I am well and truly behind on my ‘actual play’ blogging of Mage. Five sessions, including the finale, and two months behind. I ran ‘I Like Birds’ on the 14th May, and I’m writing this on the 24th July.
That’s pretty poor going. Not as far behind as I am with my D&D game, but I’m not looking to set records here…
What I’m going to do here is abandon the Start/Events/End format of previous posts (which was just a crutch to help me get back into writing again anyway) and talk about intentions, plans, and how the players pissed over it all.
I go into games with a set of intentions: a very rough plot outline, some key characters and interactions, some set pieces, and very little else. Sometimes I’ll plot out a detailed session – I did that in my most recent D&D session (and the fact that it’s a detailed, typed document means that I can re-use most of it as a blog post – win!), but find that open world games like World/Chronicles of Darkness find ways to confound that. Detailed session plans work well for Gumshoe games (because procedural clue gathering) and for settings where the GM informs the game world, as opposed to modern settings where players can pull up wikipedia articles, google street views, and draw on personal experience to inform the game world. In D&D, players are reliant on the DM to tell them what the local tavern is called and if it’s rough or not. In a game set in the real world, chances are that they can tell you.
Anyway, I digress. I sometimes produce detailed session plans. I have not been doing so for Mage.
For Mage: the Awakening I have tried to adopt a sandbox approach. I’ve tried to present options to explore, which the players can accept or reject. Kind of like mission selection in Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. They could opt to follow a main plot line, do a number of side quests, or just dick around stealing shit.
In the first session, I tried presenting them with three different stories to investigate:
- Jon-Anthony bought a magical storm lamp from a carboot sale. The item is mildly haunted (they’ve still not bothered figuring out what to do about the ghost or what the haunted lamp does), and sold to them by witch hunters, who, fully aware of the magical nature of the lamp, were using it as bait to lure in wizards.
- A possible case of magical coercion involving an apprentice Mage and a local teenaged girl. This is the one they followed, and formed the backbone of the first 14 sessions.
- A local Mage tries to recruit them to reclaim a series of magical grimoires. They walked right passed the guy, and didn’t look at this job until a lull a few sessions later.
What I have come to understand is that my players like direction. They do well when they have a sense of purpose, a goal. The Donnal plot, and the Consilium politics plotline it opened up, gave them something to go at. Maybe not anything that is necessarily in their wheelhouse, but they gave it a good try…
So, as stated in the last entry, I expected the Cabal to regroup and follow the huge signs saying ‘plot resolution and end battle this way’.
Instead they went and checked on Tall Les. Tall Les is adjacent to the plot. He is in no way pivotal or essential. He is not a key player.
So, yeah, let’s check on him.
So, Tall Les was skipping town, or at least getting out of his house, when a bunch of Witch Hunters attacked him. They got the initial upper hand, but that quickly shifted as Tall Les transformed himself into grotesque battle form, tore them up, and made one guy’s heart explode. He then exited into the Shadow to avoid further pursuit.
The Cabal found the exploded heart guy in the bathtub. Jon-Anthony then stepped up: He summoned the dead hunter’s ghost and interrogated it, dissolved the corpse so there was no evidence, and banished the ghost afterwards.
Then, more hunters attacked – they’d been waiting outside for Tall Les to reappear or more Mages to turn up.
The Hunters flashbanged the bathroom, and took up tactical positions at the foot of the stairs. Donar lightning bolted one, which gave them pause for thought.
Then Jon-Anthony turned himself into a ghost, and walked around, immaterial and ethereal, and used Death to turn the Hunters into temporary corpses.
Which to everyone else, looked as though these mortals were just dropping dead for no reason.
This freaked the Hunters out somewhat.
Hopper used the opportunity to run down the stairs, do a fancy jump kick thing, and floor one of the remaining Hunters. Donar decided to forgo the lightning bolts and just shoulder barge one guy – this resulted in a Hunter falling backwards through a glass table, and a bookshelf falling on him.
In the ensuing chaos, Hopper grabbed a shotgun, the Cabal ran out the door, into their car, and were away.
At this point, the Cabal did decide to take stock of the situation, regroup at home, then head of over to Granny’s farm.
When they got there, they found Granny and her allies (Basically a farmhand called ‘Alice’ and many many spirits) tooling up for action. Granny seemed charged – her hair was floating, her fingers and feet talons – I tried to describe her like angry Yubaba from Spirited Away without saying ‘angry Yubaba from Spirited Away’.
Granny gave the Cabal a choice: Side with the Consilium (and by association, the Golden Trinity), or side with her.
The Cabal all went ‘oh, no, we’re good’ and took the third option, which was to have a pint down the Winchester and wait for all this to blow over…
So they ran out the house, piled into the Bentley, and drove off.
As they did, the house grew chicken legs, bees swarmed around, Alice transformed into a Werewolf, the river swelled and took humanoid form, animals and birds gathered on the edge of the farm, the clouds parted and the moon descended as a luminescent woman with a sword.
Winston floored it…
As they neared the end of the dirt road leading back to the village, two transit vans drove past. Winston pulled over to let them through, and collectively the Cabal scanned the passengers and contents…
Inside they identified:
- Two misc thugs
- Two members of the members of the Golden Trinity – Miranda and Jill
- Tall Les
- A Fire Elemental
- An Ice Elemental (in separate vans)
They caught a fleeting glimpse of Tall Les as the van passed them – his face was streaming with tears.
It turns out that the presence of Tall Les was enough to spur them into action. Despite him never having done a thing for them, and generally being a wet blanket who always looked to other people to solve his problems, they regarded him as a friend, and someone they actually wanted to help.
Who’da thunk it. *(see footnote)
John Kelly identified and closed off a sympathetic link to Tall Les from another location, in an attempt to prevent any further (presumed) external control of Les. Dave, his player, rolled well, and slammed an iron door down on the connection.
Seconds later, the second transit van stopped, and a large ice golem got out.
There was a fight. To be honest, it didn’t last long against five Mages, two of which are Obrimos. The Bentley was wrecked, though.
With the car on its side with a broken axle, the Cabal reviewed their policy of non-intervention.
Basically, it was shot. They were in it now, they’d chosen a side, so they started walking back up towards the farm.
The farm itself was silent. They could see it in the distance, but could see no signs of battle, or of a farmhouse walking along with chicken legs.
Looking at it again with their Mage Sight, they realised that a giant magical dome sat over the farm, preventing sound and sight from escaping and alerting the mundane population.
As they crossed the boundary, they saw things as they were: the farm lay in ruins, some hundred feet or so away from where it should be. A Fire Elemental wrestled a River Spirit in a roiling cloud of scalding steam. Alice (presumably), in Werewolf battle form, fought the two handy lads – one armed with a Roman sword and shield, the other with a Celtic axe.
The Cabal kind of passively observed for a second, before deciding to assist Alice and the River Spirit. They tipped the scales in favour of their allies, without stepping into the combat zone. The Fire Elemental was extinguished, and the River Spirit returned to the river; the two thugs were killed, and Alice dragged one body off like a cat with a bird.
Moving on, they found Miranda’s body, swollen from bee stings and anaphylactic shock. Bees still swarmed around her.
The Cabal moved on.
Investigating the large tractor and storage barn to the side of the house, they found Donnal and Tall Les, locked in battle. Donnal had reshaped his body to something like a Bear and an Oak Tree – huge muscles, fur and bark, claws like branches; Les was giant like, with spindly limbs that he swung like clubs. With every blow he rained on Donnal, he sobbed and said how sorry he was.
The Cabal looked on in horror as Donnal pushed his master back, crushed him with a tractor, and then impaled him with slender wooden claws that shot from his hands.
This was not the Donnal they knew and had grown to be infuriated by.
As his life ebbed away, Les praised Donnal, told him how proud he was, and thanked him.
The Cabal left Donnal with Les, and went looking for Angela, Jill, and Granny, the pieces as yet unaccounted for.
Somehow, I can’t remember how, the Cabal ended up with Tall Les’s Soul Stone – a hip flask with sizeable dent in it. Maybe it was on Miranda’s corpse. Nevermind, the important thing is that the Cabal got hold of it.
John Kelly traced the influence on Tall Les, via his Soul Stone, back to an enclosed, small room, and the Cabal decided that the best thing to do would be to teleport directly to it. That’s fair enough. Cut to the chase – drop in on Angela or Jill, kick their ass(es) and save the day.
But they weren’t there – they dropped into a shed at the end of Granny’s garden, yards away from the destroyed chicken house and next to the pond that Donar and Hopper first emerged from.
A quick investigation roll augmented by Mage Sight suggested that Angela had vacated the position moments earlier, and couldn’t be far away (presuming she travelled by mundane means).
Surveying the wreckage around them, they heard sounds of battle from nearby, and found a hidden entrance beneath Granny’s house.
When the house was in its original position, this entrance would have been a hidden room. Now that the house has shifted a few metres to the left, it’s a hole in the ground, loosely covered by rubble.
The entrance becomes a brick lined passage, which becomes a rough hewn tunnel, before opening up into a large natural cavern.
It is immediately obvious that it’s here that Granny has established her Sanctum, and possibly a Demesne. In the centre of the cavern a tall stalagmite rises some 10 feet off the floor. Atop it sits a verdant green plant, like an ivy in bloom with a rose. A green glow emanates from it and illuminates the cavern. Patches of the cavern wall are embedded with large crystals that reflect and refract the green light. Humanoid images move inside them like holograms.
On the other side of the cavern, Granny, Angela and Jill are locked in battle. Angela is clearly bolstering Jill with enchantments, Jill is using a knife to attack Granny, and Granny is defending herself with magic and a staff.
As is now par for the course with the Cabal, they take a few moments to take stock of the scene, and to discuss tactics, motives, consequences, and their own personal inclination.
They decide that Granny is splitting her attention between defence and casting an active spell. She is not fighting back against Angela and Jill, instead she is concentrating he attention on a swelling mound of earth at her feet.
Amazingly, the Cabal take action. They decide that if computer RPGs have ever taught them anything, it’s ‘take out the caster first’, so Donar lightening blasts Angela, Winston Blue confuses her, John Kelly curses Angela, Hopper punches Jill, and Jon-Anthony turns into a ghost.
Hopper pushes Jill into a pool of water and then freezes the water solid. She then decks Jill, who falls unconscious. Angela casts a ranged Curing spell on Jill, who wakes up and starts trying to free herself. Jon-Anthony then casts a horrific decomposition spell on Jill, causing her flesh to rot and slough off her bones. She falls unconscious again.
Winston, Donar and John Kelly harry Angela.
Meanwhile, Granny uses the cessation of hostilities against her to complete her spell – she opens a gateway to the Shadow and draws forth a powerful fertility spirit, which erupts from the earth mound, leaving a gaping portal behind it.
Granny seems quite pleased with herself, and directs the manifest Earth Mother to attack Angela. Angela responds with a direct focused attack against Granny, which staggers her. In that moment of anger and confusion, she loses control of the spirit. Granny becomes hysterical, and falls into uncontrolled laughter. Everyone else braces themselves for Bad Things.
Except Winston Blue, who steps in front of the Earth Mother, and smiles.
Winston is very attractive already, and he’s bolstered his Presence with Mind magic. He’s magnetic, beautiful and sexy. I rule that fertility spirits are, by default, interested in sexy times.
I did not plan for Steve.
Stupid, sexy Steve.
With the Earth Mother suitably distracted, Granny was able to regain control and banish the now extraneous spirit back to the Shadow.
Bit of an anti-climax.
But that’s ok. Jon-Anthony is creating drama on the other side of the cavern.
On the other side of the cavern, Jill is semi frozen in ice, and pretty beat up. Everytime she tries to heal herself, Jon-Anthony fucks her up some more, each time a little more than the last. She’s fading fast.
Matt, Jon-Anthony’s player, announces that he intends to harvest Jill’s soul as she finally dies. He’s not quite sure what he’ll do with it, but that’s a problem for another time. The first step is to extract the soul as Jill dies.
The other players are not particularly happy with this, but can’t do anything about it, bar administering basic first aid to Jill to stabilise her wounds (which are pretty horrific – she’s been struck by lightning, punch, frozen, and had her flesh magically rotted so that it sloughs off her bones. It’s an actual miracle that she isn’t actually dead yet).
To prevent this, Jon-Anthony opens a portal to Twilight – an ephemeral state half-way between the material world and the other non-material worlds – and draws Jill and Hopper into it. He uses the pool of water that they’re stood in as the boundaries of the gateway, and anyone inside it passes through to Twilight automatically. Jon-Anthony is in a Twilight state already.
Donar see’s Hopper and Jill fade into invisibility, and can see the magic of the gate with his Mage Sight, so dives in as well.
So no Jon-Anthony, Hopper and Donar, as well as the unconscious Jill, are in Twilight. There’s an awkward beat as Hopper and Donar take stock of their current condition. The fact that they can suddenly see and hear Jon-Anthony provides them with enough information to deduce that this is all his fault.
Hopper considers punching him.
Donar considers blasting him with lightning.
Neither of them are skilled enough in Spirit or Death to push themselves back into the material world, though, so are forced to talk to Jon-Anthony instead.
At this point I am rubbing my hands together, as it’s becoming clear that Jon-Anthony will be the ‘big bad’ at some point in the campaign, and I’m cool with that.
Hopper and Donar ask Jon-Anthony to make them solid again. Jon-Anthony suggests that being ghosts is so much safer, and everyone can exit this dangerous magical cavern without resistance, and then pass through another gate later to become solid again.
Hopper and Donar point out that the battle is now over – Angela has surrendered, Jill is unconscious, and Granny has put the Earth Mother back in her box. The door out is wide open. We’re cool. Let’s stop dicking about and start being solid again please.
Jon-Anthony reluctantly acquiesces to the request, and reopens the gateway, allowing all four to become material again.
As everyone starts to exit the cavern, Granny walks up to Angela and casually kills her with a Life spell – massive cancerous growths erupt out of and consume Angela and she dies quickly and painfully. Granny continues walking out of the cavern as nothing had happened.
The Cabal take a moment, then walk out after her.
At this point we start wrapping up the session. We’re playing Monster of the Week the following week, so I have to handwave a few things.
Granny has now withdrawn from the Consilium, and is no longer Hierarch. Two leading Councilors are dead, and a third is disgraced. There is now a very real power vacuum in local Mage society. The Cabal consider this for a moment, and choose to ignore it.
Winston Blue decides that an insane old witch is exactly the type of Mage he wants to learn from, and takes Granny as a Mentor. We’ll see how that pans out.
The new Hierarch of the Consilium is a very boring man called Mr Balding. He is round, and grey and wears brown suits. He has three rules that he immediately laid down to the Consilium:
- Don’t bother me
- Don’t cause any trouble
- Absolutely no Vampires
We’ve taken a break to play Monster of the Week now (which is brilliant, you should all play it immediately), and will be starting a new Mage story arc on 6th August. I’ll be moving the ruleset onto Mage: the Awakening Second Edition as we start. I may do a post about the character conversion process and the differences. Shortly, it’s both simpler and more complex, and 90% of the changes are for the better. I resisted moving to 2e for the longest time because I’d invested so heavily in the original (new) World of Darkness books, but I see now that I was wrong.
Collected Eels References
apparently i should have seen it. my players, since reading this, have been vociferous in their defence of and attachment to ‘Tall Les’.
they have asserted that the sentence “Despite him never having done a thing for them, … they regarded him as a friend” says more about me than it does about Tall Les or them.
Andy, who plays Donar, reminded me: