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  • Skeptics

    This post is about a kind of antagonist that I’ve house-ruled into my games. A Skeptic is in many ways the exact opposite of a Marauder: where a Marauder has entered a permanent state of Madness (i.e., Dynamic Quiet) that shields him from Paradox, a Skeptic is a mage who has entered a permanent state of Denial (i.e., Static Quiet) that intensifies any Paradox in his vicinity. Put another way, he is a “Nega-Mage” whose mere presence makes magic more harmful.

    First, the Skeptic’s permanent Denial makes him count as a Witness to magic as if he were a Sleeper. Second, every Effect cast in his presence that generates any Paradox generates extra Paradox, up to the Skeptic’s permanent Denial or twice the amount of Paradox tha would otherwise have been generated, whichever is less. Like a Marauder, a Skeptic tends to be surrounded by a “reality bubble”; but unlike a Marauder’s reality bubble where his delusions are made manifest, the Skeptic’s reality bubble is more subtle: in his vicinity, Effects that contradict the Skeptic’s paradigm become Vulgar, while Effects that support the Skeptic’s paradigm become Coincidental.

    The downside to being a Skeptic is that he isn’t immune to this increased Paradox: a Vulgar Effect cast by himself will generate excessive Paradox just as it would for anyone else, resulting in most Skeptics restricting themselves to Coincidental Effects. This is somewhat mitigated by the tendency of his own paradigm to dominate when he’s around (and thus for his preferred style of magic to tend to be Coincidental); but he doesn’t do well in situations where he doesn’t dominate the local paradigm. He’s also a very inflexible thinker, very set in his ways and very confrontational about them.

    Thoughts?



  • #2
    I think that's an awesome idea--though I find it hard to picture that kind of person trying to use magic at all.

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    • #3
      A Skeptic’s Denial doesn’t apply to all magic; just magic that doesn’t conform to his own beliefs. Because of the subtle “reality bubble” he’s surrounded by, his own magical style is usually Coincidental, and thus Paradox-free. The heart of this idea isn’t “I don’t believe in magic”; it’s “I know the One True Way, and anyone who disagrees with me is Wrong.” If the One True Way is technology as per the Technocracy (the most likely place to find Skeptics), then this is indistinguishable from a Denial of magic; but if the Skeptic is, say, a Chorister, then you have someone who believes absolutely in the power of faith and who Denies the power of anything that isn’t from the One: that is, prayer, faith healing, and the like works in his presence; but witchcraft and Hermetic sorcery fail in his presence — as does Godless medicine. If the Skeptic is a Dreamspeaker, then spirit-mediated magic works fine; but if the magic doesn’t partake of animism, it’s in trouble. And so on.


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      • #4
        As I mentioned in the other thread, we already have the Sleepwalker Flaw... which pretty much does everything here besides increase the amount of Paradox effects generate. Simply for the sake of not having repetition, you could cut down on the word count by having Skeptics automatically gain the Sleepwalker Flaw equal to their Denial rating - 1.

        I think the concept is interesting, but I'm not sure it would work well in implementation. The biggest problem is that they're inherently weak to just being killed the good old fashioned way. A Marauder's twisting insanity makes them incredibly dangerous because both the mundane and magical rules of reality can be altered around them. A Skeptic has nothing that might protect them from a bullet to the head beyond normal magic; and their normal magic is truncated by their nature. They seem like they'd get pretty anticlimactic once people figure out strategies to deal with them. Which basically comes down to go after them with minimally magically enhanced mundane attacks and either take them down with that, or watch them explode as domino effect and/or vulgar magic starts hitting them with lots and lots of Paradox until they boom.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
          As I mentioned in the other thread, we already have the Sleepwalker Flaw... which pretty much does everything here besides increase the amount of Paradox effects generate. Simply for the sake of not having repetition, you could cut down on the word count by having Skeptics automatically gain the Sleepwalker Flaw equal to their Denial rating - 1.
          Could you give me a page reference for this, please? I’m not finding it in either MRev or SRev — though I did find a “Style Sleeper” Merit in the latter book that works this way.


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          • #6
            Sleepwalker is a on page 292 of MRev.

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            • #7
              Ah; thank you. I overlooked that, due to it being classified as a Mental Flaw rather than a Supernatural Flaw.

              Personally though, I don’t consider Merits and Flaws to be part of the system in the same way that pretty much any other game trait is — not in a Classic World of Darkness game. They were originally tacked on to the system as an optional rule and an afterthought, and the quality of their design tended to reflect this. As well, Merits and Flaws are inherently designed to be “odds and ends” — a catch-all of miscellaneous game mechanics that couldn’t be included in the system in any other way. Often, they provided game mechanics for things that are better off just being roleplaying affectations — usually when dealing with Mental and Social Flaws, but not always. Am I not allowed to play my mage as soft-hearted or shy if I didn’t give him the Soft-Hearted or Shy Flaw? If I max out my available Flaws on other things, does that mean that I can’t have a dark secret or be hunted by a persistent and troublesome mortal? And the “bonus points” nature of Flaws brought an element of min-maxing into the game that it was arguably better off without: there’s a reason why nWoD opted to go with Flaws that grant xp rewards in play before subsuming the whole thing into GMC’s Conditions.

              In particular, the specific Flaw in question is problematic at best: it’s not a 1- to 4-point Flaw, despite being advertised as such; it’s a one-or-two-point Flaw if his own magic is exempt, and a two-or-four-point Flaw if it isn’t. As well, the distinction between the two levels is explicitly tied to the distinction between “magic” and “super-science”, as if these were two fundamentally different things. And there’s a clash between the design of this Flaw and the design of the aforementioned Style Sleeper Merit found in Sorcerer Revised: the latter Merit makes you count as a Sleeper for all magic that differs from your own style, making it a more strict version of the first two-point version of Sleepwalker; but it’s a merit on the basis that since your magic isn’t affected, it’s easy to turn it into a weapon — an argument that ought to apply equally well to the one-to-two-point version of Sleepwalker, but doesn’t.

              In a game that uses Skeptics, I’d scrap the Sleepwalker Flaw and the Style Sleeper Merit with a hearty “good riddance!”, even if I were to keep other Merits and Flaws — which I’m not inclined to do anyway. I view Skeptics as a more elegant alternative to the clunkiness inherent in said Merit and Flaw; and I certainly wouldn’t want to tie their mechanics down to such a clunky system.


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              • #8
                If you're so inclined against the cWOD Merits and Flaws system, why not just say so and leave it at that? What was the point of asking me what the page was if you were going to ignore it on its face anyway?

                The only case I'd make on behalf of the existing traits being part of the game (I'm a much bigger fan of the nWOD approach to these things as well, but we're talking cWOD), is the same reason things like derangements and compulsions exist even if there are Marauders. Not every mentally ill mage is a Marauder. Similarly not every mage with an extremely rigid paradigm would cross the line into being a Skeptic. A spectrum serves the game better than a binary.

                And the anti-Merits-and-Flaws rant aside, there was another part of my post you haven't responded to.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                  If you're so inclined against the cWOD Merits and Flaws system, why not just say so and leave it at that? What was the point of asking me what the page was if you were going to ignore it on its face anyway?
                  I didn’t ignore it on its face. I looked it up, read it, mulled it over, and then rejected it. All you got was the final result, not the steps that lead up to it.

                  Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                  The only case I'd make on behalf of the existing traits being part of the game (I'm a much bigger fan of the nWOD approach to these things as well, but we're talking cWOD), is the same reason things like derangements and compulsions exist even if there are Marauders. Not every mentally ill mage is a Marauder. Similarly not every mage with an extremely rigid paradigm would cross the line into being a Skeptic. A spectrum serves the game better than a binary.
                  True enough. If I were to keep Sleepwalker and/or Style Sleeper in the game, though, it would only be after rewriting them.

                  Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                  And the anti-Merits-and-Flaws rant aside, there was another part of my post you haven't responded to.
                  True enough; and that’s my prerogative. I’m still thinking it over; but right now, it strikes me as a “white room game balance” issue that’s focusing more on what would happen in a fight than on what effects it has on story possibilities.


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                  • #10
                    They're antagonists. Violence is something that's got to be considered when looking at how they interact with the story. You've got multiple factions that would view killing a Skeptic as the best solution. The Euthanatos, for example, would consider an awakened soul stuck in that state something best recycled in the wheel than left wandering around making Paradox worse. They're of little use to the Technocrats besides as cannon fodder. They can't go near high end research labs in case they cause an experimental procedure to explode so they're more useful as ways to suppress awakened Reality Deviant powers before hitting them; which gets back into them ending up in the line of fire as the Traditions/Maurauders/Nephandi/etc. would want them gone so they can magic away to defend themselves and the easiest way to get rid of them is mundane force (negotiating with them when the Technocrats are on the march is not worth it; assuming they aren't in on their purpose in the first place).

                    Essentially, outside of violent encounters there isn't much story to go around. Mages aren't going to want to hang around Skeptics because it is inherently dangerous to them if they have to use magic on short notice. They're in a Quiet which means you can't really do anything to get them out of it without magic... that would get you Paradox for trying; if you can even get them out of it since they've crossed the line from regular Quiet into Permanent Quiet.

                    There's no reason for "calm" interactions. So Skeptics are going to come up in two situations. The Skeptic is wandering around probably not knowing what they really and get caught up in things; but once the regular mages figure out what they are they are going to want the Skeptic gone. The Skeptic is purposefully screwing with other mages and the response is going to get ugly.

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                    • #11
                      Don’t forget their “reality bubble”: a Skeptical ItXer probably can go near a high-end Iteration X research lab, because the paradigm involved is compatible with his own. He might even make the research easier, because his bubble of reality would mean that most Iteration X style Effects will be Coincidental. But yeah; I figure their primary role would be out in the field.

                      However, Skeptics are harder to recognize than Marauders are, because they’re not flashy. Assuming that they’re as vulnerable as you say they are, and assuming that that’s an issue — which I’m still not convinced is the case — you still have to identify them first.


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                      • #12
                        You'd have to have specific mechanics to make them hard to detect. With Marauders, you don't detect them easily because they're flashy. If you're in their bubble their reality becomes your reality and you don't notice the difference unless you have Awareness or theoretically using Mind sensory magic beforehand. Marauders are easy to spot because anyone with 1 dot of Awareness knows something is off the second they enter the Marauder's bubble.

                        I can certainly see reasons within the concept to increase the difficulty of detecting being in the bubble of a Skeptic with Awareness, but there isn't much justification for denying anyone with Mind 1 to spot a Skeptic in the crowd if they're looking with it. Quiets are mental constructs and Mind alone lets you enter a Quiet mindscape; so it seems like Mind 1 is all you'd need to spot a Skeptic

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                        • #13
                          Fundamentally, even the most lucid of Marauders are not sane- and I'd definitely see that applying to these Skeptics.

                          While you've assigned metaphysical import to them that differentiates them from marauders, functionally they are marauders. They believe in a specific magical style, and reality alters itself to reflect that style.

                          With that in mind, a Skeptic would be limited in the following ways:

                          1. Magick and other materials that do not conform to his beliefs cannot exist. As such, a Skeptic will be unable to be convinced that anyone is operating through methods that are different to his own methods. He will instead believe that they are using his own methods and just 'pretending' or 'using parlour tricks' to appear to be using them in a different way.

                          With this belief comes an absolute certainty about what 'is' and 'isn't' possible, and a Skeptic will be totally unable to see, conceive of, plan around, or assume that any magickal or supernatural effect works differently than his own paradigm, or achieves 'impossible things', because to do so would be a paradox to the universe as he sees it.

                          2. While a Marauder is lost in their own Quiet, and thus is unable to see the world working differently than his paradigm because the world actively conforms to his paradigm inside his Quiet, a Skeptic's effect on the world is much more subtler- but also vulnerable to change. No system is perfect, and a Skeptic is just as likely as anyone to overlook flaws in his paradigm of beliefs as anyone else- but unlike a Marauder who will just ignore these flaws if brought to their attention, a Skeptic may have their entire belief structure changed or altered if an external party can argue it within the confines of the Skeptic's belief system.

                          If we take a Mathematician Skeptic, this could be the result of solving various unsolvable theorems, which would indicate to the Skeptic that his own belief system is flawed... using his own belief system. Unlike a marauder, he would be vulnerable to having his belief system changed in this manner.

                          (Basically Skeptics are much more vulnerable to well reasoned arguments than marauders- because a marauder will just ignore any contradictions, whereas a Skeptic will seize on any contradictions by his very nature)

                          (Also, yes, I'm aware this is a Necro, but you linked this in your hub post and I think this contribution is warranted)

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
                            This post is about a kind of antagonist that I’ve house-ruled into my games. A Skeptic is in many ways the exact opposite of a Marauder: where a Marauder has entered a permanent state of Madness (i.e., Dynamic Quiet) that shields him from Paradox, a Skeptic is a mage who has entered a permanent state of Denial (i.e., Static Quiet) that intensifies any Paradox in his vicinity. Put another way, he is a “Nega-Mage” whose mere presence makes magic more harmful.

                            First, the Skeptic’s permanent Denial makes him count as a Witness to magic as if he were a Sleeper. Second, every Effect cast in his presence that generates any Paradox generates extra Paradox, up to the Skeptic’s permanent Denial or twice the amount of Paradox tha would otherwise have been generated, whichever is less. Like a Marauder, a Skeptic tends to be surrounded by a “reality bubble”; but unlike a Marauder’s reality bubble where his delusions are made manifest, the Skeptic’s reality bubble is more subtle: in his vicinity, Effects that contradict the Skeptic’s paradigm become Vulgar, while Effects that support the Skeptic’s paradigm become Coincidental.

                            The downside to being a Skeptic is that he isn’t immune to this increased Paradox: a Vulgar Effect cast by himself will generate excessive Paradox just as it would for anyone else, resulting in most Skeptics restricting themselves to Coincidental Effects. This is somewhat mitigated by the tendency of his own paradigm to dominate when he’s around (and thus for his preferred style of magic to tend to be Coincidental); but he doesn’t do well in situations where he doesn’t dominate the local paradigm. He’s also a very inflexible thinker, very set in his ways and very confrontational about them.

                            Thoughts?
                            Good threat. Do mages hire people to hunt these guys down? How do they effect other supernaturals.

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                            • #15
                              Well, this is what I get for skipping the Justice and Influence chapter in Book of Secrets: I just now noticed that pp.248–249 discuss the Negation Men, who are basically what I've been describing here. That's right: Denial-based Marauders are now a thing in M20.

                              Mind you, Book of Secrets needlessly restricts the Negation Men. Instead of not being able to do any Willworking other than Countermagic (which they do reflexively) and always performing Countermagic against any Magick cat in their vicinity, Negation Men should have their own Focus (i.e., Paradigm, Practice, and Tools): they're restricted to Coincidental Effects, and their Countermagic only gets triggered by Magick that clashes with their Focus. The Negation Men described in Book of Secrets are a subset of this group whose Focus is the mundane.
                              Last edited by Dataweaver; 04-10-2019, 03:01 AM.


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