Homebrewing from multiple sources – 84 powers in a table with a lot of blank space

GURPS has well-defined powers, interactions, and logic.

I dislike GURPS dice systems.

The Old World of Darkness has excellent atmosphere and supporting splatbooks. Its dice system is interesting but clunky. Its emphasis on Storyteller interpretation and encyclopedic knowledge of obscure rules is downright unworkable. Its Sphere system is pretty bad.

Ars Magica has clear, simple rules that are fairly concise and yet highly detailed and flexible. Its verb-direct object system is much clearer than Mage Spheres. On the downside, Ars Magica is thoroughly wedded to the pseudo-medieval, pseudo-Aristotelian setting.

What are my priorities?

  • A point system that looks more like Mage’s Quintessence than it looks like Torg’s Possibility Points;
  • Well-defined, logical, clear-cut rules that allow complex combinations of story elements without judgement calls;
  • Non-clunky dice systems;
  • Absence of metaplot distractions;
  • No need for encyclopedic memorization; Continue reading

Directly siphoning Life into Quintessence with Prime 5 Wonders

Thebian and JustJohn…again, two users of the White Wolf forums, have kindly educated me about an aspect of the Mage rules that I had never really used properly – the distinction between fixed and free Quintessence.

Thebian wrote:

Prime 3 is enough to channel free Quintessence, but fixed Quintessence (which things are made of) requires Prime 4 (for inorganic) or Prime 5 (for organic) to turn into free Quintessence that the caster can use.

Thus the “thirsty blades” of the Mage Storyteller’s Handbook were doing Prime 5 effects. In the 1st edition rules, they would have been five-dot Wonders.

When I look back at how 1st edition was written, there is a Prime 4 effect for destroying inanimate objects only. The authors could have gone the extra mile and explicitly articulated the notion that Prime 5 would allow a similar effect on living things.

Page 215 of 2nd Edition – A rank 5 variant destroys living beings.

Re-analyzing Mage Spheres in terms of Ars Magica verbs and direct objects

I have often tried to compare the spheres in Mage to the verbs of Ars Magica.

Recently it struck me that “Fount of Paradise,” the Prime 5 effect that creates Quintessence within a mage, can be considered “Creo Stable Quintessence.”

“Bond of Blood,” Prime 3, is “Muto Pattern to Unstable Quintessence.” It can get one point of Quintessence, which must be used immediately, out of any pattern.

However, there is no particular fixed amount of Quintessence that would be needed to create a kilowatt of electricity; one needs Forces 3 Prime 2, regardless of whether one wants to create a watt or a kilowatt from nothing. Prime 2 could be considered to unlock “Creo Pattern,” and that Pattern can be Matter or Forces – I suppose it would work for Life as well, but there are many examples of Forces 3 Prime 2 and Matter 3 Prime 2 throughout the books.

Likewise, “Flames of Purification,” Prime 4, is “Perdo Pattern.” It can be combined with “Bond of Blood,” Prime 3.

It’s slightly annoying that the systems don’t match up neatly with similar Mage effects, such as the “Thirsty blades” I had thought I had seen somewhere, but are apparently not in “Forged in Dragon’s Fire.” on page 60 of the Mage Storyteller’s Companion.

According to that book, each healthy human contains 10 points of Quintessence, and the proper artifact can drain all of them. If a cabal of mages with such weapons were to get into combat with every adventure, they would have plenty of Quintessence points. Of course, a trail of murdered bodies would doubtless attract attention – but the Tass would flow freely.

I might be tempted to actually start recruiting players for a Mage chronicle based on such a premise.

“The player must devise a means by which the same effect can result through a different appearance. The description can only involve “realistic” events, and must be at least remotely believable.”

One problem with adjudicating Mage: the Ascension is that it is very hard to distinguish between what the Storyteller believes is possible in real life and what the fictional NPCs believe is possible in the game.

For example, the Storyteller might be an atheist who disbelieves the reports that Saint Joseph of Cupertino flew through the air by the miraculous power of faith. If that is the case, it will be very hard for that Storyteller to allow players to even discuss those reports of miracles. The tendency is for such a Storyteller to hear “flying” and automatically say “fantasy.” The Storyteller won’t even discuss coincidental, vulgar without witnesses, or vulgar with witnesses. The Storyteller will very often say, “Flying is something Superman does, and this is not a four-color superhero game, pick a different effect.”

Even in the loosest version of Mage rules, there is language that would seem to discourage miracles. E.g. p.172 of 1st edition Mage: “The player must devise a means by which the same effect can result through a different appearance. The description can only involve “realistic” events, and must be at least remotely believable.”

However, there are many other relevant passages in many rulebooks. Page 182 of 2nd Edition Mage notes that mythic threads and particular foci may make the difference between vulgar and coincidental. Page 185 of the same book notes “Away from the cities, people still believe in things other than Science. … Christian ministers … can get away with more than they normally would be able to. … flying on broomsticks is never a good idea these days.” The rules leave it open to interpretation whether flying in the traditional Christian manner of Saint Joseph of Cupertino is just as vulgar as flying in the pagan manner of a broomstick-rider.

The practical difficulty in running Mage is that various participants will have drastically different notions of what is remotely believable. Some Storytellers will say that flying humans can be coincidental (if they resemble Saint Joseph of Cupertino) and other Storytellers will say that flying humans are always vulgar.

Do I really know the rules for Mage: the Ascension?

All tabletop role-playing games can lead to rules disputes.

Some games have weirder rules than others.

Mage: the Ascension is a game with very strangely written rules, and it has often been the battleground on which fierce rules disputes have been fought. I might try to run a chronicle with those rules, but I anticipate that some of my players might question whether I understand the rules at all.

One major purpose of this blog will be to write about the rules of Mage: the Ascension, in order to provide a trail of documents from which I can argue that at least I have done the background reading.