For the next few Fridays, I’ll post the session reports from Mage: The Suppressed Transmission, a Mage: The Ascension campaign I ran for four months in the fall of 2005 as an in-store game at Quarterstaff Games. These reports were initially posted to RPG.net as I wrote them and I haven’t done anything to change them, except fix the occasional typo.
This was the second extended campaign I ever ran, the first being a Mutants & Masterminds-based game set in Freedom City. Looking back, I think there’s a lot I did wrong or hamfistedly. But that’s okay, because I think it’s made me a better GM for the experience.
The idea for this campaign first came about when I read Suppressed Transmission, a printed collection of Kenneth Hite’s Pyramid column on history, conspiracies, nutbar science and occultism. The broad variety of mad, wonderful ideas in Suppressed Transmission seemed to me a perfect fit for Mage played as an urban fantasy campaign. That, plus characters and ideas mined from GURPS Cabal, another product of Hite’s febrile mind, gave me plenty of goodies around which to craft a story arc.
Unfortunately, I didn’t start writing post-session reports until the second or third session in, so for the set up, I must rely on my two and a half year old memory. There was once a whole folder of pictures, documents and notes I wrote up, but I seem to have deleted it in a fit of pique at some point in the intervening years.
For now, though, this is how it all began, as I recall.
My original conception for the story arc involved the antagonist Dr John Dee as presented by GURPS Cabal, preoccupied with making a hash out of causality by mixing past and future events and locations for various occult reasons, deciding to make a go of it in San Francisco, California, making use of the mystical symbolism of a developing city perched between land and sea, suspended between the past and future, as San Francisco was originally a frontier town that became a center of high technology through Silicon Valley.
The duality continued by opposing Dee with Porthos, one of the iconic Mage NPCs who, I do not deny, fell into the category of “setting-shaking NPC meant to make the players fear for their characters” in which early White Wolf games so indulged. I resolved to use Porthos as an agent of change and accidental pointer of PCs in useful directions; sort of a deprotagonized Doctor Who, sparking chaos and changing circumstances for the players to deal with. The contrast between Dee and Porthos lay in their methods. Where Dee was a planner, a calculator, a removed mastermind with agents to do his bidding, Porthos was meant to be the hands-on force of chaos that ultimately resolves into a weird balance of forces. Typing it out like that, my conception of Porthos sounds like a Dumbledore or a Gandalf, depending on your literary heritage.
How I planned to tie this one-on-one antagonism to the players’ characters, who were supposed to be the focus of this whole shindig, I had no clue. I’d figure that out later. We spent much of the first session doing the usual: getting the characters together and out the door of the metaphorical tavern.
This time, the gathering of the protagonists was a convocation of Tradition mages in San Francisco. The Council sponsored a directive to reaffirm the Compact of Callias, the original doctrine of encouraging mages to mix across Traditions, first practiced when the Traditions Council formed in the Renaissance.
At this point, I honestly don’t remember many of the details beyond that first session, beyond there was one quiet player, playing an equally quiet character, whom I wound up forcefully prodding via NPCs to make some choices and stand up to join one of these multi-Tradition cabals, which just so happened to include all the other players at the table.
After that, the characters got a mission, as they so often do in these things, to go check out a small chantry of mages further up the coast who hadn’t been heard from in some time. It was, admittedly, not an auspicious beginning, but I was still new at GMing and wasn’t certain what these players were like or wanted from a game. How the game unfolded in the next six months would often be, to me, rocky and not very good, but I think it taught me a lot about managing time, pacing action and involving players.