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How do you use Mysteries and Focused Mage Sight in your game?

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  • How do you use Mysteries and Focused Mage Sight in your game?

    In my campaigns, my players just kind of mage sight anything and everything of interest. This results in me revealing surface and deep information on-the-fly, rather than planning it out ahead of time. I also don't really have central 'mysteries' because of how easily they're solved -- mysteries are instead nodes of the adventure, clues and information the party gets while exploring the plot.

    Is this a common experience? Do y'all plot your mysteries out ahead of time, the way the book seems to indicate? Do you use the alternate rules for extending the action to days-long found in Signs of Sorcery?


    Storytelling is the art of pretending you totally meant for that to happen just now.

  • #2
    I play by the text, so MS-ing anything and everything of interest would result in us writing about it forever - especially when I try to actually describe what they see, instead of just giving mechanical information. As for mysteries themselves - I created a homebrew system for solving Mysteries which models them as kinda-like Investigations with pre-determined Keys instead of Clues, for which I state the way of Uncovering them - which could be Focused Mage Sight'ing them, but also could be something different, such as casing Knowing spell with Potency 10, or having access to forbidden Mysterium library, or persuading that one Guardian to explain that secret to you via Social Maneuvering. I do plot my Mysteries ahead of time, but new ones often arise on the fly, and I very often run with "okay, this one has X amount of Keys, I just need to figure out first one and move on".

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    • #3
      I tend to rely on the Signs of Sorcery section “mysteries as clues” - finding out what is happening is usually less interesting than the why and what are we going to do about it?
      For more serious mysteries that form, like, a City-wide great mystery or major plot point, I lean on locked opacity (needing some kind of key, understanding another mystery), giving specific but not helpful (yet) information, and unknowable/nonsensical information of the Higher Mysteries (the abyss, archmaster shenanigans, shards of the time before, lower depths).

      I often consult the guides for building a mystery (in the Core and SOS), as well as browsing through what Knowing spells the players have access to - just so that information is close on hand for plot-relevant information (I don’t like winging it that much). If there’s no barrier to getting that information, I’ll sometimes include it in the description when I set the scene, or at least say it as soon as they ask, rather than rolling scrutiny and spell casting. I also like to work with the players to establish their specialties and usual approach so I can parcel out information in that order.
      It’s only when they can’t study something at leisure that I pull out the opacity rules and such - if we’re acting in combat rounds, or someone will know they’re using Mage Sight (or at least some kind of power) and try to stop them. I try to only ask for player actions when there’s some kind of Choice to be made - press X for more information isn’t a choice, and it certainly isn’t worth any table time on mechanical complexity. It becomes a choice when they have to decide /which/ information to ask for before the monster tries to eat them.
      I also like to incentivize interaction, so if they talk to or experiment with a mystery, it unlocks (or reduces) opacity for those facets. I also only tend to limit MS to active effects only - so they usually won’t know what this specific vampire is capable of until they do it, which is often dangerous and unethical. Although that gets side-stepped for mage-y things, so they won’t need to use an artifact without knowing what it does, for example.

      In general, mysteries are to mages what ghosts are to sin-eaters - it’s their main business, and they’re so good at figuring them out that what could take an entire session of studying and experimenting for any other splat can be discovered in a single dice roll. The goal of the game is to lean into that, and make the drama about all the decisions and dilemmas about /getting to/ and /using/ that information - and things getting really weird in ways they aren’t used to handling.



      But one thing I have enjoyed doing is inverting the Opacity rules: you find the clearest information first and easiest, but it gets harder and harder to dig for more. And no one actually gets to know how deep the mystery goes. It keeps things like vampires and god-machine workings a bit more enigmatic, and it creates a Catch 22 for hubris: do you assume you know everything? Do you strain your resources obsessing over this one thing? Can you manage to return to this mystery over and over again as your gnosis rises? At what point will you know it’s ream of origin - you still don’t know for certain it’s supernal, so do you risk using it yet?
      You can easily get to the frustrated magister obsessing over an artifact in their sanctum vibe - and I feel that’s an important note to hit.
      Last edited by Seraph Kitty; 11-21-2022, 05:28 PM.


      Second Chance for

      A Beautiful Madness

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      • #4
        One thing I always find weird when these conversations come up is that there seems to be an understanding of Focused Mage Sight as something happens as part of a scene rather than as a whole scene unto itself.

        I'm going to freely admit that's a me thing, partly because I take "magical equivalent of a thorough, persistent, and even invasive investigation" as the cue that Revelation and Scrutiny is supposed to be abidingly lengthy processes that involve role-playing and traversal, and partly because I have both the developer's comparison to the Hell scene from Constantine and the fan comparison to soulgazes from Dresden Files-the former is a very lengthy and movie defining sequence that is meant to be striking and haunting, the latter almost never plays out as anything less than a chapter with the exception of John Marcone, and often involves Dresden literally moving around and asking questions of himself and (what would count as if it were Chronicles) the goetia floating around. To make use of the mistake others make, Focused Mage Sight are the scenes where the detective walks into the room and start, well, scrutinzing all the little details and getting accountability for the goings on. The rolls one make are not just rolls you just do for information, they're the stuff the rest of the scene is built around, the way things unfold and flower and act, a thing you roleplay.

        Perhaps, though, there is one particular angle that makes me keep any usage of Focused Mage Sight a scene long affair. Much like how I make the point over in Beast-land that every Satiation is also the potential for a mini-Devouring for both the Beast and the victim, and that this is one of the big things a Beast has to consider, I don't think of Focused Mage Sight as anything less than a mini-Awakening, and I play them out as such. The book even makes the point that it's not so much about seeing the Fallen in terms of the Supernal, it's using the occurence of the occult presence to comment on the Supernal. It's a branch from the core, formative experience, another journey of revelation and realization, where in learning things about the presense in question also is meant to cast questions on the mages own fundamental understanding of reality and ask them to prove their connection to the Watchtower.

        Since I've otherwise haven't had issues from this approach when I've run Mage, that then is my recommendation-treat them not simply as a problem solving tool but as a scene-long mini-Awakening, and space out the rolls that make up the scene with roleplaying the mage's interaction with the Supernal, the Mystery as the framing device for the Path's themes, mood, and challenges. Let them actually explore Arcadia, Pandemonium, Stygia, The Aether, and The Primal Wild as expression of their digging for information. Make it clear that it's better to pace these things out, to maybe have one or two of these scenes at most per session, and that it's supposed to instead work as a rotating spotlight for sessions.

        EDIT: Reviewing Signs of Sorcery, the sidebar on page 27 suggests that scene long implementation is actually the norm, so I guess I was incidentally playing as intended, since I've completely forgotten about that .
        Last edited by ArcaneArts; 11-21-2022, 05:57 PM.


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

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        • #5
          That sounds like an amazingly evocative approach; I’m sold.
          I doubt I would have realized it could be run that way from the passages we have in the core, or the type of information it describes revealing. That sounds phenomenal, and a little intimidating to run. Frankly I could use an entire book of guidelines for developing and running supernal symbolism, but I know that’s so highly personalized to almost be impossible - so I’ve started studying tarot and other symbolism just to started learning those skills.

          … handling it that way, I would probably have an initial scrutiny role describe all the linked mysteries, and locked opacities, etc, have the players spend the rest of session exhausting every avenue of research and gathering every key they can, and only running FMS as a “putting it all together” revelation. Which sounds much more like the inspirational fiction, and way more satisfying of an experience - but kind of counter intuitive to how a lot of rpg players approach things.

          I did find it interesting that you draw more from the Soulgazes in DF than The Sight… There were a couple of iconic passages that are fairly brief, highly symbolic, “I search the room” kind of descriptions (Grave Peril comes to mind - seeing Murph and the nightmare-wracked cop) that set my expectations much more strongly. But I can definitely see the far greater value in using the inspirations as you describe.
          It does make me wonder if you lean on Active Mage Sight as a way to gather basic facts more quickly.
          It just seems like there’s a lot of information only covered by Mage Sight that seem very routine to look for. “There’s magic nearby” tends to trigger a lot of information gathering from players: “what’s it doing? Am I in danger? What do I need to do?” There’s certainly some good reasons to teach players a different approach, but this is a setting where magic is everywhere, and it provides a lot of tools for figuring out what’s happening.

          … I guess it’s all about the balance of deciding what kind of impact the information is supposed to have in the story, signaling that to the players, and running different styles of investigation as appropriate. Here’s the obvious thing you need to know; here’s the quick clues you can glean from immediate action; here’s what you need to do before you can start putting this together; here’s what you can only learn by fully Experiencing this mystery.
          … forgive me for saying obvious things out loud as I try to synthesize the last few years of ST experience and advice, and recontextualize my assumptions.

          This must be what deeper initiations in the Mysterium feel like.


          Second Chance for

          A Beautiful Madness

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          • #6
            The limitations of Path Symbology cross-checked to what Scrutiny and Revelation do does a lot to help keep it constrained.

            The Sight of Constantine is a very short scene compared to the many examples of Soulgazes across the Dresden Files books, so even if I'm disinclined to reference DF a lot, it is convienent.

            The point of Active Mage Sight is very much basic facts, even by the book's standards. If you wanna quickly figure out what a changeling is, that's Active, but if you wanna know why a changeling is, that's Focused-and I hope you enjoy experiencing the Supernal's translation of a Durance. Focused Mage Sight is a stage for some of Mage's best horror.

            I found it's useful, during any one shots or chronicles I run for Mage, to include the narrative purposes of the levels of Mage Sight (Peripheral is my version of Man with a gun enters the scene, and I usually use it to make it clear I'm putting help or direction on the table, Active is your "Here's the practical stuff, you can usually use this while a scene is still running", and in particular that Focused is an intensive scene interruption-it's the players way of saying " I want the spotlight for bit" , and I give advisements like "I would recommend Player X go focused here""I think You, player X, should hold off on that for a bit." or "Okay ,Z, let me wrap a few things up with X and Y and then We'll deep dive with you"
            Last edited by ArcaneArts; 11-21-2022, 08:23 PM.


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

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            • #7
              Originally posted by ArcaneArts View Post
              One thing I always find weird when these conversations come up is that there seems to be an understanding of Focused Mage Sight as something happens as part of a scene rather than as a whole scene unto itself.
              I think it has to do with the way scenes work, and the way Mage Sight works. Basically, if the mage is not going to a new location or changing their objective, the scene doesn't change -- though they might encounter the sub-goal in the scene of deciphering a Mystery. The Core book seems to present Active/Focused Mage Sight as actions a character takes IN a scene rather than scenes unto themselves.

              Originally posted by ArcaneArts View Post
              EDIT: Reviewing Signs of Sorcery, the sidebar on page 27 suggests that scene long implementation is actually the norm, so I guess I was incidentally playing as intended, since I've completely forgotten about that .
              You're right, the first sentence of that sidebar does seem to indicate that Focused Mage Sight is a scene-long endeavor. That leaves me utterly curious; I'm having a difficult time wrapping my brain around how I would manage Focused Mage Sight as a scene in and of itself. To me, roleplay is the art of making decisions as though you were your character; what decisions are there to make in Mage Sight as presented?


              Storytelling is the art of pretending you totally meant for that to happen just now.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by EvilSqueegee View Post

                I think it has to do with the way scenes work, and the way Mage Sight works. Basically, if the mage is not going to a new location or changing their objective, the scene doesn't change -- though they might encounter the sub-goal in the scene of deciphering a Mystery. The Core book seems to present Active/Focused Mage Sight as actions a character takes IN a scene rather than scenes unto themselves.



                You're right, the first sentence of that sidebar does seem to indicate that Focused Mage Sight is a scene-long endeavor. That leaves me utterly curious; I'm having a difficult time wrapping my brain around how I would manage Focused Mage Sight as a scene in and of itself. To me, roleplay is the art of making decisions as though you were your character; what decisions are there to make in Mage Sight as presented?
                Well, one thing is that for Focused Mage Sight, for the purposes of perspective, effectively is going to a new location-again, you're not seeing the Fallen World through the perspective of the Supernal World, you're seeing the Supernal World through the lens of the occult presence you're focusing on, effectively falling into a Supernal Journey (though if you wanna have fun with it and can coordinate it, a Waking World Journey is also viable). The mage, in FMS, is effectively acting in the Realm of their Path.

                It pays to remember that Mystery Plays are a major factor of Awakening, to the point that Mystery Play was going to be the Blood and Smoke portion of the full Chronicle name before that got nixed (Mystery Play: The Fallen World Chronicle)-so you lay it like a stage play, Actors and Props And Scenes as metaphors for the answers provided by Revelation and Scrutiny, repeating the relevant details and adjusting as you act in kind with them-and all the while, testing you against the Lie and otherwise drawing you towards the realizations of your Path. It pays to think about how the Mystery relates to the Paths of your players, how to look at it's causes and effects in the vein of their themes and motifs.

                Two things to keep in mind, as an aside. 1) Given how psychosymbolic acting in the Supernal is, it also pay to remember and hyperbolize that how you do a thing and why you do it is as important as what you do-not that there should be a right way to get the answer, but that in the pagentry should affect revelation in some way. 2) The Supernal is not a safe aspect of reality to interface with. While regular mages aren't at the risk of Aponia, you are still mucking about in the very perception that allows you to alter reality, and it's inhabitants are happy to suck your marrow and steal the stars from your eyes. Don't be afraid let magic be at work with FMS, though it pays to try for a careful touch when remembering this.

                Again, the best way to frame it is to think about how you imagine characters Awakening and the experiences they had with that. In this vein, while you don't need it, Chapters 1 and 6 of Signs of Sorcery are pretty damn useful for getting into thinking about how to frame FMS scenes, with the former giving you cast, presences, props, and other things to fill it up with, and the latter giving you story structure.

                If I have time later in the week, I'll see if I can write up or arrange a one shot an example for this.
                Last edited by ArcaneArts; 11-23-2022, 12:00 AM.


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

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                • #9
                  I am curious about how this would work, I am trying to develop my own alternative system for focused mage sight and am coming up with a whole lot of nothing. If you want to review what I have done, here are my current thoughts:

                  Surface Scrutiny: Focused Mage Sight Surface Scrutiny mode allows a mage to use one of their Arcana to scrutinize a Mystery rolling their Gnosis + Arcanum Rating as a die pool with the inclusion of any additional tools that might be used to aid in the analysis. A character may also spend Willpower to increase the die pool and spend mana to grant additional successes much like in the original rules. However, a mage may only scrutinize a Mystery once a day easily with repeated attempts requiring mana to help the mage sort out the symbols received through their Focused Mage Sight. Scrutiny rolls beyond the first do not grant any additional answers unless additional mana is spent, meaning you have to spend 1 point of mana per additional question you wish to answer. A failure on additional Scrutiny rolls results in no questions answered and a loss of all mana invested. A dramatic failure on additional Scrutiny rolls results in a Supernal Being becoming interested in your character. An exceptional success on a Scrutiny roll results in one point of mana and Willpower being restored to the character along with the successes being used to answer questions about the mystery. Each success allows the player to ask one of the following questions about the Mystery:
                  • Is the arcanum involved in the scrutiny associated with the Mystery?
                  • Is this Mystery related to Supernal Magic?
                  • What is the power rating of this Mystery?
                  • What is the closest supernal practice associated with this Mystery?
                  • What is the resonance of this Mystery? (Signature Nimbus if created by a Mage or supernal being) If the Mage has Occultation then a CoW is triggered with a die pool equal to Gnosis + Occultation rating. (If Rotes area factor, then the Nimbus of the creator of Rote is exposed here without any CoW)
                  • How long has this Mystery existed?
                  Deep Scrutiny: Focused Mage Sight Deep Scrutiny mode allows a mage to use one of their Arcana to focus intently on the mystery allowing them to learn far more important information about the Mystery in question. Activation of Deep Scrutiny requires the expenditure of 1 Willpower and additional willpower may not be added to their die pool. A Mage may only activate Deep Scrutiny once per day safely before their Gnosis begins to corrupt the mystery in question. The Mage rolls Gnosis + Arcanum Rating and pits this in a CoW against the Opacity Rating of the mystery in question. Should the mage win the result they are able to lower the Opacity Rating by 1 point allowing them to unravel the web of symbols around the Mystery. A failure in the CoW on another Deep Scrutiny roll results in the mage adding half their Gnosis to the Opacity of the Mystery as their own nimbus begins to shroud the mystery. Each success in a CoW by the player allows the player to ask one of the following questions about the Mystery:
                  • What triggers the effect of the Mystery?
                  • How does the Mystery affect the world around it?
                  • What other Arcana are associated with the Mystery?
                  • Does this Mystery relate to any other Mysteries scrutinized in the past?
                  • How powerful are the effects of the Mystery?
                  • Is this Mystery broken up into different components?
                  • Did the creator suffer any type of breaking point or paradox when creating this Mystery?
                  • Was this an improvised spell, praxis, or rote?
                  • If the spell is a Rote, the caster’s signature nimbus?
                  Revelation: Focused Mage Sight Revelation is the final mode that can be activated by a Mage and it essentially only holds one piece of information, what does the Mystery do? This is another die roll of Gnosis + Arcanum Rating - Opacity and on a success the Mage learns the function of the Mystery. However, this information is mostly useless unless you have some idea of the other components. Activating Revelation costs nothing, but a mage must have at least performed either a Surface Scrutiny or Deep Scrutiny on the Mystery prior to performing this check. Activating Focused Mage Sight Revelation has no cost associated with it.

                  I want to get away from the simple die roll spamming while everyone just sits and watches.
                  Last edited by Taldorblackfire; 12-03-2022, 08:00 PM.


                  "Teamwork makes the dream work!"

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Taldorblackfire View Post
                    I am curious about how this would work, I am trying to develop my own alternative system for focused mage sight and am coming up with a whole lot of nothing....

                    I want to get away from the simple die roll spamming while everyone just sits and watches.
                    I actually wrote up something with a similar goal,. But i want to make it completely diceless (like attainments or active mage sight, it is entirely possible to have a system where a power simply works).

                    I haven't playtested this, but here it is for comparison:

                    Diceless Focused Mage sight:

                    Ok, based on feedback from @Æthernalis#9023 and @Lonrem#0638 . Aim- make the exercise diceless, still include room for failure.

                    > To start with, the player picks which Arcanum they will use to study the mystery.
                    > They then get [Gnosis+Arcanum] questions.

                    > Questions can only reveal information in the purview of the Arcanum being used.

                    > Using 'locked Opactiy' certain information will be locked out until the right circumstances (Arcana, time, place, events, etc.), 'Linked Opacity' - meaning examing other linked Mysteries before the information becomes unlocked.

                    > Players should be informed when there is no more information available with the chosen Arcanum

                    > Players may change Arcanum but can not use focused mage sight (on the same mystery) with the same arcanum in the same scene (or possibly chapter).

                    > The players may spend extra mana in advance to gain +1 question per mana spent. But future investigations (of this mystery) will suffer -1 question per mana spent.

                    > Answers should be in terms of symbolic information: Questions like 'is this a vampire' require the player to already have investigated vampires. Instead specific details of the vampire's pattern should be available. Does it appear to be alive, is it gaining energy/life force by drinking that human's blood? Etc.

                    > The players should be using their creativity to figure out the puzzle, thinking of the right questions to ask - rather than hitting it with a dice pool and waiting to be given the answer (helping them with prompts if they are struggling with a puzzle)

                    > Optional Realtime mode: each questions takes the same amount of time as the player spends thinking about it in game. And prevents the character from taking other actions or using their defence in combat.

                    > Otherwise it should take [Opacity] Turns per question.
                    .

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                    • #11
                      That is definitely a step in the right direction and I like what is being done here, very similar to mine actually.


                      "Teamwork makes the dream work!"

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                      • #12
                        My only issue with it is how it pushes a lot of cognitive work onto the player (and creative load onto the ST) instead of being about how good the player is at rolling dice, it becomes about how good they are at figuring out what questions to ask/the games metaphysics as interpreted by the ST.

                        I think i prefer it, but maybe giving an option get hints in exchange for spending some resource... Wasn't there a common sense merit in some edition?

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by orathaic View Post
                          I think i prefer it, but maybe giving an option get hints in exchange for spending some resource... Wasn't there a common sense merit in some edition?
                          The base game in Chronicles added a common sense merit and it basically added a mechanic to roll Wits + Composure and you got a question and the ST had to answer it.


                          "Teamwork makes the dream work!"

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Taldorblackfire View Post

                            The base game in Chronicles added a common sense merit and it basically added a mechanic to roll Wits + Composure and you got a question and the ST had to answer it.
                            Can that be any question, like "what should i do to investigate this mystery?"

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                            • #15
                              Potentially if you allowed it, it gave a set of acceptable questions.
                              Last edited by Taldorblackfire; 12-05-2022, 05:23 PM.


                              "Teamwork makes the dream work!"

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