Mage the Awakening, Second Edition: A Review
I’ll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.
– Alan Moore
Those, dear friends, are the words awaiting you when you open up the introduction of Mage the Awakening, Second Edition from Onyx Path Publishing for the first time. The words are blunt and straight forward and set the tone for what’s to come.
Straight from the get go, I have to say I was biased coming in to this book when it first released. At the time this came out, I’d been playing First Edition for nearly a decade and was a huge fan of David Brookshaw’s actual play write ups, The Broken Diamond, Soul Cage, and The Man Comes Around. I’d been using some of his tweaks to the setting and rules for quite some time already. When I saw that he was a Developer on Second Edition, I was already sold that it was going to deliver me an experience that was, at its core, Awakening Deluxe.
It’s honestly taken me awhile to get around to this book because I fell out of playing Chronicles of Darkness games at approximately the same time the updated book released; I got my copy of the book, did a quick read, gave an appreciative nod at some of the mechanics and then… Well, frankly I never got around to doing a full read to play a game.
Now, reading this quite some time later, first and foremost I will say: the fact that Creative Thaumaturgy no longer requires a flow chart to even begin to wrap my head around is perhaps the greatest thing about Second Edition. Mage, to me, was always a game that was about, to paraphrase a line from Disney’s Aladdin, infinite cosmic power constrained by the universe’s attempt to backhand you for it.
While there were always the defined spells in the book, the themes and ideas of Mage, I feel, are best expressed through the near-infinite possibilities of the creative thaumaturgy system; unfortunately, in First Edition, we rarely ended up using it as it was difficult at the best of times to determine if the spells were even possible, let alone what we’d be rolling for them. With Second Edition, though, the system has been cleaned up and is far easier to understand – especially with the Practices more clearly defined and established. It’s far easier now to determine that yes, that falls within the Arcanum dots you have with these modifiers so go ahead and throw your dice. Other systems are greatly cleaned up and magic, in general, just feels more intuitive – even with everything now pared down to extremely rigid systems, it’s easy to customize your spells and cast them just the way you want and need to.
Another way the rules have been cleaned up are Attainments – no longer, for example, do you need to figure out a spell for mage armor for each Arcana. Instead, at two dots in any Arcanum, you gain the ability to just spend a point of mana and activate armor benefits both fluffy and crunchy related to that Arcanum – whether it’s the incredible luck of Fate letting you make impossible dodges or cloaking yourself in the stuff of Twilight with Spirit to downgrade certain types of damage. Every new dot in every Arcana grants you new powers related to the purview of the Arcanum in question and they’re all well worth having.
On the subject of Attainments, Legacies have been revamped as well. The revised setting emphasizes that almost all mages, at some point, take on a legacy (something I always had believed would also occur in the previous edition as well although it was not delved into). Although this new core book presents only a single fully written out legacy, the Eleventh Hour (one of the most flavourful from the old run, in my opinion), it presents simple and easy-to-use rules for writing up your own complete with concise rules for building all five Legacy Attainments – yes, that’s right, legacies now get access to not three but five of their own customized powers. Not only do they add more flavour but the additional Attainments help to make inducted characters more unique.
Perhaps the coolest addition is the Mystery system – in the process of clarifying and streamlining Mage Sight, the developers have added a robust system to develop mechanics for the strange things in the world the Awakened are interested in. The system reminds me, to a degree, of the Investigate system from the Arkham Horror card game – you work against the Opacity of the Mystery and discover a combination of surface and deep information about the mystery, all the while possibly stripping away Opacity to make it easier to delve deeper into the Mystery. It’s a really simple way to quickly develop things for your players’ characters to look into without a confusing mess of rules and interactions to worry about.
Lastly is, perhaps, the most important part of the Mage: their Obsession. Similar to the Aspirations of mortals (which, by the way, Awakened characters also possess), Obsessions are the compulsions mages have to explore the mysteries of the world around them. Mechanically, they’re very similar to the Aspirations but give you driving force to explore the supernatural around your character – and grant you Arcane Beats for fulfilling them. Arcane Beats, like their mundane counterparts, add up to Arcane Experience which can be spent on certain types of character advancement. It essentially adds another layer of progression on to the Awakened character to help ease the burden of their plethora of purchasable advancements – trust me, you’ll need them, especially when you’re struggling to keep up with your plummeting Wisdom.
All of these new and updated systems for Mage are layered over the new and refined rules brought into Chronicles of Darkness’ Second Edition (originally The God-Machine Chronicles). I didn’t notice anything new in this iteration of the system that drives the heart of the Chronicles game lines so I won’t spend too much time here – but on a brief touch, these updates to the system streamline some of my core issues with the First Edition gameline and provide some solutions to issues which, previously, may have been difficult to adjudicate in game – such as the Social Maneuvering system that was introduced in its first iteration in, I believe, Vampire: the Requiem First Edition’s Danse Macabre.
Overall, I find the Second Edition of Mage the Awakening to be a worthy successor of the game I spent so much time playing in my 20s. It wouldn’t work well for what was my preferred way of playing – web-based games with thirty or more characters that interacted with one another – but for a small group at a table, virtual or otherwise, Second Edition is an amazing system that will scratch that Mage itch and fill in some of those gaps missing in its predecessor.
… hm, that almost makes me want to run a game…
You can find Mage the Awakening Second Edition at your friendly local game store or on the Storyteller’s Vault.
The Five Foot Square receives affiliate revenue from purchases made from the Storyteller’s Vault from the link above.