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Tag Archives: White Wolf

In 1995, Stewart Wieck published a game using the White Wolf Studios Storyteller System called Mage: The Ascension.  It had grown, partially, out of an earlier game called Ars Magica, and was based around the idea of actual magic-using characters in a gritty, modern-era world.  The crux of the conflict was the struggle between the Technocracy, who believed that magic would only damn the earth (even though they used it as well), and the Traditions, who believed that the freedom of mankind to have imagination and power over their world was best.  The Technocracy was waging war on the Traditions, all while mages driven mad by magic’s touch (Marauders) and those driven to try and destroy all of Creation (Nephandi) ate away at the roots of the world like some thaumaturgical Nidhoggr. (If you don’t get the reference, look it up)

This was, without a doubt, the most complex of all the Storyteller systems.  Not only did you have to create a character, but you had to create for them a belief system on how and why magic worked.  You had to design the very paradigm by which they could alter reality.  This wasn’t D&D where you just picked a spell list and worked with it; oh no, you had to do a lot of spell casting on the fly, with a lot of adjudication from your Storyteller.  This was not gaming for the casually minded, which is one of the things that drew me to it as my favorite of all the Storyteller systems.  I dabbled in Werewolf and Vampire, and to a lesser extent, the other titles.  But it was Mage that really caught me.  The Nine Traditions (plus the Hollow Ones, the red-headed stepchildren of the Traditions) were great carte-blanche examples of real-world mystical belief systems.  They were perfect, blank archetypes ripe for the embellishment.

After deciding to end the current metaplot in 2005, White Wolf moved to reinvent all of the settings they had into something new.  Mage: The Awakening was released in 2005, ten years after the original was released.  It was a whole new idea, with the Mages now being inheritors of Atlantis.  No world-wide struggle between two factions, no amazing wonders that the world could have.  Just more of a whimper.

This is not to say that I hate the new system; on the contrary, I love some aspects of it, which I will detail shortly.  What I didn’t like was the new flavor.  It was like going from a five mile long, all-you-can-eat buffet of every possible ethnic cuisine that exists, to a four dish mini-buffet of French fries, pizza, egg rolls, and steamed rice.  But, I like steamed rice, you say.  That’s fine and good, but don’t you want the options?

I loved the addition of a morality system for Mages.  It was something I always thought they lacked; after all, didn’t they stand to lose their humanity just as much as the vampires did?  Of course they did call it Wisdom, which to me is not really that smart.  Why not just call it humanity?  I mean, Mages are just supposed to be the pinnacle of human potential.  I liked the more succinct delineations of what each level of a Sphere could do, as well as the division of Entropy into Death and Fate.

But one of the things I didn’t like was the renaming of Arete to be Gnosis.  Now, Arete is a Greek term referring to excellence.  Arete was a quality you had that made you a leader, a paragon.  Gnosis, also a Greek term, refers to wisdom.  (Wait, they had two Wisdom traits?  Yes they did…) Not all Mages where wise when they excelled at magic, but they all did excel as that trait increased.

One of the other things I hated was replacing Quintessence with Mana.  Crap.  Absolute crap to pander to the video game crowd.  They shucked Paradox right out the window in favor of an unnamed system of retribution for Vulgar magic.  Also, only the Atlantean paradigm of magic was established as true.  There was no more room for the role-playing possibilities of an aboriginal shaman arguing with an urban techno-wizard over the finer points of True Names.  It was gone, gone.

I also don’t care for Merit system replacing Backgrounds.  In the old setting, Backgrounds were ranked concepts that could offer you a benefit as well as work as story devices.  Backgrounds such as Arcane shielded you from casual notice, and Avatar rated how strong the magical spirit was inside of you.  But those were replaced by Merits, which were a bastardization of the old Backgrounds and the old Merits from the Merits & Flaws system.  Now the old Merits & Flaws system was meant to be small tweaks to characters that either offered them a benefit and cost them Character Points (Merits), or offered them a difficulty and gave them Character Points (Flaws).  When watched over by a Storyteller worth his salt, these systems worked well.  But, they left them in the dust.

And, as much as I like the idea of the Virtues and Vices (yes, you pick a cardinal virtue and a cardinal sin as the opposing forces of the character’s personality), I really feel it lacks that power of the original Nature and Demeanor system.  Natures and Demeanors, in the original Mage game, were personality tendencies.  Your Nature was the personality tendency that that you were at your core; Demeanor was the personality tendency that you showed to the world.  They could be the same, but playing them as different allowed the player to create a personal tension that had less to do with morality and more to do with personal peccadilloes.

But there is something else they did right: they cleaned up the mechanic.  In the Old World of Darkness (OWoD), there were two variables to overcome: the difficulty of the roll (standard 6, but could vary), and the number of successes you had to achieve.  This could be a bitchy prospect at the table when many different circumstances came into play.  In the New World of Darkness (NWoD), they set a static difficulty of 8 for all rolls, and only your dice pool would vary.  You compared your success to either a static number based on the task, or on your opponent’s pool of successes.  Margins of success detailed certain effects.  Blam, done.  (side note: I do not like the NWoD format of rote spells as being dice pools based on Gnosis + an Attribute + a Skill.)  But their mechanic was cleaner, and it worked well.

What I see as happening in the near future is my own mash-up of the new basic resolution mechanic with the old flavor and minor mechanics to create a hybrid that works best for all.  I don’t know how soon I will have this done, but I am aching to do it.  I also find myself nostalgic for playing the game again.  I really do; I miss that kind of role-playing dearly.

What do you think?

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