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[Brainstorming] Different Mechanics for Affinity Spheres

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  • [Brainstorming] Different Mechanics for Affinity Spheres

    Something that's been percolating a bit in my head for awhile is that for all the fuss about Favored/Affinity Spheres in the books over the editions... they really don't matter all that much.

    Mechanically, the XP savings aren't significant unless you're playing in a game that's even going to allow 6+ Spheres. It seems like a hold over from Vampire and Werewolf, where the XP savings by splat mean more as there's far more to buy.

    In terms of characterization, there is a benefit to the idea of being tied thematically to a Sphere, but any attempt to mesh that with assigning them to factions basically gets you to the point where any mage can find a teacher/faction/etc. that would tutor them to be close whatever Sphere you want them to be.

    So, there's the relatively simple option of just making it something you pick for your character and move on. But I've been pondering how to make something more impactful that helps give some greater verisimilitude to the factions. I was waffling a bit between two ideas, but then figured... why not both?

    Thus, the double house rule I'm still very much refining:

    1. Personal Affinity

    Each mage has a personal Affinity Sphere regardless of faction. They start with a Specialty in that Sphere with doubles 10s even while below 4 dots in said Sphere, and gain a normal Specialty.

    That's nice, easy, and straight forward. I think it's a more meaningful boost than the XP saving and represents personal style well. But it doesn't get to working in some faction based flavor....

    2. Faction Teaching

    Each faction among the Awakened has some unity based on shared experience and teachings. While most have grown large enough and varied enough that mages of many different Focuses work side by side, they do so with a mutual understanding. This is represented with the bonus below, which is tied to a specific Sphere for that character at creation. This can overlap with their Personal Affinity for highly focused mages, or be different for greater versatility. While Faction Teaching bonuses can theoretically be attached to any Sphere, they are frequently designed to mesh best with a few of them; reflecting the common Sphere associations. The bonus is always mechanically the same, but when it can be applied is what matters. Sub-factions might have optional variant Teachings.

    When a Faction Teaching applies to an effect being cast with the associated Sphere: Either the mage's associated Sphere rating can be considered one dot higher to determine if they can even attempt the effect (and if this is the highest Sphere used, the difficulty increases along with it), or if the mage already qualifies, they gain +1 die on the casting roll. So if a Faction Teaching would apply to restorative effects, and is linked to Life, a mage with Life 2 can heal themselves with a +1 bonus die on the roll, or heal others as if they had Life 3. If healing the target requires additional Spheres - such as Spirit 2 to heal a Garou - the mage must meet those requisite Spheres. So at Life 2/Spirit 1, they would be unable to heal a werewcreature even if they can heal humans.

    Examples:

    Order of Hermes: Manifest Will - The Order's core philosophy revolves around magic as an expression of the mages will that bends the world to their desires. Hermetics gain their Teaching bonus when they work their spells to bind a Pattern to their commands.

    Variant: The Crucible - House Tytalus differs from the rest of the Order by teaching its members to constantly face challenges in order to strength their will into an unbreakable bulwark. Tytalans that fully embrace their House's code instead apply their Teaching bonus to add effect that protects their self from the compulsions of others.

    Society of Ether: Eclectic Technician - The Society helps each member explore their personal approach to Science! to its fullest extent. While the oddball collection of different aesthetics that permeate the Tradition confuse many outsiders, their approach helps their members personalize their equipment to perform at extraordinary heights even if they opt for causes other than invention. Etherites gain their Teaching Bonus whenever they're crafting a Trinket.

    Hollow Ones and Orphans: Serendipity - Just because you don't have some formal mentor holding your hand doesn't mean you don't learn how things work. Experience and personal experimentation are the instructors of those without help from ancient tomes and oppressive rules. Orphans surge in fleeting power in the face of adversity, and gain their Teaching bonus the first time casting an effect, or when fast-casting an effect in a highly unusual application.

    So, obviously this gives a bit more bang for the buck, esp. if you stack them (and I figure most people will, but some concepts will benefit from not, like having an Affinity for Wonder Crafting, and a Teaching in something besides Prime for what kind of effects you make into Wonders more easily). But this also adds a it more mechanically flavor to the groups that the XP bonus does and how groups like the Traditions stick together even with some varied members. Though I'd need to come up with a lot of these. And I might need to work on keeping them from getting to ST fiat happy.

  • #2
    I've suggested before the possibility of using Sphere variants to represent teachings that arise from a given Tradition's special insight into the nature of a particular Sphere, such as giving the Sons of Ether (a Tradition that's into the crafting of Wonders far more than any other Tradition) a Machine variant of Matter that lets them build Wonders with the Tradition's supposed “Affinity Sphere” instead of every Etherite having to invest in Prime for the near-universal talk of crafting Wonders.

    That said, the idea that every faction's Teachings are represented by some sort of enhancement to Magick when the nature of the Teaching comes into play? I could see that. It might even be a decent replacement for the whole “Sphere variant” concept: e.g., the Void Engineers don't have a Dimensional Science variant of Spirit; they have Spirit, with a Teaching that makes them now adept at manipulation of the Gauntlet. The Syndicate doesn't have Primal Utility; it has Prime and a Teaching that lets them tap into Primal Ventures; the NWO doesn't have Data; it has Correspondence with a Teaching that lets them handle Correspondence Ranges differently. And the Etherites would have a Teaching that lets them use Matter instead of Prime when dealing with (most) Wonders.

    The benefit of a Teaching might be to treat the appropriate Sphere as one for higher where the Teaching is concerned; or it might be too allow the Sphere to do something that normally requires a different Sphere to do; or it might expand the Sphere's normal capabilities in a unique way, effectively unlocking some new capability that would normally not be possible.

    I wouldn't make Teachings available to Orphans; but I could maybe see something like what you're suggesting for the Hollow Ones.

    Anyway, work calls. More thoughts later.


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    • #3
      I'd rather not have this be either/or with Sphere variants. I think it would be best if it works stand-alone, or in combination. I mean, it's a house rule that I just got into a solid enough form to express to others today, I can be swayed. One of the reasons I don't want it to be a Sphere variant replacement, is that I want it to be able to be attached to multiple Spheres to mirror the current idea that factions have a predisposition for Affinity Spheres.

      I'd also like to keep it simple. So having three different possible ways it could modify casting means design moves from, "what's a cool set of effects that is evocative for this faction," to a multi-layered consideration.

      My idea for Orphans exists because how disadvantaged Orphans are is fairly variable by edition. I don't want to get into a thing where "this faction's Teaching should be better because they've been doing it for longer, or in a more refined fashion," when the design point is to add some flavor to each faction by replacing how they relate to Spheres. Orphans don't get worse Affinity Spheres than other mages as it is.

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      • #4
        With how M20 decouples Faction, Affinity Sphere and Focus, I would be tempted about decoupling these mechanics from the factions too.

        Like, Manifest Will could be a Teaching of "Might Makes Rigth". Hermetics teach that Practice, so it would be effectively a Hermetic teaching, but it wouldn't be the only Teaching of the Hermetics

        On the other hand, maybe you would think a downside that other factions (or Orphans) can potentially have the same teachings. I think flexibility it's a good thing in Mage, but maybe you want something that reinforces explicitly the image of the faction - like Do it's to the Akashicks. In that case this won't do.

        Also, mages can have 3 Practices, so that should be taken in count (if each come with a power, everyone would want/need to have 3). As an idea one could say that for each X points in Arete you get to chose one Teaching that you have "internalized" (Like, one at 3, one at 6, and one at 9). That way the player has time to expand the Foucs latter (or perhaps invent another one for the same Practice). Also that way we give some flavor to Arete while we're at it.

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        • #5
          While I like the way that M20 decoupled Focus from the Traditions, I do think that it's possible to take that idea too far. One thing I like about Heavy Arms' suggestion about Teachings is that it is firmly rooted in the organizations, and hearkens back to an idea that's been in Mage as far back as the first Tradition Books: the notion that every faction has something special about it. Especially in M20, where your approach to Magick no longer comes from your Tradition, it would be nice to have some kind of mechanical benefit to membership.


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          • #6
            Yeah, I can see that point.

            Some stuff to make Traditions unique were always atempted, but (other than Do) never explored. Like how Choristers were supposed to be able to work together with almost any paradigm, or how Extatics had an easier time jugling many magical perceptions, Hermetic True Name thing....etc.

            I think one could streamline those advantages taking this approach instead of the, sometmes bizarre, bonuses that were in those books (I.E : DO could be replaced by a Teaching bonus on "martial arts" related stuff). Everyone has more or less the same "power level", and one could easily invent other "specials" for obscure or new factions

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            • #7
              Here's an outtake from the Mage Translation Guide, listing a set of Traditions special abilities which could potentially be mined for ideas.


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              • #8
                Originally posted by Aleph View Post
                Yeah, I can see that point.
                That's where I am in all this. I want membership to have more than just a political meaning to it for characters. I want it to have some, if not a huge, game play aspect to it. So adding Teachings (keeping in mind that part 1 of my idea applies regardless of faction) to the list of things to specialize your mage that don't matter how your mage learned magic just makes it feel unnecessary.

                Dataweaver and I might disagree with each other on the Orphan thing (for now) but for me it's a compromise towards the game aspect of this where membership, even in the non-organized category, is being incentivized by aiding specific approaches to magic; that how you learned your magic matters on some level mechanically.

                I think one could streamline those advantages taking this approach instead of the, sometmes bizarre, bonuses that were in those books (I.E : DO could be replaced by a Teaching bonus on "martial arts" related stuff). Everyone has more or less the same "power level", and one could easily invent other "specials" for obscure or new factions
                That is, in fact, one of the myriad of ideas that fed into my brainstorming starting post. While I'm still considering the phrasing, the default Chorus idea in my head is something like getting the Teaching bonus whenever they positively include people of faith positively into their effect, and perhaps just when in the presence of True Faith at all, to represent their idea of a universal One.

                I wouldn't dump the current martial art style called Do in here, but I would use this to separate Do into it's two narrative pieces. Do would be the full life expression of the Akashic Teaching (something like gaining the Teaching bonus as long as they maintain a strict daily routine based on their take on Do), and collapse Do-as-fighting-style into the Esoterica Knowledge (since that's already a great place to put that sort of training and simplify it drastically).

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