feuille: hot digitally painted dude is 20th level badass (nick)
feuille ([personal profile] feuille) wrote2010-04-10 01:19 pm

single stories are lame...even in a game! (woah rhyming)

There's this tabletop game, World of Darkness. It was the first ruleset that I ever played in, back in 2006, and though my proclivities extended to D&D and for a brief spell Lo5R, my loyalties never strayed far from WoD. This never made me, however, actually read a lot of the abundant information that can be found in the books. (What can I say; I'm pretty darn lazy.)

On Tuesday I'm running a Mage: The Awakening game (new WoD). One of the PCs is the leader of an area, which led me to looking at the books and what White Wolf have to say about mages and mage society, and I am Not Impressed.

There are five paths - types of mages that can awaken - which affects what type of magic you do best and a fair amount of what your personality is like. They're pretty darn stereotyping and there isn't much wiggle room and the Mastigos path, which focuses on space-bending and mind-bending magic, is to me the worst offender of the lot: "Many on [this path] began as lawyers, seducers, inventors, porn stars, liars, iconoclasts, sociopaths, mental-health professionals, writers, televangelists and con men".

I don't know where to start with what I dislike about that sentence. Maybe the casual throwing-in of mental-health professionals and 'seducer's - whoever they are - with sociopaths and con men? Liars, as an all-encompassing trait? Considering in a previous paragraph, the book says, "Like rats, roaches or termites, Mastigos can live nearly anwhere and never be detected", WoD doesn't have a high opinion of Mastigos. Simply because they have mind-bending magic? For shame, White Wolf.

Then I turned my eye to the social side of things. It seems that WoD is forgetting that mages can be anything other than beardy old men doddering in towers (Mages are so focused on eastablishing and then defending their sanctums that they often neglect to work together for any sort of overarching goal). The book goes on and on about how solitary mages are, but they're seen as "antisocial freaks" if they don't make small teams with other mages, and how these small teams are the backbone of how mages interact with each other, then...

Whiel some mages prefer to walk alone or spurn any form of society or stricture that might impede them in their quest for power, most are drawn to join one of the mystical orders.

So, stereotypical, uninventive and contradictory? Awesome.

The five orders can pretty much be summed up like so:

The Adamantine Arrow = warriors and fighters who are really loyal and do grunt work for whoever's in charge
The Free Council = radical technomages and apparently the only mages who have any modernity, despite the fact that mages live no longer than humans
Guardians of the Veil = morally grey mages who keep magic secret from humanity at all costs (duh-duh-duh!)
The Mysterium = the scholarly ones
The Silver Ladder = the ones who think Mages Rule and Should Be In Charge Of Everyone Ever

And I? Am not happy with that. Especially because I looked EVERYWHERE in that book for anything saying which order is more likely to be in charge, or what happens when Silver Ladder is NOT in charge, but apparently that doesn't happen because I could find nothing. Apparently all the mages who ever want to lead people are ALL in the Silver Ladder and that never ever goes wrong, and no one else wants to be in charge except for the Free Council and for some reason they never get to be in charge or actually challenge the Status Quo, and the Adamantine Arrow are only ever physical characters and have no purpose other than gruntwork...

So I do what I always do when confronted with gaming information that I don't like:

Guardians of the Veil

Sleepers are a threat. In order for mages to have power and safety they need to be able to work in secrecy, and the biggest threat to that secrecy is the possibility of sleepers finding out about mages’ activities. Power comes from caution, prudence and only necessary expenditure of energy. A member of the Veil is expected to be willing to assist in protecting mages’ secrecy when they are needed, though requests are made rationally and with members’ skills in mind. A member who refuses to help, though, obviously doesn’t care that much about the Veil or the other members. These types are dealt with quickly but fairly, and rumours that there are ‘chapters’ of the Veil which you can never, ever leave are denied by the Guardians.

A territory led by the Veil is most often a quiet one. Mages are often expected to keep to their own businesses. Groundbreaking activity, research or experimentation are frowned upon; these things are hard to predict and harder to contain when they go awry. New faces are welcomed, but also carefully watched. A leadership that knows the people under its care is one that can best foresee and solve issues before they can become problems.

Silver Ladder

Sleepers are scenery. They provide the drudge labour at worst, and the unwitting support at best, for mage society. They have limitless potential, however; any sleeper could one day awaken and join the ranks of the mages. By encouraging awakening where they can, Ladder members spread the power and co-operation that it fosters in extant mages. A member of the Silver Ladder is expected to be willing to further the interests of other Silver Ladder members, especially those with higher status. The more you help your fellow Ladder members, the greater status you get and the bigger favours you are then able to pull from lower ranking members. Power comes from helping your peers – those also in the Ladder – and from demonstrating that you are able enough, in yourself, to be useful to others.

A territory led by the Ladder often has little secrecy. Gossip and news spread quickly and the social circles are extended, mutable and passionate. Mages that withdraw from the often political social situations are mages that cannot be truly trusted: they obviously would not help their peers, and therefore may not be worthy of helping. New faces are always welcomed, especially in a Ladder-held territory that is particularly cliquey. A leadership in which people can rely on each other is one that shares blame and responsibility, and thus is the most adaptable and stable.

Free Council

Sleepers are tools. More than mages, sleepers shape the world that everyone lives in – whether mages like it or not. Harnessing the power that sleepers have in their numbers would give any argument the weight to win against its opposition. The Council, more than any other order, has the most fractured nature: how to ally with sleepers is a tricky question. Some feel that power comes from numbers, and that recruiting sleepers to the cause would have a two-fold effect: awakenings would increase, swelling numbers of mages and therefore power; also sleepers co-operating with mages would free mages from mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on magic more. Others, however, see power as coming from interacting with sleepers on their terms: integrating with sleeper society fully while using magic to benefit sleepers and mages, building prestige, respect, money and protection. A member of the Free Council would be expected to have particular leanings to a splinter group within the order; one who has yet to take a side is merely someone who has yet to be recruited.

A territory led by the Free Council is often seen from the outside as chaotic, innovative and energetic. Mages are expected to get involved in whatever current local projects are being endorsed by the leadership, even if they are not members of the Council. Sleepwalkers are much more common; places in the city that the sleeper civilians see as otherworldly, haunted or bizarre are more common and are nurtured by the leadership. A territory that allows mages to pursue what they feel is beneficial to mage and sleeper society, with varying degrees of freedom, is a vibrant and developing territory that will not stagnate.

Adamantine Arrow

Sleepers are bystanders. Mages have terrifying and awesome power, and while sleepers are only mundane that does not mean they are not dangerous. Power imbalances and irrational or dishonourable behaviour can cause conflict, pain and loss for either side. Power comes from trust: the trust you have in others, in yourself; that others have in you and in themselves. In a world where beings have power that cannot always be understood and definitely may not be shared, the one universal truth is one’s word. To break your word is an affront against the one nature that all share. Members of the Arrow are expected to never, ever make a promise they are not prepared to keep. The oath of joining the Arrow is one such word: the Arrow is the one order that will not permit you to leave. Arrows are also expected to do what they can to encourage and help others to keep promises that they have made.

A territory led by the Adamantine Arrow is by no means calm. Conflicts do occur, sometimes with more regularity than in a territory led by another order. But these conflicts are watched carefully by the leadership and when they occur it is with the knowledge that it was the last resort. Gang fights spilling out onto the streets, these are not: conflicts in an Arrow-led territory come in the form of mage duels held in private and guarded spaces. The Arrow leadership has no compunction in interfering in a situation if they feel that there has been dishonesty, mistrust or the breaking of promises. A leadership that is unafraid of close involvement is one that becomes quickly familiar to the territory and therefore can be trusted.


Sleepers are irrelevant. There are secrets hidden throughout the world, sometimes in the care of sleepers but just as often in the wilderness, in an arcane ruin or even hidden in the artful, random growth of grasses in a magically-charged copse. These secrets can take any form and they can lead to answers or more questions about anything, but there is one thing they all have in common: power. Power comes from knowledge and understanding. Some Mysterii believe the natural world is what should be studied, others focus on magical energies and mysteries. A rarer group of Mysterii are those who study sleepers and their various powers and effects on the mages. Members of the Mysterium are not formally expected to share the ins and outs of their research, or to be completely secretive with important discoveries. Mysterii are often seen as the experts on occult and scientific matters, even if that is not their specific focus of research. Other mages may come to them for properly-recompensed advice.

A territory led by the Mysterium often has less-than-rigorous rules and strictures than other territories, but the best academies and mage schools are normally found in Mysterium territories.  Codes of behaviour and expectations tend to be limited to preventing violent crimes or abuses of power, though the latter can sometimes be focused on mages rather than sleepers. Formal structure to how Mysterium members conduct their research tends to be found most commonly in Mysterium-led territories. A territory in which mages feel safe to conduct their own business and have their activities valued without pressure is one that will encourage the most growth and activity.

So there we go. Physical, social and mental characters all welcome in all orders, and it's not quite so easy to draw lines between 'what path are you' and 'what order do you join' as it is in the original book. There's more, all about the seats of power and what little government the mages have, how mages are elected to seats of power, but the tweaked orders was my main focus. I'm going to test run it on Tuesday, see how it goes, and tweak if necessary.

st_aurafina: Rainbow DNA (Default)

[personal profile] st_aurafina 2010-04-11 04:17 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, I miss table-top rpgs so much!

I don't know the system, but I really like the way you've tweaked the orders - magic always works better when there's no definite black and white.

[personal profile] kaptainvon 2010-04-11 06:09 pm (UTC)(link)
That's how I did it! Brainwashing new people is easier than trying to work with the cast-iron opinions of veterans, especially the sourcebook-humping kind...

Anyway. I quite concur that Mage is a great concept, but needs a lot of work done on the whole legacy-of-Atlantis thing. Fortunately, my Mage group has a default reaction to World of Darkness metaplot and factional nonsense: REJECT and fly solo. I'm happy to run with their anarchist tendencies, so the story actually became one of 'help the friendly NPCs see through all that Atlantean garbage and treat the four non-Free-Council Orders and the Seers of the Throne as much the same kind of antagonistic business.

(Aside: We didn't touch the Paths, mostly because they fall into the same slightly-strained five-archetypes-from-myth/popkultur breakdown as the vampire clans: the necromancer, the mesmerist, the fairy-wrangler, the druidic priest and the fireball-hurler and those seem like Important Things To Have, even if you're going to pull against them: and we did.)

Yours is an excellent fix for a group who are going to stick with the Orders as something for Protagonists, though, and I may well adopt it if I have a less unconventional group to run with in the future).

In a broader sense, I wonder if the whole contradictory "mages are solitary but everyone joins an Order" thing isn't an attempt to marry up the Durkheimian* perception of how people who believe in/work magic behave with the demands of a roleplaying game, which sort of demands that the characters interact even if they're not getting on.

* - as in Emile Durkheim, whose book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life has a lot to say about the sociology of magicians and occultists in Western society, most of it a fairly uncomplimentary presentation of lone nuts, which works fine for yr. basic medieval heretic who's thinking through the holes in Catholic doctrine on his own but falls over slightly when confronted with post-Decadence occult societies, Wicca and that sort of thing. I could go into more detail - pages of it - but I thought it best to ask first.