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Mage: the Ascension to Heroquest conversion notes?

Started by Spooky Fanboy, December 31, 2004, 04:22:44 PM

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Spooky Fanboy

Pretty much what it says. I am looking for a way to "unleash" Mage and from what everyone here has said, Heroquest just seems to make everything it touches better.

Has anyone done an in-depth conversion? Anything to share?
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!


Hi SF,

I love both Mage and HQ.  I don't have any conversion notes, but here's some thoughts-

Are you keeping the 9 spheres of power?  Will they count as HQ theist Affinities, with Feats= rotes?


Are you going to have each player list their personal paradigm with abilities?  Having a 100 word narrative of the paradigm itself could be really cool, plus then the player can have their mage shift the paradigm over long term play.  This would lead to real fun Epiphenies, run as extended contests with the Mage on one side and perhaps their Avatar contesting them on the other side, both using personality traits, relationships, and paradigm abilities to make it truly an "internal struggle".


Would paradox be simply the cost of failed magic ala wound penalties in HQ?  Or would it be a rating that constantly rises based on magic use?  It could be neat to run it as a personal trait of each mage, and the resistance of any spell acts as a permanent augment to it.  For example, a spell that needs to defeat a resistance 10W would raise a mage's paradox by +3.  Dealing with paradox would be its own contest.

I look forward to seeing what you do with it.



Quote from: Spooky FanboyPretty much what it says. I am looking for a way to "unleash" Mage and from what everyone here has said, Heroquest just seems to make everything it touches better.  Has anyone done an in-depth conversion? Anything to share?

I'm in the process of writing one up. My conversion has resulted in something much simpler than any of HQ's magic systems, weirdly enough. I dropped the Spheres entirely from the conversion, because I never liked them (magical Esperanto?), and in HQ you don't need them at all. If I don't post to this thread in the next day or two, send me a PM to prod me into action.
Neel Krishnaswami


Adapting Mage to the Heroquest rules is surprisingly simple, if the same bits of Mage interest you as interest me.

The basic philosophy of my conversion is to ignore as much of the mechanics of M:tA as possible, and to instead let the setting bits that I found most interesting guide the conversion. In particular, the aspect of Mage that grabs me most intensely are the ideas of consensual reality and the Ascension War to control the paradigm.

I want to privilege the idea that multiple worldviews can be objectively correct as much as possible, and let ideas like Paradox fall out of that. I also want to push "paradigm engineering" more to the forefront, so that the Ascension War is not about shooting HIT Marks, but rather about ideas -- about changing the way people think about the world.

With that out of the way....



Every place that the action takes place in has a Consensus rating, giving the type and strength of the local Consensus. The strength of a paradigm can vary quite a bit, from as low as Technocratic 17 in the middle of the Mojave desert, far from any human presence, to as high as Technocratic 15w6 in a place like CERN or MIT.

A Sanctum is simply a place that has a non-Technocratic Consensus; most mages work hard to create and maintain Sanctums in order to do magic without fear of Paradox.

Usings Abilities, Doing Magic

Now, when a character tries to use an ability, this ability will normally only work if the local Consensus accepts that ability as valid. A vodun curse, uttered by a Sleeper, will automatically fail in Chicago, because Chigago has a Technocratic Consensus in which vodun curses don't work.

However, a Mage can make any ability they have work, regardless of the local Consensus. Their will is strong enough that they can give "unreal" abilities the existence they need to actually work. This, in fact, exactly defines the difference between Awakened and Sleeper characters: a willworker is someone who can make non-Consensual abilities function normally.

In particular, note that there is no fundamental difference between using a "mundane" ability and a "magical" one! It's just that what we think of as "mundane" abilities are the ones permitted by the Technocratic paradigm, and a Tradition mage's magic keyword is just a list of abilities that may violate the Technocratic Consensus.

Inside a Sanctum, the definition of what is mundane and what is magical can change, sometimes dramatically. The goetic ritual to Summon Belphegor is a mundane ability within a Hermetic sanctum, and anyone, Awake or Asleep, who learns the ritual perform the invocation can conjure that demon.

Vulgar and Coincidental Magic, and Paradox

Now, when a character does magic (ie, uses a non-Consensual ability), this may or not cause a backlash from the Consensus. The use of an ability is considered coincidental if it has an explanation within the local Consensus. Mechanically, this is represented by using a magical ability as an augment to a mundane one.

For example, an Esctatic might augment his Drive Taxi ability with his Go With the Flow ability, claiming that his "Zen driving" lets him get from place to place faster. This is coincidental, because he could just be lucky and feeding his riders a line of BS.

On the other hand, using a magical ability directly is Vulgar magic. When the character uses a magical ability directly, they must make a Paradox check. A Paradox check is additional quick contest against the strength of the local Consensus. If the character fails this test, they take the damage from the test as a Paradox Flaw. The precise nature of the paradox flaw depends on the stakes of the contest, as usual.

For example, the Etherite Doctor Ray visits MIT, and boldly (if foolishly) attempts to use his Timesphere-17 ability to overcome the Technocracy's attempts to turn the students into "educated stupid". This provokes a Paradox check against the local Technocratic-15w6 Consensus, and he suffers Complete Defeat. As a result, he takes the Paradox Flaw "Deranged Internet Loon" at -100%. This will make it nearly impossible for him to communicate meaningfully with anyone for a long time. Ouch!

Paradigm Engineering

This is the heart of the Ascension War -- the struggle to change the way the world works. This is represented with a contest against the local Consensus. Normally, this will be an extended contest, that stretches out over a long period of time, but as usual that depends on whether the engineering is dramatically interesting or not.

Characters can use any relevant abilities in the struggle to change peoples' beliefs, and not just magical abilities. Also, the players can use the Community Support rules from Heroquest to represent the assistance of their supporters and believers! Their support will be essential when the characters are fighting against a strong local Consensus -- the work of the Mage is as much teacher and inspiration as mystic.

Example Tradition keyword

The easiest way to port over the setting of Mage is to write up one or more keyword for each Tradition. Here's an example keyword for the Akashic Brotherhood. (Note that there is no "Awake" or "Sleeper" ability. Again, in this conversion, a mage is simply anyone who can use an ability magically.)

Keyword: Akashic Monk

Abilities: History of Akashic Brotherhood, Understand Four Noble Truths, Understand Pali/Sanskrit/Tibetan, Meditate, Master Passion, See Through Maya, Kung Fu, Tantra Yoga

Personality traits: Self-denying, Calm, Compassionate, Firey Temper

(A firey temper is a traditional flaw of monks, because anger is the most difficult passion to tame. It can be taken as a flaw, if desired.)

Relationships: to the Sangha (the community of monks), to disciples Followers: Disciples

Standard of Living: Impoverished

(This represents ritual poverty; many monks vow to subsist only on whatever offerings people give them.)

Typical equipment: begging bowl, robes, staff, prayer beads

This keyword draws very heavy inspiration from traditional Shaolin and Tibetan Buddhist monks. In general, a Heroquest keyword will be much more specific and much less generic than the Tradition writeups in the Mage rulebook.  For example, a Hindu sage will need a rather different list of abilities than this monk, even though they would both be Akashics.  Or for another example, a goetic sorcerer and an alchemist will need different writeups in HQ Mage, despite the fact that they are both Hermetics.

As a GM, you should be very, very liberal in letting the players choose different abilities to customize their mages. Their abilities reflect their paradigm, and this is close to the heart of Mage.
Neel Krishnaswami


The thing I love most about Neel's notes is the ability to make extended contests lower/change the local consensus -- thus allowing the Ascension war to be about something other than blowing up the enemy. I have visions of local Kundalini yogists subtly rewriting the interior of a downtown neighborhood with shows in parades, youth outreach programs, and subtle cultural shifts, while the local technocratic doctors and scientists do TV programs about how it's all "psychic surgery" and shouldn't be trusted.

The only thing I'd possibly quibble with is the Trad writeup. If you want a game where all trads are fairly stable and centered around a single core archetype the sample keyword is a good one. If you want less traditionalist traddies, however, you may want to loosen up the confines – not all Akashick mages are necessarily Tantra Yogists, for example.
- Brand Robins

Eero Tuovinen

Those are some great notes, makes for a game I'd want to play. However, where's the Ascension? The idea that the mage is struggling with himself as well. I'd probably elaborate some more about the difference between an awakened and sleeper, as well as building in some actual chance for magic to fail: in Neel's version the only thing stopping magic from working seems to be a fear of paradox (I've however never read the Mage rules in detail, so if the intention is for the magical effect to fail if the paradox check fails, that's another thing again).

In practice the difference can be exactly the same as HQ has between the lay members of the magical practices and the shamans/liturgists/whatever advanced keywords. However, I'd rule that the ability to overcome the concensus is only available to the awakened version, and becoming awakened is a contest, just like in HQ.

Thus I'd suggest a trait called, appropriately, "Arete", which is the one used against the concensus when any kind of magic is cast. With the trait available only through the awakened keyword the difference between a mage and sorcerer (which is a piece of the setting I like in principle) is sharpened up. High Arete, higher chance of getting the magic to work and avoiding paradox.

This being Mage, I'd probably go with the notion that the paradigm keyword and the occupation keyword are the same thing: if you're a jurist, you're already a sorcerer in the technocratic tradition, for example. Thus the characters would only really need two keywords, culture and occupation. The interesting thing is that the culture keyword is likewise a potential magical keyword: as a christian lawyer, say, you're a sorcerer in both the Celestial Choir and the Technocracy (although you're probably not aware that your Christian skills would actually do stuff in some places on the globe). A really streamlined game would go with one keyword only, but this is the more interesting option: it'd be totally cool to play a jurist NWO agent who reveals an intimate knowledge of Christian ritual after getting captured and whisked to Vatican. Gaining two or more awakened keywords would mean becoming a Marauder, though, wouldn't it?

Hmm... I can actually see handling chargen by letting the players pick an eclectic number of keywords from an undifferentiated list of cultural possibilities (perhaps spreading points between them or something). Each keyword has a paradigm associated with it, but nothing stops a human being from having multiple ones, unlogical creatures that we are. There is not so much of a play balance issue, because having multiple paradigm skills can actually be pretty competitive in the Mage setting: the character who only knows how to operate in the Technocratic paradigm is pretty weak when thrust into a different reality.

Now that I think of it, are paradigm-tied relationships and personality traits possible? Such possessions eminently are... It'd be totally wild if you postulated that the NWO doesn't believe in the existence of love, for example, and actually there's two paradigms in force almost everywhere, the technocratic one as well as a "romantic" paradigm. And perhaps love simply disappears (or loses it's power) when you get out of this ambient, ever-present paradigm field. Similarly honor could be something belonging to a fast disappearing tribal paradigm (or medieval, it could be part of several), so a character could only draw on it when the paradigm supports the concept.

Out of interest, what would be the take on the in-game level of awareness of the mages? There's always been conflicting opinions on when and how the mages of Mage actually are aware of the subjectivity of their reality. On the one hand, if your paradigm is what you believe in, how could you at the same time be aware of the subjectivity of that belief? On the other hand, how can you not be aware of that subjectivity when it's clearly demonstratable that your magic only works within the limitations of belief, while the magic of others works, too? How can anybody not accept the technocratic paradigm? How would HQ-Mage handle this matter? As I understand it, a common take in WoD Mage is that the mage gradually becomes aware of the ultimate falsity of his own paradigm when his Arete rises, so that a low-level mage has a fundamentally different perception than a high-level one.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I basically agree with you about the keywords. You can't get by with a single keyword per Tradition, because I found it very easy to write tightly focused keywords and very hard to write generic ones. I think that you'll end up with a different keyword for each subschool within a Tradition.  So for the Order of Hermes, you will end up with different keywords for goetic sorcerers, Jungian alchemists, Golden Dawn types, and each different piece of the western magical tradition. When I run this, I am going to to make sure I have at least two different keywords for each Tradition, so that the players can see that it's okay to write up a new magic keyword for their character idea.

The basic format I've been using has been based on Occupation keywords in HQ, broken down like this:

- General abilities.  There should be 8 total, with 2-3 history and knowledge abilities, 2-3 "internal mystical" or philosophical abilities, and 2-3 "external mystical" or physical abilities.
- Personality traits. There should be 2 or 3 of these.
- Relationships. There should be 2 or 3 of these.
- Followers. There should be at least one possibility here.
- Flaws. There should be a couple of possible flaws here.

The abilities in the Akashic keyword I wrote up is actually over-weighted towards the philosophical -- it has 2 knowledge abilities, 2 external abilities (Kung Fu and Tantra Yoga), and 4 philosophical abilities. This seemed appropriate for a monk, so I left it alone.

Having suggestions for followers is vital, becuase community support is really essential for paradigm engineering. The ratings for Consensus have been chosen to make sure that Paradox is a risk, and that means as a consequence that it's very difficult for even the most powerful mages to just rewrite  a local paradigm anywhere it matters.
Neel Krishnaswami


Hi Eero,

When I ran Mage, I usually ran it so that all mages were aware of the subjectivity of reality. Internalizing that fact strongly enough to believe "impossible" things into existence was basically what distinguished a mage from anyone else. The reason I took that tack was because I wanted a Mage's paradigm to be a wholly conscious choice. Basically, the premise of the game was, "What exactly do you consider Utopia, and what will you do to achieve it?"

In the Mage rules, vulgar magic usually only is risky because of Paradox. Thematically, you want a choice between "Do I accept the enemy's worldview and be safe, or do I do things the way I want and live dangerously?" Magic can still fail, even if you avoid Paradox, because it's still just a regular HQ ability rating. A Virtual Adept trying to crack a security system can still fail if the Sleeper sysadmin was really on the ball! What magic gives you isn't more direct power, since the ability ratings are on the same scale as anyone else's. Instead, it gives you more flexibility -- you can do things that are "outside the box", things that are inconceivable or impossible to others.  A computer password isn't much of an obstacle to someone who can learn anything by consulting the Pistis Sophia.

I really, really like your idea of multiple paradigms coexisting. In a Mage game I ran, the players once discovered that the Technocracy had a special program to remove and destroy the souls of all their operatives -- even though they were all strict materialists whohated the idea of souls, most people were not, and souls still persisted in the collective unconscious. (The PCs learned this when they were investigating why certain demons simply couldn't see Technocratic agents.) Your idea makes this work perfectly, and turns it from fluff into something really concrete.

My thoughts about Marauders are strongly inspired by this post by Anders Sandberg. A Mage becomes a marauder when they start learning any old skill they want as a magical skill, without regard for any kind of consistency of worldview. In an operational sense, this works -- you can use any ability you like magically. But it also makes winning the Ascension War impossible, because your paradigm is just an arbitrary collection of prejudices rather than a worldview, and you don't have any kind of vision you can communicate to other people.
Neel Krishnaswami


Quote from: neelkAdapting Mage to the Heroquest rules is surprisingly simple, if the same bits of Mage interest you as interest me.

So what do your Magic Keywords look like Neel? I can guess what the Homelands are like (though I'd love to see the oens you've made up).



Hi Eero,

Neat idea just struck me for working paradox and the paradigm issue.

Each mage would also have: "Understands Normal worldview" - 17 as an ability.  The paradigm of the world around them would then boost this using the mass support rules, plus augments for area(deep woods vs. science lab, etc.)   So, it would be easier to pull vulgar magic in a place with no witnesses, than say, a crowded stadium.

Now, if a mage was using subtle magic, "Understands Normal Worldview" would augment their magic.   A balanced mage would keep raising their paradigm in order to beat their normal views, while someone who was losing it would keep lowering their rating until it hit 0 and became a Marauder.

Paradox would be the penalties earned from this contest, and it makes sense, because the "paradox" referred to isn't in the world- it's in the mage him or herself, which is why Marauders never suffer it.

This rating of understanding the Normal paradigm would also be necessary in order to subtly convince the masses to believe otherwise.  You have to know where you're starting from in order to navigate to somewhere else, so actually being really well versed in the normal world view may hinder your magic, but also makes it easier to "rationalize" or otherwise convince other people towards your new paradigm.

A mage's overall understanding that all reality is flexible would then depend on their weakest paradigm trait.  A truly enlightened mage would have high ratings in all their paradigms, realizing that reality is malleable to belief.



Mike Holmes

Quote from: Brand_RobinsThe thing I love most about Neel's notes is the ability to make extended contests lower/change the local consensus -- thus allowing the Ascension war to be about something other than blowing up the enemy.
So, I'm reading this, and thinking that this sounds like Feng Shui contests from the game of the same name. Looking at the background themes, it's interesting how similar Mage and Feng Shui are. The primary difference is that characters can travel to different times where different paradigms are predominant. Well, that, and the ass-kicking action.

Otherworld penalties, anyone?

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Eero Tuovinen

Quote from: Bankuei
Each mage would also have: "Understands Normal worldview" - 17 as an ability.  The paradigm of the world around them would then boost this using the mass support rules, plus augments for area(deep woods vs. science lab, etc.)   So, it would be easier to pull vulgar magic in a place with no witnesses, than say, a crowded stadium.

Ah, but what's "Normal"? The premise of the game is that the mages are fighting over the very question, so normality cannot very well be referenced in a trait.

Rather, I stand behind the idea that each and every trait and especially keyword carries a baggage of paradigm, and thus each mage understands different paradigms to a different degree - yes, all mages have a "Understand normal worldview" trait, but that's just because they each tend to have a technocratic keyword in addition to their magic! "Normal" in the setting is the same as "supporting technocracy in the war for reality", after all. And if we had a mage who didn't have technocratic experience - a savage voodoo priest or something, as unlikely as that is - then there would be a character who has no relationship to the "normality" at all.

A Marauder isn't somebody who doesn't believe in cars or other "normal" things, that's just a representative of another tradition. I'm not enough of a Mage grognard to tell you what a Marauder is, but it isn't that.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Mike Holmes

I think that what Chris is saying is just what you said, that almost everyone has a Technocracy keyword. And that you can get community support from the vast majoirty of people, since they support the technocracy. If, instead, you did manage to get a crowd of hermetics together, you could get community support from them for something in that vein.

I think he's just saying that the beliefs of those that surround you act as an automatic augment to whatever you're doing, as long as they support the paradigm in which you do it.

Put another way, all play is a heroquest, and all people are in it all the time.

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.


Quote from: Mike HolmesI think that what Chris is saying is just what you said, that almost everyone has a Technocracy keyword. And that you can get community support from the vast majoirty of people, since they support the technocracy. If, instead, you did manage to get a crowd of hermetics together, you could get community support from them for something in that vein.

I have been toying with using HQ mechanics for a Mage-like game and my starting point for consensus was that it is an attribute of a community. Each community unconciously supports its own paradigm and tends to oppose anything from any other paradigm. Almost everyone has a Follow [paradigm] ability which reflects their overall outlook on life and the community to which they belong for consensus purposes. A few individuals have a Believe [paradigm] ability instead which reflects a far more sincere belief. Mechanically it is much the same unless magick is targetted at or near them, in which case they can resist with their Believe [paradigm] or augment a local compatible paradigm.

Modern communities tend to be fragmented, which is one of the few things that gives mages a chance. Except in really dedicated areas of unified technocratic purpose (MIT, Wall Street etc) the effective community sizes rarely exceed 4000 and is often as low as 1000 even in populated areas. Cities are typified my lots of overlapping communities rather than a single monolithic community, the NWO are working on ways to remedy this...

I should note that I was not trying to reproduce mage exactly as-is so the outcomes of some of the following are not quite the same as in a Mage game.

In order to perform magick the mage must usually overcome the reluctance of the local community to accept magick from their paradigm. Game mechanically this uses the resistance numbers equivalent to those for gaining levels of support from a community or that size.

I ended up with 3 distinct approaches to the use of magick
1. Subtle magick - use of magick as an inactive ability (an augment or as a defending ability). This form of magic does not need to overcome any resistance - as per standard game mechanics - and does not invoke paradox. Such magick is restricted to imperceptible and subtle effects but can still usefully shift the odds in favour of the mage.

2. Coincidental (or consensual) magick. In this form of magick the mage must overcome the resistance/hostility of the dominant paradigm to persuade it to permit the active effect which then takes a form which does not offend the local consensus. Roll magickal ability vs a resistance from the community support table. The column of the community support table from which the resistance is taken will depend on how (in)compatible the mage's paradigm with the community paradigm. All technocracy paradigms are compatible and the resistance between them is on the "ordinary support" table. Other technomancers (Virtual adepts and Sons of Ether) are moderately incompatible in their paradigm and must overcome the resistance on the "moderate support" column. Outright traditionalists would need to overcome the Extraordinary Support resistance to work magick this way. Mages can (without any effort) expect  bonuses equal to moderate support from any local community that supports their paradigms - e.g. a Celestial Chorister receiving a bonus from a local congregation. Greater support usually requires a relationship to the community.

Note that typically a technomancer must overcome quite small resistance and may have a substantial bonus in urban areas of the West.  

This form of magick does not incur paradox except on a complete defeat. In which case see below.

3. Vulgar magick.  When the mage simply defies the local consensus and spits in the eye of paradox. Roll for the effect against a resistance of 14.

The dominant community paradigm then rolls against the mage's Use [paradigm] (normally defaulting to 6 as the mage has no rating in the paradigm) with an ability rating equal to the forbiddance column if there are no witnesses and the comdemnation column if there are witnesses. Any success that the community paradigm has will apply the usual penalty according to the level of success - usually as some penalty or flaw applied to the mage.

For normal mages Use [paradigm] is the secret of their tradition/craft/whatever. Most mages believe in a further Great Secret but there is little agreement on exactly what the nature of this Ascension is.  

Unlike normal mages it is possible for marauders to have any number of Use [paradigm] abilities, which is how they gain their supposed immunity to paradox. Unfortunately no unascended mage can have multiple paradigms and retain any sanity. It is not known whether an ascended mage would have or need a Use [paradigm] ability at all.