A Look At The Fluff Of Mage: The Awakening
So what makes Mage: The Awakening so different from Mage: The Ascension? The fluff. These two games are very similar mechanically, more so than even the other old vs. new World of Darkness games. However, in Mage, the differences really come out in the fluff, helping define these two games as something altogether different.
For me, the biggest difference between these two games are the antagonists. In Ascension, the greatest threat was the Technocracy, a secret cabal of mages who believed that magic was just the highest point of science and sought to bring order to all of the world through order and reason, which the will-working mages were a direct threat to by the way of their very existence. An interesting concept at first, but as you started having to deal with cyborg soldiers, gene-modded mutants, and android attackers, you started to lose the sense that you were actually in a modern horror game. It felt a lot more like Blade Runner meets The Dresden Files, which all-in-all is not a bad premise but at times got away from the central themes of World of Darkness. In Awakening, the threats are more appropriate to the setting. You find yourself facing witch hunters, demons from the abyss, evil cults, mages who have fallen into darkness, and many more elements that feel much more in line with the overall themes of World of Darkness.
Another major difference between the two games is the disassociation mages suffer with the rest of the world. Their natural occultation is still a thing, just as vampires blur the images on cameras, mirrors, and the like in Requiem and werewolves induce the Lunacy in Forsaken, the occultation serves to protect mages from those who are unable to mentally comprehend the truth of their existence. Unlike in Ascension, though, in Awakening, this does not socially exile mages from human endeavors. This allows the social themes of the game to come through, as mages will find themselves in and among normal sleepers almost more than any other World of Darkness being, at least out of the big three.
Finally, there is less of a sense that any one mage can do anything they wish. Although, this was not entirely true in Ascension either- the various spheres of magic were a lot less defined and open for interpretation. Mage is a game that encourages player creativity, especially when dealing with magic. However, this openness allowed for players to, at times, step beyond what was normally allowed for a specific sphere. For example, say you want to subtly weaken your opponent. You know Forces magic (the basic elements of the world) but know that it is none-too-subtle to blast your opponent with a stroke of lightning or incinerate them with a thought, so you seek to raise their internal body temperature using Forces to give them a fever and maybe even force them to pass out. Now, normally, this would be the sphere of Health, but, because you are generating heat, you manage to pass it as Forces to your Storyteller. There is nothing in Ascension that says you cannot, so you do- a milder example, but one that illustrates the point. In Awakening, the ruling between Forces and Health are more clearly defined, and to do this you would actually need the spheres for both Forces and Health, two or three ranks in each. This definition helps preserve game balance as well as gives each player the potential for specialization. In a game of mages, not every mage can do every sort of magic.
Mage: The Awakening is a wonderful game that I would recommend to any fan of modern horror, the occult, and mystery gaming. So get out there, cast your spells, and unravel the hidden truths of the world for yourselves.
As always, I thank you for reading and wish you all good gaming.
Image Credit: White Wolf Publishing