Mage 101

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There have been a fair amount of incidents in the MtA venue which have led STs to create this commentary. As STs we are concerned that many players have been playing awhile and we’d like to give Seekings to them all. However, there seems to be some disconnect between staff and players as few players have developed their mage character to such a degree that Seekings make sense for them.

The article is aimed at clarifying some of the more esoteric concepts in Mage: The Ascension and quantifying them as best we can, given that they have not been quantified well in the texts. The objective is to help players develop their characters by giving a fuller understanding of core concepts.

One thing that we want to make clear to players is that this article and its contents are definitely required reading. This MtA venue is not about running around with the power of gods and hack n’ slashing your way through a bunch of baddies. We want to make sure that all players appreciate the depth of Mage and the rewards it offers, because that is our focus.

Contents

What is Arete?

All mage players recognize the importance of Arete. Without much Arete, your character has a crappy dice pool with which to wreak havoc upon the Chronicle. With a good dose of Arete, you can terrorize all your fellow players to your heart’s delight, right?

Wrong.

Arete is the quantifiable understanding of all of reality extending throughout the universe and the multiverses. This is not simply a theoretical or philosophical understanding of the cosmos. It is a very tangible certainty.

Mages are a rarity. About 1 in 5 million people Awaken on Earth. These are individuals that go beyond the great thinkers of their day. They are beyond philosophers, theoretical physicists, cosmologists, religious leaders, shaman, master artists, and gurus. What sets them apart from those brilliant segments of Sleeper society is that while these people theorize and imagine the nature of the universe, a mage KNOWS. A mage IS magick. Einstein could only theorize the existence of black holes with mathematics. A mage actually EXPERIENCES it. A mage IMPOSES the existence of black holes on the cosmos. A mage’s sheer FORCE OF WILL DEFINES REALITY.

Socrates contemplated what it means. Newton gained inspiration from the apple and conceived gravity. A mage contemplates and is inspired, but the fruit of the labor is not simply a philosophical methodology or a new scientific law, it is a deep and real connection to the cosmos itself.

Let that sink in for a few minutes. Picture actually KNOWING what the true nature of reality is. Just on your own contemplate what life is. What the universe is. Trip out on it. Then come back to this article with the understanding that what you just experienced is not even scratching the surface of what it is to be Awakened.

How a mage experiences this Awakened state is dependent on a number of factors:

Avatar and Essence

See: Avatar

An Avatar is not simply how many Quintessence points you can burn in an effect!

A mage’s Avatar is a constant source of drive towards Ascension. Once a character is Awakened, his Avatar will affect his dreams, urges, thought patterns, emotions, actions, ambitions, desires, and personality according to its own behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns are called Essences. The stronger the Avatar (the amount of dots you put in the background if any), the stronger the influence the Avatar has on the mage, the more the Avatar’s impulses and guidance are prevalent.

We tell players to detail the Avatar well during the character creation process. Most players detail it and then forget about it until a ST calls attention to it. It’s a shame because they are missing a very rewarding RP aspect of Mage: The Ascension.

To really take advantage of the RP opportunity, it is advised that players outline a personality for the Avatar and determine how it will impact the RP of your mage character. At the very least every player should identify key behavioral patterns in the Avatar. Does the Avatar manifest in visions? Urges? Is your mage aware of it? If you’re not taking the Avatar and Essence into account when you RP your mage, you are not playing Mage: The Ascension.

Opposing an Avatar as a mage is literally not being true to oneself. Mages can do it, but expect there to be repercussions. Gaining any magickal understanding or experiencing epiphanies will be out of the question as your mage is literally denying the truth that he not only KNOWS but ACTUALLY IS. Depending on how strong the Avatar it can lead to all sorts of unpleasant psychological side effects. The stronger the Avatar, the more severe and dangerous these effects can be.

Paradigm and Belief

See: Paradigm and Belief

We’ve talked Paradigm and Belief to death already. We’re not going to delve into it too much again. Take from this that Arete colors the Paradigm and Belief and vice versa. As your character gains deeper understanding (Arete increases) of the nature of reality, then so will the Paradigm and Belief evolve. Sometimes this evolution is a profound alteration, sometimes it is just a minor revision.

Tradition

Tradition matters a lot.

Your mage’s Tradition is a school of magickal thought. It is where your mage first began to appreciate what he actually experienced as he Awakened. It is where he was first taught. As one can imagine, it’s no small thing to be able to articulate something as profound as reality itself. The Tradition of a mage and the mentors from that Tradition that your mage has had will help your mage be able to express that profound experience and share it with others who are experiencing something just as profound as your character. It’s the first real personal connection your character will be able to make after Awakening. Sleepers and other static creatures will never be able to connect with your character. Ever.

Roleplaying Arete

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Mage: The Ascension is perhaps the most challenging of all Classic World of Darkness games. It’s a game where players take on the role of a character with the potential of a god and a profound understanding of entire existence that would make the Dalai Lama look like a hack and Einstein insanely jealous. None of us are the Dalai Lama or Einstein and few of us could imagine being in their shoes, so it presents a real challenge going beyond that in a roleplaying character.

The easiest way to do that is by imagining not one, but ten separate characters; one for each level of Arete.

At the lowest levels a character is as a child or picture brash Anikan Skywalker. At the highest levels picture Master Yoda. All the levels of Arete between Anikan and Yoda are different stages along the way.

For some players this might seem quite daunting. There is a tendency to fall in love with your initial character concept and have a very real reluctance to veer from the archetype you set up.

This is the antithesis of the whole game’s premise. It’s called Mage: The Ascension. It’s not called Mage: I’m Staying Right Here!

You have to not only be willing to let go of where your character was originally conceived, but to actually STRIVE for it.

There are these dot type things in the core book with a very unsatisfactory single word description for each level. As STs we are going to outline what each level means in an attempt to give players some RP guidance. We are going to compare each level to a stage of life for simplicity’s sake. Understand that this is an analogy and not literal.

X Sleeper. This is your pet rock or a fetus. Say hello. It’s not even aware of you.
1 dot. Unschooled. A baby. Still very enthralled with the fact that they are encased in a fleshy shell and the taste of their own digits in their mouths. At this stage a mage is usually still awestruck with their new found understanding and the stirring of their Avatar is something completely new and inexplicable. All mage players start with at least 1 dot in Arete.
2 dots. Talented. A child who has learned to throw tantrums to get what it wants as it exercises its will on its surroundings for the first time. A mage at this stage has just learned to not only perceive the Tapestry through use of Spheres, but has learned to impact it. The profound implications of actually being able to impose even simple changes in reality to suit your character’s vision of it should not be taken lightly. It can be intoxicating, scary, a rush, etc. Understand that your mage at this stage is experimenting and so there’s apt opportunity to play the dunce pupil or the head of the class and everything in between. If you didn’t start the game with 2 dots in Arete, expect your first Seeking within 3 months of character creation, but only if you have diligently kept to your character development chores and RPed consistently.
3 dots. Novice. Teen. Like teens Mages at this level of Arete are at the most dangerous of all places. They are often rash and excessive like teenagers. This is the first real taste of power as Disciple level Spheres are accessible and they deeply affect the Tapestry. This is the place where the most mages succumb to their own hubris and either Fall, rip themselves to shreds with Paradox, or go insane. As they say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Novice is a good word to describe them as they wrestle with the profound implications of the power within their grasp, often very clumsily and with dramatic repercussions. It can also be a time of great excitement and adventure as the mage’s learning has progressed to an advanced degree. In some Traditions, the most promising and responsible of Disciples may be called to take on an apprentice. It’s at this point that most mages are truly riding without training wheels for the first time. Seekings usually are offered somewhere around 6 months after character creation or after a Seeking for Apprentice (Arete 2), but only if you have diligently kept to your character development chores and RPed consistently.
4 dots. Disciplined. Young Adult. Mages who have survived the challenges of being Disciples become Adepts and can impact the Tapestry in major ways. Disciplined is a good word for them, because that’s what they are. At this point, mages are pretty well comfortable with who they are and know which direction they are going. They have been wild and reckless. Perhaps they have caused harm. Perhaps they haven’t. Whatever obstacles they overcame to survive to this stage, have shaped them to become more wise and thoughtful in their magick. They do not flaunt their power or bully others with it, they are beyond such insecurities. They are like surgeons with scalpels, when they wield their Art it is with exacting, and often mysterious, purposes in mind. They have overcome the challenge of exerting their full independence from their Masters for the first time and now take their places beside them. They are advanced enough to be sought as teachers in all Traditions. Seekings usually are offered somewhere around 6 months after the Seeking for Disciple, but only if you have diligently kept to your character development chores and RPed consistently.
5 dots. Commanding. Adult. After much experience and introspection comes the adult. Mages at this stage are Masters. They know intimately at least one Sphere at level 5. That is insanely profound. In WoDG we do not use Archspheres. The Archmage book is totally ridiculous and superfluous. Mastery means mastery. Literally your character has mastered that aspect of reality. There’s nowhere else to go. Your character has learned all he can of whatever Spheres he is Master in. If he is a Master of Life, there is literally nothing you can teach that Master more about life in the entirety of reality. When a player gains a Mastery, we allow them to think up a latent effect that fits their character. Your character is considered an Archmage when he attains more than one Mastery. Seekings usually are offered somewhere around 1 year after the Seeking for Adept, but only if you have diligently kept to your character development chores and RPed consistently. There will never be a Seeking offered for 5 Arete for player characters younger than 2 years old. So where should you go with your RP here? Your character is like total Zen Master at this stage and beyond petty concerns of Sleeper Society. Dalai Lama should be looking to your character for lessons on enlightenment. Einstein should grovel at your feet to correct his equations.
6 Arete and Up. Elder. Anywhere here and above and your character is truly thinking on a cosmic scale. The more your character Ascends, the more Earth and Sleepers really are only a grain of sand in the beach on which he walks. But that’s ok, because for that character the stakes are much higher than the fate of one planet. Seekings at this stage will be six months to one year apart from each other at the very least, but that may change depending on how things develop with the other venues.

How to Get a Seeking

“Further development of this enlightened state (Awakening) comes only with long effort and introspection. The mage must strive to understand the Tellurian, to delve into her innermost being and to overcome her flaws.” Mage: The Ascension Revised pg 124

Look at that quote above and let that sink in.

Did it sink in? Good. Let’s continue.

To be given a Seeking, your character must demonstrate growth and show that he is on a precipice. We need to see a trigger being activated.

If you are wedded to your character’s core hang ups or don’t want to give them up (which they will have to at some point in their journey), then don’t expect a Seeking from the STs. It’s unreasonable, unfair, and it will damage the integrity of the game. Imagine if we gave Seekings to everyone who wanted to keep their characters as they are. We would end up with a Mage venue which was full of Masters that incessantly back talked, grabbed their junk, pouted, threw tantrums, reveled in their angst, etc. It would be a joke.

Recognize the trade-off. You get to keep your character the way you like, but he will not gain any Arete so long as you keep him in the same place.

So what are we looking for? We’re looking for personal growth and a progression to OVERCOME FLAWS just as the core book says. You can demonstrate this most effectively in your Journals with a Character Ascension Arc entry and supporting Journal entries that reflect on your character’s activities and offer some introspection into the character and how the character is being challenged to overcome his shortcomings.

As STs we don’t want to tell you how or when to develop your characters. We have enough work trying to develop the world around your characters. This is your job. If you don’t do it, you won’t get a Seeking. It’s that simple.

Timing of Seekings

We outlined roughly what we expect the timeline should be for different Seekings based on level of Arete. This is an estimate with the exception of Arete 5. It’s flat out too profound a to step take lightly. To be able to have a Mastery in a Sphere, your character must be at least 2 years old in the game with a good deal of solid play behind them and his Character Ascension Arc must be well developed. Note that at this level, Seekings can be life threatening. Failure can result in character loss.

For everyone else, we’re fairly flexible. STs are not going to have kittens if we’re off a week or two in either direction. If your character comes upon some really compelling reasons for the Seeking or if a trigger is activated unexpectedly, we will take a fair look at the situation and see if the Seeking should be done early or later depending on what fits best with whatever stories your character is currently involved. STs do not have some automatic Seeking radar device attached to them, so make sure that you keep your sheet current, journal and communicate with them regularly.

Another thing that is worth mentioning, inactive players will not get Seekings. You’re simply not playing enough to warrant it. It’s not a good use of ST time as you’re not giving much back to the game to warrant a personal scene. Also, because you are inactive you are likely not finding a lot of RP that would be compelling enough to activate a trigger. It’s yet another reason why we say that MtA is only open to Semi-Hardcore and Hardcore players.

Please note that Journaling or submitting Downtime tickets is not an alternative to RP ever, but especially for the purpose of establishing cause for a Seeking. It’s one thing to study, read, and theorize the nature of the Tellurian. It’s an entirely different thing to experience it (We don’t care how great the book is.).

Character Ascension Arc

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All players interested in eventually having a Seeking for their character, are required to create a Journal Entry where they roughly outline their character’s progression as they see it. This way STs don't have to guess to see if you are making progress with your character, and you're always shooting for something tangible as a player where your character's enlightenment is concerned.

For each level of Arete it should include a brief couple of sentences in outline format:

  • Sketch of the character’s possible morality and philosophy
  • Sketch of the character’s possible personality
  • Sketch of some of the character’s possible triggers for a Seeking
  • Sketch of some of the character’s possible obstacles to that Seeking
  • Most importantly the character’s frailties

Think of each level as another character and give them a changed personality based on the Arete descriptions above. Just as we go through our stages of life, so too does a mage go through their different phases of enlightenment. Therefore, the personalities should be markedly different.

How different, we want to leave up to you for the most part. We STs might butt in if we see something that we REALLY find unreasonable. However, there should be a very very stark difference if you were to compare every other level of Arete side by side. For example, there could be a recognizable difference between Arete 2 and 3 but there would be a HUGE difference between your mage’s personality between Arete 2 and 4. This would be way more pronounced as the levels of comparison widen.

Since all of this is in your Journal, you can add to the entry and update it as much as you need to. This doesn’t have to be elaborate and it’s definitely not set in stone. Things come up in RP that you can’t anticipate. Keeping it loose is actually best.

Once a Seeking has been successfully completed, a summary will be placed for posterity on your character sheet along with any applicable changes to your character’s Paradigm and Resonance.

We know this is a lot of writing in addition to other tasks, but MtA is a venue which is open to Semi-Hardcore and Hardcore players only for a reason. You are expected to participate and participate responsibly and in return, you get to play the most potent venue in the game.

Arete and Mage Roleplaying Tips

  • Recognize that you’re playing Mage: The Ascension. It has the unique challenge of developing an entire set of personalities for one character as players are asked to fully delve into some deep philosophical questions that we as mere humans have a devil of a time tackling. The difference is that mages do tackle them. They don’t just contemplate and theorize the nature of existence, they actually DEFINE it by their own WILLS. They don’t spout quotes from prominent Sleepers. THEY ARE the quotes.
  • Don’t be afraid to let go of a beloved aspect of your character from the original concept. Look forward to the new RP possibilities and appreciate them for the opportunities that they are. You can always find ways to revisit old themes as they come up in play.
  • Go after RP. You have to be open to all kinds of RP, especially adverse situations that touch on your character’s triggers. There is no way to justify a Seeking if your character avoids confrontation (and there are many kinds of confrontation). Your character has to be shaken up and has to struggle to overcome a flaw. If a flaw is not triggered or your character just refuses to recognize an inherent personal issue, he will not get shaken up and will have no reason to re-examine himself.

Roles of Cabals and Chantries in Ascension

“An individual mage…has to be realistic about the degree to which any un-Awakened person can ever really understand him. It would be the equivalent of having a spouse who was only a tenth as intelligent as oneself; possible but difficult at best and, in the eyes of many, perhaps somewhat cruel. A healthy relationship requires an honest disclosure of information, a disclosure that a responsible mage could never make to a Sleeper family.” Order of Hermes Tradition Book, Revised pg 42

Aside from the obvious safety in numbers angle and the benefits of being able to take advantage of shared resources to learn more Spheres and generally become more über, there are some very profound reasons why chantries and especially cabals form. The above quote touches on a point that has been a common theme in MtA and a standard interpretation since First Edition. The company of Sleepers and static creatures just does not cut the mustard. Mages NEED other mages.

Again 1 in 5 million people AWAKEN. That’s 1400 people in the entire world. Of those about 500 are Tradition Mages. Take that in, please. 500 Tradition mages on the entire planet Earth.

Mages are alone and wading in a sea of ignorance. They cling to each other as the only kindred spirits with which they can relate and connect. Speaking to a Sleeper and expecting a deep and gratifying connection is like you and I speaking to a pet rock and expecting to find it stimulating company.

Mages can’t share the inner secrets of their secret society with their families and friends from their previous life. Firstly, it would be dangerous to the Sleepers to have that knowledge (witch hunts, Enemies of Ascension, etc.). Secondly, Sleepers and other static beings will NEVER EVER EVER EVER GET IT! So what is the point?

Let me repeat: SLEEPERS AND OTHER STATIC CREATURES WILL NEVER EVER EVER EVER GET IT!!!

Mages will always find interaction with other Awakened creatures more gratifying (even if they are Enemies of Ascension) than with any other creature in the cosmos. No man is an island. Just as artists and scientists rely on colleagues for critiques and to bounce their ideas off, so do mages rely on each other for the very same thing. In fact, other mages are the only other source of feedback a mage can get as no unawakened creature can do this. In short, mages NEED the company of one another to challenge each other in deep and meaningful ways – in ways that shakes a character’s understanding to its core.

Don’t take other mages or your character’s relationships with them lightly. It's irrelevant if you have great crossover RP with another player in another venue. All mage players need to take the facts and implications of what being Awakened is to heart. You’re not RPing mortals.

Final Thoughts

Most of your play is confined to interactions with other players and so each player is reliant on the other to do their homework. It means that you will need to understand profoundly what it is to play an Awakened character – a mage.

You have to be open to the core concepts of the game. You have to dig quite a bit into character and really go beyond the dots to pull it off. There just is no room for half-measures in MtA.

Take the above to heart, because the game will only be as compelling as you make it through your willingness to get into it.

All of you need to work together and be willing to play off each other in order to push your characters to the next level. Communicate with each other and with STs so that everyone is on the same page.

Most importantly, don't force it. Don't push yourself to develop the character and press for a higher Arete if it doesn't feel quite right yet. Let it come about organically. It's perfectly acceptable to hold off and wait until you find a compelling situation to have your character move forward. Players usually have good instincts about their characters, you'll know when you feel that your character has made real progress.

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