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Storytelling Mysteries and Obsessions

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  • Storytelling Mysteries and Obsessions

    Vampires need blood, Werewolves need to hunt, Beasts need to feast. There is an built in mechanic showing how often these creatures need to indulge in their cravings to survive from night to night. Mages are addicted to mysteries. The core book says that Mages usually start with 1 or 2 obsessions (if I remember correctly), and there is a mechanic for solving mysteries. How does this translate into a game mechanic? Are mages constantly being distracted by their mage sight and investigating everything abnormal around them? Vampires need blood to survive and lose blood every night, and need to hunt. Werewolves need to hunt in intervals to satisfy their obligation to Father Wolf, Beasts need to hunt given their current hunger. Mage seems to imply that there is a need to investigate mysteries, but it seems more like a roleplaying guide. Is there a mechanic dictating how a mage might be forced to follow a mystery (to their detriment). Can an addiction to a mystery be used against a mage as a weakness?

    Looking at Mage, one theme I get is "sticking your nose where it doesn't belong". Mages are very powerful, but they are constantly investigating things that will be dangerous to them. It seems that there is tremendous crossover potential with other splats because they are always investigating worlds (Spirits, Ghosts, the Hedge, etc.), which are covered in other games, and are sometimes not properly prepared to deal with what they run into. Plus this curiosity can potentially cause friction with other groups (for example, a mage who explores the spirit world can run afoul of Uratha who want to keep the borders between the Spirit and Flesh separate).

  • #2
    Unless a mage sections off the part of her identity that interacts with the Mysteries from the rest of her life with a Shadow Name, her Long-Term Nimbus will draw Path-relevant phenomena into contact with her sympathetic connections. Maintaining that part of her identity means, to some degree, exercising her magical insight so that all those spiritual diseases and Mana-storms and undead dirt-poppets are grounded toward the part of her life that isn't going to be alienated by regularly associating with Things Mortals Don't Talk About.

    The consequences of Wisdom are such that the Awakened are likely to pick up Conditions that either block off their empathy until they badly hurt someone they care about or make it so that doing something mundanely when they could do it with magic drains their Willpower; for starting characters, this can be prompted by letting Sleepers see obvious magic or messing with sapient beings' autonomy.

    The above combine with the "sticking your nose where it doesn't belong" bit in a Demon-adjacent way,* in that mages have a constant awareness of the presence of uncloaked supernatural phenomena within the reach of their senses and no automatic sense for what those phenomena are or if they're okay to leave alone. Obsessions are Aspirations, but it's worth noting that Aspirations are also how the base game models the needs a bluebook Horror pursues.

    * Sure, you can ignore that the construction project downtown is clearly giving off Aether, but are you prepared to risk that coming back to bite you?
    Last edited by Satchel; 02-17-2021, 01:13 PM. Reason: Forgot the asterisk.

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


    • #3
      Mechanically, there isn’t much that penalizes a Mage for not pursuing their “hunger” like other splats. And I think this is deliberate in order to hew to the themes of the game. Theoretically, a Mage could just ignore all the Mysteries he comes across and live a normal, non-obsessive lifestyle. But in practice, the allure of pursuing the unknown, of increasing your mystical understanding of the universe (thereby increasing your control of said universe) is far too tempting for most Awakened. So when a Mage gets their nose erased from existence for sticking it where it doesn’t belong, it’s the result of the Mage’s own hubris, not some tragedy inflicted by outside forces.

      Mechanically, this is represented by the fact that Arcane Beats are acquired by perusing Obsessions and investigating Mysteries. Increasing in power is often enough to get both players and characters on-board with the proverbial nose-sticking.

      (Becoming Rapt changes this up quite a bit, with the Stress track making it quite dangerous to ignore Obsessions. But 90% of Rapt end up that way for not knowing when to stop in the first place).

      The longer I study science the more I am convinced that it is functionally indistinguishable from what our ancestors would refer to as sorcery. And I would know, being both scientist and sorcerer.


      • #4
        Thank you for the responses. I think that there is a great deal of opportunity to explore themes in Mage here.

        Thanks for bringing up Hubris. One thing I posted about a long time ago was how easily it felt for Mages to slide into hubris. Basically, from Wisdom 7 till 4, anything related to dominating, or influencing, or hurting people is considered an act of Hubris. Once they fail a roll, the Mage might get a condition either related to Meglomania or carelessness with Magic which would usually get them doing more Hubris and losing more wisdom. It seems that, to drop to Wisdom 3 or lower, one needs to commit a very serious crime, though, destroying a Supernal being counts, which means that they cannot defend themselves if attached by a supernal being (which is easy for Seers to summon them and throw them at Pentacle Mages).

        But how does one roleplay Hubris? Once a Mage drops to Wisdom 5, would they start acting more tyrannical or arrogant, or more carless with Magic. Most of the Writeups for the Orders seem to indicate what happens when the mages fall to Hubris. At what point to they just take an Hubristic obsession and just run with it?


        • #5
          Originally posted by maryshelly View Post
          Mage seems to imply that there is a need to investigate mysteries, but it seems more like a roleplaying guide. Is there a mechanic dictating how a mage might be forced to follow a mystery (to their detriment). Can an addiction to a mystery be used against a mage as a weakness?
          To get to the core question: No. Their Obsessions are purely carrots with no sticks involved. It's definitely possible to tempt a mage into a trap by using a Mystery as bait, but they're not pressured into it unlike how a vampire with low Vitae would be pressured into filling up when an opportunity arises. And they're certainly never forced into investigating Mysteries unlike a vampire who fails their Frenzy roll and can't not try to feed.
          Scriptorian describes really well why that is. Hubris is the name of the game, but hubris comes from overstepping your own ability to handle things by your own accord; not being forced into doing so.

          Bloodline: The Stygians
          Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa
          Mage The Awakening: Spell Quick Reference (single page and landscape for computer screens)


          • #6
            I think originally the Obsession Condition was involved but probably excised to let players go all out. Obsessions are described as if they have a, as Tessie says, stick, and the fiction really hammers it home, but mechanically there is none offered.


            • #7
              Originally posted by maryshelly View Post
              At what point to they just take an Hubristic obsession and just run with it?
              Characters can hit Wisdom 3 from any "understanding" level act of Hubris. At which point, I role-play those characters as considering those actions to all be fair and reasonable ways of getting what they want. They might try to cover up those actions to avoid any inconvenience, but don't feel remorse for them. Essentially, I would say a character is comfortable taking an Aspiration / Obsession which includes any Act of Hubris they no longer roll degeneration from (including by inuring). If they would roll for an Act of Hurbis, than the obsession should be abstracted out a level or two, such that it's more 'morally neutral', but pursuing it could lead them to fall. [Which, incidentally, neatly mirrors the way people rationalize immoral actions to themselves.]
              So a mage with low Wisdom might take on an obsession like, "destroy this artifact in a way that can never be undone", and use that to justify (to themselves and others), why they're visiting the Old Man on the shores of the abyss to negotiate. Even at low Wisdom, they still know it's wrong, but, in an Act of Hubris, they'll do it as 'necessary'. On the other hand, at Wisdom 3, they'd straight up take on obsessions like "kill that guy who stole from me", and not feel any guilt over it.

              The conditions from failing Wisdom are probably the best way to reflect characters dead set on committing a (current) act of hubris to obtain their goal, or refusing to abandon / rewrite an obsession when acts of hubris are the only way forward.
              If a mage at falling wisdom can Only get what they want from the abyss, even they should think twice, and and probably consider backing down or altering their goal. But those with Madness or Megalomania might double-down as it being “the only way”.

              Rather than tyrannical or cruel, I usually portray low wisdom callous, but 'reasonable'. They're still doing what seems best in the moment, but they're priorities have become a lot more self centered. They would rather let a mortal witness obvious magic than they would fail, and they'd consider the psychological harm and resulting paradox only in terms of how inconvenient it is to them; otherwise, it's the cost of doing what's necessary. Their hubris shows in how quickly they'll take those kind of drastic actions. If a Seer was escaping with an artifact, and there was one or two mortal witnesses, most mages would probably hesitate, look for a clever or less obvious solution, or at least wait until the mortals are out of view. One with low Wisdom won't even blink - they'll go for the most effective way of taking the Seer down, rather than risk it on a mundane chase roll or something.
              I also try to add in subtly insidious details about the degree to which they rely on magic. Like, a mastigos who seeks out a sympathetic yantra in every scene; takes every chance to steal something of personal significance. Not even with a plan; as a "you never know when you'll need it." Or an Acanthus which casually binds every promise people make with them. "If they were being honest, it shouldn't bother them. Why would I take that chance?" Having them always suffering from a paradox effect of some form is also pretty appropriate.
              Last edited by Seraph Kitty; 02-17-2021, 09:31 PM.

              Second Chance for
              A Beautiful Madness


              • #8
                While I mostly agree with your post, the Obsessions you listed seems much more appropriate for Aspirations. Obsessions are exclusively about experiencing the mystical in a new way. While killing a person can be that since it allows the mage to study the phenomenon of a human death, killing a specific person definitely disqualifies that since it's about revenge rather than discovery. Same thing with the artefact. Wanting to experience the permanent destruction of an artefact is definitely Obsession material, but making it about a specific artefact implies the motive is that it's too dangerous to exist or something like that, which is more of an Aspiration stemming from a practical want.
                But in both cases you can definitely start from a practical/mundane concern and develop an Obsession that relates to it in a magical/experiential fashion. That can lead to interesting situations such as the person turning out to be innocent and the mage still having a compulsion of experiencing someone's death. Whether they ignore it, try to sneak into a hospice, or even "facilitate" it themselves can be an interesting choice.

                Bloodline: The Stygians
                Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa
                Mage The Awakening: Spell Quick Reference (single page and landscape for computer screens)


                • #9
                  Originally posted by maryshelly View Post
                  But how does one roleplay Hubris?
                  Personally I've found that it's the high Wisdom NPCs who have distinctive behaviours due to the limitations that retaining Wisdom demands; whilst low wisdom NPCs just don't have to consider the Wisdom mechanic as much.


                  • #10
                    Since Wisdom is not morality, you can have a selfless or altruistic character with low Wisdom.

                    Low Wisdom means low restraint. They don't know when to back down from a Mystery, especially when they see some benefit for the greater good or their personal objectives. So lets say there is a wicker golem powered by the shard of some inscrutable spirit that was found on the moon. If the thing can do incredible things by feeding on goetia, you can bet they would have little compunctions about feeding the "loyalty to the Throne" goetia to it, because it "solves" the Seer antagonization in a non-lethal manner. "We can deal with the consequences later, its fine". They don't see the line between a calculated risk and a crazy dangerous plan.

                    Low Wisdom characters are not opposed to common sense, but they do easily gravitate towards high powered solutions. They barter with Aeons and high powered spirits, send two vampire elders upon each so the war will efficiently populate a Dread Domain that is about to collapse and so on. They move through things with powerful momentum, even when they would be better served pausing to talk to people, ask for help or even use a simpler solution (even a mundane one). They tend to cast first and ask questions later.

                    One example is a mage standing between the Consilium and the Abyss, burning any signs of corruption with magic, regardless of what is lost in the process. They banish Invaders quickly, regardless of the cost, because they are too emotionally scarred to want anyone else to go through the same. They may be well meaning, but are definitely mages that need to have someone to bring them back to earth or sanity check their ideas.
                    Last edited by KaiserAfini; 02-18-2021, 12:23 PM.

                    New experiences are the font of creativity, when seeking inspiration, break your routine.

                    The Agathos Kai Sophos, an Acanthus Legacy of strategists (Mind/Time)
                    The Szary Strażnik, an Obrimos Legacy of Scholars of the Glyphs of Fate (Fate/Prime)