Terra Incognita [Mage: The Awakening]
We’ve spoken a lot about Mysteries and Obsessions so far in this blog, and how mages become attracted to, obsessed by, and sometimes killed by the many supernatural aspects of the World of Darkness. Most such things are unique – central Mysteries that individual chronicles revolve around, like the Secret Concord / Prince of 100,000 Leaves in Boston Unveiled, or the splintered timeline of Seattle. Each of our example settings in Awakening 2nd edition features a central Mystery like that, and the assumption of the game is that your chronicle setting probably will too. If there’s nothing weird going on in a location, it’s less likely to attract mages in the numbers needed for a Consilium. We call the concept High Strangeness, the term for it coined by Demon‘s Storyteller chapter.
Here Be Dragons
Aside from High Strangeness, Mage has some common (and less-common) types of supernatural “real estate” linked to the Awakened. Most settings will include at least a few of these; they’re presented and described for the Storyteller as tools in her kit. Whether it’s a Hallow owned (and represented by a Merit) by the player characters, or a Wending the cabal explore in a single story, these locations can be in the background or right at the forefront of a story.
Safehouses, ritual chambers, and laboratories, a Sanctum is a mage’s safe place. Order Caucuses and Consilia maintain large, communal Sanctums, often serving as libraries and ceremonial spaces. Everything from a cabal’s rented apartment to a Mystagogue Athenaeum or a Seer of the Throne transport nexus is a Sanctum. The building itself is represented in second edition mechanics by the Safe Place Merit, while the “Sanctum” Merit provides add-on ritual casting benefits.
Prime (pun intended) magical real estate, Hallows are places where Free Mana gathers. They’re bought mechanically as a Merit (separate to Safe Place,) and in-setting mages covet them as resources, especially if they are large, intersect with a Ley Node, or produce edible Tass. Many Consilia have strict laws against theft or vandalism of Hallows, but that doesn’t stop inter-sect rivalries; Seers and Pentacle mages sometimes murder one another for a potent wellspring of Mana.
Ley Lines and Nodes
Visible to any form of Mage Sight, a ley line is an invisible current of energy running through the Fallen World. Leys naturally follow the Fallen World’s features, contoring to flow between esoteric features like Shadow Locii and Avernian Gates, but mages can move them with Weaving spells of Prime. Where leys intersect, they create Nodes – places where the Fallen World seems energized or drained. When a Node happens to be on top of a Hallow, the Mana the Hallow collects picks up a powerful resonance, so some mages engage in geomancy to carefully align positive Nodes onto their Hallows.
An Iris is a gateway from the material world to somewhere else. Some are open doors, others have certain conditions or only open at appropriate times. Mages can circumvent many opening conditions with magic. Avernian Gates lead to the Underworld, Locii are places where it’s easier to punch through the Gauntlet to the Shadow World, and rarer Irises lead to more unusual – and potentially deadly – places.
Verges are areas where the Supernal World or Abyss is especially strong, overwriting the laws of reality with the originating realm. Pandemonic Verges are nightmarish, twisting labyrinths. Aether verges are firestorms. Arcadian Verges are zones of weird or missed time. Abyssal verges are twisted spots where reality breaks down entirely. Supernal and Abyssal beings can survive in the appropriate kind of Verge indefinitely and see and be seen by anyone inside, which makes them doubly dangerous.
The rarest, largest, and most powerful Verges contain Irises leading to worlds where Fallen reality breaks down entirely rather than being twisted – these Emanation Realms (in Supernal Verges) and Annunaki (in Abyssal Verges) aren’t fully the Abyss or Supernal World, more like “Fallen World Verges” within those strata of reality.
Verges occur naturally, but Abyssal Verges can result from strong Paradoxes. Sleepers can’t destroy a true Supernal Verge through Dissonance, but their memories of time inside are subject to Quiescence.
Lastly, although we’ll only have room to mention the existence of Verges, Emanation Realms, and Annunaki in the corebook without detailed rules in the core, they’ll have a chapter devoted to them in second edition’s first supplement.
A Demesne is a weak, artificial Verge, created by a mage’s soul stone. Mages create them to enhance their ritual spaces and allow easy access to the Astral Realms, but they’re much smaller and more fragile than a Verge – Sleepers entering a Demesne cause Dissonance, and can destroy it.
Ruins of Before
Mages sometimes find strange ruins and temples that seem to have been built before the Fall, either by Atlantean mages or other cultures (and people, and things that were almost people, and things that were definitely not people) in the vanished world Before. Those surviving to the modern day are guarded by powerful spells, contain deadly secrets, and act as enticing Mysteries to the Awakened. Despite many attempts, ruins of Before are impossible to date – Time spells report inconsistent or nonsensical results – or even place into a typography with one another. It’s not that they hail from Atlantis, which no longer ever existed. It’s that they each seem to hail from a slightly different Atlantis, or a post-Atlantean, hyperborean time that never happened.
Temple Guardians and the Bound
Some Ruins of Before contain entities. Mages call those set by the ancients as watchdogs Temple Guardians, and those which seem to be imprisoned The Bound. Bound, in particular, are the source of much speculation among the Orders, who believe they were once Supernal entities exiled to the Fallen World by the Exarchs. Their rapacious hunger for Mana, and the commandments some Seers receive to keep them safely imprisoned, seems to bear that out.
Chantries and Wendings
Strange pocket-worlds obeying their own physical laws, a Chantry is the private universe of an archmaster, built within her soul. Mages seeking the insight and wisdom of the Imperial Practices, or just looking for a miracle, trace rumors of the Irises leading to Chantries of archmasters who might be able to help. Chantries remain even after their owner dies or Ascends beyond the Fallen World entirely, becoming Wendings. A Wending is a fragile half-real realm, sought out as shortcuts and secret routes between realms in the Fallen World by knowledgeable cabals, but they run the risk of shattering and depositing travelers into the Abyss and certain death. First described in Tome of the Mysteries, we’re bringing mention of Chantries into the core book to firmly pin archmasters’ place in the setting down – the things they make are more important than they are to most games, and a sidebar alongside this section describes them in brief.
Monsters, Cryptids, and Genius Locii
The strange places of the world aren’t sterile and empty. Life persists anywhere, often warping into unusual forms that become just as Mysterious as their habitat. Cryptids, humans with paranormal abilities, extinct animals, nearly-human races like the Rmohals, and other odd beings all exist. We won’t have room for rules, though, but we’ll bear “what lives here?” in mind when describing a Mysterious site. Sometimes a place itself becomes self-aware; a Genius Locus or living place, often confused for spiritual influence or the result of mages casting Mind spells.
Outward Travel: The Shadow, Underworld, and Lower Depths
After looking at the odd corners of the material World of Darkness, we take a run-through of the major and minor outer realms, those worlds separate to the world Sleepers know but still Fallen from the Supernal.
When Awakening was first written, the Shadow World was brand-new and the Underworld four years off. Death spells made occasional references to the Underworld without any detail, and other than renaming the various Ranks of spirits the Shadow World (never “hisil” in a Mage book) was as it is in Werewolf: The Forsaken.
We can’t do the Thyrsus justice without the Shadow, and although they’re less involved with the Underworld, the Moros deserve details on “their” realm, too. What we don’t have is a lot of room to cover the two ephemeral realms, so the corebook has to do a careful balancing act, getting the feeling of them across as Mysteries and settings without going into too much detail.
Werewolves experience the Shadow World as half-spirits – they feel its ebb and flow, the invisible currents of Essence and the cycles of predation and influence that make up its protean, living structure. Day and Night. Wind and Calm. Wilderness and City.
Unless they cast spells, a mage in the Shadow is treated like any human – a curiosity or a meal for a spirit. Spirit Mage Sight reveals slumbering or hidden spirits and gives a feeling for what’s going on, but ultimately mages aren’t natives. They can be ambassadors to the flesh, rulers of miniature fiefdoms, backers of spirit politics (using magic to generate Essence is a well-known trick), and many other roles, but they’re outsiders. Mages also lack the disgust werewolves have for Magath and Hosts – they’re often dangerous, but to a Thyrsus exploring the Shadow they’re no different from anything else in the Shadow.
The Spirit Arcanum in Awakening Second Edition feels very different to the powers of Uratha in Forsaken Second Edition; werewolves engage with the Shadow. They belong there. Mages treat the cycles and ecologies of Essence the way they treat the material world’s physics; a sad Fallen reflection of the Primal Wild, that they manipulate with spells.
Mages can enter the Great Below with Death spells to locate Avernian gates, divine the keys to those gates, force them open without the keys or even create entirely new gates. Even Moros don’t tend to linger in the land of the dead, though—it has a way of twisting the emotions of unprotected explorers, and the treasures and Mysteries of the dead are guarded by both extremely high-Rank ghosts and the Underworld’s bizarre “Cthonian” natives. Mages have a bit of a strange perspective on ghosts compared to other supernatural beings — ghosts are often poetically described as “souls”, but mages can see human souls using the right spells, and know – not believe, know – that they aren’t the same thing. What ghosts are, though, is hotly-debated by the Awakened. The “footprint” in ephemera left by a soul? The Death portion of a soul, broken off when the rest of it moves on? A related phenomenon to astral projection? They don’t know. Many mages use ghosts as tools, many try to treat them as thinking beings.
The Lower Depths
Mentioned in the Corebook and sporadically throughout the line, mages call any realm that doesn’t fit into the Fallen World part of “the Lower Depths.” The Depths are characterized by a lack of one or more Arcana – they’re as far from the Fallen World as the Fallen is from the Supernal – and an endless hunger for whatever quality they lack. Mages call many realms detailed in other World of Darkness gamelines “Lower Depths,” but the only thing Duat, wherever it is the Strix come from, and Inferno have in common is the name. It’s a classification for thousands of worlds, not a continuum. The corebook won’t mention any of these “crossover Depths;” focusing instead on Mage-internal places like Annwn, the Tutor’s Realm, and the Decay.
It’s also going to be the shortest section in the Setting Chapter, and, sadly, will be first against the wall when the wordcount needs trimming. But the intention is to talk about them a bit. More than the two sentences they got in first edition’s core, anyway.
Inward Travel: The Astral Realms
Mages can turn their gnosis in on itself, meditating to experience the myriad worlds within the human soul. The Astral Realms are not the dream-walking of Changeling (entering someone’s dreams is a simple Mind spell) or wandering the material world as a mental projection in Twilight (also a Mind spell!) but rather the realms within the soul. Mages entering the Astral encounter truths they didn’t consciously know, confront spiritual wounds, and explore the collective soul of humanity and the Fallen World itself.
In the current edition, entering the Astral required a 5-dot Hallow or Demesne, plus one Mana. We’re changing that to any Hallow or Demesne, costing six minus the Hallow’s rating Mana, one Mana for a Demesne of a different Path or free for a Demense of the correct Path.
Mages appear in the Astral as their soul’s self-image, influenced by their Shadow lives if they’re particularly devoted to a Shadow Name. Mages often change apparent age or fitness on entering the Astral, and some change gender. Mages with Shadow names deeply associated with a particular people (that they aren’t descended from in the material world) might even change race.
The Astral Realms are an afterthought in the current corebook, but after expansion in their eponymous book they’re one of the best parts of Mage’s setting, and we’re giving them a bit more room to breathe – about as much as the Shadow and Underworld combined. We’ll focus on what mages can do in the various regions, and reasons to venture Inside.
Entering the Astral is an extended Meditation action, successes representing progress on the Astral Path – an imaginary journey the mage creates, picturing themselves traveling around or down a landscape of their own choosing. As they progress, the Path takes on the aspects of their Mage Sight, hence the name “Path”; many mages believe they are literally following their connection to the Supernal.
The first layer of the Astral is the realm of the individual soul. The Oneiros contains memories, vices, virtues, and vistas showing what the mage believes about subjects. Most mages meditate to their own Oneiros, but Mind spells can link two souls together to allow group exploration or the invasion of a victim’s soul. Mages enter the Oneiros to gain self-knowledge, literally confront their fears, consult with their Daimons (the goetia representing each soul’s drive to self-improvement) or even edit out traumatic memories. The first realm entered is the soul’s concept of “arrival”, and travel is a matter of emotional association and attempting to focus on the desired destination.
The next layer of the Astral for mages is the shared soul of the human race. Every concept shared between more than one person exists as a realm somewhere within the Temenos, but may be difficult to find if especially rare. Mages are no exception – the Orders and Legacies all have representative realms in the Astral, and some astrally-oriented Legacies use their own realms as bases and staging areas for soul-voyages. Travel in the Temenos begins at the concept-world matching the Astral Path’s scenery, and proceeds as a game of free-association, finding conceptual links between scenes or seeking out a concept of “transport” or “travel”. Mages enter the Temenos to learn secrets, gather information, and influence Sleeper society – great changes to the Temenos representation of a concept alter how everyone in the material world regards that concept, although the vox populi has a habit of bouncing back hard following attempted subversion.
The final layer of the Astral accessible to mages, the Anima Mundi is the shared soul of the whole Fallen World. Travelers always arrived at the Boundary Stone, which is both the gateway to the Anima Mundi and the Temenos realm of “High Speech,” the thing that separates humanity from the world. Travel in the Anima Mundi isn’t the freeform web of emotions or concepts – when in the world’s soul, mages have to bow to how insignificant they are, and follow the prescribed paths. From the Boundary Stone, travelers enter either the realm of humanity’s devastating impact on the world or the broken, shattered world Axis Mundi, the spine of creation. From there, they enter the Dreaming Earth, the shared soul of everything in the material world, and finally to the Sidereal Wastes and the souls of the far planets and stars. Outside the soul of humanity, though, the Astral Realms constantly threaten to consume a traveler – Astral Winds pull travelers apart to fatal communion with the universe.
The Far Shore
At the very end of the Anima Mundi, in the Sidereal Wastes, explorers find a desolate beach on the shore of a jet-black ocean that only moves when they don’t look at it. The Ocean Oroboros is the Astral reflection of the Abyss, and mages can go no further. Around the ocean, the goetia representing the most fundamental concepts – the Arcana and Paradox – await travelers in citadels that might once have been bridges between the soul and the Supernal Realms. Travelers come to petition for knowledge and make deals with these “Aeons.”
The last part of our guided tour of the Fallen World will be the rules for ephemeral entities. We’re reprinting ghosts and spirits from God-Machine (reworded to remove angels and cut the wordage down) and adding;
Goetia: the inhabitants of the Astral Realms. Goetia have no native Manifestations (they don’t need them in the Astral) and have Influence over the concept they embody. Goetia summoned out into the material world with Mind magic exist in the “mental” Twilight of projectors and Auspex-using vampires, but can be granted ephemeral bodies and Manifestations using Spirit or Death magic.
Supernal Entities: Fae, Demons, Shades, Beasts, and Angels. Supernal entities have no Influences or Manifestations, and don’t even use Essence—they use Arcana and Mana instead.
Abyssal Entities: Abyssal beings represent the world they’re in being corrupted, and use the rules for whichever realm they were summoned in (in the Material world, this means they usually manifest as spirits, but can sometimes appear as ghosts.) Material, Shadow, and Underworld Abyssal creatures are called Gulmoth. Astral abyssal creatures are Acamoth. Every Abyssal represents some kind of twisting of reality, which they further with their influences – Gulmoth are spells gone wrong, violations of physical laws, and warped matter, while Acamoth try to make the conceptual realms they infect twist into hellish landscapes resonant with the Abyss.
After looking at the World, where do we go from here? Vote Atlantis to finally address the elephant in the room; the Time Before and the Fall. Vote Los Angeles to look at a specific example setting and its central Mystery.