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  • Challenging Supernal "Truth"

    I've gotten into a lot of White Wolf material for some time and more or less recently had been invited to Mage to play and potentially an ST.

    Please note I am not attempting to "challenge" canon-as there really is no strict canon. These are some musings and ideas about a possible re-interpretion if the metaplot especially if you want an even darker flavor of Mage.

    So as I read a lot about the metaplot of Mage, a nagging question keeps coming to me-and that is if the idea of "Supernal Truth" is even "true" at all. I guess the know-it-all atmosphere of mage society and perspectives seemed to have me thinking about its potential fragility. But then I was pleasantly glad to have found the Chronicler's Guide that did have some setting variations in which the source of magic was something different altogether, and quite horrible too.

    The question gets more compelling when considering one of the core themes of Mage is hubris. Some of the material such as Magic Traditions points out the idea of the supernal being present among sleeper lore and experiences, maybe even sleeper magic (why don't they suffer quiesense though?) yet most awakened are too arrogant to talk to them. Yet, they claim to be always chasing after more and more mystical knowledge, yet when they get it, they may also scoff it off as just another “Fallen” lie. So there can be massive holes in the understanding of magic, ones massive enough to challenge many beliefs hold dear, not just Atlantis but everything else. For example, most mages might be frustrated at paradox, and thus claim its a force meant to sabotage magic-but it could also be that its to keep mages in line and prevent magic from corrupting the world rather than being something often described as "evil".

    Then there are the other supernatural beings with their own perspectives and magic. The mummies especially speak of a different system of magic from their old empire. I see an interesting contradiction in which a mage's perspective seems rather privileged and special compared to the others, after all the "Awakened" have seen the "Truth" and the world is a "Lie"-even the Shadow and (changeling) Arcadia, while they revel in their own "Truth" realms. And they say that this is the true and natural state of humans. Yet beasts regard them as just another monster, and so do some other groups as well. If I can recall a snippet of the mage perspective of beasts from the Beast corebook is that they are just interesting sleepers, and don't prod much further than that, which probably indicates bias on the types of knowledge mages pursue-perhaps those kernels of knowledge that don't uplift their status and instead equalize it are ignored! One can interpret that both sides are flawed and unreliable of course.

    The Supernal seems to all about meaning, and that the world is meaningful and glorious in its perfection (at least before Exarchs), and yet somehow only mages are privy to it; the others, even the purified loose connection to the Supernal when changed, so there are a lot ways to explore the idea of Supernal Lies and maybe even Abyssal Truths-that maybe things really are meaningless and contradictions are part of the natural order of things, not from an “infection” of the Abyss. I also saw this thread about philosophical antagonists that got be intrigued, especially about the idea of a form of magic that runs on a completely different idea of “Truth” butting heads with “Awakened" magic.

    It would be a spectacular and horrid twist if say, the Abyss was right all along and it was the "Supernal" that was the infection. Or maybe both are and a third other is the natural state.

    So I am asking here if anyone has explored these ideas in their own games.

  • #2
    Well I'd say a mage with prime would verify the truth of their magic with the prime arcana and miss the point that the matter of the question is: what if, as you put it, supernal truth isn't always true.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mr.F.I.X. View Post
      Well I'd say a mage with prime would verify the truth of their magic with the prime arcana and miss the point that the matter of the question is: what if, as you put it, supernal truth isn't always true.
      It's certainly not a biased source, mmm nope not at all.

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      • #4
        I saw a theory some time ago that reality was more fluid pre celestial ladder and the abyss was basically just where the exarchs put all the truths that they didn't like(at least the ones they could safely get rid of.) That would essentially make it it's own supernal realm. It would also probably mean that the natural world state is that everything is true.

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        • #5
          Well, the Scelesti certainly approve of this... Don’t be surprised when a bird that is not a bird knocks on your window and delivers you a letter of invitation!

          Jokes aside, at least “the Supernal isn’t absolute” part is already canon, thanks to archmages and their reality-editting shenanigans.


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          • #6
            I think of it in terms of modal logic. At least some Supernal Truths are merely contingent truths, rather than necessary truths, which is why it's possible to manipulate them at all. For example "the door in front of me is currently locked" is a contingent truth that any number of spells can alter. The fact that 2 and 2 make 4 on the other hand is not something that you can change with supernal magic - even if you're an archmaster. Not saying it can't be done, just that the negation of necessary truth is fundamentally abyssal.

            My actual headcanon is that the supernal realms are entirely the domain of contingent truth, while necessary truth streams down from the Empyrean. From the White Wolf Wiki:

            Confronted with a mutable Supernal, archmasters postulate that there must be an eternal, immutable causal plane beyond it: a Heaven, Nirvana, or Principle that fuels the Supernal with raw, undifferentiated meaning. Conservatives say that such a theory is unnecessary, given that the Supernal cannot be accurately perceived by any means short of Ascension, and may be truly pure under some veil of illusion. It is even said that some paths to Ascension bypass the Supernal and being mages in accord with this true World Above — an idea Seekers invested in the Golden Road treat with either disdain or great curiosity.
            Now this raises the question: where do negated contingent truths live? Are they tossed into the abyss whenever a mage changes reality? Do they live anywhere at all? Are there infinitely many worlds, one for each permutation of variables?

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            • #7
              But... but... 2 + 2 can equal 5 for extremely large values of 2!

              Ehem. I'm not familiar at all with CofD Mummies, but the two "big concept" splats--Mage and Changeling--paint an interesting picture enabling me to theorize that the primordial state of the world resembled Arcadia (Chaos) and Reality only solidified once the Supernal (Order) was imposed on it. This still leaves the question of what the Abyss is, and Aurelius already points to the easy functional shorthand: the Abyss is where things are shoved when Order is imposed on them--the bin for sorting out all the puzzle pieces you don't need or presently want.

              Or alternatively: the Hedge is the froth of contact between the world of ordered matter (Reality) and Chaos. The Abyss is the froth of contact between Arcadian Chaos and Supernal Order. It was not, naturally, in its base state, a bin for the waste of mages, but was co-opted as such by the Exarchs. Which, therefore, explains why it "sprang into being" on their coup in the Supernal. The previous residents of the Supernal (or, the Exarch's foes who may in fact have been once humans), displaced by the Exarchs, migrated to Arcadia (Chaos) and imposed their own order on it through Contracts; since Reality is composed of ordered chaos, those Contracts are valid Ironside as much as in Arcadia.

              Human spirits (not souls) carry the vector for manifesting order. Why this is remains to be debated, but human imagination shapes Chaos and gives it form; humans even see patterns within chaos and by perceiving patterns give them form real to at least themselves. At base shaping occurs during dreaming, when the spirit comes closest into contact with Arcadia, but if purified by Supernal Order, those spirits may warp Reality while Awake as well.

              All this is, as some might already note, a highly Moorcockian take on the cosmology.

              --Khanwulf

              PS: I'm not ignoring werewolves and their spirit-world, I just place it at a lower order of cosmological manifestation than is obtained by looking at the literally-do-anything nature of Supernal and Arcadian magic. Where do human spirits come from and why do they manifest order? is a highly relevant question and should be asked in conjunction with the idigam.

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              • #8
                Given I'm only three sessions in on my mage game, no, I haven't even come close to exploring these ideas yet in my game. I may never. I do, however, really like your post. It's intriguing. I tend to...take it as my head canon that there is a Principle Being behind the Supernal that gave it its existence but that the Being and Its' plane of existence is not something that can be attained by ascending. Rather, this Principle created the Supernal as well as the shadow, twilight, the astral realms, and other planes of existence (and thus the Supernal isn't actually Supernal, just incredible). The abyss exists because the Exarchs created it by breaking off a piece of the Supernal when they took the helm of the Supernal; their existence as Exarchs partly depends upon the continuing existence of the Abyss via the imperial spell that made it. Hence their oppression of mortal mages who could become archmasters and undo the imperial spell that made the abyss.

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                • #9
                  First, I want to say I'm happy to hear you've found my ideas about the "philosophical antagonists" for Mage as interesting. I do hope to work out some of the concepts in it some day.

                  As for the concept of "truth"- in my blog, I've explored how each of the different "fuels" of the CofD can be described as carrier of a certain metaphysical "dimension", which would allow to use scientific laws and logic to analyse complicate (supernatural) quantities in the the setting's context. Mana, obviously, was described as the "carrier particle" of Truth- which means that the Supernal is "true" simply because it has a large quantity of Truth (or Mana) in it. Being "true" is expressed by the fact that a "true" object perfectly describe the concept is represents. 2 + 2 = 4 is true, and because of that if you take two items and add to them two more items you get four items. However, if someone were to invest enough energy, they may (temporary) make it so 2 + 2 = 5- but it would not be a stable situation, and would describe investing constant amount of energy. If we were to use my suggested antagonists as an example, the Bound are things like that- the change the world by being True, instead of using the Truth as it is in the world. They don't know that 2 + 2 = 4 and as such are able to manipulate the concepts of 2, +, 4 and = so they would gain the desired result, like mages do. They simply enforce the fact that 2 + 2 = 376940 and let the world deal with the consequences.

                  The Abyss, on the other hand, is the lack of Mana- the lack of truth- and as such, it is Truth by itself. In the same way the the lack of charge surrounded by charges would be defined as a charge (see "holes" in the quasiparticle context), the lack of Truth is a Truth by its own right, even if with an opposite sign. The Abyss does not exist, and as such could only be described by what it is not- and by doing so, you make something which in not true into something which is true (like how darkness and cold don't really exist- for they require you to describe the lack of light and warmth in order to define them, and by doing so they become real). But once the the lack of Truth becomes "effective Truth", it has the same properties of Truth- it could define the world around it in its own context, making it that 2 + 2 = G not because it is true, but because it can never be true, and as such, it is defined.

                  Now, the thing is that all of that is simply a product of perspective- unlike electrons, which could be measured with and without the context of matter, we are surrounded by the Abyss- it is not a sea of Truth where there is a grain of nothingness, it is an ocean of void in which you have one tiny, shinning bubble of truth. In that case, wouldn't it make more sense that Mana is the "holes" for the Abyss's "electrons"? How could we know that the Supernal is what they is objectively true, while the Abyss isn't?

                  We don't. And we can't. And one day, that small bubble would collapse- and the false would become true once more.


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by 21C Hermit View Post
                    Well, the Scelesti certainly approve of this... Don’t be surprised when a bird that is not a bird knocks on your window and delivers you a letter of invitation!

                    Jokes aside, at least “the Supernal isn’t absolute” part is already canon, thanks to archmages and their reality-editting shenanigans.
                    Haha, well maybe the Scelesti are onto something.

                    If many archmages are screwing around re-stating reality that would certainly cause a lot of casualties to reality. It certainly is something rather unsettling if mastery of magic can turn someone into Cthulhu, whom operates on a very different and wholly alien set of rules.

                    But these are some very rad ideas being here. Especially on that magic being a re-writing of rules, which makes magic the aberration and not the natural state of things. Thus magic being what actually creates abyss. Maybe this could be why other beings view mages as monsters, more like Lovecraftian abominations, ones who insist its everything else that is.

                    I know this kind of thing isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I think these ideas are well-suited for those wanting to inject more dread and horror into the side of mages instead of having most of the horror come outside of them.

                    Many of these, as well as the worldview of the Supernal is based of course on the idea that these human abstractions are things, In canon a place where abstractions can become things is the Shadow, yet only one Arcanum seems to delve into that.

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                    • #11
                      Goetia from the Astral and Geists from the Underworld would beg to differ on your opinion about the Shadow being the only place abstractions become things.

                      I think you could make a case for Fate being an arcana or abstractions made real as well. Prime definitely is.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Mrmdubois View Post
                        Goetia from the Astral and Geists from the Underworld would beg to differ on your opinion about the Shadow being the only place abstractions become things.

                        I think you could make a case for Fate being an arcana or abstractions made real as well. Prime definitely is.
                        You're right. However those abstractions stem from human thought, what about abstractions independant of human intervention?

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                        • #13
                          Well, I wouldn’t say the Shadow qualifies for that since every spirit is influenced on some level of its existence by humanity.

                          You’d probably have to go to the Abyss or the Lower Depths to find something truly unshaped by humanity. On the meta level though you’d not really be able to describe something completely alien to humanity, which means in the game it would still have at least a passingly familiar shape to the characters.

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                          • #14
                            As far as this conversation went, I think the conversation about Mutapa summarized the "mages don't think they know everything" argument pretty well, but I can find a lot of direct statement from the development of Mage Second if that helps.


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                            • #15
                              Indeed. It pains me to say this, but the know-it-all atmosphere comes from, to be brutally honest, some players of Mage rather than the characters in Mage.


                              MtAw Homebrew:
                              Even more Legacies, updated to 2E
                              New 2E Legacies, expanded

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