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Mage 2.0

The old Mage game was a great game. Okay, the system was a mess. Everything depended on Arete, and your individual spheres were almost a formality if you had an active imagination. The game rewarded sinking everything into one trait at the expense of all others .. but beyond that, it was great fun. It was deeply grounded in a cultural zeitgeist that everyone "got" right away. We made characters that were tremendous fun to play because there were so many tags from various movies, books and comics that filled those characters up with some reference to a shared experience. When you made Chun Li, the Golden Child, we just "got" it right away - we'd seen that sort of Kung Fu movie enough times that it was a trope that we all understood. You breathed your own weird life into the role, but you were tapping into a sort of Jungian-Dork Archetype that loaned weight to your character. The same with Mark's coin-flipping Euthanatos Venetian, or Dallis' mad scientist ... these were all great characters that let us do what a good RPG lets a player do -- be that guy that you read about or saw, and thought to yourself, "Yeah, I want to do that!"

New Mage, like new Vampire, jettisons that entirely. Like new Vampire, it does it to create a more complicated and sophisticated political environment. The Traditions are watered down into utterly unrecognizable and largely boring iterations of the same basic theme - a lost Atlantean culture. There's no longer any sense of pop-culture grounding, they all have esoteric names that do ape the kinds of names that real world occult groups have - "Adamant Arrow" in the game, "Golden Dawn" in the real world. But they don't have any particular verve, nor depth, and don't inspire that all-important, "Oh yeah, I want to be that guy!" moment. There's far more room for politics, however - the game creates organically a necessity for mages of different Traditions to gather and try and learn from each other, even while keeping their most potent secrets for themselves. These "cabals" also gather into larger, regional courts - which are also divided along Tradition lines. So, every PC will have an allegiance to their Cabal, their Tradition, and to some faction or another in the regional court. Plenty of opportunity for conflict, and after all - conflict is story. PC's can work together even as they compete with each other, which I admit would probably make for a really great tabletop experience, particularly with a group like ours, where bickering, bloviating and bombast are the order of the day. I'd like to see the game played with the ol' Tuesday group... but I wonder if anyone would find anything interesting about the new game world.

The old Mage was a terrific world with a messed-up mechanical system, and limited opportunities for conflict, except with the NPC baddies. The new Mage is a boring world with a great mechanical system, and plenty of opportunity for conflict. Maybe when they press the reset button on WoD 2.0, and go to 3.0 - they'll do the smart thing and keep what worked, and jettison what didn't. The old gameworld really did work, and wasn't what needed fixing. Adding complexity would have done the trick - perhaps creating a more urgent need for mages to associate cross-Tradition. But replacing the colorful, textured and nuanced traditions with shallow iterations on an uninspired (Atlantean) theme did a distinct disservice to the original game.

On the plus side (to do a Wickian review) the game looks gorgeous. The new artwork has a great style with lots of esoteric looking doodads everywhere. The fonts chosen for the book are beautiful and lend a lot of flavor to the text, and I've found precious few grammatical errors, which is always refreshing. On the other hand, as per the White Wolf usual, its organization is a mish-mash mess. Stuff is just scattered all over the place, and it's largely repetitive even within the first few pages. Also as per the White Wolf usual, the flavor text is skippable and uninspiring. The binding on the book looks sturdy, and it's an impressive tome with a beautiful cover. It kind of looks like a magical grimoire, which is a nice touch.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 3rd, 2005 04:59 pm (UTC)
"...and your individual spheres were almost a formality if you had an active imagination."

I'll drink to that. God, I love Mage.
Prime makes everything better.
Ave Hermetica.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC)
If you had enough Spirit, you could do anything. Just conjure up a Spirit to do it for you!
Oct. 3rd, 2005 06:35 pm (UTC)
And lets not forget that you can make toast with any one sphere....
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC)
That's a good review.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC)
Gracias, senor.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:20 pm (UTC)
I really loved Old mage. I am wary of all the WoD revamps. I disagree that the politics of Old mage were not complicated enough though... but coming ip with reasons to do stuff was left yto thew storytellers, and not inherent in the system... and that's the way I like it. I hate the idea of world/system plotlines that WW has apparenlty become obsesed with. Let us tell our own damed stories with your concepts.

I love old mage's versatility. I love its approach of 'postmodernism taken litterally'. It was great fun, and I'm sad that I only ever got to play one real campaign :/
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:23 pm (UTC)
I agree, it all get left up to the Storyteller to create a setting for conflict and politics. And a good ST could do so with all the tools available, for sure.

But - I think having "the enemy" be someone you can sit down and have a chat with, and not necessarily kill-on-sight makes for an improvement in the game. The conflict is more nuanced. That's all I'm saying.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:33 pm (UTC)
I guess I always saw the traditions in Old Mage as being kind of that way,.... they weren't really friends, some of them less than others, but more or less stood together in opposing the technocracy, the nephandi, etc. they certainly had their own agendas, and could be pretty political. Even *inside* some traditions (or other forces... the Technocracy,definitely ;) was pretty political.

What I *really* loevd about Old mage was that the bad guys were only bad as a matter of point of view. Or they could be made that way, anyway, so that it really *wasn't* a cse of black and white, kill on site (Okay, yes, maybe the nephandi were just really evil. Maybe. But is that a bad thing? A *completely* bad thing?).... All this depending on the characters and their particular idioms, of course.

Maybe I just like the technocracy too much to accept that none of them really ever believed that they were trying to do what they claimed, and that they were really doing the right thing.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:38 pm (UTC)
I totally agree that the Technocracy were great villains, because they truly believed that the Tradition mages were actually doing the world harm, and that they were trying to do the right thing. Nothing makes a Bad Guy more credible than a zealot who believes he's right.

But... there was no sense that there was a dialogue between the Traditions and the Technocracy. They were utterly opposed to each other, and had no common grounds on which to meet and have conflict in any way other than attempting to foil or destroy each other.

New Mage removes that "shirts vs. skins" restriction, which is a good thing. An even better thing would have been, in my opinion, to keep the Technocracy and the Traditions just as they were, but make them competitors instead of enemies. In this Hypothetical New Mage, if you were a, say Celestial Chorister, you might have a really good friend who was even a Cabal-mate that was NWO. It would be sort of embarassing, and you'd disagree a lot - sort of like having a Republican friend - but you wouldn't be out to destroy each other. It would be more like, "Well, we'll both just work some magic and see who's right, at the end of the day, ok?"

There was no room for that, in Old Mage ... at least not without some serious tinkering with the world setting.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 05:52 pm (UTC)
ahh, I see... It is a shame that they have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, then. I htink that it would be a lot more fun with the traditions.... but then they couldn't just bill it as a new game, could they? :p
Oct. 3rd, 2005 06:28 pm (UTC)
Solid review. It's one of those YMMV cases, I think. I never wanted to tinker with the screwy mechanics of the old game, and I don't tend to stick to the WW settings very closely, either, so the new game is a better bet for me, I think. I'm about 1/2 through my first read of it.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 08:49 pm (UTC)
Don't be fooled by sturdy looking binding. The binding White Wolf went with this time is shit. I have Requiem book that the binding started to go bad after about three days. The rest of the books are not fairing much better.
My only hope for mage in this iteration is for a system that does not cause too many crack problems like it did with the last system. My other big issue is once again secret society, you can only have so many running around before you start bumping heads and once again the balance of power is in favor of the mages.

But don't mind me I even hated the original mage system.
Oct. 3rd, 2005 09:11 pm (UTC)
Interesting note about the binding.

As for crack problems - indeed, if you had a non-vigilant ST, it could get out of hand. Of course, maybe the point of Mage was that it would get out of hand.. that was part of the joy of the system, "Hey, I really CAN turn a vampire into a lawn chair!"
Oct. 3rd, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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