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Philosophical Antagonists [Musing Thread]

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  • Philosophical Antagonists [Musing Thread]

    Mage has its fair share of antagonists- Seers, Banishers, Mad Ones, Scelesti, Tremere, walkers of the Left Handed Path, ephemeral entities, servitor races and the Exarchs know what else. However, it looks like it doesn't have what is called a "thematic antagonist", that is, something in the lines of the strix/idigam/huntsmen/slashers/insatiable/etc. You know, something which shares the principles of the protagonist splat, yet present a conflict which is based around the very core of the splat. Beings which are purely inhuman, and represent a some sort of Night Horror waiting to devour the life and soul of the protagonist. As new antagonists are always cool and all, that made me think "if Mage were to have such antagonists, what would they be?".

    Now, as we all know, Mage is greatly based around Platonic philosophy. In that case, perhaps a good "antagonist material" could be found around using other ancient philosophies, and trying to tie them into Mage's setting. Following that line of thought, some potential candidates have come to my mind, each being based around a different part of the game's cosmology and themes-

    - the most direct opposition to Platonism is Nominalism. Where Plato described the Theory of Forms and the realm of Ideals, Nominalism denies the existence of universals, meaning that abstract entities do not actually exist. That pretty much means that symbols do not objectively exist, and that the different properties of objects do not have separate existence of their own. As in Mage the objective existence of symbols is represented in the Supernal Realms, the power which denies the existence of the Supernal is the Abyss- where the first is one, objective "Truth", the Abyss is countless different options, which can not be defined for they lack any single, common properties. As such, a "Nominal Antagonist" would would be connected to the Abyss, one way or another. Perhaps some form of creatures which create "mini universes" of their own in the Fallen, where absolute definitions lose meaning and are rearranged according to the twisted will of the maker, and as such cause magic to fail or get out of control? Perhaps they are parasitic beings which crawl into other people souls and use them as a foci for their sub universe- that sounds a lot like Acamoth, which mean that such "new antagonist" may be simply a more in depth development of existing one.

    - while not its direct opposition, Aristotle and Plato are usually presented as one against the other, with Plato pointing up and Aristotle down. Where Plato searched to described the physical through the spiritual, Aristotle has focused around the physical first and foremost. Matter and motion, potentiality and actuality, the movement of both heaven and earth could all be described through the same system. The Prime Mover cause all motion around it, and the all universe dance according to the will of that which never move. While one may see some similar ideas between Aristotle and Plato's philosophies, the great focus around the physical makes me think more about the Fallen- and the connection between the Supernal and the Fallen makes me immediately think about the Bound- Supernal terrors which were banished and chained by the ancients, and must devour magic to survive. After all even the 1e book describes them as "antithesis to all Awakened". Under that philosophy, the Bound would take the place of "unmoving bodies", which cause motion, or magic, around them. They would be the magical beings which ruled the world before the mages, conquered by the first Wise. Mana is drawn into them, while they make the world change simply from their very presence. Perhaps they could even endow other people with a portent of their powers, creating a "false magician" which belong mind and soul to their Bound master.

    - by examining other Socratic philosophies, the Cyrenaicism seems to stand out as a good antagonist material. As an hedonistic philosophy, pleasure was seen as the only good of life, and pain as the only evil. The world has to be understood through physical sensation, for the world can not be known objectively. The body is the only tool that can understand the world, and as sensation is subjective, there is no objective truth. The only way to understand good from evil is through pleasure and sensation, and understanding what cause you delight and what cause you pain. That focus around pure, physical existence makes me think about a antagonist which comes from the Lower Depths, where reality itself is no longer defined and the only way to understand something is to eat it, gaining the "pleasure" from doing so. Such antagonist would be the parallel of mages from the Depths, beings coming from the thousand hells which lurk bellow the earth. Perhaps they offer an "Awakening" of their own by possessing their victims, yet those sorcerers must devour the things they wish to manipulate, like absorbing heat in order to cast a fire spell or destroy relationships for a love spell. The Cwn Annwn Legacy could be used as a good base for such antagonists.

    - yet another Socratic philosophy is that of the Cynicism. In their eyes, true enlightenment could only be achieved by living a natural, simple way, grasping into virtue and leaving behind the luxuries of life. Life should be done only by the bare necessities, away from temptations such as money, power, lust.. or magic. That could be used through a deeper development of the Ananke and their connection to Fate. The Ananke could be described as "mages of fate", using a new system to describe their powers and capabilities, which are obsessed around maintaining the Mage's Wisdom- at least, in the way Fate see it right. The Ananke would use their abilities to remove any potential causes of hubris from the mage's future, be it material wealth, magical lore or even loved ones. Fulfilling one's fate should be the mage's top priority, and the so called "Agents of Ascension" would exist to guide mages to Wisdom- if they like it or not. Instead of ephemeral beings, they would be described more as mage like entities, with rumors about them actually beings the remains of mages which ascended, or people chosen in birth by Fate to serve as its true call.

    - of course, most of those antagonists all come from the Socratic philosophies- but there are also other, pre-Socratic schools of thought, and if we were to search for a "primordial monster" for the Awakened, using one of those philosophies may be the way to go. Among those schools, the most well known is probably the Pythagoreanism- a philosophy which so a mystical value in mathematics. The whole universe is a collection of numbers, and arranging those numbers would influence the very structure of the world. The limit describes the limitless, and the void distinguish the nature of all things. Now- that sounds quit Abyssal, don't you think? Perhaps it would describe a type of beings which manipulate the world through the Abyss, through numbers which lack any context on their own, but when you add the void into the equation you can define the limitless according to the limit, and change the world around you. Those beings may be quit ancient, coming from the time before time, before the Arcana, before existence- they know how to shape the limitless, playing with the Truth of the world as if it was nothing more than calculations which needs to be balanced in the end. Perhaps some people make pacts with those dread entities, carrying them inside in order to preform dark miracles. Annunaki Awakening, anyone?

    - however, there are also later, Hellenistic traditions which could be explored as candidates for antagonists. Stoichism, for example- based around the concept that the knowledge can be understood through the use of reason, and the material structure of beings in the world. While they share certain themes with Platonism, it looks like this philosophy could be used as a base to certain antagonists based around the Lie- after all, according to Stoichism, the mind is constantly exposed for impression, both true and false, and the mind instinctively discriminate truth from lies. Antagonists based around that concept would believe the Lie to be true, as when the mind is exposed to magic it quickly denies its existence out of pure instinct. Perhaps it could be a form of "anti Awakening" created when a sleeper is exposed to too much magic, that their mind develops the Quiescence to a new level- they can see and remember magic, but can whisper the Lie to cause that magic to fail, motivated by cold reasoning and removal of "false" elements from reality.

    So- what do you think about those concepts? Feel free to share your own ideas about potential "anti mage" antagonists!


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  • #2
    Staying inside Platonism the Exarchs (Alomg with other Ascended) are the platonic ideals of Mages, that's why they direct the Seers to assimilate of kill other Mages as anything not like them (or trying to become like them) is an impure reflection to be pruned.

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    • #3
      While you are right, the problem with the Exarchs as the "main antagonists" is that you can't win them. They are Ascended beings- meaning that they are so far from reality that the only way to even harm them is by Ascending yourself- which means, reaching the end game. Sure, you can mess with their plans, fight their agents or even challenge their earthly incarnations, but you can't directly fight them, just as demons can't directly fight the God Machine or the Forsaken can't defeat the Pure Firstborn. You may be a monster- but those are the gods, and if there is one thing I know, is to not challenge the gods into a duel. It never ends well.


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      • #4
        All those ideas got me thinking, actually. I do think the Abyss as the obvious source of antagonism, but those made me visualize another layer of possibilities. Some maybe not even directly against Mages, but others, yes.

        The antagonists of other splats put them in perspective. Strixes, Idigans and True Fae put their "humane" into questioning their very true nature and impact in the world. Mage lacks it a little, with no antagonist so far making them question if their Truths are really so true.

        First, I would make for alternate "Magic Systems" based on other philosophies being a thing. They can work mostly like Awakened magic on mechanics, but have quite distinct interactions. And in it all those ideas could find a place. One thing is that the Abyss and the Supernal could be something partially rooted on perspective. So, for the Awakened magic, some of those other magics could seem to come from the Abyss, from a greater bound with the Lie, and so forth. But those classifications would fall apart when the context is actually based on the other kinds of magic, even to the point of Mages facing evidence that maybe their own magic is what comes from the Abyss, or some place even darker they can't even contemplate because of their Awakening.

        Second, I would like some kind of antagonist that seems to come from beyond the Supernal instead of beneath it. Something to show that maybe the very nature of the realms of their magic isn't quite what Mages think in their farthest reaches.


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        • #5
          How about looking to those entities that were thrown down when the Exarchs seized control of the Supernal?
          Fallen gods that see both the Exarchs and the Oracles as usurpers.
          ​Then have it turn out that magic was not only stronger before the fall, but fundamentally different before the usurpers rewrote the rules to suit them and in so doing sent the Abyss spinning out of control with their poor management and flawed understanding.
          ​Then we learn that the Mages of the First City (Atlantis) were not the only magic wielders in the ancient world and that building the Ladder was in truth an attempt to strip all of their competitors of power and top it all off by learning that there never was a civil war in the First City, that it was in truth an invasion by the remnants of those competitors trying to stop the aggressors. That what the Diamond thinks is their lineage from that city is actually their line of descent from the Barbarians outside, with the Seers being the true heirs of Atlantis.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by LostLight View Post
            While you are right, the problem with the Exarchs as the "main antagonists" is that you can't win them. They are Ascended beings- meaning that they are so far from reality that the only way to even harm them is by Ascending yourself- which means, reaching the end game. Sure, you can mess with their plans, fight their agents or even challenge their earthly incarnations, but you can't directly fight them, just as demons can't directly fight the God Machine or the Forsaken can't defeat the Pure Firstborn. You may be a monster- but those are the gods, and if there is one thing I know, is to not challenge the gods into a duel. It never ends well.
            Similarly, you pack of werewolves won't single handedly exterminate every last of the idigam. You don't need to punch Mammon in the face, just destroy capitalism. :P. Fighting the earthly manifestations of the Exarchs and their servants is an epic enough goal, and can very narratively satisfying even if in the scope of your game you won't achieve ultimate victory, you can still by the end have made things a bit better, in some way, according to what your characters believe "better" should mean.

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            • #7
              I noticed that Awakened lore, especially the fluffier, more uplifting, yet egotistical sides of mage society find their roots in older philosophy which often uplifts humanity in a special place in the universe.

              More recent philosophy has more nihilistic points of view such as Nihilism, Pessimism, Cosmicism, and Existentialism. There is also Postmodernism which attempts to question the very idea of "truth" as an absolute. So we can have these phiolosophical antagonists butt heads as a sort of "Old vs. New" thing.

              An interesting thing I could see is some scandalous propositions about magic and humanity's place in things circulating Libertine circles that gets into the hands of some in the Silver Ladder goes on a...(haha) "witchhunt" against them for spreading abyssal lies.

              An excellent philosophical antagonist of course comes from Lovecraft. the Abyss sounds like straw-Lovecraft to me. It is described as "anti-reality" that is anathemical to natural order and truth that should not exist and is a source of evil. This is a popular perception of "eldritch abominations" especially in D&D or in other media that presents creatures of the Mythos in a good vs. evil context.

              Yet the horror of Lovecraft is that these horrid things are reality, and more fundamental players in the cosmos than humanity. An eldritch abomination is not a being that is "wrong" but a being in which one must really stretch their way of thinking and how the world works to even grasp its existence. The beings in Lovecraft's cosmos shape the universe, create life, and evolve it- even Azathoth is sort of like the Big Bang and the whole universe is his dream. Gods like Nyarlathotep are the basis for mythological archetypes such as the Trickster god. Lovecraft's works arose around the time when people discovered there were other galaxies out there, and millions of them- which shocked people greatly as they found out the immense scale of the universe and even the Milky Way being nothing special. Lovecraft's work operates on Cosmicism-a side of nihilism that emphasizes human pettiness and worthlessness in the vast scheme of things. In Mage, the Abyss seems to teach this as well, but in a more shackling way, but ironically its "motives" are still meaningful. I would think of the Abyss more as philosophical Pessimism while Lovecraft is Nihilism which actually indifferent while Pessimism is skewed, and this indeed was a critism that Lovecraft had on Schopenhauer, the father of philosophical Pessimism.

              In the works of the Mythos, magic is part of the natural world-just aspects of the natural world that are so vast and difficult for humans to grasp that it often requires intervention with beings who can. Sigils operate not on what they symbolize but the shape and physics of the symbol itself, in which mathmatically placed markings screw with dimsensions. Think of it like how some physicists don't view the laws of physics as actual laws, but rather as properties of matter. Advanced math and physics potentially taps into these things but magic seems to almost be a "back door" to them.

              So if one wanted to present Cosmicism as a philosophical antagonist, you could use the Abyss, or maybe the Abyss is just a product of the assumptions humanity has about the Mythos. Your cabal comes across energies and beings that seem abyssal but then they also are brutal on abyssal entities, then this is when your mages discover a vast whole "Other" that is completely uncharted and potentially worldview-shattering.
              Last edited by GreenKitty; 01-25-2018, 03:43 PM.

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              • #8
                I kind of just have to wonder how the whole of reality isn't cart-upsetter-antagonist enough.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by ArcaneArts View Post
                  I kind of just have to wonder how the whole of reality isn't cart-upsetter-antagonist enough.
                  but the whole of reality is kind of a faceless villain. I like my villains to have face(s).


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by LostLight View Post
                    but the whole of reality is kind of a faceless villain. I like my villains to have face(s).
                    Fair enough.


                    Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                    Feminine pronouns, please.

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                    • #11
                      If you want a fun philosophical antagonist, find something the players do to others but would be horrified at having done to them, then have them do it to people like the players. You'll never see someone get more indignant.

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                      • #12
                        While there's no one specific antagonist that really sticks out, you can use the existing antagonists and give them more specific motives for doing what they do. The Seers, Tremere, and Scelesti are all more complicated than the Pentacle wants them to be, although the 1e Seers book makes them sound a bit like cartoon villains. But nothing says you can't have the Seers have slightly more complex motives. At their heart they are a zealous religion (or collection of zealous religions, really). They philosophize heavily about the nature of the Exarchs. Sleepers are simply beneath their notice.

                        Scelesti call entities of the Abyss the "Innocents." They don't believe the Abyss is evil, but rather something that simply exists. The Annunaki are the Great Dreamers. The Left-Hand Path book gives lots of interesting info about the Scelesti culture (what little of it they have).

                        The Tremere, I think, are probably the most complex antagonists. They eat souls, yes, but they were a part of the Diamond in the middle ages and believe in a whole secret Watchtower that holds the truth of the soul. This captures the duality between "they are mages" but also "they are monsters" very well. They're not following the commands of ineffable tyrannical gods/doing it because suffering is winning, they're not doing it because they have been driven crazy by a being which shouldn't even exist. Instead, they are doing it because they have a secret history and society which descends from discovering the one ultimate truth in the universe. The Final Watchtower was locked away in the Abyss, but it is clearly not Abyssal (according to the Tremere). The Tremere have their own society and rules. They don't operate on whimsy, and the price for their knowledge is clear. They need souls to survive and thrive, but they are still otherwise rational actors.

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                        • #13
                          From a completely different direction:

                          I'd love to see Adepts from Unknown Armies get dropped into Mage. After all, their magic is firmly rooted into Post Modern ideas and is explicitly fueled by lowercase-P paradox. Making it fueled by uppercase-P Paradox as well would be... interesting.

                          On top of that, they're dark mirrors of Mages themselves - they're one-and-all addicted to their magic, having their magic, being their magic. It's what drives them to ruin their lives - when things like "being sober" and "telling the truth" are incompatible with your world-view, things like jobs tend to fall by the wayside.


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                          • #14
                            So, here's my perception of the philosophical components of each Mage antagonist.
                            Awakened (Platonic)

                            Seer (Epicurean)
                            Scelesti (Hegelian/Anarchist Egoist)
                            Tremere (Nehilist)
                            Banishers (unformed/malformed philosophies)
                            Mad Ones (Absurdist)

                            With that said, I'd say that a direct antagonist is an unenlightened one rather than a different or poorly flavored of enlightenment. I'd say you're on to something with the Sleeping Curse, but rather than an "antiawakening" or "unawakening" , just plain simple disbelief but sentient, maybe even hive minded.

                            ​I'd suggest Solipsism as a direct opposite of platonic truth.

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                            • #15
                              Kerghan - the main Antagonist of Arcanum has made a big impact on me on a philosophical level. He's obviously a big bad, and I don't agree but his is a position that I can understand to some degree at least.



                              I'm not sure whether to peg him as some sort of Moros or something else, but basically he has spoken to all kinds of dead and realized that being dead is the natural state of things and that it is the ultimate peace, so he wants to kill everyone to release them from an abominable state of "living" which only causes suffering.

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