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 🙂

#RPGaDay2018 Day19 RPG Music

Music that enhances your game

I sent the #RPGaDay organisers Autocratic and Runeslinger a lot of suggestions about music, understandable they converted to a simpler but broader question allowing people to answer what they will. The origins of those questions came from the entrance music used for some fight sport events, or musical kata, plus some old chats playing Street Fighter in the 90s. The idea of theme tunes for a character (PC/NPC), story, or even a whole campaign came to mind, since I have on occasion thought of something I felt nicely encapsulated an idea. Until podcasts and cheaper audiobooks came along I listened to a lot of music, I still manage a bit of music each week, so it’s nice to read/watch what other people think about RPGs and music.

Live music at LARP can be incredible, but not something I’ve experimented with for tabletop. As part of my communication with two friends that I used to do a lot of PBM with, we’d include references to the music we’d worked out our orders to, plus maybe something new we’d been listening to.

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Links to Hexen II soundtrack

Dune 1984 OST

#RPGaDay2018 Day18 RPG Art

Art that inspires your game

For day eighteen’s question I went into quite a deep dive, but I still managed to miss several things. I didn’t talk about movies, computer games, the art of gaming itself, writing, poetry, or the powerful access to imagery that the Internet provides; whether sites like Pinterest or character casting ideas from IMDb. Playing Cyberpunk 2013 and then 2020 helped highlight the importance of fashion to some characters, the settings tagline of Style over Substance helped emphasise this.

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I talk about maps and journeying in games multiple times in the video, but I’m not sure I did a good job of coherently summarising that my biggest source of art inspiration has always been maps. Lots of interesting post from the RPGaDay community, I link some of them below.

Mick Hand’s blog has a great list of art, and in particular cover art:

Nerdwriter1’s made a great video: “A look at the colorful history of sci-fi book covers”

IvanMike1968 particularly got my attention with this video:

Runeslinger giving an interesting overview.

Another interesting take on a question at Ede Sol Media channel:

Excellent UK costume designer Tom Roe runs WhiteStar Clothing.

The Wonderful writers, who are two of my favourites, are Ed McDonald and Gavin G Smith. I’ve posted reviews about their work on various sites, but I really should blog about them as well 😉


#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 graphThis 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 Day14 Failure Became Amazing

Describe a failure that became amazing

I go into some depth about a crazy game Vampire that I run back in the 90s, which become a disaster from a certain point of view, but most of the players loved it. It also led to an amazing game. No LARP stories, nor have I included tales about a critical dice roll radically altering a game, not that I have anything against those moments, just that the list I think I made is enough 🙂

Just realised I badly explain my point about high fantasy RPG, pesky sleep deprivation. I guess my foggy thinking was that high fantasy is typically about big failures and big successes, so many of the stories I know from others are the overly-epic type. Such as intentionally pushing scenarios to create guaranteed failures, invulnerable NPCs monologuing, which then requires Deus Ex Machina or there is a party wipe.

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#RPGaDay2018 Day07 GM & Stakes

How can a GM make the stakes important?

On the surface this is quite a straightforward question and therefore I could give a simple answer, but as like most of things in role-playing there are a lot subtleties lurking beneath the surface. I think the easy answer is personal, a perfectly valid answer. I just happened to take it a step further, since what is personal? Why do people care? Why is someone motivated or invested? I go in to more depth of my #PieChartofIndecision in my video, plus touching on my L5R and Aberrant campaigns.

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Following on from the time pressure point, when I was working at KJC Games running role-playing Play By Mail games (PBM) for a lot of customers, one of the big issues was players had a limited amount of things they could do each turn. Yep that sounds quite obvious, but since the players had in-game friends and enemies also trying to achieve things, gather resources, uncover mysteries, improve their alliance, undermine their enemies, time pressure really stood out. Thus the relationship between time and choice was emphasised.

A quick short story about being an NPC at the Lorien Trust LARP. As an NPC I created and ran out plots, potentially hundreds of players could interact with or at least hear about the plot; plots at the Gathering could affect thousands. Some of the players chatted with me about how surprised they were with my style of GMing, that I didn’t just run out big deadly plots that I also did several small things, or rather they seemed small to them, but then they wondered. Thus the players didn’t know whether somebody coming in to the guild was actually a threat or not. Then they had to determine what was important, made harder because there were so many things happening, which resulted in some plot being given to other players. Not that everyone was happy, nor everyone was involved, but a bunch of compliments was still great 😉

A common thing that I found at LARP, particularly festival LARP, is that a few proactive players were regularly resolving plots, whilst less physically capable or newer, less well-known/connected players struggled to be involved. This is partly a result of competency, understandably established characters had proven themselves.

The large scale LARP problems mentioned above are rarely a problem in tabletop, mostly because the players can discuss things directly with the GM; so much easier and appropriate to freeze game time than at LARP.

I think another thing to think about is with ComputerRPG (CRPG/JRPG), they are quite different than tabletop. Overwhelmingly with CRPG is that time is not an issue, with the main plots being put on indefinite hold whilst side-quests are carried out; daft when the main quest keeps emphasising how urgent something is. Elder Scrolls and Fallout in particular do this, but it is a core CRPG approach. Whilst I like the games the ignoring of time undermine my character and story immersion, time doesn’t really matter.

Coming back to this fusion of the #PieChartofIndecision, plus other things I’ve not mentioned, we are mortal players playing a game, time matters, time is our stake, the fact we are playing the game itself is part of our choice in life; any game is a stake of our life force.

#RPGaDay2018 Day03 RPG Staying Power

What gives a game “staying power”?

A system that has a good endurance and encumbrance rules probably help with this 😉 On a more serious note this is a good example about how this event asks questions that open to interpretation. Some in the community are answering this from the perspective of the product, which I think is quite a valid point; whilst the majority seem to be answering it more from the perspective of the group or individual, which is primarily what I interpreted it as, as well.

So as normal I’ve made a big of things that I thought were relevant and made my Pie Chart of Indecision.

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I rarely run or play in short campaigns/chronicles. When I do play something I want it to have depth, I don’t want it to be an ocean-sized puddle, which on the surface can look like it has depth there, but when you go into it you just barely get your feet wet. Now this can obviously be achieved in multiple different ways, which is sort of the purpose of this question, from a group/individual perspective I think you can achieve it:

Powers to explore, so when people are planning out their characters, they know sort of roughly where they want to go. I think the crucial answer is when a character has a reason to be invested in an event. For example: when a PC is doing an investigation in particular, why are they investigating?

When I worked at KJC Games, one of the expressions I came up with to explain my approach to the boss: to make the games less about them being a zoo, where players walking around exhibits, such as ‘wonderful’ story writing, or plot hooks, but actually the ability to change things, to do things, to interact with the ‘exhibits’. To make the game more of a sandbox approach.

If a system has not annoyed the group then, my main group tends to not care too much about system, it comes down to the fusion between the players and the game; as Runeslinger puts it “the alchemy of play”.