Focus can be summed up simply: paradigm + practice + instruments = focus.
In character terms, what you believe (paradigm) influences what you do (practice); what you do influences what you use (instruments); what you use directs what you create (the magick you cast). Thus, your magick is focused by beliefs you embrace, the practice which flows from those beliefs, and the tools employed by that practice in order to make things happen.
Okay, so you’re creating a new Mage character. How do you determine an appropriate focus for your mage? Follow these steps:
There are quite a few Focus-related questions that seem to come up time and again. Here are definitive answers to the most common queries:
- Partly because it’s just too easy to start off with one or two instruments, get rid of them as soon as possible, and then have a super-mage who casts spells just because he can, which messes with game-balance and makes your mage a special-snowflake sort of character.
- But mostly because real-world metaphysical practices don’t work that way. Such practices are based on manifesting belief through activity – on doing a thing that makes another thing happen, because you believe that doing that first thing will make that second thing happen. No real-world metaphysical discipline is based on just wishing for magickal things to happen; if you want to change reality, you need to do things in order to transform it.
- Although Mage is a game about changing reality through the gift of Enlightened Will, the power to do so by Will alone is supposed to be something your character works up to, not something he can do right out of the box. The ability to alter reality simply through belief is big-league stuff. If it was simple and easy to do that, then every mage would be running around casting spells with little-or-no effort involved, which would be more like a high-powered superhero setting than like the dark parody of our real world that the World of Darkness represents.
White Wolf suggests that you start by discarding the instruments your mage replies upon least. If, for example, a character relies more upon dance, drugs, and blood than on her staff, then her player can discard their character’s need for the staff before discarding her reliance upon dance, drugs, and blood.
Yes – see Mage 20, p. 503, and the entry ‘Using instruments when you don’t need to‘ on the Magickal Difficulty Modifiers chart.
No. An instrument can be an activity too. Doing a ritual dance is an instrument; looking someone in the eye is an instrument; putting on cosmetics, bribing a guard, and even ordering your personal assistant to fetch you a certain set of files – they’re all instruments. The details about how a given instrument is used can be found in the various entries about each instrument, but no, those “tools” do not have to be physical objects.
An instrument can be used as preparation for a given task: donning ritual garb, praying for guidance before going into battle, or working out the trajectory for your Transdimensional Plasma Cannon before you fire it. So long as that action is performed, or that tool is used, with the intentions of employing the Effect (say, praying for luck in battle, not just saying grace at the table), it can be counted
as the focus for the metaphysical task in question.
Some instruments can also be employed – in some cases, have to be employed – long before the Effect in question gets cast. For details, see “Prepped and Ready” Instrumental Operations, Book of Secrets p. 206.
No. Most spells demand only one instrument, while rituals often require the use of several instruments together. It really depends upon what your mage’s practice is and what he does in order to make a given thing happen with his magick.
NOTE: Every Sphere must have at least one instrument attuned to it, which is required to utilize that sphere, until you’re able to discard it by increasing Arete.
As a general rule, a mage needs to use only one particular instrument when casting a simple Effect; Sanjay Sachdeva doesn’t need to use his business suit, his briefcase, and his cybernetic claws in order to use a Mind Effect to intimidate someone – any one of those instruments will work.
On the other hand, a complicated Effect – as in, an extended-roll ritual (detailed in Mage 20, pps. 538-543) – might demand a number of tools used over the course of the casting process; Dr. Hans von Roth uses various shop-tools, devices, and money in order to modify his cars, and so those four different instruments (household tools, devices and machines, money, and vehicles) would come into play whenever he crafts a new hypertech hotrod.
Look at the use of instruments in the casting process as a storytelling opportunity that says a lot about your character. A technician focuses her craft through the tools of her trade; a warrior utilizes weapons and fighting techniques, and a wizard employs the rituals that her magickal schooling demand. Let the character guide the focus, and choose the practices and tools that suit her best.
No, they don’t all use the same tools for the same spells or Spheres. That said, certain groups do emphasize certain sets of beliefs, practices, and tools more than others, as mentioned above. The amount of latitude given within that group with regards to that focus really depends on the rigidity of the society itself.
Mages from a group that employs a very regimented sort of practice – like, say, one of the Houses of Hermes, wherein magickal techniques are taught in formalized order – will all use very similar tools; one does not, for instance, use the Fifth Pentacle of the Sun when summoning demons. (One uses the Fifth Pentacle of Mars… among other precautions.)
Groups with a looser structure – like the Cult of Ecstasy, Dreamspeakers or Hollow Ones – are much less formalized and far more individualistic when it comes to the focus beliefs, practices, and tools involved. Still, certain types of tools are favored over others within a given group; you won’t, for example, find Progenitors using kung-fu katas to create clones, any more than you’d see Akashics using incubation chambers to punch someone in the face.
- As Mage 20 says on p. 337, it’s pretty hard to learn Spheres and so forth from someone whose beliefs and practices are radically different than your own. You can do it, but the learning process will take longer and be more difficult than it would have been if you’d been learning from a mage whose beliefs and practices resemble the ones you employ.
- To reflect the challenges of learning from a teacher whose beliefs and practices differ from your own, you pay five extra points of experience over the amount you would normally have paid; the teaching process also takes twice as long as usual, thanks to the long explanations, heated arguments, and countless do-overs involved in training under someone whose approach to magick and /or hyperscience makes no apparent sense to you.
- These costs do not apply, however, to agents of the Technocracy who train under other agents of the Technocracy. The Union has refined intensive training programs and protocols, and so operatives of different Conventions can cross-train with one another at no extra cost or effort. Yes, conformity has its benefits.
- By the same token, assume that a Technocrat cannot train a member of the Traditions or Crafts, or vice versa, at all. We are, after all, talking about major differences in philosophy and metaphysics… and a serious case of Reality Deviance, to boot! To adopt the enemy mindset, a character needs to jump through the various hoops described in Mage 20 under Changing Focus and Allegiance, p. 339, have a suitable Merit, or both. Essentially, she needs to convert to the opposing side, and that does not come easy!
An instrument is more a matter of what one does than of what one holds. In many ways, it’s also an extension of who one is. Although each practice has tools associated with its trade, the specific paradigm, practice, and instruments of a given mage all depend upon the temperament of that mage.
These examples aren’t perfectly in line with every recent house rule, but they give valuable insight into how White Wolf intended the mage chargen process to feel like.
In addition to the names of the player and character, each of the following entries features certain elements:
Concept: The type of mage the player wants to run.
Paradigm: A sentence, drawn from the Paradigm entries in Mage 20 (pps. 568-571) and Book of Secrets (pps. 188-196), which summarizes the character’s metaphysical beliefs.
Practices: The practices this mage employs in order to work with magick.
Instruments: The tools used by the mage in question.
Spheres: Obviously, this refers to the Spheres used by the mage in question.
Each entry briefly describes the ways in which the concept guides the focus, and shows how the character uses their instruments and practices to manipulate the Spheres and craft magickal Effects.
Paradigm: We must embrace the threshold because we are not men!
Practices: Cybernetics, reality hacking, and weird science.
Instruments: Artwork, body modification, computer gear, cybernetic implants, dances and movement, fashion, formulae and mathematics, gadgets and inventions, Internet activity, languages, mass media, social
domination, symbols, weapons
Spheres: Correspondence, Entropy, Forces, Mind, Life
Player Ryn wants a shapeshifting reality-hacker. And so, Ryn creates the technomancer Able Ferox (“to hold ferociousness”). Unlike a “traditionalist” shapechanger, Able doesn’t mess around with animal remains and bestial spirits; instead, they – the preferred gender pronoun for both Able and Ryn – craft evocative transhumanist garb (fashion), personalized cybernetics, subversive artwork, and other weird gadgets and inventions that crack the Consensus and mess with people’s heads. In service to said messing with heads, Able remakes “reality” as those people perceive it.
To this end, Able – a professional artist – creates videos, memes, and graffiti (mass media, languages, and symbols) that plant suggestions (by way of Mind Effects) in people’s heads, undermine expectations, and spark new ideas. Able employs computers to hack databases, pull and alter information, and “hack the reality code” by computing arcane formulae and math that reprogram the structure of Reality. Such tools allow Able to effect areas that are geographically separate yet intrinsically connected (by way of the Correspondence Sphere). A tinkerer by vocation, Able also messes with established technology, altering its purpose through applications of Entropy and Forces.
On a more personal level, Able alters their physical form (Life) and social identity (Mind) through unconventional pro- nouns and terminology (again, language), cybernetic implants, and a commanding presence and behavior (social domination) that’s often enhanced with radical clothing and makeup (again fashion), challenging the way folks perceive Able. As a hobby, Able also pursues the freerunning discipline parkour (dances and movement), which keeps Able physically fit while enhancing their ability to get into (and out of) tight situations. When pressed, the reality hacker uses home-made and modified weapons to handle enemies that Able can’t escape or dissuade any other way.
Paradigm: A world of gods and monsters
Practices: Animalism, crazy wisdom, medicine-work, and shamanism.
Instruments: Art, blood and fluids, cannibalism, dances and movement, drugs, energy, fashion, herbs and plants, meditation, music, ordeals and exertions, prayers, sex and sensuality, voice and
vocalizations, wands and staves
Spheres: Life, Mind, Prime, Spirit, Time
Ashley envisions her Ecstatic shaman Ashpaw as a young Appalachian woman of Anglo-Cherokee descent. Hearing the spirits since childhood, autistic Ashpaw learned a mélange of psychedelic witchcraft, neoshamanism, Catholic mysticism, and piecemeal bits of reputed “Native American medicine” – both authentic and bastardized – from a variety of friends and relatives as she grew to adulthood. Ashpaw had always related better with animals than with other people, and so she’s more than a bit animalistic herself. During a near-fatal vision quest, Ashpaw met an aspect of Coyote the Trickster, who appreciated her courage, if not her sense. According to Ashpaw, Coyote saved her life and chose her to be part of his human pack. Since that encounter, she’s been a wandering “psychedelic nun”: a contrary of sorts who combines various spiritual traditions with Burning Man eclecticism.
Thanks to a lifetime relationship with chronic pain, Ashpaw uses that pain for focus her concentration; combining that practice with a tendency to challenge the elements and survive, Ashpaw employs ordeals and exertions as her primary magickal instrument – the one she’s most familiar with and probably the last one she’ll surrender. It’s also her defaultinstrument when dealing with Life, Mind, and Spirit-based spells. She prays to her totem-spirit Coyote when improvising off-the-cuff spells. Combining art and fashion as instruments, Ashpaw crafts her own clothes from pieces of cast-off clothing, fur, bone, and other remnants. She also paints circular designs on things when she’s working a ritual (again, art), and wears a coyote pelt she calls Lucy Furr, who Ashpaw occasionally feeds, snuggles, and asks for advice (a tool for Mind-based insights and Time-based prophecies). As part of her medicine-work, she employs various herbs, including the cannabis and Psilocybin mushrooms (drugs) which Ashpaw uses for pain-relief and healing (Life), mental focus (Mind), and sensory expansion (Rank 1 for all of her Spheres).
Like her predatory totem, Ashpaw enjoys eating meat; occa- sionally, she even kills animals and eats them raw (cannibalism), employing their blood (often her own as well) in her spells, and incorporating their remains into her clothing. She dances herself into trance-states (meditation), which she also induces with prayer, fasting, and drugs. A skilled practitioner of energy-work, Ashpaw is essentially a psychic vampire (cannibalism again), especially when she’s using someone else’s energy for sustenance and power. Sex and sensuality provide perhaps her favorite form of energetic and physical contact, with Ashpaw’s vigorous and often bloody approach to sex incorporating biting, clawing, and licking the blood of her paramours. Finally, Ashpaw carries an elaborately carved, leather-wrapped, and crystal-enhanced staff that she made out of a branch she found at a Pagan festival. When casting spells, she often employs the staff as her most obvious instrument; otherwise, she uses it for a walking-stick as Ashpaw wanders the country in search of spiritual illumination, playmates, and the occasional bloody meal.
Paradigm: Creation is divine and alive OR all power comes from our gods.
Practices: Elementalism, medicine-work, and witchcraft
Instruments: Blessings and curses, blood, bodywork, cups and vessels, elements, energy, eye contact, food and drink, group rites, herbs and plants, meditation, prayer, sex and sensuality,
voice and vocalizations, weapons
Spheres: Forces, Life, Matter, Prime, Spirit
Sandi’s modern witch believes in the Old Gods as literal entities – not as symbols but as spiritual beings in their own right. According to Sandra, Corvia’s patron gods are Mab, Brigid, Cernunnos, and the Morrigan. The latter association suggested her craft-name, Corvia; initially, Corvia had chosen the name Badb Catha (“Battle Crow”), but she didn’t like the way it sounded as a name, and preferred to be known as a healer rather than as a bringer of death. From a character standpoint, this choice of names also underscores Corvia’s magickal emphasis: healing when possible, destruction when need be. Despite her Latin-based name, Corvia’s patron gods are all Celtic deities, echoing the preferred element of her Irish/Polish/Germanic heritage. Sure, it’s sort of a stereotypical concept for a Mage game, but as Sandra knows, stereotypes still have power.
Corvia’s primary practices combine traditional medicine-work and Celtic witchcraft with post-modern synergies that incorporate Ayurvedic medicine, European herb-lore, Japanese reiki, and Swedish massage – thus, the instruments of bodywork, energy, food and drink, and various herbs and plants tied to her healing practices. Her rituals tend to feature same-faith collaborators (group rites) sharing sacred meals (food and drink) while working toward a common purpose. When working alone, Corvia practices intense meditation, plus prayers to her patron deities. Occasionally, when doing something drastic or working with plants or fire, she’ll sacrifice her own blood in order to emphasize her need for immediate results.
More often than not, she speaks her intentions in a ritualistic fashion (voice and vocalizations), using quiet eye contact to pass on blessings and curses, engage another person, or scry out things she needs to see (in game terms, Rank 1 Effects). Sex and sensuality, being communions of the most intimate kind, help Corvia work Prime-based energy-spells and Life-based influence magicks. (See Tweaking Chemistry, Invoking Spirit Possession, and Sleep Spells in the Uncanny Influence section of How Do You DO That?) And although her athame is more of a ritual dagger than a practical weapon, it still comes in handy when someone’s trying to kill you.
When she’s working with the elements, Corvia calls upon the elemental spirits while using her athame to make ritual cuts and sprinkle some blood on amounts of the element(s) in question. As her name suggests, Corvia also holds an affinity for crows and ravens, summoning them with crow-like cries (again, voice and vocalizations) and talking to them as if they were people… which, of course, they are. Unlike hardcore elementalists, Corvia works with all of the traditional Western elements (earth, air, fire, water), rather than dedicating herself to specializing in only one. Thus, she can summon winds and fire, grow plants, conjure water and earth, and perform otherspells that reflect her ties to the primal earthly realm.
Paradigm: In a mechanistic cosmos OR tech holds all the answers!
Practices: Craftwork, hypertech, and weird science.
Instruments: Devices and machines, drugs, gadgets and in- ventions, household tools, money and wealth, vehicles, weapons
Spheres: Correspondence, Forces, Matter, Prime, Time
Ryan wants to whip up a car-obsessed psychedelic Etherite. And so, it begins: the strange genesis of Dr. Hans von Roth, the Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (hence the Etherite’s moniker) of twenty-first-century mad science! A restless, deranged genius from Southern California, the future Dr. von Roth had been souping up cars since he was old enough to hold a wrench. His parents owned a prosperous auto-customizing shop, and little Hans grew up learning everything there was to know about cars, bikes, trucks, and so forth. His teenage Enlightenment did nothing to dislodge his first love: modifying the shit out of cars. Now, he turns his considerable skill and fortune into crafting a motor pool’s worth of tricked-out crazy machines.
Although he’s capable of tossing strange machinery to- gether on the fly (using “household tools” which are actually an array of mechanic’s tools), Dr. von Roth prefers to tinker in his workshop (again, household tools), testing odd theories and bending physics (the Correspondence, Forces, Matter, and Time Spheres) to suit his vision. To fire up his visionary imagination, von Roth chugs smart-drinks, drops acid, and concocts various psychotropic drugs that he ingests during marathon work sessions. Those chemical insights do indeed let him transcend the laws of conventional physics, at the cost of driving him more than a little bugfuck crazy.
A seemingly endless array of devices and machines, gadgets and inventions, frightening weapons, and hopped-up vehicles fills his workshop – a collection of projects fueled by the money and wealth he built up from his parents’ own fortune, Unlike his idol Tesla, von Roth is savvy enough to have accumulated a substantial portfolio of patents for his more “conventional” inventions – that is, the ones that don’t demand an Awakened owner before they can operate! Thus, he’s flush enough to keep the party going for the foreseeable future, a Tony Stark of bizarre automotives for whom the open road is just a playground for his skillful hands and blazing intellect.
Paradigm: Might is right.
Practices: Cybernetics, dominion, and martial arts.
Instruments: Armor, brain /computer interface, computer gear, cybernetic implants, devices and machines, fashion, management and human resources, money and wealth, social domination, weapons
Spheres: Correspondence, Forces, Mind, Prime
Rahul creates his Iteration X agent to be a covert-operations cyborg, enhanced by training and biotech to consider himself the superior of most (if not all) “normal” human beings. That said, Sanjay Sachdeva is a covert op, not a war-machine. His training and modifications emphasize subtlety and skill over raw violent power.
Sanjay’s armor is built directly into his body; his brain-computer interface and cybernetic implants are likewise. These enhancements (which are also Enhancements, as per the Background Trait) allow the agent to remotely access computers, raise his Physical Traits (with Life), repair damage to his bio- logical form (again, Life), and scan things with Rank 1 sensory Effects. Weapons, both cybernetic and exterior, allow Sanjay to deal out attacks with Life- (claws) and Forces /Prime-based(energy guns and shock-grasp implants) Effects. When forced to fight, he’s got formidable martial arts skill as well. That’s the obvious cyborg stuff.
On a far subtler level, Sanjay employs psychological tools as instruments of his Mind Sphere Effects: fashion (expensive suits and grooming), money (a vast credit rating and Technocratic funding), management and human resources (backed by his public position as a corporate mover-and-shaker, his secret identity as a Technocratic field agent, and his training as both), and social domination techniques (as per that training and his near-inhuman level of confidence in his abilities) focus Sanjay’s Mind-based influence. That influence is his major weapon, and often renders his more physical tools unnecessary. (See the wide range of Effects detailed in the Uncanny Influence section of How Do You DO That?) His glasses (fashion again) access a VDAS data crawl (see Mage 20, p. 655-666), and his briefcase contains a collection of compact hypertech weapons, devices and machines.
Thus, Sanjay can pack one hell of a punch in combat if he must, but prefers to exhibit his innate superiority to the Masses through charm, wealth, and devastating social acumen. Compared to that sort of thing, slung thunder bolts are the mark of rank amateurs.