Mage: The Suppressed Transmission is a Mage: The Ascension campaign I ran from the summer to winter of 2005 at Quarterstaff Games. I think of it as my first “real” campaign and present my session reports, mostly written just after the action, exactly as they are, excepting the occasional corrected typo.
This brings the reposting of my actual play reports for this campaign to a close. The game went on for two or more sessions after this, but I didn’t record them. I had become frustrated with what I perceived as the players declining to take the initiative and my own ability to elicit more engaging interactions from them. That the group had shrunk in size to two returning players over the five months it played did nothing to make me feel that it was a success.
In retrospect, my thinking was silly and self-important. The two remaining players kept coming back. That meant they enjoyed the game. I should have taken that fact and run with it, and really paid attention to the questions their characters asked and things they tried to do. Obvious advice that I had read before running this game, but tunnel vision gets all us when we’re emotionally invested in something.
Anyway, on with the play report.
Pushing against the tide of people answering the bell tower’s summons, Evan charged upstairs to his dormitory abode of late. There, his worst fears were confirmed: the footlocker in which he had hidden — with increasingly ineffectual results — the ever-growing sea moss taken from the selkies’ grotto had been taken by parties unknown. Many of Evan’s future plans had hinged on cultivating the potent form of tass, in order to barter for favors and goods.
Dejected, Evan led the cabal back down to the Winchester House’s interior plaza, where Mark Gillan was addressing the three dozen odd mages. Black Riders had been sighted approaching the city from the northeast. He reminded everyone not to antagonize the Riders and to avoid interaction if possible, unless Sleepers were threatened. He then called the cabal over for a special task. Before he could explain further, however, Kay was called away by an urgent missive, saying his family was in Rome and needed him post haste. Khan Li excused himself, saying his brothers at the temple must be alerted to the presence of Black Riders.
Leading Henry and Evan deep within the Winchester chantry, to the watchtower called the Panopticon, Mark showed them a group of motorcyclists clad entirely in black. Turning to the mages, Gillan explained the Black Riders were a group of “mad mages,” commonly called Marauders, moving to a rhyme and reason most found incomprehensible at best. The Black Riders were silent, their actions inscrutable and their madness seemingly contagious. They roved all over the American west, coming through the San Francisco Bay area every nine months or so. This time, the Riders had shown up ahead of schedule, as though drawn by some unknown force. So Mark asked the two to observe the mages from a distance, and attempt to determine if there was any pattern to their movements and actions.
Through a combination of mundane detective work and mystical tracing techniques, the two found themselves trapped in gridlock, a tantalizingly short distance away from their prey. When they heard a trumpet-like bellow and the crunching of metal and glass, Henry and Evan left the car behind and raced on foot to investigate the din ahead. As they crossed the next gridlocked intersection, however, their surroundings shimmered, as though seen in the distance on a searing hot summer day, and melted away. As a bitingly cold wind whistled along the surface of the wide open steppes and Evan and Henry looked down at their rough leather garments, they suspected they were no longer in San Francisco.
A herd of horses running wild drove the cabalmates to seek shelter in the lee of a small rise. From there, they noticed a long line of woolly mammoths crossing the steppes, seemingly tended by a group of people on black mounts. Already, Evan suspected these were the Black Riders they had been sent to observe. Approaching the Riders, Evan introduced himself and Henry as from the southern mountains, expelled by their people and seeking survival on the steppes. While most of the Riders said nothing — and their mounts were as eerily quiet, making no more sound than the expelling of breath — their leader spoke with the mages. He and his people followed the sky spirit across the plains, moving as they willed. He also extended hospitality to the two, seeing they were lost without mount or supplies.
Riding with the group into the evening, Henry and Evan tried to ascertain just where they were in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Were they time-lost, somehow transported to a prehistoric age? But since when had woolly mammoths and iron-wielding tool users coexisted? Had they been pulled into an Umbral realm by the Marauders, intentionally or otherwise? Reaching out to sense the curvature of the moldavite surrounding them, Henry discovered it extended only to the horizon, beyond which was only an absence. Moreover, as he fine-tuned his sympathetic crystalline resonance, he discovered a second, far more subtle set of moldavite vibrations. These were suggestive of a city street lined by a buildings, and all the attendant traffic. It seemed he and Evan had been assumed into the group’s own personal reality, one so total and strong that it overpowered the perceptions of all those nearby. At times, Henry and Evan even caught glimpses of other people, haplessly absorbed into the pseudo-historical reality, if only for a split second. Most of them were unawares of their translation, while a few others, probably supernaturally aware in some manner, were left bewildered by the fleeting experience.
Talking with the leader of the Black Riders at the campfire beneath a bluff that night, Evan and Henry probed his conceptions of the steppes and his group’s role within it. He continued to insist that personal will was paramount and overrode all other concerns. The sky spirit followed its will, the people followed their own will and that was all there was to the way of things. Evan countered by asserting the will could not always be followed. Obstacles in one’s path might be insurmountable, forcing the will to accommodate the obstacles. As they pursued the debate, slowly, without ever being noticed, the crackle of the fire and the occasional snuffling of woolly mammoth in the distance faded away, to be replaced by the thrum of tires on asphalt overhead and occasional honking horn. Henry looked up from the fire and discovered they were gathered around an oil can fire beneath a freeway overpass. The lead Black Rider, who had been growing continually irritated with the unending barrage of questions and arguments, dropped his gaze from Evan and placidly returned it to the fire, seemingly unaware of the cabalmates’ presence.
The mages decided they had best take advantage of having inadvertently argued their way out of the Black Riders’ microcosm and beat a quick retreat. Evan was already planning how to return to rescue the Sleepers caught up in the waking dream by creating an anchor to the greater reality of the consensus. Meanwhile, Henry retrieved the car and determined that the Black Riders were following almost precisely a ley line from the northeast that reached the shore, bent around a geomantic feature of some sort, and passed through the city again to the southwest, where it passed through one of the seven hills whose Umbral shadow had begun belching fire and brimstone in the past few weeks. The flow of quintessential energy — or quartzite resonance, if you asked Henry — moving along the ley line.
On their return to the Winchester House, Evan and Henry made straight for the library, where they buried themselves in research. While Nicodemus retrieved books concerning Marauders and their Quiets, as well as ley lines, from the deep archives — it’s amazing what a few well-chosen donations will do to endear a bibliophile to one’s cabal — they experimented with the Tabula Perfecta Quattuor Regnorum. Not only did they explore the mappamondi‘s ability to scry and reveal locations, but close examination of the legend disguised in the scrollwork around the edges revealed the document could also transport its readers. It was then Nicodemus returned with the autobiographies and memoirs of several mages who had fallen to Quiet at various points in their lives. Henry and Evan fell to reading them with earnest, if not gusto.
Several hours later, feeling relatively comfortable with the generally accepted principles and manifestations of the self-imposed mental isolation known as Quiet, Evan repaired to a quiet space in the chantry, where he began designing a mystic circle on the floor, filled with runes and sigils to empower an amulet as protection against being translated into the Black Rider’s microcosm once again. Reasoning that items sympathetic to the current dominant paradigm of San Francisco would help keep him grounded, Evan engraved a cellular phone with sigils of Apollo, for the light of truth; Hermes, for communication; and Arachne, for reweaving the threads of the Tapestry. Then, in a rite of chanting and incense, he imbued the amulet to-be with energies against the Mind-altering effects of Quiet.
Meanwhile, exploring a side avenue of research, Henry also examined several books on the subject of past lives and accessing their memories. After digesting the information and doing his best to sieve the crackpot theory from genuine practice, Henry felt confident enough to take a stab at self-hypnosis with an eye towards accessing some of the memories Porthos had indicated were connected to the current schemes of the unseen Dr. Dee. While there were others skilled in the field of past lives, most notably the Akashic Brothers and the Euthanatoi, Henry preferred to work in solitude. At his apartment, he assembled the array of crystals he felt would help most to focus positive energies and reflect the negative, as well as made as non-distracting an environment as possible, to aid his trance state. To guide his mental exploration, Henry surrounded himself with the papers and files recovered from below the Golden Cup Bakery, all of which pertained to a rash of curious events in late 1879 and early 1880.
His mind drifted. The city noises outside faded away. Henry felt a drop of water splash on his brow. Then another, and another. Soon a torrential rain poured down from above. Drops so large they blinded Henry bombarded his face. A flash of light filled his view, and then thunder rolled across the sky. In the following silence, Henry could just make out the scrape of oiled metal on well-worn leather.
“Just you and me, this time,” said an all-too familiar voice.