Thursday, January 08, 2009

Early Thoughts On Mage Orders

I'm about halfway through Mage, currently making my way through the rotes. It's interesting reading; the orders and paths make a lot more sense now that I know what they can actually do. The most interesting thing I've noticed is that each of the orders suggests a very different kind of camapign. It's not hard to imagine a mixed cabal, but on their own each order has its own unique set of activities.

In that sense they're much more distinct from each other than Vampire covenants. The covenants are much more different from each other politically, each having far more divergent views on the origin and purposes of their kind than the different orders do of theirs, but their core activities are all more or less similar. Each seeks to expand its own power at the expense of the others, by subverting mortal wills and weaving webs of favors and deceit. They've each got their own style, and different things they want to do with that power, but every vampire is driven by the same basic needs of territory and haven.

Mages, too, all have the same basic goal of learning secrets and advancing their power, but each of the orders has a very different set of day to day activities. The Mysterium leans towards "magical Indiana Jones," while the Guardians of the Veil are more black ops cloak and dagger. It's not simply that a guardian is "the sneaky one" and a mystagogue is "the book-ish one," filling different roles the way classes do in D&D. Each order represents its own mode of play.

The "default" mage game seems to be a mix of the different activities of the orders -- searching for mystic secrets, defending those secrets from rivals, dealing with mortals when something goes awry, and mixing it up with the local power structure. This provides another contrast with Requiem, which presents a mostly universal set of basic behaviors -- feeding, finding a haven, gaining and maintaining access to good territory -- and then layers the goals of an individual or group on top of that foundation.

Not that any given Awakened group wouldn't have its own unique features, but a game could also be defined by what it omits from the basic design. Drop the political aspect entirely, or nix adventures in long forgotten tombs. Secrecy from sleepers would be difficult to remove, being a core part of the game, but it could be de-emphasized, a barrier to other actions rather than something the group takes a proactive stance towards.

I suspect, though, that an amalgam of different styles would make for a very robust, interesting game, such that intentionally tampering with the basic mix wouldn't be worth the trouble. But a certain amount of adjustment would be inevitable; the players would naturally signal the activities they're most interested in by the order they choose for their characters, and the campaign would shift to fit those preferences. That strikes me as one of the strengths of this model -- there's a lot of variety in what a "normal" campaign might look like, and there's a built in method for the players to clearly demonstrate what they want out of the campaign.


  1. I think that your read of the orders and the way that they come into play in campaigns is pretty astute, at least from the games I've played. One thing that needs to be kept in mind, however, is that Awakening is a much more political game that Ascension was, more akin to Vampire in that regard, and the divergent interests of the Pentacle Mages are designed in order to build the dynamics of this aspect of the game.

    I only had it pointed out to me recently by a friend of mine that the designers come right out and say in the introduction that the theme of the game is one of paranoia (little p, not big P ;) no clones for you). What a mixed PC cabal -- which most games have -- offers, is the potential for drastically divided loyalties between personal goals, the goals of one's cabal, and the goals of one's order. Some of the orders, whether they realize it or not, are just diametrically opposed philosophically. The Silver Ladder hold a single awakened nation as a religious goal, while the Guardians have a quasi-religious belief that this unity is dangerous; the Mysterium finds the Guardians' secrecy to be anathema the scholastic devotion to the truth of a good mage, and the Free Council's denial or lack of concern regarding Atlantis to be infuriating. And while the Ladder and the Free Council might have similar goals, their views towards hierarchical structures are at logger-heads.

    I will say that I think there is one downside to the orders; I don't think the game designers had a firm enough grasp of them in the main book, and the Order books really expound upon them in very useful ways. But that's true of most splats anywhere.

  2. Good analysis on the Mage Orders. Mage: the Awakening is by far my favorite of the nWoD generation and the diverse spread of play styles suggested by the orders are a really big part of why I like it so much.

    I agree that having a single Order cabal would make for a focused game, and one where a single play style would dominate and you'd still have plenty of room to run around in.

    Likewise, Rush's note that it's also a game of paranoia, makes Mixed Groups also interesting since players not only have to worry about the enemy, but also each other. Selfish motives have a home in nWoD, and having cabal mates secretly undermine each other for the betterment of their own Order's agenda isn't out of place at all. (even if my own players tend to team up and trust each other readily.)

  3. Rush: Mage Paranoia? That sounds like a wicked Seers of the Throne game -- the Exarchs are your friends!

    philgamer: The intergroup politics is one of the more intriguing aspects of the nWoD. I've had a bit of intergroup conflict here and there in the past, particularly in my most recent long running campaign, but mages, and supernaturals generally, have a lot more reason to stick together than the average adventuring party, on account of all the more powerful examples of their kind out there, and whatever other problems they have to deal with. Makes it more people to have a couple of characters who dislike each other stay on the team.