Sunday, 5 June 2011

On Rotes in Mage: The Awakening

The other day Shieldhaven from Harbinger of Doom  asked a question about rotes and combined spells in Mage: The Awakening. I told him I'd post my take on this. Here it is.

First off, what is a rote, according to the rules?
"Rote spells [...] are tried and true magical formulae, handed down from master to apprentice, and developed over the course of a mage's training and practice in the Art.

Every rote started out as an improvised spell. A mage comes up with a spell for a particular purpose and finds it useful enough to use the same spell over and over again. [...] Over time, the spell becomes a standard, known to many or all mages in an order, learned and cast by rote.
M:tA, p. 111
What then, is an improvised spell?
"Improvised spells are based on the mage's enlightened will and knowledge of the Mysteries. [...] she needs no training from other mages. [...] Any spell listed in the Arcanum description can be cast as an improvised spell, provided the mage has the proper Arcanum dots. No additional experience point expenditure is required.
M:tA, p. 111
While the rules as written (RAW) say, "any spell listed in the Arcanum description..." this does not mean that a mage cannot cast any spell, from the list or off the cuff, as an improvised spell. Provided, of course, posession of the necessary dots.

What this means is that by creating/learning a rote, the mage binds and channels her magic through a fixed pattern. Instead of relying on her will alone (Gnosis + highest Arcanum), she focusses the spell through a ritual (Gnosis + highest Arcanum + skill). The advantage is clear: In mechanical terms it gives you more dice, ergo a higher chance of success, and likely more potency.

The RAW says that, "only masters can formularize an improvised spell into a rote." [M:tA, p. 291], and that the creation requires that the mage has cast the spell as an improvised spell successfully at least ten times. Then there's an extended research-roll (Gnosis + highest Arcanum, target = the combined dots of all the Arcana used in the spell). Lastly, it costs the mage a dot of Willpower. The rest is fluff.
The RAW seems to imply that rotes must be either learned from another magician, or created by the master himself. In my opinnion, this is a little limiting. It can make sense if your game is heavily based on the internal politics of the orders, but my question is, what ever happened to spell-books? Last session I talked this over with my group, and I think we arrived at a concensus. I've tweaked/ignored parts of these rules earlier in our game, but after having re-read the RAW, I've landed very close to canon. The guys did not disagree (since they're all masters now anyway, why should they?), and  I've decided to keep the RAW but add a new option to learning rotes:

Sudying From a Text
The mage needs to have access to a text describing the rote, such as an arcane codex. The text must be acquired through play, and the mage must be able to understand the language in which it is written. The same rules apply to learning a rote this way as for creating a rote anew. See M:tA, p. 291, with the following exceptions:

  • The mage must successfully interpret the text (Intelligence + Occult, extended action with target number = combined dots of all the Arcana used in the spell + Gnosis of the mage who created the text).
  • The mage cannot decide which mudras are used, nor can he decide which Skill is used.
This should also provide a loop-hole for players who still lack the fifth dot in an Arcana. The player can create the rote, and through the ST's aid, the character can come across a text describing it.

Finally, a word on the nature of magic in Mage: The Awakening. While this game is more rigid than it's predecessor, Mage: The Ascension, it is still a rule-set that encourages a creative approach to spells. You can pretty much come up with any spell you want, and as long as the mage has the neccessary dots, it can be cast. This allows for both players and ST's to think outside the box. If you want to convert a D&D spell, all you need to do is figure out what it does, which Arcana and at what level, you need to replicate the effect.

 Conjunctional magic, or combined spells, is also where the, er... magic lies. By combining effects from two or more Arcana, the mage can really work wonders. The various books to M:tA provide examples, but here the sky really is the limit. In theory, all the Arcana can be combined --there are no mechanics governing this aspect. This may however not be practicble, or even useful.

It takes a bit of practice to be able pull off an improvised spell without rules-lawyering, but once players and ST becomes used to how magic works in the game, this ceases to be a problem. The thing to bear in mind is that the magic-rules of M:tA are dynamic, not static. Each Arcanum dot opens up for a wide variety of effects within the Arcanum's sphere, and each dot has a cap on it's potential. Once these things become clear, the rest is, as they say, a walk in the proverbial park.
I hope this was useful and worth the read. I know I got something out of going over the rules one more time.

[Picture source: Love]


  1. One of these days I need to spend some time with my M:tA book. It is a rather intimidating read, though. ;)

  2. Thanks for posting this!

    It may be of no interest to you, but I stumbled across a rule for learning and casting from grimoires as I was putting together my post today. Check out p. 221, under the spell Inscribe Grimoire. This set of rules is not bad, though it means that no one should ever be spending XP on rotes of things they don't need in combat. This is also some of the most obscure presentation of highly useful information one could imagine, in a book that is already pretty bad about hiding its really useful information.

    Thanks again for your comment, linking my post, and your kind words. =)

  3. @ Christian:
    I know that the tome may seem daunting. As Shieldhaven said in the above comment, the book is "pretty bad about hiding its really useful information." Still, I think it is well worth the read. You should also have an advantage, given that you're already familiar with the oWoD-system and mentality.

    Between you, me, and the fence-post, M:tA is somewhat of a bastard, in that it is quite rules-heavy, in a weird Storytelling kind of way. Still, the last three paragraphs in my post describes the game quite well, if I have to say so myslef.

    @ Shieldhaven:
    No worries, mate :)

    I'll definately check up on those rules. I know I've read them a couple of times, but I constantly find new uses for things I previously dismissed off-hand.