Does Mage have the most Lore?

Following on from yesterday’s post about Terry Robinson’s new Mage book Ascension’s Landscape, Terry asked a query on Twitter and the Mage Facebook group:

Whilst I’m not one that enjoys comparing the cWoD games, which one has more of X or Y; I think they all have lots. There are some great responses on the Mage Facebook group, which persuaded me to join the fun and I want a bit overboard because it was fun and I have a lot of old notes and semi completed projects; guess I should make an audio/video version next. So here are my ponderings and suspicions as to what the people claiming ‘Mage has more Lore’ might mean 🙂

Since some players, like me, connect all of the World of Darkness, any comparisons are redundant? Maybe the people making this Lore suggestion love Mage so much they consider it the glue that holds the WoD together? Then we have those players that have only played/read about a few game-lines, grandiose ignorant claims are common enough, so could this be their basis? A quick note that whilst Ars Magica can be claimed as a Mage prequel, the same is true for Vampire, if not more so?

Mage Lore Query Pie Chart

If it is about words published, then Vampire wins that. The Jyhad is a grand and complex affair and there is plenty of mystery. So I guess these people cannot mean official word count, nor vast histories, or detailed relationship maps. Since Vampire got so much love, it was no surprise some disliked it purely on the popularity principle, so an old regular debate I used to encounter was someone claiming Vampire was lacking compared to other games. Consider the DC vs Marvel debates: DC, even with their high end events, they are typically about punching X really hard, whilst Marvel, not even just the high end, has a lot more Reality Warping. Back to Vampire, well yes for a neonate they have limited power, whilst a new Mage can alter reality. Many vampire books stated Antediluvians are so much more than the other Kindred; they can do more than punch a bit harder 😉 Methuselahs can have outrageous powers, Shaitan, Baba Yaga, Japheth, Menele, etc., certainly do more than punch things. My point being if we are looking at just Vampire, in the Lore we have near god like beings. So I guess these people don’t think that is enough.

We Werewolf fanatics know that the setting is rich with Lore and has many layers; we’re not mad at all the dismissive ignorance 😉 Given the heavy metaphysical nature and stakes of big plot I can understand someone positing that Werewolf has the most Lore. Of course everything in Werewolf can be done at the high power levels of Mage, this includes a Mage being one of Gaia’s chosen.

Changeling has the most Lore, just a shame we all forgot it 😉 All of the World of Darkness benefits/suffers from unreliable narrators. Mage and Changeling have that to a much greater level. I think the difference is that for Changeling the Mists pretty much guarantees we know a Changeling doesn’t know many(any?) ancient things. Whilst a Mage could believe that not only do they know things, but they think they have deep understanding and also can/should change things. Add to this the significant aspect of altering of consensus reality is a core part of Mage; a new player can read constant reference to changing reality in the core rules.

I would guess that through the lens of ‘Mage is everything’, which includes the non-realities, then everything is Lore, that automatically makes the Mage the winner for some? Of course Werewolves can go backstage to reality and Changeling deals with the ‘imaginary is real’ all the time. The difference is how easy it is for Mage to switch between these things, not as easy for the other games, and for some not even possible. Learning Vampire lore is more like learning history, yes there is depth, plenty of dates, and details. Maybe the difference is that Mage can easily span both the macro and micro of anything, plus in some cases at the same time. Thus it can easily accommodate the deepest dive into any subject; therefore it could be viewed as having ‘more’ of everything. Learning that humanity’s actions are influenced by the Weaver and the Wyrm does reframe things a bit, a cub learning there are big complex bads to fight, but that is easy to grasp. Likewise learning that Pompeii’s destruction was due to the Jyhad and the usage of a Thaumaturgy Rite, well this is a famous historical event, but now with new supernatural details, easy to grasp. Any time Mage intersects with history it could be viewed as typically being more complicated, usually involving different philosophical ideas; of course it doesn’t have to be. So I’m not sure this aspect is the key to these peoples’ hypothesis.

I suspect philosophy is not as well-known subject for the average gamer, plus a subject that is viewed negatively by some; Mage certainly helped motivate me to learn about philosophy, and to keep struggling to learn more. So, are these people proposing that Mage is therefore harder to learn? Yes and no is my useful answer, depends on transferable knowledge and what a group decides to focus on.

Back in the day it was kind of funny/exasperating how many chats of: you don’t have to play a stereotypical Toreador or Fianna, etc., were had. Maybe this was a common old issue due to playing so many class based games like D&D and Cyberpunk in the 80s, I certainly met players who quickly adapted to the freedom, or already played classless games. Waffling a bit in an attempt to ponder whether these people see Mage as being less stereotypical than Kindred, Garou, Kith, etc. I doubt it, but I have met a few people that have said this. Analysis Paralysis seems to be a common problem with Mage, but again I am sure lots of individuals don’t have this problem.

Ancient sacred mysteries and other hidden groups are typically a big part of Mage, so does Vampire. There is always the consideration that a Mage can easily go anywhere, so a Storyteller may feel they need to be constantly researching in response to PC actions. A typical party could have such diverse characters that it is hard to predict things, never mind how they use spheres and deal with dilemmas. The relevance to the query is whether one considers learning potentially vastly different paradigms to be Lore or not. I don’t think it is the right label, but I wonder whether this might be a modifier to someone’s reasoning about depth of Lore.

Disciplines and Gifts are straightforward, Sphere Magick is not. I’m not talking about mechanics either, but about the impact upon the game world, the implication of what can happen with Spheres and therefore this could be considered Lore? Every historical event could be part of a ritual!? A domino effect, paradox, etc. Meh, in Werewolf each Gift has an implied backstory, how Spirits were persuaded to teach it to be a particular group; plus those seeking to learn something outside of their Breed, Auspice, or Tribe. In Wraith Arcanoi are tied to Guilds, so again there is depth and Lore here. Less common Disciplines are all about specialist Lore, beyond the common Disciplines and Vampire tropes. Given the Jyhad or Triat, every historical event could be framed as being to do with Vampire or Werewolf; never mind the Wraiths, Fae, or whatever. So I think this is a weak line of reasoning, but I guess it could be another factor someone considers important?

An old debate I had at my FLGS, can Mage can be viewed as mash-up of the other game-lines? The imagination and uncertainty of Changeling, as well what it means to be oneself. Werewolf’s war over reality and visiting diverse other realms. The cosmic implication of what happens when we die and Oblivion. The grand schemes of ancient beings of Vampire, plus the constant manipulation of humanity. So, whilst the other game lines do certain things in more depth, Mage does everything? Meh, this is just another line of thinking about Mage being everything, but could it be part of these peoples’ reasoning?

I pondered character creation. Generally how a character learns about the Jyhad is uncovered in play. It can be an important aspect of character creation for some Vampires, but for most the gravitas is not there. A Mage character does not need to understand the Ascension War, but Awakening fundamentally is about the big questions and the Tellurian. How a player interprets this, what emphasis they gave to their character, is of course up to them. A character that Awakens might not prioritise much outside of themselves, so I’m sure this reasoning works. Whilst Ascension is a core idea for Mage it is not something that typically occurs.  Technically a Kindred could diablerize their way to becoming an Antediluvian.  A Garou could even defeat the Wyrm?! So I don’t think debates about grand goals or gravitas works.

Mage has time travel, well true, but Vampire has Temporis, whilst Werewolf and Changeling have time plots as well. Granted time manipulation is usually a rare aspect in these other games, plus very much under the Storyteller’s control. However, here I think there is a key difference. Maybe one could postulate that Mage, like Time, could be perceived as not just a stream, but a vast ocean of Lore; this is more than unreliable narrators, nor somehow removing the Mists from Changeling. Since the Time Sphere can be taken by a starting character, and thus there is all the complex implications to consider, as detailed in ‘How Do You DO That?’ (p.107), maybe this is the one area that makes some people think Mage has ‘more Lore’, because the Lore is dynamic? (Macro and Micro) If this is their reasoning, then I think they have a point, in part because I’ve met some Mage players that hate the Time Sphere because of its game destabilising potential. Thankfully I’ve not experienced this problem in my games; like many Storytellers, if the players have access to something then part of my prep is to acknowledge that. But I’ve also been lucky that none of my players have obsessed about the Time Sphere, nor set out to destabilise a game. So, I can also appreciate someone’s P.o.V that this makes Mage special, makes all of history dynamic.

Well, that was fun 🙂

Review Ascension’s Landscape

 

It’s all happening in the world of Mage: the Ascension, so I’ve taken a break from my work on fusion Mage & Street Fighter. Terry Robinson recently released a fabulous book: Ascension’s Landscape, which I highly recommend. Terry is also one of the hosts for Mage the Podcast, so please use their affiliate link.

Video/Audio version if you’d prefer:

In addition to what I wrote in my review on the Storyteller Vault I’d like to highlight an extra reason why this book is particularly impressive to me. It is a book lots of World of Darkness players have talked about writing, including myself, but not only did Terry actually write it, but it is also excellent; somewhat related years ago I wrote an article touching on WoD crossovers. Also, even if a group rarely use Mage the Ascension aspects in their World of Darkness games, this book could still be of use because there are suggestions for crossovers.

I love this book. I think it tackles common questions in a detailed and straightforward way, crucially without destroying the mystery or metaphysics of Mage. The World of Darkness (WoD) is a mysterious and contradictory monster (IMHO by design), so I assume most players have been involved in conversations discussing how fitting the WoD together could work. Example queries:

  • How many Mages are there and how does this affect the Ascension War?
  • How much violent crime does different parts of the WoD have, what does that violence translate social-economically? From when the games were originally created, how do we track the changes in real life to WoD?
  • How does money work in a world of seemingly abundant Supernatural power, and in particular mind control?

And so forth, with each answer typically resulting in more fun queries. I love this about RPGs in general, that my groups and I get to decipher and decide; I’d very much have appreciated this sort of book back in the 90s, when we were are all first getting to grips with the WoD. It is not to suggest that the numerous WoD books have never presented questions and provided several answers, they have; nor to imply that this book is an exhaustive list of queries and suggestions. It’s that Terry’s approach of exploring different answers in relation to each over and also in a focused product is great and pithy; I’m a big fan of altering numbers/dials and exploring the results. I think what really takes this book from being classed as a Complete Success, to a Phenomenal Success, is including so many Story/Chronicle Hooks.

I recommend this book to all. Whether you are a new player or a veteran, there are many things contained within for you.

I’m a fan of Mage the Podcast, which I’ve written about before.

Terry also wrote: A Magickal Fiasco: Full Tilt Story Creation for Mage, which I am currently reading.

Book of the Fallen has just been released, a complicated book.

Next on my RPG reading list is Victor Kinzer’s A Phoenix Rising. Victor is also one of the hosts of the fabulous Walking Away From Arcadia.

Hopefully the new Technocracy book will be Kickstarted this year.

Bleak Spirit: Lost Lore + Adversaries

At the time of writing the RPG Kickstarter for Bleak Spirit has just over two days left to go. It is already funded, demonstrating the game has a market. I have several ideas about this game, both by itself, but also as an aid to other games. Before I talk about my plans, here is a quick overview:

Bleak Spirit is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by the empty, haunted worlds of video games like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and Salt and Sanctuary. Using a rotating role system, two or more players collaborate to create the story of how a wanderer comes to a strange place, and leaves it forever changed in their wake.”

The game follows in the style of the collaborative storytelling game Lovecraftesque, a game that is inspired by Stealing Cthulhu (single player writing RPG). As noted in the quote above, players take in turns to play:

  1. The World describes the scene, which can be a danger, interaction, or feature scene. The tone of the game is that of melancholy, mystery, and faded glory. Lore is introduced, which in addition to providing a chance to explore the setting, also can be building towards the final Adversary.
  2. The Wanderer explores the scene, decides what action to take, uncovering lore as they travel. The person playing the Wanderer that turn chooses their actions, taking care to avoid describing the wanderer’s internal monologue.
  3. If there are more than 2 players than there is also a Chorus supporting the World. The Chorus can elaborate on events, suggest prices during danger scenes, or play a character that has been introduced.

The game is broken down into 3 sections (part 1 of 5 scenes, part 2 of between 1 to 3 scenes), allowing the wanderer to find lore and building the game towards part 3 and the story’s main Adversary. There are a set number of scenes classed as Interaction, Danger and Feature. The game has special cards that can be played altering the course of a scene. The cards do more than just mix things up, they can also add extra tension. You can read more about mechanics at the Kickstarter, such as why Leaping to Conclusions is part of the fun of the game 🙂

Bleak Spirit Card Samples

The wanderer is a stranger in a strange land, generally visiting bleak, run down locations. Other characters are eccentric, elusive and cryptic. Bleak Spirits approach allows for players to discover depth and complexity, without preloading the world, capturing for example how Dark Souls series achieves this. I think the method of alternating roles supports the game’s intent.

Bleak Spirit also strips away many of the common RPG mechanics and tropes, allowing for freer flowing storytelling. Also the power of a veteran Dark Soul’s player shines, with the exception of the final Adversary, the Wanderer can survive most encounters without issue. The interesting aspect is how the Wanderer moves forward/survives, what price is paid?

After a game, players may wish to discuss things about what occurred, their plans and Conclusion Leaps; maybe even add extra context. During play, the lack of information should be embraced. More gaming session could be set in the same story world, building up the setting lore. A long campaign could result in a very detailed world, so keeping things vague is likely the best way to proceed after each game.

Truth & Ambiguity

I’ll emphasis what is intriguing to me is that quintessentially Bleak Spirit, that it seeks to avoid setting clarity; there is no TruthTM, even about the Wanderer themselves. Whilst there are many RPGs that are easy for new players to access, particularly games set in modern day real world, many RPGs have a lot to learn upfront, particularly for the DM/GM. Even the massively popular D&D settings like Forgotten Realms have a lot of maps, lore and proper nouns to learn. Granted you can ignore everything, but I think a big part of what makes characters interesting in RPGs is figuring out how they fit in their world, as well as exploring social implications. Movie amnesia is one work around, but I think the fact Bleak Spirit intentionally integrates the lack of knowledge is great, the character’s lack of memory is not important. I think this further helps support the setting’s tone of faded glory.

This year I’ve blogged about two other Kickstarters that explore the subject of characters and memory, One Child’s Heart and Afterlife: Wandering Souls. I’ve been working on my own RPG settings and different fiction that explore my long-time obsession with memories and identity, as well as what those mean to characters in RPGs. Bleak Spirit is taking a different approach to those games, as well as my own, so I was very pleased to come across this project.

Aiding other games & #RPGMentalToolkit

I like to mention expanding my RPG Mental Toolkit in several of my RPG posts, so please indulge my thought process with this. Since I think Bleak Spirit manages to capture an important dilemma in RPGs: creating collaborative eerie cryptic complexity, without a lot of reading or preparation. Therefore I think it can be switched to as a mini-session for other games, when something unusual needs to be created, Bleak Spirit could be a more surreal and esoteric way to do so.

As a veteran gamer of many systems, I am aware that no matter the game system, a group of good players can discuss things, set a tone and embrace hidden depth. Whilst some role-players take the idea of a DMGM/Storyteller/etc. as meaning only they can decide what a setting’s contents are, plenty of other gamers allow any players to contribute. In addition players can use the Blue-booking or Play-by-mail (PBM/PBeM) methods to explore/build something away from a table session, but not everyone uses those methods.

Imagine one of the many RPGs that are out there, gaining from having a mini-session of Bleak Spirit. I think the mystery and melancholy of this game will excel when players want to explore something personal in an esoteric way in another game/setting. Particularly with any game that has weird lore (civilisations, magic, dreams, etc.). Here is a non-exhaustive list of games that includes a strange aspect to its reality, from different planes of existence to ways of altering/exploring mental states:

Any Cthulhu game, particularly if the Dreamlands are involved. The various different types of Umbra in the World of Darkness (in particular Mage, but also Wraith, Changeling, Werewolf, Vampire), similarly the Chronicles of Darkness, Unknown Armies, Kult, Exalted, D&D (explore more exotic places/planes and unknown societies in: Planescape, Scarred Lands, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, Spell Jammer, etc.), Legend of the 5 Rings, GURPS, Warhammer Fantasy or 40k, et cetera.

Bleak Spirit could also be a way for a group to help players learn how to take the lead in a scene. An important baby step towards learning to be a GM and to gain confidence. Other collaborative storytelling games like Fiasco are worth exploring for this reason.

I had arranged a playtest game, but due to my ill health and busy friends those plans fell through. My plan was to offer either a totally unknown setting, the default for Bleak Spirit, or to explore a Realms of Chaos Champion within the Warhammer setting. However, you can check out another blog post about Bleak Spirit that also has an actual play:

https://allthethings123.blogspot.com/2019/06/bleak-spirit.html

https://allthethings123.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-war-sessions-zero-and-one.html

Check out the Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/179941520/bleak-spirit/

#RPGaDay2018 Day25 Impactful Game

Game that had an impact on you in the last 12 months?

I attempted another outdoor video today, more learning, plus the fun of deciding what to cut. Initially I recorded a stream of consciousness, but the sound quality was awful. I’ve blogged about what I cut out.

I mentioned returning to Mage: the Ascension, using the 20th anniversary edition. How this game in particular relates to my ongoing obsession with RPG & Psychology. As well as constantly striving to learn new ways to link abstract seemingly unconnected ideas; without resorting to a simple answer like using programming OOPS framework of declaring everything an Object, or similar 😉

Orion Sphere a new UK LARP game. It was wonderful to return to LARP after a few years break and to play a game that somehow managed to capture part of the essence of a festival LARP yet also the close-knit aspect of a small LARP. I’ve yet to write a blog about it, I shall do so after this year’s RPGaDay ends. Next event is in September.

I have managed to do a bit more work on my own projects. The playtest of the Elemental Masters last year highlighted a few things, but in particular the need for GM and player tools. Years ago I thought there are so many great RPGs out there, that I didn’t want to make a standard tabletop game. The hobby’s growing wide range of games has further highlighted why I thought this years ago. Of going since I choose to go epic with my designs I accepted the time investment

So my waffling led me to the answer of: Sigmata by Chad Walker. When I heard it announced I thought of it was something new and interesting, retro-Cyberpunk, I even imagined things like the film They Live as I speculated what The Signal could be.

A cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game about ethical insurgency against a fascist regime, taking place in a dystopian vision of 1980’s America. Players assume the role of Receivers, the superheroic vanguard of the Resistance, who possess incredible powers when in range of FM radio towers emitting a mysterious number sequence called “The Signal.” When the Signal is up, Receivers lead the charge against battalions of Regime infantry and armor or serve as the People’s Shield, protecting mass demonstrations from the brutality of a militarized police force and neo-Nazi hooligans. When the Signal is down, however, Receivers are mere mortals, desperately fleeing from a powerful state that senses their weakness.

Sadly I’ve not managed to play much in the last year, chronic pain and severe sleep deprivation continued to plague my daily ability to do much, and sometimes even think. Overall I have managed to read a lot; I have reread a lot of RPGs, as well as look at games that are new to me. The competition for gaming time is becoming increasingly challenging, there are so many quality products to choose between. So even though I’ve not even finished the Sigmata book I have chosen it because it has already had a massive impact upon me. It has already helped me reframe a lot of ideas. For me Sigmata encapsulates so many different and difficult aspects into a cool sounding game. Even for someone playing traditional fantasy RPGs, like D&D, consider how many campaigns are about defeating evil rulers, or even vast empires, Sigmata can help provide another few tools to a group’s RPG toolkit. I hope to be able to report about playing it soon.

#RPGaDay2018 Day16 Plans Next Game

Describe your plans for your next game

Worse week than my current bad weeks, so I tried something experimental for today’s video. Gives me an idea for a puppet LARP, Avenue Q style. Struggled to maintain voice, need to work on that, and puppet skills obviously 😉

For my Mage Ascension investigation game, I’m working on phys-reps for the party’s detailed scans looking for reality deviant anomalies over a wide area. My plan is to use clear sheets with stickers on to indicate an anomaly, with each party member using their own specialist research methods bringing their sheets together to indicate differing levels of anomalies. They overlay their sheets on to a foldout map of the area. If all their scans are very successful then they will find just a few high level anomalies and can filter out the noise of lots of low level anomalies.

I have alternatively thought about using google maps and layers to achieve the same thing. Whilst it is easier, people typically prefer physically things they hold.

The D&D Muppet game that is referenced in the video is at mikemyler.com, inspired by Dan LuVisi’s artwork The Streets.

#RPGaDay2018 Day15 Tricky RPG XP

Describe a tricky RPG experience you enjoyed

Almost a brain-fog video today, but I think I managed to been coherent enough. I talk about anxiousness and the moment, LARP, Street Fighter and my Mage game; see #PieChartofIndecision below. I didn’t go with any thoughts about handling tricky experiences based around things like clashes of playing styles, system opinions or expectations. I’ve had a few tricky RPG encounters at Conventions in the Living D&D and Star Wars systems, thankfully those were rare. Not that those don’t count, but I went with experiences that were all positive, I think to better keep with the #RPGaDay focus, otherwise I might have descended into a confused rant about something negative; today has been a bad day! Keeping it positive, below is a bit more info about the L5R game event that I list.

#RPGaDay2018 Day15 graph

This story is when we were new to playing Legend of the Five Rings. The party were mostly Dragon Samurai, two had Kitsuki training so were odd in the setting. The group were Magistrates and as part of their travels came across a village with a murdered Samurai. Unless the guilty party was found the whole village was at stake. The Kitsuki trained individuals along with their Crab friend proceeded to investigate the murder of a Samurai. Meanwhile the cold-PC decided they did not approve of the methodology and found out who the murderer was using traditional methods.

Short-version: eventually both investigations uncover the truth, the murder was self-defence by the Chonin’s daughter who had been assaulted. The cold-PC is slightly ahead of the rest of the party, calls the village to hear the confession of the Chonin and immediately decapitates the Chonin; an innocent person. The rest of the party are quietly furious. During a drink break the others admit that they are a bit freaked out OCC, but appreciate Rokugan is different and complicated, but thankfully were loving the IC drama of it all.

A long IC awkward silence ensues, eventually the Kitsuki trained PC questions the cold-PC on their actions. The cold-PC is offended, but eventually gives in and explains that the Chonin was honourable, saved his daughter who would have been killed regardless of whether you believe her self-defence was warranted. The Chonin saved face for all, the Samurai’s family will not have their name tarnished, and the Chonin’s soul will gain from his honourable actions. Plus any parent sacrificing themselves for their child is understandable, and is worthy of respect. This way everyone won, whilst the Kitsuki’s methods would have revealed a truth, but would have undermined the Kami’s Order and Tradition. It was a wonderfully awkward session, both IC and OOC, and helped us all learn the tricky political and religious viewpoints about truth in the setting.

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day12 Wildest Character Concept

Wildest character concept?

Sadly no #PieChartofIndecision today since I had a few obvious answers for today’s question. In my video I forgot to mention a twin-souled/twin-avatar Mage character idea I had, but since I’ve not played that yet I’ll keep ‘Quiet’; paradox pun spirits will be after me now 😉 In the Mage game I am currently running this idea might be used by one of the players as being secretly a twin, I briefly discussed it with them, but they wanted to see how the chronicle pans out before deciding on this. Their concept includes a sense of loss and displacement, so finding out they have a twin-soul could nicely fit as a possible answer.

I’ve come across plenty of wild concepts at LARP, particularly the big festival LARPs like Lorien Trust or Empire, but I was not involved so I decided not to talk about them. I’ve mentioned the party of independent Chaos Champions on Day 5. The concept of running that party itself was quite wild 😉

After posting I’ve remembered playing AD&D 2ed in 1992 at college, the Mage character was inspired by Simkins from the Darksword series. Wild concept but since I basically took it probably shouldn’t count 😉

More in video: Street Fighter RPG, not talking about work at KJC Games and what ideas customers submitted because that would be unprofessional 😉 Vampire (WoD), Werewolf.