Monday, April 2, 2018

Session Summaries of the Traditions Ascendant Chronicle, or "Start the Opening Crawl!"

Recaps of the previous session are a time-honored tradition in my games, and in many of the games I've played in over the years. Sometimes these are done by the GM, to remind the players of details they may have forgotten since the last game session and to reestablish a mood or scene that they ended on last time. Sometimes they're done by the players, which informs the GM of what the players found most memorable or relevant in the previous session.

Before I handed over recap duties to my players, I wrote out brief Opening Crawl summaries, named after the informative establishing text crawl at the start of most major Star Wars movies. These summaries, enhanced by giving them the ultimate Opening Crawl treatment, were collected in a Word document so I could keep track of story arcs and how much XP was rewarded in a session. The first one is pretty lengthy due to establishing the game with new players, but as time passed, I got better at keeping them brief but relevant to the progression of our chronicle.

I never really intended for others outside of my gaming group to see these summaries, but in this post, I figured I'd share with all of you my chronicle in brief. Maybe this will help inspire you with your own game summaries. At the very least, you'll get a peek at what my players saw at the beginning of each game session to get them ready to play!

   It is a new era for the NINE MYSTICK TRADITIONS. After suffering a series of tragedies at the turn of the century, commonly referred to in mage society as the RECKONING, the future of these misfit mystics looked bleak. Defying the odds and pulling together in a show of unity not seen since the First Convocation over 500 years ago, the Traditions scored a decisive victory against the forces of darkness.
   However, ghosts of the past still haunt the Traditions. Theirs is but one faction vying for the fate of humanity and their sworn enemies, the TECHNOCRATIC UNION, have renewed their ages-long war. MARAUDERS, lost in their own twisted realities, continue to drag other mages into madness with them. And the NEPHANDI, corruptors beyond compare, are still out there, waiting in the shadows for the right moment to drag reality into the Abyss with them.
   There is hope, though. The end of the AVATAR STORM, considered by some to be the Reckoning's way of restructuring the boundaries between spirit and flesh, brought with it a surge of Awakenings the likes of which the Traditions had never seen. Across the globe, more and more people discovered the truth about magic and reality, and all factions rushed to claim these new mages.
   In a world of darkness, the Traditions fight a renewed ASCENSION WAR to bring a guiding light to the world. And it is now a new generation's turn to join the battle for reality...

   After rescuing a young courier from two suited thugs, our Tradition mages ended up with a rare and powerful item in their possession. The item in question? A fragment of the SAXUM OCULORUM, once an ever-present feature above the Council of Nine's meeting table in Horizon for hundreds of years, now shattered by war and scattered to parts unknown.
   The sympathetic magickal ties binding this piece of the shattered crystal orb to its counterparts pointed them to their first destination: ULYSSES, KANSAS.
   Now, our mages embark on their first quest together, one that has far greater importance than they realize...

   Road trip! Our Tradition mages hit the road in search of a piece of the shattered Saxum Oculorum, an artifact of the NINE TRADITIONS. Already in possession of one piece of this rare crystal sphere, they pooled their talents to discover the probable resting place of the nearest fragment.
   When they stopped midway on their journey to rest, however, our mages discovered they were not alone. SHADOW SCRYERS, used by some as spies, were discovered and dispersed, though who or what sent them remains unknown.
   Now, our mages find themselves at their destination: MOOSE JAW CEMETARY in Ulysses, Kansas, where the local avians take issue with visitors to their corner of the world...

   Success! Our mages discovered a fragment of the Saxum Oculorum in the ruins of the LACHESIS PORTAL, one of the few paths to the lost realm of Horizon. Though the portal had been closed off for many years, the fragment remained hidden and under the watchful eyes of KAKRAW, the portal's guardian. Now reunited with the piece already in their possession, the artifact is one step closer to being made whole again.
   As our mages returned to their vehicle, however, several unmarked black vehicles appeared. The TECHNOCRACY pursued the fleeing mini-van, but were successfully deterred with some quick creative decoys and obstructions. Unfortunately, the van sustained heavy damage in the course of the chase, and the magickal momentum speeding them to safety has dispersed...

   Success with their hunt for the first piece of the Saxum Oculorum came with a price as our mages' vehicle suffered heavy damage to the engine block. Without reliable transportation, their quest was stalled in Ulysses, Kansas.
   While the van is at the shop to find out if their ride is salvageable or if they should look for new transportation, our mages holed up in the nearest motel and wait for the news. Absent any spirit spies, they did discover a business card slipped under their door for a local diner, the CORRAL CAFE, with 9:00 PM written on it...

   Trapped in Ulysses, Kansas with no easy way out, our mages discovered opposition from all sides. Vhara chatted with MR. GUY STOCKMAN of the Technocracy, who explained that a renegade branch of his faction is acting against them both. He then offered a deal: He'll keep the Technocracy away from them so they can pursue the remaining SAXUM OCULORUM fragments, if they'll thwart a cult that is working against the best interests of humanity and reality. Vhara agreed.
   Meanwhile, Stockman's associates engage Technocrats in front of the motel our mages were staying at. While heading for the CORRAL CAFE, one black unmarked vehicle provided cover for them, and a woman from Alina's past offered to help them escape the area. Alina declined, and once reunited, our mages rented a car and left town with all due haste.
   Now, our mages are on the road to BOULDER, COLORADO where they had arranged to meet with their mentors and find out what's really going on...

   Mentor meet-up! After finally leaving the town of Ulysses behind, our mages and their mentors met in BOULDER, CO to discuss recent events and figure out how best to proceed. Joining them in their discussion was THEORA HETIRCK, Herald of the Chakravanti, who confirmed the importance of the artifact they were slowly putting together. She also imparted to the gathered mages another fact of its importance: Locked away in the broken artifact is evidence of a threat to the Nine Traditions that must be brought to the attention of the NEW HORIZON COUNCIL.
   Warned of the Technocracy and its attempts to manipulate them, our mages ventured out to find the next piece of the SAXUM OCULORUM and uncover the information that it contains. Their next destination: ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI...

   On their epic quest to reassemble the shattered SAXUM OCULORUM artifact, our mages travelled to the location of the next fragment: ST. LOUIS, MO. Unfortunately, this piece was under lock and key at The Grant Agency, an apparent front for THE TECHNOCRACY.
   Infiltrating the building, NATHAN PERAZA found himself deep in enemy territory, surrounded by boxes and boxes of magickal items. Between car fires raging outside the building and gunfire from within the building, time is running out for our mages, but help may not be far off...

   Captured! Before he could locate the Technocracy's piece of the Saxum Oculorum, Nathan Peraza was discovered and subdued. Using our mages' own distraction to their advantage, AGENT GRANT moved Nathan to one of his vans in the chaos.
   Our heroic band of mages pursued the van and, with mysterious and knowledgable outside assistance, intercepted them before they could take Nathan to the airport. Their combined efforts subdued the Technocracy long enough to free their friend and flee the scene, but the Technocracy is not so easily thwarted...

   On the run after a daring rescue, our mages seek an opportunity to switch vehicles to throw the Technocracy off their trail. Unfortunately, the Technocrats intercepted them with a devastating cybernetic weapon: A Hyper-Intelligent Tactical unit, better known and feared as the HIT MARK.
   As they flee the wreckage of another vehicle, their escape is covered by the source of their mysterious help, WILDKAT. Providing them a portal to her safe haven, the Time-savvy Virtual Adept provides them a space to plan another infiltration of the Grant Agency, this time to liberate all of the magickal equipment stored within...

   The Technocracy is on the move! After Nathan's infiltration of the Grant Agency, AGENT GRANT has ordered the construct abandoned and moved to a new location. This includes the fragment of the Saxum Oculorum sought after by our mages.
   After tracking down the truck, our mages seize their opportunity to take the vehicle. There's just one problem: The best mage to drive the 18-wheeler is stuck in their truck, leaving VHARA MISRA to clear out the cab and get things moving while Agent Grant and his team are closing in...

   After stealing the Technocracy's truck and sending them on a low-speed chase, Agent Grant sent in air support to bring the chase to a close. In desperation, Nathan activated a SPIRIT DOOR wonder and sent himself, Vhara, and all of the confiscated magickal items into the Spirit Wilds.
   Vhara and Nathan found their way out of the Wilds with the guidance of native spirits, ending up on the outskirts of INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA. Far from both the Technocracy and Kai, but with the crystal fragment "in hand," our mages must group up and decide where to go next...

   Another Mage captured! Though Vhara and Nathan escaped the Technocracy, Kai was not so lucky. GUY STOCKMAN presented our mages with a new deal: Eliminate a cult that will doom the world, and he'll return Kai to them. Refuse, and they doom their friend and humanity.
   Investigating the North Carolina address he gave them, they find an old textiles factory under observation by Nathan's mentor, INEZ LELLOUCHE. But Stockman said he captured her along with the other mentors. But Stockman arrived at the factory with Kai. What is going on?!

   Outnumbered but determined to recover their fellows, Vhara, Nathan and Inez prepare to infiltrate ACE TEXTILES. The plan is simple: rescue Kai and the other mentors, then deal with the strange cultist activity in the factory.
   Backed by potent ritual magicks and a couple new artifacts, our mages stealthily retrieve Kai and set the stage for the rescue of their mentors. But all is not what it seems under the watchful eye of GUY STOCKMAN and the factory's current occupants...

   The infiltration of ACE TEXTILES has begun! While Nathan's mentor lures as much of the opposition away as she can, our mages are left to liberate the other mentors and deal with the highly unorthodox Technocratic procedure now underway.
   Now that KAI is back in the action, they're close to uncovering the truth of the strange situation they find themselves in. However, a new complication arises that will threaten both mages and Technocrats...

   The infiltration of ACE TEXTILES has begun! While Nathan's mentor loops back after losing much of their opposition in the woods of North Carolina, our mages are left to liberate the other mentors and deal with the highly unorthodox Technocratic procedure now underway.
   To that end, our mages have struck an uneasy alliance with AGENT GRANT against the forces led by Stockman within the factory. Will this truce help them liberate their mentors, or have they invited the enemy in to stab them in the back?

   The mentors have been rescued. The vat wyrm has been defeated. Agent Grant's Technocrats honored the truce given to our mages, and both sides witnessed the return of a villain from the Traditions' past - VOORMAS, THE GRAND HARVESTER.
   Finally, the last crystal shard of the Saxum Oculorum has been recovered, making this historic wonder whole once more. Our mages have achieved a lot of good in a short amount of time. The question now is: What will they do with this artifact?

   With the Saxum Oculorum handed off to the NEW HORIZON COUNCIL, our mages are known and celebrated as the cabal that recovered a valuable fount of knowledge for the Traditions. For their deed, they were gifted periapts by the Council as a token of their thanks.
   Home now and settling back into a routine that doesn't involve vat wyrms and Technocrats, our mages enjoy returning to the routine of their work and studies. Such quiet, however, is not long lived when you're a mage...

   Reality is in peril! The Valley is being converted into a high fantasy wonderland by a mysterious cloaked figure, THE GAME MASTER. Wherever he goes, wild magick lashes out and transforms everything around him, including the hapless Sleepers.
   Nathan and Vhara confronted this marauding mage at the bombed-out remains of the LDN STUDIO, until he summoned a white dragon to distract them. The dragon banished, our mages must find the Game Master and deal with him before fantasy becomes reality.

   Tradition mages are not solitary creatures. Even solo practitioners gather with their fellows from time to time for either protection or learning. In Los Angeles, the HEINIG HOUSE CHANTRY is a place where mages can congregate with others of like mind.
   Our mages may soon learn that there is safety in greater numbers, as the past refuses to let go of some Traditionalists...

   Increased attention from the TECHNOCRATIC UNION has led the mentors of our mages to pursue a chantry merger with one of the larger Los Angeles chantries. To that end, they journeyed to HEINIG HOUSE and entered into talks with the cabal leaders there.
   Accepted into the chantry on a trial basis, chantry members old and new gather to discuss what they each bring to the table and what the chantry's future may hold...

   The Technocracy is at it again, tapping the node that was to be contibuted to Heinig House as part of the chantry merger.
   Without that node, our mages will have to find another offering to their new chantrymates, or find a way to recover their node from under the Technocracy's nose.
   Fortunately, our mages have a plan...

   Success! Our mages not only saved their node from the Technocracy's tap, they also mobilized the neighborhood to stall Good House International's plans to build on the node's land.
   This calls for a celebration at Heinig House!

   The celebration at Heinig House is interrupted by a summons from the NEW HORIZON COUNCIL. The artifact they recovered has been misbehaving, and they hope that the cabal will provide insight.
   What they get instead is a vision, imparted by the Saxum Oculorum, showing what can only be the path to its previous resting place: HORIZON, former stronghold of the COUNCIL OF NINE. This vision, however, requires some verification from our mages, should they be willing...

Monday, February 12, 2018

So Much New, All At Once

Greetings, magelings! Today's usual blog post is missing due to a whole lot of life happening all at once, and I apologize for that. I moved back to Los Angeles, started a new job, and my writing routine for the past few months is in chaos. I'm also going to be on a cruise next week, which means this place will look pretty sparse for the rest of the month.

But fear not! I expect to have a lot of writing time by the pool for 7 days, so I'll have blog posts galore when I return. Hang in there, mages, it's only for a few more weeks!

In the meantime, hit me up with your Mage questions in the comments below, and check out my previous posts for any Mage tidbits that you might have missed. Also, if you like what I do here and want to see me continue to feature more awesome Mage stuff on my blog, a small donation through my Ko-fi button on the right would make my day and help me afford a new keyboard for my desktop computer. The shift key has been sticking, making writing very interesting of late...

See you in a few weeks!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Traditions Ascendant Chronicle, or "Hey, Let Me Tell You About My Game"

WORD OF WARNING TO MY PLAYERS: THERE BE SPOILERS HERE! If you're a player in my Traditions Ascendant Chronicle, close this page and go work on your character playlist or something!

I'm serious! Don't make me summon an army of Black Suits to scare you off!

Alright, you asked for it: IT'S BLACK SUIT TIME.

Roll Willpower, difficulty 10.

Good, now that my players have been scared off, here's a little peek behind the curtain of my Mage game, beyond the few hints I've offered in previous posts.

The Traditions Ascendant Chronicle is my take on the status quo of the current Mage setting, informed by the years of Mage games I've run for other groups. There have been some changes and updates to the history of Mage, mostly to reconcile my own Mage storyline with the official Mage metaplot, but a number of events are similar enough that anyone with even a passing knowledge of Mage's previous editions can jump right in. The Horizon War happened, the Avatar Storm happened, the Second Massasa War happened, the Rogue Council transmissions happened. The end of the world scenarios outlined in Ascension, however, have never come to pass. No calamity happened in 2012 that wasn't averted by the Traditions.

Major events in my Mage setting that might be a bit different from the Mage status quo: The Avatar Storm has dissipated, as have the transmissions from the Rogue Council. The latter is because the New Horizon Council has been around for the better part of a decade, formed shortly after the Los Angeles Convocation. At that convocation, the Traditions banded together and purged the Traditions of Nephandic influence, including the Nephandi who had impersonated Jeremy Case and led the Hollow Ones and various renegade mages on a campaign to destroy Horizon. Also different, the barriers between the living world and the realm of the dead almost vanished completely thanks to the efforts of the Orphic Circle, but their scheme was discovered and disrupted, and a sizable contingent of Spirit-savvy Traditionalists worked to restore that part of the Gauntlet and return the dead who had invaded when the barriers were at their thinnest.

Sorry, no zombie apocalypse today.

So, Traditions Ascendant is named because the Traditions are looking better now than they have in the past 15-20 years. They're reclaiming their old power, bit by bit, and adapting to a world that is not nearly as apathetic as some would think. Awakenings are on the rise, the Technocracy is in turmoil, and elections for the New Horizon Council seats are coming up soon. It's a good time to be a Traditionalist... at least, on the surface.

Unbeknownst to my players, not all is as it should be. As noted, the Technocracy is in the midst of great turmoil, divided between a Union that wants to protect humanity from supernatural evils and a sizable contingent that want to bring the world low under their brand of order. This is due to a great deal of Nephandic influence spreading through the Technocracy from the top down thanks to the Syndicate's Special Projects Division, and they're looking to reestablish their foothold in the Traditions. Add to that the reemergence of Voormas and the House of Helekar, the greatest threat that exists within the Traditions, and my players will soon have more to worry about than restless dead and newly rediscovered spirit paths.

The theme of this chronicle is "Preserve the past, save the future." This is at the core of most of my campaign's major conflicts at the moment. The players are recruited to help rediscover Wonders and protect nodes, all in service to protecting the Traditions and their power, or acquiring the tools and people necessary to survive and grow into the future. The mood in this chronicle is "Hope and wonder." The World of Darkness is a terrifying and dangerous place, but the Traditions bring hope to those who don't fit into neat little Technocratic boxes. The Traditions are given hope, as well, with each new mage who joins their ranks and every discovery that helps them to avoid making the mistakes that plagued them in the past. And through it all, from the hidden sites of nodes among their city to the newly rediscovered Horizon realms beyond their world, a sense of wonder and awe permeates each story in this chronicle.

I mean, there's a reason she's called Wonder Woman, right?

And that's the foundation of my Traditions Ascendant Chronicle. While I've hinted at my chronicle in previous posts as they relate to the game I'm running, future blog posts will tackle individual sessions and the subject matter that comes up within them. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Traditions Ascendant Chronicle, pop them into the comments below and I'll tackle them in short order!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mage and the World of Darkness, or "Vampires and Werewolves and Wraiths, Oh My!"

Shared universes are becoming a big thing in movies these days (thanks, Marvel!) but they've been around for a long, long time. Comic books are the most prolific form of the shared universe, but this concept also extends to books, TV shows and, yes, even tabletop games. So, let's talk about Mage: The Ascension and its place in the shared universe known as the World of Darkness.

Established in its flagship game, Vampire: The Masquerade, back in good old 1991, the World of Darkness (hereby abbreviated as WoD) came to be known as the collective setting that united White Wolf's various supernatural-themed game lines. Flavored heavily as gothic-punk urban horror, the WoD is commonly described as being a dark mirror reflection of our own world, one where supernatural creatures lurk in the shadows, preying on humanity while warring with each other. The animosity between vampires and werewolves was established early on, with additional game lines contributing much more to the fabric of that setting. Put another way, Vampire established the cityscape, Werewolf: The Apocalypse explored the wilderness and spirit world, Mage added a lot more layers to the spirit world and fundamental underpinnings of reality, Wraith: The Oblivion expanded on the underworld, and Changeling: The Dreaming explored the fae connections. Other game lines filled in the details of certain specialized areas like historical eras, other creatures such as mummies and demons, and the few humans who worked with or against these creatures.

So, how does the World of Darkness figure into a Mage game?

That's entirely up to you, really. There's nothing that says that you have to include vampires, werewolves, or anything beyond the spiritual denizens and realms described in the core rulebook. For that matter, the vampires you use in your game don't have to line up with those featured in Vampire, nor do your werewolves, fae, ghosts or any other supernatural type that has its own gameline.

Conversely, you can pick and choose how much of the WoD beyond Mage is applicable to your game. Maybe vampires as presented in Vampire don't fit your game, but you like the idea of Wraith's Shadowlands denizens and Changeling's Dreaming realms. Maybe you don't want to use Werewolf's Garou Tribes, but you want to pepper your game with the other Changing Breeds. Maybe the vampire interactions in your game begin and end with the Tremere, fallen Hermetic House that they are, or maybe none of that happened in your Mage. The possibilities to mix and match are endless!

Or maybe your Mage game just has mages. That's cool, too!

These days, I keep things firmly focused on Mage in my own campaigns, only lightly touching on the other supernatural types populating the World of Darkness. Thanks to integrating Critical Role's Vampire one-shot into my setting, my players have briefly encountered vampires due to the Geek & Sundry tragedy, and they're aware that other supernatural creatures are out there as well. My Chakravanti player has crossed over to the Shadowlands with his mentor and interacted with the wraiths who populate that realm, but wouldn't know a Deathlord from Steve, and I intend to keep it that way. Clans and Tribes and such have not been mentioned, and likely won't be, to avoid cluttering my game with non-Mage lore that has no real bearing on my players or the story we're telling.

Additionally, the flavor of my World of Darkness has evolved beyond the "gothic-punk" of White Wolf's heyday. It borrows far more from urban fantasy than anything else, with more psychological types of horror and a touch of cinematic flair. Mage in my World of Darkness is filled with wondrous things, sometimes frightening, sometimes awe-inspiring, and always crawling beneath the surface of the mundane. Spirits are everywhere, if you know where to look, and mages can venture into realms beyond imagining where they can interact with thought given form. My Mage is one of infinite possibility, but also infinite danger, and a careless misstep could spell disaster for even the most skilled master.

And sometimes, I throw something really creepy at my players...

When it comes down to it, your World of Darkness might not look anything like mine. It might be more of a futuristic dystopia, or a medieval wonderland, or might omit the "darkness" part altogether. Mage can be whatever you want it to be. The only question you have to ask yourself is, how does the World of Darkness figure into YOUR Mage game?

I'm primarily a Mage Storyteller, but I've run Vampire, Changeling, Hunter: The Reckoning, and Dark Ages: Vampire, and played in all of the others except for Demon: The Fallen. If you've got questions on how to integrate them - or any other World of Darkness game - into your Mage game, drop them into the comments below and I'll tackle them as soon as I can!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Player Departures, or "Teach Them How to Say Goodbye"

Breaking up is hard to do. It does happen, sometimes, that a player has to leave a particular game/group for any number of reasons. Maybe their work schedule changed. Maybe they're moving away. Maybe a conflict came up with another activity. Maybe they're not a good fit for the game or the group. Maybe two players were dating and now they're not seeing each other. Maybe someone just ghosts and gives no indication on why they left or if they're coming back.

Jon Snow: Pro at saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.

Player departures in a game already in progress can be awkward even in the best of circumstances. Here's a few tips on how to smooth things over based on my own experience running games:

Don't Pry If They Don't Want to Give a Reason
If a player leaves, but they don't want to get into the specifics of why, it's not your job to pester them until they tell you. Sometimes reasons are personal and have nothing to do with the game, and badgering the exiting player isn't going to get them to open up or feel better. On the contrary, it can quickly make for a terrible situation for the player. If they want to tell you, they will. Just be understanding and empathetic, and don't try to guilt trip them into staying. It'll be better for all involved.

Let Them Decide If or What They Want to Tell the Group
Some players have no trouble announcing their departure, while others don't want to make a scene. Either situation is just fine, but it should be the player's choice how they want to tell the rest of the group. Don't try to steal their thunder if they want to make the announcement themselves, and don't force them to say goodbye if they don't want to. Give them the option to do so, absolutely, and offer to say something to the group after the player departs if that would make things easier for them.

Don't Do Anything With Their Character Without Their Approval
GMs: Just because the player is leaving, doesn't mean you suddenly get an NPC to do with as you please. Talk it over with the player and try to find an agreeable fate for the character together. Maybe they want to have the character go off and learn or find something, to leave the door open for a return. Maybe they're okay with having the character NPC'd to avoid depriving the group of a valuable party member. Maybe they want the character's story resolved with finality, to close the door on that aspect of the chronicle. Whatever the character's future (or lack thereof), it should be the player's call, not yours.

Don't Give In to Pressure
Players: Your group may try to get you to give up your valuable gear, or the GM may ask for your character sheet to run your character in your absence. Don't feel obligated to give in to their demands if you don't want to. If you worked hard to get that legendary artifact, don't just give it up because another player wants to keep it in the game. Likewise, if you're not comfortable letting someone else play your character, you're under no requirement to hand them over. Your character is yours, and you get to decide what that means to you, not someone else. You do you, boo.

Saying goodbye is never fun, but the tips above should at least help make that departure a little less awkward for all involved. Got any questions about how to gracefully exit a gaming group? Ask them below and I'll get to them as soon as possible!

Monday, January 15, 2018

New Players in an Ongoing Game, or "The More, The Merrier, Right?"

Let's set the stage. Your game has been booking along for a few months now. Your players have developed a rapport with each other, in and out of character, and they've finally started working together as a group and not just a bunch of individuals in the same scenario. You're more or less conversant in the rules, you've hit your stride, and things are running smoothly. Then someone says, "Hey, I've always wanted to play Mage, can I join in?" And then someone else chimes in, "Oh, you're adding players to your group? I have a friend that'd like to join, too." And suddenly your gaming group gets upgraded with additional members!

There are a few concerns to address when adding new players to a game already in progress. Here are a few I've encountered over the years, and how I've addressed them in my own gaming groups.

That's not how you make a new player feel welcome, Mike.

First off, make sure your new players are a good fit for your game/group. Since my current group of players are all over the LGBT+ rainbow and play characters who are of a similar mindset, any new players to my game should at least be tolerant of those views. The last thing I want to do is bring in someone who will butt heads with the rest of the players on a personal level. Despite the World of Darkness setting that we play in, my games are a space where my players can be free to express themselves in ways they can't outside of the game. Drama should stay between characters, not the players. (It also helps if they can commit to the established game time.)

Next, work with new players to fit them into your game as smoothly as possible. If a new player to my game wants to play a Progenitor in my Traditions chronicle, I'd suggest alternatives to help them fit into the game better. Maybe that player is simply drawn to the Life Sphere and making new life forms, in which case a Verbenae character would fit well with the other players. If it's the tech aspect they're going for, maybe the Society of Ether or Virtual Adepts would appeal to them. It also helps to boost that character with XP close to, if not exactly at, the level that the rest of the characters are at.

Finally, make sure the original players have valid in-game reason to bring the new player into the fold. Sure, you and your group can hand-wave any suspicions or mistrust to immediately accept a new character into their cabal, but for story cohesion, it's much better to give them valid motivation to accept them. In my game, the players' cabal and their mentors visited a new chantry and were greeted at the door by my new player's character. While the mentors talked with the chantry leader in private, the new character gave the others a tour of the chantry (with informational assistance from me). Since this was a new location to all of my players, they were already on equal footing and were able to experience something new together right off the bat. At the same time, they were given ample opportunity to learn about each other and bond that a random encounter might not provide.

At the end of the day, adding a new player and making them feel welcome requires little more than clear communication and maybe a little extra planning than usual. To that end, check in with your new players after the game to see if they have any questions or concerns, and be open to adjusting the way things have always been in your game to accomodate feedback. The ultimate goal, after all, is to have fun with your friends. As they say, the more, the merrier!

Do you have any specific questions about working new players and their characters into an ongoing game? Drop them in the comments below, and I'll answer them as soon as possible!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Building A Marauder, or "The Secret Origin of the Game Master!"

Quick, if you haven't read last week's blog post, read it here before continuing on!

While designing the Marauder known as the Game Master for my chronicle's tribute to Critical Role's Thursday By Night one-shot, I was very conscious of walking a fine line between being entertaining and being aware of how I was treating mental illness. I didn't want this NPC to be a cartoon character, but I also didn't want him to drown my game in pathos. To my players, our few hours of Mage each week are an escape from whatever fire (metaphorical or literal) is currently raging in the world, and I try to evoke an emotional connection without getting too real.

Bringing a tragic example of mental illness into a game as an antagonist was going to be tricky but not impossible, as long as I could continue to strike that balance.

When creating a Marauder NPC, one of the most important things to keep in mind is what type of mental disorder(s) affects this character, as that will shape the landscape of his madness. Don't just settle on a bad Joker knock-off. Mentally ill doesn't automatically mean psychotic. Take the time to look up various mental disorders to find one or more that fit the type of character you're trying to build. Aside from the list already presented in the Mage corebook on pages 649-650, there are many online resources you can use, starting with Wikipedia.

For this Marauder, I chose a mix of fugue and megalomania from the list in the corebook, not necessarily in equal parts. This fit the origin I had in mind for this character - a die-hard Critical Role fan who had just Awakened to his power. Upon learning that the cast of his favorite show were apparently killed in an explosion on set, a mage who was already having issues coming to grips with his new reality suffered a mental breakdown and emerged on the other side of it with a new, if twisted, sense of purpose. Within the throes of a magickal disassociation from reality known to mages as Quiet, he retreated into the game world of his favorite show, seeing the world around him as the land of Exandria. Dubbing himself the Game Master, his first act was to wander Exandria and find the last known location of Vox Machina, which is how my players first came into contact with him.

Marauders are generally agents of chaos, and they have a number of ways that they go about screwing with mages and reality in general. One of them is a localized "sanity sink" in which the Marauder's view of reality overrides "normality" in an area, dragging Sleepers (and sometimes other mages) into the chaos mage's Quiet. In this instance, the game setting of Critical Role known as Exandria existed in an ever-expanding radius around the Game Master, and the poor hapless Sleepers caught in the path of his madness became part of the fantasy world that was at the heart of his Quiet. My players ran into children who had become goblins, police who were now city guard, and streets which now ran alongside castles and taverns.

Another tool Marauders use to sow chaos is called zooterrorism, the practice of dropping a mythical creature into a mundane setting and watching as mayhem ensues. As the self-styled Game Master, my chaos mage's response to the player characters approaching him was to present them a challenge in the form of something that the players of Critical Role might have to face... such as summoning a white dragon in the middle of the city to distract them while he tried to find Vox Machina's base of operations (AKA the LDN studios). As it happens, stats for all kinds of mythical creatures, including dragons, can be found in the Bygone Bestiary sourcebook.

Close enough to make me want to pee my pants!

Finally, as chaos mages, Marauders are able to pull off feats of magick that are otherwise beyond their capability. Officially, this is called Wild Talent, but you can call it Plot Device, Storyteller Fiat, or Rule Bending since that's exactly what it does. Since the Game Master believed he was traveling the high fantasy land of Exandria, his powers manifested accordingly, which is to say they were all very flashy and highly vulgar. Upon reaching the bombed-out remains of the LDN studios, he tried to bring Vox Machina (or at least, the cast of Critical Role) back to life with a Resurrection spell by praying to his deity (AKA his Avatar) to give them a second chance. The results, as befitting any act of Wild Talent, were not quite what he expected as Matt and Marisha were revived as their recently vampirised selves. Oops!

Altogether, this makes the Game Master a very dangerous and unstable antagonist, one which my players survived after nearly giving themselves over to his Quiet toward the end of the encounter. They reported back to their mentors, informing them of his last known location and direction of travel, hoping that others might be able to save this poor young mage before he's truly lost.

Want to bring the Game Master to your own World of Darkness game? I've provided his stat block below. Please note that these are stats befitting a relatively new Marauder for a "low level" chronicle, and you should feel free to change up his stats to fit your own game. Need to feature a more experienced Game Master whose Quiet has fully consumed him? Bump his listed stats up by 2 ranks and let him drop a piece of Exandria into a populated area to see who heeds the call to adventure. Let me know if and how you use him, and if you have any questions about Marauders in general or the Game Master in particular, post them in the comments section below and I'll address them lickety split!

Attributes: Strength 2, Dexterity 4, Stamina 3, Charisma 1, Manipulation 3, Appearance 2, Perception 3, Intelligence 4, Wits 3
Abilities: Academics 2, Alertness 2, Art 2, Athletics 1, Awareness 2, Computer 2, Cosmology 1, Crafts 1, Enigmas 3, Etiquette 1, Expression 3, Intimidation 2, Melee 1, Stealth 3
Willpower: 5
Health Levels: OK, -1, -1, -2, -2, -5, Incapacitated
Armor Rating: 0 (three soak dice, total)
Arete: 3
Spheres: Entropy 3, Forces 2, Life 2, Mind 2, Prime 1
Equipment: Crown Royal bag filled with assorted dice, TTRPG rulebook, mechanical pencil
Image: See below.
Roleplaying Notes: Matthew Mercer set a high bar for your ideals, and you're determined to live up to the legacy he and Vox Machina left behind. Mind helps you find "adventurers" best suited to your style of "play," and Entropy is useful for random encounters along the way. Life helps you survive those encounters, while Forces provides a powerful weapon to fell your foes. Prime provides the building blocks to create what you need for a given encounter. Remember, you are the Game Master, and your word is law.
Focus: All the world's a game, it all depends on how you play.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Marauders As Antagonists, or "This Is All Critical Role's Fault"

If you'd asked me a month ago if I've ever used Marauders in my game, I would have said, "No." I primarily run Tradition games, so I make gratuitous use of the Technocracy as antagonists and Nephandi as villains. Hell, thanks to the Mage Revised era of the setting, I would frequently use the Traditions themselves against my players as antagonists, to highlight how flawed and messed up the Traditions can be.

But now if you ask me if I've ever used Marauders, I'd say, "Yes. Yes, I have, and it's all Critical Role's fault."

Maybe I should give some backstory on that, and what Marauders are in the world of Mage: The Ascension.

To quote the Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition core rulebook, Marauders are "Metaphysical schizophrenics whose impressions of reality are so disconnected from the Consensus that they effectively exist in their own reality wells." But what does that mean? In simpler terms, they're mages with strong mental illness. When you can reshape reality with the power of your will, a disconnect from the reality that everyone else can observe - where up is down, the sky is blue, and the laws of physics rule - is a very dangerous thing. Putting that power in the hands of someone who sees reality differently than others, whose mind works very differently from those deemed "normal" around them, can warp reality into something unrecognizable, and that's something that both the Traditions and Technocracy do not want.

Mental illness is a touchy subject, and it's part of the reason why I've never used Marauders in my game before. Personally, I've struggled with mental illness in the past, and some of my friends and loved ones are dealing with their own illness as I write this. In some media, the presence of mental illness in a character automatically classifies them as a villain (see just about every Batman villain ever), and while I do lean on some archetypes in my game more than others, I tend to avoid using mental illness in such a way. Marauders just seemed like something I'd never tackle in my games.

And then Critical Role came into my life.

For those unfamiliar with Critical Role, it's an online show that streams on Geek & Sundry's Twitch and Alpha channels every Thursday night at 7PM Pacific. In its 3-4 hours, a bunch of nerdy voice actors get together, roll dice and play D&D in a campaign that started off-screen years before they decided to add cameras and mics to the mix. They're a group of amazing players who use their platform to show how much fun TTRPGs can be, but also to support a number of charities and causes. Most recently as of this writing, Matthew Mercer, the group's GM, joined a stream on Patrick Rothfuss' Twitch channel to talk about mental illness and how he deals with it in his life.

What does all this have to do with Mage? Well, their campaign ended recently and, in the space between making new characters for a new campaign to begin on January 11th, Critical Role has been featuring one-shots of other game systems, with each player running a different sort of game. Taliesin Jaffe was the first to step up to the plate, and he ran a two-part Vampire: The Masquerade adventure where the players themselves were turned into vampires and unleashed on the World of Darkness version of the Geek & Sundry studios (AKA the Legendary Digital Network studios). By the end of their adventure, the LDN studios had exploded and a number of names that G&S diehards would recognize were revealed to be some flavor of supernatural entity.

It was a weird, wild, sometimes silly but often thrilling romp through the World of Darkness played out to an audience of tens of thousands of viewers, something that I'd dare say is a first for my favorite game setting. It was so much fun, in fact, that I incorporated their one-shot into my own game:

Yeah, Taliesin RT'd me, so I guess you could say I've arrived.

Throwing their game into the background of my own chronicle was one thing. Setting up a true homage that played off those events from a Mage perspective was another, and it was something I wanted to tackle after wrapping up a long story arc with my players. I didn't want to get into the nitty gritty of vampire clans and such, but I did want to pay tribute to Critical Role and their Thursday By Night adventure in some way.

Then it hit me. What if a newly Awakened Mage was also a diehard fan of Critical Role? What if the demise of the G&S studios and the apparent death of the Critical Role cast drove that new mage mad with sorrow? What if that Marauder-in-the-making decided he was going to carry on their work and bring the world of TTRPGs to life, quite literally, by reshaping reality itself?

I finally had a Marauder concept worth creating: the Game Master!

(Continued here!)

Monday, January 1, 2018


Happy new year, folks! This is not my weekly post, it's coming on Tuesday so I can take a day to recover from NYE. I'll give you a teaser for tomorrow's post, though: Marauders.

Here's to 2018, may it be ever so much better than 2017!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

End of 2017 Holiday Break

Hi, all! No blog post this week, I'm spending time with family and getting ahead of my 2018 posts. Enjoy the holidays, and I'll be back with more Mage goodness in the new year!