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There is one aspect of Magick (yes, I'm using 2nd ed, but it applies equally to Revised and upcoming 20th Anniversary AFAIK) that I simply cannot grasp.

Lack of dice during a throw. High success requirements. High target difficulties. And most of all - multiple penalties for the same circumstance.

Arete, which is being rolled when trying Magick, usually ranges from around 3 to 4 in my groups. Beings with Arete 6+ are said to be godlike creatures banishing themselves from earth to run away from paradigm limitations. Not to mention prohibitively expensive XP costs.

On top of that, following the charts I come to this conclusion: In favorable conditions, coincidental magick is about 5-6 difficulty and vulgar 6-7 In unfavorable conditions, like casting in combat an improvised effect, difficulty reaches 9 very quickly (3 for arbitrarily chosen dot, +4 for vulgar, no witnesses, +1 for improvised, +1 for distractions).

All of the above are fair enough - magick is hard.

But then Magickal Feats and Damage and Duration charts happen.

A standard Magickal Feat, like a fireball, shapechange (from chart), Matter transformation, dodging an attack with Entropy, extracting Quintessence from a Tass, reading a person's mind (my examples) require 2 successes. Doing that remotely, without physical contact - +1. Making that last more than a turn (without "channeling" I presume) another +1.

Or a tad more difficult, self teleportation, 4 successes flat from just the Magickal Feats table.

How do I get 4 successes on 3 dice, that seem to be a standard for a mage that could reasonably attempt those tasks.

Or maybe even a ridiculous example of 3 successes required to ignite a gas main, that is naturally highly explosive and should be fairly easy in comparison?

I know the above tables are an attempt at limiting spectacular or outrageous effects like pulling the Moon from its orbit. But wouldn't such an act already taxed by Sphere requirements? Sure, for the Moon one, 9 difficulty would still be easy, but why not have "outrageously vulgar acts add number of successes at storyteller's discretion" rule instead?

It seems to me that either: a) Magick is never supposed to be used outside of the Mage's haven, or b) Magick is just SO HARD that no one under 5-6 Arete should attempt anything useful, or c) My players should have more Arete because 3 is really really low, or d) These tables tax low-power effects too harshly, or e) I'm doing something wrong.

Can someone please explain where am I missing it? I understand that Magick is never easy, not even for a godlike guru, but should actions described in 2nd or 3rd dot of a particular sphere be near-impossible for a Mage with 2 or 3 Arete?

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Also, if you want a game where this is not true, you could try Mage: The Awakening. – Jadasc Jul 1 '14 at 16:42
Speaking of high difficulties - IIRC, there was no threshold mechanic before Mage. – aragaer Jul 1 '14 at 17:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Because the world is broken and it's your job to fix it.

The rules are meant to suggest a world where the Technocracy has locked down magick hard — mages are supposed to take every advantage they can, using Willpower and Quintessence to add successes and lower difficulties, take advantage of magickal tools and rotes to modify die pools, and do lots of their magick coincidentally to escape the notice of the agents of Stasis.

Also, do more extended rolls.

You can make a number of rolls to store up successes equal to your Arete score plus your Willpower. (The rules for doing so are on page 150 of the Mage: the Ascension Revised core book; it's also reflected in the Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Quick-Start Rules.) Each roll lets you spend more Willpower and more Quint, making it possible to garner those high quantities of successes. Failing means you might lose those successes, or garner Paradox. It's a bit of a gamble, but that's the best way to go about it. Fast-casting is possible, but it's best for those times that you don't have the seconds to spare before something goes down.

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When you say extended rolls, are you talking about the rituals (which can requires hours for each roll) or you can roll several times on an improvised effect? – Flamma Jul 1 '14 at 21:48
The second. So long as you don't fail or botch, you can continue to roll and gather successes on a spellcasting roll as many times as you have dots in Arete. – Jadasc Jul 1 '14 at 21:53
Besides extended rolls, acting in concert (i.e. group effort) and Ability use (supplementary Attribute + Ability roll) can also add successes. The former mechanic explains cabals and lodges, the latter ewards expertise. – Xabei Jul 1 '14 at 23:20
I've been looking for "Arete" in all the book of revised edition, and could not find it. Do you know if this rule exists in revised? BTW, it seems a good and even necessary mechanic since it is too hard to obtain significant successes in just one roll. – Mu_ Jul 2 '14 at 7:41
@Mu_ Arete is rolled for magic resolution. The mechanic is on page 148. of the revised Mage: The Ascension core book. If you mean the rule where Arete limits the number of extended rolls, the proposed cap in revised is Arete + Willpower, and it is on page 150. – Xabei Jul 2 '14 at 9:38

The question is answered in Mage: the Ascension Revised FAQ.

It seems really hard to build a fast Effect. With penalties for fast-casting, required successes and the like, most mages will have trouble getting more than one or two successes in a turn.

This is deliberate; mages should take time to prepare, cast their Effects wisely and use brains, not brute force. Magic turns the universe on its head - this is not something done quickly or lightly! And, again, magic is not an instant cure-all for everything. A mage can't rely solely on magic to fix every problem. A mage under stress is probably better suited using some subtle magic to nudge events into her favor, or splitting dice pools to get a simple personal Effect backing up a normal action. Real titanic workings will take time and effort. If a mage just has to do something phenomenal in one turn, that's what Willpower and Quintessence expenditures are for. Remember, too, that if all that your mage wants to do is kill someone with vulgar magic, that successes on the attack roll do add to damage as with any other sort of attack, so even a one-success fire blast can inflict some hefty damage with a good shot.

If a Storyteller wants to let mages build faster Effects, then it's easiest just to get rid of the fast-casting difficulty penalty and to loosen up the success chart so that one or two successes can still score useful results.

Still, it seems too hard for me :(

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I've got an off-topic note for the ones in charge of rpg.SE -- I did not have an account on this site, but when I was viewing the question, coming from "Hot Network Questions" link, I had this answer typed as my own, before it was posted by autor. I just don't know where to report such a bug. – sukhmel Jul 1 '14 at 21:48
@sukhmel Please post this on meta. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 2 '14 at 9:30

Consensual Reality

Magick is hard because of Consensual Reality. The whole world knows that when you stick your hand in your pocket, your hand can only travel a few inches. However, when you do the Life (or Matter) + Correspondence Effect, you stick your hand in the pocket and then reach through space to the bowl by the door where you forgot your frickin' keys yet again. There is part of your brain (that was etched into reflex before Awakening) that says that's simply not possible. So in addition to fighting the world's idea of Consensual Reality, you are reflexively fighting what you are trying to do as well. When you get out of the world of coincidental and into Vulgar, it gets still more difficult as you pointed out. Fireballs do not happen in today's society. As for lighting a Gas main, you cannot put a spark inside of a gas pipe and expect it to blow up. You need to mix enough oxygen with the hydrocarbons in the pipe to form a combustible/explosive mixture of fuel and air.


Your Mage's paradigm will affect not only how he sees the world, but how his magic will interact with that world. For example, I once played an Akashic who was also a forensic detective. As a result, he had lots of Time, so in Combat he would cast Effects that made him quicker. Sure, my character was fast, but there's plenty of science out there showing that Martial Artists tend to have quicker reflexes than "Joe Normals". Another character of mine was a doctor with the Celestial Chorus. Although he was a pacifist, when it came to humans, evil beings he felt little remorse from ripping their Pattern apart with Life magic.

At the end of the day, if you believe you do damage with a "normal" punch that hits really fast, or that you shred someone's Pattern at "normal" speed, is dictated by paradigm. Flesh out your backstory and make the character's background make sense from a Magickal perspective. Had my Akashic wanted to lob Fireballs down the street, he would have had to train not only the Magickal component to learn HOW to do it, but also he would have had to train his body, mind, spirit, soul, etc. to learn WHY it was the answer instead of something else.

Practice Makes Perfect

One thing I do when I make a Mage is after figuring out that I have 2 dots in this Sphere and 3 in that one, I sit down, re-read each Sphere and figure out how they play together. Using Correspondence to get my forgotten keys from inside the house is helped by using either Life or Matter (does your hand go to the keys, or do you pull the keys to your hand?). I try to figure out 2 Effects for every combination of spheres at each level. Then I look at those combinations that jumped out at me and my character's background and Paradigm to figure out about 10 or so Rotes that my character has as go-to Effects. While I have found that there are always the "oh no" Effects that are needed to save the character's hide, knowing Rotes that get me close (or can be used earlier) help to keep the really tough stuff away.

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There's no real reason.

Far as I can tell, yes, magic is mechanically too hard, and no, I have not found any reason for this. I can go into details of what i've looked at, but ultimately, I feel this is just a fairly generic case of 'White Wolf aren't great at Mechanics'. If you want a game with more useful magic, you'll need to ad-hoc some of the numbers a bit to either result in larger dice pools, or lower required successes.

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-1; as Jadasc points out, the difficulty of magick is explained in canon: the Technocracy is making it hard. Check out published settings where the Technocracy has a weaker hold and you'll find the difficulty curve changes. (See: Mage: the Sorcerer's Crusade and Dark Ages: Mage) – Brian S Jul 1 '14 at 18:28
-1 as well. It's the Consensus that's way too 'stiff' nowadays. Beside what Brian said about Sorcerer's Crusader and Dark Ages (when it was easier), magick is easier as well depending on where you are. In the middle of the Amazon Forest, you can make a enormous beast appear with far more ease than in middle Chicago. Why? Because it's what Sleepers don't know that they don't doubt. – Lucas Famelli Sep 17 '14 at 11:36

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