Headscratchers / Mage: The Ascension

  • Weird thing about the Old World of Darkness. White Wolf released that Guide to the Technocracy book, which explained their (view of their) origins and motivations, and how to use them as player characters. It was revealed that, while the higher-ups are plainly aware that they're fighting for world domination, entry-level technocrats, extraordinary citizens, and just-plain-normal schmoes don't know that, and quite often believe they're working for the good of society and mankind's general empowerment. What bugs me is: they openly use 1984 symbolism. They have social conditioning, a Big Brother idea, Room 101, Newspeak as an optional skill, tend to conflate "Reality Deviants" with thoughtcrime... who in their right mind would think they're working for the good of humanity when most of their lexicon comes from the single most poignant dystopian science fiction book ever written?
    • People who spend their lives knowing that only a very thin barrier of ritualized disbelief separates reality from being souleaten by things that make the Great Old Ones look like Roger Rabbit, and have as their jobs keeping the population of the world mundane and controlled enough to sustain that barrier. 1984 is horrible and dystopian to us... to people who have been on Void Engineer runs through the Deep Umbra fighting Nephandi, it probably looks cute.
      • ...good point. I guess there's a third faction I hadn't considered (the ones in the know who aren't working to enslave humanity). And I guess they'd be the ones most likely to use the terminology, too...
      • ...You seriously forgot about that "third faction"? Even though it's the one that, y'know, the main gameline is named after?
      • Not that third faction. The mages are a whole other story.
    • The oWoD is such a Crapsack World that the Technocrats actually ARE the good guys. Sure they're trying to eliminate free will and creativity, but more often then not when crossovers happen they end up SAVING the world from all the other cosmic horrors out there. Who else could nuke an antedeluvian and get away with it?
      • They didn't get away with it. While arguably preferable to the alternative the Technocracy's rather heavy-handed approach to that incident had huge and terrible consequences for every game line.
    • Maybe 1984 was never written in the World of Darkness (or was written but got suppressed by the Syndicate). Maybe someone in the NWO has a really sick sense of humor. Maybe it's not that the Technocracy is full of 1984 references; George Orwell was a mage, acolyte, or otherwise aware of the Union, so 1984 is full of Technocracy references. Maybe some idealistic technocrats have noticed that the Union is standing on a slippery slope with 1984 at the bottom, and go around giving everything the creepiest names they can think of to remind the rest of the Union to stay good.
      • Almost every work that exists in our world seems to exist in theirs; Guide to the Technocracy threw a lot of hints that most of their terminology does in fact spring from the real-world sources ("bangin' a baa" refers to the Dolly cloning, the "Be seeing you" phrase is a Shout-Out to The Prisoner, etc), and is used ironically by a Technocracy well aware of what the Deviants think of them (and possibly how some Sleepers would interpret the Technocracy if they knew about it). Also, remember that the Technocratic Union existed long before Orwell wrote 1984, and it's specifically referenced in Guide as meaning 'out-of-date, over the top, unwieldy/cliche," as in: "Seriously? That's so 1984." That seems to support the view of the Technocracy using dystopian police-state terms as a satire of how deadly-serious others might take them.
      • Have you ever heard how sarcastic and chock full of black humor the lingo of folks who serve is? Rescue workers, emergency techs and docs, military personnel, pilots, engineers...they come up with such wonderful phrases as "crispy critter" (a burnt corpse), "bullet sponge" (various, but first person in an assault), "controlled flight into terrain" (a crash when the pilot did not lose control of the plane or have mechanical failure), "gomer" (get out of my ER), "zorro belly" (a stomach with many post-operational scars), "brain bucket" (a helmet - usually for motorcyclists or military personnel), "birth control glasses" (the eyeglasses normally issued to US military personnel, which are so hideously ugly that they are said to prevent any type of hook-up), etc. Why wouldn't the Technocratic Union's intelligent and savvy agents use similar terms, and use them just as tongue in cheek? Really, the only headscratcher is no one looked up Autocthonia, and found autocthonic in the dictionary!
  • Really, how does Mage: Ascension work? I mean, if World of Darkness reflects our, actual, real world in any sort of capacity whatsoever, mages should be able to sling magic around with no fear of Paradox. About 80% people in the world are religious and therefore, you should be able to use magic without a problem if you disguise it as miracles. Tons of people believe in ghosts, psychics, paranormal phenomena or hell, they outright believe in magic and witchcraft. Distrust in science is so high that a large part of people disbelieve in evolution.
    In other words, consensus simply does not work as presented in Mage books. It's a broken idea. People simply aren't that logical and rational. We're a superstitious, religious lot that believes in magic, miracles and the paranormal.
    So, once again, how come mages aren't free to sling around magic as they wish?
    • Maybe DTF would explain this a bit: the first thing the Demons discovered after escaping the Abyss is that people in oWoD lost true faith almost completely. So a person "believing" in magic and ghosts actually believe in them much less than he believes in switching on the toaster. So, instead of belief in supernatural, the people of oWoD have habits and speculations. Speculations and superstitions not backed by true faith are just mind constructs, not enough to support widespread magic. But habits are a powerful force, which is what actually creates Paradox.
      • But then, if people don't really believe in anything, then there should be nothing "backing" the scientific consensus either. Because this is all about belief. Either people do believe(in which case you've got a majority of religious people - shouldn't be too hard to convince them that there's a new breed of holy men), they don't believe(but then the scientific paradigm is not backed up by anything anyway, so why should it inflict Paradox?) or people do believe in the scientific paradigm as a majority. But then we're talking about a world utterly divorced from our reality - and part of the appeal of Old World of Darkness was always that it was world "like ours but with supernatural" (and Darker and Edgier).
    • Belief is basically Faith, knowing that something will happen even if you don't know how. Belief is "I know this toaster will toast my bread in about two to five minutes because that is how toasters work, even though I'm no electrician." Faith is "I know God (or whatever) exists even though I have no tangible proof, because That Is How Things Are." The problem in the oWoD is that when the supernatural went underground people - who could no longer see the supernatural, i.e. angels/demons/vampires walking among them, fae having hunting-parties, mages throwing fireballs - began to doubt, then forget.
      Mortals in the oWoD are not the mortals of Real Life; this is stated multiple times in multiple games. World of Darkness Humanity retreated so completely from the supernatural forces that both benefited and (more often) abused them that they've willingly if unconsciously cocooned themselves against the possibility of anything not Mundane. This active-if-unconscious mass disbelief is why the World of Darkness is so dark (the Unbelief stifles both creativity/inspiration/wonder and the wondrous-if-often-horrifying things Mankind fears), why mages can't take risks without the chance of Unbelief whammying them, why demons have to work so hard to make even one mortal Believe, and so on.
    • First off, the World of Darkness is not a Pure Reflection of our world, it's a Darker and Edgier version of our world where things are generally worse all around. Secondly, just because someone believes in Christ/The Prophet Muhameed/The flying spagetti monster/etc. doesn't mean they believe that a normal person can just call lightning down from a cloudless sky or transform into superman. Third, what insane form of logic makes you think that 80% of humanity shares the same definition of miracles? You have hundreds if not thousands of different variations of the main religions out there, and not all of them believe in such overt miracles. Just taking into account Christianity, Jesus turned water into wine, managed to duplicate fish and bread, rose someone from the dead and came back himself. Turning water into wine counts as concidental magic, but the others are pretty serious magic. And keep in mind Christians beleive these miracles happened because Jesus was the son of god, which is a very exclusive title. Believing in Christ isn't the same as believing people can alter reality itself. You also translate "don't believe in evolution" to "disbelieving in the laws of reality." The books have a great example; using magic to crush a car. No matter what religious beliefs people have, they are not going to buy that a person can crush an entire car into a cube with his bare hands; it's not physically possible for anyone to do that, hence paradox. So that's the reason why Mages don't sling magic around as they wish; because people have been conditioned over the course of centuries to not believe in such overt magic. The only magic that doesn't bring on paradox is ones that onlookers can rationalise in some way as being possible.
      • Right, I know it's not an exact reflection but just how much Darker and Edgier? I mean, at some point you're creating a world so dark and so 'edgy' that you're utterly divorcing it from reality which kinda misses the point of creating an urban fantasy world entirely.
        Anyway while religions certainly disagree on the details, there's still plenty of similarities they share. Most religions have their form of saints, prophets or messiahs. Each and every one of those is often accompanied by miracles. That's what I'm saying, mages could disguise themselves as saints or prophets and disguise magic as "Miracles of God".
        The thing about evolution is about just how much people distrust science. This isn't about laws of reality. Because, remember, there aren't any - there's just the Consensus. And here's the deal: people just aren't that enthusiastic about it. And this means that there's just not that much belief behind it. People need to believe, truly believe, to make a paradigm the dominant one. Science just isn't backed by this sort of belief and public trust. Whereas, there's tons of belief behind religions, which means that if you adjust your magic to fit the religious paradigm(or, on an UFO convention, convince the people that you're using alien technology etc.) or claim to be psychic(or a medium... since a great number of people believe in psychic phenomena), the majority of people should buy that explanation.
      • The oWoD is Darker and Edgier to the point where corruption is a lot more widespread, people are a lot more jaded, the world is being manipulated by ancient vampires so well we don't even realise they exist, etc. etc. One specific example was that even in the 90s Australia didn't regonise the Aboriginal people as citizens (of course the book that was from was one of White Wolf's worst, so...). In general people are less optimistic in the oWoD than in reality. And that's before you factor in that the Technocracy has spent several centuries shaping the consensus to stamp out vulgar magic.
        I think you're missing the point with my different religious example; tell me what common miracles are preformed in all denominations? Do Christian Miracles line up well with Pagan miracles which line up with Hindu miracles which line up with Spiritalist Miracles? Because if they don't perfectly match up then you're going to get hit with Paradox if you try it. For instance, if you find a group of Protestants who share the same idea of what miracles a prophet could preform, and you happen to interpret how you preform magic as being that way, then yes, a Mage could tailor his magic to appear like one of those miracles. But if just one person does not share that same idea, then the Mage gets hit with the full force of Paradox. So disguising yourself as a Saint is like playing a game of russian roulette where you don't know how many chambers there are and how many are loaded. In order to not get hit with paradox a Mage would have to know the precise religious beliefs of every sleeper witnessing it. And considering that even when you break it down to a denomination level you won't find a complete consensus (for instance, why are you so sure all Catholics believe in miracles? I was raised Catholic and I don't believe that someone can heal someone just by laying on hands). AND even if you did manage to perfectly tailor your magic to your auidence, which would require so much effort there's really no point when concidential magic works fine, then they'd just tell other people about it and you'll find more and more sleepers coming to see the "saint," not to mention you can expect the Society of Leopold and the Technocratic Union to take an interest in you.
      • And in this "Saint" example, bear in mind that believing in historical saints is not the same as believing people can replicate their feats in the modern age, nor does it guarantee that your character fits someone's image of a believable saint. In fact, for that to work, you'd probably have to convince them of your saintliness before working magic, which is only going to result in your character having a small loony cult they can safely do vulgar magic around.
      • You seem to be missing the point on how the Consensus works; it has to tailor exactly to how they percieve reality working. At your UFO convention example, the Mage would have to limit their magic entirely in the confines of what the sleepers could rationalise as Alien Technology. If they slip up one time and do something that can't fit within that interpretation of what's going on, or a group of sleepers who don't believe in aliens just happens to witness them using vulgar magic, then Paradox hits them hard. So in short, in order to avoid paradox, a Mage has to believe that their magic works that way to begin with, then they have to make sure that ALL the sleepers around them share that same belief as well, and they have to make sure that every act of magic they preform fits squarely within those bounds, then they could do magic without paradox. But those are very, very, specific circumstances, and in general it's really not worth it when you can disguise your magic as concidental instead (for instance in my car crushing example above, the mage could use his magic to weaken a light pole so it'll topple in just the right way to crush the car, and any sleepers witnessing that would rationalise it away as being within the confines of what's possible).
      • I can't remember which book it was but White Wolf addressed this point. People the World of Darkness do believe in miracles etc, but in a rather low-level way. It's this that allows the lesser magics that crop up in some books to exist and why they don't cause Paradox. Vampires, Werewolves and Hunters have cosmic powers backing their existance (God, Gaia and the Messengers) and the Demons are cosmic powers, so they do all right. But Mages and to a lesser extent Changlings are reshaping reality itself, not exploiting loopholes, which is a step too far for the Consensus.
      • Another thing to consider is that maybe mages are able to get away with their magic because people DO believe, to an extent, in miracles and the like. The game mechanics offer, for the sake of simplicity, the distinction of everything into "non-vulgar" and "vulgar", but I find it to be only for gameplay purposes. Many examples of non-vulgar magic describe something that really defies the laws of reality in substantial ways (pulling an object out of your trenchcoat that wasn't there a moment ago IS against the laws of nature, even if people who look upon this don't realise that. This should not be a distinction between vulgar and non-vulgar, but between observed and not observed, which already exists in the rules). As it's possible to invoke reality-warping effects with impunity if they are convincing enough, it stands to reason that the distinction might not be as black-and-white as the game rules imply. On the "real" end of the scale would be any advanced science by Technocrats, followed closely by things out of science fiction, then the "wow, that's incredible!" stuff like superhuman speed, then "I can't believe it!" things like magic potions and miracles, and only then come the most paradoxical things, magic given no Hand Wave. If anything that people considered improbable if they knew what was going on caused heavy Paradox, non-Technocratic magic would be literally impossible. As it is, magic works best when you can justify it well enough. A miracle would probably be more believable if it changes water into wine than when it makes a person explode into bloody bits. Voodoo or steampunk-ish devices would cause less paradox when raising a person from the dead than snapping one's fingers - even if people still went "no, that's impossible" if they saw it.
      • Faith healing is in fact often considered Coincidental. However such displays tend to draw the attention of the Technocracy, who are often more dogged than Paradox spirits. Think of all the real-life pastors who get caught shtupping teenagers—in the World of Darkness a fair amount of them were probably framed by the New World Order to discredit them (it being the World of Darkness a lot of the genuinely bad pastors probably never get caught...)
      • Baiscaly the above; Magic runs on the Suspension of Disbelief in regards to paradox. With the trenchcoat example above, sure the item wasn't there before, but to an observer it could have been in there. But if someone pulled an RPG out of a lunchbox, no one can buy that as plausable. But the point of the original poster was that Mages should be able to preform all kinds of magic at the drop of the hat because most of the world is religious and thus believes in miracles (and I'm not getting into the logical fallacies of that again). To simplify an incredibly complicated system, non-vulgar magic is anything that the average man could witness and rationalise away as a concidence (hence the alternative name for it, concidential magic).
      • Problem is, the difference between "vulgar" and "coincidential" magic can get slightly subjective. According to the system, changing water into wine would be labeled coincidential, while throwing a fireball in front of a crowd would be considered vulgar. However, to this troper, it seems illogical. While the fireball is certainly a more blatant way of using magic, it's also a short-term effect, over in a second; unless you're under close scrutiny, it's surprisingly easy to rationalise ("He fired a flare gun" or "It was pyrotechnics", ect). Same goes for calling down lightning from the sky, or disappearing in a cloud of smoke. Meanwhile, changing water into wine is a lasting effect, which makes it quite harder to rationalise, since you can just take another look at it and confirm that your eyes didn't deceive you. If my water bottle suddenly turned to chianti right in the middle of an outdoor trip, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a logical explanation...
      • The issue is how many people can tell the water was changed. If you change it before anyone tastes it, then it's coincidential. If you changed it after everyone poured themselves a drink and kept staring at it, then it'd be vulgar. You seem to be confusing the examples a bit by not grasping that the same act can be concidential or vulgar magic depending on the situation. As for the other example, if the person had a flare gun and used that to channel the fireball, that would be concidential because the consensus would rationalise it away as being the flare gun. For calling down that lightning bolt, there'd be no way to rationalise it if it was a clear blue sky. Again, Vulgar magic is anything that is blantantly impossible and could not be explained away (the crushing a car with your bare hands example for instance). Concidential is anything that can be explained away, which in your wine changing example would not fit because the people knew it was water for a fact before hand.
      • I tended to use the rule of "give them an excuse". With the fireball, a flare gun or even a random thing that looks like a detonator might give you some lee-way. With water into wine, drop sugar pills into it, and no one will doubt it. I've also let people use stuff like Reality Is Unrealistic or Hollywood Physics to perform tricks without paradox.
      • There is a hard and definite rule for whether a spell is coincidental or vulgar: can you convince the Storyteller that it's coincidental? If so, it's coincidental. The fact that this will be inconsistent, often seemingly self-contradictory, and sometimes will change under what appears to the character to be the exact same conditions isn't a bug or weakness of the system, it's the underlying theme of the game. The entire world is a matter of will: your enlightened will, other magical creatures' kind-of-enlightened will, and the unenlightened but _absurdly massive_ steamroller of sleeper will. That this makes the world inconsistent and more than a bit unstable is where your character's power comes from, if the mechanics were definite then you wouldn't be able to do anything at all. The usual running trend I use is that you can get away with almost anything as coincidental once. Fireball from a lighter and hairspray can? sure. Do it enough times, though, and even if no one is observing the consensus will start to realize something it was giving a pass isn't quite right.
  • The Celestial Chorus. Let me get this straight: You awaken, almost certainly due to your faith in a higher power, an absolute certainty in Jesus, or Allah, or simply the I Am. You are then inducted into an order that argues that you're wrong, or at least that all those heretic beliefs are equally true as yours. How many would seriously agree on this? It just seems that they'd be seriously discordant.
    • It's implied - and outright stated in at least a few cases - that for the most part Awakening as a Chorister means realizing that all Gods are manifestations of the same God— That 'one religion is right' is just another aspect of the mundane world restricting one's mind and potential, the same way they used to "know" you couldn't heal a person, walk through walls, or travel dimensions. A few people don't get it, their prejudices twisting the meaning, but for the most part Choristers believe in Many Notes, One Song.
    • By and large the Choristers do not come from fundamentalist backgrounds—they are likely to have a very inclusive theism such as Unitarian Universalism. By the Renaissance most of the rigid, militaristic religious mages were part of the Order of Reason and were called Gabrielites, aka the Cabal of Pure Thought. Around the time the Order of Reason became the Technocratic Union, the Gabrielites became the New World Order, ditching the religiosity but keeping the authoritarianism and mind control. Modern-day fundamentalist mages would mostly be craft mages.
  • Just out of curiosity, is it ever revealed what the rationalisation for the Nephandi is? I mean, I know they're evil mages who are all down with Cthulhu, but does anyone ever explain why? Why would anybody, who has the potential to realistically and accurately declare A God Am I when they ascend, EVER throw that away and become a Nephandus? Just curious if anyone knows of a sourcebook that explains it.
    • Actually, the books make it clear that A God Am I is precisely the opposite of what you need to do to ascend. The more powerful you are, the less likely ascension becomes. This is because magical power is of the here and now, while ascension is of the there and later. Additionally, becoming more powerful is much harder than the sourcebooks sometimes make it out to be, what with your Avatar often directly resisting your efforts to become so. Thus the usual reasons for making deals with the devil stand.
    • Why do some people chose ot become killers? Why do some people enjoy hurting others? There is no shortage of reasons why someone would become a Nephandus, ranging from incredibly complex personal reasons to having "one bad day." And what are the downsides? Ascension is such a lofty goal most characters wouldn't even be sure it's even possible. I mean how many Mages ever ascend and reach that a god I am level of power? If it's so rare you could go your whole existance without meeting another Mage who will manage it, then whose to say you're throwing it away by getting down with Cthulhu?
    • Yes: All Nephandi have their Patterns twisted and warped to such a great degree that they're literally inversed, and avatars - which are naturally geared towards creation and Ascension - become dark reflections geared towards destruction and Descent. Now, as to how exactly a Nephandus winds up twisted varies: Some are tortured by Nephandi into entering the Caul, others are driven to it through madness, desperation, or - as noted in Sorcerer's Crusade - even the extremes of hedonism caused by being too bored and jaded. I imagine at least a few are insane, but their insanity is intentional and thus evil (as opposed to the often-incidental damage caused by Marauders), and most Nephandi are born with their avatars twisted from a past life since warped Nephandi avatars get reincarnated the same way normal ones do.
    • The main appeal of joining the Nephandi is that in the World of Darkness, they are winning. Entropy follows stasis in the cosmic cycle; the world has been in stasis for some time now thanks to the Technocracy.
      • is there any actual mechanical benefit to joining the Nephandi? As far as I can remember, they just get 'darker' versions of the normal spheres and a crapload of paradox. You'd think that team evil would have some shinier toys to play with.
      • It is implied in some places that their dark gods grant them favours and other beenies. What form those take is anyone's guess, but they seem to be helpful. Also, they are on the same team as the wyrm, which, IMO, is the only bit of the metaphysical trinity to have formal reasoning skills.
  • The Men in Black want to blend in. Why do MIB's from the 90's wear fedoras, as if they were government agents from the 50's or earlier? Usually the Technocracy operates on practicality rather than Rule of Cool.
    • Magick. The outfits are designed to tap into a subconscious part of the sleeper masses to blend them in.
  • When the Technocracy captures and brainwashes Tradition mages, it is implied the Technocracy gains new mages to fight the Ascension War for them. I can see this happening with Sons of Ether and Virtual Adepts, but how exactly is a mystic mage supposed to assimilate into the Technocracy with any great usefulness? Once these mages' paradigms are "disproven" they will no longer be able to work magic. Even if for some reason their Avatars didn't just go to sleep, re-teaching someone magic in a scientific paradigm would take a long time because the pupil would need to acquire an advanced scientific or technical education.
    • You're misunderstanding what technomancers are. An advanced scientific or technical education is not required to be a technomancer, all that is required is that the mage believe in the scientific paradigm. The Technocracy makes shit up just as much as the Traditions do, and then they teach their made up stuff to the masses in the form of advanced scientific and technical educations. The sort of science and technology you learn in regular institutions is precisely the same as the hedge magic you'd learn as a Hermetic apprentice in that you only learn it until you Awaken, after which you realize where those rules came from and how they can be changed. A Mage converted to the Technocracy might need to study up to create new rotes, but they'd be able to use Advanced Procedures immediately once they were shown 'how' they work.
    • The NWO Convention book says they brainwash people into it. Besides, you don't need Medicine 5 to know Life 5. You'd just be a Bunny Ears Progenitor (and probably Verbena since they have that sort of thing anyway).
    • The Guide to the Technocracy book details the process of brainwashing mages (called Social Conditioning) to be technocrats. It happens in levels from 1-10, with level 1 giving the mage a vision of what his/her paradigm will become if he/she joins the Technocracy. Level 3, the mage can no longer use non-technological foci. Level 5, the mage can opt to learn a Technocratic focus for one of his/her spheres. Level 7, the mage gains technological foci for all of his/her spheres and is functionally a Technocrat. You are right: it would take a long time and lot of effort to re-educate a mystical mage to be a technocrat. The Technocracy is willing to spend that time and effort.
      • Furthermore, the above makes sense when you recall the Technocrats actions have endangered people being to Ascend in the first place. As such, recruiting/brainwashing Mages into Technocrats serves as a way to not only get fresh Technocrats in, but still manage to "beat" the opposition. So the ultimate "end goal" could be the Technocrats fully absorbing the Traditions and thus having mass numbers to fight against any other foe (though it'd leave them vulnerable to Threat Null).