Thursday, December 15, 2016

Third Game of Christmas

Previously on the Games of Christmas: Alternity, Star Wars

And now....


The previous two games I discussed for this series were old favorites of mine. Loves from a bygone era. This one is a little different. When it first came out I was not a fan. Take your mind back to the nineties. Good times. Good times. Teenage Jake was there, and he loved games. I still do. Back in those days I loved games by Palladium, ICE,  TSR, FASA, WEG and all that. So I come across White Wolf games and the World of Darkness, and it just confused teen me. It started out with these short stories and it was full of in world jargon. And it was like three chapters in before it even got to character creation. Also the weapon tables were minuscule. The folks in my area who played the world of darkness games all kind of looked down on me and my love of action and such. So I kind of ignored the games for years. One day I decided to buy one of the games and I chose Mage: the Ascension second edition. HOLY CRAP!!!! it was full of everything I loved. Goggles, laser swords, rocket battles round the moons of Jupiter(as an aside how cool is it that we now have a satellite around Jupiter?!), shooting fire from your hands and being awesome all the time everywhere. So lets dig in.

Mage: The Ascension

Lets start with the version I am using. Once again RPG naming conventions are confusing. There was Mage First Edition, good, then came Mage second edition, also fine. Then they did Mage second edition revised, which changed so much they should have called it third edition. And now there is Mage twentieth anniversary edition. For this review I will be dealing with Mage second edition, as that is my preferred version of the game and setting. We clear? good. Now lets hope I can keep all of this in order in my own head.

Peritextual Elements
I love the cover. It is simple and yet powerful and evocative. It is a solid example of simplicity in design. Within the game the art varies from excellent to kind of confusing to wretched. I like most of it, but some did not age well. At all. That said I like that White Wolf was trying to push boundaries with the art in games and that attention to mood and tone really shows through. The layout is pretty standard and the Font choices do not get in the way. There are no big issues with layout.

Mechanics
This is a dice pool system with Attributes rated from one to five. Those attributes are added to skills which are rated from zero to five. So at most you will be rolling ten dice, though in practice you can end up with more and most often are rolling less. The skills are divided into three categories for arbitrary reasons, but that is not all that important. It is a task based system and when you roll for the task you must beat two difficulty settings, the target number and the success number. The target number is the number you must match or exceed on a ten sided die in order for that die to be a success. As you are rolling multiple ten sided dice you may also need to have a number of those dice show as success, each of those is a success and you tally number of successes. If that sounds complicated...it is. Also for each one you roll on any of the dice you must take away a success. Also if you have an attribute at four or higher you have a specialty(I think its called that) and if you are in a situation where that specialty would apply any of the dice that show as tens explode(much like the wild die in Star Wars). So that is the basic system. GM sets the target number and the number of successes needed, and you roll and check number of successes achieved against that number. Sound good? Well now we get into magic.

Mage is a game about magic. I know right, such a surprise. Well you see it is about all magic that has ever existed being real. And because that makes no sense, how that would work in a world where things seem to make sense. So what that means is that reality is subjective.  You get a critical mass of people believing a thing is possible and suddenly it becomes possible. However if you try to do magic and no one believes its possible then it gets really hard and reality hits you back. SO magic in this game isa complex equation of figuring out if your magic type is coincidental(it fits with the established rules) or Vulgar(it obviously doesn't) and how many normal people are watching and a whole bunch of other factors. You then add in the size and duration of the effect your trying and that tells you the target number and the difficulty. If you fail or if you push too hard then paradox hits which is like a different kind of magic and it is not a cool thing. I like this game I swear I do, but when I try and explain the rules I can see people's brains just going to white noise.

I will end with this. The rules are not that tricky once you get used to them, but they do have problems and are often very clunky in places.

The Setting
There is also a GURPS version, if you don't like dice pools
You get to play Neo. You get to be a Jedi. You get to be John Constantine. You get to be Doc Savage. This game is about fighting to change reality through shear force of will. Your character knows that the world is a stranger place than anyone imagines. In fact it is stranger than anyone could imagine. And in mage it is your job to wake the world up to every possibility. The problem is that there are forces that get in the way. Forces that want to stop you. Forces you must stop. The Technocracy were a group of guys with a great idea. They just wanted to make the world sane and safe for normal people to live. However like most Utopians, they did not care how many bodies they needed to step over to get their desired outcome. Now they are slaves of orthodoxy and dogma. They are not saving the world for the normal people. They have enslaved the normal people to their will. The serve the status quo. The Nefandi are like if the Joker had superman's powers...and a TARDIS. They are mages who seek to destroy everything. They have burned their souls in the desire for power and now they seek to burn the world. If you do not stop them, everything dies. Even abstract concepts will die. Marauders are chaos incarnate. Sometimes a Mage goes mad. Mad mages are not hit by paradox. So these mad mages wander around and do whatever they want, the break the very fabric of reality. Cause and effect no longer apply, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria. The universe is also divided in two. There is the real world that we see around us right now and then there is the spirit world, the umbra. All magic is coincidental in the umbra. However there are things that dwell in the umbra, spirits, gods, demons, and stranger dwell within. While a mage can do much, they are still mortal. However you can make a secret fort in the umbra where only your magic rules work and no other types of magic work. and each planet has its own umbra so you can travel through the umbra and get to Jupiter or mars, or whatever. It is very cool. Look, the setting is big. Like, really big. I haven't covered it all, I haven't even covered most of it. But I love the setting. The setting and the optimism inherent in it is what keeps me coming back to it.

I do not own the Twentieth anniversary edition, but from what I have seen and heard it fixes a bunch of stuff and it has everything in it. No seriously, everything. Its like 600 pages long or something. Anyway, that is this day of Christmas.

Tomorrow...

Transhuman Space