Mage the Ascension on My Mind Part 1: Consensual Reality

Art by John Zeleznik for the
GURPS: Mage the Ascension
Role-Playing Game 
I've been thinking quite a bit recently about White Wolf's World of Darkness.  While I have been playing table top roleplaying games since the 1980s, I have always primarily played Dungeons & Dragons and its variants.  Sure, I have ran other systems: TSR's Marvel Super Heroes and West End Games Star Wars were two early favorites of mine.  

The World of Darkness games were different though.  In the late 1990's I began playing them exclusively.  While it is true that D&D 3e brought me back to the system that started it all, White Wolf's original World of Darkness always had a special place in my heart.

Of the original World of Darkness games, Mage: The Ascension is the game system that most intrigued me.  The creators of the system really put a lot of thought into how magic worked.  Despite being a common trope of the fantasy genre, how magic worked always seemed to be secondary to Dungeons & Dragons.  

This is not the case in Mage: The Ascension.  Since I have recently began rereading the Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition, I figured I might as well share some of the lore behind the magic.  Maybe this will even encourage some people who were not gaming during the heyday of the World of Darkness to check it out.

To understand how magic works in Mage: The Ascension, you first have to understand the concept of Consensual Reality.  Every person in Mage: The Ascension has a divine portion of themselves which is called an Avatar.  The Avatar means every person has the potential to shape reality.  However, only mages have "Awakened" Avatars that allow them to do this intentionally.  Mages refer to people who lack this ability as "Sleepers".

It would be foolish to discount the Sleepers though, since their collective unconscious is what forms Consensual Reality.  No mage really knows how Consensual Reality originally came about, but it forms the baseline for existence.  Under Consensual Reality the sun rises in the east, gravity keeps things from floating away and people can't just wave their hands to create fire.

Mages can use their Awakened Avatar to impose their will over the local reality.  However, they are swimming against the current when they do so.  Sometimes reality will fight back against these changes, causing various kinds problems for the mage collectively known as Paradox.  This can be anything from basic injuries, gaining Paradox Flaws, getting trapped in their own mind, or even incurring the wrath of Paradox Spirits.

Because of the nature of Consensual Reality, Paradox is usually worse when Vulgar (flashy) magic is performed in the presence of Sleepers.  Magic that is not obvious, also called Coincidental magic, is much safer to perform in front of Sleepers, but even Coincidental magic performed unobserved can generate Paradox if you are unlucky enough.

However, Consensual Reality can change over time.  In the past magic was much easier to perform without incurring Paradox.  Even today, it may be easier to perform certain types of magic in some areas of the world than in others and these geographic differences are referred to as Reality Zones.  On a smaller scale, it is also possible for individual mages or groups of mages to create Sanctums, areas where their magic is easier to perform than it would be elsewhere.

The fact that Consensual Reality can change over time has caused various groups of mages to fight for control of reality.  This fight is know as the Ascension War, and will be the subject of my next post.