Retooling Mage: The Ascension

Something about role-playing inspires a do-it-yourself attitude in many hobbyists. If they don’t like something, they’ll often modify to it their needs, or roll their own. So it’s no surprise that Mage: The Ascension, a game about independent individuals all proclaiming they understand the true secrets of the universe — and perhaps later learning that it’s all an illusion of sorts — should accumulate more than a few projects to do it right, better or to taste, depending on the author. Sometimes I think it’s a right of passage, whereat the burgeoning role-player decides that in the end it’s all made up and hell, they should do it the way they prefer.[1]

At any rate, yet another discussion on of where Mage: The Ascension went wrong — or right, depending on one’s perspective — or whose fault or genius it was got me thinking about the Mage conversions that proliferated over the years. I mean, this is a game whose last supplement was published in 2004 and people are still not only casting blame and gnashing teeth, but trying to do it their way. So here’s a quick rundown of the Mage conversions I’ve run across on the web:

  • Mage! was a conversion document by an poster by the name of Redfox Whiteruff for running a Mage game using the Aeon variant of the Storyteller system, particularly the version in Adventure! The PDF doesn’t seem to be in circulation on the web, or I’d link to it.
  • Unisystem Mage was my own modest attempt at a Mage conversion. I’ve yet to playtest the thing, so all I can say is it exists and is freely downloadable.
  • World of Darkness HERO, by Robert Harrison, encompasses much of the original World of Darkness as it stood in the second edition era, written for the HERO role-playing system.
  • Malcolm Sheppard released notes almost immediately upon publication of Mage: The Awakening in 2005 to use the new ruleset to run traditional Ascension games. They’re quick and dirty, but really that’s all one needs.
  • Mage: The Dirty Version, also by Malcolm Sheppard, is a more drastic retooling of the core premises of Mage, altering content to fit the new view.
  • Ascension Nova, on the other hand, is a currently on-going effort to perform a more robust marriage of the Storytelling system and the Mage: The Ascension setting material.
  • GURPS Mage: The Ascension and GURPS Thaumatology get honorable mentions; the former for being an official conversion of then-contemporary Mage to GURPS third edition and the latter for providing a ready made structure to rebuild the Sphere magic system in the fourth edition.

05/28/2010 9:38 AM: Shame on me for failing to include Malcolm Sheppard’s “dirty Mage” reinvention.

[1] Which is not to say “it” is necessarily inconsistent or arbitrary; just arranged to suit one’s own preferences.

2 thoughts on “Retooling Mage: The Ascension

  1. Thanks for all those links! Now I feel sorry for just selling all of my old Mage stuff.

    I really enjoyed it back in the day. Being a philosophy student, the rather abstract notions used in the game came to me easily and let me play around with ideas that I’d been studying in class.

    The problem that made the game still birth, was that my friends just didn’t get it. The consensual reality they half understood, but they just couldn’t figure out how to create magical effects within an everyday world. In the end they felt like it was too much of a chore to have to avoid paradoxes, and so the game fizzled.

    • Everyone has their blindspots when it comes to concepts, I guess. I feel much the same way about how powers work in an RPG called Nobilis.

      What helped me with Mage‘s effects-based system is coincidentally picking up Mutants & Masterminds and HERO at roughly the same time. They’re both superhero games that use effects-based systems and both have more robust explanations of what that actually means than the Mage books ever did.

      Plus all those sample powers help make it clear. “Ah, so to hurt someone from a distance, it’s always an Energy Blast, regardless of whether it’s a laser beam, lightning bolt or extensible mallet.” Mage‘s system is even more loose, since you can theoretically attack someone with non-flashy spheres like Correspondence or Mind, but the principle remains the same.

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