The following document provides some general clarifications and changes that I'm making to the general assumptions of Mage setting and rules. Some of these diverge a decent bit from canon, so be sure to read closely.
A lot of Mage setting description presents the idea that awakening is usually a sudden process, much like an Aberrant eruption or a Changeling chrysalis. After awakening, the new Mage then is wooed by various traditions and groups and chooses the one that best fits her own desires. For this game, I'm setting this idea aside and going with an idea with less support, but with basis in the ST guide.
Essentially, very few mages awaken without the assistance of other enlightened individuals. While individuals with strong avatars may experience odd events and coincidences throughout their lives as the avatar stirs in its sleep, it takes a catalyst of a mystical nature to actually inspire an awakening. Nearly all of these will be due to a process of illumination or indoctrination designed by a mage group that has found the mage-to-be. Different traditions and conventions have different standards for how they go about this, but the net result is that when an individual awakens she usually has a good deal of grounding in a paradigm, up to years for Hermetics, and will find it hard to casually switch groups. Thus cross-training (the merit found in the MageRev core rules) becomes something that is actually hard to achieve.
If rules need to be involved, the system is a roll of the mage-to-be's Avatar + Awareness (+1 if the method of awakening is especially appropriate to the personality of the subject). The difficulty depends on how much time and effort is spent on the illumination process. Merely being in the midst of a mystical event or dealing with non-mage supernaturals is difficulty 10 or more, while quick indoctrinations of a few days or weeks, such as those practiced by the Cult of Ecstasy, may be difficulty 8 or 9. Traditions that take months or years to gradually illuminate their charges can lower the difficulty as far as 4, and generally also have the benefit of having had time to teach the subject Awareness. In general, if the roll fails and the subject remains a sleeper, it may be tried again after another period or different attempts, but each failure adds a cumulative +1 difficulty to all further attempts to awaken. Mages can generally awaken all but the weakest avatars, given enough time and effort, but this is time that is in short supply in the current era. Further, this effort is considered wasted by some if the subject merely becomes a candleflame (see below). Mages can use Entropy, Prime, or Spirit in various effects to track down sleepers with strong avatars, and such potentially powerful mages will often find themselves being wooed by groups without the slightest idea why.
As has been noted above, with enough time and effort nearly any sleeper can be awakened. However, the vast majority of sleepers have very weak avatars, and thus have a lot of problems once they are awakened. Mages with 0 Avatar are referred to as candleflames - their avatar is barely enough to provide illumination.
Having 0 Avatar means that the character cannot store or channel Quintessence without using Prime, having no natural storage space for free vis in her avatar. The character can use Prime as normal to store and channel Quintessence, but is incredibly limited in this process by having to work magick to perform simple feats that most mages take for granted.
Further, an Avatar 0 means that the character's avatar is far too weak to manifest to the character in any way; she may get a sense of her avatar in the deepest of dreams, but will not receive advice, direction, or, most importantly, seekings. For a Candleflame to advance in Arete she must have the assistance of a powerful Spirit mage to rouse the Avatar long enough to undergo a seeking. With the current lack of masters, many candleflames find themselves stuck at Arete 1 for their entire career, only able to learn the simplest sphere magicks.
There is some benefit to awakening such weak avatars, however. Besides their limited abilities with Quintessence and Arete, candleflames are awakened mages. They can assist more powerful mages with effects, use talismans, benefit from supernatural merits and backgrounds, resist the Delirium and the Fog, and learn hedge magic at a discount (see below). A significant minority have even, through much trial and adventure, managed to increase the strength of their avatars and become full mages. All of these factors mean that candleflames are often relegated to supplementary positions in the various mage groups but still considered worthwhile to awaken. On average, there are about as many candleflames in mage society as the total mages of stronger avatars.
In the official rules, mages are, due to their avatars, unable to learn linear/hedge magic. I feel this is kind of silly and has never been explained properly - a true mage can't learn to throw Hellfire because she could use Forces, but what if she does not have enough Arete to learn Forces 3? Considering that hedge paths are inferior to spheres in nearly every way, I am allowing true mages to learn sorcery.
Mages pay 1/2 cost for sorcery paths, and can, at character creation only, trade out one sphere dot for two path levels. When casting sorcery, use all normal rules (which I'll probably modify later, but you know what I mean). A mage sorcerer can choose to add her Arete to the dice pool for the sorcery effect, but will then invoke paradox as if casting a similar effect of the same level (e.g. throwing a Hellfire 4 fireball will be treated as invoking a level 4 vulgar effect for purposes of paradox accumulation).
A mage can use sorcery training to increase sphere knowledge. This is usually done when the mage either awakens after sorcery instruction (as in the Order of Hermes) or when she gains enough Arete to gain a level of sphere previously out of her range. After undergoing a seeking/awakening, the mage can reduce sorcery paths and rituals to the exp that was spent on them, but must completely reduce an entire path (e.g. the character can pull all the exp out of Hellfire 4 and Shadows 3, but couldn't simply reduce them to Hellfire 2 and Shadows 1). This exp can then be spent directly to purchase appropriate rotes (e.g. Hellfire exp used to buy Forces 3, Prime 2 rotes), or can be spent at 1/2 to buy appropriate spheres (e.g. the exp from Hellfire and Shadows can be halved and then put towards buying Forces). Any exp left over is saved for later to be spent on the sphere when it is supplemented by gained exp.
Sorcerers, unless they are awakened, have no special resistance to such effects as the Delirium or the Fog. Nearly anyone can learn sorcery with the proper teacher and enough effort. On average, there are sleeper sorcerers of some potency (4+ path dots) about equal to the number of awakened mages (i.e. twice as many as either candleflames or full mages). This number includes tradition students and assistants and technocracy citizens. The number of individuals that know a couple of useful sorcery tricks (1-3 path dots) is upwards of one in a thousand, or 500 times the number of awakened mages. Few of these individuals ever do much in the supernatural world, however, merely using their magic to help themselves get by day to day.
Every mage constantly feels a warm sense of reward when she takes steps in the world towards advancing her paradigm and improving her spirit. Every mage begins to feel sluggish and uncomfortable when she is taking steps that would remove her from the road of ascension, such as regularly using magick purely for personal gain. Often these feelings are hard to isolate and hard to focus on exactly what was done that caused the feeling, but all awakened individuals have this sense. What this means is that no mage seriously questions the reality of Ascension, merely how one goes about achieving it. Each mage feels a deep-seated yearning to Ascend, even the Hollow Ones (though many of them would deny it), but few have any real idea how to accomplish it besides the suspicion that it involves exemplifying and then transcending their paradigm. Every tradition has urban-legend style stories of individuals that, in the midst of some pursuit or other, took on a beatific expression and then simply faded away in a warm glow. These stories usually involve subsequent major benefits for the loved ones and the tradition of the individual in question - from coincidences beyond the scope of most magick to major increases in fortune for entire groups.
All this simply means that Ascension is known as a reality amongst the traditions and whispered of amongst the technocracy. Mages are, beyond their personal goals and agendas, driven to pursue quests and goals that matter to things beyond themselves in the hope that they will find the key to perfect bliss and godlike understanding.
People have a very hard time killing other people. Even in the 21st century, after the graphic violence of years of television and movies, most people would be hard pressed to kill another human being with their own hands. Murder is the worst crime in most justice systems and members of the military and the police have to undergo intensive training to be able to reliably attempt to kill another person. It doesn't help that humans can be very fragile sometimes.
I'm attempting to make this a grittier-style game. Each life is a potential mage, a spark of magick, a chance at Ascension, and, most importantly, an individual with hopes, dreams, and loved ones. Killing is not something that most people, including most mages, can do without serious reservations and problems afterwards. To snuff out a life, even an antagonistic life, is something that has repercussions whether or not the death was caused by magick.
For the first part, every character must make a Willpower roll in order to do something that is likely to seriously harm or kill another human being (or other sentient creature that the character knows is sentient). The difficulty will vary with a number of factors; for example it will be much easier to kill a nephandus who is about to blow up a schoolbus than it would be to shoot Fred, the security guard who's just guarding the technocracy building to put food on the table for his family.
Characters who regularly kill and attempt to rationalize it will begin to develop the Killer background. This grants extra dice on Willpower rolls to kill and on Intimidation rolls, but adds to the difficulty of pretty much all other social rolls with other humans. I would appreciate it if no player character started with this background without a very, very good reason.
All killers, even the hardened ones, will suffer from nightmares and other psychological problems until they can seek psychiatric help (mundane, magickal, or seeking). The Euthanatos are said to have rituals they perform to minimize these problems, done in advance when preparing to give the Good Death.
Further, I am instituting bleed-out rules. Characters who take Lethal damage will have to make a Stamina roll, difficulty 6, and get a number of successes equal to the damage just taken or begin to bleed. Blood loss adds an extra level of bashing damage every turn of action (at the end of the character's actions), every minute of rest, or every 10 minutes to hour of medical care until the bleeding is stopped. This makes lethal damage even more deadly, since even a small wound can bleed the character to death in a few seconds if not taken care of. Characters who reach Incapacitated from blood loss pass out, and then the blood loss begins to wrap to Lethal. It is a coincidental Better Body (Life) effect to reduce the speed of blood loss, but it is vulgar to stop the tendency to bleed completely.
Both the difficulty of killing and the ease of killing with lethal damage means that characters in this game should attempt to take prisoners/knock enemies out whenever possible. This will extend to the NPCs as well, and thus PCs do not need to be afraid that if they play nice their enemies will kill them. It is not even out of the question for one side or the other to run away. Only the most insane or corrupt of enemies will make a serious attempt to kill if they are not forced to it.
Mage characters have two different methods of casting: spontaneous and ritual. Spontaneous casting involves a quick and minor working of magick, while ritual involves taking more time to produce a more powerful effect.
Typically, a spontaneous casting requires one turn per level of the highest sphere used. A character can take other actions while preparing a spontaneous effect, but the effect preparation is considered an extra action (e.g. a character trying to take one action while casting would be at a -2 penalty, and a character taking two actions would be at -3, -4). The magick generally takes effect the last turn of the casting (e.g. turn 3 for a level 3 effect) with a single roll. A character can spend one point of temporary Willpower per extra roll, each extra roll taking a turn. This can be spent after the initial roll. For example, a character is trying to spontaneously cast a Forces 3 fireball. On her third turn of casting she rolls and only gets 2 successes on the effect. Not considering this enough, she spends Willpower and rolls again the next turn for another 3 successes, five total. This satisfies her and she unleashes the 5 success effect. On turns when Arete rolls are being made, other actions inflict the multiple action penalty on the Arete roll. Paradox for an extended spontaneous casting is accrued as if only one roll was made.
Some traditions have different casting times for spontaneous effects.
Ritual casting requires a variable amount of time, based on tradition. The average time per roll is about an hour. After every roll the character must make a Stamina + High Ritual (difficulty equal to the current roll number) roll to keep going, due to the strain of performing casting, using foci, and holding on to the growing magickal charge. The character can take an automatic success for every roll that is equal to or below her Stamina + High Ritual pool. For example, a character has Stamina + High Ritual of 5. She can make 5 ritual rolls without a problem. For the 6th and subsequent rolls she must roll 5 dice against a starting difficulty of 6 to keep going, needing only one success. If the effect in question gains paradox (either automatically or through botching) the mage gains one extra paradox for each roll past the first. For example, on the 8th roll of a coincidental level 3 effect a mage botches and has no more Willpower to avert the botch. She takes 10 paradox (3 for the sphere level and 7 for the extra rolls). If the effect had been vulgar she would have taken 13 paradox, or 10 even without botching. The effect and paradox take effect when the mage completes or botches the rolls.
All other, noncontradictory, rules from Mage Revised for ritual casting are still in play.
A rote is a spontaneous effect that the mage has learned to create very quickly. A mage can cast a rote in one turn (or 2+ turns for extended effects). Rotes cost 1exp for every dot in the highest sphere used. When learning a rote, a character must specify the general parameters of success allocation (e.g. 1/2 to damage, 2 to range, 1 for other target for a fireball rote), since doing similar things with the successes is part of what makes it quick to cast. Characters start with one rote per sphere dot, and can buy 2 for each freebie at creation. A character must generally practice fairly exclusively for about a week per exp spent into rotes. Some traditions have different results from rotes or different costs for learning them.
Full mages are one in a million. For every million humans there tends to be about one mage on this side of the gauntlet. Thus, there are currently about 6,000 mages on the Earth, with an unknown, but probably not greater, number in the various umbrae. As specified before, there are typically about an equal number of candleflames, and twice that number of potent sorcerers, which means that there's a grand total of about 24,000 individuals of mystical bent split between the traditions, technocracy, nephandi, marauders, and disparates/crafts.
These numbers tend to bend around population centers, especially those with nodes or other mystical history. Some cities will have 2-10 times as many mages as they should have, while some will have hardly any. Mages have no particular need for any specific location, save magical wellsprings, and so tend to be distributed in relation to mortals only on the average. It is debated whether or not mages are becoming more rare as time goes on, but the ability to take a remotely accurate census has only really been around for the 20th century. Thus, it is uncertain whether mages are becoming more rare.
The numbers are also bent oddly amongst the factions. Marauders are more rare than any other group, as they show up rarely and only from the ranks of full mages. Sorcerers and candleflames simply lack the "critical mass" in their avatar to go marauder, though they can certainly go insane. Nephandi and infernalist sorcerers are the next smallest group, making up perhaps 5%, at worst, of the population. Their numbers were greatly culled in the middle of the 20th century, and many mages spend a lot of effort tracking them down and removing them. This, of course, does not represent the numbers of individuals they may have beyond the gauntlet and the horizon where most survivors fled in the 50s. It also indicates that of the few nephandi on the planet, most will have been tested again and again - weak infernalists die quickly and those that remain are very dangerous. The various disparates and crafts make up the third smallest group. Total, orphans, Hollow Ones, solitary practitioners, and crafts make up maybe 20% of the total, with that number strongly weighted towards sorcerers.
The two biggest groups, making up, together, around 75% of the total numbers are, unsurprisingly, the technocracy and the traditions. The traditions actually have the greater numbers, holding about 40-45% of the total, while the technocracy only has 30-35% of the total. This divide has to do with the level of diversity involved in the two groups. Not all individuals with potent avatars will be up to learning the necessary logics, sciences, and technological techniques required to be a functioning technocrat of any convention, while there is likely to be at least one tradition that suits a given set of proclivities. The technocracy, however, has much greater material resources and access to mundane help, so tend to handily make up their lack of numbers.
Out of the full mages, at least 75% are disciples or apprentices. Another 20% are of adept understanding in at least one sphere. That leaves 5% or less as masters or better in the current era. In previous eras the ratio of masters and adepts were slightly greater, and these numbers are growing slightly as more disciples achieve adept level understanding. It is uncertain what numbers would be able to be added from the umbra, as so few of those trapped behind the avatar storm have managed to make contact. Also note that some sorcerers and candleflames manage to achieve renown in various organizations due to their command of sorcery, but, in general, they are relegated to roles of assistance and otherwise reduced authority. Only about 5% of sorcerers and candleflames will ever achieve more renown than top-tier disciples.
The current traditions are organized around the chantry, though this term is a bit more broad than it used to be. In general a "chantry" is a group of three or more allied cabals that share resources and otherwise help each other out whenever possible. Many chantries have a physical building, a chantry house, where the cabals can meet and reside safely and pool magickal resources, but this is less common than it used to be. Typically, a chantry will have one individual, who may or may not be the leader, that serves as contact to the rest of the traditions to pass on information and directions.
Out of 3-9 chantries, depending how densely packed they are in an area there will be one chantry that has higher tradition status and authority which tends to organize the other groups. This chantry will administer direction and information to the other chantries and hold tribunals and gatherings.
These large chantry groupings each pay fealty to a council chantry, of which there are typically 9. Based on region, these council chantries deal with major world issues, hold large scale gatherings and tribunals, and generally keep mage society running. The council chantries are all mixed-tradition, though some only barely, and are led by the most powerful and wise tradition mages still extant; at least according to their own propaganda.
Mages do not actually have any requirement that they follow the dictates of the council beyond the favors and fealty they owe to other mages. However, most tradition mages generally go along with orders that they don't strongly disagree with. This is due both to the human tendency to want to belong and to the fact that spheres are very difficult to learn without a teacher. Further, the council tends to give out rewards to those that display loyalty and those who succeed at important missions; these are in the form of tass, nodes, books, talismans, or other elements of mystical life.
As Willpower has obviously become a bit more important and more likely to be used up in the course of a game, I'm instituting a few new ways to regain it. First off, a character (as per the optional rule) regains one WP per night of good rest. Secondly, a character can regain WP through meditation (see below). Thirdly, a character regains WP whenever achieving a major character goal or whenever rolling an exceptional success on a very important roll (nearly all dice successes). Finally, a character regains WP when transcending flaws (see below). Other rules for Willpower remain the same.
A long-term effect can be either Maintained or Loosed. If the effect is Maintained, the character suffers all the normal penalties for multiple effects, and must pay a WP before sleeping or risk the effect expiring, but can cancel it at any time and know if it has been unwoven or otherwise altered. A Loosed effect, in ideal conditions, will last for its full duration without any kind of difficulty penalty on the caster. However, the mage will not be able to cancel it without unweaving it and will have no connection to tell whether it is still fully operational. In unusual circumstances, the effect may even gradually weaken or mutate.
Meditation is an important skill for mages. A character who wishes to meditate first makes a Stamina+Meditation roll against difficulty 6 to determine how many hours in a day she can tolerate sitting around doing nothing but contemplating. This roll takes any penalties from Maintained effects that would normally apply to casting magick, and may take circumstance penalties as well (such as for noise). Each hour of meditation serves as an hour of sleep with the benefit that the character will find it easier to react to sudden happenings, and that she does not have to spend a WP to keep up Maintained effects. Further, the character can regain Willpower through meditation. After at least an hour the character may roll Perception+Meditation with each success resulting in a returned WP. The difficulty is 10 after the first hour and drops by 1 for each additional hour.
In a shocking reversal more in line with Nobilis, Flaws do not grant extra Freebie points. Instead, each flaw taken costs 1 Freebie point (higher value flaws will just likely be a hindrance more often read on). The player of a character whose Flaws hinder her significantly in the course of a game can note these instances to the Storyteller at the end of the game session and expect to receive extra experience for being hindered by these flaws. The typical award will range from 1-5 extra experience, keeping in mind that only actual hindrances will be rewarded. Additionally, should the character both be hindered by the Flaw but also manage to triumph over this hindrance, she will typically recover WP. For example, should a blind character be beset by foes and manage to plunge the fight into darkness so that her blindness becomes an asset, she would recover WP.