Mage: the Awakening Combined Spells 10

First off, I am returning from just about abandoning this blog for the entire month of May. I hope that I’ll be able to post here more regularly in June. May saw an end to six months of unemployment, as well as the writing frenzy of the second Dust to Dust world event, so the things keeping me away were good things, but still.

About two months ago, I started up a Mage: the Awakening game, described here. This is the second chronicle of new Mage that I’ve run. I can’t offer meaningful comparisons between this game and Mage: the Ascension, because I never played or ran that edition of Mage, and only own the books because a friend was dumping his collection in the course of a move. Someday I’ll read them, I imagine, but that’s not what I came to tell you about.

Came to talk about the draft.

From all these years of playing D&D, I have come to expect a certain kind of complexity in the final effect of a wizard’s spell. Whether it’s Pages from the Mages, Spell Compendium, or just about any of the 4e controller classes, I’ve come to expect some spells to do damage and something else. This is entirely possible in Mage, and the book goes to some length to offer rules for this. Relatively obscure and complicated rules, but rules nonetheless.

In the two Mage chronicles I’ve run, I’ve started the PCs as Sleepers who Awaken during the first session. I do this for a number of reasons: because the transition is interesting (though it’s an area that I don’t always handle as well as might be hoped), and because it’s easier to integrate characters into the tightly-woven setting of Awakened Boston if they’re newly Awakened rather than long-time mages. Most importantly, because the setting of Mage is complicated (Orders, legacies, local cabals, all kinds of stuff), and since it’s absolutely not reasonable to ask players to sit down and read the many relevant parts of the books that only I own. So I’m trying, with what I think is some success, to run the game on the assumption that the characters have justifiable ignorance of the world around them. Sometimes I stumble over things I have forgotten I need to reveal. One of the problems of this approach is rotes, which according to the fiction players learn from their orders. Except, of course, that these PCs are five sessions in, and we’re nowhere near having them join orders, as far as I can tell.

Just looking at the rulebook, though, the treatment of rotes is kind of odd. The book gives the initial impression that there are maybe one or two rote versions of any given improvised spell, each of which is aligned with an Order, and that’s that. This doesn’t make a damn bit of sense with what rotes are, and a further reading undermines the notion thoroughly. So what are the attributes and skills that make up rotes? Well, they could be just about anything; though you wouldn’t bother to learn all of them (by spending experience points), it’s totally reasonable that there might be a huge variety of different rotes representing the same improvised spell.

This leads me to consider writing and introducing rotes that do some of the more gamist things that I have in mind, and handing them out as the result of dedicated research (for which, thank God, there are extensive rules), teaching, or loot. For example, a Death rote (possibly with a lesser Life requirement) that amounted to the D&D spell Vampiric Touch is pretty reasonable and classic. How about this:

Hand of Greed and Gluttony

Dice Pool: Presence + Occult + Death, or (in another imagining) Dexterity + Larceny + Death; the version introduced would depend entirely on what kind of character might potentially receive it in-play

Practice: Unraveling and Ruling

Action: Instant; subtract target’s Stamina

Duration: Lasting

Aspect: Covert

Cost: None

The mage must first grab hold of the target, with a roll of Strength or Dexterity + Brawl – target’s Defense. If successful, he can cast this spell as an instant action the following turn. Each success deals one point of bashing damage to the target. For every two successes, the caster enjoys the additional benefit of one temporary health level that can only receive bashing damage. At Death 5, this spell deals lethal damage, and the temporary health levels can receive lethal or bashing damage.

(On one level, I would be inclined to require Life 2 to cast this spell, looking at its secondary effect as a kind of triggered Self Healing, but I’m torn – the player in my game who might ever want to cast this spell doesn’t have high Strength, high Dex, or high Brawl, so do I really want to make it harder by also requiring two dots of Life?)

In Which A Lesson Is Learnt

When our hero set out to write this, he – er, I – had been under the impression that I was going somewhere that Mage rules-as-written would not support all that well. Given the mass of the Mage core book, thisis kind of a ridiculous thing to expect – there are all kinds of rules in there that I’ve glossed over to date, just because my Mage games so far have been relatively low-powered, and the improvised spells were entirely sufficient to the players’ needs. What I’ve learned as I poked around in writing this is that there are plenty of rules for mages to do a whole crapton of horrible things to their opponents in a single round of casting, if they can crank up their dice pool through some means. It’s just that the game stores all of this information in a very dense and forbidding seven pages that are pretty much solid charts. This means that while I’ve read them before, they didn’t stick with me well, since I was observing their existence but not really learning them. My players (both chronicles) have not yet hazarded its murky depths (but for those reading this post who want to try, check out pages 117-124 of the Mage core book).

It’s often said that the best way to learn a topic is to teach it. To this I would add, “…or otherwise design new and applicable material for it.” I like to think that I will have additional ideas in the future for exciting or just insane new conjunctional spells, including the rote combination that makes it possible – and honestly, I’m more interested in rote combinations that communicate theme and don’t screw over the player in question than I am in following the logic of Orders the players haven’t joined.

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10 thoughts on “Mage: the Awakening Combined Spells

  • Kainenchen

    Yeah– since we're all inclined to hang together, rather than split up and hang with others, and we're all different sorts of mages, getting us to go along with the orders is… tricksy at best? I mean, Volchik might think about it, but.

    Also, on the subject of a vampric touch spell, it makes sense for both life mages and death mages, honestly– though expecting a death mage to have any dots of life (or vice versa) seems… odd? Perhaps there could be a couple different versions of this rote, with slightly different damage/healing outputs, one for Thyrsus and one for the Moros?

    The in-game explanations for same could also potentially be cool.

  • Harald

    I'm already running late, so I can't give you a long response atm, but imo you've touched on one of the short-comings of nMage. I've house-ruled rotes, and if you're interested, I can try to post on it in a few days.

    As for how you lay out your chronicles, that's how I'd recommend doing it if you and your players are relatively new to the game. I effect, you're learning as the characters are learning.

    I'm psyched that you've started up a Mage-game, and I'll definitely come back and read your previous posts, as well as your future ones. WoD FTW 😉

  • Shieldhaven


    The good news about Orders is that you don't hang with your Order more than once or twice a month, depending on how often the leadership of that Order can be bothered to call meetings.

    I'd consider something similar for Thyrsus, yes, though I'm not sure I'd want to reverse the efficiencies. That seems like it might be a bit much to me, I dunno.


    By all means! I'm not in touch with a wider community of Mage players or GMs other than you, so seeing what other people have done with the rules is of great interest to me.

    I'm sure there will be future posts on Mage, but don't be surprised if there aren't any previous posts in my backlog. You can, at least, find session summaries on the wiki that I linked. =)

  • Harald

    I figured that out after I actually clicked that very same link 😉

    I hope you'll blog on your experiences in the future though. The WoD needs some love from the blogosphere.

  • Shieldhaven

    I write about whatever game-related things are on my mind, so the odds that I'll be writing about Mage are (naturally) vastly improved by having an active chronicle. 😉

    Also, I really need to get caught up on the session log, since we're playing tonight.

  • samhaine

    The Death arcana is weird to me, as it's the new one that was added new for Awakening. The seem to have taken out all the more death-focused aspects of Entropy (leaving Fate), and then added in some stuff that would be previously Matter, Life, or Spirit.

    Consequently, I'd have more trouble eyeballing how much it crosses over with the other spheres in multi-sphere rotes.

    In general, I'd hazard that Awakening has gone out of its way to reduce the level of multi-sphere coordination that was previously desirable. For example, you used to need Prime 2 as part of an effect to create virtually anything from thin air (alternately, you could use Matter 2 or Forces 2 to transmute stuff into other stuff). There was also an awful lot of things like, "if you want to do X with a thing, you should also include the sphere that represents that thing" (e.g., "you need at least Life 1 to use Time 2 to follow a living being back in time rather than postcogging a fixed location).

    The Awakenings system is actually arguably better from a player perspective (as there is less investment in low levels of all spheres to make sure you can do things dominated by your main spheres), but it does probably have a chilling effect on coming up with cool crossover effects (because stuff you do that crosses over is the exception rather than the rule).

  • seaofstarsrpg

    Another option would be to have Life 2 add some sort of minor benefit, say you get a reading on the target's total health or something. Making it a useful addition but not one required to use the rote.

  • Shieldhaven


    That's not a bad idea. As the ST, I'd want to have some kind of vulnerability that the player could learn about on some NPCs. Whether it's a reduced immune system or just a more detailed readout of the character's Attributes and physical Merits, it's the kind of thing you might not bother using during a fight, but if it were packaged in with the rest of an attack, it would totally be worthwhile.

  • Shinobu

    Sorry if I'm butting in.

    Duration: Lasting and Prolonged, to note the duration of the Temporary Health. This means that after casting it the first time the spell counts toward the casters spell limit and toward Contagion. And if the caster subsequently smacks someone harder the new higher value overwrites the old value, while lower yield strikes simply do damage and yield no TH.

    The temporary health imo should be of the kind described in the WoD Core book, no limitations on what grade of damage they can be marked for. This is offset by the whole Prolonged thing…you can't just spam it for health every turn, only the biggest hit counts.

    A small but useful survivability boost for Magi who are lacking in the Life Arcanum or when an unrelenting offense is needed.

    Death should be able to do this by itself but the option of learning more about your victim with optional life is sweet.

    Life is my favorite Arcana but I do not think it should be capable of this without some Death. Life can wound and mimic but this sort of theft of the inviolate is Deaths purview.

  • Shieldhaven


    Welcome! The whole point of my articles on Mage is for me to learn more about the system – I make no pretense of being an expert, as I have still run fewer than twenty total sessions of Mage. I appreciate your commentary.

    If the player in question expresses interest in learning to cast Hand of Greed and Gluttony, I'll be happy to adopt the changes you propose. Thanks!