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In Mage: the Ascension, in order to raise one's Arete, a mage must undergo a seeking, something between a vision quest and a personally tailored one-on-one adventure. At the end of this side mission, the player rolls to see whether they are permitted to raise this (pretty crucial) stat. Unlike other experience expenditures, this one requires a great deal of Storyteller adjudication, and has the potential to disappoint a player who doesn't 'make the grade,' however the grade is calculated.

Seekings are hard. How does one run a good one? Issues that should be addressed:

  • How do you balance the feeling that "Ascension should be hard, a trial for the character as well as the player" with the idea that XP are there to be spent and players have the ability to shape their characters?
  • What should failing a seeking look like? (I've heard of one Storyteller who made his player "ante up" the XP; those points were gone regardless of success or failure.) Not that I expect the player/character to fail, but in the case it happens, what's the best method?
  • The "netrunner problem." We don't have a lot of time as working adults to do solo gaming, so the other players will be present for the seeking. I'm planning on having them play as "aspects" of the Awakened soul, sort of like the people Dorothy meets on the road to Oz, but is there another way for them to contribute that would keep them engaged?

…as well as other aspects of the seeking I might be forgetting. A quality answer will come from someone who has run Mage: the Ascension and led a player through a Seeking.

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I have run Mage the Ascension in a variety of games, Mage exclusively or in crossover with other WoD games. I've had some two Seekings in the past, and recently three more, therefore I believe I'm qualified to give an answer. Unfortunately there is no short version of it.

Success and/or failure

It is a viable idea to ask the player to wager their XP on a roll - however I would say that when the roll is unsuccessful, the XP in question should be spent without limitation on Spheres, willpower and ability increases. Losing XP - and in this case probably majority of the pool - is frustrating. Avoid it. Players needs to shape their character. I am opposed to the idea of failing a whole Seeking because of an unlucky roll.

The preparation

The most successful of my Seekings were preceded by some core discussion between myself and the player about the future of the character. The most important issue and one that is often forgotten is that a Seeking changes the character fundamentally and irrevocably. This opening statement requires that the players agrees to substantially change his character's psyche, style, sometimes even rewrite the core concept. Have your player realise that they will have to choose (or have chosen for them) new Backgrounds for the character. They don't have to be completely disjoint from their previous ones, but different enough to show lateral character growth

When creating a new character I always make the player write down what holds the character back in terms of magickal development. Now is the time to use it.

  • Take a look at their Nature - the primary strength and weakness of the chosen archetype is listed in the book. Note both of them. Do the same for Demeanor. You will challenge those during the Seeking.
  • Consider character's Style. Do you see any limitation? E.g. one of my players used to derive her power from achieving an euphoric state. That limited her ability to do magic during moments of clarity and purposeful contemplation.
  • Examine the foci and how the character uses it. The same character from above used dance to achieve euphoria. The Seeking showed that it was not the enjoyment that did the magick, but instead her momentary detachment from reality. The Focus can remain the same, but it's usage change or the other way around.
  • Are there any other go-to strategies that the player uses? Tactics that your player instinctively does e.g. always run for cover in a fight, examine any unknown piece of technology before using it. Any preconceptions or strong beliefs? You might even go as far as to challenge your conservative friend to consider liberalism as a viable system.

Consider player's Avatar very carefully. Both will be extremely important, as a Seeking is Avatar's attempt to change the character.

The trial

The overarching flavour of the endeavour should be determined by Avatar's Essence. Seekings in it's truest form are delivered by Questing Avatars. Dynamic ones often tease the mage with randomness and unpredictability, while a Pattern one could delight in a series of puzzles or structured challenges. Primordial I find the hardest, but you could go wild, retelling the creation of the Tellurian or something similarly grandiose.

Try to make the Seeking plot relevant to their characters weaknesses. The journey should demonstrate that the character can overcome those flaws and the player abandon some concepts within the character. I recommend a series of challenges where playing within the scope of character's current style seems to be the most natural and intuitive approach but ends in failure. Now, don't be afraid to involve lateral thinking or paradoxical logic. This is Mage the Ascension! The player is aware that a Seeking is not about completing a quest, it's about doing it in a novel way, and if he's not, drop clues, as to what would be sufficient, in the form of visions or companions urging the character to "let go of his limitations".

Put the player in situations, where his usual tactics appear to be appropriate, but allow him to progress only if he chooses to do the opposite. E.g. if your character has Bravo Nature with Anger weakness, put him in a in a trash compactor. Springing to action (his default playstyle) is what the situation calls for (superficially). However, only if a character lets go of his urge to act heroically can he progress (trash compaction stops because it reacts to movement or sleeping monster's shell stops the compactor).

Every time such a challenge is completed, get your player to choose a new related character archetype. This will serve to show the transition and let the player retain control over the process. Once all of his limitations are overcome - he has a new Nature and Demeanor, player's go-to tactic had to be abandoned and new magickal style emerged, go to the finale.

Finish with a scene that enables the realisation that character's understanding of Magick was incomplete. Allow the player to come up with a new, improved version. Real-life example - one of my players used to do Magick by "hacking the server of the universe". The seeking made him wrong, and he decided that his new paradigm allows him to directly rewrite source code - going white hat.

Involving other players

I think you are right on the money. Talk to other players and plot with them against the Seeker. They should know what does the Avatar want from the Seeker and have a role to play - as enemy, friend or trying to lead him astray. They can even play as projections of their own characters (if they befriended the Seeker) or command more than one character. This should be their opportunity to play as something different. However, don't let them in on all the challenges, let them figure it out with the main player, but ask them to play double agents if they have better ideas than him.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This a delightful, useful answer. Upvoted, and I look forward to what improvements you make. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Aug 14 '15 at 16:09
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I always though seekings as an improvement of the character. The Avatar will put the character to the test, and if he is worthy, his knowledge of reality will improve.

This is kind of the header for all the ideas and seekings I have narrated in the past.

I'd like to start with the five W:

Who? The focal point being that the character and his Avatar will interact, with not much other things happening. His Avatar will take different shapes in a seeking, and the character may know, or may not know that it is his own Avatar in a different shape.

What? This is by far the most difficult question to answer, what is going to happen? I prefer to talk to the player, what are their expectations? I usually also want to add to the seeking any conflicts that the character may be undergoing right now. Has he recently fled a battle cowardly while his own cabal fought for survival? Has he killed someone in cold blood? Has he lost someone important to him and needs to let go? The centre of attention, the big lights, should be in the character, in his development, in how he uses his powers on relation to the rest of the world. Is the character happy with his current state? I usually mix all this into a little story where the character will face his errors, his desires, and his phobias, all on the hands of his Avatar.

When? Most of the time, I prefer a battle in the centre of the mind, when all is done, there has been no time lapse, the character changes internally, nothing appears to be different on the outside. But sometimes, the character will want to take some time alone, or somewhere (more of this below), time to prepare his mind for what he is feeling is going to come. Or maybe his Avatar is furious and will abduct him for some time while they clash in a challenge.

Where? As stated above, I like to take the seekings to imaginary landscapes, even if it appears to be normal day-to-day reality. Technically, the Avatar will create an Astral Realm where they will interact, can other people see this if they are in the right moment in the right place? Technically yes, but I prefer that that does not happen, that will shift the focus out of the character, but it can be a powerful tool in the future, if for some reason the character ends up there again while not in a seeking. Sometimes the character needs to go to some place, like a real place, that will take time, maybe it is the travel that matters, not the destination. But always, always, the places need to be important for the character. With symbols, colours, forms, all making patterns that are important to the character.

Why? This is also a very difficult question. Some answer that the Avatar doesn't really want the character to succeed, because understanding the reality is a here and now thing, and Ascension is all about the there and after. Of course Avatars don't seem to simply give you a strait answer (that will simply be bad for the story), so who knows really? Sometimes the character will challenge his Avatar (I AM prepared, lets put this to the test!), sometimes the Avatar will appear and force the character to the test, other times it will be an arrangement. The important part is to remember that the Awaken are creatures of change, they are in constant process of learning, becoming more than they were, learning, living. An epiphany awaits at the end of this road, with new understandings on how the universe really works.

Over the years, I end up not using most of the rules for seekings (AKA not throwing ANY dice, all should be made by the choices of the character). It is just me and the player. And it is true, that sometimes we players, simply do not have the time to do this. My solution ended up throwing away all real time interpretation, and focusing on writing something with the player (via email, usually). It is not a one sided work, we are both involved and we have a clear set of things we want to see happen in this seeking.

As how they can fail, I usually don´t make the characters fail if the player doesn't want to, although if the character doesn't have some depth, some inner conflicts that can be solved, some goals we needs to accomplish, then it is possible that I will tell the player that it is not the moment for a seeking, that the character is not prepared. If they still are going for it (mule headed charging forward) then maybe they will fail (in this case, I usually default to the interpretation and a story ready for the character to challenge), if they succeed, great, I was wrong (we can all be wrong), but if not, they will fail.

As for the experience, I really don´t like them to loose it, for two reasons, loosing experience sucks in too many levels, it is a really un-fun thing with no real mechanic to pass directly through the story. I prefer to make the loose a permanent point of will power (they can buy it back with the experience anyway, but it has a meaning in the story), but I will not do so if the players really wants his character to fail. And second because it is a lot of it. It is the second most expensive thing in all world of darkness (apart from stupidly high cost disciplines for ghouls (levelx25 and the such)), loosing a lot of any thing is something players don´t want to see. I also state that the experience used on a failed seeking cannot be used again for the purpose of adding Areté. They can spends it in spheres, abilities and all that. But they need to start from ground zero for they new seeking.

And of course, I tell them all this before they start a seeking. Mage, over all rpgs, is a game that the players have more control of. Our goal should be to tell a really good story and seekings provide a one-to-one which can really add to the depth of the characters. We should use it as a tool to improve the story, as characters use it as a tool to improve themselves.

By involving the player in the story of the seeking, the player founds out how really hard is sometimes to come up with a story for a seeking, and players really want things to happen, most of the time, I have found out that they are the persons who most viciously will treat their own characters. They will put them in the light, they will measure them against all odds, just to see them come victorious on the other side.

Finally, one of the most fun seekings I have narrated, come up when one hermetic player wanted to do the same theme for all the seekings. Whenever we decided that the character was ready for a seeking, it will disappear and reappear in a magical solomonic labyrinth (not a nephandic one, mind you, just our typical multi-chose place). With new tests, new traps, new everything, but the same place, the same temple. Over the time, the character came to like the place, it was like an old enemy you have fought many times. It became a nostalgic place for him. And of course he was shocked when the cabal discovered the place in one of their Umbra-exploring stories.

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