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  • Sell me on M20/Mage the Ascension

    Hi all. So this is pretty much what it says on the tin for the most part.

    Some context...

    I'm a long time WoD player (around a decade) but its been about four years since I played anything in the Classic World of Darkness. Since then I've been firmly entrenched in the NWoD. Recently after a few years of a glut of NWoD and a few bad experiences I've been looking for a "new" game to kinda respark my interest in the WoD and roleplay in general. I've been looking around for new things but weirdly M20 would be a return to my roots, not an inherently bad thing really.

    My experience with Classic World of Darkness is limited to Vampire the Masquerade and Dark Ages Vampire. Both of which I enjoyed and have a bit of nostalgia bias for. This being said I was not really all that impressed by V20 (beyond the fact that it is very comprehensive). To clarify that last point more, I don't think Masquerade's fluff has aged and the mechanical touch ups in V20 were to my eyes very lacking.

    I know next to nothing about Ascension beyond a few anecdotal stories from people who have played it previously. I know some general terms and the whole idea of the old magic vs techno thing. Beyond that I'm a complete laymen.

    I do have solid experience with Ascensions NWoD equivalent Awakening, having played in a long running campaign a few years ago. I found it interesting and different from the Vampire centric games I played previously. However, its mechanical problems were something we had to compensate for and I feel a lot of the interest I had for the game came from the ST coming up with a lot of original material for the setting.

    How does Ascension compare thematically with Awakening? The latter has a heavy emphasis on Hubris from the info on the Kickstarter Ascension seems to have a theme of Hope. I find this an interesting juxtaposition. Awakening had elements of an inherently flawed world that was only really getting lost and that the "good guys" had in many ways already lost and were hanging on to what little they could keep from sliding any further into degradation all of which was compounded by Mage's habit towards hubris. Is there a similar aspect in Ascension or is the whole set-up/premise of Mage's nature and interaction with the world around them markedly different?

    I'll be honest the Kickstarter for M20 kinda passed me by. I looked it up yesterday on a random whim. However, a lot of talk in the document about properly moving the settings fluff forward, updating the whole concept to me 21st century in nature (as opposed to very 90's) and the amount of effort the writers seem to have put in to really hammer out and clarify the rules got my interest peaked. Likewise, the artwork on the Kickstarter is all stunning and I am a bit of a sucker for good art (I was less then impressed with some of the "classic" look of V20).

    Obviously a good reason to support M20 is that it supports lovely people at Onyx Path who bring us all these lovely games but I felt that went without saying as a reason to be "sold" on M20.


    "There is no God in the Badlands." - Sunny


  • #2
    Originally posted by Hawthorn View Post
    How does Ascension compare thematically with Awakening? The latter has a heavy emphasis on Hubris from the info on the Kickstarter Ascension seems to have a theme of Hope. I find this an interesting juxtaposition. Awakening had elements of an inherently flawed world that was only really getting lost and that the "good guys" had in many ways already lost and were hanging on to what little they could keep from sliding any further into degradation all of which was compounded by Mage's habit towards hubris. Is there a similar aspect in Ascension or is the whole set-up/premise of Mage's nature and interaction with the world around them markedly different?
    Well that's going to take a bit of explaining and unfortunately I don't have the time to write it all down right now. Especially if you factor in the Edition divide between 2nd and Rev. But in short MtAs does tend to be more fantastical with Mages able to leave Earth and go about exploring the Umbra, the vast spirit world. Think the Supernal Realms but more. In fact you could set entire games in the Umbra if you wished.

    Like I said there's a lot here and I just don't have the time at the moment to explain it all. I'll try to tonight.

    Originally posted by Hawthorn View Post
    I'll be honest the Kickstarter for M20 kinda passed me by. I looked it up yesterday on a random whim. However, a lot of talk in the document about properly moving the settings fluff forward, updating the whole concept to me 21st century in nature (as opposed to very 90's) and the amount of effort the writers seem to have put in to really hammer out and clarify the rules got my interest peaked. Likewise, the artwork on the Kickstarter is all stunning and I am a bit of a sucker for good art (I was less then impressed with some of the "classic" look of V20).
    Well you know the M20 Kickstarter is still going on. If you want to pledge for it you still can.


    Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Hawthorn View Post
      Hi all. So this is pretty much what it says on the tin for the most part.
      How does Ascension compare thematically with Awakening? The latter has a heavy emphasis on Hubris from the info on the Kickstarter Ascension seems to have a theme of Hope. I find this an interesting juxtaposition. Awakening had elements of an inherently flawed world that was only really getting lost and that the "good guys" had in many ways already lost and were hanging on to what little they could keep from sliding any further into degradation all of which was compounded by Mage's habit towards hubris. Is there a similar aspect in Ascension or is the whole set-up/premise of Mage's nature and interaction with the world around them markedly different?
      If I had to sum it up, I'd say this is the distinction:

      Awakening is a game about a Lie, and how far you'll go to understand or expose that Lie.

      Ascension is a game about Truth, and how far you'll go to define or enforce the Truth.

      It might seem like that's two different ways of saying the same thing, but I feel as though the distinction is important. Magi in Awakening are addicted to mystery: they want to go deeper and deeper into the hidden depths of the world, and find out where all the clues are and what they mean. Whereas, the Magi of Ascension are defining what's true; a lie is only what one decides it is, because reality is a tapestry that can be altered, and all paradigms are created equal. (YMMV; these descriptions are MASSIVE simplifications, but that's how I've always thought it worked, basically).

      Obviously, if you can define truth, hubris is going to come up a great deal. There isn't as much of a mechanical element, since Ascension Mages don't have Wisdom, but one can become Fallen or Mad, and that's a good equivalent.

      Ascension definitely has aspects of "the good guys lost", and how they have to hang on to whatever's left, but that depends on who the good guys are. The Traditions think the Technocracy is enslaving humanity, forcing one monolithic definition on the world, rather than letting us achieve our full potential. The Technocracy, however, is pretty confident that they are the good guys, the guardians of reality, and the Traditions are a bunch of despots who'd divide up the world into magical fiefdoms where the masses are mere serfs.

      All that said, both games can run pretty similarly. You're mages who can do amazing things, but sometimes Paradox says a big NO to that. That's at the heart of both, but it's the trappings that define them.

      As for mechanics...I think, whichever setting one likes best, Awakening has a superior magic system. It has flaws in its current incarnation, as you said, but I find Ascension really, really wonky. I know lots of people who live and breathe it, but I'm not one of them, and not for lack of trying! But, I have a feeling that M20 is going to go a long way toward solving that wonkyness--Phil Brucato looks to know exactly what he's doing. And if M20 is anywhere as good as the new Convention books, then it's a worthy investment.

      So, I don't know if I've done a very good job selling you on M20, but I hope that helps clarify the differences? If you want to test out the Ascension cosmology without having to learn a whole new magic system right away, you could try the Mage Translation Guide.
      Last edited by Yossarian; 03-14-2014, 09:58 PM.



      Social justice vampire/freelancer | He/Him

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      • #4
        Thanks for the feedback AkatsukiLeader13 (I would be interested in hearing your extended take on the game when you get the chance) and Yossarian.

        To clarify a bit more, as both the previous posts hit the nail on the head but I want to make sure my intent is clear in this thread. I'm interested in peoples thoughts about Ascension as well as just a basic explanation of the game. After all, I can look up the detail on Wiki and TvTropes anytime. The point is I really want peoples thoughts about Ascension.

        Issues like:
        What makes it a fun game for people?
        What good experiences (and not so good experiences/problems) have people had with the game?
        What do people think about the overarching themes of Ascension and is there even a consensus on what those themes are?
        What sort of stories the game supports?
        How does it differ from Awakening and how is it similar? (Both in general themes and in specific setting ideas)

        These are just examples, but they are the sort of thing that I think demonstrate the "core" of a game and what it means to different players.

        Other then that I am kinda interested in knowning who is writing M20? I know Phil Brucato is involved from general blurbs. I've looked him up and some of his previous stuff is pretty awesome (some not so much... Changing Breed for NWoD was not a great book). Obviously he was involved with the Second Edition of Ascension, is that edition considered superior to 1st and revised? There seems to be a lot of inherent trust that he's going to sort out the Magic system in M20 to be understandable, player friendly and overall thematic and useful (and maybe even somewhat balanced mechanically...I live in hope).

        As a bit of a novice in this area I've been wondering why people seem to have that inherent trust in an issue that seems to have (from my reading at least) plagued the previous editions being finally sorted out in M20? I guess I am a little worried after my experience with V20. Which kinda capitulated to nostalgia rather then true system fixes (Celerity...uugh) despite promising at least some mechanical update/improvement.


        "There is no God in the Badlands." - Sunny

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        • #5
          I think part of the expectations that have risen up around M20 are, in part, due to the developer (and others) saying that M20 is going to be a much more extensive system update than V20 and W20 were. I personally liked V20 a lot, though more for the tone and the setting than the mechanics--I generally don't like OWoD mechanics as much as NWoD mechanics, so that was a bit of a wash, because no matter what got changed, it wasn't going to wow me. I don't think they're bad (they're a lot of fun!), I just think they're a bit peculiar...except Celerity; I hate old Celerity, though I have hopes for V20 Dark Ages.

          As far as editions, it really depends on who you talk to. Much Internet blood has been shed over Mage 2nd and Mage Revised. I'm more familiar with Revised, so I can't really speak to the pros and cons.

          I'll let others who've played the game more than I have explain a bit more deeply. I have more experience with Awakening, so I think I come at Ascension with a little too much baggage?



          Social justice vampire/freelancer | He/Him

          Actual Play: Vampire: The Requiem – Bloodlines
          Masquiem: Curses of Caine in Requiem 2nd
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          • #6
            Phil Brucato took over as line developer for Mage really early on: prior to the Revised Edition, you could count the number of books that weren’t published on his watch on one hand. Even most of the first-edition supplements were his doing. As such, the first and second editions of the game are closely related to each other: many of the first edition supplements were laying the groundwork for the second edition.

            When Brucato left and Jess Heinig took over, the tone of the game shifted drastically: similar in extent to what happened between the first and second editions of Exalted, if you’re familiar with that game. This triggered the Edition Wars that you’ve probably heard so much about. Essentially, there are two flavors of the game: the 1e/2e flavor and the Revised flavor. Brucato’s role in M20 is that he’s once again the chief developer of the line, and he has been working to reconcile the differences between the two flavors I mentioned above. Much of it has only been doable by saying “here’s something 2e-like, and here’s an alternative that’s Revised-like; pick the one you like”; so M20 is going to be more of a toolkit for “how to build the flavor of Mage that you like best” rather than a single, coherent vision. (Except where the two editions agree, which happens more often than this talk of “edition wars” might lead you to believe.)

            The Kickstarter’s FAQ has a nice summary of what Mage is: “What IS Mage: The Ascension? An interactive storytelling game about people whose beliefs can change the world, Mage: The Ascension deals with folks who have “Awakened” to their true power. These “mages” literally rework reality through magick, faith, technology, and combinations of the three. Because they don’t agree on what should be done with such power, mages often wind up waging a shadow-war over the many ideals of “ascension,” the ultimate transcendence of Earthly limitations. And in the process, they realize that “reality” is flexible, controlled by the people who believe most in their ability to change it.
            Last edited by Dataweaver; 03-15-2014, 02:46 AM.


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            • #7
              OK, so Phil Brucato had a major hand in what Ascension was during most of its original run. Obviously that's very cool and I can see why that familiarity and experience bring a certain level of trust to the idea that M20 is going to be a well thought out, well designed book. Given the above I have two questions:

              1) What were the major thematic differences between 2nd Edition Mage and Revised Edition Mage?

              2) All previous version of Mage (from what I have read at least) had a bit of trouble with their magic system in one way or another. Considering that the same design team from the old days is back working on this book why do people have faith that this group that previous did not quite nail the magic system will get it right this time?

              I can see arguments for having ten years (since the end of Classic World of Darkness) to think about it and maybe house-rule it for their games since. I can see an argument for all of them being more experienced games designers now then they were back in the mid-90's. I can even see an argument for them actually just having another go in general. Plus the recent FAQ does imply they got a lot of feedback on the book from about 30 people outside the core development group to point out problems and such. These are reasons I could see for imparting trust on this issue. I'm just curious what other people think.

              Also despite the last couple posts focus, I am still interested in hearing all the other questions I raised previously poked by people.


              "There is no God in the Badlands." - Sunny

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              • #8
                The big difference between editions can be summed up with the Avatar Storm. The Storm was one of the trinity of major events that kicked off the Revised Edition and the countdown to the Time of Judgment, alongside the Week of Nightmares and the Sixth Great Maelstrom. The AS basically ravaged the realms beyond Earth and cut the Masters of the Mage world, who largely resided beyond Earth, from the younger mages on Earth. While travel beyond Earth is still possible in Rev Ed it's harder and more dangerous, forcing MtAs more onto the street level than the wild and crazy vistas of 2nd Ed. A lot of 2nd Ed fans didn't like this, not so much the Masters getting axed but the loss of all those wild and crazy vistas. Plus Rev Ed declared that no one won the Ascension War because humanity slid into apathy and generally have little interest in what anyone's trying to sell.

                Rev Ed is ultimately more down to Earth but it also tends to be a more grim and bleak setting than 2nd Ed. The Masters are gone, Horizon's being ravaged by the Storm, Humanity would much rather wallow in front of the TV, etc.

                Honestly I came into the CWoD in the early 2000's so I've always been a Rev Ed player. To me MtAs has always been a game about Belief and the Journey of Enlightenment. And part of that means that the various factions and groups in MtAs are trying to spread their beliefs among the Masses, to get them to believe and accept that. That's really what the Ascension War is truly all about. So bringing the focus more onto Earth feels more natural to me. Of course I agree with the comments that they could have found less... aggressive way to do it. Then again this was part of the build up to the ToJ and things falling apart like that does fit the general theme.


                Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable.

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                • #9
                  So I've done a bit more setting reading and have a new question.

                  What's up with the Nerphandi? I have yet to see a justification for why any someone with any survival instinct or shred of sanity would get involved with that practice. Are their just a lot of utterly crazy Mages?

                  Also, what exactly do the Nerphandi work for? Some sources say Demons (as in fallen angels). Other's mention the Earthbound from Demon the Fallen. Others mention entities that predate our reality/worlds existence.

                  This second question reminds me of the issue of "what do the Baali actually work for?" that plagued different version of Masquerade. First they worshiped/followed demons, then their clan book made it all about their actions keeping Cthuhlu like entities asleep. Then the newer revised/dark ages stuff talks about them worshiping the Earthbound from Demon the Fallen. Is it simply the case that the Nerphandi went through the same troubled writing history?


                  "There is no God in the Badlands." - Sunny

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                  • #10
                    Well with the Nephandi the first you have to understand is that their Avatar has been turned inside-out, turning their upward ascension into a descent. Some are tempted and willingly have their Avatar inverted like that while others have the misfortune of having Avatars that were previously corrupted. Regardless just as a normal Avatar pushes and compels their bearer along the upward path of Ascension, a Nephandi's Avatar pushes them in a downward path, a Descent.

                    As for your second question, all of the above. There is no singular Nephandi organization but rather many, many different groups. Some serve the Earthbound and the Fallen, others the Wyrm, Malfeans from the Underworld, Eldritch alien horrors, etc. But generally they aim for the same thing the utter corruption and/or destruction of everything. I've heard that some even believe that the universe is corrupt and wretched the most merciful thing to do is to destroy it so a better universe could be born from the ashes.


                    Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable.

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                    • #11
                      The most positive spin on the Nephandi that I’ve seen is “reality is horribly screwed up beyond any chance of fixing it; bringing an end to it is the most merciful thing you can do.” In general, though, they’re a bit more like the Joker in Dark Knight: “some people just want to watch the world burn.”


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                      • #12
                        Nephandic incentives. Promises of power or solutions to problems. Trickery; acting as a friend to someone vulnerable or lonely to lure them in, or giving them favors that turn into debts. Justification via belief; "the very existence of the tellurian is the result of fractured symmetry. Only in the void are things perfectly balanced and resolved." (An idea for a putrefaction-obsessed solificato suddenly comes to mind.) Any ill will or destructive intent that the person thinks might be helped to manifest by jumping in, to find out it's more than they expected. Simply reveling in destructive expression. Really, almost any reason someone might join up with a group. Or of course they're already changed, and it's simply natural to them.

                        Though they're usually typified as villains, I don't actually think they're outside the bounds of being playable (or even relatable--or even likable) characters. No one probably considers entropy in itself problematic, and the fundamental metaphysical difference (as far as I recall) is that they're 'just' beings with entropic cores, of sorts. I suppose it's up to how entrenched in decay and destruction you want to see them as, though.

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                        • #13
                          I agree on a lot of what has been posted about the differences between editions with Mage, with a few caveats:

                          a) The changes weren't so great that the different editions were unrecognisable to each other. It wasn't like a D&D 3rd vs 4th Ed set of changes.
                          b) A lot of the metaplot details that were noted in Revised edition were actually initiated under Brucato in the latter releases of the 2nd edition line.
                          c) Some of the changes - like the increased emphasis and depth for Tradition paradigms - were actually quite welcome.
                          d) A lot of the major problems were largely down to difficult editing problems - not enough space to include details on the Technocracy, being an obvious example.

                          To answer the question of selling the 20th Anniversary Edition, my view is that Mage is probably the ultimate game of mysticism, surrealism, counterculture and philosophical brow beating. It has, however, always had issues throughout all editions in terms of clarity of rules, or contradictory elements in metaplot and backstory. Having an ultimate edition gives the game a chance to update, refresh and review all these issues to make the game that a lot of passionate fans always thought it could be. It's the type of game, if you are into all this type of stuff, that you could play for years as an exclusive, all in game - and there is enough sheer diversity in setting and theme that it could pull it off.

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                          • #14
                            Plus... there's always the supplemental M20 books in the pipeline... updates, and things never-before-seen, that are made for this edition. You know you want the shiny.


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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Torakhan View Post
                              Plus... there's always the supplemental M20 books in the pipeline... updates, and things never-before-seen, that are made for this edition. You know you want the shiny.
                              Indeed shiny is indeed a motivator...but I must resist buying something just for its shiny NEW factor.

                              Some interesting points brought up in the last couple of posts. had some interesting takes on the Nerphandi. I'm mostly happy that their is no "root of all evil" source. That damnation is more personal for the Nerphandi then just joining a pre-proscribed Cthulhu like cult. As that was my major problem with the Scelesti of Awakening.

                              Indeed, one of my major gripes with Awakening is that everything big and evil leads back the Abyss. Which is supposed to be the most abhorrent thing ever but I've only ever seen it done well in a game once (and its featured in basically all the games of NWoD I've been in even those that are not Mage games). As such it's gone from "the ultimate abhorrent location/entity/concept" to basically monster of the week/month.

                              So yeah Nerphandi stuff being a bit more nuanced and personal is certainly something I like the sound of.

                              Another question then.

                              Who are the villains of Ascension and what makes them good villains? I'm a big believer that a story is only as strong as its villain, so having a setting that can generate such characters is important to me.

                              I've got the general impression that earlier version of the Techno were supposed to be the bad guys. However, its obvious that as the line progressed they pretty much became mostly protagonists with antagonistic tendencies (from the traditions point of view). Marauders seem to unfocused to be grand overarching villains. The Nerphandi as already discussed seem to be able to fill that role, but are they alone in that regard?

                              Obviously, this is a slightly simplistic view I know. In a game about defining truth I can easily see how anyone not agreeing with our idea of what is "true" being a villain. However, I'm just feeling out the archetypes of the game at the moment from people with actual play experience.



                              "There is no God in the Badlands." - Sunny

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