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Character creation and progression: What is optimal, what's a trap?

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  • Character creation and progression: What is optimal, what's a trap?

    Hey, so I'm relatively new to Mage the Ascension,and so I was looking for some help on the topic of character build choices, optimization and progression. I know that I should consider the flavor of things and it depends on context and the game, and a million other detractions, but even still I would like to ask.

    For a slightly investagatory game with only a moderate expectation of combat, what sphere's and merits and skills are probably good, which are bad? What will I find the most consistently useful in your opinion and how do I make the most out of any given ability? Is there any particularly broken combos that exist that are fun to be aware of, even if they might not be used?

    Any and all input is appreciated, and while I understand that some people might be opposed to what I'm asking on principle please understand that it is intended to help me fully grasp the framework of the game and not harm my ST or the other players experience, and any actions that might do so will exist only in the realm of "a fun idea, in theory." Thanks.

  • #2
    There is no suboptimal build in Mage, I don’t think. Any combination of skills can be useful or problematic given the circumstances, so it all depends on what kind of role you want to fill.

    If you want to be the party face, for example, you’d probably want to invest in talky stats like expression, subterfuge, and a heavy dose of charisma and manipulation, likewise if you want to do a lot of the physical stuff then dex and strength are more your priority. Stamina is always recommended unless you want to be particularly weak, and perception is not something to skimp on.

    Regarding the spheres, again, it all depends on what kind of magic you want to focus on.
    I usually recommend to my players that it’s better generally to focus on one or two spheres, than to stretch their staring points on 4-6. Having a lot of level 1 spheres can be interesting certainly, but really limits the amount of stuff you can do magic wise. Having two 3rd level spheres can be good, but does limit the amount of exp you can spend on spheres, depending on how strict your ST is about learning new spheres and gaining Arete.

    On the whole though, any sphere combination at a good level can be well utilised as long as you’ve got a good imagination.

    However, some spheres are more ST dependent than others. Spirit and Prime require a lot more ST involvement than the others in my experience, so make sure if you’re interested in those that your ST is prepared to give you spirits to deal with, nodes to find and either understands or has their own rules for crafting wonders.

    If you take Time to level 2, make sure you talk to your ST about how your future and past visions work. That kind of magic can very quickly suck all the suspense out of a game if mishandled.
    Last edited by Saikou; 04-17-2018, 02:26 PM.


    Keepers of the Wyck: A Chronicle I'm running FINALE: Chapter 39: Green Fairy

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    • #3
      There is no trap in mage when it comes to the picking and progression of the spheres and relevant skills - only more and more exponentially growing possibilities. It's not like D&D where you betterchart out your character progression for Max Optimization beforehand.

      That said, for investigatory purposes, the Mage spheres actually play out their strengths rrrrrrright from the start - the first level of every Sphere is all about perception of the sphere.
      See genetic material left over at the crime scene? Life 1. Subtle tracks left in soil? Matter 1. Hidden compartments, otherwise unnoticable dents or fractures in things? Matter 1 and/or Correspondence 1.

      Then things can get a little deeper. Noticing if somebody is potentially lieing during questioning, or getting the emotions in the room? Mind 2/3. Tracking people no matter where they go? Life 3/Correspondence 3. Pushing your mind to Sherlock Holmes levels of perception and wits? Mind 1. Go beyond humanly possible in those? Mind 5.Getting oracular sensations of past events? Time 2.

      And most of this is just a subtle scratching of the surface, without going into the other possibilities of single-sphere usage, and it just *explodes* in possibility as soon as you combine spheres, like the Life/Correspondence combination above to track an individual. P.s. the same combination could be used to also deal damage to them from afar.


      BUT. That all said, here is the important part:

      What the individual sphere levels can do on paper in the corebook does not necessarily also equal the full set of things things the character actually can do with them.
      Wether or not your character can *actually* do all the things described in the sphere level's descriptions highly depends on their paradigm; Their worldview and belief.

      You can imagine a witch 'sensing the lifeforce' of a certain individual having been in the room, and her using a sort of pendulum to track then across a town, but you would not expect her to use Life to gene-sequence a drop of blood.

      Likewise you would not expect an Etherite to look into a cauldron's reflection to gaze at past events, but they will most certainly use their Quantum-Neuron synchronizing helmet to temporarily boost their intelligence and wits to solve a puzzle.


      What you can do with the Spheres highly depends on your creativity, your character's belief system and paradigm, and wether or not you get the idea to combine spheres in interesting ways.

      Things like that. Welcome to mage where there are no simple answers to simple questions most of the day


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      • #4
        The Mage 20 core is missing the many pages of sphere effects found in prior iterations of the game. So, for spheres, what you can do is limited by the general five-level scheme:

        level 1 notice the sphere. For Forces, you can hear sound better and see kinetic energy and nuclear energy and different wavelengths. Level 1 perception magick is pretty awesome.

        level 2 minor manipulations. For Forces, you can jam machines with static, amplify light, do extra kinetic damage and do minor movement effects. Also, you have minor control over heat, too.

        level 3 more significant manipulations. For Forces, if you have Prime 2, you can create any of the forces in a decent-sized amount. You can also negate Forces. So, your mage just turns on or off the lights in a building or can start big fires. If your mage has a laser pointer, you could turn it into a deadly weapon if that fits your paradigm, which is why one of my Hermetic professor characters is always armed. . .

        level 4 even more significant manipulations. For Forces, you can control nuclear, magnetic and gravitational forces as well as other forces. You can control more and more, so at this level, you're talking about moving cars.

        level 5 world-shaking powers. Ball of Abyssal Flame and other seriously powerful effects are possible here. Your mage can pretty much control the force over city blocks.

        I would suggest any mage who wants more than their Avatar's worth of Quintessence pick up Prime 1. While they are not required abilities, Awareness and Occult are about supernatural knowledge. Awareness is perceiving auras and signs of supernatural activity. Occult is general understanding of strange things and after a low level, a good excuse to go into lore.

        Stamina is more useful in certain combinations. Mages, being humans, do not soak lethal or aggravated damage without a merit or armor. So, if you play a high Stamina mage, you are either reflecting general vigor or need more investment to be able to take gunshots and not die.

        In general, Mage is a game that relies heavily on player skill and imagination. You can roll many attribute+ability or sphere effect rolls based on what you and your group consider a good idea at the time; there is always another way to do magick.

        Welcome to Mage!

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        • #5
          Well it certainly seems like my question was a bit short sighted and broad having seen these responses. Thanks for the input, and I'll definitely consider this more in depth in the future. I have noticed both here and elsewhere that a lot of people seem to find time and prime (past 2, or maaaybe 3) to be difficult to work with and ST dependant, so maybe I'll avoid those for my first run through.

          Perhaps a better follow up question would be: "What spheres and abilities have you personally found to be the most consistently useable and reliable in the broadest variety of circumstances?"

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          • #6
            Matter, life and forces are all really general. You're almost always dealing with something falling under their purview - yourself, the walls and your own clothing, if nothing else. Entropy is a lso sort of generically useful - it's purview is more nebulous, but all the more useful for that. For abilities, well, that really depends on the storyteller. When I run games, Awareness and Empathy are by far the most common rolls. For other games I've played in though, Athletics ruled all.

            I'd really, really suggest though, that you'll have a lot more fun with the system if you don't try to figure out what's useful - instead think of a really cool character, and figure out what sorts of things they can do. Everything is useful if you use it. Mage, moreso than other gamelines (even other White Wolf ones) is less about solving problems and more about living in a world. You'll have fun if you approach the character sheet from the perspective of "how do I represent this person I have in my head" rather than "how do I prepare myself for problems the ST will put in front of me."

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            • #7
              Thanks for the response. Just to make it more clear, it's not that I necessarily feel the need to make a character that will overcome the problems that the ST presents me. A character intended to do that could be one heavily invested in research, crafts and occult. It's more important, for me at least, to feel that I can proactively declare an action and feel confident in being able to accomplish it. Being able to just successfully *do* what I want is a big deal, and learning about or knowing or building things is something I can have allies and contacts for.

              For that, I find the idea of playing a character more invested in things like Athletics, Larceny, Brawl and Intimidatio, for example, better than one invested in Finance, Crafts and Biotech.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by PixelPuzzler View Post
                Perhaps a better follow up question would be: "What spheres and abilities have you personally found to be the most consistently useable and reliable in the broadest variety of circumstances?"
                Hah I guess the best way to actually ask this question is: "If you could have some low level spheres in real-life, which ones would you absolutely love to have?". And immediately the question becomes super-relatable and usable in an RP context.

                And non-surprisingly, they tend to be the spheres that concern things people tend to interact with on a daily basis. In my opinion, they can be rather easily ranked:

                ------------

                Let's see. Life. Definitely Life, because life equals health, it equals healing, it equals sensing other beings around and it is the gateway to locking further effects on other beings. It potentially equals being able to live to old age with way less worries.

                The second sphere that is great is Matter. Unsurprisingly the other side of the coin when dealing with things that surround us. Identifying matter, identifying compositions of the objects around. Shaping them, transforming them. Potentially more prone to Paradox, as turning lead into gold just isn't supposed to happen even with the most advanced mundane science.

                The third would be the third so-called pattern sphere (As they deal with the patterns of things the world is made of): Forces. Forces is an *extremely* versatile sphere when you realize, that anything around us in mundane reality that is not made of matter or alive, is a force. Magnetism, light, heat, radio waves, x-rays, ultraviolet light, sound, kinetic energy. Under some paradigms, darkness and cold become forces to sense, create, shape and manipulate. This sphere is probably even more dependant on a Mage's worldview and paradigm than the previous two above.

                Next comes Prime. Prime directly synergizes (oh man, I should make a business powerpoint about this now..) perfectly with the three previous spheres, since Prime can be used to create them out of nothing, and it can be used to draw the necessary energy from Nodes to make those creations permanent, instead of making them vanish when the effect ends: Quintessence. Similiarly, Prime can be used to deconstruct objects, energies, and at higher level living beings into said Quintessence. If Life, Matter and Forces deal with concrete patterns around us, Prime deals with the building blocks those are actually made of.

                Mind. Mind hardly needs any explanation, as it lets you read emotions and thoughts, lets you shield your own emotions, influence people subtly and gather lots of information. Also as an added bonus, it is key to boosting your own mental abilities and doing supernatural feats of multitasking.

                Time. Time is all about sensing the flow of time, glimpsing into the future and past, slowing or speeding things up. It's biggest advantage is that at a higher level, you can use it to give spells a 'trigger'. You cast a spell, and make it so it goes off if somebody opens that door over there. That's what you need a relatively high Time sphere level for. Else all effects you cast are immediate. And ultimately at mastery you get to Time Travel and potentially get lost forever until you meet The Doctor.

                Spirit - Kind of a 'niece' sphere in the terms that, unless your character deals with the Umbra, spirits, Umbral travel or ghosts, there is probably no big incentive to really focus on it.
                That said, now imagine an investigator who is able to locate and talk to the ghosts of the victims Yep. Suddenly it becomes quite interesting again.

                Then comes Entropy. Depending on your kind of character, it is either the most useful sphere you can have, or not, as it deals with all kinds of change. Chances of change, directions of change, fate, doom, decay and growth. Entropy is change, even if many discussions mostly focus on specific chance/Luck/fate/decay/deconstruction types of specific uses. It is in parts a very esoteric sphere to understand at higher levels, as it even deals with changing concepts or ideas.


                ------------


                And the unranked mention that you can place anywhere is:
                Correspondence. Correspondence is, if we look at all the other powers in the World of Darkness as shown by Vampires, Werewolves and the like, probably *the* sphere that the other creatures can emulate the least: It deals with space. Space, relations, sizes, distance and metaphysical connections.
                That is, it lets you use all the other spheres over distances that go past your normal senses. It lets you make a piece of space unpassable. It lets you 'instantiate' patterns into several locations at once. It lets you teleport, separate things without actually breaking them up, and is just a very, very very fancy sphere that has the more use the more creative you get with it.


                At least that would be kind of my RL ranking of usefulness
                Last edited by Ambrosia; 04-17-2018, 03:48 PM.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by PixelPuzzler View Post
                  Hey, so I'm relatively new to Mage the Ascension,and so I was looking for some help on the topic of character build choices, optimization and progression. I know that I should consider the flavor of things and it depends on context and the game, and a million other detractions, but even still I would like to ask.

                  For a slightly investagatory game with only a moderate expectation of combat, what sphere's and merits and skills are probably good, which are bad? What will I find the most consistently useful in your opinion and how do I make the most out of any given ability? Is there any particularly broken combos that exist that are fun to be aware of, even if they might not be used?

                  Any and all input is appreciated, and while I understand that some people might be opposed to what I'm asking on principle please understand that it is intended to help me fully grasp the framework of the game and not harm my ST or the other players experience, and any actions that might do so will exist only in the realm of "a fun idea, in theory." Thanks.
                  OK, I'm going to contradict people here:

                  There is a lot of character optimization to be done in the WoD base system, and Mage in particular. It's just very different from char-op in systems that want it to be part of the fun. This is all said to be in the realm of theory-craft. In play there's lots of reasons why optimal XP isn't going to be the most important thing for fun, and milking Flaws is rarely a good mix in group play.

                  General WoD Char-Op:

                  The most important thing understand is the "Linear Creation, Quadratic Advancement (LCQA)," issue. 90+% of char-op in the WoD comes down to this.

                  The fundamental issue here, is that at creation, traits are costed in a linear fashion. Each dot of Attributes costs the same regardless of it being the second or the fifth. Advancement with XP uses a multiplier. The second dot of an Attribute costs 4 XP, while the fifth costs 16 XP. This creates (usually) an incentive to create "tall" characters with as many high ratings and low ratings as possible rather than even ground characters.

                  As an example, lets so your goal is to have 5/5/5 in one of the Attribute groups. If you start with 5/4/1, it will cost you 56 XP (16+4+8+12+16), but if you start with 4/3/3 it will cost you 72 XP (16+12+16+12+16), Depending on what your goals are for your character, there can easily be ~200 XP between the least and most optimized ways of getting there.

                  Abilities have the same basic issue with some wrinkles (there's a cap of 3 without freebies, and more differences between Ability groups). Do to the way Skills and Knowledges work, you do want 3s to start in anything you want to be good at... but you also want as many 1s as possible, esp. for Knowledges. This is a bit of a trap because Knowledges in particular cannot be rolled if you don't have dots in them. A character with Dexterity 4/Brawl 0 is the same (if not actually better depending on their Dexterity specialty) at punching people as a character with Dexterity 2/Brawl 2, because Talents have no penalty for a zero rating. A character with Intelligence 4/Investigation 0 automatically fails, while a character with Intelligence 2/Investigation 2 has four dice to roll. Even if you don't want to invest heavily in Knowledges because you feel they're too prone to not being proactive (which is kind of subjective), having at least one dot in them means you get to roll, and that roll can be boost.

                  Bonus Points vs. Experience Points:

                  An extension of the LCQA issue, is that the freebie/bonus points you get to spend where you want at creation to flush out your character are not costed in relation to relative costs in-play. Attributes are slightly more expensive in relation to Abilities at creation than they are in play. For normal traits, this isn't big enough to worry about... but when I get to Mage specific issues we'll get back to this.

                  Backgrounds, Merits, and Flaws:

                  Backgrounds are a minefield of traps, because there's really two kinds of Backgrounds that the game doesn't not differentiate for you. Some Backgrounds are more innate/special traits that are rare to ever see raised in play. If you're reading a Background and don't have an immediate good idea of how to increase it purposefully in play, you're looking at one of these. Other Backgrounds are more external/relationship focused. If you can easily see how you might get it to go up and down, you're probably looking at one of these; because they'll easily go up and down in play.

                  Talking to your ST is vital here, because most Backgrounds are raised or lowered solely at the ST's discretion. How they approach this, and possibly apply the rules for purchasing Backgrounds with XP, very much influences where to invest Background dots. In any case though, it's usually more optimal to put Background dots in options that are difficult to justify raising in play. Your character can always get a better job for more Resources, or increase their standing in their Tradition for more Status. But if you have a Destiny... well that's not something that you can just work towards improving.

                  Merits are in a similar boat. They're optional in the first place. The costs for them are very poorly executed (not even getting into the situational factor of if a Merit will benefit your particular group's game). As well, there's the question for your ST of picking up Merits in play since some of them make sense for that being the case, and others not so much. When trying to figure out Merits, as far as char-op goes, you want to look for mechanical ones over narrative ones, difficulty breaks over dice bonuses, and options not easily replicated otherwise.

                  Flaws are the flip side of this. Since Flaws give you bonus points at creation, the less impact they have over time, the more value you get for your choice. Narrative ones, dice penalties over difficulty penalties, and things that can easily come up if people don't have the Flaw. There's usually two approaches to this. First is to take a lot of small value Flaws. They tend to be light on mechanics, or small penalties that are easy to account for. The other option is one big Flaw that you can account for with the rest of your character design.

                  Mage Char-Op:

                  Modifications to the above:

                  On Attributes, Mages are even more incentivized to min-max Attributes, because Attribute increasing magic is very easy to come by (Life 3 for physicals, and only Mind 1 for the rest... seriously). Dump stated Charisma for the optimal XP build? You can literally turn on the charm if you need to.

                  Backgrounds has a very important thing: Buy Avatar. Avatar 0 is a beast of a trap.. but so can Avatar 4-5 be a trap. You can't reduce a magic roll's difficulty by more than 3, so you only need to spend more than 3 Quintessence a turn if you're using specific effects that require an additional expenditure at casting.

                  Also be careful with Arcane. Arcane can just be a serious fun killer. Magic can always make you stealthy without making multiple other traits difficult to buy/increase.

                  In general though, M20 has an immense number of Abilities and Backgrounds... you're basically always going to have too few dots at creation, so you need to focus on stuff you want to have a start, and are going to struggle to raise in play.

                  Mage specific stuff:

                  Not buying Arete is also a trap. Arete is one of the most ridiculously mismatched traits for the LCQA and BP vs. XP. issues. Arete costs 4 BP per dot (though at least with a cap of 3), but current x 8 in play. Arete is also a trait you can spend XP on and fail to get by the RAW. So not only is it one of the most expensive traits in XP in the whole set of WoD games, but spending XP might not get you a new dot! Arete is also the total of your casting dice-pool. Even if you don't start with a Sphere at 3, or even any at 2, having three dice to roll for magic is a lot better than one; with magic's low dice-pools, the each success on a magic roll is extremely valuable and Arete 1 characters can't do better than 2 successes. Unless there is something super compelling as a reason to not start with Arete 3, do it. I especially recommend this in general for people new to playing the game. Arete 1 and 2 require a lot more system mastery to really make work for you to be enjoyable.

                  Spheres also have a backwards incentive where your favored Sphere is the best one to leave at 1 to maximize your XP, since it's the cheapest to raise. The BP cost of Spheres isn't that high for the XP cost, however it's usually a trap to buy a Sphere for a single effect you really want; especially at higher levels. Want Time 3 because you want multiple action magic and aren't going to be worried about post- and precognition? Build a Wonder. It's cheaper and frees your starting points for other Spheres.

                  Originally posted by PixelPuzzler View Post
                  I have noticed both here and elsewhere that a lot of people seem to find time and prime (past 2, or maaaybe 3) to be difficult to work with and ST dependant, so maybe I'll avoid those for my first run through.
                  That seems odd to me. Prime isn't really a big problem unless your ST doesn't like/struggles with the subsystems it interacts with. Time magic gets wonky because precogs and time-travel are just hard to do in RPGs. There's plenty of Time magic that's not that though, and easy to deal with.

                  Perhaps a better follow up question would be: "What spheres and abilities have you personally found to be the most consistently useable and reliable in the broadest variety of circumstances?"
                  OK, my list of most useful Spheres for starting characters:

                  1) Mind. Mind 1 is, flat out, one of the best investments in the game. It's kinda of crazy to think about just the standard effects it has. High ratings of Mind don't stop being useful in a huge range of situations. And Mind is very easy to keep coincidental.

                  2) Entropy. Entropy 1 is, again, insanely useful in a large number of situations. "Sense Weakness," used creatively is massively efficient. Entropy 2 has a lot of luck manipulation, and Entropy 3 gets very potent. Like Mind, Entropy is easy to keep coincidental, broadly applicable (often to the complaint that it's too much so), and full of useful effects.

                  3) Tie: Prime and Correspondence. Prime is more specific than the first two, but so much basic 'mage' stuff uses Prime that it's hard to ignore. Investigating the supernatural without it is more difficult, it's the easiest access to Aggravated damage to everything, it's the best counterspells, it's magical item creation, you need it to summon things out of nothing, to manipulate Nodes... you just will want Prime 2 or 3 sooner rather than later. Correspondence is the other of the big "almost always useful" Spheres with Entropy and Mind, but it doesn't grow as well. Correspondence 1 and 2 are extremely broad and useful, but as you get higher it has very specific effects that are really good but it starts getting more niche and more vulgar.

                  5) Life. Life stands above the next to because of it's ability to subtly boost yourself and others to human maximum with little issue. It's just an edge on the other Pattern Spheres, especially since the game lets you discount buying physical Attributes if you use Life 3 to train them.

                  6) Tie: Forces and Matter. The other of the classic Pattern Sphere trio. They're fun, full of cool stuff, but get into issues of vulgarity and generally application compared to the top two and Correspondence. Always good to have, not always going to get used.

                  8) Tie: Spirit and Time. Spirit is actually a really good Sphere... but it's the most ST dependent Sphere since so much of what you can do with it will depend on the spirits available to you. Unless you're really good with WoD spirit lore, or you know the game is going to deal with the spirit world a lot... Spirit can feel a bit of a waste. Spirit also has less "unique" stuff than it might seem for a specialized Sphere. You can get into the Umbra with Mind, and make magical items with Prime, even if Spirit is better for both if you're trying to do both for the least investment. It suffer the most from Backgrounds and Merits being tempting to use over buying the whole Sphere, especially as it grows more and more niche with more dots. Time is a strange Sphere that's hard to get the full use out of. Time 1 is to me the weakest first dot of a Sphere. As noted the post- and precog powers are complicated in play, and the time travel ones worse. Hanging spells is insanely useful, but high level, etc.

                  -------

                  For non-Sphere traits? No particular order:

                  As noted, you want some Avatar. The Blessing, Familiar, and Totem backgrounds require a bit of careful selection, but you can get a lot of back for your buck.

                  As noted as well, things that give you a non-magical difficulty break on rolls. Stacking a -2 difficulty Merit with -3 difficulty from magic will make you insanely good at whatever you're doing.

                  Awareness and Athletics are Abilities you're going to be rolling a lot in most Mage games. Subterfuge, Stealth, Investigation, and Enigmas are all useful to have good ratings in for getting things done without drawing attention to yourself. Don't overlook Crafts and Technology as "downtime" traits; especially if you need to deal with things like traps and security. Esoterica and/or Hypertech are more useful than they might seem on first glance.

                  Pay attention to the group casting rules, and how your group's make up can take advantage of them.

                  Originally posted by baakyocalder View Post
                  The Mage 20 core is missing the many pages of sphere effects found in prior iterations of the game.
                  No, it really isn't. They're just in a different place than previous editions put them. The Common Magickal Effects chart on page 508 of M20 covers what used to be the sample rotes sections in previous editions.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                    No, it really isn't. They're just in a different place than previous editions put them. The Common Magickal Effects chart on page 508 of M20 covers what used to be the sample rotes sections in previous editions.
                    That table is woefully inadequate. It doesn’t explain anything about how these effects take form, and offers precious little explanation on why the sphere rank allows this power outside of stating that it does.
                    The entire sphere chapter of M20 assumes a base level of understanding on the system which puts new players on the back foot. It is not a good learning resource.
                    Last edited by Saikou; 04-17-2018, 07:32 PM.


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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post

                      OK, I'm going to contradict people here:

                      There is a lot of character optimization to be done in the WoD base system, and Mage in particular. It's just very different from char-op in systems that want it to be part of the fun. This is all said to be in the realm of theory-craft. In play there's lots of reasons why optimal XP isn't going to be the most important thing for fun, and milking Flaws is rarely a good mix in group play.

                      General WoD Char-Op:

                      The most important thing understand is the "Linear Creation, Quadratic Advancement (LCQA)," issue. 90+% of char-op in the WoD comes down to this.
                      Ah, you're right - I'd forgotten about that, since it's such bad design that I've houseruled it from day 1 in my own games and never had a ST who didn't flatten things out in some way. A good reminder that not everyone is so fortunate. >.>

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Saikou View Post
                        That table is woefully inadequate. It doesn’t explain anything about how these effects take form, and offers precious little explanation on why the sphere rank allows this power outside of stating that it does.
                        The entire sphere chapter of M20 assumes a base level of understanding on the system which puts new players on the back foot. It is not a good learning resource.
                        And... the sample rotes sections in the main Mage 1e through Revised core books aren't actually any better. They're a lot of page count describing how an effect might look, adding in mechanics the effect creation rules don't have any guidelines for, and rarely if explain why a sample rote is one Sphere level and not another.

                        Is either approach the best use of page space? Not really. Is condensing things down to a short chart of basic effects more useful than a bunch of random rotes at least half of which are more confusing than illuminating to how the mechanics work? Yes.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post

                          And... the sample rotes sections in the main Mage 1e through Revised core books aren't actually any better. They're a lot of page count describing how an effect might look, adding in mechanics the effect creation rules don't have any guidelines for, and rarely if explain why a sample rote is one Sphere level and not another.

                          Is either approach the best use of page space? Not really. Is condensing things down to a short chart of basic effects more useful than a bunch of random rotes at least half of which are more confusing than illuminating to how the mechanics work? Yes.
                          I like the descriptions of earlier editions. They aren't perfect, but they are somewhat more concrete. When I first ran Mage, well I was used to more defined games and spent a lot of time looking at rotes, particularly on Ander's Mage Page. Now, I'm more for a succinct description but a few rotes give players an idea of what they can do. They should be written better than in the M20 How Do You Do That Book.

                          I concur that if you play the base game, Arete is the optimal buy. Jack your Arete up to 3. Different White Wolf editions and games have given you different options with Knowledges--either no roll or a penalty if you lack Knowledges. I make it much harder to know stuff without Knowledges, but figure many characters know a little about something but less than 1 dot. So, I house rule they can roll but need to roll really well.

                          There's definitely optimization in Mage, but as such a broad game, it's hard to offer specifics. Great analysis by Heavy Arms, there, which if you adjust for your ST and group should help you.

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                          • #14
                            Do difficulty modifiers really stack as is suggested by Heavy Arms in the above post? If so I can very easily imagine situations where you'd have characters with -5 or even -7 modifiers on focused abilities, which seems absolutely insane to me.

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                            • #15
                              The only limits on difficulty stacking are that magic can only reduce a difficulty by -3, and the minimum is Difficulty 2 (though the books generally encourage the idea that if you're facing enough of a break to get to what would be Difficulties well below 2 that rolling doesn't really have a point.

                              So if you have an aptitude Merit that gives you a -2 difficulty, and you use a spell that gives you a -3 difficulty, you can get a -5 out of it, but if you use a magic tool that is enhanced with more breaks, it wouldn't count because magic is capped at -3. If the game says you get a -2 for something situational... you could get to -7 yeah. It is, indeed, insane. Magic isn't great for a lot of things, but making you awesome by difficult reduction? It's great for that.

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