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  • Mage Advice - Dark Ages

    I'm in a campaign with a group of old friends (decades). It was originally a Vampire campaign and was going to be a bit OP out of the gate. We started as mortals and spent months building up to the embrace. Along the way, it was revealed that I had an avatar and could be awakened. (I think this was because I wanted to be Tremere, but were very small at this point in the Dark Ages.) So I'm becoming a Mage and trying to figure out how best to configure Spheres. As this is OP (the vampires are 5th gen), I am starting along the lines of what's laid out in Masters of the Art book.

    I'm looking for advice on what might be a good combo of spheres and if I were to pick a 6 dot sphere, what should I go for? This campaign will continue to the modern nights over years, but right now we're in the First Crusade and I expect to interact with a lot of low generation vampires and I suspect a lot of demons.

    The problem is I haven't played a lot of Mage, so any pointers on rotes, use of spheres, or other things I should "buy" as a I awaken would be helpful.

    Thanks for any and all help and advice!

    NOTE: I know some people are not fans of OP style games, but this group has played a lot of games together and we are good friends. So there is a lot of trust.

  • #2
    To be honest with you, I've always found the archspheres to be somewhat unnecessary. The system in Masters of the Art is useful for NPCs, (if only because it does help sometimes to have a perceivable scale to measure against each other), but a bit less so for PCs.

    Five dots in a sphere gets pretty godlike as it is, I'm not sure there's really a practical need for more than that. But that's just my opinion.

    With regard to spheres themselves, that depends on what kind of role you see your character taking in the group. What kinds of things interest him? And what, if any, mortal background does he have?

    You mentioned Tremere, is your character a Hermetic? Because that would definitely impact the style of your character's magic, and may help steer you toward specific spheres. (Hermetics tend to be big on the Forces sphere, for example. And if you see him as the kind of guy to use alchemy to turn lead into gold, then Matter would be a good choice. If he's the sort to summon and bind ghosts or angels or demons, then Spirit would be a good choice.)

    Dark Ages Mage might be one direction to go. I admit, the system isn't to my taste (though others love it), but the fluff may help steer you into helpful directions. They'll give you an idea of the rough "Fellowships" that existed during the First Crusade. (Though obviously, you wouldn't be limited to those. If you were, for example, a Middle Eastern merchant who got caught up in the Crusade, then you might be drawn to play something like a proto-Taftani, Batini, or Ecstatic, which aren't written up in those books. But I'd imagine folks here would be happy to help you develop your idea further.)

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    • #3
      kalinara - Thanks for the response. I'll try to clarify a few things.

      Character Background: He's from a French noble family, but so a later son so no hope of meaningful inheritance/position. So he started trading and built a sizeable trading network. (It's 1091 in the game.) He's since been traveling across Europe with the coterie (as mortals) where they encountered some strange things when they linked up with some other crusaders. By they time they had reached Constantinople, they were aware of vampires. After months in Constantinople they had basically become henchmen for some powerful vampires that were in opposition to the existing Kindred leadership there. We thought they were Inconnu, but they are something else (homebrew group that acts behind the scenes, apparently made up of supernaturals across several splats). We have heard future tellings about a war with demons in Jerusalem and have encountered Baali. We had been tracking a powerful mage (was one of the three wise men) because we had found lore about him (including some hints from our vampire "masters"). We finally found him and he helped Awaken me as the other characters were embraced (they are 5th gen now - basically using Elysium / TaI'me'ra rules) and I am effectively an Orphan who was Awakened with a lot of power and a very powerful mentor (almost certainly an Archmage, maybe even an Oracle, although I doubt the ST would frame it that way).

      When we started as mortals we picked clans we would "prefer" although we were playing as mortals, it was just to set the trajectory. I picked Tremere, even though it was kind of pre-Tremere or right around the founding. I think he guided me to Mage because of this and I think I could still become a Tremere, but I think I want to stay a mage because it sounds fun and will be different. This group has played VTM since first edition, so we are very familiar with it (although I have never played a Tremere with this group) - but I don't think anyone has meaningful mage experience so we will sort of be winging it.

      We're mostly using Revised where possible. Heavily using Sorceror's Crusade as well. I saw another thread here that talks about Horizon and how it handles Archspheres differently than MotA. I probably will be mostly focused on raising and getting more spheres, but I will start with one 6 dot.

      I suspect we will be fighting a lot of demons soon. I am sure I will have probably have to fight vampires and defend myself from them.

      TL;DR: Trying to make a mage equivalent to a 5th gen vampire, will be an Orphan with a very powerful mentor. Need to be able to survive (and ideally fight/control) demons and vampires.

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      • #4
        I think you're going to have an issue with scaling here. A 6th dot Archmage is closer in power/storyline potential to an Antediluvian I think, than a 5th gen. Even the idea of "Awakening with a lot of power" wouldn't cover something like this. But that's between you and your storyteller.

        If you're going to play an Orphan, then I think you need a very strong idea of what he's actually doing, because he's not going to be relying a lot on pre-established practices. You can skirt that with a Hermetic or an Old Faith (proto-Verbena) type, because you can say that he's been trained by a Master or a Wisewoman in the old ways.

        How do you conceive of his magic working? Does he do a lot of rituals? I'm assuming the wise man is going to be your mentor, so it might be worth considering what he'd likely do. I'm no biblical scholar, so my knowledge of the subject comes strictly from half remembered Christmas Carols. I'd imagine their practice would be something akin to a Hermetic, but with more of a Kabbalistic bent. Maybe some of the stories of King Solomon might be helpful there (though obviously that's not the same time period.)

        I don't know how your Storyteller intends to incorporate demons, but I think Spirit and Prime would probably be the most helpful spheres in that case. Maybe Forces too.

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        • #5
          I agree with prior comments on archmages. Also, be aware that Phil Brucato, the mage developer who has done the most work on the game, isn't a fan of archspheres. He didn't want them but when told spheres had to go to ten, well he was part of the group writing them up. Archmage sphere powers are all over the same--some of the level 6 stuff is basically a weird and slightly more focused version of lower-level spheres. Stop at 5 dots in spheres and archmages just get more dice for Arete and more power to do things because they know a ton--but these folks have been around for centuries.

          So, you're probably still in rank 4 (Adept) and rank 5 (Master) in spheres.

          For background, you can borrow from Ars Magica and its non-vampiric House Tremere. The Order of Hermes exists at this time and House Tremere is still full of nasty peple.

          Dark Ages Mage which give you the social millieu. Its magic system,Foundations and Pillars, is quite different than the Sphere system in Mage: the Ascension. Sorcerer's Crusade uses slightly different mechanics than Mage: the Ascension, but Spheres are still Spheres. For demons and such, check out Infernalism: the Path of Screams, for that line. That book also has demon names and some period-appropriate information on witchcraft so you could extrapolate back a little.

          The key to any interesting mage is that their magic ties into their beliefs. Oh, and you need Life and Matter to rip the heck out of vampire's patterns.

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          • #6
            So ignoring Archsphere's how would you stat a Mage that is roughly equivalent to a 5th gen vampire (10 discipline dots)?

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            • #7
              You cannot really balance mages that way. There's no equivalence point because the powers of these two splats work too differently. Sometimes a starting mage character with standard rules migth have more poweer than a 5th gen, sometimes a 13th gen will have more power than a Master...it depends. It really *does* depend on how the powers are used. while this is true for every character, it's more so with Mages that have the swiss knife of TM against the more blunt hammer of static powers

              Many would argue that, given prep and a clever build, a starting character of mage can be as OP as a given 5th gen vampire (10 discipline dots), that such it's dependant on many other things (esp if Merits & Flaws are considered) that can't really be predicated from just those stats you mention.

              All that being said: I would recomend Arete 4, 10 dots in Spheres. At that powerlevel you're most unlikely to overshadow (or even remotely compare to) them in the things they do well. But you will start with enough versatility to back your lack of raw pĆ³wer (that's never going to go away), and could have the capability of unleashing some serious power if rituals are a possibility (and then store it under Time triggers if you get Time 4, under Artifacts if you go for Prime. There are some other options). The advantages and versatility of Sphere levels at 4 it's not something that can be ignored just because you can punch very hard and have a few of OP Discipline powers. I also would recomend having a lot of Backgrounds dots to purchase the logistics you will need to build your power base, like Nodes, Mentor, Sanctum/Familiar, Cult, a Wonder to start ahead, and so and so.

              Problem with mages it's, you can't really say "this Arete/Spheres represents X power" because a lot of your power you will have to build yourself. In a white room, with just your socks on, you would need like Arete 10 to compare. And even then it won't be enough (as Initiative will be in their favor).
              And that's the top of the iceberg

              I'm not sure if I'm being clear on how balancing mages (don't)work.

              If you really don't know where to start with Mage, I think you could ask your ST for the Immortal Merit in Book of Secrets (M20). That should allow your character to *survive* until you get the ropes of what magick can do.
              Last edited by Aleph; 09-11-2020, 09:24 PM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Aleph View Post
                Many would argue that, given prep and a clever build, a starting character of mage can be as OP as a given 5th gen vampire (10 discipline dots), that such it's dependant on many other things (esp if Merits & Flaws are considered) that can't really be predicated from just those stats you mention.
                9. They have 9 dots.

                Also. LokiTX If you are a Mage, then shouldn't you die by a paradox? Even if you don't die now ... you will not be able to exist on earth in the 21st century.
                Since you decide to use spheres (not pillars), then when you reach 6 dot, you simply gain more power for your magic. If you need unique Rotes for archsphere - create them. I would recommend using your paradigm for this. If you are a Hermetic, craft a new alchemical powder. Learn to create new life without having to use other patterns. Create a transmutation potion that will transform you into something else.

                If you want to survive, you shouldn't play with demons, Fallens, and vampires.
                Last edited by Alphari; 09-12-2020, 04:23 AM.

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                • #9
                  There are characters that have existed for a very long time in Mage, and some of them even, CAREFULLY, manage to exist on Earth. It's tricky, and Paradox is definitely a factor, but it's not necessarily insurmountable.

                  There are other options too. I'd imagine there's a lot of downtime in century spanning chronicles, so the character could spend a lot of time in the Umbra. (One of the advantages to being a Hermetic, for example, is that it'd be easy enough to establish your character in Doissetep or Mus, once they're established, when he's not actively adventuring.)

                  Another option might be to utilize reincarnation, like the Akashics and Chakravanti have in the past. It might be kind of funny to set it up so that the Vampires go into torpor or focus on their stronghold for a century or two, only to come out and find their Mage friend waiting for them, but in a new body.

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                  • #10
                    Or you can have the very cheap (but very rare) Unaging Merit, justify it in a way that doesn't involve regular Magic(k) , and that little conundrum it's solved.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by LokiTX View Post
                      I'm in a campaign with a group of old friends (decades). It was originally a Vampire campaign and was going to be a bit OP out of the gate. We started as mortals and spent months building up to the embrace. Along the way, it was revealed that I had an avatar and could be awakened. (I think this was because I wanted to be Tremere, but were very small at this point in the Dark Ages.) So I'm becoming a Mage and trying to figure out how best to configure Spheres. As this is OP (the vampires are 5th gen), I am starting along the lines of what's laid out in Masters of the Art book.

                      I'm looking for advice on what might be a good combo of spheres and if I were to pick a 6 dot sphere, what should I go for? This campaign will continue to the modern nights over years, but right now we're in the First Crusade and I expect to interact with a lot of low generation vampires and I suspect a lot of demons.

                      The problem is I haven't played a lot of Mage, so any pointers on rotes, use of spheres, or other things I should "buy" as a I awaken would be helpful.

                      Thanks for any and all help and advice!

                      NOTE: I know some people are not fans of OP style games, but this group has played a lot of games together and we are good friends. So there is a lot of trust.

                      I very much don't recommend making a newly awakened mage an Archmage off the bat, it makes no sense and kind of ruins verisimilitude, like Archmagehood doesn't often without decades of experience and many don't achieve it in a mortal lifetime. Are you all the same clan? Because everyone starting as Gen five is kind of a terribly potent play in the Jyhad and it would attract attention.

                      And I guess you aren't Using Dark Age Mage because you have Spheres instead of Pillars?


                      It is a time for great deeds!

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                      • #12
                        Eldagusto I am using Sorceror's Crusade with a little hybridization. We have played together a lot and everyone is aware we are breaking the metaplot to some degree. It's 1096 and there is a massive war hidden behind the First Crusade involving a myriad of supernaturals. Due to the way the vampires are being embraced, the issues you describe are somewhat mitigated. Obviously new 5th gens are a big deal even in 1096, but it happens. We have "served" the group that is embracing them for quite sometime and have proven our trust. The coterie has interacted in various ways with other supernaturals. The story works, but I do not want to recount it all here.

                        The start power level will be hand waved to some degree by the fact that a 1000+ year old mage basically forced his Avatar to awaken and the avatar is exceedingly powerful. Past Lives and/or Spirit Mentor unlock a lot of knowledge very quickly. He suggested I go Mage over being embraced, so he's supportive of this power unlocking.

                        The point is really, how can I make a mage out of the gate that can survive and hold his own with a coterie of 5th gen 10 dot newly embraced vampires. I understand some people may not like that story or that power level. That's fine. I am just asking for advice on how to stat a mage. If the answer is "forget 6 dot spheres and take 2 5 dot spheres and whatever", that's fine. The 6 dot sphere comes from the Character Creation rules in Masters of the Art which is the only equivalent I could find to elder creation rules from VTM (Elysium and Tal'Mahe'Ra) books decided to use.

                        The ST is flexible and there is a lot of trust, I am just trying to get something vaguely reasonable to discuss with him. I think I'm pretty close to what I think is a good starting point but I thought I would try to get advice from experts since I don't have much Mage experience.

                        Also, Aleph yep he gave me that Merit for free. It's pretty critical to the core of the game. I could also become a ghoul (and possibly ignore some of the brutal rules around this) to solve this problem as well. And possibly as a way to avoid some degree of paradox by "concealing" magic as discipline use. I have also consider the Nephilim merit as a way to do that as well.

                        Thanks again!

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                        • #13
                          I think your ability to 'run with' a bunch of elder vampires isn't tied so much to magic so much as how you use it. You can actually get away with alot more as a mage given time, preparation and the right mix of spheres even if you're not going past the 6th dot (The 'Masters of the Art' archspheres stuff is REALLY wacky and game breaking because of what they're described as being able to do. But even the alternate archspheres can be pretty crazy.)

                          In fact, if you're using spheres in the Dark Ages setting (which in Dark Ages: Mage was using the 'still limited but more versatile than hedge magic' foundations/pillars' you are by definition an exceptional mage because you're not CONSTRAINED by those limited ways of thinking. Heck, none of the DA:M stuff really goes past 5 dots either normally - its the inherent flexibility of the sphere magic deprived of preconceptions that makes it powerful. And in the Dark Ages setting you're far, FAR less subject to the issues of paradox and such than modern mage was, so you can also get away with far more fantastic stuff than you could even in 'Sorcerer's Crusade.' - I mean consider what the damage charts might allow and try to imagine what in Vampire would b able to survive a 5-dot, high Arete Forces attack even if it wasn't aggravated.)

                          If fragility is the issue and preparation is still too much of an obstacle, then you might consider a few other merits like 7 point 'immortal' or Spark of Life (to borrow from Mage 20's Book of Secrets. The latter makes you heal faster (Albeit at having more potent blood for Kindred) and the former makes you unkillable by anything but a single 'doom' or complete obliteration of your body (putting you in essence in the same league as a vampire. And if you plan to run with mages I'm pretty sure you'd go with life magic for healing and stat boosting as it is.) 'Immortal' doesnt mean you stop aging (just age alot slower) but it becomes the closest you get to a Highlander immortal in WoD rules. If that's REALLY not enough you could add the legendary attribute perk (sure only 6 dots but some of the powers it allows are crazy - revised for example allows you to soak aggravated damage with stamina BEFORE magical use. Which makes you even less fragile.)

                          I mean if that's still not enough I could think of other ideas but at that point other people's concern about balance come into play unless you make some concessions to balance out the sheer flexibility of sphere magic (which if there is a vampiric element of origin may be possible.) Like there is the dreaded Revenant Mage but you'd be better off using the V20 Archaic Sorcery rules for that rather than the Blood Treachery ones given how crazy those were.

                          Edit: I want to emphasize that quite literally Mages given enough creativity and circumstances are insanely capable and powerful even without archspheres. Level 5 across most iterations of MtA (2nd, Revised, 20th) typically equate level 5 with nuclear-level feats (This is the level that the Technocracy splits the atom) and mages can wreck mountains or cities at this scale or conjure up major weather phenomena (storms, etc. which in terms of total energy are ALSO on the scale of nuclear weapons, even if the rate and form of energy use is much longer and different.) Even Dark Ages mage and Sorcerer's Crusade's more 'limited' understanding typically involve mountain wrecking or similar stuff that matches or exceeds what you would expect from widespread devastation (and far above what even most Methuselahs would do short of blood magic.)

                          If we're getting into Masters of the Art Archspheres, you're starting to get into around CONTINENTAL scale applications of forces - plate tectonics and such - which puts your Archmaster on the scale of potential planet-destroyer. That's only 7th dot, too. It gets more insane than 'I can move continents' from there. But even then there are some pretty hefty limits and constraints that prevent casual use of such power (that's rather endemic to the Archmastery themes, in fact. You have that power, but you're paradoxically LESS inclined to use it casually. Heck even level 5 powers aren't casually messed with usually.) 'Horizon's approach to archmastery (6th dot in one sphere tops) isn't QUITE as crazy and might still be reconciled with the above, but its still easily on the continental scale (example given for Forces was that 5th dot can make a hurricane... 6th dot makes a hurricane across a continental scale. In THAT sense its actually more overpowered than Masters of the Art, since 'continental scale' effects started around the 7th dot, including explicitly shifting plate tectonics.)

                          For contrast, consider what happened with Ravnos' awakening in the Week of Nightmares (Weakened as he was) or what happaned in Gehenna (also weakened but still a good example.) Only an exceptional Ante on the scale of Ennoia or perhaps Tzimisce would approach 'continental' scale or greater. And a number of VtM sources had implied you need something on the scale of nukes (at least) to have a chance of hurting one of the 3rd generation (Ravnos was hurt by relatively low yield neutron bombs true, but those were 'spirit nukes' specially enchanted to hurt supernatural creatures, and he was weakened. From his fight with the Bohdisattvas if not still from his own torpor. The last bit I leave open ended given he also feasted on alot of his own clan once he awoke so how much torpor affectd him is harder to gauge.)

                          But vampires who operate on continental scale or later are going to be ancient 4th or 3rd generation (Case in point I believe at least one of the level 9 presence powers has city-level scope of operation... you need to hit level 10 to hit worldwide.)

                          Edit again: In terms of the above character and 'running with vampires' I think that the emphasis would be on certain powers like life (healing and augmentation), time (precog, slowing down/speeding up time to compete with celerity), forces (telekinesis, augmented leaping, and other effects like fire-based attacks), and prime (replenish quintessence, enchanting stuff for administering/soaking aggravated damage) as the crucial ones. And even then you really wouldn't have to get much above 3 dots (maybe 4 with certain ones like life.) Other ones that are important but not crucial would include mind (at least one or two dots to compete on some level with auspex and added protection against mental powers), Matter (basic enhancement or changes like 'lead to gold' IIRC would be useful with two dots) and entropy (probability senses and manipulation is always useful but not crucial. Some of these could go to 3 dots but alot would be fine with just two. Of 'lesser' importance in context of this 'build' would be correspondence (long range stuff can always be useful for this mage, but this really doesn't feel like a typical mage so acting in sensory range probalby will suffice) and spirit (Barring necromancy I don't think you would need to worry about this much. Most vampires wouldn't either.) would be the last priority and even then two dots more than suffice.

                          Even with the above you really wouldn't need more than 3 dots in most spheres because the higher ones tend to be more complex (requiring more rolls to achieve effects and thus are more 'ritualistic' rather than 'on the fly') and greater power (more successes) would come from a higher arete. And even with the above a mage's power/advnatages will still come from having more spheres of modest level rather than trying to max a few out (at least 3 in the 'important' ones, and at least two in all the others) ought ot suffice as long as you push for a high arete.

                          Last edited by Mister_Dunpeal; 09-18-2020, 11:40 AM.

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