Almost done reading through Mage. The main item I've got left is the Boston mini-setting in the back, and then there's some legacies and merits and things that I'll read in more detail later. (It's unusual for me to read a new RPG book as thoroughly as I've been covering these new World of Darkness volumes, I'm usually a lot more haphazard about it. But it's an entirely new system and I've got a lot of time on my hands, and I'd like to do a thorough appraisal before I get back to school and start playing.) So far, I like what I see. The system's spiffy, I'm starting to get this whole "themes" thing, and there's an amusingly large number of references to dungeon crawling -- I mean, exploring Atlantean ruins. Right.
The one thing that's keeping me from enthusiastically throwing myself into running the thing is the setting. Not that it's bad -- for "secret modern occult politics" it's quite good, and I like what I've read of it so far. But it's still modern, and it's still a pre-made setting. Both of those things make me nervous.
I've never run a modern game. The closest I came was when I ran a session of Feng Shui where the characters helped President Harrison Ford fight Nazi ninjas. I've run post-apocalyptic cyberpunk, a fair amount of fantasy, and a brief, ill-fated space campaign, but never anything even close to real world modern. I don't write much realistic (or even semi-realistic) fiction, either. I've started giving it a little more attention lately, but for a long time I just wasn't comfortable writing anything set in anything remotely resembling the normal, modern world. Even if it was supers or something, the real world parts would trip me up.
I'm not entirely sure why this is, but it makes me wonder if I can do a decent job with Mage as written. What if there's a real, good reason I've avoided running a modern game all these years? What if being uncomfortable with it throws off my game? What happens if, three sessions in, I decide I can't handle it?
Pushing myself out of my comfort zone could be a good thing. But the other problem with the setting is simply that there is one. All but one of my campaigns have used more or less custom settings. I did once run a game in the Diamond Throne, but I completely changed the geography, significantly altered the history, and didn't use several of the races. It's a habit that worries me, because while there's a lot I can do to alter the magical parts of the Mage setting, I'm a lot more limited in geography, history, culture, and most other major things I could change, if its still going to look vaguely like the real world.
The set up does have its advantages. Everyone has more or less the same baseline knowledge of the world: like ours, but darker. I don't have to do much in the way of pre-game explanation to allow everyone to make characters that fit. And there's a lot of material already out there. I can use maps, neat history facts, and locations from the real world, even with a few minor modifications.
But I haven't quite been able to convince myself. I'm still wondering if I should put the effort in and whip up a neat little dark fantasy or cyberpunk world or something, give myself a little more room to breath, a setting more like I'm used to. The only problem with that is that, at the moment, I don't have enough to hang a game on. If I already had some crazy cool idea that would work with the system, I'd be sketching it out without giving it this much thought. Trouble is, I don't have anything like that already, and despite my misgivings about running Mage "straight" I don't know that it'd be worth the effort and risk to try to force a more unique setting.