I’m a sucker for religious and philosophical discussion. I have my own opinions, but I love hearing the opinions of others on these two topics, except in one case: where the person believes that he or she is right beyond any argument and no rational discussion is possible. I have known Wiccans whose final arguments were, “That’s just the way it is,” or, “You’re just wrong about that.” Why? Have your experiences been counter to the argument? Is there something in the collected lore that backs you and doesn’t back me? No, they’ve decided that their opinion is the way it is, and that’s that. Or they read it on Z Budapest’s website, which has no links or references to corresponding lore or anything. I can accept the, “That doesn’t fit with my experiences,” argument, but the point is, if you have an actual reason for the opinion you have, that’s great! Go with it. If not, maybe you should be questioning that opinion.
The dynamic in Mage: The Ascension is all about these kinds of arguments. Magic works because its practitioners believe it to work, and thus you have a very rational argument: “I’m floating ten feet off the ground. Therefore, your argument that I can’t is pretty much invalid.” The game is almost completely about competing world views, which don’t quite cancel each other out because Awakened Mages have a strong will and a desire to use it. Of course, they do get with Paradox, but that’s another matter entirely.
Mage: The Awakening got rid of a lot of what made Mage… well, Mage. Now you can play Mage without all that nasty, philosophical paradigm stuff getting in the way! Except, that’s exactly what made Mage: The Ascension so worth playing in the first place. I ran a Mage LARP back in Cleveland for about a year before I turned it over to a friend. In that time, by far the most intriguing aspect of the game was listening to two Tradition mages bicker bitterly about the nature of reality, how it really worked and how their magic was made possible. This, this is what made Mage work: several world views all working to change reality despite contradicting each other. Several philosophies of the world, all making sense together because they’re all wrong, yet they are the very fuel that makes the underlying reality work!
Old Mage ran on a concept called consensual reality, basically, that the collective beliefs of all creatures in the world determines the nature of the experience. This is an old concept, stretching back to pre-Christian times. Several philosophies have considered the possibility of consensual reality, or described the world as the illusion (maya or samsara) constructed by perception. The theory goes that gravity works because we agree that it works: if we toss an apple up, it falls down towards the ground. We believe the lie of our perceptions, and we perpetuate that perception to the next generation. Perceptions change based on someone convincing the masses that something else can work, and thus we have modern medicine, airplanes, and other marvels. In the dark ages, a group called the Order of Hermes held sway over the minds of man, and such things as alchemy and lengthy rituals held sway, changing reality through wonder and miracle, which reinforced commoners’ beliefs in the supernatural and superstition. In the game, creatures such as vampires and werewolves exist partially because the inhabitants of the world believe it to be so, and because this includes more than just the human population, but also Gods and Spirits (called Bygones in the game because in the modern era they’re more or less banished from the earth), these supernatural entities run off of rules that the masses didn’t necessarily create. At the same time, modern medicine, airplanes, cars, trains, nuclear power, x-rays, the Internet, and so forth: they all work because the masses were convinced that they worked, and how. Since the masses are also convinced that magic doesn’t exist, those that work magic are also working against the collective beliefs of everyone else in reality. Hence, in the dark ages, airplanes might or might not work, and in the modern era, saying a chant and creating fire causes a severe backlash. The Awakened are those that can use their will to fight against the consensus and make the impossible happen… at a cost to themselves (called Paradox because technically, you are doing something against the rules of reality). Most often, they are the ones doing the convincing mentioned above.
One’s perception of the illusion of realtiy in old Mage was called a paradigm. It is paradigm that White Wolf has removed from their new Mage line, and yet all of the other trappings remain. There’s still Disbelief, Paradox, and the Spheres (sorry, ARCANA now) more or less work similarly to the way they used to. The primary difference is that all mages more or less work their magic the same way. Granted, some are still technomancers or whatnot, but there really is only one paradigm these mages are working from. There’s no more inspiration from ancient culture or mythology, or it’s so sterilized that it’s hardly recognizable. The main baddies aren’t mages with competing paradigms anymore (the ones who created the rules to nuclear fission and aerodynamics in the old game), they’re strange disembodied entities working the same magic in the same paradigm through intermediaries on earth. To me, it makes less sense. The only improvement is that they got rid of that damned Avatar Storm that damaged you whenever you crossed into the Spirit World. Hel, Changeling: the Lost was an improvement, why couldn’t new Mage have been?
So, when I run a Mage game again, it’s going to be old Mage. Paradigm will be emphasized. And while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony.