Five Essential Books to Play Mage: The Ascension

I tend to lag behind the times a bit, so here’s a list of recommended books for a roleplaying game no longer in print. The good news is that these titles are readily available through Drive Thru RPG, if not your local game store’s used section or the RPG category of eBay.

The problem with composing a list of the best supplements for Mage: The Ascension is the game world is so wide ranging in the genres and places it can cover. This puts a crimp in recommending books for a GM new to the game. So think of this as a guide to assembling a toolkit with which to build your preferred Mage campaign.

  1. Mage: The Ascension, Revised. This is a thorny choice given the vitriolic debates that raged over the 2nd Edition to Revised changeover, but it’s also a better ruleset in as close to an objective fashion as these things can be judged. The supposed drawback to this choice, that you have to make up your own adversaries out of the hints and summations provided by the book, really isn’t one; building on what material is there will yield to you what seems like a much more sensible cast of antagonists than anything you’ll find in “bad guys of Mage” books.
  2. Mage Storyteller’s Handbook. The array of options and setting variations can be dizzying. It’s best to think of the Storyteller’s Handbook as something from which to select sparingly, making the game you run into what you really want it to be, without feeling constrained by the rules or world as written, but still having guidelines and examples with which to construct your own.
  3. The Book of Worlds. Some scoff at the Book of Worlds, saying it’s a prime example of cramming high fantasy otherworlds and planar travel into the then-gothic punk World of Darkness. And I say, “Good.” One of Mage‘s strengths is its flexibility and Book of Worlds can provide inspiration, even if you don’t like the exact material presented, of how to season your own game with an extra dimension or two, if not all of them at once.
  4. The Bitter Road is another chancy selection. It’s heavy on Mage Revised’s metaplot and themes, wherein mages remaining on Earth try to piece themselves together after an Umbral catastrophe cut off their leadership in Horizon and other realms. But it also offers solid material on how Earth level mages are organized. Many, if not most, Mage games will include enough Earth-based action to make spending some time on it worth your while.
  5. Suppressed Transmission. Okay, so it’s not an actual Mage book. Everyone puts at least one book that has nothing to do with the game in lists of this nature. The collected Suppressed Transmission columns are a gold mine of weird history and bunko science. Even if you don’t find any ideas that tickle your fancy, Ken Hite’s way of thinking can provide a jump start to your own thought processes of looking for the secret meaning behind the every day world.

Some people would point out what they feel to be a glaring omission from this list: Guide to the Technocracy. It is, I think, a dangerous book to read out of context, in that it presents a heavily skewed vision of the Technocracy. 95% of it reads as in-character propaganda, presenting the 1984 Big Brotherism, up to and including brainwashing, as good and beneficial to the health of the Technocratic Union and the people of the world.

I get itchy when people cite Guide to the Technocracy as evidence that the Union are actually the good guys. There are too many satirical references and in-jokes showing how bad things really are for me to feel comfortable with any reading that suggests sending one’s partner to Room 101 for re-conditioning is a moral thing.

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3 thoughts on “Five Essential Books to Play Mage: The Ascension

  1. Pingback: Six Months On « Held Action

  2. Thanks for this, it was quite helpful for today’s shopping spree in the DTRPG “GM’s Day Sale”, where all Mage products have 25% off 🙂

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