Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mage Character Creation, or "What cast of characters am I working with?"

So you've got players, and you've got an idea of what kind of game you're going to run for them. Grab those character sheets and pencils, it's time to crack open the rulebook and get to character creation!

My intent here isn't to rehash what the rulebook says about creating a character. Point allocation is covered pretty well within those pages. No, my goal here is to dip into the deeper meaning behind all those dots, to get to the core of what character creation really is, especially in regards to Mage: The Ascension.

In D&D, you don't really have to get deep into who a character is, beyond picking a race and class and rolling up stats. Your elven ranger doesn't need to have an epic motivation to go dungeon-delving, and if all you want to do is roll dice and kill monsters, more power to you. But the heart of Mage is the idea that their magic powers are borne from belief and the strength of will to turn an idea into reality, and that kind of information lives in a character's concept and backstory.

Now, that isn't to say that you need an essay from each player on who their character is (although the rulebook does provide several questions for the players to answer if they want to deep dive into what makes their characters tick). It does help if they can give you a brief character concept as a basis for what they want to play. They don't necessarily need to know exactly which Tradition they want to play right at the start, so long as they know what kind of character they want to play. Does one want to play a mad scientist type? Does someone want to play a Harry Potter type mage? Does another want to play a shaman, or a neo-pagan, or a martial arts master? Once they figure out what they want to play, you can help each player figure out the details of what allows them to use magic in the game.

Once concept is in place, point allocation becomes less of grabbing stuff that looks cool and more of what supports the vision of that character idea. Not that grabbing cool stuff should be denied! By all means, permit your Hollow One player to have a raven familiar and let your Etherite adventurer have his ray gun weapon. But don't allow your Dreamspeaker player to get Requisitions or Alternate Identity just because. There should be a reason behind every dot on that sheet, even if that answer is "My DJ Ecstatic has 2 dots in Firearms because her father owned guns and made sure his teenage daughter knew how to use them."

I was lucky - even though my Mage game is online, I was able to help half of my players with character creation in person. The other two who couldn't complete this step in person created their characters over voice chat with the book on hand. This took a little longer to do, what with scheduling and all, but it all worked out and each player was able to email me a PDF copy of their character sheet for reference, along with a brief history of their character. In the end, we ended up with (below, from left to right) Vhara, an Akashayana yoga instructor; Nathan, a Chakravanti photographer; Kai, a neo-pagan Verbenae; and Alina, an ex-military Virtual Adept.

And just like that, the characters assemble and we're ready to game! If you have any questions about specific parts of the character creation system, post them below or over at my chronicle's Shadownessence thread! Next up, the first game session!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My Thoughts on the Comic Book Adaptations of the 21st Century

In the wake of the flood of superhero TV we're getting from ABC, the CW, Netflix and soon more, I've come to a decision - I'm not going to watch anything and everything comic book related anymore.

There once was a time when I absolutely would. Gleefully. Hungrily. I'd devour comic book movies and TV show to support what used to be a very niche market, and the better of them I'd rewatch to help support putting better comic book fare in multimedia. In my teens, I watched the crappy Judge Dredd movie, then watched the far superior Dredd of a few years back several times. I've watched every Marvel movie for years, even before the MCU was an idea. I've watched every Batman and Superman movie for years, even when they were utter crap.

Now, here we are. For the most part, comic book movies are far better than they've ever been. They're not an afterthought to appease a rabid fanbase that just wants to see Spider-Man swing across a New York skyline, or mutants waging war with crazy superpowers. There's still some bad ones out there, but now they're the exception, not the rule. Video game movies still need to get there, but at least comic book movies have arrived. They're mainstream. They're everywhere, in movie theaters, on TV shows, and there's only going to be more.

So, yeah, given the glut of comic book adaptations making their way to screens big and small, I don't feel like I have to watch them all. I can choose which ones I want to put my money and time toward, to show support for the best of them as opposed to all of them. No more dragging myself through stories like Iron Fist just because I feel like I have to, a sentiment I've felt with the upcoming Inhumans show. I can watch The Flash without having to follow along with Arrow and not feel bad about it.

We'll see if others follow suit, and how comic book adaptations fare from that.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mage Game Planning, or "I should probably figure out what my game is about, huh?"

Running a game isn't just a matter of having a rulebook, some players, and lots of dice. A good GM screen helps, too, amirite?

But seriously, it helps to know what sort of game you want to run, and what your players are interested in playing, before you start your first session.

Mage: The Ascension is a multi-layered Black Forest Cake of story possibilities, with several playable factions, diverse character concepts, and a multiverse of settings and time periods to use as the backdrop of a game. From gangs to gods, back alleys to alien worlds, and whatever else your imagination can conjure, Mage has you covered. Add to that the flood of rules, both standard and optional, provided in the 20th Anniversary Edition and you have everything you need to run any sort of game you could imagine. So, where does an enterprising Storyteller begin?

First, you should have some idea of what you're comfortable running. If all your players want to play Technocratic Union agents when you're more comfortable keeping the focus on the Nine Mystick Traditions, your game is going to have problems. Which factions are off-limits? Are you keeping things street-level, or going for more of an epic scope? Starting level characters, or more powerful characters? Are there any areas/powers that you would mark off-limits? Are there any game ideas that your players would prefer over others, or places they don't want to go in their games?

For my Mage game, I knew I wanted to run a chronicle firmly within the rules and setting established in the Mage 20th Anniversary rulebook. I also knew I wanted to use the wealth of Mage material I had collected over the years, and to introduce my players to both rules and game world gradually so as not to overwhelm the new players with everything at once. The ultimate goal, to give the game an ever-widening epic scope that the players could fall into easily, with each session pushing their characters deeper into events that would determine the fate of reality itself.

I was flexible as to faction - traditionally (heh), I've run games using the Traditions and the Disparates, but I've always wanted to run a Technocracy chronicle. I left that decision up to my players, some of whom were new to the idea of Mage, with these two options:

* M:tA - Traditions Ascendant: Mage is a game of urban fantasy, where magic is real and changes the fabric of reality itself. In Traditions Ascendant, you would play a mage of the Nine Mystick Traditions, sworn to keep the fire of ancient magic alive in a world growing increasingly tech-centric. Be careful how you work your will in public, though, lest you attract all the wrong sort of attention!
* M:tA - Technocracy Ascendant: As above, but instead of playing a Tradition mage, you would play a newly recruited agent of the Technocratic Union. The Technocracy has sworn to protect humanity from supernatural threats, and it'll take every ounce of your considerable will - not to mention advanced scientific Procedures - to get the job done. Just don't call what you do magic or you might end up on their list of Reality Deviants, too!

My players unanimously voted for the Traditions option, which helped to shape the direction of my epic game narrative. I opted for basic character creation rules, no merits or flaws to complicate things, and from there, it was just a matter of settling on a date for game.

I had my players, I had the general gist of the game I wanted to run, now it was time to flesh out more of those details with player characters! We'll delve into that in the next installment. Post any questions you might have below, or over at my chronicle thread on Shadownessence, and I'll be happy to address them all!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mage Pre-Planning, or "OK, I want to run a game, how do I do that?"

If you're a player of tabletop roleplaying games, chances are you've already got a head start on running a Mage: The Ascension game. You've got dice and pencils and character sheets and rulebooks, or at the very least access to them. You know what your ST, or Storyteller (AKA: GM, Game Master, DM, Dungeon Master, person running the game, etc.) does that you like, and you have some idea of what you might change if you were running the show.

Now, if you're totally new to TTRPGs, you have a bit more work ahead of you. Unless you're running your game over an app or service that offers digital tools to run a game - and there are several out there that offer things like a digital tabletop, voice and text chat, file sharing, die-rolling and more - you're going to want to stock up on dice and pencils and... yeah, the stuff I listed above, including the rulebook of the game you want to run. Your friendly local gaming store is just a Google search away, and those stores always welcome the business. Sure, you can find a lot of that stuff online, but I'm a big fan of supporting small businesses, and game stores are firmly in that category. Amazon isn't going to miss your dollars, I assure you.

As a side note, Mage will save you money in one area: Miniatures. Unlike D&D and its close cousins, buying and painting miniatures isn't a requirement, and neither is a battlemap for them. I know some people like that part of gaming, and I certainly have miniatures of my own that I use for my other gaming group, but Mage and its sister games are part of a ruleset that encourages more free-form gaming and doesn't want to bog players down in such rigid details as how many squares away is the bad guy and if you'll provoke an attack of opportunity from the minions around him. Having some indication of environment and clear descriptions of people and places does come in handy, though, and we'll get into that later.

So, you've got your dice, your pencils (only noobs use pen), your sheets, your books, what else do we need?

Oh, right, players!

If you're part of a gaming group, chances are good you'll be able to recruit them into your game. It's how I got my first players, by recruiting straight from my gaming group. I also recruited from friends who wanted to check out what this RPG thing was all about. Between fellow gamers and my own circle of friends, I had the beginnings of my very own gaming group. If you're OK with casting a wide net, you can usually put up a notice in your local gaming store informing other gamers that you're looking for players. Most gaming stores even have table space for running your session at the store, if you're not comfortable inviting strangers into your living room, and I've run game sessions in cafes before.

So, how does this translate to my own Mage game prep? Well, I've been at this gaming hobby for a while, so I already had dice and books aplenty, dating all the way back to Mage: The Ascension 1st Edition (and you can get just about every Mage book as a digital or print-on-demand copy from Drive Thru RPG). I wanted to game with people I already knew, so I tapped my gaming partners, as well as friends who I'd gamed with before and their significant others. Out of the 7 people I approached, 4 of them said yes. Not half bad! Since my players are scattered all over SoCal, I set up a Facebook group and Google calendar for coordination, and opted for Discord as our gaming medium.

Next we'll discuss deciding on what kind of game to run for your players, but if you have questions regarding the pre-planning stuff above, post them below or over at my chronicle thread on Shadownessence. I'll answer every question that comes my way!