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!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Gladius of the Defender, A Homebrew Mage: The Ascension Wonder

Wonders that instruct or help with mundane tasks are great, but sometimes you need something you can count on in a fight, am I right?

Below is a Wonder I made for just such a purpose. Created for the mentor of one of my players, it may get passed on to him in the course of our gameplay, should anything dire happen in the course of the chronicle. (Dire? In the World of Darkness? Bwahahahaha!) Feel free to use it in your own Mage game, along with any of the Mage creations I've posted previously and will likely post in the future. And if you do use any of them, please tell me all about it!

Gladius of the Defender
4-point Artifact

When Inez Lellouche first joined the Knights of Radamanthys in the Chakravanti shortly before the Reckoning, her mentor Aramus gifted her with a remarkable Wonder that she has used as both focus and weapon in the course of her duties. This blade, a classical gladius, was passed on to Aramus from his mentor, and Inez will pass it on to her student when the time comes. In the meantime, it is an essential part of her arsenal as bodyguard to her chantryleader, and as mentor to her young charge.

In the hands of a Sleeper, this is just a short, wide-bladed sword that does Strength+2 damage. However, when the blade is unsheathed by a mage, it guides the wielder's sword arm to block, parry, and/or deflect any incoming physical attack, whether from melee or ranged, bullet or energy weapon, up to a number of times equal to their Dexterity rating each round of combat. The mage may make a free reflexive defense action to roll Arete (difficulty 5) and add each success to any roll used to dodge or block a direct attack. If all successes of the incoming blow are negated, the attack is deflected harmlessly, but scoring additional successes means the sword deflects the incoming attack back at the attacker. Damage for the counterattack is rolled as normal, adding each success beyond those necessary to negate the original attack roll as extra damage dice. However, failing the Arete roll does not trigger the artifact's counterattack effect but still permits the free defense roll, and botching the roll prevents the free defense roll entirely.

Use of this weapon can become vulgar depending on the attack being deflected. While it is ineffective against non-targeted attacks such as fire, smoke or falling debris, it can potentially deflect attacks from military-grade weaponry, up to and including guided missiles. Care should be taken in regards to when and where the blade's power is used.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Magick System of Mage Part 2, or "Wait, There's MORE?!"

I could spend a blog post a week writing about the Mage: The Ascension magick system for two full months, and still not cover every facet of that magnificent free-form system. There's so much good stuff that Satyros Phil Brucato put into M20 and its books that it would be impossible to do them all justice here, but there are key components that might not jump out at you when faced with chapters of rules crunch. Here's another piece of the magick system that you should know when choosing Spheres for your character.

Last month, I posted a breakdown of the Sphere system at the core of the magick system. And last week, you may have noticed that the primer I posted listed one of those Spheres (Time) with a number next to it (1). But what does Time 1 mean in the context of the magick system? I'm so glad you asked!

No, Bill, what are you- THAT WAS MY KEYBOARD!!!

Each of the nine Spheres listed on a character sheet has five dots next to them. Each dot represents one rank in that Sphere, a measure of how skilled your mage is at manipulating that facet of reality. Max ranks denotes mastery of that Sphere, and no ranks means your mage hasn't learned how to do anything with it yet. The more Spheres you have ranks in, the more versatile you'll be in casting magick.

But what does each dot signify? Is this like Starfleet or something, where the more pips you have, the higher your rank? Well, yeah, kinda. The breakdown looks something like this:

Rank 1: Extrasensory Perception - Considered a "sight beyond sight" rank, the first dot in a Sphere lets you perceive it in an enhanced manner. For example, Time 1 would let you see exactly what time it is without a watch or sun/moon position, Spirit 1 would let you see un-manifested ghosts around you, Forces 1 would reveal the source of sound or lightwaves, etc.
Rank 2: Minor Manipulation - Once a mage can see the Spheres in a different way, they can start interacting with them in small ways. Life 2 would let you heal yourself, but not others. Forces 2 would let you direct sources of light and sound to aid in stealth. Correspondence 2 would let you affect something that is nearby but not in your immediate field of vision.
Rank 3: Greater Control - Rank 3 is when a mage learns how to affect those Spheres in more obvious ways, effecting other people, places and things. Forces 3 would let you transform heat into cold and light into sound. Entropy 3 allows you to throw around blessings and curses. Matter 3 would let you convert copper into gold.
Rank 4: Major Command - This is when magick starts to get big and noticeable, affecting the Spheres in profound ways. Mind 4 allows for mind control, or astrally projecting yourself elsewhere. Prime 4 would let you drain a place of power of all its magickal energy. Forces 4 can affect weather patterns, either clearing up clouds or turning them into rainclouds.
Rank 5: Ultimate Mastery - The pinnacle of the Sphere ranks, mastery of a Sphere means you know that facet of reality inside and out and can use it to miraculous effect. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Everything from creating duplicates of yourself to pocket realities falls within the rank 5 effects, including time travel... though ultimate power also comes with ultimate consequence if it's abused.
That's a hell of a paradox backlash, Genie.

And that's how the Sphere ranks work! Using the above guide, you can form your own magickal effects for whatever best fits your character. For example, if you have a mage who wants to teleport himself between his home and his chantry, you would use Correspondence 3 to jump between those two locations, or Correspondence 4 to create a stable portal that others could also use to travel between those locations instantly. If you just wanted to pull your keys from one location to another, however, you'd just use Correspondence 2, and maybe Matter 1 to make sure it was keys that came through instead of something else.

Got any questions about Sphere ranks and how they work? Ask them below and I'll be happy to answer them!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Nate's Avatar Trance Club Mix, A Homebrew Mage: The Ascension Wonder

One of the fun bits of Mage: The Ascension is creating magickal items that your character and others can use in-game. Collectively called Wonders, these include everything from minor charms and primers to powerful talismans and artifacts. They can be purchased at character creation through the Wonder Background trait, or acquired through the course of the game. Some mages specialize in Wonder creation, and your character can either seek them out to have one made especially for them or become a crafter of Wonders yourself.

There are whole Mage sourcebooks dedicated to magickal items. The Technomancer's Toybox and Forged By Dragon's Fire contain some cool (if technologically dated) stuff, and the more recent Book of Secrets has a chapter with up-to-date Wonders and the rules associated with them. Below is a homebrew Wonder created for my chronicle, presented for inclusion in your own Mage game or as inspiration for your own Wonder. Enjoy!

Nate's Avatar Trance Club Mix (Primer)
2-point Wonder (Arete 1, Time 1)

Traditionally, when one thinks of a grimoire, the image of dusty tomes of forgotten lore springs to mind. One might even consider the oral grimoires of Traditions who pass information down verbally instead of written record. Very few mages, if any, would think of a mix tape as a grimoire, but that was exactly the inspiration behind Nate's Avatar Trance Club Mix.

An Ecstatic of some renown, Nathaniel "Nate" DeLaurentis was a musician and DJ who traveled the world and beyond until he met his end in the Horizon War. Before the Reckoning took him, however, he crafted a CD of his life's work, a legacy left to his chantrymates in San Francisco. Every week, the new chantryleader plays the full collection at the nightclub connected to their holdings and watches the crowd for those who are stirred to Awakening by the eclectic mix.

Lovingly mixed by Nate as a compilation of original works that blend from one song into the next, each piece of the club mix was inspired by his own Awakening. The first track hooks a listener with a simple but catchy beat, and the tracks that follow lead them through the chaos of discovery, the shock of Awakening, and finally the joy of ecstasy. Through each track, the bassline evokes the Lakashim, the divine pulse that thrums through all of Creation. And as a bonus track, Nate added a curious piece that imparts a unique way of perceiving Time through music with creative use of looping and repeating rhythms from earlier tracks.

Any musically-inclined mage may benefit from the primer, but the Sahajiya have a special connection to its usage. For obvious reasons, mages who are hearing impaired are unable to make use of this primer.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shadow Scryers, A Homebrew Mage: The Ascension Spirit

Official supplements are great, but they're not comprehensive. Sometimes you need a creature or NPC that doesn't exist in available books, or you need to tweak something that exists to fit your chronicle better, or maybe you just want to throw something unexpected at your players. In that case, you might just need to build something new to drop into your game.

That's how I ended up with the Shadow Scryers.

Below is the information I wrote up for the homemade spirit I created for my latest Mage chronicle. Feel free to use it in your own games, or tweak it for your own purposes. Enjoy!


"Look, shut up a second and listen to me. I'm not safe here. Call it paranoia or whatever, but I swear, when I left Blake's hidey-hole with the relic, something followed me and I can't seem to-"

Malcolm whirled, certain he saw something moving at the edge of his vision. The motel room was empty of anything that shouldn't be there, other than himself, the cell phone he was using to check in with his pal, and his bag by the door, but he couldn't shake the feeling that someone or something was watching him.

"...I have to go. If you don't hear back from me in one hour, get to the chantry and get help."

He hung up his cell phone, then opened up his custom camera app and scrolled through the different filters. First Material, then Flora/Fauna, and on and on. When he cycled to Spiritus, Malcolm nearly dropped his phone. Standing in the far corner was a tall, slender, shadowy humanoid figure staring at him with milky white eyes.

Swallowing his fear, Malcolm moved slowly, cautiously, toward the door, silently praying that whatever that thing was, it wasn’t easily provoked. He glanced away only for a second to grab his bag, the one hiding the stolen relic, the spirit's empty eyes following him all the while.

Unlocking the door made the spirit's head tilt ever so slightly, but it made no movement to intervene. That was fine by Malcolm. He opened the door just wide enough to slip through, then sprinted the rest of the way to his car and peeled out of the parking lot.

And still he felt as though he was being watched.

Much like their close Sendings cousins, Shadow Scryers are spirits compelled to serve a specific purpose. Where Sendings are messengers – disembodied communications with images and voices but no set form to speak of – Shadow Scryers are spies, intended to quickly locate and quietly observe a person or place and report back their findings.

Spotted easily enough by mages well-versed in the spirit ways, those with only a heightened awareness of their surroundings might catch fleeting glimpses of movement in their peripheral vision. When discovered, a Shadow Scryer continues observing until action is taken against it. When attacked, it defaults to the flight category of "fight or flight" reactions, sometimes instilling sudden and crippling terror prior to fleeing, to better avoid being pursued.

Shadow Scryers vary in appearance, taking the form of urban legends, mythical creatures, ghostly figures, even aspects of long forgotten gods and mages. Despite their name, they are not formed from shadow, although they do prefer darkened corners when spying. Although these entities appear to have some form of sentience and survival instincts, their silence makes discerning their true purpose all but impossible.

In game terms, Shadow Scryers can be summoned and compelled to act by any mage as per the Spirit/Dimensional Science Spheres. These spirits make ideal eyes and ears for those who wish to avoid direct attention, but still want to gather information from afar. It should be noted that these entities are not fighters, but their instincts strongly deter those from following the spirit back to its mage master.

Willpower 3, Rage 4, Gnosis 10, Essence 25
Charms: Flee, Influence, Soul Reading, Terror, Track

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Magick System of Mage, or "What Do You Mean, There's No Spell List?!"

"Mages are supposed to have spell lists, right? Where's the spell list for Mage?"

The short answer is, there is no spell list. At least, not like you'd find in a game like D&D.

Jareth is totally a D&D sorcerer multiclassed as bard.

The long answer is, Mage's magick system is so robust and versatile that a simple spell list really wouldn't do it justice. Since this game assumes you're playing a mage, there's no need to call attention to whether you're playing a sorcerer or a cleric as you might in other games. There's no spell slots to keep track of, no daily limit to the amount of spells you can cast, no need to mark down which ones you can use for the day... in short, Mage is all about making your mage a badass who can cast a wide variety of spells, not just a short list of them.

Instead, Mage's freeform magick system revolves around two important mechanics: Spheres and Arete. The Spheres embody the nine spheres of influence (get it?) that mages can use in their magick. These are:
  • Correspondence - the Sphere of spatial location. Any spell that you want to cast over a distance greater than line of sight will use this Sphere, such as scrying, teleportation, or co-location.
  • Entropy - the Sphere of probability and decay. Any spell that affects chance or fortune will use this Sphere, from curses and blessings that affect people's luck to affecting the health or decay of a person or thing.
  • Forces - the Sphere of energies and elements. Any spell that incorporates fire, electricity, radiation, wind, gravity, light or sound will use this Sphere, from invisibility to cones of silence to changing the weather.
  • Life - the Sphere of organic patterns. Any spell that affects a living creature, person or animal, will use this Sphere, including healing magicks, shapeshifting, or altering someone's apperance or physical attributes.
  • Matter - the Sphere of inorganic patterns. Any spell that affects non-living material, from chairs to buildings (even corpses, for you necromancer types) will use this Sphere to conjure and shape them as you please.
  • Mind - the Sphere of mental prowess. Any spell that affects the mental faculties, either yours or someone else's, will use this Sphere, from creating simple illusions to outright mind control and manipulation.
  • Prime - the Sphere of raw magickal power. Any spell that creates something from nothing will use this Sphere, in addition to enchanting people or items, fueling magickal attacks, and powerful countermagick defenses.
  • Spirit - the Sphere of the Otherworlds. Any spell that affects spirits, ghosts, and the realms outside of and beyond the physical will use this Sphere, in addition to travel to other worlds and realities.
  • Time - the Sphere of temporal location. Any spell that you want to send forward or backward in time uses this Sphere, which is useful for precognition, speeding up your reaction time, and even freezing another spell to go off under special circumstances.
Aang excels at the Forces Sphere.

Any time a mage casts magick, they'll use the above Spheres to figure out if they can pull it off. If you're lacking ranks in a particular Sphere, you may have to get creative to come up with an alternate way to pull it off, pending Storyteller approval. Fortunately, the Spheres overlap with each other in significant ways, and a truly creative player can do a lot with just a few ranks. While it's tempting to throw a lot of points into Spheres so you can do crazy things with them, there IS a game mechanic in place to make sure players don't go too wild with power. That mechanic is Arete.

Arete is like the "cast magic" trait of Mage. The higher the score, the more your mage understands how reality works and how it can be shaped by the Spheres. As a result, you can't have more ranks in a Sphere than you have dots in Arete. If your Arete is 3, none of your Spheres can have a rating higher than that. That's also the highest rating you can have as a beginning character, and it's the most expensive trait to raise with experience points as the game goes on. Sorry, power gamers.

Arete is also a rolled trait. Unlike the Spheres, which are primarily a way of tracking what your character knows, Arete is a reflection of what they can do. If we're going off of the aforementioned Arete 3, that's 3 dice you'll roll to cast an effect, versus a target number of the Storyteller's determination. The more dice you roll that meet or exceed that target number, the more successes you'll be able to put toward making a strong magickal effect.

That's because Willow needs to raise her Arete instead of her other traits.

For example, one of my players wants to scry into a nearby building. He wants to look beyond his line of sight and through the walls blocking his vision to get a better idea of the layout. Correspondence is used in this effect for sensing beyond his immediate area, and Matter is used to get a measure of the physical structure itself. If he wanted to take note of how many people are inside, he'd throw Life into the mix, but he doesn't have that Sphere yet, so he'll settle for the building layout. To cast the effect, he'd roll his Arete of 2 and hope for at least one success if he's in a hurry, or take his time with it to roll multiple times and accumulate successes for the effect.

There's a bunch of other smaller things that go into casting magick in Mage, but those two elements are at the center of it all. Once you wrap your brain around those, the rest is gravy.

Do you have any questions about the core of Mage's magick system, or how it's used in actual play? Post them in the comments below and I'll jump on those lickety-split!