Saturday, October 31, 2020

Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition - Book 2: Believe (Chapters 5-7)

Part 1

Part 3

Mage: the Ascension should probably not exist. Its very premise - everything people in the real world believe is magic, is magic, and there's an ongoing genocidal war to determine which magic is best - is highly problematic, and when you add in the fact that all of this magic is going to be filtered through the viewpoint of western occultism and media tropes, the chance for something to go wrong is overwhelming. It is likely that "Mage, 25th anniversary edition" would never have been made.

I don't want to be too moralizing here, because, to my embarrassment, I recently fell into the trap of thinking I could "fix" it, and the results were themselves inadvertently racist, but at the same time, the reason I succumbed to that hubris was because M20's attempt to correct earlier Mage's glaring Eurocentrism somehow managed to be worse

There's a bit of metaplot introduced in the Traditions' section where the leadership is replaced by the "New Horizon Council" where a few of the Traditions adopt new names, in keeping with the new millennium. For the Dreamspeakers, this is described as "abandoning its 'slave name.'"

Slave name.

As problematic as the Dreamspeakers are a group, it was literally White Wolf who came up with that name. I can't be sure that Brucato himself was in the room when it happened, but he was the developer as early as The Book of Chantries, which introduced the Lodge of the Grey Squirrel and cemented the connection between the Dreamspeakers and real-world indigenous people. So if the name "Dreamspeakers" is bad enough to be considered a "slave name" and I can see the argument for why it might be, then the author of the line in M20 is, at most, one degree of responsibility away from coming up with it in the first place.

It's this simultaneous understanding that there is a problem and refusal to openly acknowledge it that drives so much of M20's history chapter. The Traditions are racist. Even groups like the Chakravanti were forced to downplay their proud Indian heritage and adopt European names like "Euthanatos."

The so-called "heroes" of Mage were never actually the heroes at all. In order to preserve as much canon as possible from an old Eurocentric roleplaying game, the new edition is claiming that it was the characters in the game who were the Eurocentric ones.

In addition to being a dreadful slander on the poor, defenseless Traditions, it's also a case of the timeline and the numbers not quite adding up. One thing that keeps getting brought up is the sympathy between the Euthanatos, the Dreamspeakers, the Verbena, and the Cult of Ecstasy. These groups, while not always seeing eye-to-eye, would at least support each other against the white, male hegemony of the rest of the Council. Except, for the bulk of the Traditions' history, the rest of the council was only four other Traditions. The non-white Akashic Brotherhood and Ahl-i-Batin, and the two European traditions, the Order of Hermes and the Celestial Chorus, who most hated each others' guts. Where was this supposed white-supremacist voting bloc coming from?

That's to say nothing about the fact that Europe c.1460 wasn't really in the position to dictate anything to anyone, especially if its coming technological and military advantages are due to the Order of Reason. How does this work, exactly - if the bulk of OoR "mages" are from Europe, then that means a significant portion of Europe's Awakened population is out of consideration for the Traditions. Then when you factor in the fact that European mystics would have been the hardest hit by the Order, prior to colonization, then at time when the Traditions formed, the European delegation would have been among the weakest groups present.

I don't want to be too critical, because as I said I recently got a humbling reminder that I couldn't do all that much better. However, it's probably impossible, at this point, to salvage the Traditions without a total reboot.

Which is probably why M20 reboots the Traditions. Oh, not directly or anything, but it introduces a new faction, called The Disparate Alliance, which is mostly just a bunch of ancient mystical traditions coming together to fight the Technocracy, despite their varied cultures and incompatible magics. Also, the Hollow Ones are there (that's how you know it's the new Council of Traditions - WW's designated "reasonable youth" faction has latched on).

Part of me suspects that the Disparate Alliance is just one more of M20's countless digs at Revised (seriously, the Resonance rules are brought up something like three separate times, always to point out how extremely optional they were). Revised brought the Crafts into the fold as an attempt to mitigate the Traditions' Eurocentrism - every Tradition would have members from every continent now, but according to M20, that was a canon event, much like the Reckoning, that failed to take. Instead, Eurocentrism is just part of the Traditions' identity now, and the Council is just one more authority figure for the cool kids to rebel against.

I don't know, it was probably the best way to do it, but what is Mage even supposed to be anymore? According to the book, "Every faction holds both wisdom and corruption," but when that "every" includes the Nephandi (they get nine, excruciating pages) it feels like an empty platitude. My overall opinion is that we've all inherited an embarrassing thing from the 90s, and its attempts to be less embarrassing just wind up overcompensating and leaving us with something that is in constant danger of collapsing under its own weight. Certainly, I'm nearly 400 pages into the book and absolutely longing for trench-coat wizards to fight robots with lightning bolts disguised as unfortunate power-line breakage.

I've got a lot of other notes, mostly revolving around the pretentiousness of the Storytelling chapter (which clocks in at 40 pages! - my theory is that everything in this book was simply scaled up to maintain its proportions with a 670 page count), but that's the gist of my opinion. Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition is a game in constant danger of forgetting that it's at its best when its being totally dumb.

No comments:

Post a Comment