Traditions and Conventions. By the middle ages, organizations like The Order of Hermes, the Seers of Chronos, the Cabal of Pure Thought, and the Craftmasons had come about, and were starting to form alliances.
The Order of Hermes was the largest and most influential of them all. The alliance of a number of Houses embraced the study of organized Magick. And that was perceived by some as a threat. Magick-wielding maniacs could threaten all of humanity.
And so the Order of Reason was founded in 1325 by the Declaration of the Ivory Tower. Its signatories declared “that Humanity will not be menaced by madmen and beasts, that the World must be a place of Order and Reason, that the governor of Mankind should be Mankind itself, that the chief Enterprise of Mankind shall be the preservation of his own safety, and that the Triumph of Mankind shall be the eradication of the supernatural world and the realization of the Collective Will.”
In response to the Order of Reason, the Order of Hermes found allies of its own. And so in 1446, the Resolutions of Intent were agreed upon, forming the Council of Nine Mystic Traditions. Despite the varied paradigms and practices, worldviews and moralities of the nine traditions, they formed an alliance of mutual defense and a common cause of Ascension.
To the Modern Era
In the centuries since, the makeups of the Order of Reason and the Council of Nine Mystic Traditions changed. Some Conventions and Traditions changed sides. Some changed names and modernized in purpose. Some rose from obscurity and joined the ranks of the major players.
Critically, in the Victorian age the Order of Reason gained great power. It became both so confident in its ability to Control mankind, and so worried about the excesses both of the mystics and of its overenthusiastic Etherites of the Electrodyne Engineers, that the Order was reorganized into the modern Technocratic Union.
The Union marched into and through the 20th century and began to hold a great Pogrom against the Traditions. Defeating them again, and again, and again. Destroying their chantries, rewriting the Consensus, and attempting to make Magick impossible.
After The Storm
Everything changed in 1999, when a great storm ripped through the Dimensions and Umbrae that make up the multiverse surrounding mankind.
The prevailing theory on all sides is that the war within the Vadum of Forces (known as the Conflagration) caused a cosmic backdraft known as Storm (or Dimensional Anomaly). It’s not a bad theory given the sheer number of Archmages present, but its just a theory. No one really knows. The Storm is possibly the most significant event in the history of the Awakened, but it is also one of the biggest enigmas. Was it divine judgment? Was it a natural force? Will it happen again? Mages grapple not only with the nature of the Storm, but its aftermath order to move forward.
A World of Gods & Monsters
Looking back the later half of the 20th century was an era of unprecedented safety for the Sleepers. Prosperity, safety, health and abundance were everywhere. The almost assured Technocratic victory at the turn of the Millennium turned out to be a mistake. Under the Storm’s hard shadow, the Sleepers became apathetic and Reality’s possibilities became exhausted from the previous era’s warring. Magic was dying. Even the Technocracy’s procedures and hypertech increasingly drew Paradox. Now that the Storm has passed magic is flourishing again, but that has its price. The Storm tore free the wards and protections that held long sleeping evils at bay. Monsters have awoken and once again stalk the shadows of the Earth. Forgotten gods have come to settle scores. The Fallen and the Mad have crept back through the Gauntlet. Shallowings torn open by the Storm allow wonder and horror to walk the Earth. It’s not the mythic age its something much weirder than what came before. Mages now have to contend with new threats, strange bed fellows, and a world that needs magical solutions more than ever.
The Digital Web is broken, the Realms are in tatters, and the Deep Universe remains dangerous to travel. Once a haven for the Awakened, the Storm barred the gates to the Otherworlds. When the Storm passed, the Awakened could once again cross the Gauntlet, but found things were not as they once were. The barrier may be gone, but new unknown dangers lay in wait beyond. Now that it has passed, the Awakened must decide to pick through the wreckage, blaze new trails, establish new Realms, or resign themselves to Earth.
For a decade, the Technocracy and the Traditions were cut off from their long-lived leaders. While many perished in the War in Heaven, the Conflagration, or in the Storm, a few did survive. Now that the Storm has passed some of these elders wish to return to the fold. Have they changed? If so, how much? Some can’t cope with the changes and wish to return to the pre-millennium Ascension War. Others want to be returned to their position of power they held before the Storm, and resent their younger fellows for not according this to them. Some don’t want to be found at all, but prefer to live out their days in their distant Realms, and must be persuaded or forced to rejoin their brothers and sisters. More than a few have either Fallen or gone Mad or both. The returning masters represent the best and the worst mages have to offer.
Los Angeles – City of the Future
Los Angeles has always lived one step ahead of everywhere else. Pre-colonial Los Angeles thrived because of the ley lines that fed mystic power centers, and indigenous mages used them to help build prosperous civilizations in the Los Angeles Basin. When the Ascension War came to what would become L.A., Traditions and Technocracy were quick to realize the inherent power of the region. Though the visions of L.A.’s arcane landscape they engendered were radically different no one can deny the quixotic power of the city.
While the Traditions pursued their individual paths towards Ascension, only banding together to resist Technocratic oppression, the Union pursued its mysterious Master Plan for mass Ascension. Playing both sides against the middle for their own gain are the Nephandi and the Marauders while the invisible Disparate Alliance hides plain sight in an attempt to balance the four extremes. If the Traditions and the Technocracy are right then Ascension is more possible in Los Angeles. Anyone who possesses Los Angeles may very well hold the template for mass Ascension. The question is can they keep it?
The New Ascension War
The Ascension War never ended. The mages who were waging it just realized they were using the wrong
theater. Mages have realized that the war is fought on multiple fronts, not just the in obscure Realms or mystic Nodes. The New Ascension War is fought in the Otherworlds, in the realm of ideas, but most importantly, in the hearts and minds of the Sleepers. The Technocracy has a leg up on the mystics, but they are by no means winning here. The Sleepers have begun to reject the technocratic dream, or worse, chery pick from it to form some mystic, technomantic fusion. If the Traditions, the Crafts, and the Technocracy truly believe in their ideals, if they truly want Ascension, then they must somehow make the Sleepers willing participants in the war. That means finding ways to put their ideas in terms the Sleepers can not just accept but understand.
The War Has Only Just Begun
In the heated frays of the 1990s a Technocratic victory seemed all but assured, yet they let it slip through their grasp. The Traditions were backed in to a corner while the Crafts vanished under Technocracy Pogrom. Now that the dust has settled, the Union’s paradigm reigns, but is dangerously incomplete. This is the paradox of the modern mage. While Technocratic belief dominates certain Parts of the world, reality does not belong to any one faction. Reality has proven more flexible than the Union would have us believe, and magic’s flame once again burns like a candle in a patchwork of reality zones across the world. This seems to suggest that what has come before was merely the Ascension War’s first act. Act two has just begun.
- The Council of Nine Mystic Traditions – Always the underdogs, the Traditions have not just reformed, but transformed. With most of the old masters out of the picture due to the Storm and major war chantries like Doissetep and Horizon in ruins, the Traditions are lead by the more down to earth New Horizon Council. Better able to adapt their ideas to the modern world they now expand outwards from the hard won reality zones to stage the return of magic.
- The Technocratic Union – Leaner, smarter, more efficient, more productive, dare we say… wiser? The Union has taken the lessons it learned from its mistakes, and put them into practice on the ground. No longer made up of an army of chain-gun wielding cyborgs, the Technocratic Union 2.0 now looks within to find Ascension, but it may not like what it seems. The Anomaly revealed fractures within the Union, and it was almost torn apart in a civil war of its own divisions. This new Union must confront its past in order to chart a new path Ascension.
- The Disparate Alliance – Enraged by the Union’s attempt to exterminate them and exasperated by the Tradition’s chronic condescension, the Disparate Alliance is the sleeping giant of the Ascension War. Now that the giant has awoken, Union and Council must face the fact they are no longer the most important players, and no longer get to dictate all the rules of the game. This new Alliance has an outsiders perspective who see the Ascension struggle with fresh eyes. The Alliance see what the Tradition’s and the Technocracy do not, and play a deeper more dangerous game than anyone realizes.
- The Nephandi – Union and Council would have you believe that the Nephandi are largely a problem of the past. That may have been true for a brief time after World War II, but the Storm has eroded the Technocracy’s barriers, and its currents and tides brought the Fallen and their masters closer to Earth. They now quietly creep in from the cosmic margins opened by the Storm.
- The Marauders – Magick and Madness have always gone hand and hand. Where there is magick there will always be metaphysical insanity. There are plenty of reasons to go Mad when you can shape reality to your will, but in the 21st century presents unique challenges for those going up against the Mad Ones. The Awakened built a tower of hubris 500 years tall, and the Storm knocked it down in an instant. Many were unable to cope with the change, and retreated deeper into Madness. Those locked in their Realms along the Horizon were driven Mad from isolation or surviving the ravages of the Storm. The Nephandi creep in through the cracks in Reality, but the Marauders come openly bearing familiar faces. The stereotype is of an unhinged sorcerer chewing the scenery with a frothing mouth (literally and figuratively), but the reality is that many of the Tradition’s and Technocracy’s most esteemed leaders went Mad after they were cut off in the Otherworld during the Storm. The Storm is passed and these once beloved (or feared) elders wish to return to their former students, and expect to be welcomed back with open arms. Their former students must now assess the degree of Madness, and whether or not they can be saved…or if its even worth it.
Credit to Luu for helping compile this list.
Books for beginners (optional):
- Believe in Magick!: A non-canon book that seeks to explain Mage to new pla yers
- Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Quickstart: a simplified version of Mage for beginners. These rules are not necessarily in play here, but the book may help when learning the sea of nuance that is Mage.
The main Mage books:
- Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition: The core book so big they had to take some things out, or else the book could not be printed on paper with the binding methods available to Onyx Path.
- Book of Secrets: The second book where they crammed all the stuff they had to take out of the Core book.
- Gods & Monsters: Rules for companions, bygones, familiars, and other non-Mages that frequently exist in the Mage world.
- How Do You Do That: A Mage Cookbook that gives guidelines for how to use Spheres and Arete to create effects.
- Technocracy Reloaded: The comprehensive guide to the Technocracy post-Anomaly
These older books are useful, but note that Revised-era books don’t always ‘count’ in 20th:
- Tradition Book: Akashic Brotherhood (2001)
- Tradition Book: Celestial Chorus (2001)
- Tradition Book: Cult of Ecstasy (2001)
- Tradition Book: Dreamspeakers (2002)
- Tradition Book: Euthanatos (2002)
- Tradition Book: Hollow Ones (2002)
- Tradition Book: Order of Hermes (2003)
- Tradition Book: Sons of Ether (2003)
- Tradition Book: Verbena (2003)
- Tradition Book: Virtual Adepts (2003)
- Convention Book: Iteration X (2002)
- Convention Book: N.W.O. (2012)
- Convention Book: Progenitors (2013)
- Convention Book: Syndicate (2013)
- Convention Book: Void Engineers (2013)
- Mage: The Podcast – A great podcast for Mage fans new and old! If you are looking to jump start in mage look here.
- Ander’s Mage Page -A great place for paradigm and focus ideas. Keep in mind most of the articles were written for 1st edition mage, and are not cannon. Still a great source of inspiration.
- The SHWEP – Secret History of Western Esotericism Podcast – A deep but accessible dive into Western magic and mysticism. It’s as nerdy as you could want, and a must for Hermetics, Etherites, Solificati, Celestial Chorus, and other Western esoteric mages. The roots of the Order of Reason can be found here as well.
- Expanding Mind – Erik Davis (author of Techgnosis and High Weirdness) interviews experts from which the Traditions were inspired.