Put simply, a Mage is a person with the power to reshape reality through force of will. Awakened to their potential, such people believe so strongly in what they do that they literally change their world. With that power, though, comes overwhelming pride, fanaticism, and corruption. That same power of belief often pits mages against one another, against their surroundings, and against themselves as well. Their will to power becomes the power to destroy.

Ideally, mages strive toward a lofty goal: Ascension. Problem is, they disagree about what Ascension means. Should it be personal transcendence or universal peace? Does it look like heaven or does it strive against hell? Is magick given by some god, or does it come from deep inside? Will it be magic, faith, or science that makes the world a better place? Everyone’s got answers, but no one knows the truth. And so, like religious creeds or political factions, mages fight about their ideals. Out of good intentions, they drag their world toward an abyss.

Who are the bad guys? Who are the good guys? Although the Technocracy – a monumental faction of ruthless technomancers – gets stuck with the nickname “black hats and mirrorshades,” all mages are heroic monsters. Some have more blood on their hands than others, but every one of them holds the seeds of corruption. Through their Ascension War, they’ve forced their wills upon one another for roughly a thousand years… and as a result, the world has suffered. This paradox – terrible actions for lofty goals – is the price of pride and power.

Metaplot: Ascension War

Though the Technocracy appeared to have the upper hand in that struggle – this War is far from over. The Ascension War, at its heart, is not about whether magick looks like wizards or TV sets; it’s about groups of visionaries so dedicated to their Truth that they’ll risk everything to bring it about… and who have, in the process, made a catastrophic mess.

Do all mages fight this Ascension War? No… but many do, and even those who avoid the War itself feel its effects. That conflict shapes the world as mages know it. Reality itself is both prize and battlefield.

As a mage, then, your challenge is to claim a destiny in this world. You might be a cyborg, a wizard, a street shaman, or a steampunk scientist – the role is up to you. What’s important is what you do with it… and again, what it does to you. Even though big factions fight a battle for reality, a mage is, by her very nature, a force of change. The ultimate battlefield is within.

Setting: A Gothic-Punk World of Darkness

A Mage: The Ascension chronicle features tales of heroism and atrocity. In this World of Darkness, hope is in short supply. Nights seem darker and more sinister than our own. Screams and gunshots echo through the streets. Gothic cathedrals tower alongside neon Babylons of glass and steel. Nightclubs shake to techno thunder while desperate souls seek solace or oblivion. Drug wars and religious violence spill blood with awful frequency. Legendary monsters hunt their prey, even when such things are supposedly “impossible.” People
cower in front of TVs and computers, watching events from an anesthetized distance. Churches host fanatic congregations who pray for celestial deliverance, but such deliverance feels very far away. Everything seems possible in this world, but the strongest possibility is that everything is shit.

This setting hovers somewhere in between the end-of-an-age decadence of the 1990s and the desperate fury of our new millennium; it can be as modern or archaic as you want it to be.

Its denizens might own iPhones or scrounge crack in burnt-out neighborhoods. They probably do both. This World of Darkness is both immediate and timeless – a dark satire of our own times. Like other World of Darkness games, Mage has dominant themes and moods:

Dominant Themes:  Hope, Horror & Transformation

Above all other things, Mage is about giving a damn. While other folks are hopeless or content enough to accept what they’ve been given, mages change the picture. They disagree, often violently, about what that picture should look like, but apathy’s not in their nature. The Awakening won’t let them sit still and accept the world as it is.

Mages are power incarnate. What they will, will be. That power can go to their heads, corrupt them, demolish everything they hold dear… but it’s there. Mage’s dominant theme, then, is hope. Things might get bad, even tragic, but the possibility of change never goes away.

That element of transformation becomes a second theme in Mage. Nothing is set in stone. Everything changes. So-called Traditions of mystic art transform, under pressure, into new incarnations of themselves. Stasis, in Mage, is an enemy; even the ostensibly static Technocracy is far more dynamic than anyone outside that group might believe. Especially in the 21st century, Mage is all about change. Those folks who can’t face the future, after all, are bound to disappear.

Dominant Moods: Defiance & Reflection

Life sucks… so FIX it! That defiance forms another dominant mood in Mage. Whether you’re playing a desperate street kid, an Enlightened CEO, a kung-fu hero, or a classy sorcerer, your world seems intent on fucking you over. Rival cults, hungry spirits, street gangs, and global climate change all threaten your
ideals. In Mage, you have the power to fight back.

That said, be careful. In fighting back, you could become part of the problem you fight to solve. Power is a tricky thing: the more you have, the more likely you are to be corrupted by it. As a result, Mage often becomes a symbolic hall of mirrors, reflecting people and things back upon themselves, often in distorted and exaggerated forms. Such reflection permeates the mood of Mage: Madness mirrors wisdom back into its own face, and mages mirror the world around them – and that world, in turn, mirrors their own deeds. Mages, though human, are monsters too… and the Latin roots of “monster” mean warning, teach, and omen.

Beyond the obvious defiance of external enemies, Mage also features the internal struggle between power and its abuse. There’s a line, after all, between raging against the machine and becoming part of that machine. So are you doomed to be the new boss, same as the old boss, or can you shape a better tomorrow from the ruins of today?

Main Resources

It is mandatory for all players to familiarize themselves with the first two links, and for Tradition players to familiarize themselves with the Traditions guide.

Metaplot: History of the Ascension War
Guide to playing a Mage
Guide to the Traditions

Non-Game Mage Resources

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:

Other sites (with caution)

  • Mage: The Podcast – A great podcast for Mage fans new and old! If you are looking to jump start in mage look here.
  • 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.