Notes toward “Mage: The Ascension 2.0”, part one – Traditions and Spheres

Writing that crossover between Mage and Planescape the other day got me thinking about what Mage would be like if you were to run it now. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that this what not only something I wanted to do, but would also give me the chance to fix a few things that had always bothered me in the past.

Like, for example, the way that the Spheres and Traditions never really made sense to me the way they were.

First, here’s a brief reminder of how it is in the game, from the Wikipedia entry on it:

  • Mages of Akashic Brotherhood are ascetics, martial artists, and monks, largely drawing from Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism and other such religions. They are masters of the sphere of Mind.
  • Mages of Celestial Chorus are pious believers in a supreme being that encompasses all Gods ever worshipped. They are masters of the sphere of Prime, the raw essence that fuels magic itself.
  • Mages of Cult of Ecstasy are intuitive seers using sensory stimulation, consciousness-expanding techniques, and meditation. They are masters of the sphere of Time.
  • Mages of Dreamspeakers are shamanistic emissaries to the spirit world. They are masters of Spirit magic, such as summoning or binding spirits, necromancy, creating fetishes and travelling to the Umbra.
  • Mages of Euthanatos are Thanatoic willworkers and killers drawing from a legacy of death-cults in India, Greece, and the cultures of the Arabs and Celts. They are masters of the sphere of Entropy.
  • Mages of Order of Hermes are formalized sorcerers, alchemists, and mystics drawing from classical occult practices. They are masters of the sphere of Forces.
  • Mages of Sons of Ether are inspiration-oriented scientists dedicated to fringe theories and alternative science. They are masters of the sphere of Matter.
  • Mages of Verbena are blood-shamans, healers and primordial witches and warlocks. They are masters of the sphere of Life.
  • Mages of Virtual Adepts are technological adepts capable of informational wizardry. They are masters of the sphere of Correspondence, magic dealing with three-dimensional location and space, communications.

Now, some of these work very well for me. The Verbena should be asigned Life, and the Dreamspeakers should be assigned Spirit. No arguments there.

But some Traditions just seemed to have been created to fill a void – notably the Euthanatos, who are a reasonable fit with Entropy, but whose historical basis is weaker than that of almost any other traditions.

But if historical basis is the watchword, then surely a group of medieval alchemists like the Order of Hermes should have Matter rather than Forces? And while the Akashic Brotherhood are a good fit for Mind, is not the Cult of Ecstasy, with its emphasis on consciousness expansion, a better one?

And so on. Once you change one, you have to change at least one other, and it becomes like musical chairs. After all the swaps had been made, this is what I wound up with:

Tradition Old Sphere New Sphere
Akashic Brotherhood Mind Forces
Celestial Chorus Prime Prime
Cult of Ecstasy Time Mind
Dreamspeakers Spirit Spirit
Euthanatos Entropy Time
Order of Hermes Forces Matter
Sons of Ether Matter Entropy
Verbena Life Life
Virtual Adepts Correspondence Correspondence

My rationales are as follows:
First of all, the ones who stay the same should be fairly obvious why, although for the Celestial Chorus and the Virtual Adepts, it’s more a case of least worst fit than a good fit – the Chorus have a reasonable claim to Spirit, but the Dreamspeakers have a better one, so that’s that. The Virtual Adepts get to keep Correspondence because although it doesn’t fit that well with them (in my opinion), it fits even less well with anyone else.

The Akashics get Forces because this seems to fit with their manipulation of energies better than anything else. Not a perfect fit, but the Akashics are a tricky one to match – most of the spheres that would work for them work still better elsewhere.

The Cult of Ecstasy, as mentioned above, get Mind. Think of them a little less as Jim Morrison and a little more as Tim Leary.

The Euthanatos get Time, because they always seemed to me to be concerned more with fate than death per se – the idea that each person should die at the appointed time has as its logical concomittant that they should live until then.

The Order of Hermes, descended from the Western alchemical movement, make the most sense to me with Matter – if you look at the classic alchemical texts, they even use Matter as a metaphor for all their workings, whatever spheres they would actually entail in the world of Mage.

The Sons of Ether get Entropy for two reasons: 1) it fits better here than anywhere else, and 2) the Mage books make it clear that the Etherites are inevitably destined to fail with each of their inventions. Entropy represents that tendency – without even being that aware of it (no more than a fish is of water) they work it into all their creations.

Now, these reassignments would necessarily imply a whole buttload of shiny new rotes to go with them, but I always preferred to make things more improvised anyway, so that’s a job for another time (and ideally, from my perspective, another writer).

Next time: the Magickal History of the world for the last twenty years.

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