In yet another partner blog with Growing Up Gamers, we are discussing our favorite role-playing game settings. It took me awhile to mill it over, but Mage the Ascension ekes out the win.
What Is Mage?
Mage uses the storyteller system from White Wolf games and its setting is a part of their World of Darkness. It takes place in the modern world but in a version of our world where werewolves, vampires, fairy folk, and mages exist in the shadows just beyond the perception of most normal people. White Wolf, the company that made Mage, also made Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, and Changeling the subtitle I don't remember right now. Presumably all of these fantastical creatures exist in the same world, but the games were independent enough that you usually played Mage without really dealing with all the other crazy critters.
Who Do You Play?
Basically, in Mage, you play an awakened person. You were a regular Joe or Jane walking around living a life when suddenly you awakened into a world much different than you knew. In this world, you discovered you could shape reality through force of will alone. However, when you push reality to its limits, there are forces that push back. One is the Technocracy. A super technological shadow government type of organization that wants to shape reality around the demands of technology. The Technocracy is basically a super-evil, fantastical big brother conspiracy.
The other force that pushes back is reality itself. The sleepers (that's what the game calls people who aren't awakened...sort of like Muggles for you Harry Potter fans) have a certain view of reality. Mages can make slight alteration to that reality without causing too much trouble. However, when they make big changes, the combined consciousness of the sleepers pushes back in the form of paradox that can undo the mages effects and undo the mage as well if he is not careful.
Mage Makes Magic Fun
Part of what makes Mage so fun is that there are no set spells. You put points into different ways you can alter reality. You might be able to alter the patterns of life or manipulate time or the forces of nature for example. However, instead of casting a polymorph spell or a fireball, you the player describe the effect you are trying to create and then roll dice to see if it worked. It allows for a truly magical feeling of freedom and creativity as you get to decide exactly how you would like to alter the reality around you.
Fantastical Reality Is The Best of Both Worlds
The greatest reason I love mage is that it presents a fantastical modern reality that's fun to play with. Fantastical reality settings are rich and entertaining because they can draw from all the bountiful detail that the real world provides, but then color over the worlds more common parts with a veneer of magic and phantasm. Fantastical realities have become very popular lately. Harry Potter, Lost, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Heroes are all examples of popular movies or shows that layered fantasy or sci-fi on top of the regular modern world.
When playing mage, I have the most fun when I take pieces of the real world and weave them into my character's crazy story. For example, it is true that right before they made it big, the bassist for the grudge band Alice in Chains left the band due to creative differences. The last time I played, I played that bassist. In my version, he didn't leave the band because of creative differences. He left because he had awakened as a mage and used hit musical talents to go fight evil beyond the ken of normal men.
For another exciting setting to play around with, check out Growing Up Gamers take on the fantastical world of the Iron Kingdoms!