Monday, May 25, 2015

Mage of Aquarius(/Let the Sunshine In)

In which I discuss M20's handling of philosophy and cosmology.

an XKCD comic about Mage, or possibly particle physics, or probably both

A couple weeks ago I posted about my vague dissatisfaction with some elements of Mage's core conceit and, more specifically, the way it comes across to the players. (Push that onto your stack, I'm coming back to it.) It spun off an interesting side-argument on Twitter about whether the nine spheres were actual metaphysical pillars of reality or merely a convenient way the Order of Hermes (and by extension, everyone they badgered into using their terms as an inter-Tradition pidgin language) grouped related arts and they only reason they were codified on a character sheet was because you had to attach numbers to something if you wanted to pretend to have a system.

I argued the latter position, but it turns out I was wrong, because Shade and Shard Realms exist and there are nine of them and they correspond to the nine spheres and also the nine planets (except Pluto got de-listed as a planet, which M20 implies was a petty Technocracy swipe at the Euthanatos for closing off S.R. Entropy, which is hilarious and will be canon in every game I run for the rest of time).

(These realms aren't new, but it's been a really long time since I read The Infinite Tapestry and an even longer time since I actually used it in a game, so I just plain forgot about them.)

I found this on the old White Wolf forums. I have no idea of the original source.
My favorite thing about this book might be putting all that shit in the core and doing a pretty good job of setting down and sticking to terms. M20 finally has what you actually need, soup to nuts, for the Umbra. And at no point does it tell you to go read a Werewolf book instead.

Thank fuck for that. (Sorry, Werewolf fans, but I kinda hate your game. Nothing personal.)

I don't, by the way, want to poop on the old Umbra books – The Book of Worlds and The Infinite Tapestry are, in my opinion, each among the top books of their editions. But those are in-depth coverage of people and places of the spiritual world; the core book still needs to give enough to work with, and we finally have it.

On top of that, almost every topic of "reality" vs "the consensus" gets similar treatment. Rather than the position of previous editions that "literally everything is up for grabs (but also there are mummies and were-spiders because reasons ::jazzhands::", M20 stabilizes the universe a little, bridging what were previously oft-contentious arguments.

Maybe you liked the idea of putting everything down to the consensus, but I've had the "fine, explain vampires still being a thing" argument a few too many times (and this was before I could blame Twilight).

At the same time, it also nods a bit more in the direction of a diverse consensus and acknowledges that frankly, science is not universally accepted either. The devil may go down to Georgia but a lot of evolutionary biologists won't.

So to pop stack, we come back to "is the secret to Real Ultimate Power for Mages to just read the book they're in", and M20 does a really good job of untangling that too. It makes it very clear that other than Technocrats, the Awakened, by and large, do know what the shit is going on. But lacking both the will and expertise to bang on reality directly, they rely on tools and structures of beliefs to ease the path until they achieve mastery (ie, buy up their Arete and Willpower).

This isn't a new approach, by the way! It has some support in previous texts. The problem, historically, has been that other interpretations also had support in different (and even sometimes the same) texts. And I'm the kind of person who likes the core book to lay it out clean.

The handling of the Technocracy is a little weird in this respect but they've always been in a sort of Orwellian doublethink willful ignorance category so it works thematically if not practically.

M20 also gives GMs a spectrum to use where Tradition technomages get some advantages (their stuff is usually more coincidental) and some disadvantages (they abandon tools and foci more slowly). That's a neat compromise and I'm very happy with it.

I'm torn on taking on the topic of paradigms in this post, because it may be better served as part of the post on Sphere magic, or even spun off into its own thing. For the moment, since I'm also hopped up on NyQuil, I'll give a capsule review. I think M20 goes a little too far in fleshing out certain types of paradigms when I generally would prefer players to think of that on their own, but I can easily imagine it being useful for newer Mage players. Generally the coverage of the topic is far more useful than what we've gotten in corebooks past so consider that only a minor complaint.

Overall, my opinion of M20's handling of Mage's cosmology and philosophical elements: Very high.

More to come.