The Onyx Wolf: Magical Styles, past and present.

Oct 08

Tome of Mysteries… I like this book, did you notice??

Hello and welcome to a new article of the Onyx Wolf!

Today we are going to talk about magical styles and why the New World of Darkness tries oh so very hard to make good ones and fails miserably for the most part.

As you might recall, in Mage: The Awakening, magic is created by your will and as such, no style is needed. Your character just wills it and it happens if he has the needed skills, so why would he need any hocus pocus to chain him down? The short answer is that he does not and the core book does not speak at all about styles or stuff like that.

At the time, this was seen as quite a sacrilege, because magical style was a quite important part of the previous system. In Mage: The Ascension you had Akashic mages using martial arts kata for their spells together with Ecstatic using drugs and hermetics using Angel speech or esoteric calculations to do their magic. The effects they obtained were all the same and regulated by a quite similar system of Arcana, but the meat was completely different.

This is because in the old system what you believed in was of paramount importance so that a traditionally trained Hermetic mage could not literally cast any spells without the support of the formulas and foundation of the tradition he so much believed in. None of such remained in the new system as magic works like that and so it is.

A few of the most beloved Traditions of Mage: the Ascension were lost in the translation to the new system, namely the Virtual Adepts and the Sons of Ether that combined magic with technology in different and interesting ways. The Virtual Adept were a bunch of mage/hackers able to access a Matrix of sorts, a virtual Net, while the Sons of Ether were the typical “crazy inventor” stereotype, using pseudo-science to justify magical miracles, a bunch of Nikola Teslas basically.

White Wolf was not deaf to the requests of their fans and so they tried to re-introduce magical styles in a system purposely designed to not have any. As you can imagine, it did not end very well.

To date, there have been three attempts of doing this: in Magical Traditions, in the chronicler’s Guide and in the Tome of Mysteries.  Here, let me briefly break them down for you:

Magical Traditions

This book does not actually try to inject a magical style to your game. Instead it presents you several examples of sleeper-based occult traditions and an handful of merits in each to emulate how following it could affect your mage. It is harmless enough, but it spare precious little space to actually building your own magical style while offering a great deal of information on several real sleeper occult traditions.

While the information is nice and the merits provide a smackering of justification for this book, a few hours spent on wikipedia would have served just as much, in my opinion.

Chronicler’s Guide

Ooooh boooooy.

Don’t get me wrong, this book overall is quite ok with lots of nice suggestions on how to run the game and how to change things up, but it fall completely flat on the face when it tries to explain Weird Science.

Weird Science would be the attempt to re-introduce long time favorite, the Sons of Ether and in lesser part, the Virtual Adepts, to Mage. Unfortunately, instead of a set of working rules to use and build weird devices to use spells from, we get a renaming coat of paint that does not actually change any rules, it just change what each part is called. So you have “Proven experiments” instead or Rote and a “Blueprint” instead of the imago, but the mechanics remain exactly the same, which kinda defeat the purpose of a Mage heavily involved in gadgets.. which, by those rules, does not actually NEED any gadgets…

I’ll let that sink it in a moment before repeating it: The Weird Science magic, based on the crazy inventions of Nikola Tesla and that magical Victorian age where the Inventor reigned supreme and ANYTHING was possible with science… does not actually need to build any crazy devices to do magic. No death rays, no earthquake machines, no steam punks contraption, no nothing.

The book goes on to give a quite mild magical style system that gives you some mild bonus in exchange for taking a turn to perform some action related with it. Not bad, but Atlantean does the same thing and give a better bonus, so why bother? And using BOTH would mean the mage has to prepare 2 turns before casting a single spell, which is quite useless in most situations when you NEED those extra dice.

Tome of Mysteries

The tome gives a very simple and not very detailed system which is, in my opinion, the best presented so far. For one, it links the magical style to rotes as it should be, for second it enhance the Rote-based economy by creating dozens of different rotes, all with different effects and usefulness.

So the system goes that there are rotes created for a spell that follow a certain sleeper occult tradition and will benefit from the inherent connection with the Supernal Realms these traditions have, making the spell actually more powerful as long as certain parameters are met. So an Egyptian based rote of a certain spell could require the mage to wear typical Egyptian trappings while yelling in ancient Egyptian, but in exchange, the spell gets an automatic Target upgrade so your lighting bolt now hits two targets without losing the customary 2 dice.

It is a flexible and elegant system that work excellently with the existing magical framework and even enriches it. So what’s wrong with it? Nothing, really, but the fact is that it has incredibly few examples and it is mostly given to you as is without any expanding or enrichment. More examples would have been welcomed and even a whole chapter or more dedicated to this in later books would have been greatly appreciated, but no. Instead I got the impression each book tried to re invent the wheel and do its own thing instead of building on what was already there.


No game is perfect and this is one point in which the new Mage really stumbles. Magical Styles do not really fit the Atlantean framework too well as presented. I would advice anyone wanting to insert some of that to use the Tome of Mysteries system and then expand it as needed (and it will be needed! there are like 3 examples in there at all). I would give good money for an expansion and extension of that, maybe the same treatment Alchemy got in the very same book would be worth gold to me, Gold I tell you!

And there you have it, how to do magic… in Style!

– Volkmar


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