Backers of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage: the Ascension have got their hands on the prerelease version of the PDF, and though I’m sure there’ll be updates, what backers (like myself) have is largely what the final game is going to look like. My own impression is, of course, mixed, as the reception of anything related to Mage inevitably will be given the nature of the game and its interminable edition wars, paradigm-related flamewars etc.
Overall, it’s well constructed with an eye towards giving fans of all three prior editions something to smile about, and it also embarks on the challenging task of updating the setting and Awakened society without stifling creativity, making the Spheres, Paradigm and Consensual Reality more accessible to players as well, with laudable aplomb and skill.
While I could do without it being “Mage: now with 500% more kung fu!” that last part’s easy enough to fix by dropping that superfluous Skill along with a couple of other similarly unnecessary additions and possibly tweaking how players can get access to those pages upon pages of martial arts-related special maneuvers. The addition of Martial Arts as a separate Ability from Brawl feels reminiscent of Kindred of the East, The Book of Combat and Exalted. Man, I feel dirty from having had to reference any of those three in my blog, let alone all three in one post. However, that particular (minor but noisy) gripe isn’t what got me writing tonight.
No, what got me writing tonight is a character concept that leapt all but full fledged into my brain while I was making catfish tacos with mango salsa for dinner tonight (they were awesome, incidentally). One of the great things about the rise of Onyx Path is that they finally made the (beautifully nuanced) Revised-era Technocracy convention books that White Wolf left hanging after the excellent Iteration X Convention book. Probably my favorite from that line was, of all things, The Syndicate (though I disagreed with cutting off the SPD, but hey… I just might be biased) for its very interesting exploration of an easily demonized and oft-caricatured Convention.
Anyhow, as I was cooking, I was thinking on the Syndicate and on the Management and Human Resources sidebar from M20 and extrapolating on that. I was also thinking of sympathetic Syndicate mages, and then a character concept occurred to me. Here’s a breakdown of the concept below:
You always felt the calling to be a healer. To nurture the growing, heal the hurting and comfort those whose loved ones are beyond help. Therefore, like many young people, you dreamed of becoming a doctor. Life has a funny way of kicking people right in the dreams sometimes. You had good grades in high school that gave you high hopes. Though you were a fine student, your real aptitudes were always people and groups and the “soft subjects” like debate and speech rather than biology or chemistry: you were the treasurer and student council rep for the Rotaract Club, and were a natural leader.
Still, you were determined to be a healer. Between your grades, extracurriculars, charm and skillfully leveraged family connections you entered a prestigious med school. That’s where your dreams started to crumble: while smart and competent, you just weren’t cut out to excel as a physician. Surrounded with driven, genuinely gifted med students, you rapidly fell into (and then below) the middle of the pack. Then you had to face the heartbreaking truth and find something else to do with your life.
Your father persuaded you to enter an MBA program; somebody with your people skills and a head for business could make a very good living. Though still smarting from your previous failure, your change in direction paid off. Economics, money management, business theory, the study of networking, policy and interpersonal connectedness clicked with you like antimicrobial peptides never had. You made graduating at the top of your class look easy.
You could have found work just about anywhere you wanted, but you’d never been able to give up following developments in the healthcare industry, which seemed as sick to you as the patients that beleaguered doctors struggled to save. Accordingly, you knew where you had to go, just in a very different way than you’d have dreamed as a child. Soon, the operations you managed were markedly leaner, trimmer and more fiscally efficient without grinding the humanity and compassion out of the staff. These efforts hardly went unnoticed, and the headhunters came round in short order. Before long you’d had quite a tour of the industry. Now you’re one of the top decision-makers at a respected institution of higher medicine. Not only are they sailing a tighter ship and serving patients better than ever, they’re running well in the black. Morale is high, and you have a raft of awards and initials to go with your name even if MD isn’t among them.
Somewhere along the way, you saw through the numbers and spreadsheets and annual reports to see the hypereconomic reality underneath: everybody wants to be well, and supporting that desire requires an awful lot of infrastructure and a dizzying array of working parts, a logistical, financial and social web that would stagger any mortal mind. Yet, with proper application of Will, teamwork and finesse, the Market can support that desire. In a flash, like the subject of an old Buddhist parable, you were Enlightened. It wasn’t long before the Syndicate introduced themselves, commended the Primal Venture you had built and ushered you into the Union, showing you ways to play the Market that you’d never have imagined.
Now, your Enlightened will is turned to the task of repairing your corner of a badly damaged Market, specifically the bloated and often soulless healthcare sector. You apply the principles of Psychodynamics (Mind), an uncanny understanding of statistical analysis of the weaknesses in the system (Entropy) and of course Primal Utility Theory (Prime) to run it as a unified whole. Your careful yet not stifling oversight, skillful handling of resources both human and financial to build a mutually supportive and compassionate culture among the doctors, nurses and providers brings the best out of these many moving parts to pay better dividends than ever, and your hospital’s patients are reaping the benefits. Naked, wand-waving Superstitionists would struggle to recognize or comprehend, and even haughty Progenitors would sneer at such claims from a buzzword-spouting, team-building-meeting-planning bean counter in a suit, but you make subtle and extensive use of an advanced grasp of the Enlightened Life Sciences (the Life Sphere) to tend to the sick, the wounded and the sorrowing without ever personally writing a prescription. Your instruments of treatment are the very institutions and connections whose wheels you subtly grease in a thousand ways.
You are a healer.