How to stay 3 steps ahead of a Cabal of Mages

The most useful tool a mage has has always been their ability to notice things. Once the mage has Awakened, they look at the world with new eyes, a new perspective which will guide them down the path of ascension or destruction. Knowing how to best use this perspective as a ST will mean the difference between an exciting session, and herding cats. If you shift your own perspective a bit you will find that crafting the scene in your players’ mind is not a job for you alone. It is also the characters that will shape how the players see the world around them.

Entropy will allow a mage to see every flaw in a structure, organism, or even an argument. Mind reveals the thoughts and intents of others even if they are trying to hide it. Spirit grants insight into the invisible world of the spirits and the nature of the soul. With all these ways to divine the truth how are we expected to keep things hidden from our players? What can we do to keep all our plots and mystery from being discovered?! The short answer; you as the Storyteller need to use Their perspective.

The key to making sure that our beloved world rending reality deviants stay on the path we want them to be on is to give them things to notice. The more spheres a mage knows the more ways you can draw their attention. By looking at the world through the eyes of the character you can determine what is most likely to catch their attention and how they will go about solving that problem. This of course takes time to learn for each character but you have the tools to understand them built in already. Tradition, paradigm, foci, and avatar essence are all useful to predicting the mages choices.

Nathan was walking to his parking space from the main building of St. Mary Hospital. The attendant at the parking garage on site was clearly more occupied with their phone than actually providing ‘Security’. Being 2am didn't do much for anyone's work ethic. Nathan couldn’t remember the last time he got off of work at a reasonable hour. Being an EMT not only had the downside of being on call, it also meant that he would usually get that call at the worst time. Murphy's law was a real factor in his life despite his mentor’s demonstrations to the contrary.

The concrete muffled the sounds of his work boots as Nathan walked toward his car. As empty as the parking garage was, Nathan wasn’t unnerved by it. This line of work had taught him how to find peace where he could, even if it was just a break from the noise of an overfilled and underpaid ER. Suffering was something he was exposed to on a daily basis. Most days it was easier to handle, but tonight had required him to grant the Good Death. Nathan could still feel the old man’s hand on his own. He had been the only one who answered the phone to take the call tonight, and if Any of the other three EMTs working late had answered the damn call...

“No, better me than them.” Nathan had a habit of reminding himself that it was his role to help in a way most could not. Taking the time to comfort the dying mattered the most when the medical professionals responsible for you label you as “Terminal” without ever remembering your name. A kind word and a warm hand to hold can take the fear away. That night Nathan’s hand held Bruce’s until the man slipped away into a better life. Nathan was the only one who could see the smile before the end. The Wheel Must Turn.

Knowing what drives the characters is important for a lot of reasons, but it's important not use those motivations as a catchall. Characters who are Martyrs or Guardians don’t need their motivations in every scene. It’s the fastest way make any player feel like they have to save someone at a moment's notice, and that makes a very paranoid player. Not to mention its emotionally exhausting for everyone involved. Now it is important to keep things consistent to the characters’ Perceptions. If you know how they Perceive the world around them, you will learn how to present any information through the characters lens.

The car was in sight. The promise of a warm bed and leftover pizza awaited him. “Almost over,” Nathan sighed ready for a few hours of peace before doing this all over again. it was then he felt that familiar slipping feeling. The same sensation of the soul leaving the body. Nathan spun around to see what had happened but there was nothing. On five levels there were less than a dozen cars even parked in the garage tonight. His heart began to race; something was wrong.

Now what we want to do is keep track of our players Awareness and Alertness skills. More often than not at least one mage in the group will have a 2-3 Awareness that an ST can fall back on. If its high enough and your player has the appropriate spheres, give them a supernatural nudge as above. If you find that the cabal does lack a sufficient set of skills to recognize this nudge, the next option is to use the mage’s Avatar to guide them in whatever form that takes.

What this does mechanically is it alerts the player to a perception check. It is important to keep the PCs tradition and paradigm in mind when giving these nudges. It needs to be subtle enough that it does not give all the information they need, but obvious enough that there must be something to find. The assumption that your players will find out everything they need to know can be just as problematic as assuming they won't discover any of your plans. You will start to pick up on when to guide your players once you learn how they react to your gentle nudging.

“Breathe..Focus..” Nathan knew that if he let panic set in, the fear of failure would cripple him now. The first lesson the Chakravanti taught Nathan had given him an intimate connection with death. Feeling for the tension between his own body and soul, Nathan could feel tension weakening through the spirit world. Nathan opened his eyes and drew his attention to one of the cars parked on this level. Outside of the missing license plate it was unremarkable, and could easily be passed over with its grey color. What stood out to Nathan’s Awakened perception was the amount of tangible suffering emanating from the trunk. Quickly making his way towards the car Nathan started to rifle through the keys on his belt. It just so happened that he was carrying a ring of skeleton keys that had saved their share of people. Locked door were the worst when there was a fire. With an entropy 2 rote that he had practiced daily, he spun the keyring off and found the key he needed.

Allowing your players tools and weapons for their needs is important, especially when keeping multiple solutions to a problem. Bashing in the locked door or subverting security systems with a black out are solutions that usually present themselves when the player sees it as the only solution. Not to say it isn't the Best solution, but the player character might have better tools for the job. If we can draw attention to the character’s chosen abilities outside of their magic, it will give their Arete rolls more weight without deterring them from using magic. What else does you character know about?

It only takes a few seconds to pop open the trunk of the car. The scent of fresh blood greets Nathan as inside he finds a woman bound and unconscious. Her pale complexion coupled with the smell tell Nathan that this person has suffered near fatal blood loss. Without immediate medical attention she will be dead in the next few minutes. Contrary to Murphy's law, Nathan is carrying his emergency medical bag stocked with everything he needs to stabilize her. Why she is here? Who did this to her? Questions flood Nathan’s mind as years of practice guide his hands. She was going to pull through; as luck would have it, there was a hospital across the street. There would be time for questions in the morning.

Sometimes it does not take supernatural insight to solve a problem, and so requires a different kind of nudge. If a player has no medical experience but the character does you can use the same process to guide them to action. A character with four dots in Medicine could read the situation above with a glance, but administering medical attention might require a roll. Instead of asking a player to make a skill check as soon as they enter the scene, find what would showcase their unique insight.

But what happens when they know too much? If left at “You see a woman tied up in the car.” and the player decides to inquire further with an intelligence + Medicine roll? What if they get 6+ sucesses? If you give Some information for free, they will be more inclined to allow you to lead them in the direction you want. If their decisions lead to overwhelming successes (and this is the important part), reward them. Tell them that they find the bite marks at the women's wrist, how they do not appear to be made by any animal attack they have don’t have to tell them that it was clearly the work of a vampire. By the same measure that we use to assess what our character knows, you can filter it by what they DO NOT know. If they do not have any dots in Occult then it is not reasonable for them to immediately assume it was a vampire. If that is the player’s assumption, then they might look for the undead in the hospital itself.

This process can be made very simple from the start of your game. If you don’t have copies of your players Character Sheets, take notes on their highest traits and ask yourself when planning a scene “Who is most likely to recognize X”, “What would they do with knowledge on X”, and “How are they going to do that?” Every player has the opportunity to remake reality on a whim, but if you can guide their attention to what you want them to see, filter what exactly they learn, and can improvise in an emergency, your players will entertain you as much as you entertain them.

There is the problem of Time and Correspondence being used (resulting in teeth grinding frustration), but that is a topic on its own. In any case, remember to have fun.

Thanks for reading Our Words of Darkness.

Author: Allen