Paradigm and Belief
From WoD Gotham
One of the more daunting challenges for mage players to overcome is the understanding of the concepts of Paradigm and Belief. Many mage players prefer to treat it like the elephant in the room and just pretend it’s not there. However in WoDG, it plays a major role in the development of your mage and their magick. If you wish your character to progress, you’re going to have to deal with understanding what Paradigm and Belief are and how those concepts work to develop your mage’s magickal style and deepen their understanding of reality.
Right from the beginning we want you to know that there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s not a big mystery, and you’ll be fine. Just give it a chance and take a deep breath and plunge right in…
At any rate, for most characters, the basis for their belief system will likely be Western society. From that core, there are likely a bunch of individual experiences that the character has had since he was born to come to think the way he has. Consider all the people he’s known and who have shaped his identity over the years. Just look at this really simple example and you’ll get the idea; your character is part of modern society. Everyone in modern society believes that the Earth is round. That’s a basic belief of your character as it’s a common belief held by society. However, your character’s parents were very religious and believed firmly in God and Jesus and the teachings of Christianity. They taught your character from a very young age that God and Jesus were real and taught him the teachings of Christianity and so by having that experience, your character came to believe it too.
So now think of all the other aspects of life a character has and what his beliefs might be in regard to them – scientific, political, moral, social, etc. The list can go on forever and perhaps that’s where it can get tricky and overwhelming for mage players. It simply is so much to think about at once.
Try boiling it down to really one thing…
Where is your character coming from? If you can answer that generally speaking, then you have a pretty good idea of a belief structure. Have a concept in your head of a couple of sentences. Be as concise as you can so you can get a handle on a fairly tangible idea for what is really your character’s world-view.
Think of Belief as a foundation for Paradigm – one of the core influences of it. In the Guide to the Traditions, they give an excellent example in a nutshell of what Paradigm is. If you were to think of your character as a business, Paradigm would be the way in which that business carries out its operations – its employee handbook on procedures and company policies. Essentially, it’s the way your character goes about doing the things that he does.
Beliefs that he has shape how he does the things he does. Let’s take the example from Belief a little earlier. If your character say believes in God and Jesus and is Christian, his beliefs might shape how he does business – his methods aka Paradigm. For instance, Easter is probably observed as a company holiday. There might be a Christmas party held every year. Your character might believe that charity is the Christian way and as such direct his company to give a percentage of its profits to a charitable organization. So taking that example and carrying it over to magick, is no different. Think of Beliefs as his world-view, his business is magick, and his Paradigm is how he goes about producing, packaging and distributing that magick.
That’s it in a nutshell. Keep hold of that fundamental definition of Paradigm and how Belief works with it while you go on to think more on your character’s individual Paradigm and flesh it out.
Ok, so you say that it can’t be that simple. Well it’s not. That’s the very abridged version of Paradigm. However, what’s important is the concept at its core. If you keep that in mind always, then you’ll not get tangled up in all the details – and there are a bunch of details on which to get tangled.
So many factors go into shaping a mage character in addition to what goes into shaping just any character. Players still have all the mundane origins to think about while they also think about the magickal elements. Plus, they have to think about how to reconcile the two on top of it all! It’s no wonder creating a mage and playing one can be so intimidating.
Players have to think of the Avatar and its Essence and how that influences the mage, they have to think of the starting Arete as that indicates a fundamental understanding of reality (how deep and clearly he can “see” the Tapestry), they have to think of the character’s Tradition and its teachings and influence upon the mage and the mage's paradigm, what Spheres does he know and how he uses them, his foci and casting style, the character’s history, his personality, etc. etc. etc. So many things – so many details!
Again, take a step back and breathe. Then take it one step at a time starting with the character’s mundane origins and core concepts. If you can boil everything down to a manageable outline, you can use that as a skeleton and then pack the meat and skin on later. Boil the Avatar down to a couple of key phrases and the Essence to a couple of key phrases, how the Avatar guides or “nudges” the mage in different paths in life to a couple of key phrases, and then how the mage and the Avatar interact to a couple of key phrases. Before you know it, you’ll have a working concept on the different aspects of your mage’s life and how all those aspects work together to shape his Beliefs and define how he goes about his business.
A word about the meat and skin part for new players: remember that you are creating a starting mage character. So don’t stress if the Paradigm doesn’t seem very well developed. It shouldn’t be. Your character is starting out at Arete 1 or 2. That’s really a new mage who hasn’t had a lot of experience to have all the answers just yet or know exactly how everything fits together. His philosophy will grow and change. It will develop and strengthen as his understanding (Arete) deepens. His use of foci will expand as he learns new Spheres and that will be incorporated into his philosophy. It’s supposed to work this way.
ST Advice on Paradigm Development
As we stated earlier, in WoDG there’s an emphasis on Paradigm. If you’ve already been to the Mage Systems sub-category, you may have come across the steps to casting magick in WoDG. You’ll notice that even to cast magick, you’ll need to refer back to Paradigm. It’s part of the game. The absence of any Belief and Paradigm at all, will create conditions where a mage cannot use his magick because he has no idea how to tap into reality and alter it.
So we recommend that for every opportunity you have to reflect back on your character’s in-game experiences that challenge his Beliefs and help broaden his paradigm, you make a little Journal entry. This goes for downtime as well. If you’re character learns a new Sphere or spends XP learning more ranks in a Sphere, it’s a good idea to Journal how that experience has impacted his Beliefs and Paradigm.
Soon you’ll have enough character development behind your Paradigm and Belief system, it will be easier to role-play and more enjoyable. Perhaps even a Seeking will be justifiable.
The Magick of Ice Cream: Simplicity of Paradigm Construction
Ecksdee OOC - currently trying to read up on Mage stuff and wrap my head around some things... feels a bit intimidating
Thing 1 - Mage can be intimidating....where are you running into trouble?
Ecksdee OOC - Mostly the whole paradigm/belief thing... I keep rereading and trying to form an understanding
Thing 1 - Paradigm is the thing that always gets people...when we are asking about belief...we're asking what your mage believes the nature of the tapestry to be
Thing 1 - Let's say your mage sees reality to be a big bowl of ice cream. That's his belief.
Thing 1 - all the flavors swirled in that bowl of ice cream or scoops let's say are the spheres......all the spheres together make up the bowl of ice cream...that's your paradigm
Ecksdee OOC - Ahhhh.
Thing 1 - the spoon you use to eat the ice cream with is your foci
Thing 1 - now you don't use a jack hammer to eat a bowl of ice cream because that would be inappropriate for your paradigm. That would hurt! (Failure or Paradox)
Thing 1 - you use a spoon..because that works way better for scooping delicious bites of ice cream and eating it.....and the act of eating it is your magick....see? simple.
Ecksdee OOC - Hahaha! I like that description a lot. Makes my head hurt a lot less. Thank you for sorting that out
Thing 1 - heh you're welcome
Final Thoughts on Creating a Paradigm
People have been creating Paradigms for mage characters long before revised ever came out. The game was first published in 1993 and people were making Paradigms back then without some codified system. Revised gave a systemic way to create a Paradigm. It’s not something we recommend at all. In Guide to the Traditions (pg. 56-65), there’s basically a step by step guide on how to create and flesh out a Paradigm in a more codified way.
From that reading, you might gain some benefit from the general idea, but steer away from placing a label on your character’s Paradigm as if it were another statistic on the character sheet. Paradigms are way deeper than that after all. Besides...if you can't articulate your character's Paradigm, you're going to run into issues when faced with explaining your character's magick to a Storyteller. So do the reading for ideas if you must, but don't follow their mechanics. You got to be able to put it in your own words.
Four Simple Questions To Create A Solid Paradigm
Some players may need a little extra help in order to come up with a working paradigm so we've included these basic questions to help them along:
- In your own words how does your character describe the nature of the Tapestry aka REALITY? If you're feeling spunky take into account Essence and Avatar, but always take into account Tradition as that is where the character first got guidance and learned to hone his art.
Mundane and Real World Example: Physicists see the Cosmos (mage equivalent of Tapestry) as space-time.
- In your own words...if the Tapestry is X and the Spheres make up the Tapestry as a whole, then what are the Spheres? Where X = whatever you put for point 1.
Mundane and Real World Example: Physicists see space-time (TAPESTRY) is made up of the Fundamental Forces of Nature (SPHERES).
(For those of you interested the forces are: Gravity, Weak Nuclear Force, Strong Nuclear Force, and Electromagnetism)
- If 1+2=BELIEF and define the Tapestry, then what rules does the Tapestry follow and how can those rules be changed? 3=PARADIGM
Mundane and Real World Example: Physicists see the Cosmos as space-time (Tapestry) and made up of Four Fundamental Forces (Spheres) = BELIEF. The Laws of Physics and Quantum Mechanics are the rules by which space-time and its fundamental forces are governed and if you manipulate those rules then space-time can change = PARADIGM.
- If 3=PARADIGM and the rules of the Tapestry can change, then what tools are needed to make those changes? 4=MAGICK AND FOCI
Mundane and Real World Example: Physicists may use Particle Colliders, Super Conductors, Photon Collectors, Fusion Reactors to manipulate the Fundamental Forces (SPHERES) enough to conduct experiments and CHANGE the conditions of space-time (TAPESTRY). That's their magick.
Answer 1-4 and...ABRACADABRA!
Your character has a working paradigm suitable for fun and frolic and can now explain how his magick works.