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  • Learning Curve

    I am brand new to this game, but I am a veteran gamer (20th level dungeon master). I have most of the material on PdF, and I dropped the dime to get the core books (gotta have hard copy for a live game). I purchased both 1st and 2nd edition (found a good bargain on the interweb). In a different thread I had asked advice on which edition to start with, Overwhelmingly Awakening2 was recommended, and I agree that it looks much nicer and has some great unique features.
    But I gotta say, this is the most complicated game system I have ever delved into.
    The reasons I decided to also snag 1st ed are two fold. My first book is actually the Mage Translation guide, which heavily refers to 1st ed. The second reason is the free availlability (on drive thru RPG) of the demo scenarious. My thinking is that a few one shots will help me and a few others learn how to play this game.
    As I said, I have them both on PdF already. I have read 2ns up through CharGen, then the same with 1st to note any major differences. So far so good.
    Then I get to the Magic section. That is where it gets much harder. More complicated than it needs to be. Looking at 1st, it just seems sooo much simpler.

    I need advice on getting though this learning curve. I would love to hear your anecdotes of how you first approached the game and how it evolved to the way you approach it now.


  • #2
    Originally posted by Marko Markoko View Post
    Then I get to the Magic section. That is where it gets much harder. More complicated than it needs to be. Looking at 1st, it just seems sooo much simpler.
    First Edition Awakening builds its magic system under the assumption that most spells default to instant casting and that rotes run on a near-completely different dicepool than improvised spells.

    This begets a problem when those are the only two types of spell and extended casting doesn't actually make a spell any harder to accomplish beyond time constraints, a Willpower surcharge, and a minor material component that a lot of people tend to forget about; further, there's a bunch of different bonuses floating around with no unifying categorization, most of them are rather small, and working off of the same "more rolled successes means a more effective power" as its contemporary gamelines means there's only a minor statistical advantage to instant-casting with pre-loaded spell factors at any level (giving you even less reason to make your spellcasting look like spellcasting when you don't even need your hands free to construct an Imago), plus the need for extra dots in Arcana to use the Advanced tables puts a bit of an arbitrary lock on certain applications of basic Practices.

    Second Edition Awakening makes all spellcasting start from the same pool of Gnosis + Arcanum, defaults casting time to the ritual interval while always giving you at least enough resources to instant-cast any spell you have the Arcana for, organizes the various bonuses such that using a mirror as a ritual implement explicitly needs to be bent toward an effect that makes sense for a mirror to benefit, and gives you more incentive to use those bonuses (by reducing the success-based variability of casting to the normal single-success roll result options) while providing you free steps on the tables through primary factors.

    First Edition's casting is fine if you just want to produce effects, but Second Edition's casting is structured to incentivize mages to act like mages. Where is the excess complication?


    Resident Lore-Hound
    Currently Consuming: Hunter: the Vigil 1e

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    • #3

      You misunderstand me. I am not trying to debate merits and versions. I am trying to figure out how to play the game. Everything you just wrote indicates that you understand the game, and that the 2nd ed version works much better for you. Which is great. I get that. My inquiry is into how you achieved that understanding to begin with. The "excess complication" has nothing to do with the rules. It is all about how the information is presented. For example, I am an avid player of the game Ars Magica. Which is also a very complex magic system. Having played through editions, I understand it like the back of my hand. But I feel that the current 5th edition of that game may be a bit confusing for someone who has never played an earlier edition. That is the conclusion I am coming to about Awakening.

      I also understand that intricate crunch helps you to feel like a wizard. It fuels the imagination. Ars Magica does the same thing. But the statement "incentivize mages to act like mages" kinda makes me roll my eyes. How do mages act? It depends on who is writing the story/game/book/movie. It is pure fiction. There is no such thing as magic. In the real world, those who claim to be "mages" or wizards or witches or whatever; they act as eclectic and esoteric as is needed to get people to believe that there is something supernatural about them. It is part of their scam. I don't want "real" mages. I want mages of esoteric fantasy and occult horror. Any rules system can provide that if the players put in the effort.

      I *do* appreciate crunchy rules. But a game is not made better or worse based upon complexity alone. And my struggle is not about the rules. It is about the instructions as written, and the complexity of the manner of instruction.

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      • #4
        So, I got in Mage with 1e, liked it a lot. I actually found 2e a lot easier to grok though. Let's put it this way, in 1e, if I tried to do creative thaumaturgy it required a lot of negotiation with the ST, and consulting similar examples in the books in order to try to figure out if I could do what I wanted to do at all. If you could do -anything- original was a bit of a toss up. While 2e mechanics for spellcasting may require some learning it leaves the player with a much surer footing on what they can do. That's my system vs. system take.

        Now, as for dealing with the mechanical complexity of 2e spellcasting, there's a quick spell reference guide right in the book, and there's also at least one web tool out there to help you with making your spells which lowers the mental burden on the ST and the player considerably. The basic uses of Reach are not hard to memorize before very long. The main thing I've seen people actually trip themselves on is thinking that they can spend Reach or Mana to gain dice to their roll.

        If you want to see some folks trying to figure out the system from scratch you can check out Occultists Anonymous on youtube or podcast. There's the occasional blunder, but they get it pretty quick.

        System mastery takes time, but for 2e it's well worth it, and while it may look daunting it's not really that bad. I'd say...maybe 10 sessions tops before your players are comfortable? Probably sooner. Even if they aren't comfortable with making up their own spells, they'll at least be able to grasp how the spells in the book works, and be able to rely on those. And honestly? 2e core has most of the spells you may ever need for a game already in it.

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        • #5
          Well the simplest part to remember is that where games like D&D have pre-gen spells, Mage really doesn't. So the first part of spellcasting is asking what you want the spell to do, and not feeling that it needs to be bound by any kind of D&Desque spell design. Mages can do literally ANYTHING, and the majority of their spellcasting is often completely unique to them. Once you know what you want, you can then sort it by Arcanum, and then by Practice within the Arcana to gauge relative power level of the base effect. From there, factors can apply to tweak it into exactly what you want. In all of this, the main point is: YOU as player decide what the spell is capable of, and what costs are going to be paid in order to make it happen just the way you want.

          A good way to do this is to encourage your players to do a little of the 'down and dirty spellcasting' on the fly, getting them to think outside the box and create crude spell ideas on the spot. Get them thinking about what the Arcana and Practices they know can actually DO, and then encourage them to use those notions to spin off wild and wacky magical solutions as they go; the more outside the box and innovative, the better. This will help the players to see the open casting system as a free-for-all in their favour, and with your encouragement, you can then get them evaluating the performance of their ideas and start them thinking about solid Praxes based on these. If you want to control the power level for new players, you might like to limit their ability to opt for excessive Reach and suffer Paradox until you and they have a better grip on the system's mechanics. Maybe start with all spells set to default, and then gradually introduce concepts like Reach and sacrificing dice to increase spell factors, with the cost of Paradox only biting once this step is taken.

          Another way you can go with more experienced players is to try dry-designing some spells that suit the personality of your character, and keeping these as a kind of default 'useful spell' list for smooth play. You can figure out exactly what those special personal spells are meant to do, and then tweak them in play to make them fit the moment's need. In play, this is basically what Praxes are: spells that your character has trained to excellence in, which may be and often are spells of their own design. When you start play, those Praxes are likely going to be chosen from the nice easy list provided in the Mage rules. But it's much better if they aren't, and you design them as unique spells for your character from the off. Even if you don't, designing a few as you go and adding them as Praxes to gradually replace the stock-standard spells in the rulebook is really the way to go. It'll give you practice at spell design and the ability to compare what you've designed to the needs the character has faced, and design better from there.

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          • #6
            Mages are specialised in information-gathering. A murder mystery that would take an entire session in D&D could be solved within minutes by a beginning Mage. The meat of the game comes after tat. It's best to present your players with open-ended challenges and dilemmas, with each approach having its pros and cons. Your players will have to navigate between:

            Their Obsessions and Aspirations
            Wisdom and ethical conduct
            Order responsibilities and politics
            Effort or path of least resistance
            Acting carefully or responding quickly

            This may lead to long discussions between players. This is fine, but be ready to push things along if things go out of hand. Once they pursue a course of action, try to figure out the most likely outcomes. In Mage, it's particulary important to let go of your expectations where the plot will go. Try to figure out what the motivation of NPCs are, or how supernatural phenomena work, and have them respond to PCs actions accordingly. If your players gathered all the necessary information and thought it through, they will probably get what they wanted, but that rarely happens. There's often some missing information, PC being flawed human beings, time constraints or needing to juggle multiple problems at the same time.

            Here's an old post of mine, with some useful links.
            Originally posted by Teatime View Post
            If your players are new to Mage, perhaps presenting them with simpler challenges is the right thing to do - at least at the beginning. They might need to practise their magical problem solving skills before you throw impossible tasks at them. Then, as they get into the groove, you gradually increase the difficulty level.

            From a different angle, instead of presenting them with puzzles to solve, you might present them with dillemas:
            Link
            Link
            Link

            These choices are more obvious, which might put your players back in their comfort zone. Advanced problem solving is not necessary to progress, but if they exhibit some they can find a third, better solution. And even if they don't, their choices still matter.
            There's also this valuable thread over at RPG.net. The site seems to be down at the moment, so I'm linking the Google cache:
            Link


            ~

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Marko Markoko View Post
              But I feel that the current 5th edition of that game may be a bit confusing for someone who has never played an earlier edition. That is the conclusion I am coming to about Awakening.
              Then that is not "more complicated than it needs to be." That is "more complicated than you can take in as a new player."

              But the statement "incentivize mages to act like mages" kinda makes me roll my eyes. How do mages act? It depends on who is writing the story/game/book/movie. It is pure fiction. There is no such thing as magic. In the real world, those who claim to be "mages" or wizards or witches or whatever; they act as eclectic and esoteric as is needed to get people to believe that there is something supernatural about them. It is part of their scam. I don't want "real" mages. I want mages of esoteric fantasy and occult horror. Any rules system can provide that if the players put in the effort.
              And my point is that a system where you have a reason to make use of mystically-significant items, locations, knowledge, and resources besides "I can add an extra die to my moderately-sized dicepool, which I don't really have to reduce to accomplish the things I want to accomplish with magic" does better at making characters who engage with those parts of the setting specific to mages in Mage: the Awakening than a system where that thing I just said is the bulk of the commonly-required interaction with a magic system where casting can be accomplished while blindfolded, bound, and gagged without especial difficulty.

              The word "mage" does not exist in a vacuum and it especially doesn't do so in a fictional setting where magic is real and the things called mages have anything to do with the charlatans you know of in the real world. Mage provides information on how and how well certain things can benefit your mage character's magic so that you will be incentivized to make use of them. To what end do you think telling someone that something they are saying makes you roll your eyes incentivizes them and their peers to continue trying to help you?

              I *do* appreciate crunchy rules. But a game is not made better or worse based upon complexity alone. And my struggle is not about the rules. It is about the instructions as written, and the complexity of the manner of instruction.
              And my goal in asking where the excess complication is is to find points to smooth your particular learning curve. I cannot do that without specific information beyond throwing out educated guesses based on other people's experiences, as others have done above.


              Resident Lore-Hound
              Currently Consuming: Hunter: the Vigil 1e

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Marko Markoko View Post
                I also understand that intricate crunch helps you to feel like a wizard. It fuels the imagination. Ars Magica does the same thing. But the statement "incentivize mages to act like mages" kinda makes me roll my eyes. How do mages act? It depends on who is writing the story/game/book/movie. It is pure fiction. There is no such thing as magic. In the real world, those who claim to be "mages" or wizards or witches or whatever; they act as eclectic and esoteric as is needed to get people to believe that there is something supernatural about them. It is part of their scam. I don't want "real" mages. I want mages of esoteric fantasy and occult horror. Any rules system can provide that if the players put in the effort.
                Basically your average mage is encouraged to use magic and, in doing so, 'walk the tightrope between Gnosis and Wisdom.' Not like Darrin in Bewitched, you have magic, it makes life easier, but it's also easy to suddenly find your day is full of animal people because you took an idea and ran with it.

                I *do* appreciate crunchy rules. But a game is not made better or worse based upon complexity alone. And my struggle is not about the rules. It is about the instructions as written, and the complexity of the manner of instruction.
                The rules are pretty easy when you get used to them, spellcasting especially. There's an appendix in the back that has all of the rules for it shaved down to an easy process. If you aren't used to the specific arcana and the capabilities of each dot in them (called a practice) there's a section for that and for the most part they work in parallel. Doing easy Lethal damage is at the same dot in every Arcana, just like doing Aggravated, or turning yourself into a representative of your Arcana.

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                • #9
                  In my experience 2e spellcasting is only "more complicated" if you only use spells from the respective books, and even then not significantly more complicated.

                  Going off-book (which you're supposed to be able to do) is an absolute nightmare in 1e due to how horribly inconsistent everything is.
                  • Is a spell Vulgar or Covert? This comes from Ascension and has no tie-in to the metaphysics of Awakening, making it both lore-breaking and difficult to apply. It is simply not an issue in 2e.
                  • What Arcana are needed to cast the spell? Again, Awakening 1e uses an Ascension based system for this that makes no sense given the lore of Awakening. 2e doesn't have this problem. There's also the "speed-bumps" in 1e that simply make no sense, why is fire harder to control than an animal (the former requires Forces 3, the latter Life 2).
                  • What is the spell going to do? When I played 1e spells rarely outright failed, but far too often you didn't accrue enough successes for the spell to do what you wanted it to do, or you had to spend time figuring out how to piece together your successes into something useful. Other gamelines solve this by having their powers be fairly limited with relatively clear scaling. In 2e you construct the spell first and then see if you manage to cast it, leading to far fewer "feel bad" moments and ultimately faster gameplay.
                  Last edited by proindrakenzol; 12-31-2019, 04:17 PM.


                  proin's Legacy hub

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Satchel View Post
                    To what end do you think telling someone that something they are saying makes you roll your eyes incentivizes them and their peers to continue trying to help you?.
                    It seems to have worked rather well. It incentivized *you* to write a long post full of useful information. It also served as a sort of a filter. I want to talk rules and instructions, not about "real magic". It is an issue I have encountered in Ascension and Ars Magica before.

                    As an aside, I have not played any form of D&D in decades. I keep mentioning Ars Magica because I have written for that game. It is in some ways vastly *more* complicated than Awakening. It is the original "free-form" magic system.

                    And my goal in asking where the excess complication is is to find points to smooth your particular learning curve. I cannot do that without specific information beyond throwing out educated guesses based on other people's experiences, as others have done above.
                    It is not the rules that are too complex. It is the manner of instruction. Not the writing per se, but they layout. Thanks to the advice of a few here, I now know to look for some summary sheets towards the back. I figure the learning curve will get easier when my hard copy arrives in the mail. I can bookmark certain pages and flip back & forth with much more ease.
                    In the meantime, stories of experiences and educated guesses are very helpful. Pointing me towards demo scenarios would also be helpful. The only ones I have found are for 1st ed. Examples of play are also helpful.
                    Originally posted by Mrmdubois View Post
                    If you want to see some folks trying to figure out the system from scratch you can check out Occultists Anonymous on youtube or podcast. There's the occasional blunder, but they get it pretty quick.
                    Awesome! That is exactlly the sort of thing I am seeking. I thank you very much and will be checking that out.
                    And some of the links someone else posted. Stuff like that is also helpful.






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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Marko Markoko View Post
                      It seems to have worked rather well. It incentivized *you* to write a long post full of useful information.
                      I told you the same things I told you in my first post and you're now admitting to essentially trolling, which gets flagged and is not a fantastic reason to continue trying to help you.

                      It also served as a sort of a filter. I want to talk rules and instructions, not about "real magic". It is an issue I have encountered in Ascension and Ars Magica before.
                      I am not talking about real magic, was not talking about real magic, and have no interest in talking about real magic in this thread on a forum for a fictional game. I am not saying that "intricate crunch" helps me to "feel like a wizard." "Mages acting like mages" means "your mage characters do things to perform magic that are discernible in the fiction as something other than 'and then a miracle occurs.'" This is not difficult to understand.

                      It is not the rules that are too complex. It is the manner of instruction. Not the writing per se, but they layout.
                      The layout is clear and presented in a straightforward order at the front of the section or in the beginning of its most relevant Arcanum, as opposed to scattered throughout the examples, placed at the end of the list of examples, or inferred from examples across several books published months and years after the basic system's release. My question remains: "Where is the excess complication?"


                      Resident Lore-Hound
                      Currently Consuming: Hunter: the Vigil 1e

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                      • #12
                        Satchel: I seek no conflict with you. It is perhaps best that we ignore each other. I am sorry I offended you.

                        Everyone else: I am grateful for your anecdotes and advice. Keep them coming! It is very helpful and encouraging.

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                        • #13
                          Reading and rereading things a bit more, it is starting to come into focus. I still have issues with the order of information. There are a lot of technical jargon terms with no definition. I do not mean new or unique words such as Yantra or such. Those are (vaguely) defined in the Lexicon. I mean normal words used in a technical way that are only defined by reading the text twice. For example, I know what they mean by "Reach" now. But the rules mention Reach long before it tells you what Reach does. I intend to write up an "Idiot's Glossary", which will both help me memorize the way terms are used and will assist me in teaching others how to play the game.

                          The Occultists Anonymous you-tube was very very helpful! It helped to clarify what I just read and made rereading it much more enlightening. Are there any other resources such as this that anyone knows of? Maybe a PbP site with an active game I can read for examples.

                          There is still a lot to digest, but I am getting there. And I can use all the advice I can get. Please no criticizing me for being confused or angry defense of the game. I find it confusing, that is just the reality. Maybe I am stupid. Please don't harass me for my idiocy.

                          The advice I currently seek runs along the lines of "you will want to house rule (x)”, “most new Storytellers/players forget about (y) rule” or “don’t worry about (z) until you’re a few sessions in”.

                          I am grateful for any kindness and assistance.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Marko Markoko View Post


                            I *do* appreciate crunchy rules. But a game is not made better or worse based upon complexity alone. And my struggle is not about the rules. It is about the instructions as written, and the complexity of the manner of instruction.
                            I am not familiar with MtA, but have read the CoD and DtD manuals. I also find that the way the rules are presented makes them hard (for me) to understand in a unified way. What I really want to see are carefully written examples of the crunch. I had to go through many iterations to produce a correct example of demon/angel combat and needed help from many forum members to debug it. It really helped me better understand the rules.

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                            • #15
                              I'd probably drop Rotes and Praxis to start with: Partially added complexity, partially choosing the right ones is a weird bit of game finesse and I have no idea how a completely new player is supposed to pick these well. Whereas choosing them after having played a few sessions means you are more likely to get them right.

                              The first sessions spellcasting is going to be slow, and it will take a while to get used to the absurd versatility of mage spells. Take the time, go through it slowly and don't worry if you have realised you have made mistakes later.
                              The Summary Sheets are your friend.

                              Paradox is another thing you could bring in slightly later, after all you can have them cast a few spells before dangling the forbidden fruit of Bonus Reaches (I wouldn't wait to long on this but you can avoid it for a few spells.)

                              Running some sort of prelude session, my first Mage game eased the players into casting, we had basically to wizard school settings, where we were taken though spell casting etc. Start a little more structured, get players used to their toolkit before releasing them fully into the wild.

                              The Advantage of the Mage system (both of them) is that to a degree it's a steep learning curve but it gets easier at the top, because there is so much pattern to the system. I can now use either far more fluidly than DnD for instance.

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