Mage: The Ascension lives in a very special place in my imagination. It was the first game to open my eyes to some of the deeper possibilities that an RPG can have and how intellectual it could be. There was something liberating about a game where in character debates about the nature of belief and reality itself could occupy an entire session, no dice were rolled, and yet it felt like characters grew and changed. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen very often, in or out of games.
In my High School game group I became the de facto ST for Mage. Vampire could be run by the other guys as it was relatively straight forward but Mage was a whole other beast. It demanded a bit more thinking and it was a little harder to unleash your character’s full power without pretty nasty consequences.
I love the Paradox mechanics and I definitely enjoy the debates about if something is considered coincidental or vulgar. The argument and the spin are part of the joy of the game. As an ST I had some additional “rules” when it came to coincidental versus Vulgar: Does it make the story better? Does it complicate your character’s life? Did your explanation entertain the group? Roll them bones!
Yet, because of all that, Mage: The Ascension is one of those games that can really suffer if the participants aren’t clever people in general. I hate to say it but this is not a game for people that lack imagination or those who have a hard time grasping often difficult concepts like consensual reality or paradox backlash. I’ve had the very best and the very worst tabletop gaming experiences of my life with Mage…
I walked into an established Mage game with a new character. It was at the end of a story arc where the PCs had to deal with a villain that had been plaguing them. They’d defeated her, and her demonic “son” in the previous session and now it was time for her to go on trial. One PC was assigned as the prosecution, another the defense, and the rest of us, including me, were the jury. It was intense and a perfect introduction to the game and the troupe. It was magical and through the whole session I rolled dice only once. I fell in love with that game and did my best to play with that group whenever I could. I lost contact with them over the years so I have no idea what happened to the ST and players but I fully expect that they went on to better things after that. They were too clever and imaginative to boil away into obscurity.
Convention game. Yep, off to a great start. Everyone got handed pre-generated characters. One PC was a Cat Girl (not a joke) and I was given a bald headed Son of Ether in a wheelchair that was clearly Professor X. We were tasked with opening Pandora’s Box. I don’t even know why we were asked to do it but that was the gig. So I put it in my character’s lab and start the hypertech scanning. After rolling ridiculously well I was told “you cannot analyze the box.” “Why?” “Technology doesn’t work on it.” *BLINK* “This isn’t technology…it’s Science!” “Technology doesn’t work on it.” *DOUBLE BLINK* “I’m a Mage, I bend reality to make my will manifest, I don’t use ‘technology’ I use Magick that LOOKS LIKE TECHNOLOGY! I got 5 successes for the love of [Expletive Deleted]!” “Technology doesn’t work on it.”
I admit, I might have been focused on my own ideas of Mage. I might have been spoiled by better games. I might even have been a little drunk at the time, but when I walked out of that game it was for the best and I don’t regret it.
I’m writing this, really, because a new version of Mage has come out and it’s intended to be the definitive work on the subject. It took roughly 2 years from my kickstarter pledge to me getting the book in my hands. There were times when I got frustrated it took so long, times when I worried that I had made a terrible mistake. How could the finished product live up to the hyped image in my head? How could it be the Mage I love and not something else entirely?
M20 is everything I wanted it to be and more. There are some really smart choices in this book and I can see myself using this version of the system for the foreseeable future. If you can, I suggest getting it and get the color heavyweight version. I’m still a fan!