Thursday, March 11, 2010

Road of trials

Ryan Macklin responded to the egging from Daniel and myself regarding his love of Mage: The Ascension. He brought up one of the very cool features of Mage - paradigms. Paradigms are the ways in which Mages think about and perceive reality. The neat thing is that because a paradigm is personal, no one Mage's paradigm is invalid. Unfortunately what you get is differing options of what is the best paradigm; as if there can be only one.

What this does to the fiction and play of the game is degenerate into a battle of wills. Everybody is right and they're willing to fight and die to bring that paradigm to fruition. Essentially there are four different paradigms vying for control, which (rather neatly) breaks down into four groups vying for control: the Tradition, Technocracy, Nephandi and Marauders. The main groups in the game are the Tradition and Technocracy, a kinda magic vs science analogy.

But that's not quite right because Science is a form of Magick in this game. While the core book is written with the assumption that the players will be Tradition Mages, later sourcebooks expand the idea of playing Technocracy mages. Mr. Macklin points out rather nicely why this is a very cool aspect of the game.

My problem, one that I stated in the comments of Ryan's post, is that paradigm seems much more personal than a 'group think'. This individualistic point of view could spiral down into the various Traditions bickering and does not preclude in-house fighting. For a game, all this political positioning makes for cool play (not unlike the Camarilla of Vampire), but IMO doesn't serves the core principle of the game.

The subtitle of the game is 'The Ascension'. This could be interpreted in many ways, but I'm choosing to look at it in (for me) the traditional Sunday School mode - leaving the Earth behind to be raised up into Heaven. The game supports this with the Avatar trait. Remember, the Avatar is akin to the Mage's soul and a measure of how powerful their Magick can be. The highest rank of Avatar (10) equated to Enlightenment (and subsequently removal from play). But, as written, the game is really about (external) power and the struggles for even more (external) power (power = ultimate control of reality), not about Ascension as I see it.

All that is required to increase a PC's Avatar rating is XP. XP is gained through play and participation. Ok, but that doesn't seem very satisfying to me. For Ascension to mean something it must be achieved willingly, knowingly and, sometimes, at a price. There is a wealth of story potential in this idea. This is where I think I want to target my current RPG project: Closer to the Heart.

(Astute readers will notice this is not the name of the project I listed in my last post. It is still the same Game Chef 2008 game that I'm dusting off (Stigmata); I've just given it a new working title. It's still very much a moving target, but as I work to define it's purpose and scope, anything goes. Hopefully this name will stick for a while.)

Accumulating ranks in Avatar is very much like acquiring levels in D&D. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with that approach if it supports the game's premise. If Mages increase their Avatar as they grow more powerful, so be it; but, if the Avatar is a measure of the Mage's understanding of their soul WHICH IN TURN grants more (internal) power as it rises, then the rules should reflect that struggle.

Nothing comes easy in life; it takes work and persistence. An inward journey of self-discovery and enlightenment is no different. Realization usually is the result of some event that produces an 'aha!' moment. So I think the raising rank of Avatar should also result from some in-game moment and not be relegated to a paperwork allocation of accumulated points. Just as the Vampire's Humanity slowly falls as a result of their failed actions to preserve their connection to the things that make them human, so should the rising Avatar struggle to climb as a result of the PC's actions.

I don't have anything more concrete at the moment to define this climb (or inward journey, as it were). This is part of my defining the scope of the game. I did have an opportunity to meet last week with my spiritual mentor and, while I did not make any progress on the mechanics of the game, I did come to the realization of broader aspects of the game:

  • The game is about helping people, not battling monsters
  • The characters in the game struggle against personal negative traits to increase their connection to their soul
  • The characters are trying to change the world and make it a better place
  • The game is about discovering and strengthening faith
  • The game has a personal cycle of progression that leads towards an endgame situation
I'll leave you with another source of my inspiration from the band Rush (the soundtrack to my life):

Closer to the Heart
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Peter Talbot, Neil Peart

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart

The blacksmith and the artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the heart

Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart

You can be the captain
I will draw the chart
Sailing into destiny
Closer to the heart

Follow Your Bliss,


  1. Absolutely Frickin' Awesome Concept! I dig this. Go for it. Kick ass and take names JJ.

    I wonder if we ought to start up the Collegium Penumbrae again with you, me, and Daniel and cheer one another through our projects.

  2. I would be open to doing the Collegium again. Is the site still up or do we have to start over?

  3. The site is still up - but I'll set it up as a self-hosted Wordpress site so I can add BuddyPress and a nice theme. Then we can decide how to go from there.

  4. Let me know where to go and I'll be there.

  5. Okay, come on over.

    An invite has been emailed to you.

  6. JJ, dude, you got it. Now you have me really excited.

  7. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's excited :)
    Thanks, guys.