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Spheres in Mage: Ascension overlap each other and even the core rulebook mentions that sufficiently creative player can solve every problem using nearly any sphere (except some specific situation, like accessing Umbra always needs Spirit).

However, that said, I had encountered numerous players that use out of game knowledge to justify their effects that seem to bypass everything but common sense.

The culprit player has a hermetic mage dealing mostly with Correspondence and Forces.

Example 1: He has no knowledge of Matter, but he tries to explain that indeed he has the capability of teleporting objects (that would regularly require Correspondence 3 and Matter 2) by means of temporarily making the space around the object be shared with target space, then undoing it in a way that leaves the objects at the target.

Example 2: He has no knowledge of Life, but indeed tries to stimulate a living being movement by controlling electrical signals in nerves - observing said signals first to get an idea.

Example 3: He has no knowledge of Matter, but rationalizes that indeed matter is energy, so he tries to perform a controlled reverse annihilation reaction to create a lead coin (and an anti-coin by default, composed of antimatter).

I tried to address those trials in different ways, but they all contributed to players frustration, because he believes that it was pure creativity that should be rewarded and not a game-breaking marysueism that is only possible because of his scientific background.

Ad 1: I allowed that, but increased Sphere requirement (Correspondence 3 to 4) and the difficulty (precise operation). He succeeded.

Ad 2: I allowed that, but decided that coherent control requires an exceptional success and that inevitably forced him to fail. He was quite upset.

Ad 3: I disallowed that, explaining that such a level of control is beyond his Arete. Furthermore, I asked the player if that is what his character believes, and if he is aware that the reasoning is technocratic in nature. He was upset about my refusal, but accepted the Technocracy bit. However, he did not stop nor did he roleplay this technocratic affinity in his character and took it as my personal vendetta when his avatar called him on that. I decided that this sort of magic is going to work only if I see a gradual progress of the character towards a technocratic mindset.

What to do when a player stretches and pushes his luck with spheres overlap, be it in a way described above or some other? How to prevent the player from mistaking pushiness with creativity? How to deal with players taking offense when I decide that their effect description is too far-fetched?

I use 2nd edition, but deliberately tried to be free of editions, as the problem for me is more related to struggling with the player's attitude (powergamer type, that likes to teleport bullets into brains and insists that it's not vulgar since the target dies before it is able to perceive the effect). Also, I'm waiting eagerly for MtA 20th Anniversary and would like it to work under that system as well.

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Just out of curiosity, which edition do you use? –  OpaCitiZen Jul 1 at 13:24
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That bullet in the brain is Vulgar Without Witnesses at best. Of course, that's presuming HAP, rather than HOP. :) –  Jadasc Jul 1 at 13:52
    
Following-up: I did accept that as vulgar without witnesses. He got hit by a backlash when police pathologist examined an intact bullet lodged in a brain matter without any entry path. We didn't like the rule preventing this anyway. –  eimyr Jul 1 at 14:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

What's missing here is an application of paradigm. Every mage believes with absolute clarity and certainty that the world works in accordance with the laws of magick as described by their tradition (or, in the case of orphans, the stuff that the School of Hard Knocks has taught them) — that application of will is how spells are cast and magick gets done. Your technique #3 is closest to the best — if the character believes that the world truly works via the Technocratic rules he's been taught, then he should also believe that all the wand-waving and circle drawing in the world won't cause an object to move. Science, right?

At the risk of pulling out of the fiction, what may be necessary here is going to the rulebook. The Spheres aren't just a representation of what the character believes is possible; they're also a game mechanic meant to balance character ability. Remind him that he agreed to take part in a game with other players and that you've all decided to play by the rules — which means that although there are certain places where Spheres can fudge, like the use of Forces by Verbena to control the weather, the Sphere descriptions largely proscribe what characters can do.

But your question at the end concerns how to handle the social impact of this problem, which is a little trickier. My advice would be to encourage him when he abides by the tenets of his paradigm, acting in accordance with Hermetic theory, and pull back when he turns to traditional science. Let him see that it's okay to push against the edges of the Spheres so long as it works to support, rather than hinder, the themes of the game.

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1 looks good enough to me. Correspondence alone is enough to teleport stuff. I only know the Revised edition though. Could it be from some earlier edition?

2 and 3 - both initial explanations come from character's limited knowledge. That is - a mage having no Life sphere might rationalize that she can control electrical charges. Except that when she tries she finds that to properly observe them is a bit beyond her capabilities and requires a lot more knowledge of how these electric charges actually work. Learning to properly observe them is actually learning Life 1. Which in turn should bring the understanding that Forces will not be able to simulate Life.

It's similar about replacing Matter with Forces. If you attempt to use Forces instead of Matter, you'll find that you lack knowledge about how matter works. Which leads to learning Matter 1 and reviewing your paradigm.

What to do?

Let the player character try. Let him fail - no rolling, just "it didn't work and you don't understand why - is it a flaw in your theory?". Explain him that he needs to learn more to understand what he tries to manipulate. Eventually he either gives up on that or acquires the first level in needed sphere and understands what he was missing initially. You can explain it to player after that.

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It came from 2nd edition, the one I'm most comfortable with. The premise was that his Correspondence 3 allows to make a connection from A to B, but not to change the location of an arbitrary pattern - which is certainly possible with application of Matter/Life/etc. Might have been wrong about this though. –  eimyr Jul 1 at 13:32
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I used to think that Correspondence 3 is enough to warp space so that two locations become as close as one step away and you can just make that extra step to actually teleport. –  aragaer Jul 1 at 13:34
    
I don't mean to argue, escpecially that I agree with that. It's just that the act of teleportation was supposed to happen without that extra step, as in teleporting a safe bolted to the floor to another building without unbolting. That's why I decided to add Matter, as it is necessary to target a matter pattern, but the player insisted that he can just "aim the space around it". –  eimyr Jul 1 at 13:49
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In that case I totally agree. And it falls again to the same "It didn't work for some reason, maybe it's some strange effect caused by having matter in the target area? Do you know anything about how matter works?" –  aragaer Jul 1 at 14:00

Reward his Creativity with Plot

As a GM i'm a big believer in the 'Yes, but' school of GMing thought. I say that, but in a game I ran yesterday, I had to say 'no' almost continuously to a player. He was coming from a different gaming culture than mine (less serious), and making a lot of new-player mistakes. It was especially noticeable in the rules-lite, narrative-control system I was using.

The thing is, every single time I could, when it didn't directly contradict the setting or the rules I had established, I said yes. I said 'yes, you can do that'. And then it went horribly wrong. And the player loved it.

Most people don't want to win, they want to do stuff. I notice this most in new players, and players who have had overly restrictive GMs in their past. You can always add a new complication. They break into the house, but it's on fire, they stimulate the man's nerves... so much they overload, and he dies. Etc. You say 'yes, you can do that', and then you say 'and' or 'but' and then bad things happen.

And then you reward the player. With screen time, information, success, or even the new complication is the reward. Any fruits of your imagination that you lavish on players, they will generally like. And by saying 'yes you may try that', by letting them make mistakes, you're giving them what they actually want - character agency, GM attention, and screen time. It may make you pull out your hair a bit, but once they feel like they actually have agency, like what they're doing matters, 99% of players will, in my experience, settle down. Argue less, try for 'advantage' less, and generally be less difficult to run games for.

It's just someone testing the possibility space a bit more violently than other people. Bear with it, say yes when you can, and calmly add complications/plot on top of the complications/plot they solve, and they'll realize the boundaries of the possibility space are mutable to your will and they'll stop trying to 'hack' the 'game'. And start having fun.

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Your suggestion to handle the situation by allowing him to solve the problems and replacing them with other problems can deny player agency and creativity. I personally chafe under such treatment, and prefer to limit the players directly. Most people I think prefer to be told the boundaries rather than to have to find them by repeatedly running into the walls. –  C. Ross Jul 2 at 0:39

Spheres in Mage: Ascension overlap each other and even the core rulebook mentions that sufficiently creative player can solve every problem using nearly any sphere (except some specific situation, like accessing Umbra always needs Spirit).

However, that said, I had encountered numerous players that use out of game knowledge to justify their effects that seem to bypass everything but common sense.

The culprit player has a hermetic mage dealing mostly with Correspondence and Forces.

Example 1: He has no knowledge of Matter, but he tries to explain that indeed he has the capability of teleporting objects (that would regularly require Correspondence 3 and Matter 2) by means of temporarily making the space around the object be shared with target space, then undoing it in a way that leaves the objects at the target.

This is ok. Correspondance 3 can open a portal, he just trades one item for the other and collapses the portal

Example 2: He has no knowledge of Life, but indeed tries to stimulate a living being movement by controlling electrical signals in nerves - observing said signals first to get an idea.

Nope, not allowed. Bioelectrical impulse is the domain of life. otherwise cascading spheres from Masters of the Art is pointless. It doesn't matter if electricity = electricity in our world, only that Life = Life and forces = forces. besides, as others have said. Bioelectricity is decidedly technocratic.

Example 3: He has no knowledge of Matter, but rationalizes that indeed matter is energy, so he tries to perform a controlled reverse annihilation reaction to create a lead coin (and an anti-coin by default, composed of antimatter).

Nope. Again, from a rule perspective matter = matter and forces = forces. You don't get to use forces to affect matter until Sphere level 7 ( I think. I don't have my book with me). Look up cascading spheres.

Basically what he is trying to do is wiggle around the rules by using the real worlds very technocratic-esque paradigm. But the game is very clear about what affects what. To affect a living thing directly requires Life. otherwise you could create a exothermic biomass and launch it like a fireball.

Basically the actual answer is: Spheres don't overlap until you get to level 7. Anyone who says they do needs be slapped.

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And even in technocratic paradigm bioelectricity is affected by a lot of additional factors. The sheer amount of knowledge required to affect that bioelectricity is basically equal to using Life instead of Forces. –  aragaer Jul 13 at 18:38

As I see the things, matter and energy is the same, but you need to have the knowledge to understand each form.

The same happens with life and forces: yes, the organisms use electrical impulses, but understanding how they work is a matter of Life, not Forces.

Sometimes those kind of things can be also can be addressed by setting the number of successes needed. When I was learning Mage a friend told me that with Prime you could do anything. If you unweave the pattern of a chair and weave it into the pattern of a burning chair, you can create fire without Forces. I would say that such things would need an absurd number of successes. The same if you try to clone a person with Matter, by copying each atom. Maybe in some paradigms it could be, but that would need an outstanding number of successes.

I think that asking for a great number of successes can be also more diplomatic that just denying the effect.

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