We’ve talked about Paths and Legacies already, so we’re past due to talk about the Orders.
If Path and Legacy are broad and narrow definitions of magical style, how a mage works her magic, then it’s the job of the last axis of character definition to provide the why, when, and where. From a game perspective, the Orders are motivation; they’re defined by what the members believe magic’s purpose is.
The direction for the Orders for Awakening Second Edition was one of the earliest things we decided on in early development, and the element of the game that shows the clearest line of continuity thanks to the sheer amount of focus first edition placed on the Orders. Where the Paths had Tome of the Watchtowers early in first edition’s run, all six Orders had sourcebooks devoted to them individually, fleshing out their histories, philosophies, and factions. That’s a significant portion of the edition’s wordcount devoted to developing the Orders described in the first edition core, and we have no desire to throw it away, so the first thing I can tell you about the Orders in second edition is… You’ll recognize them. If you’ve read Left Hand Path or Mage Noir, both written after all the Order books were out, you’ve seen roughly how we think of the Orders. Our Guardians of the Veil are clearly the Guardians from their book. That’s not to say we’re not placing emphasis in slightly different places, or tweaking here and there, but if you own the Order books rest assured that they’re still very much relevant in the new edition.
So, we went into second edition with a wealth of information about what each Order was like in isolation; we know about the Corpus Mysteriorum, the Heiromagus, the Ministries, and the Adamant Way. We’ve seen Operation Oracle and the Grand Caucus of the Adamantine Arrow in 1948. We know the Mysterium were two rival Orders until the archmaster now called the Corpus Author united them in the middle ages. We know the first Exarch Cult was dedicated to the General, but the first Ministry was Hegemony in the Italian Renaissance. What we needed to do for a new corebook was show the Orders as a single setting rather than six factions existing in a vacuum – the guideline for nWoD books that we only refer to the corebook for the line wherever possible means that we haven’t seen, to take some examples, how the Mysterium acts in Convocation, or whether the other Orders know about the Guardian religion, or how Silver Ladder cryptopolies and Guardian labyrinths interact.
Our design goals for the Orders are;
Increase the sense of historicity, relative to first edition. The Orders books each had a detailed history chapter, and Left Hand Path talks about what the Nameless were like before the Free Council. That’s a far cry from the impression the original core sometimes gave of “Atlantis happened, then nothing of interest until the Great Refusal.” We’ll show you why the Silver Ladder Caucus of the Caribbean allied itself to the Seers of the Throne during piracy’s Golden Age. We’ll talk more about what the Keepers of the Word and the Pancryptiates (the two early Orders who merged to be the Mysterium) were like.
Clarify the nature of the Diamond’s “Atlantean” lineage. I’ll address this more below, but basically when the Silver Ladder say “we’re descended from the Vox Draconis” they mean spiritual descent. The Silver Ladder were founded in the 2nd century BC. The “Vox Draconis” is like a Shadow Name for the whole Order.
Reject the Tier system. Mage has always strained at the very early nWoD’s design principle of limiting the action to a single city (it makes no sense when 1/10th of starting characters can teleport.) and the Orders are global networks while simultaneously being local hierarchies that don’t answer to a central authority, except for the Seers. On the other side, the structures of the Orders described in the Order books describe factions with a lot of members – so many that if you sit down and try to figure out how many mages there should be in a single city according to all six books put together, you rapidly go over a hundred. So, as we’ve spoiled elsewhere, a single Order Caucus (for example a Guardian Epopt, all her Cultors, and the Labyrinths they’re running) now covers more than one Consilium. Even then, the “Guardians of the Veil” is made up of every one of those Caucuses, who are all independent of one another, and have the backing of ex-Guardian archmasters. Rather than explain that the Orders are Tier 2-3 subsets of Tier 3-4 networks, we’re not worrying about it. Which is why the word “Tier” does not appear in second edition. Mages visiting foreign Caucuses are like police officers out of jurisdiction – they aren’t part of the local politics, and the culture will have differences to what they’re used to, but they know the job.
Develop the Free Council as a viable sect. Having the Seers as antagonistic (most of the time) toward the other Orders gives the impression sometimes that there’s only two sides to this debate. We’re very clearly emphasizing that “the Pentacle” is the political alliance between the Diamond and the Free Council. They’re not the same, and it isn’t as simple as the Diamond being right all the time, or wrong all the time. The Libertines are probably the most-changed Order, within the “keep their books useful” lines I’ve already talked about, because of this; we want the difference between the two sects most player characters will come from to come down to viewpoints which could be both right, or at the very least aren’t demonstrably wrong on one side.
Show more mages living outside the Orders, but make it clear that they have numerous disadvantages. I wrote the Nameless Order section of Left Hand Path. I have nothing against apostate characters. Compared to the line so far, we’re going to see a lot more orderless mages and minor Nameless Orders (the term in Mage for an “Order” that’s a strictly local concern rather than being one of the six global Orders.) We’ll also see a lot more advantages to being in a proper Order – in a standard game, everyone will have these advantages, but if you choose to play an underdog you’ll understand why they’re an underdog, “game balance” be damned. Thousands of years’ worth of accumulated knowledge, grimoires, rotes, Legacies, artifacts, Imbued items, and secrets are held by the Orders, if you know where to look and have the Status to get it. Each Order teaches rote mudras, provides resources where it can, trains new mages, and has proprietary Merits available to members.
Display internal variation. From the outside, the Orders look like monolithic entities. From within, each Order is a confusing web of Master-Apprentice ties, regional schools, philosophical factions, Legacies, and other minor variants. The Adamantine Arrow in Tokyo is very different to the Adamantine Arrow in New York. Some of these internal groups are more accepted than others – each Order contains several heresies, factions that skirt the edge of being Left-Handed (or cross it entirely in secret.)
Portray the Pentacle as an Alliance. One of the things Requiem Second Edition does is give reasons for vampire covenants to work together, where they were previously shown as highly antagonistic. Mage has never quite gone that far, but we’re showing how everyone can work together and disagree. Tensions can rise between Pentacle Orders, and Ministries are constant rivals for the Exarchs’ attention, but in their worldwide forms the Pentacle are allies and the Seer Ministries are all servants. The four Diamond Orders in particular have spent millennia working together. On a personal level, however, mages will quite happily knife one another in the back and hold grudges that carry on to one another’s apprentices. Basically, the Pentacle is an alliance of fact, not merely one of convenience. But it isn’t the Star Trek Federation, either.
Let Sleepers glimpse the Orders. The Orders are occult conspiracies, embedded within and working alongside Sleeper mystery cults, religions, academia, and politics. Usually, character groups for World of Darkness games are only known by the participants. The Orders are a bit more visible than that, such that Sleepers digging into the links between occult groups will start to see that something’s there. They are to Sleeper Mystery Cults as those cults are to regular people. Many Sleepers work for the Orders without ever knowing it – or work for more than one!
Let Sleepwalkers and Proximi in. Further to the above, Sleepwalkers and Proximi who know about the Awakened can’t just see the Orders, they can join them and even buy the first dot of Status.
Show the Orders as mystery cults. Mages have fashioned their societies in their own image – the world to the Awakened is an onion of hidden meanings and symbols, and their organizations reflect that way of thinking. The Orders are mystery cults, with varying levels of initiation and depth of commitment. The Free Council are the least vertically-divided, while the Seers are the most. Members learn secrets and gain benefits the more they put into the Order, but “casual” members are perfectly tolerated. Mages who don’t feel strongly about the Orders aren’t labelled apostates unless they’ve outright rejected all offers or been expelled from all options – they just end up as Status 0 members of whichever Order suits them best.
The Orders have flaws. Which, in Mage, manifest as tendencies to certain acts of Hubris. Going again to the Vampire comparison, someone wise (probably Rose, it sounds like something she’d say) noted that the vampiric clans each constitute a drive to be a monster, while the covenants are, at heart, means of maintaining some shred of Humanity. Well, Mage flips that. Path is the call of the Supernal, and the Orders all encourage, excuse, or downplay behavior that leads to Wisdom loss. The Silver Ladder, Seers, and Guardians are the most obvious about it, but they’ve all got these blind spots in their philosophies. We’ll be taking the time in the Order writeups to point them out.
Banishers are not an Order. They’re just not – and our second edition’s view of the Supernal and how it relates to the Fallen makes “but they have the Supernal template of one!” overly-simplistic, so it’s being dropped as a notion. Banishers are in the new core’s antagonist section along with the Mad and Liches, as “failed states” of Awakening.
The Orders Themes
If you’ve read Left Hand Path or the Mage Chronicler’s Guide, you’ll have seen our mood statements for the Orders before;
- Adamantine Arrow: Challenge is Magical
- Free Council: Humanity is Magical
- Guardians of the Veil: Magic is Fragile
- Mysterium: Magic is Alive
- Sliver Ladder: Magic is Humanity’s Birthright
- Seers of the Throne: Magic is Payment
The Orders, Atlantis, and the Supernal
So, then, about that Atlantis thing.
It all comes down to the difference of opinion between the three great sects of Awakened about the relationship between the Fallen World and the Supernal. All mages acknowledge the dual nature of reality we’ve spoken about in previous blogs – they can all use their Mage Sight to see the symbols behind the skin of the world, and they all use Yantras/Instruments/Chains in support of their spells.
The Diamond Orders believe that the Supernal contains symbols of all things, including magical society. Individual mages have taken on Shadow Names and developed ritual personas for millenia, some of which are even magically active. When the Diamond speak of “Atlantis,” they don’t necessarily mean the civilization(s) of the Time Before; when the five original Diamond Orders were founded they developed “Atlantis” as a symbolic concept. By forging themselves in the shape of this “Diamond precept”, they take on the magical weight of the Supernal Realms. The Silver Ladder don’t believe they’re literally descended from a caste of Atlantis; they’re quite aware that the Awakened City wasn’t even called that. But they know that by adopting the communal persona of the Vox Draconis, the archetypal counselor-sage who elevates others, they grow closer to the Supernal.
The Free Council take the reverse position – humanity naturally draws on the Supernal, especially in groups, so rather than looking to theoretical archetypes and an ideal to follow on the Paths to Ascension, they look to communal will and the innovations of the human race. Instead of forcing contact with the Supernal by adopting an artificially symbolic society, mages should trust that the organically-grown societies of human beings are just fine – even better. Some Diamond mages (especially the Ladder) continually try to cast the Libertines as “archetypal rebels,” which many Libertines find both condescending and rather annoying.
The Seers of the Throne occupy the third position – rather than the Fallen drawing on the Supernal, they see reality as imposed from the Supernal Realms. Rather than take on the roles of Supernal societies, they willingly serve the Supernal’s rulers in this world, advancing the Exarchs’ agenda in return for reward and protection.
These philosophical positions of the sects reflect their approach to the Mysteries, too – many Pentacle mages note that while the Diamond stresses imagos, and looks to fit magical occurrences into what they know about the higher realms, the Free Council pays far more attention to magical tools. It’s a forest/trees difference of perspective.
The Orders as Game Mechanics
Each Order has a Status Merit, a modified form of Mystery Cult Initiation. This Merit allows Order members to access increasingly-rare rotes, items, and training in the same way Resources in second edition can access assets, as well as providing social roll adjustments.
Each Order also has one or more unique “perk” Merits, that require Order Status as a prerequisite;
Adamantine Arrow: Adamant Hand. Arrow mages of good Status may learn a Fighting Style to combine spellcasting with combat. The Hand allows mages to use full dodges, and unarmed and armed strikes, as Yantras for instant spells.
Free Council: Techné. Techné (“craft” in Greek – first applied as an insult by the Diamond Orders and now a badge of honor) is the Libertine method of casting spells through investment and participation in a cultural magical style, science, or artform. Experienced Libertines can declare fields of study as additional Order Magical Tools, and gain bonuses to group-casting that allow teams of Libertines to work together more easily and allow Sleeper ritual participants.
Guardians of the Veil: Masque. The Guardians train new apprentices in the Masques as a means of training them for undercover operations. Each Masque is a rudimentary Shadow Name, a persona the Guardian can adopt to act on behalf of the Order and not himself. Adopting a Masque requires willpower, and grants specialties in mental and social skills at low levels, dampens the character’s signature Nimbus at mid-levels and allows the user to suppress his Wisdom breaking points for short amounts of time at higher levels. It wasn’t him that committed an act of hubris, it was “Apprentice Forge-Coal”, or “The Viper”.
Mysterium: Egregore. While the Order Status Merit controls access to magical resources for all mages, the Mysterium’s special Merit notes how advanced a character is in the secret levels of the Order, and how attuned he is to both the pulse of magic and the communal knowledge-mind the Order calls the egregore. At one dot, he doesn’t have to roll to provide a bonus die when assisting another Mystagogue in a ritual. At two dots, his Status Merit applies even when he hasn’t met the other party before. At three dots, he has a perfect memory for the Orders’ history and members. At four dots, the first Yantra he uses in any spell counts as a dedicated magical tool, and at five dots he has an intimate sympathetic connection to all members of the Order while he is within an Order Sanctum (although he still has the penalty if he doesn’t know the name of someone he’s affecting.)
Silver Ladder: Lex Magica. The laws of the Pentacle aren’t just commonly-agreed precedents and treaties between rival cabals – they’re abstract concepts invented by people who make abstract concepts real. Théarchs acting in an official, titled, capacity (whether it’s as Herald, Hierarch, or Magister) within the Order or in Pentacle society enjoy bonuses to social maneuvering. Ladder judgment becomes binding precedent, and oaths sworn under the Lex Magica’s auspices are mystically-binding.
Seers of the Throne: Prelacies. If a Seer serves her patron Exarch for long enough, and is reasonably successful, the repeated calling upon the Supernal to cast spells in that Exarch’s name draws her soul close to alignment with the Supernal symbols that Exarch embodies. A doorway appears in her Oneiros, leading to a brutal test of loyalty in a dreamscape dictated by one of the Exarchs’ Supernal servants. Passing means becoming a Prelate—a Seer term for those Seers of good standing in the Exarchs’ eyes, who hear the Tyrants’ voices in their sleep, and read their demands in High Speech. Being a Prelate in the Seers is like being Made in the Mafia—other Seers of equal rank defer to you, but you’re now a target for the ambition of your lessers. The Prelacy Merit grants the Mystery Commands Condition, the ability to use the patron Exarch as a Yantra in spellcasting, a special Attainment or personal power, and a way to alter Demesnes to create Supernal Verges keyed to the Exarch.
Each Order provides three rote specialties, skills which provide an extra die when used as rote mudras by members of that Order.
Lastly, each Order has Magical Tools associated with itself, which are largely unchanged from the previous edition except to note that, as outlined above, Seers can gain Patron Yantras and Libertines all have personalized “Order Tools” on top of the generic ones the entire Order uses.
Order Preview: The Free Council
Here, then, is the first draft splat pages for the Free Council, written by Neall Raemonn Price. It’s a bit long (probably in the history section) and I’ll probably trim the bit about what the Diamond believe in contrast to the Libertines and add a third archetype, but you can see where we’re going with the splat pages. As in Requiem Second Edition’s Covenants, the Orders don’t have iconic characters – they’ll be illustrated with group shots.
Free Council Preview
Let’s continue our journey through the social aspect of Mage: Magical Society or Antagonists?