Mage: The Ascension

From Academic Kids

Mage: The Ascension is a role-playing game based in the World of Darkness, and is published by White Wolf Game Studio. The characters portrayed in this game are individuals able to bend or break the commonly-accepted rules of reality to perform subtle or outlandish acts of magic. These characters are broadly referred to as mages, though many do not resemble traditional wizards at all. In 1996, Mage: The Ascension won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules 1995.



The basic premise of Mage: The Ascension is that everyone has the ability, at some level, to shape reality. Most humans, being mundane, are Sleepers, in which this capacity is dormant. A mage is a character in whom the portion that shapes reality (commonly called the Avatar) is Awakened, leading to the mage having the ability to consciously change reality through force of will.

While all mages have in common their ability to change reality, the way in which this is accomplished varies enormously. In order to perform acts of Awakened magic, a mage must justify his/her ability to change reality through a paradigm that provides an explanation for how the universe works. For example, an alchemical paradigm might describe the act of wood burning is the wood "releasing its essence of elemental Fire," modern science would describe fire as "combustion resulting from a complex chemical reaction." Each paradigm is unique, but broad categorizations such as religious miracle-working, occult sorcery, and futuristic technology capture general trends among paradigms.

A given paradigm may or may not agree with consensus, or the accepted view of reality. Consensus is determined by the Sleepers who (though unawakened) through sheer numbers impart reality with its general rules. When a mage performs an act that can easily be explained by an onlooker through consensually accepted rules, it is called coincidental magic. Most paradigms (including advanced science) do not, on the other hand, entirely line up with the common-sense expectations most people take for granted. Magic that deviates wildly from consensus is called vulgar magic. Vulgar magic (as well as poorly or inadequately performed coincidental magic) causes Paradox, a phenomenon in which reality tries to resolve the apparent contradiction. Paradox is almost always bad for the mage, and has also been called "The Scourge" or "backlash." Impossible to predict, Paradox usually turns the disjunction of reality against the mage in some way. Consequences of Paradox include Quiet (forms of madness in mages which may leak into reality), Paradox Spirits (being apparently created temporarily for the sole purpose of punishing the mage), or any number of other embarrassing, disorienting, or harmful effects. Interestingly, because Sleepers determine consensus, performing vulgar magic in the presence of a Sleeper who does not accept a mage's paradigm incurs more Paradox than vulgar magic performed without witnesses.

In Mage, there is an underlying framework to reality (called the Tapestry, which includes the Umbra, or spirit world) that mages have the ability to radically reshape. This Tapestry is commonly thought to be composed of a unique energy/material that defies conventional physical law, known as Quintessence, or the "Fifth Essence." Real-world names for the Fifth Essence include aether, akasha, void, or any other number of "divine elements." Quintessence (as well as the Tapestry in general and every mage) can have a resonance that is either dynamic, static, entropic, or some combination of the above. These primal forces are personified by the Triat in the Werewolf: The Apocalypse game line.

Mage divided reality into nine Spheres of magic, in which a particular mage can develop varying degrees of insight. Their degree of insight into a particular Sphere of magic determines to what extent they can violate the rules. For example, changing a sound into another sound is much easier that changing a sound into light, or (even more drastically) changing a sound into a rabbit. Because different mages study different spheres, their abilities have enormous variety. The general power a mage has to change reality (called Arete or Genius) also varies from mage to mage, and the process of slowly but steadily increasing that power through learning the deeper mysteries of reality is known by some mages as Ascension. "Ascension" is also used to refer to the end-goal of many mages: supreme enlightenment and transcendence.

Game Setting


In the game, Mages have always existed, though there are legends of the Pure Ones who were shards of the original, divine One. Early mages cultivated their magical beliefs alone or in small groups, generally conforming to and influencing the belief systems of their host societies. Obscure myths suggest that the precursors of the modern organizations of mages originally gathered in ancient Egypt. This period of historical uncertainty also saw the rise of the Nephandi in the Near East. This set the stage for what the game's history calls the Mythic Ages.

Until the late Middle Ages, mages' fortunes waxed and waned along with their native societies. Eventually, though, mages belonging to the Order of Hermes and the Messianic Voices attained great influence over European society. However, absorbed by their pursuit of occult power and esoteric knowledge, they often neglected and even abused their host populace. Frequently, they were at odds with mainstream religions, envied by noble authorities and cursed by common folk.

Seeing their chance, mages who believed in proto-scientific theories banded together under the banner of the Order of Reason, declaring they aim at creating a safe world with a Man as its ruler. They won the support of Sleepers by developing the useful arts of manufacturing, economy, wayfaring and medicine. They also championed many the values that we now associate with the Renaissance. Masses of Sleepers embraced the gifts of early Technology and the Science that accompanied them. Thus Masses' beliefs shifted, the Consensus was redefined and wizards began to lose their position as their power was waning, their artifacts were malfunctioning and their dragons became sick and died.

This was intentional. The Order of Reason perceived a safe world as the one devoid of heretical beliefs, ungodly practices and supernatural creatures preying upon humanity. As defenders of common folk they intended to replace the dominant magical groups with a society of philosopher-scientists with themselves as shepherds protecting and guiding humanity. In response, non-scientific mages banded together to form Council of Nine Traditions where mages of all the major magical paths gathered. They fought on battlefield and in universities trying to undermine as many discoveries as they could but to no avail - technology made the march of Science unstoppable. The Traditions power bases were crippled, their believers mainly converted, their beliefs ridiculed all around the world. Their final counteroffensives against the Order of Reason were foiled by internal dissent and treachery in their midst.

However, from the turn of 17th century on, the goals of the Order of Reason began to change. As their scientific paradigm unfolded, they decided that God is unnecessary to explain the universe and it should be replaced by cold, measurable and predictable laws of nature and respect of human genius. Thus, they conceived virtues of civility; state separate from Church and nationalism instead of religious faith. Also, as they came to control the masses thanks to upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, they became their masters rather than shepherds. With Sleepers in their iron grip and their paradigm ascendant, they firmly control reality as we know it. However, they are now called by more adequate name: The Technocracy.

Contemporary Setting

The Order of Reason renamed itself the Technocracy and espoused an authoritarian rule over Sleepers' beliefs, while suppressing the Council of Nine's attempts to reintroduce magic. The Traditions replenished their numbers with former Technocrats from the Sons of Ether and Virtual Adepts factions but still fought a losing battle with the Technocracy, the Nephandi (mages who consciously embrace evil and service to a demonic or alien master) and the Marauders (mages who resist Paradox with a magical form of madness). While the Technocracy's propaganda campaigns were effective in turning the Consensus against mystic and heterodox science, the Traditions managed to keep fortresses called Chantries outside of the Consensus in the Umbra.

Finally, from 1997-2000, a series of events (described in the game's metaplot shortly after the release of its second edition) destroyed the Council of Nine's Umbral steadings, killing many of their most powerful members. This also cut the Technocracy off from their leadership. Both sides called a truce in their struggle to assess their new situation, especially since these events implied that Armageddon was soon at hand. Chief among these signs was creation of barrier called the Avatar Storm which was a result of the battle in India on the weekend of nightmares. The storm restricted travel between the Umbra and real world.

The summation of these changes were introduced in supplements for the second edition of the game and became core material in its revised, third edition.

Later Plot and Finale

Aside from common changes introduced by the World of Darkness metaplot, mages dealt with renewed conflict when the hidden Rogue Council and the Technocracy's Panopticon encouraged the Traditions and Technocracy to struggle once again. The Rogue Council only made itself known through coded missives, while Panopticon was apparently created by the leaders of the Technocracy to counter it.

This struggle eventually led to the point on the timeline occupied by the book called Ascension. While the entire metaplot has always been meant to be altered as each play group sees fit, Ascension provided multiple possible endings, with none of them being definitive (though one was meant to resolve the metaplot). Thus, there is no definitive canonical ending. Since the game is meant to be adapted to a group's tastes, the importance of this and the preceding storyline is largely a matter of personal preference.


The metaplot of the game involves a four-way war between the technological and authoritarian Technocracy (Order), the insane Marauders (Chaos), the cosmically evil Nephandi (Entropy) and the nine mystical Traditions (that tread the middle path), to which the player characters are assumed to belong.

Council of Nine Mystic Traditions

Mages divide themselves according to their cultures, beliefs and even historical accidents or arbitrary alliances. The primary groups include:

The Technocratic Union


Out of game details

The core rules of the game are the same as those in other World of Darkness games; see Storyteller System for an explanation.

Like other storytelling games Mage emphasizes that players have more freedom in comparison with many other role-playing games, in that the game's powers and traits should be used to tell a satisfying story. Mage's unique point is the powerful magic system (as free-form as Ars Magica's). This poses challenges to players and gamemasters, since a large part of the game is about defining what the characters think the world actually is.

Mage's freeform rule system, esoteric subject and potentially complex message sometimes makes it a daunting game for novice roleplayers. The third revision of the rules, Mage: The Ascension Revised, made significant changes to the rules and setting. Most of these were made to bring the game in line with continuity that had been added in supplements to the game's prior edition. Some fans preferred the second edition without the changes that had been made by subsequent supplements. Like other World of Darkness games, Mage uses a continuing storyline across all of its The Ascension es:Mago: La Ascensión fr:Mage: L'Ascension pl:Mag: Wstąpienie


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