Mage: The Awakening

Mage: The Awakening
Mage: The Awakening
Mage: The Awakening cover
Designer(s) Bill Bridges, Conrad Hubbard
Publisher(s) White Wolf
Publication date August 29, 2005
Genre(s) Personal Horror
System(s) Storytelling System

Mage: The Awakening is a role-playing game developed by White Wolf, Inc. and based in their World of Darkness setting. The characters portrayed in this game are individuals able to bend or break the commonly-accepted rules of reality to perform subtle or outlandish acts of magic. These characters are broadly referred to as "mages". Mage: The Awakening is loosely based on a prior White Wolf product, Mage: The Ascension, which had similar game mechanics, though the terminology differs. While the games both focus on magic, the setting and themes of Mage: The Ascension have been completely replaced.

Mage: The Awakening won the 2006 ENnie Award for Best Writing.


Background and setting

As with the other games in the "new" World of Darkness (nWoD), the history presented in the game provides for some ambiguity. However, the "origin story" of magic and mages is less ambiguous (or at least given more lip-service) than that of the nWoD vampires or werewolves.

In the mythic past, a mysterious island existed with a single towering mountain, encircled by dragons which lived upon its summit. The mountain on the island called to humanity through dreams and visions. During this period, humanity was barbaric and tribal, and more importantly, its survival was under constant threat by stronger creatures. Over time, the dragons left and the mountain continued to call. Some humans answered the call and sought out the island. The humans who moved there discovered the first secrets of magic, and through magic they created the mighty city-state now known as Atlantis, Meru, Lemuria, etc though its true name has been lost to time.

Over time, the mages who remembered the struggles for survival had passed on, and those living on the island took it for granted. The mages became filled with hubris, and created a Celestial Ladder to reach the heavens and attain greater mastery over the world. Once the ladder was finished and mages began to climb it, those at the top began fighting over how best to lead the world. Over the course of the battle, the ladder shattered. This separated the Earth into the Fallen World and the Supernal Realm, with the chasm of the Abyss in between. The Fallen World is the world where humanity now exists, and mages have come to understand that it is a lie. The Supernal realm is the realm of magic, where the mages who climbed the ladder now reside. The Abyss that separates the two worlds prevents most of humanity from awakening to magic, and hampers the power of mages trapped in the Fallen World. There is also a region known as the Lower Depths, even further fallen from the Supernal Realm than the Fallen World is, but little is known about it.

Mages believe that the Supernal Realm is the truth of reality and the origin of magic. It is ruled by the Exarchs, powerful mages who had successfully climbed the ladder and established themselves as rulers of it. The Exarchs wish to snuff out the memory of "Atlantis" and knowledge of magic so they will remain the supreme masters of reality. They are more god-like forces than human beings now, however this means that they must influence the Fallen World through servants.

Resistance against the Exarchs is possible because of the Oracles, a small number (probably five) of Atlantean mages who also climbed the ladder. They each created (or maybe are) one of the Watchtowers, which are locations in the Supernal Realms that can cut through the Abyss. They serve as paths towards magic, allowing Sleepers (humans unaware of magic) to awaken to it. Each mage visits a Watchtower during their Awakening, and their magical abilities are forever affected by that journey.

Fragments of the organizations, artifacts and writings from the First City survive to the present day, and mages hope to use this knowledge to further their various causes, by gaining a stronger connection to the Supernal Realm.


Mages "awaken" to the ways of magic. The setting states that it is unclear whether this is mostly accidental or as a result of a person's nature or understanding. The process of awakening can be slow or fast, but there are two major ways in which the event may manifest: the Mystery Play and the Astral Journey. In both sorts of "awakenings", the mage-to-be goes on a journey that culminates with them arriving at or in their respective Tower and inscribing their name upon it.

The Mystery Play is a waking dream, where the magical symbolism of their awakening is overlaid on top of the "real" world. Other people, places and real world events mesh together until the Mage arrives at a skyscraper, a phone booth, a grove or some other place that represents their Tower and somehow write their name in both the physical and astral setting, such as a hotel ledger or a statue's plaque.

Astral Journeys, which occur when the potential mage dreams, are common to those who deny or resist the "awakening". Astral Journeys feature strange settings, objects and people, in a full sensory experience.


There are five Paths of Magic that have a sympathetic connection to one of the Five Watchtowers, each with a particular style and focusing on certain Arcana.


(Fate, Time)

Enchanters on the Path of Thistle work with luck, intuition and destiny.

Connected to the Watchtower of the Lunargent Thorn in the Realm of Arcadia.


(Mind, Space)

Warlocks on the Path of Scourging work with perception and inner demons.

Connected to the Watchtower of the Iron Gauntlet in the Realm of Pandemonium.


(Death, Matter)

Necromancers on the Path of Doom work with death, mortality and material things.

Connected to the Watchtower of the Lead Coin in the Realm of Stygia.


(Prime, Forces)

Theurgists on the Path of the Mighty work with the divine energies infusing the world.

Connected to the Watchtower of the Golden Key in the Realm of the Aether.


(Spirit, Life)

Shaman on the Path of Ecstasy work with all aspects of the natural world.

Connected to the Watchtower of the Stone Book in the Realm of the Primal Wild.


After awakening, a mage typically joins one of the five Orders, although some choose to remain free of political connections, or remain outside of mage society due to ignorance, and are called apostates.

The Five Orders are united in their opposition to the Exarchs. Four of the Orders claim a heritage going back to the First City.

  • The Adamantine Arrow: spiritual warriors and masters of conflict, who claim a heritage going back to the First City's defenders. Currently, the Order of the Arrow could perhaps be described as something akin to a knightly sect, though bushido and other warrior codes find a place in The Arrow. These mages conduct intensive physical and mental training, honing the minds and bodies of order members into deadly weapons which magical society may then wield against its enemies (such as vampires, werewolves, Seers of the Throne, and so on).
  • Guardians of the Veil: spies and conspirators who claim their descent from the intelligence officers and enforcers of the First City's laws. Currently, they bear a resemblance to a combination of many occult conspiracies, such as the Thule. Many obscure their activities and identities even from other mages, and act as a check on humanity's dangerous curiosity for "that which man was not meant to know". To this end they falsify and obfuscate information through an elaborate honeycomb of lies and misdirections known as "the Labyrinth".
  • The Mysterium: dedicated to pursuit of magical lore and the acquisition, cataloguing, and study of mystical and occult knowledge and artifacts. The "mystagogues" (as they are called) continue the ancient heritage of the scholarly and intellectual of Atlantean society. Their internal structure often resembles the academic structures of the part of the world in which they reside. The Mysterium gathers, catalogues and maintains items of all types of magical and historical significance. These are stored in museum-libraries known as "Athenaeums", which vary in size from private collections to massive storehouses that must be physically hidden by magical means.
  • The Silver Ladder: dedicated to ruling, guiding and reshaping the world, the viziers, senators and priests of the First City remain in force. Politicians and authoritarians, the théarchs believes in creating a perfect hierarchy (with themselves at the top, of course) which will seize control of reality, subjugating it to the will of mankind. Many would say (justifiably) that the Ladder is only interested in power, but this dream is not without its altruistic appeal. As a member of the Ladder might point out, control over reality could bring an end to human suffering in all its forms. They seek to accomplish this end through a network of occult conspiracies, known collectively as the Cryptopoly, this practice brings them into frequent conflict with the Guardians of the Veil.
  • The Free Council: modernists who wish to create new forms of magic, a union of mages who have discovered ways of using magic that do not adhere to the Atlantean methods. According to Council members, mankind is subconsciously aware of metaphysical truths, and thus all of human society carries the potential for mystical wisdom. The "Libertines", as they are also called, possess a strong belief in democratic process and anti-authoritarianism.

The Orders have competing agendas and opposing beliefs, leading to a lack of cooperation and trust, however this does not lead to open warfare between the Orders. When enemies of the Orders, such as the Seers of the Throne, appear, the Orders put aside their differences, as their squabbles are petty compared to the battle between the Oracles and the Exarchs.


Legacies are an optional third grouping, literally portrayed as refinements of one's soul that are passed on from master to student. These grant additional innate benefits called Attainments, and may also grant affinity towards a third Arcanum. Furthermore, because they are based on shaping one's own soul rather than drawing down Supernal rules, Attainments do not risk Paradox. Legacies can be created or learned based on Path and/or Order. Left-Handed Legacies work the same as regular Legacies, but suffer social stigma because of their beliefs or practices. Left-Handed Legacies might practice infernalism, corrupted forms of necromancy or other unwholesome arts. On the other hand, they may simply espouse political views that are unpopular amongst local mages. They are largely meant as antagonists rather than player characters. Many who practice these have a low Wisdom score, representing a progressive moral decline that comes from practising them.


Magic is simply the ability of a mage (or "willworker") to impose their will onto reality. Mages are able to do this because of their sympathetic connection to the Watchtowers in the Supernal Realms, because their names are inscribed upon it, and because they realize the Fallen World is a lie.

A mage's power, or level of awakening and understanding of the depths of the Supernal, is called Gnosis.

Arcana represent the understanding a mage has over particular facets of reality, and govern their ability to affect those aspects. Subtle Arcana are those that deal with the more ephemeral matters of existence, while Gross Arcana are those relating to the physical aspects of the world.

The 10 Arcana

  • Death: The Subtle Arcanum of decay and death, capable of removing souls and affecting or creating ghosts and undead.
  • Fate: The Subtle Arcanum of luck and destiny, capable of defining the random and forcing the hand of Fate.
  • Forces: The Gross Arcanum of energy and kinetics, capable of controlling flames and electricity and stopping bullets.
  • Life: The Gross Arcanum of creatures and plants, capable of healing wounds, enhancing physical capabilities and creating impossible hybrid beasts.
  • Matter: The Gross Arcanum of inanimate objects and inert elements, capable of transmuting materials and enhancing mundane objects.
  • Mind: The Subtle Arcanum of thoughts and dreams, capable of reading and controlling thoughts and emotions and enhancing mental capacities.
  • Prime: The Subtle Arcanum of pure magical force and structure, capable of dispelling magic, enchanting items, manipulating Mana and creating illusory constructs.
  • Space: The Gross Arcanum of distance and separation, capable of observing and affecting far distances, creating overlapping dimensions and allowing teleportation.
  • Spirit: The Subtle Arcanum of Spirits and their Realm, capable of summoning and controlling spirits and forging links through the Gauntlet.
  • Time: The Gross Arcanum of the passage of time and aging, capable of manipulating the flow of time and jumping over periods of time.

Covert and Vulgar Spells

Covert spells are those that do not outwardly appear magical, and therefore do not automatically risk backfiring (called Paradox), while Vulgar spells are unmistakably magical, and risk backfiring. All spells have a greater risk of Paradox when they are cast in the presence of Sleepers, or non-Awakened humans. Supernatural beings, or humans that have some hint of the supernatural about them (Ie: Ghoul, Sleepwalker, Wolfblooded) do not contribute to Paradox

Ghosts and Spirits

This system makes a strong distinction between ghosts and spirits. Ghosts are summoned, communicated with and manipulated via Death magic. Spirits are summoned, communicated with and manipulated via Spirit magic. The two may interact, but have little relationship otherwise, and spirits are not the souls of deceased humans, but rather the native inhabitants of the realms beyond the Gauntlet.


  • Seers of the Throne: The Seers are Awakened who have sworn service to the Exarchs. They claim to follow the will of the Exarchs, and seek to remove magic from the world and strengthen the Lie. Seers believe that an Exarch is a man-made-god, and serve them in the hopes that once they succeed in destroying those that oppose them they will be rewarded by their distant masters. They also believe that, given their power, the Exarchs will inevitably triumph and reality will ultimately come into accordance with their desires. The inevitability of the Exarchs' victory is a major part of the Seers philosophy: the success of the Exarchs' agenda will permanently "fix" reality, and once that happens, the only viable path to enlightenment will be to accept the sovereignty of the Exarchs' hierarchy. They are not traditionally evil in the sense of fantasy or horror antagonists, but their philosophy is so at odds with that of mainstream society (in this case the mystical Atlantean Orders) that conflict is nearly inevitable.
  • The Banishers: Banishers are warped Mages who dedicate themselves to destroying other Mages. Generally speaking, their Awakening was traumatic, undesired, and misunderstood, and they do not accept their mystical powers. They exist outside of normal mage society, and are often obsessed with hunting and killing other mages, usually driven by a desire for repentance or a belief that doing so will cause their life to be returned to normal.
  • The Mad: Mad are Mages whose Awakening caused them to lose their minds, rendering them insane mystics who use their magic for their own mad ends. In game terms, they have a Wisdom (Morality) score of zero.
  • The Acamoth: They reside beyond the threshold of existence, in the Abyssal gulf between the Supernal Realm and the Fallen World. Because of their nature, they are incapable of contacting or having any power in either the Supernal or Fallen World, and as such they require agents to grant them potency. Few knowingly or willingly serve them, and rather service their agendas by proxy, but those who do understand and submit are amongst the most feared and despised of beings.
  • The Scelesti: Mortal mages who serve/worship the Abyss are known as "Scelesti" (sing. Scelestus), or simply "The Wicked". They serve the "Divine Purity" of the Abyss and seek the end of all things. They are hunted as heretics and abominations by all other Mages and are arguably the closest entity in the game to being "pure evil".
  • Goetic Demons: Goetia is a practice that mages use that summons the vices of their minds into a physical form, in the belief that it will make them possible to subdue, or even destroy. Quite often, however, a Goetic mage will summon an "inner demon" that is too powerful for him to defeat, and it will escape, or even take control of the overconfident mage. Needless to say, these creatures are hunted down at all costs.
  • Tremere Liches: A Left-Handed Legacy of Liches who consume the souls of others in exchange for immortality and power. They were created when a group of Vampires (already called the Tremere) attempted to remove the curse of Vampirism by diablerizing (consuming the soul of) Awakened mages as part of magical rituals. The Vampires were destroyed and the mortal mages had their souls irrevokably altered; requiring that they themselves steal other souls in turn in order to stay alive. Trapped in a state between life and death, these spiritual vampires must consume the souls of others to survive, and pass on a terrible dark "gift" to those they consider to be truly worthy of the secrets of eternal "life". The original Tremere appeared, in a very different form, in the old World of Darkness vampire game as one of the thirteen clans, though they had once been part of the Mage tradition known as the Order of Hermes as seen on Ars Magica, also written by Mark Rein·Hagen (creator of Vampire: The Masquerade), where House Tremere is one of the twelve houses that constitute the Order of Hermes.
  • Witch Hunters: Mortals who seek out and destroy mages for ideological reasons.

Differences between Ascension and Awakening

This revision of the game is not simply an update to the rules. The differences between the old and new Mage games include:

Mechanics and terminology

  • The original nine "Traditions" (and to a lesser extent the five "Essences") have been replaced by five "Orders" and five "Paths". In the process of Awakening (i.e., a mortal becoming a mage), the character interacts with one of five Realms each with two "ruling" Arcana and one "inferior" Arcanum. These become the character's baseline magical strengths and weaknesses. Some Orders, Paths or combinations thereof correspond roughly to the original Traditions, while others are unique to the newer game.
  • Informal "factions" within Traditions have been retained, as well as augmented by numerous "Legacies" which are extensions of the Orders or Paths. Through "shaping the soul", these Legacies grant their practitioners the ability to cast up to six specific rotes without incurring Paradox, at the cost of the choice of Legacy being unchangeable.
  • "Arete" has been replaced by "Gnosis". As Gnosis suggests an integration of wisdom while Arete implies only unspecified aptitude, this is considered a more accurate name. (As a note, the term "Gnosis" signified the spiritual power of the Garou in Werewolf: The Apocalypse.)
  • "Rotes", practiced spells, are a more established mechanic, and play a stronger role in the game.
  • "Paradox" has been codified and represents the Abyss striking back at a Mage for daring to alter reality via Supernatural power, rather than an error in the process of reality.
  • "Consensual Reality" and "Paradigm" are essentially gone. The Atlantean system of magic has been designated as true. Belief is no longer the driving force of Awakened Magic (though it does influence it). For instance, in Atlantean cosmology, shadows are more than just the absence of light; they are an active force that can be controlled with Death magic. There is no debate about it; that is simply the way it is, a metaphysical truth. However, there are canonical, if infrequent, references to students of magic who not only did not study Atlantean lore but were active opponents to the Atlantean civilization as a whole.
  • Starting characters have lower attribute scores by default (although this is the case in all nWOD games, so is not strictly-speaking a comparison of Awakening to Ascension).
  • "Spheres" have been replaced by "Arcana", which are not as inter-dependent (e.g. one dot of any Arcana can be used to detect the presence of magic). There are also 10 Arcana, where there were previously 9 known spheres (however, there were always rumors of a missing tenth sphere in the original storyline, which was later named during the Time of Judgement that ended the previous World of Darkness). In particular, the Entropy sphere has been separated into the Death and Fate Arcana, and all Arcana have been given a more mystical styling. In addition, the absolute correlation between Arete and Sphere Ranks has been adjusted; a single dot of Gnosis allows a character to earn up to three dots in the "ruling" Arcana of his/her Path.
  • "Quintessence" has been replaced by "Mana". "Quintessence" now refers to specific magical components necessary for spells cast by Archmasters.
  • Mages, like all characters in the new World of Darkness, are now subject to a morality system. The specific morality scale applicable to mages is called "Wisdom;" it measures how far a mage has fallen into hubris.

Background and setting

Almost all of the original Mage: The Ascension background has been replaced. The core concept behind magic in Ascension was that belief was reality; magic was a constant battle between the awakened soul and the crush of Sleeper apathy. In Awakening, mages are tapping into the Supernal Realm using the Truth and underlying or alternate reality.

Other aspects, such as the central conflict between the Traditions and the Technocracy, have been replaced by an alternate conflict between the Pentacle Orders (the four Atlantean ones and the Free Council) and the Exarchs who rule reality from the Supernal Realm. Awakening's origin story tells of a similar conflict for the ultimate control over reality through the race to build and ascend the Celestial Ladder. However, unlike Ascension where the war for control over reality was ongoing in the contemporary game time, a group of mages achieved that control and severed the world from magic in the distant past. Instead of centering on a battle over paradigms, Awakening shifts the conflict to returning magic back to its natural state, unified with the world of men.

Due to the differences in the setting themes and core concepts, critics question whether it is appropriate to call Awakening a successor to Ascension or a completely different game.[1]


  • Mage: The Awakening (August 2005)
  • Boston Unveiled (October 2005)
  • Sanctum and Sigil (November 2005)
  • Legacies: The Sublime (January 2006)
  • Guardians of the Veil (February 2006)
  • Tome of the Watchtowers (April 2006)
  • Secrets of the Ruined Temple (May 2006)
  • Reign of the Exarchs (July 2006)
  • Tome of the Mysteries (November 2006)
  • Legacies: The Ancient (January 2007)
  • Intruders: Encounters With the Abyss (March 2007)
  • The Free Council (May 2007)
  • Magical Traditions (June 2007)
  • The Mysterium (September 2007)
  • Astral Realms (November 2007)
  • The Adamantine Arrow (January 2008)
  • Banishers (March 2008)
  • Lines of Power (PDF Only)* (April 2008)
  • Grimoire of Grimoires (May 2008)
  • Silver Ladder (July 2008)
  • Keys to the Supernal Tarot (November 2008)
  • Seers of the Throne (February 2009)
  • Summoners (April 2009)
  • The Abedju Cipher (PDF Only)* July 2009
  • Mage Chronicler's Guide (July 2010)

* Storytelling Adventure System


External links

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