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Posted: Dec 31 2014, 01:10 AM
Reality is not fixed, but rather a set of agreed upon assumptions enforced by the collective will of humanity, the Sleepers. Mages are those people who recognize that reality is not static, and realize that through the application of their will, usually channeled through rituals or other similar "mystical" or "scientific" practices, reality can be changed.
The specifics of their own belief, called a Paradigm, guides them into joining either one of the nine mystical Traditions (an ancient fellowship of mages of varying points of view), one of the five conventions of the Technocracy (an organization founded at the beginning of the age of reason to bring science and truth to humanity), or to strike out on their own as Disparates (unaffiliated mages), Marauders (mages whose paradigm has overwhelmed their sense of reality), or Nephandi (mages seeking to destroy or corrupt the world).
The central theme of Mage is the search for Ascension, not only for the individual but for all of mankind. What Ascension is, and how it is achieved is purposely left undefined.
Sleepers are a generalized term for the non-magical majority whose magical selves have not Awakened. Sleepers are a special concern for mages when performing an effect, because witnessing Sleepers increase the severity of Paradox. The exception is sleepers who are members of a cult with beliefs sympathetic to the Mage's paradigm, in which case their participation can reduce the difficulty of rituals.
The Council of Nine Mystic Traditions, or the Traditions are a collection of magical traditions united by a common theory of magical Spheres, as well as a common purpose: the defense of magic and myth against the oppressive, static and safe Technocratic paradigm of predictability and control.
To the Technocracy, they are not at all related to other magickal Traditions. Enlightened Science works because it's tested and proven, not because someone believes it into working. As Enlightened scientists spread their craft across the world, they worked out kinks, improved their models, developed their understanding and advanced their techniques. Flawed or faulty devices were repaired and made reliable. The result is that many of their devices can become consensual and usable by Sleepers. Hyperscience, also called vulgar Technomancy, is seen as beta testing before the device can be used by the public. The Technocracy uses the Sphere Model espoused by the Traditions, although they see them more akin to different disciplines than metaphysical forces.
The success of the Union, in comparison to that of the Council of Nine, is in its ability to share, with the public and with each other. The early technomancers could not summon storms from their fingertips or perform similar grand feats out of nothing, so they were forced to share their resources and work together. Their offerings to the Masses were those of free health, peace, security, entertainment and wealth, contrasting to the abstract ideals of the Traditions, like "inner peace" or "freedom". In time, human frailties, like need or pain, would have been eliminated, allowing for the Mass Ascension for all of mankind.
The slogan "One World, One Truth, One Order" has many critics, first among them the Rogue Council, who accuse the Technocracy of espousing blind Dogma in order to further their control. There are many Technocratic masters pulling the strings who have their own petty agendas, who have lost sight of the everyday world and who follow the centuries-old protocols and procedures that have been handed down, all without questioning whether such actions arc right or just. Rather than allowing Sleepers to choose for themselves, it crushes competing paradigms that grow to influential, including independent scientific discoveries, alternate versions of of government and radical economic theories. Many of its social and economic technologies aren't based on scientific principles at all but on premises it itself created to propagate its methods of control.
The 9 Spheres describe the 9 facets of reality that a mage can control, each one is broad and together, they attempt to describe the sum of reality.
Paradox is the collective force of consensual reality fighting back against the enlightened will of the mage.
A useful analogy is to imagine the Tellurian as a huge body of water. Most people move with the currents of reality, floating along on a cushion of their own belief. Some of these sleepers, Hedge Magicians or simply the heroically lucky, learn to dip their hands in and alter the flow, but they can't redirect the river. Vampires and werewolves are predators, fast and agile in the waters of reality, but still confined by the flow of belief. The Mage, however, sees the river for what it is, and can push the water around as they choose.
Paradox is the inertia of 6 million gallons of belief. Mages who change reality with vulgar magic are pushing the river in ways it doesn't want to go, and risk being drowned by the current. coincidental magic uses the flow of reality, rather than fighting against it, and can easily avoid Paradox, but even coincidence can risk paradox if it is unbelievable to the local sleepers.
Practically, paradox is the only thing that stands between a Mage and ruling the world. The world is a dark and unbelieving place, and most mortals can't or won't accept anything outside of their normal expectations. The collective belief of Mortals who don't trust Verbena rituals or understand Iteration X energy weapons drives paradox to stamp down these ripples in reality.
Paradox Flaws are very curious events that may occur for a limited or permanent duration in the presence of a mage who has suffered Paradox Backlash. They can be as trivial as a watch running in reverse or shadows falling in the wrong direction, right handed people becoming left handed, images in mirrors doing different things than their counterparts in the real world, hearing things before they are said, needing dark instead of light to see, or perhaps missing or altered memories. They can be trivial (the mage's watch running backward at high speed for a few turns or flowers wilting nearby), minor (the mage's feet sticking to the ground for a turn or an uncontrollable sneezing attack), moderate (suddenly exuding waves of heat or cold, losing the ability to speak coherently), severe (facial features vanish but senses remain, all cloth items within five feet start writhing), or drastic (skin turns to wood and starts sprouting, unintentionally firing off attacks at friends, a permanent minor flaw).
"Paradox is a fickle force. Sometimes it backlashes; sometimes it waits. Sometimes it's a hammer and sometimes it's like sandpaper against your skin.