Paradox & Quiet


Magick is a double-edged blade: It reshapes Reality to a mage’s desires while cutting the hand that wields it, too. Paradox is the cost of doing business with Reality – the scourge of Awakened vanity that reminds each mage of their true place in Creation. Paradox limits a mage’s ability to work their Will without consequences. Story-wise, it smacks a proud magus off her throne in various unpleasant ways: burns, prisons, manifestations, entities, and worse. Game-wise, Paradox forces each player to be subtle and imaginative.

For all that, if you have to choose between a Paradox backlash or getting eaten by a werewolf, get as vulgar as you need to. This is a simple cost-benefit analysis. Paradox backlashes are nearly always inconvenient but rarely immediately fatal (unless you’re really asking for it). Many players are excessively afraid of this mechanic. It’s meant to be a roller coaster, not an electric fence.

Sources of Paradox

Clearly, Paradox is bad juju. In the course of the game, however, it’s also inevitable. Basically, a character acquires Paradox points in one of three ways:

  • Botching Rolls
    • A Mage acquires Paradox whenever her player botches an Arete Roll:
      • If that magickal Effect was coincidental, the Paradox is minimal: one point for each dot in the highest Sphere used in the effect.
      • If the Effect was vulgar without witnesses, the amount of Paradox goes up: one point, plus one more point per dot in the highest sphere.
      • If the effect was vulgar with witnesses, the Paradox can be catastrophic: two points, plus two more points for each dot in the highest Sphere.
  • Vulgar Magick
    • Beyond that, vulgar magick ALWAYS accumulates Paradox, even when the roll succeeds.
      • All vulgar magick effects earn one point of Paradox.
  • Permanent Paradox
    • Certain magickal or hypertech adjustments to a living Pattern (usually via the Enhancement Background) bestow permanent Paradox points on the character in question.
      • In this case, note each point of permanent Paradox on the character sheet; unlike normal Paradox, however, it never comes off.
      • A Paradox backlash takes these permanent points into account but does not dispel them: Each time a character with permanent Paradox endures a backlash, these points count again towards the dice pool involved.
Unbelief: The Shit Factor
Perhaps the most devastating form of Paradox doesn’t strike mages down at all. Instead, it degrades the things they hold sacred: the creations they shape with their Arts, the beasts that embody wonder, the magnificent technologies they strive so hard to perfect. Unbelief is the crushing weight of the Consensus, squeezing the life out of miracles and denying the products of a better world.

Although mystic mages feel the effects of Unbelief most keenly, Technocrats suffer from those effects as well. It’s Unbelief, after all, that causes bodies to reject cybernetics, restricts flight to the most awkward sorts of contraptions, and forbids the full enjoyment of economic ideals. Certain willworkers refer to Unbelief as “the Shit Factor” – the idea that the Masses cannot accept anything unless it’s shitty. Normal people, supposedly, cannot accept a reality filled with wonders. It has to be a mess in order for them to accept it as real. And so, dragons and clones and HIT Marks must be disguised or hidden when they appear within Earthly reality. Otherwise, they soon die from the effects of Unbelief.

The Shit Factor seems to work most powerfully in cities…and might, in fact, be the primary reason why the ideal of cities keeps crashing and burning in the realities of urban decay. Rural areas and open wilderness appear to have less weight and more potential for marvelous things. Even so, Unbelief stifles the uncanny marvels of bygone legendry, literally dissolving things that “cannot be” soon after they appear. Perhaps the Mythic Threads sustain certain creatures – vampires, ghosts, and the like – but dragons and aliens quickly disappear without a trace. Ultimately, Unbelief is the damning expression of the mortal status quo: that which should not exist cannot exist.

The Paradox Backlash

Generated by acts of magick, Paradox energies build up inside a mage’s Pattern. Eventually, those energies bleed off naturally, manifest in strange Paradox Flaws, or else explode with devastating results.

  • Essentially, Paradox becomes a metaphysical game of Jenga. Each incident that generates Paradox adds points to the character’s total. Those points add up until the Storyteller decides to check for a Paradox backlash: a sudden release of Paradox energies break out and the character’s life becomes hell.
  • At dramatically inconvenient moments – or any time when a player has earned five points of Paradox or more in a single stroke – the Storyteller can say “Let’s roll for a backlash.” The Storyteller picks up one die for every total point of Paradox you have and rolls them against difficulty 6. Each success means that one point of Paradox gets discharged.
  • On the positive side, this discharge dispels those points of Paradox, assuming that they aren’t permanent. (See above.) Paradox points that are not discharged remain on your sheet and may be discharged at some later time. On the negative side, a backlash hurts.

How badly does it hurt? That depends upon the size of the backlash:

SuccessesEffects of Discharge
BotchAll Paradox points discharge harmlessly. Hooray!
No successesNo effects, but no Paradox points discharge.
1-5One point of Paradox discharged per success. Mage also suffers one die’s worth of bashing damage per success and acquires a trivial Paradox Flaw.
6-10One point of Paradox discharged per success. Mage also suffers a Burn of one die of bashing damage per success or acquires a minor Paradox Flaw.
11-15Usual Paradox point-discharge, as well as a Burn of lethal damage or one of the following effects: a significant Paradox Flaw, a Paradox Spirit visitation, or a mild Quiet.
16-20Usual Paradox point-discharge, as well as a Burn of lethal damage and one point of permanent Paradox or two of the following effects: a severe Paradox Flaw, a very nasty Paradox Spirit visitation, a moderate Quiet, or banishment to a Paradox Realm.
21+Usual Paradox discharge plus a Burn of aggravated damage and one of the following effects: two points of permanent Paradox, one drastic Paradox Flaw, a truly horrific Paradox Spirit visitation, a severe Quiet, or banishment to a Paradox Realm.
Storyteller rolls one die for each point of Paradox in character’s current Paradox pool, against difficulty 6.

Staving Off Disaster

  • Generally, a mage can feel a Paradox backlash coming. The built-up energies within her frame tingle beneath her skin, vibrate in her bones, or beat inside her head like an impending migraine headache. When a backlash threatens to cut loose, the player may spend a point of Willpower to delay their reckoning until the end of that scene.
  • From that point onward, the mage is on borrowed time. Every additional point of Paradox she gathers adds one die to the coming backlash. The Storyteller could invent some especially poetic horror for the coming punishment, but the mage has an opportunity to put her affairs in order (possibly forever…) as the cataclysmic energies continue to build… and build… and BUILD inside her…
  • A player who decides to put off the backlash will discharge all of her Paradox points, except permanent ones, at the end of that scene. (The permanent ones still count, however, toward the backlash dice pool.) The eventual results of willing the Paradox not to happen might be messy, but that scene – while it lasts – can certainly be dramatic.

The Feast of Nettles

When an impending Paradox backlash threatens a mage, their Familiar can absorb a certain amount of those energies. So long as the Companion is close to his mage when this happens, usually within 10 yards (30 feet) or so, he can partially or entirely consume a pending backlash. The Familiar can hold up to five points of Paradox for each dot in the Background. The Familiar nullifies (or digests…) those points at a rate of one point per week. If Paradox exceeds the Familiar’s capacity – then the whole amount of Paradox explodes in a horrific backlash that affects both the mage and the Familiar equally.

By the way, Familiars don’t enjoy this sort of thing at all, and they may get fed up (so to speak) with a mage who makes them “eat nettles” very often. A Familiar gets quite cranky when he’s stuffed with Paradox, and he may break the bond or otherwise act up if his mage keeps using him like a Paradox battery.

HR Note: This has been tweaked from RAW to make it so that a character’s Familiar must be present when the Paradox is earned, near to their mage, and absorb it then. This is because with so many characters and so many familiars, it has become impossible to track on an ad hoc basis. Some did a good job, yet sadly, some were very inconsistent about it.

Shedding Paradox

Under normal circumstances, mages tend to generate small amounts of Paradox and then bleed them off simply as a matter of course. If a character manages to avoid gaining any additional Paradox for one week, then she will bleed off a point of it.

HR Note: This has been house-ruled in the player’s favor, to account for the different pace of the setting. This rule, RAW, only allows mages to bleed off Paradox when they have less than 5 points, and only if they use no magick at all beyond rank 1 sensory powers.

Prime 5: Nullifying Paradox
A rare but precious ability available only to Masters of Prime allows a mage to wipe out Paradox with the energies of Creation.

  • Story-wise, the magus invests some personal Quintessence into a symbol or Periapt keyed to a magickal working or consecrated to his body and personal Resonance. When Paradox energies gather around him, he releases that stored up Quintessence, and the Prime Force cancels out the Paradox Energies.
  • Game-wise, the player pools his Quintessence, then uses a Prime 5 Effect to channel that Quintessence and nullify the Paradox on a one-point-for-each-point basis. Any remaining Paradox energies have their usual effect or remain on the mage’s Paradox Wheel until some later event. If the Quintessence dispels all the Paradox, then that Paradox is gone until the mage gains some more… as we all know he will.

Backlash Forms

When Paradox energies discharge, many strange things can happen. Oddly enough, several of these Paradox manifestations violate the very same Reality Consensus they supposedly protect. After all, when a person suddenly grows horns, explodes, or vanishes into a hole in reality – possibly in the hands of some demonic spirit-creature – those effects seem anything but real to a scientific mindset.

Physical Backlash

A simple yet terrible consequence of Paradox energies, the Burn manifests as intense pain at the lower levels, rising to literally explosive levels at the high end of the spectrum.

  • Story-wise, the Burn manifests as a searing physical backlash, including (re)opened wounds, dizzying pains, sudden headaches, brands across the mage’s skin (often in cryptic symbols or glyphs), rashes, scabs, welts, and other agonizing and often debilitating afflictions. At the highest end of the backlash scale, the Burn literally incinerates a mage from the inside out or else detonates him in a screaming flash of discharged Paradox.
  • As shown on the Paradox Backlash Roll chart, the Burn begins as bashing damage at the lower levels, then rises to lethal and finally aggravated damage. A mage can try to soak the bashing damage normally; armor will not help her soak the lethal or aggravated damage, because it comes from inside, not outside, that mage’s Pattern. Other methods, however, could help in that regard – cybernetics, Life Sphere magick, and so forth.
  • The larger Burns radiate outward like explosions, inflicting damage upon the mage’s surroundings and companions. A physical backlash (of any type) that involves 10 points of Paradox or more becomes an explosion, dealing out damage in a radius around the mage, as per the Explosions rules.

Paradox Flaws

Paradox Flaws twist reality around a reality-twisting mage. In game terms, a Paradox Flaw makes your mage’s life more difficult. Trivial or minor Flaws create small disturbances, whereas the higher degrees of Flaw spawn absurd distortions of reality.

  • Strange as they might be, Paradox Flaws echo the effects of the magick that spawned them: a swaggering fire-wizard finds himself leaving sooty footprints or scorching everything he touches; a time-skewing trickster makes clocks run backwards, scrambles the temporal perceptions of her companions, and could even age in reverse; the mind-shattering Agent of Authority could make people tremble with his mere presence – a useful but ultimately alienating Flaw; and the witch who curses or heals too freely might impose the opposite effect – blessing her enemies and injuring her friends – despite her best intentions.
  • Once a given Flaw has latched itself onto a mage’s Pattern, however, it tends to become the focus of her Paradox. Subsequent Paradox energies gravitate toward that Flaw and, rather than spawning new ones, enhance the present Flaw. Horns become larger and more prominent; warm or cold skin becomes too hot or cold to touch; fluctuations of time or space distort the localized reality so badly that the mage travels within a personal vortex of oddity. Game-wise, the initial Flaw would move further up the severity scale, keeping its initial form but becoming even more impairing or grotesque.

Paradox Flaw Severity Scale
Paradox Flaws increase in severity, from minor inconveniences to gross distortions of body and surroundings. At the higher levels, a mage cannot appear among the Masses without being recognized as some sort of aberration. Characters with such Paradox Flaws probably retreat beyond the Gauntlet for their own safety. If such passage is impossible for them, then badly ‘Doxed mages remain in near-solitude, their lives warped by the energies within them.

Fortunately, Most Paradox Flaws fade in time. Even the supposedly permanent ones ease with the passing of months or years… assuming that the mage does not, in the meantime, acquire more Paradox.

This severity scale runs as follows:

  • Trivial Flaws (1-5 point backlashes): Short-lived distortions of body or circumstance haunt the mage for a short time. Hair changes color; skin chills or grows uncomfortably warm; breezes blow or air stills; odd smells – ranging from the pleasant to the nauseating – waft from the mage’s general direction. He might hear or speak words in reverse, like an odd metaphysical dyslexia, or witness minor hallucinations among his various senses. (Some Ecstatic mages speculate that psychoactive delusions might be minor Paradox Flaws in action.) Dull or stabbing pains afflict his joints, or sudden surges of weariness or manic energy take hold. Whatever the Flaw might be, its effects last between several minutes to several hours before fading away… unless, of course, the mage continues to garner Paradox, at which point the Flaw may last longer and become more intense.
  • Minor Flaws (6-10 point backlashes): Although the effects at this level become more noticeable, the Flaw still presents a minor inconvenience – an uncontrollable sneezing fit, perhaps, or an attack of Tourette Syndrome (which is actually an onslaught of sudden fits and sounds, not the stereotypical avalanche of profanity), maybe a blurring of vision or a dampening of sound for an hour or so. Material things around the mage might be affected too: his clothes might wrinkle, change color, or fall apart; his digital technology might all malfunction at once; or his footprints could smoke or leave scorch marks on a carpet. Lower-level Paradox Flaws could become more acute and last longer if the mage has continued to gather Paradox energies. These Flaws might add +1 to the difficulties of certain of his rolls for a scene or two, and they might even become sources of embarrassment.
  • Significant Flaws (11-15 point backlashes): Now the mage becomes a walking billboard for reality flux: horns sprout from her head, useless wings jut from her shoulders, or her hands curl into claws or gnarled appendages. She might radiate intense cold or heat, or maybe suffer excruciating migraines or incapacitating nausea. The mage could vomit flies, speak gibberish, or float several inches off the ground. Lower-level Flaws last longer and have more debilitating effects. Certain challenges could raise difficulties for certain types of rolls (social, physical, mental) or penalize the mage’s dice pools by a die or two. Significant Flaws tend to last a while, too – several days, perhaps even a week or more.
  • Severe Flaws (16-20 point backlashes): Awful Paradox energies now warp the mage’s body and circumstances. His facial features might turn into a smooth, shapeless mass; his arms might transform into tentacles or boneless flaps of skin. He could burn everything he touches or transmute it into some precious or worthless material. (That Midas touch, of course, is rarely as helpful as it might sound…) Perhaps his skin grows stony warts or other projections, or he turns into a shadow or wisp of smoke. Lower-level Flaws intensify, lasting longer and hurting more. By this point, the mage probably suffers reduced dice pools, increased difficulties, or both, and he cannot show himself among the Masses without tragic results.
  • Drastic Flaws (21+ point backlashes): By this level, the Paradox energies have distorted a mage’s Pattern so badly that she may never recover her old, normal self. She might turn into a tree-like wooden horror or melt into a protoplasmic mass. Lovecraft would need to invent new adjectives for the impression she presents. Flaws from the lower ranks can reach inhuman levels and last for months or even years. Plagued by chronic pain, unusable physique, or both, the mage loses dice from various pools and adds +2 or more to many difficulties. Such Otherworldly abominations exist either beyond the Gauntlet or in the most remote corners of Earth they can find.

Paradox Spirits

As fearsome as the Burn can be, Paradox Spirits – a.k.a. Paradox Manifestations or Entities – may be the most horrific backlash effects. Ranging from near-mindless phenomena to legendary figures, these reality police become judges, juries, and occasional executioners for errant willworkers and their aberrant ways.

These entities rarely manifest for minor violations of the Consensus. A backlash of over 11 points, however, might draw the attention of such a creature. The smaller ones seem to manifest and then disperse on a per-offense basis. Larger backlashes (over 15 points) tend to summon more formidable spirits – self-willed beings whose appearance and behavior are thought to manifest a mage’s conscious or subconscious.

Known long ago as Scourgelings, such entities are immune to Spirit Sphere magicks lower than Rank 5, unless those magicks inflict damage… and even then, the nastier Paradox Manifestations have an uncanny talent for shrugging off such attacks. Some dish out nasty, Flaw-like impediments, others attack the offending mage in combat, and many pull the offender into a Paradox Realm tailored to suit that Spirit’s personality.

Paradox Realms

Like any other kind of tapestry, the Tapestry of Earthly Creation occasionally tears. When it does, those rips in Reality become Paradox Realms: pocket worlds where the normal laws of Earth and the Otherworlds no longer apply. According to some sources, such Realms occupy a parallel existence with Earth’s Penumbra, vibrating at a different metaphysical frequency. Other sources plant Paradox Realms far beyond the Horizon, floating like weird little soap bubbles through Etherspace.

Game-wise, a Paradox Realm could be a solitary hole in existence, a prison managed by a Paradox Spirit, or a Realm that’s expansive enough to accommodate dozens or even hundreds of characters. The shape and form of each given Realm are unique and often echo the principles of a particular Sphere. Even this tendency, though, is not a hard-and-fast rule.

Reality Amongst the Realms
A trip to a Paradox Realm can become an Otherworldly adventure in which the usual rules of reality become puzzles fit for a wizard or philosopher.

  • Correspondence-based Realms tend to skew perspective and distance. It’s almost impossible to judge spatial relationships in such places; an object that seems far away might be close enough to stub your toe against, but a person who appears to be within reach actually stands a fair distance away.
  • Entropy Realms either accelerate decay to horrific extremes, or hold the pristine quality of CGI illusions. Folks tend to associate Entropy with death, but a Realm based on such principles might instead seem incredibly random or painfully predestined.
  • Forces Realms throw around the elemental energies associated with this Sphere. Storms abound; shadows and light move in capricious ways; Earthly physics run in reverse – water flows uphill or objects fall up unless otherwise restrained. Forces-based magick either causes great upheavals or has exactly the opposite of its intended effect.
  • Life-based Paradox Realms feature biological fluctuations or endless levels of mutation and genesis. Living things might self-generate in midair, out of nothing, or dissolve into new and shocking forms. The mage himself could be turned into a chaotic biomass, growing limbs, shifting in size and shape, or otherwise being rendered helpless in the endless flow of life.
  • Matter Realms jumble the apparent solidity of material forms into endless fluctuations or unpredictable altered states. Solids become liquids; liquids condense into solids; both become vapors. Colors and mass become irrelevant or else attain such stability that no force imaginable can change them.
  • Mind Paradoxes trap a mage in her own mind, alone with her worst fears, memories, confusions, and neuroses. The Realm becomes a form of Seeking, based not around the advance of magick but rather upon the avoidance of it.
  • Prime-based Paradox Realms pulse with the essence of pure, unfiltered energy. Ultimately indescribable in words, such regions become endurance tests of overwhelming sensations and vitality.
  • Spirit Realms are, essentially, miniscule Dream Realms into which the mage is cast and then sealed away.
  • Time Paradoxes confront the visitor with temporal loops, recursive events, dilated time flows, split-screen realities, and Groundhog Day-type scenarios in which the mage must either reenact previous sins or deal with a timeline in which she never existed, amidst otherwise familiar locations and circumstances.

An Onset of Quiet

At times, a ‘Dox-ridden mage can slip into the fearsome form of metaphysical delusion known as Quiet, described in the section of that name, below. An onset of Quiet generally strikes mages who’ve accumulated 10 points of Paradox or more.


Mages depend upon clear minds in order to do what they do. And yet – in another layer of paradox – they also inhabit a state of metaphysical insanity in which they choose to deny the reality that everyone else accepts. The Awakening is a sort of madness in which a person can no longer see or accept what passes for reality among most other people. And so, a mage occasionally loses track of reality altogether, drifting or plunging into the state often known as Quiet.

Essentially a state of disassociation and disconnection, Quiet sets a mage adrift from any reality except her own. At its lower levels, this leads to irrational actions and momentary delusions. At the higher end of the spectrum, this Wizard’s Twilight manifests those delusions in forms that other people can see, or else it drops the mage into a prison of her own mind’s making. At the extreme end of such disconnection, the mage becomes a Marauder, essentially oblivious to the world outside her head.

Baseline Reality
What is crazy by a mage’s standards, anyway? After all, when your entire existence is based around denying and remaking the reality that other people take for granted, aren’t you crazy by default? Yes and no… which is why Quiet is so dangerous for the Awakened.

  • Psychologists and philosophers often refer to baseline reality – that is, the level of reality that’s generally acceptable to a person or society. The Consensus, for example, presents a massive baseline reality. Around that baseline reality, though, everyone’s got a bit of wiggle room: one person may believe in angels, another in the Old Gods, and a third in nothing at all. All three people, however, accept a baseline reality in which objects fall down, the sun rises in the east, and certain temperatures freeze or boil things.
  • For all that talk about crazy wisdom, a smart mage keeps an eye on his sanity. The power of flexibility carries the price of vigilance. Each practitioner of mystic or Enlightened Arts has a responsibility the world at large: don’t make your practice, goes one saying, everybody else’s problem. Such vigilance also explains why so many mages gather into groups – allies can provide sanity checks – and why solitary mages often go batshit insane.
  • In game and story terms, Quiet occurs when the mage’s normal perspective and perceptions about what is and is not real shift toward irrational levels. Even by the standards of his sect and paradigm, that person’s baseline reality enters hazardous terrain. As many real-life mystics see it, madness is that place where your perceptions and behavior make you a danger to yourself and everyone around you. Each mage has a different baseline reality…and some of them get pretty eccentric. When eccentricity becomes delusion and potential violence, however, most Awakened folks would agree that that a person’s going insane. And for beings with the power to mold Reality, insanity’s a truly awful thing…

Falling Into Quiet

The onset of insanity can be gradual or sudden, depending on the circumstances of the afflicted person. Most often, though, it begins with subtle quirks of perception and behavior, rising (or falling) steadily into a deeper sense of dislocation from the reality shared by everybody else.

Generally, this metaphysical insanity comes about as a result of accumulated Paradox. The mage becomes so comfortable with her removal from reality that she starts to lose touch with it. Although, other events have been known to trigger it as well such as intense personal trauma, disillusionment or manifesting extreme levels of Resonance or Synergy.

The crazier you get, the crazier you act. In game terms, Quiet ranges from minor afflictions (Level 1) to total dementia (Level 5). At the extreme level of that scale (Level 6), the character goes irrevocably insane and becomes one of the Marauders – a permanent convert to the reality in her head.

LevelDelusions or Disassociation
1Minor quirks or occasional delusions; mage begins to manifest odd behavior and minor disassociation from his baseline reality.
2Delusions and disconnection become more severe; mage perceives things that no one else can see, starts denying the experiences of other people, and begins to behave irrationally even by Awakened standards.
3Mage’s senses backfire, creating blindness (real or conceptual), vivid hallucinations, and erratic – perhaps dangerous – behavior. Hobgoblins might appear, manifesting the mage’s delusions in ways that other people can perceive.
4Mage either gets trapped in a mindscape of his own design or else behaves so irrationally that he becomes a danger to himself and everyone nearby.
5Mage either drops into total catatonia or takes on many of the characteristics of a Marauder but without immunity to Paradox.
6Mage goes Marauder and becomes a Storyteller character.

Types of Quiet

Although generally considered a side effect of Paradox, Quiet is, in many ways, its own beast – a symptom of dissociation from the Consensus to which any mage, regardless of affiliation, remains vulnerable. It’s the flipside of that godlike power to rework reality, the place where no reality exists except the one you perceive. And despite the old stereotypes (and old game systems) that present Quiet as either babbling dementia or catatonic withdrawal, new-millennium mages recognize several different types of insanity:

Denial shuts out things the mage does not want to recognize. A common malady among Sleepers as well as the Awakened, this delusion categorically denies things, people, or circumstances that a person refuses to accept. Essentially, you don’t believe in it, therefore it cannot possibly exist.

Denial Quiet robs a mage of clear perceptions. She won’t see things that are there, all the while insisting upon things that are not. Often associated with the Technocracy (who don’t use magick – oh no, perish the thought!), this form of Quiet can strike any type of mage. When Nephandi tempters cast their webs, they love to inspire Denial-type Quiets… and, because Denial blocks out what the mage doesn’t want to see, such weapons become their most effective shields as well. (“Nope, no Nephandi here – not one! Believe me, if there were, I’d know…”)

Denial has another awful feature too: a person – mage or otherwise – in a state of denial often acts out the things she denies. “What you repress,” the saying goes, “you express.” This sort of shadow-projection is less a matter of hypocrisy than of delusion – the insane person literally does not see what he’s doing. For example, a Black Suit who denies the existence of witchcraft might find himself practicing witchcraft as a joke… or worse, doing so without even recognizing the things he’s doing as witchcraft (“That’s ridiculous – YOU’RE the one who’s crazy…”).

  • Levels 1-2: At the lower end of the spectrum, Denial manifests as a stubborn refusal to perceive stuff that’s obvious to everybody else. No, there is NOT a dragon sitting in the middle of Main Street; no, Islam is NOT a real religion; no, magick does NOT exist – that’s just a bunch of Superstitionist nonsense propagated by Reality Deviants, and the sooner we purge it from the Earth, the happier everyone will be.
  • Levels 3-4: As Denial grows stronger, it begins to manifest as literal blindness or deafness to circumstances… or worse, blindness/ deafness to anything but a twisted version of them: why did you call me a fat pig?; no, you never told me that Master Porthos is dead; I HEARD you planning to kill me and sell my body off for spare parts. Delusions block out or pervert the reality experienced by everyone around the mage, and things that were once annoying quirks of behavior can become frightening and dangerous.
  • Levels 5-6: At the highest levels of Quiet, Denial can reshape the world in that mage’s immediate vicinity. People might lose their voices in her presence, blurt out things they would never have said under their own power, or even disappear until the mage leaves the room. This explains the weird reality warps that often follow a Marauder attack: blanked hard drives, fuzzy photos or videos, people who swear that nothing odd just happened even as the fire trucks arrive at the scene of mass destruction. The mage’s delusion becomes part of localized reality, externalizing her refusal to accept certain things into the temporary disappearance of those things from the reality around her.
The most infamous and common form of Quiet, Madness showers the afflicted mage with mood swings and delusions. Often associated with the Marauders and other clearly demented willworkers, such hallucinatory perceptions and volatile behaviors start out as little quirks but then swell to sanity-rupturing proportions. And while the dotty old wizard might seem amusing in theory, the maniac who has the power to turn people inside out without even realizing what he’s done is a terrifying figure indeed.

Sometimes known as Dementia, Madness turns you into a prisoner of your own mind. Senses feed you incorrect perceptions; things and people who are not there appear as solid as you are; surges of emotion or calm drag you along emotional roller coasters, with often deeply inappropriate results (giggling at funerals, or Los Angeles classics such as masturbating or defecating in public, etc).

Although it can manifest in subtle ways – sounds or scents without a source, strange fluctuations of color or proportion – madness has ultimately unsubtle consequences. The mage can try to keep things together for a while, and he may even successfully wave off or ignore the early manifestations of delusion. When the hallucinations become too strong, however… or, still worse, start running around as self-willed hobgoblins… that’s when the Quiet becomes too powerful to ignore. The mage himself might still think he’s sane, but his version of sanity looks pretty cracked to everybody else.

  • Levels 1-2: Madness often starts as tiny ripples of unreality or distortion. Did I just hear the phone ring? Did someone call my name? Who’s smoking in here – I thought I was alone? In many cases, the symptoms begin as extensions of the mage’s tools and practice: great ‘shrooms, man… hey, when do they wear OFF? Hmmmm… I thought I had dispelled that ghost… Beyond that, Madness might set in as sudden mood swings or implacable obsessions, unquenchable urges or hyperfocused monomania. And because such things aren’t uncommon among the Awakened, Madness only gets worse from there…
  • Levels 3-4: By the time Dementia becomes obvious, the mage has already hit a downward slide. Obsessions, aberrant behavior, hair-trigger passions, and vivid hallucinations take hold. Objects, impressions, or images manifest: graffiti, phantom phone calls, floating spiders in the air. At Level 3, only the mage can see them; by Level 4, other folks start to see them too. Meanwhile, the afflicted character behaves erratically, reacting to things from a deluded impression of reality.
  • Levels 5-6: Madness attains its most frightening degree: wild visions, violent behavior, hazardous fixations, or total catatonia. The mage might suffer from metaphysical autism, withdrawing from his surroundings even while apparently awake. He’ll chant nonsense, shit his drawers, and tangle Reality in the strands of his personal insanity. At the highest degree, the mage either detaches himself from baseline reality and falls into a mindscape, or else becomes a raving lunatic with the powers of a god. Either way, he might easily be lost for good.
Drawn from the word morbus – “disease” – Morbidity reflects an obsession with death, corruption, and pain. From early fixations with mortality and ruin, a Morbid willworker careens toward sadistic pleasures and ultimate extinction. Although referred to as Jhor in Mage Revised, Morbid Quiet is a soul-sickness… not the Resonance of Death, but a fascination with Oblivion.

One could say that all Nephandi suffer from Morbidity. That accusation gets dropped on Thanatoics, Goths, and Black Suits too. As with all forms of Quiet, though, any mage can grow Morbid in this sense: the priest obsessed with crucifixion, the sadistic lover, the callous scientist. As a form of delusion, Morbidity is less about death than it is about gore, disease, and torment… and whereas some folks glory in vicarious thrills through fictional horror, the Morbidity-afflicted mage becomes an instrument of real-life cruelty.

Along with the usual delusions of Quiet – delusions that, in this case, involve decay and suffering – a Morbid mage attains a corpse-like pallor or leprous corruption. His thoughts and activities focus on mortality. Unlike the dark or sardonic humor of the Hollow Ones, his mood is often deadly serious, so to speak – nihilistic in temperament and vicious by design. As insanity digs in further, he’ll be driven to unhealthy extremes. By the time he lurches toward suicide or homicide, the Morbid willworker has become an avatar of decay.

  • Levels 1-2: Despite the stereotype of Morbid Gothlings, Morbid Quiet often sets in with people who don’t share a casual relationship with darkness. Most often, in fact, it tends to strike people who deny their dark sides and are paragons of righteousness within their own minds: the pious preacher, the haughty shaman, the valiant hunter of Reality Deviants. Provocative delusions lead to flashes of anger and despair: Why’d you betray me? You broke my heart. God HATES you! Violence soon seems not only reasonable but necessary. And with those surges of dark emotion and subtle hallucination, the doors open toward insanity…
  • Levels 3-4: As Morbidity takes hold, the mage begins to reflect his unhealthy obsessions. His behavior grows callous or deliberately cruel; his thoughts reflect constant violence and hate; he rages, seethes, or settles into cold deliberation. The law of the jungle consumes his thoughts… featuring himself, of course, as the alpha predator. In some cases, he might gravitate with Poe-like fascination toward excess, grit, and horror; in others, he might force himself through a sardonic kind of cheer – the bright-lights grin of an American Psycho.
  • Levels 5-6: By this point, the mage has the look of a wolf, the soul of a virus, and the mind of a demon on PCP. Honestly, this is one fucked-up character, and the Storyteller might want to take it over on general principle. A mage at this stage of Morbidity is a Pol Pot or Dr. Mengele, but he has inhuman powers and the will to use them in the most sadistic way possible. If he’s not already entering the Nephandic Cauls by this point, it’s only because he’s either nursing a massive case of denial or else feeling like he could be a dark god himself. Marauders of this type are the worst of their kind – reality cyclones that should be killed on sight.

Quiet Manifestations

Mages remake reality to suit their desires… and so, when those mages go insane, their insanity affects Reality as well. Beyond the behavior changes and internal delusions that characterize a Quiet, the following manifestations change the world around a demented mage, reflecting often-subconscious applications of magick.


Little minds aren’t the only kind of minds that suffer from hobgoblins. That term also refers to the self-willed hallucinations that take shape and direction from the mind of an insane mage. Rooted in the fears, conflicts, and memories of an afflicted willworker, a hobgoblin embodies things that the mage in question would rather deny.

  • Game-wise, a hobgoblin comes into play when a player either botches a roll to wish away the madness, or reaches a level of Quiet where that character’s delusions attain recognizable form. A hobgoblin could actually be anything: a smear of paint, a cry of pain, a religious tract that shows up tucked inside every book on the mage’s shelf, the vision of an old enemy or lover, a TV broadcast no one else can see, a song that plays over and over in her head, a stranger shouting on the corner, a car that speeds toward the mage in traffic… The possibilities are limitless.
  • A typical hobgoblin lasts for one day for each point in the offending mage’s Arete, though some can last much longer than that; if the hobgoblin becomes a character, it has health levels and abilities to match the mage’s own Traits. Many hobgoblins manifest as doppelgangers: evil twins (or perhaps good ones) whose deeds embarrass the mage in question. Others appear as lost children, crusading reporters, tearful relatives, or other personifications of guilt or irritation.

Environmental Alteration

A truly powerful Quiet can spread outward from the mage’s mind to alter the landscape and living beings nearby.

As noted earlier, things can shift without conscious effort on the mage’s part: weather patterns could manifest, the ground might tremble, music might play, and people could be rendered silent. A crowd of people could turn, temporarily, into zombies or birds. Packs of rats, dogs, or naked toddlers might manifest out of thin air to chase the mage down the street. Such alterations come only from mages with great powers and potent madness. When they appear, however, these manifestations can be pretty fucking weird.

In game terms, large-scale alterations are the Storyteller’s prerogative. The player has no control over such things whatsoever, and the manifestations can twist reality as much as the Storyteller wants it twisted. Essentially, these alterations become the reality-warping special effects that follow Marauders around.


The polar opposite of environmental alternation, a mindscape pulls the mage’s consciousness into its own little world and then locks the door behind her. Within that mindscape, the mage struggles through her insanity, finding the keys she needs to unlock the Paradoxes of her consciousness. To the rest of the world, the mage enters the catatonic state that gives Quiet its name. For the mage, that journey becomes a Seeking through which she might make herself sane again.

Depending upon the nature of the Quiet and the efforts of the mage, a mindscape can be either voluntary or involuntary. Most are involuntary; the mage winds up stuck in a realm of the Storyteller’s design, fighting to regain her sanity again.

For a voluntary mindscape, the mage meditates herself into a mental sanctuary where she can sort things out, probably by making a few successful Perception + Meditation rolls. (Difficulty is the Quiet level + 3.) If that character has the Demesne Background Trait, she might be able to retreat to that mental domain through a Willpower roll of difficulty 9. Once in her private space, the mage undergoes a symbolic quest to recapture her equilibrium.

Either way, when she emerges, her entire Paradox pool is clear, unless she’s got some permanent Paradox that cannot be resolved.

Time Passing, Communication, Assistance & Damage
As mentioned earlier, the mindscape becomes a Seeking through which the mad willworker – and perhaps her friends – must find a path toward sanity. And like any other Seeking, such journeys should not be guided by dice alone.

  • Time Passing: Generally, Quiet mindscapes last for one day for each point of Paradox in the pool. Mindscapes that involve a Paradox pool larger than 10 points, however, can last one week per point, and though a few rolls of Wits + Enigmas or Perception + Demesne (difficulty, again, is the Quiet level + 3) might speed up the journey toward sanity by one day per success.
  • Messages from Within: While inside the mindscape, a mad mage can try to contact the world outside her head. Three successes with a Willpower roll (once again, difficulty is the Quiet level + 3) allow her to send a clear message; fewer successes than that send a garbled message to whomever might be listening.
  • Outside Assistance: an adventurous friend can try to reach into the mindscape and retrieve the lost mage. A few successes with a Mind 3 dreamwalk or Mind 4/ Mind 5 astral projection can send that ally into the Quiet mindscape if the Storyteller chooses to allow it. Once there, however, that friend becomes vulnerable to the mindscape and all its potential terrors.
  • Mindscape Damage: Characters who suffer damage in a Quiet mindscape take bashing damage; if that damage kills someone, that person might either die for real or fall into a coma at the Storyteller’s discretion.

Rising Out of Quiet

A character who’s aware of her declining mental state can try to shake off the delusions or irrational behavior without lapsing into a mindscape.

In game terms, this means spending a Willpower point, taking at least one turn to do nothing except resist the effects of Quiet, and then scoring at least three successes on a Willpower roll. Under the usual Mage rules, the difficulty for this roll is 7; as an optional rule, the Storyteller might decide to make that difficulty the character’s Quiet level + 5, thus making it harder to shake off higher degrees of Quiet. (Shaking off a Quiet level of 3, for example, would be difficulty 8.)

With those three successes, the mage manages to assert her will over the delusions during the current scene. Although the madness isn’t gone, she keeps a clear head and gets through the rest of the scene intact. Game-wise, the player removes one point of Paradox from the mage’s pool, which might lower the Quiet level.

That roll, however, is an all or nothing affair; the player must score three successes, or more, with a single roll – not an extended action. One or two successes just make the delusion seem more real, and failure leaves the mage where she was before. A botch causes the delusion to manifest as a hobgoblin. Either way, the Willpower point is gone.

Wisdom From Insanity?
There’s a reason people speak of crazy wisdom. For although insanity presents a hazard to everyone involved, a person who manages to puzzle through that madness might emerge with deeper insights into life, magick, and the universe.

In story terms, a character who emerges from Quiet with his sanity intact might resolve certain issues; change his Demeanor or even his Nature; gain dots – by the Storyteller’s choice only! – in certain Traits like Awareness, Cosmology, Enigmas, or Occult; and resolve all the Paradox in his pool, save the ones that have become permanent.

A Quiet, of course, might never be truly resolved; Porthos Fitz-Empress faced his own Quiet in the final moments of his life, and such madness blasted Doissetep to its foundations in the Ascension Warrior saga. Marauders lose the people they once were in the dementia they now embrace.