In order to determine whether an effect is vulgar or coincidental the HAP/HOP/HYP axis was defined. To my liking, both extremes of the axis are a bit... well, extreme.

In the answer linked above, Stephen Lea Sheppard is quoted to have said:

I favor games that run under "loose" Hypothetical Omniscient Perceiver.

How would you objectively define just how "loosely" you adhere to HOP or HAP?

I can't quite figure how 50% HAP + 50% HOP would look like. Or 25-75% for that matter.

What I've tried to tell myself so far is that I'm replacing the Omniscient part of HOP for Omnipresent (effectively making it closer to HAP) but I still struggle to define it objectively.

I'd like to have a way to explain to my players why I'm ruling something to be vulgar or coincidental. The way it stands right now, they feel that they have to convince the Storyteller (out of character) instead of trying (in character) to make effects seem coincidental.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, I have always hewed strongly toward HAP, even before I knew what that was or that there was a debate over such things. I also use RBD, but I also always remind the players the coincidence is NOT the magic. It's only the believable excuse. The oft-used "Whiskey Flask" explanation does not - in my games - CREATE a flask... unless of course you used a matter/prime effect to create one. Maybe correspondence, too, to create it in exactly the right spot. Otherwise, you pat your chest and say "good thing I have this whiskey flask," and hope no-one asks to see it. :P \$\endgroup\$
    – Longspeak
    Apr 6, 2016 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


First of all you need to realize that there isn't much "objective" to work with...

Νοτ when it comes to Mage's classification of magick as coincidental or vulgar, at least. In almost all editions of the game (M20 included) there are many arguments for either side in almost every Effect. Sometimes there are explicit declarations (Prime-charge energy rays) or the situation is stark clear on vulgarity (throwing a fireball from your hands) but even then there are mitigating circumstances (Reality zone, player argues about the gas explosions earlier in the evening making the fireball coincidental since you're near a pipe yada yada...).
Throughout the history of the game this has been embraced, to an extent, by the community as a noteworthy aspect of the game's tone ("Reality is subjective") and there have been few attempts to put a finer lines on coincidental/vulgar, leaving the matter to the ST's hands, for the most part.
Hence it is a rather common saying among my groups that "A Mage character's power is very dependant on the ST's style and limitations". The exact same character sheet might be either a threatening reality bended with few limits that can wipe other supernaturals of equal experience, or it can be next-to-useless when it comes to magick because almost everything requires higher spheres and/or incurs Paradox when it has any actual impact under your ST.

As a result I don't think there can be a an objective definition.

How would you objectively define just how "loosely" you adhere to HOP or HAP?

Simply because the game is not designed for that. So...

What's the next best thing you can do to have a formal/objective approach to an effect's vulgarity?

Essentially you need to decide on your angle (which you have, something between the HOP and HAP paradigms) and try to workaround the possible ambiguity issues:

  • Declare your choice of hybrid HOP/HAP to your players to give an initial foundation on what constitutes a vulgar or coincidental Effect.
  • Decide on theme/setting. Do you want a game where conjuring fire in your hands or voices of spirits can be treated as ordinary? "Yeah, that's cool. Where did you hide the speakers though?" Or something that's close to our world's solid reality? watches a guy open his bag and pull out the exact weapon they need to slay the supernatural creature, for the third time in the night. Runs away with widened eyes
  • Examples. A very important and direct solution is to write down and share multiple examples with the group on what would be coincidental and what vulgar. Furthermore, you could add parameters to each one. Things like reality zone, ways the Mage describes the situation or other circumstances that could change the example's vulgarity.
  • Define the extent to which a player can affect the narration for his spells in the context of a scene and if mundane rolls can be used for that. Saying that the audience is amazed by your performance or whether they can claim the stage even has such mechanisms around so that the witnesses don't consider the flames coming from the stage odd since you're obviously some A-Class rock star could make a significant difference on the vulgarity from the ST's perspective.
  • Finally, bring the players and Storyteller on the same page. Make sure they all understand (in most of the cases) the way she treats their character's abilities. 1) What the "default" vulgarity status for various Effects is 2) Which aspects of the story's scenes are up-to-debate with reality's rules and can be influenced by the players as part of their casting (is summoning a cab to get somewhere fast just a coincidental Correspondence effect or a vulgar one that requires Mind+Entropy as well?) 3) What factors can, potentially, change the vulgarity of a spell, based on how your game treats reality.
    And of course anything extra that your group deems worthy...

It should be noted that Mage is a game where the players of many groups, usually, need to utilize their out-of-game reasoning and innovation capabilities to come up with a way to deal with the castings in an almost problem-solving manner. If your group dislikes this approach it would be perfectly reasonable to follow the Golden Rule and convert those player attempts for various coincidental goals into game rolls on behalf of their characters abilities.


Treat this as a discussion between the storyteller and the players rather than strive for any “objective” definition, because it's an inherently complex decision that often ends up being subjective in play.

I recommend having a discussion with your players about exactly this—ideally during character creation but in your case before your next session. Go over HAP/HOP, discuss what your preference is and why, get agreement from your players that they want to play that way, give concrete examples as part of the discussion, be willing to compromise, and basically build a consensus about how effects work in your game.

You should expect to occasionally have a discussion when someone tries a new effect that pushes the envelope of how you all agree it works, especially early during the game. Overall these discussions should become less frequent as everyone gains a solid understanding of what the group thinks is allowed.

Ultimately, it is the Storyteller's job to make a hard decision on what is or isn't coincidental or vulgar, but the players should ultimately be convinced that the Storyteller is applying the agreed upon rules fairly.


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