A Well Armed Society
…Is a Polite Society.
Some of our World of Darkness games focus hard on individual character groups. You’re not really expected to worry about Prometheans beyond the players’ Throng, and Demons are too paranoid for the majority to be in an Agency. As the most Human supernatural beings, though, mages have a human response to the lives they lead. They like to talk about it, and aside from a minority notable for their isolation they develop associations based on their experiences.
Awakening has two poles pulling the design of mage society. The first is Academia. Mages are obsessively curious Mystery-seekers, so it makes sense that the closest analogue to what they experience is the politics and interrelationships of research academics. I’ve got a background in research academia myself, my wife still works in that world, and I can definitely see it – when you’ve seen two Archaeology Professors politely feuding over who can attract a promising student to their research, the politics of Mages fighting over apprentices comes easily. The second, as this post’s title alludes, is that the Diamond, Assemblies, and Tetrarchies spend most of their time trying to keep mages from killing one another. It’s said that academic politics is so vicious because it’s such an isolated world. Imagine it with participants who can kill one another with their thoughts. So, mage society is designed around resolving conflict between mages – whether by arbitration (as in the Pentacle) or command (as in the Throne.)
Last post, I talked about how we’re divorcing Mage from the city-bound assumptions the early nWoD made, and most of our changes to mage society are in service of that change. More have been made to further our agenda of clearly defining the three sects – compared to first edition, we’re downplaying Consilia this time around so that the Order Caucuses and Libertine Assemblies have room to breath.
A mage’s new awareness of the Supernal draws her into new social circles. All Awakened share a fascination with the Mysteries, so if one mage’s attention lands on some occult phenomenon the chances are another mage has noticed it as well. While this can occasionally lead to conflict if the mages view one another as competitors, a common interest is much more often the source of a potential friendship. Older, more experienced mages regularly draw the newly initiated into Awakened society by offering assistance to newer mages, and some Orders dangle small Mysteries in densely populated areas to identify new mages who might be lured into the fold.
Most mages belong to one of three sects – the Diamond, the Free Council, or the Seers of the Throne. The Diamond and the Free Council maintain an alliance (called the Pentacle) against the Seers.
The four Orders of the Diamond Precept share a long history and symbolic succession from the Awakened City of the Time Before. The four Diamond Orders are the Adamantine Arrows, the Guardians of the Veil, the Mysterium, and the Silver Ladder.
In its current form the Council of Free Assemblies is the youngest of the three sects. Once a loose coalition of Nameless Orders in constant conflict with the Diamond for resources and members, it united in common cause with them against the Seers of the Throne and has remained a force to be reckoned with in the Awakened world ever since.
The Seers of the Throne serve the Exarchs and enjoy considerable prosperity as the result of their devotion to those Supernal Tyrants. They do not hesitate to use magic to get what they want. In consequence, they have more resources than any of the other sects, and they also boast an advantage in numbers. These advantages are blunted by the Seers’ constant in—fighting and struggles for dominance over other Seers of the Throne or disputes over control of resources.
A relative handful of mages do not belong to any of the three large sects. They include solitaries, apostates, and members of Nameless Orders.
A solitary is a mage who does not belong to any cabal or Order. Some hail from remote regions with few or no other resident Awakened or haven’t attracted the attention of an Order yet. Most of these join an Order once the opportunity presents itself.
An apostate rejected membership in all the Orders for whatever reason. This is a daunting prospect when even casual membership in an Order grants access to so many resources – thousands of years’ worth of accumulated knowledge, grimoires, rotes, Legacies, artifacts, Imbued items, and secrets. Some apostates were once part of an Order and left (voluntarily or not), taking some its secrets with them. These latter apostates are distrusted by all the other Orders, who see them potential traitors or enemy spies.
A Nameless Order is one of any number of small, usually local or regional organizations of mages. Some belong to ancient magical traditions, while others consist of a handful of cabals who joined forces only a few years ago. Although a handful can wield considerable influence within their purview, they lack the global reach of the major Orders.
Cabals, Columns, and Pylons
As in last edition, these are our character-group sized unit; in-setting, they vary between two and thirty members. Some are loose associations sharing nothing more than the communal rent on a few safe houses, while others are tight-knit circles of mages who deliberately choose Shadow Names to take on complimentary roles, enhancing their group rituals. A cabal’s symbolism is as important as a Shadow Name in most mages’ eyes, especially Diamond mages who judge one another on cabal names and themes. The larger and older a cabal is, the more likely an internal pecking Order is to develop, as apprentices graduate but stick around in the same cabal as their much more powerful mentors. It’s unusual, however, for a cabal to last longer than its founding members—only cabals with powerful themes or dedicated students who want to carry on their heritage last past a hundred years, and they’re noteworthy for doing it.
“Cabal” is, strictly speaking, a Pentacle Order term. More than that, it’s a Diamond Order term. Libertines can and often do join cabals, but the Free Council has so many mages that a significant minority of their members don’t. Assemblies group their constituents who don’t have cabals into “Columns,” which have revolutionary connotations and a reputation for direct action. Most Pentacle cabals are made up of mages from a mix of Orders – it’s been that way since the Diamond were founded, and single-Order cabals are seen as both extremely dedicated to their area of interest and the mouthpieces of their Caucus.
Seers, of course, stand isolated from the other five Orders. Seer Pylons are usually larger than cabals and have clearly defined command structures, far beyond the rudimentary acknowledgement of greater experience in older cabals. Pylons are as likely to be mixed-Ministry as cabals are to be single-Order.
Above the Cabal level, Pentacle mages go to their Orders for tutelage, resources, support, and guidance. A Caucus is a single Mystery cult among the many making up the global numbers of an Order, covering a region anywhere between half a city and a whole country. The Caucuses of Pentacle Orders are technically independent – every Guardian of the Veil Epopt runs her own conspiracy of lesser-ranked Guardians, their Labyrinths, and the prospects being assessed without overt interference from her peers. Caucuses usually have ties to one another, especially between neighbors.
A Caucus can be very widespread – a full Mysterium Caucus, for example, has dozens of mages, at least two Athenaea and several attached sages, along with all the Sleepwalkers, Proximi, minor talents, and support staff that go along with them, spread out across three or four cities and the countryside between them.
Caucuses are the backbone of the Orders, and where most mages will have their “careers;” decoupling them from Consilia mean the setting now makes sense following the structures described in the Order books, and Caucus becomes a way for characters to meet peers in their Order who aren’t from the same Consilium, making it easier for Storytellers to introduce factions and Legacies they’re interested in without worrying about the local effect.
Consilium and Assembly
Where enough mages have gathered, drawn by a long-term Mystery like Boston’s secret Concord, Salamanca’s efímera-gates, and Seattle’s Splintered Timeline, they get in danger of conflict over access, magical real estate like Verges and Demesnes, and clashing Obsessions. The Diamond manages these pressures with a Consilium—a panel of Councilors chaired by a Hierarch, who hear and resolve disputes. Consilium decisions are backed up by social pressure – cabals who don’t agree to abide by their local Consilium don’t get the protection from other mages it affords. Also, the judges tend to come from the oldest, most powerful cabals and employ Sentinels – enforcers and detectives who levy out the Consilium’s punishments. A Consilium’s decisions aren’t always final – Convocations can act as a court of appeal – and they aren’t there to act as a government, except in issues where they make rulings to protect every Pentacle mage in their territory. As long as they don’t break any local laws, what a cabal gets up to is entirely their own business.
With the business of doling out responsibilities and furthering agendas firmly placed in Order Caucuses, Consilia in second edition are very clearly the Awakened judiciary – the Hierarch of a city isn’t in any way the “ruler,” but rather the senior arbiter of the local Pentacle. Consilium scenes are courtroom dramas, Sentinels investigating crimes against the Lex Magica or punishments being levied.
Libertines agree to be governed by the Consilium when they’re in a cabal, but the fifth Order prefers Assemblies. In theory, an Assembly is a democratic gathering of all the mages in a locality, voting equally on public matters and all abiding by the results. In practice, Assembly is usually the same thing as the Free Council Caucus, except for a handful of younger or less established mages who think they’ll get a better result appealing to the Libertines than going to the Hierarch. The Diamond Orders, who are all based on various forms of individual power and enlightenment, traditionally prefer the Consilium/Convocation model where a few experts make rulings. In some parts of the world, though, Assembly has gained traction—and we should show at least one in our setting chapter. The Libertines aren’t fools, though, and do have rules about who can vote – you have to be a member of an Assembly for a year, or prove your trustworthiness to the voting members – before you can vote in one, which keeps the democratic process reasonably safe from Diamond mages looking to use the Free Council as an army.
Convocation and Tetrarchy
To prevent Consilia from becoming too isolated from one another, the Silver Ladder works to organize regular Convocations. Mages from many different Consilia send representatives to exchange information and forge friendships and alliances with Awakened of other regions. The smallest Convocations cover the overlapping territories of one Caucus from each of the five Pentacle Orders, the largest gather attendees from all over a continent. The Silver Ladder has long spoken of organizing a Great Convocation open to mages from every Consilium in the world, but this has never materialized.
Convocations tie the Orders together; they’re where the Magisters of the Silver Ladder and the Adamant Sages of the Arrow confer with one another (even if it’s via representatives) and set the agenda for their own parts of the Orders. Convocations also act as courts of appeal for those dissatisfied with the ruling of their local Consilium. These gatherings also make excellent opportunities to meet mages of unusual Legacies who might be willing to induct a new student.
Convocations are where you see “The Pentacle,” where mages act like a government, and make large-scale decisions that the attending Caucuses agree to carry out. Unlike Consilium, Convocation has a very simple method of determining pull – any Master in attendance sits on decisions, which can lead to masters overruling their own Heirarchs by taking a matter “upstairs”. The difference in legal use of Consilium and Convocation is one of scale – a Consilium can say that one mage stole another mage’s Artifact, a Convocation can declare a Legacy Left-Handed.
Instead of Caucus, Convocation, and Consilium, Seers of the Throne maintain a compex chain of command within each Ministry that’s deliberately confusing, with every level only sure of the levels below them. The head of a Ministry in a wide geographical region is a Tetrarch, who meets with her counterparts from other Ministries in a meeting called a Tetrarchy. The Tetrarchies discuss the Seers’ goals and pass commands down to their Ministries. Above them each Ministry has a single Minister, the highest seat of the Seers in the Fallen World. Many Ministers are archmages, or live in Supernal Verge-fortresses where they’re imprisoned/served by entities loyal to their Patron Exarch.
Mentors and Students (and Legacies)
Cutting to the heart of mage society, in all Sects and all levels of organization, is the simple mentor/student relationship. At any given time, a player character may be the student of several Storyteller characters and the mentor of several more. These ties can cut across Order lines, are the basis for Legacies, and are the source of rivalries and loyalties that shake the setting up from a simplistic boxed view of the character types.
If that sounds complex, don’t worry – we have you covered. Second Edition’s Storytelling chapter includes advice and a process for generating the webs of associations a player character will have – who the local Heirarch is, who’s responsible for them in their Order, who they know apart from that, and so on. It’s got a musical theme.
There’s two obvious topics to go to from here; how does all this work in practice, and what about mages who reject it?
Settings or Antagonists?