For the most part, creating magical effects with the Mage system is very simple, but is also somewhat tricky.
The article on Magic is more of a theoretical and worldview-centric page, while this article can be regarded as a quick-reference guide to how the game mechanics of Magick work.
Raw Power Edit
- "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."
- - Albert Einstein
First off: No matter what you're doing, how many Spheres you're utilizing, what you're targeting, if you're wearing a hat with blinking lights or are dancing around naked and screaming, you will only be rolling your Arete to determine the effect created. Just Arete. However, there's nothing saying you have to use all your Arete dice. Feel like only rolling 2 dice when you could be rolling 4? Go for it. You're not going to get as large an Effect, but the chances of a horrific botch are lessened.
Now here's where it gets tricky. Depending on if the magic is Coincidental (that is, easily believable as 'normal' should a mundane spot you doing it), Vulgar (flying in the face of reality itself), with or without witnesses, and the levels of the Spheres involved, the difficulty of the roll will vary wildly.
Baseline difficulties are as follow:
- Coincidental Magic
- Difficulty = Highest Sphere used + 3
- Vulgar Magic (No Sleeper witnesses)
- Difficulty = Highest Sphere used + 4
- Vulgar Magic (Sleeper witnesses)
- Difficulty = Highest Sphere used + 5
- Note: "Sleepers" are those masses of humanity that buy into the current Dominant Paradigm of Static Reality. They're called Sleepers in comparison to mages, who are known as the Awakened. Other supernatural creatures (werebeasts, vampires, fae, etc) do not count as Sleepers, and even common mortals can be educated to the point where they no longer qualify for this label (becoming known to mages as Consors and Acolytes). Depending on how clued in they are, Kinfolk may or may not count as Sleepers.
You may spend Quintessence to lower your difficulty on a one-for-one basis, to a maximum of 3. Keep in mind that to draw Quintessence from an outside source to directly fuel an effect requires Prime3. Other modifiers to difficulty could be anything from a noisy and distracting situation (which would make it worse) to having meditated and reached a well-balanced state for an hour beforehand (which would make it easier). Total modifiers for any given effect cannot exceed 3, in either direction. Thus, the difficulty for a vulgar Forces2 effect without witnesses would never be lower than 3 and never higher than 9 (2 + 4 = 6 for base difficulty, then +/- 3).
- Example 1
|A Mage with Arete 3 wants to cause a Coincidental effect that requires Forces 2 and Correspondence 1 (making a light bulb short out around the corner). They will roll 3 dice against difficulty 5 ((Forces 2) + 3).|
- Example 2
|A Mage with Arete 3 wants to cause a Vulgar effect that requires Forces 2 and Prime 3 (using Quintessence from a nearby Node to fuel a kinetic shield). They are in an area without Sleeper witnesses, so they roll 3 dice against difficulty 7 ((Prime 3) + 4).|
- Example 3
|A Mage with Arete 4 wants to cause a Vulgar effect that requires Life 3 and Prime 3 (altering his hands into fighting claws and using Quintessence from a nearby Node to lower the difficulty). They are creating this effect in full view of Sleepers, so they roll 4 dice against a base difficulty of 8 ((Life 3) + 5).|
Obviously, it is in a mage's best interests to try and stay Coincidental as much as possible, but this can get messy as well. As unlikely coincidences pile up (their gun just happened to jam, they just happened to trip, the door just happened to be unlocked...) the Domino Effect may come into play. Namely, it is the GM's prerogative to increase the base difficulty of sequential coincidental effects as the suspension of disbelief gets more and more stretched. Sure, anyone can get a hand of 4 aces and a king in Vegas if they're lucky. But three times in a row? Reality spank.
In themselves, magickal Effects rarely require Quintessence, though it can make them easier to perform. Some artifacts require an injection of Quintessence to function, and some of the larger rotes would be far too difficult to enact without a helpful dose of the stuff. When a Mage starts play, they have a number of points of Quintessence equal to their rating in the Background: Avatar (read the writeup of this background, if you haven't already, seriously).
Sometimes, Quintessence may be rendered into a material form known as "Tass." This is literally crystallized magical energy. It can be drained into a Mage's Quintessence pool with Prime3, but sometimes it is used in its material form by certain artifacts or rituals (quite a few technomagical devices have a slot for "pawns" of tass, as they are known).
As will always happen, someone's going to try using magick to hurt someone else. Here's a quick-reference chart for how much hurt they can inflict, based on successes rolled, or how long a given effect lasts.
Generally speaking, you simply compare your successes rolled to this chart, but some effects may require a certain "buffer" of successes to get to work properly before they can actually do anything. Like if you're aiming at multiple targets, each one may require an individual success before the following table even comes into play, and would effectively "eat" those successes (i.e. something requiring at least 3 total successes to get to the level to actually cause any damage (normally requiring only 2)).
|2||Successes x 1||One scene|
|3||Successes x 2||One day|
|4||Successes x 2||One story|
|5||Successes x 2||Six months|
|6+||Successes x 3||GM's option|
- Forces automatically add one success when used for damage, but can almost always be soaked and/or dodged. (i.e. roll 3 successes, use the "4" row on the table)
- Mind automatically subtracts one success when inflicting damage, but cannot be soaked. (i.e. roll 3 successes, use the "2" row)
- Direct Entropy attacks do no damage at all until the fourth level, but incidental attacks (crumbling walls, etc.) inflict normal damage.
Required Successes Edit
Some Effects are harder to work than others, as mentioned above. Here are some guidelines for required successes. Generally, these thresholds are designed for "all or nothing" style effects, not damage (for that, see the chart in the Damage section), but can still be used as a good baseline for how hard something might be to pull off. GM discretion always applies.
|Simple||Changing the color of your own eyes, lighting a candle, using Mind to sense someone nearby, conjuring a business card||1|
|Standard||Changing your own shape, causing an oil lamp to explode, influencing someone's mood with Mind, conjuring a ball of flame||2|
|Difficult||Transforming into something bigger or smaller than yourself, igniting a gas main, deep-reading someone's mind, conjuring a chainsaw||3|
|Impressive||Changing someone else's shape, blowing up a house, taking over someone's mind, conjuring a car, making yourself disappear||4|
|Mighty||Turning someone into sludge, incinerating an armored tank, obliterating someone's mind, conjuring a mythic beast, making all furniture in a room disappear||5-10|
|Outlandish||Turning a roomful of people into sludge, igniting a warship's weaponry, Mind-controlling a horde of madmen, conjuring a demon, making a mansion disappear||10-20|
|Godlike||Making a skyscraper disappear, finding one particular person in New York with Mind, summoning a horror from the Deep Umbra, levitating a mountain, creating a Horizon Realm||20+|
Your Sphere rankings do nothing except tell you the breadth of effects you can generate. They reflect what your Mage has learned about the way reality and magic work, and how to influence them. For example:
Having Forces2 means that you understand the various forces of the universe enough that you can nudge the simpler ones around a bit, but you can't yet create them. They have to be there in the first place for you to play with. This is not a limit on what you can do with those forces. While the more complex forces are still outside your understanding, simple things like electricity, fire, cold, etc. are well within your grip. So yes, you can throw lightning if you've got a source of electricity (any source). However, one must consider the risks of such vulgar acts of magic (see: Paradox).
For examples of what sorts of effects the various Spheres can do at various levels, look at their writeups in the Category:Spheres of Magic.
Many people confuse a Mage's foci with their actual Effects (though for technomancers this is often the case). Foci in themselves do nothing, though without them a Mage cannot even access their relevant Sphere abilities. They must have the relevant focus on hand to use the Sphere associated with it within their Paradigm. This can be wildly inconvenient with certain foci (most Hermetics, for instance, use spell-circles drawn on the ground around them for Spirit effects) but that's how the cookie crumbles.
Another trouble people new to Mage sometimes have is figuring out how foci fit into how their character does magic. In this case, there is no hard and fast rule, but suggestions can be given. Basically, try to get into your character's headspace as much as possible, viewing scenarios through their Paradigm, and try to envision what sorts of items, behaviors, etc. they would use to touch certain facets of reality.
Many Verbena use blood as their focus for Life effects because without it, nothing can live. From that perspective, blood is life, or at least provides an essential link between the flesh and whatever it is that creates life.
On the other hand, a Son of Ether may use medical apparatus for their Life effects, such as a fancied-up X-ray machine or CAT scanner to perform scans, tanks full of Healing Goop(tm) for repair work, etc.
In the end, every mage's foci are a deeply personal aspect of their personality and Paradigm. Even if two mages share the same focus for a given Sphere, their reasoning and methodology for it may vary wildly.
Discarding Foci Edit
Once a Traditionalist Mage has reached Arete2, however, they can begin to "discard" their foci, starting with their Tradition's affinity Sphere (Life for Verbena, Forces for Hermetics, you get the idea). A Sphere with a discarded focus can be used without needing to have that focus around. However, if the Mage chooses to use their focus anyway, they receive a -1 difficulty to the roll.
Technomancers, however, are more intrinsically linked to their foci, having come from a Paradigm where the device is the effect. Of the Traditions, only the Sons of Ether and the Virtual Adepts suffer from this limitation (though they largely don't notice or care), having only recently broken with the Technocracy. Technomancers may only begin discarding their foci at Arete5, but for every point beyond that they can discard two foci (i.e. a Virtual Adept reaches Arete5 and discards his Correspondence focus. At Arete6 he could then discard both his Forces and Time foci, and so on).
By Rote Edit
As their name implies, rotes are simply self-imposed patterns used as something of a recipe for magical effects. They are by no means required to create magical effects. There are no "spell lists" in this system.
However, if your Mage has a particular method he likes to use for, say, scanning a room for life-signs using Life1 and Correspondence1, that could be a rote. Certain Traditions are more bound to rotes than others, in particular the Sons of Ether (their devices and machines are their rotes, almost universally) and the Virtual Adepts (getting them to work without their computers is nigh impossible).
The most effect a rote will have versus a seat-of-your-pants casting is maybe a lessening in difficulty or time required, due to it being an old, familiar, and practiced process for the Mage in question.
Asking for Trouble Edit
Reality doesn't take kindly to being molded like clay, and resists it. This resistance is known among Mages as Paradox and it sucks. It can kill, or worse (yes, there's worse, trust us). Generally speaking, the more "wrong" a magical effect is in regards to the reality it's being created within, the worse the Paradox. Coincidental effects might not even incur Paradox at all, while wildly vulgar effects in front of mundane witnesses run the risk of not only failing outright but utterly destroying the caster in the process (and sometimes a good chunk of the surrounding scenery, as Reality seeks to erase every hint of the "wrongness"). Needless to say, most Mages do their utmost to avoid this stuff. Luckily, unless they really screw up, the Mage is able to bleed off accumulated Paradox at a rate of one point per week, so long as they don't earn any more Paradox within that week. This is Reality going "I'm watching you, punk." Mages are also able to bleed off Paradox more quickly by taking Paradox Flaws, detailed elsewhere.
Most often, the way a Mage will gain Paradox is through botching an Arete roll. Sometimes, however, effects can be so vulgar that Paradox will still be incurred even if the effect was successful (or especially so). This latter situation is at GM discretion, though every Vulgar effect, regardless of if it succeeds or not, will incur at least 1 point of Paradox.
- Coincidental Botch
- 1 point of Paradox per dot of the highest Sphere used.
- Vulgar Botch (No Sleeper witnesses)
- 1 point of Paradox for botching + 1 per dot in the highest Sphere used.
- Vulgar Botch (Sleeper witnesses)
- 2 points of Paradox for botching + 2 per dot in the highest Sphere used.
- Example 1
|A Mage with Arete 3 wants to cause a Coincidental effect that requires Forces 2 and Correspondence 1 (making a light bulb short out around the corner). They will roll 3 dice against difficulty 5 ((Forces 2) + 3). Botching this roll would gain them 2 points of Paradox.|
- Example 2
|A Mage with Arete 3 wants to cause a Vulgar effect that requires Forces 2 and Prime 3 (using Quintessence from a nearby Node to fuel a kinetic shield). They are in an area without Sleeper witnesses, so they roll 3 dice against difficulty 7 ((Prime 3) + 4). Botching this roll would gain them 4 points of Paradox.|
- Example 3
|A Mage with Arete 4 wants to cause a Vulgar effect that requires Life 3 and Prime 3 (altering his hands into fighting claws and using Quintessence from a nearby Node to lower the difficulty). They are creating this effect in full view of Sleepers, so they roll 4 dice against a base difficulty of 8 ((Life 3) + 5). Botching this roll would gain them 8 points of Paradox, and the GM would roll for Backlash.|
If a botch grants more than 5 points of Paradox in a single go, the GM rolls for Backlash (this is bad). When a backlash occurs, the GM rolls a number of dice equal to the number of Paradox points the character has, including whatever they just accumulated, difficulty 6. Every success violently (and sometimes painfully) expels one point of Paradox from the Mage in question.
|In the above example where the Mage gained 8 Paradox, let us say that they had no prior Paradox accumulated. The GM would then roll 8 dice against difficulty 6. Gaining 3 successes, he informs the Mage that they just lost 3 points of Paradox (leaving them with 5), but gained a 3-point Paradox Flaw.||If instead they were carrying 3 points of Paradox, the GM would then roll 11 dice against difficulty 6 (3 standing Paradox + the 8 just gained). This time 6 successes are gained, and likewise 6 points of Paradox are expelled from the Mage (leaving them with 5), but this time they have to deal with 6 levels of aggravated damage as Reality makes its displeasure known. Mages can always attempt to soak the damage from their Paradox backlashes.|
The effects of this can range from Paradox Flaws to physical backlash (spontaneous wounds, not fun) to the Mage being trapped within a Paradox Realm (effectively a pocket of the Umbra related to the Sphere in question). If a Mage goes long enough, with enough built up Paradox, they may enter a state of magical insanity known as Quiet. This is bad for everyone involved, not just the Mage in question, though it can result in the 'working off' of accumulated Paradox, should the Mage in question be able to work their way through their Quiet.
Backlash Effects Edit
The following are suggested Backlash effects. Depending on the Backlash in question, your mileage may vary.
- Flaws usually manifest when 5 points or less are expelled.
- Physical damage, inflicting one aggravated health level per point expelled, usually occurs during backlashes of between 5 and 15 points (yes, that means you may be at risk of taking 15 levels of agg, told you this was nasty). Really large backlashes (10 points or more) may spread their damage outward from the caster, dividing their damage between everyone within 5 yards. This damage tends to reflect the Sphere that caused the backlash (i.e. a Matter backlash having skin turn to metal or a Forces backlash manifesting as wildly arcing bolts of lightning).
- Paradox spirits may show up at any level; the bigger the backlash, the meaner the spirit.
- If more than 10 points go off at once, a Paradox Realm may manifest, punishing the Mage and possibly others in the area.
Backlash Example Edit
This sequence is from the comic Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis, and has nothing whatsoever to do with Mage. But it illustrates very well what kinds of things can happen if you severely cock up an extended ritual. This is why botching is bad, children.
Working Together Edit
Sometimes, Mages want to accomplish something big. And no Mage alone would be able to accumulate 20 successes in an effect involving five different Spheres all at rank 4, most likely (if nothing else, the risk of a botch in such a massive extended roll makes things prohibitively dangerous). In such cases, it's better to work together.
First off, every Mage involved in the working needs to have at least one dot of any relevant Sphere. Someone who knows nothing about Matter is no help to someone who does.
A given effect requires Matter4, Prime4, Spirit4 and Forces4. Every Mage involved must possess at least Matter1, Prime1, Spirit1 and Forces1. Also, the requisite Sphere levels must be present somewhere. You can't patch together Matter4 out of four people with Matter1.
Everyone working together must be able to communicate freely during the casting, through whatever means can be thought up, from telepathy to shouting to interpretive dance (provided they don't interfere with the spell itself, of course).
- If everyone involved has all the requisite Spheres at the requisite levels, they all just roll as per normal for generating an Effect. All successes are then totaled.
- If less-knowledgeable mages are assisting a more powerful one, the "leader" is the only one to roll, with every "helper" adding one auto-success.
- UnAwakened acolytes can help, too. For every 5 assistants if this sort, add one auto-success. Acolytes don't count as "witnesses" in regards to Vulgar effects (since they've been educated as to magick and all that, they just don't have any natural ability themselves). If over 100 such folk are involved, some Vulgar Effects might even be considered Coincidental, though coordinating a ritual like that would take hours, not to mention casting the thing...
Also, if anyone in the ritual botches, everyone takes Paradox equally unless they spend a Willpower to (individually) avoid it. It doesn't matter if they rolled successes, the interlinked nature of the casting spreads the fun around. Mundane followers involved can't take Paradox as such, but they can receive backlash just as easily as any other bystander.