Project Paradigm: Some Thoughts on a Mage-Inspired Fate Game

Mage Tarot

I’ve written before about my love of Mage: the Ascension. I even went and hacked another game system to play it in a way I really enjoyed, and have run it that way multiple times now.

I’m not the only one who wanted to bring Mage back with a modern system. Ryan Macklin also wrote up the hack he was playing with, and he and I tossed a few ideas back and forth about both of our versions. He also decided to take a crack at mashing it up with Fate Core, a system that he has been a long time designer on.

I wanted to circle back myself on the idea of doing a hack of Mage using Fate, so Ryan and I decided to take it all a step further this time and collaborate on our own complete take on a game inspired by Mage, but not actually Mage. In addition to using the rules that we want, we also have the chance to update all the bits we never quite liked and put our own spin on the world, the characters, and whatever else.

We’re not expecting necessarily to turn this into an official product per se (though it’s possible it’ll end up that way). Mostly we’ll be posting about it on our respective blogs and seeing what shakes out.

This post is the first step in that process: defining what we consider the essentials of the Mage: the Ascension game we’re inspired by, and what’s high on our list to change. Ryan’s post is here, and in fact, we haven’t even reviewed each other’s lists before posting. Once we have our groundwork, we’ll work on developing actual rules for Fate to support what we want, as well as all the setting and other changes we want.



A Mage’s paradigm defines how they see the universe, and more importantly, how they can change it based on this knowledge of its secret underpinnings. With this knowledge comes power, but it is not unlimited: only through mastering their own skills can they achieve enlightenment (in whatever form that takes.)

Consensus Reality

While each Mage believes in a specific way that the universe works, they still must accept that there are others who do not believe it. This includes both other willworkers and the sleepers who are bound by the consensus reality.


Thus comes paradox: the clash between a Mage’s influence over reality and that reality snapping back. Paradox is a way that the consensus fights back against the influence, but is also colored by the Mage’s paradigm.

Flexible Magic

Of course, that all defines the world. From a character level, the most important thing is to preserve the spirit of immensely flexible magic. If you can justify how it’s done within your paradigm and your level of mastery of magic (whatever form that takes), it’s possible. And the decision on whether to do something coincidental or vulgar within those parameters all makes an interesting blend.

Combinatorial Effects

Combining your spheres in order to create your effects was always one of the interesting parts to me, and also provided good incentive to diversify your spheres versus going all-in on a single one for more flashy effects. It also helped create diversity in the party, if you were the one who could combine forces & prime and I had entropy & correspondence, we could cover a lot between us, but not the same as if I have forces & correspondence.

Stasis vs. Dynamism

The battle between the Traditions and the Technocracy served as the centerpiece of early Mage: The Ascension. It encompassed many themes, about the past versus the future, control versus freedom, comfortable stasis versus dangerous innovation. All of those themes were important, plus helped in making both sides sympathetic (while also having extra-crazy out there other bad guys as an option.) Those themes and some kind of battle is important. At the same time, as the game went on, the Technocracy became more and more appealing as the people to play, and I think that’s important to recognize as well. Plus I am strongly in favor of science is just another kind of magic (in the game, not in real life.)

So speaking of keeping the same versus changing…

The Changes

Paradigm > Traditions

Traditions are useful shortcuts for character archetypes, but also undercut the importance of having a personal paradigm. I’d rather the equivalent for traditions be groupings of personal paradigms that share one kind of angle that lets them get along, without being “this is your paradigm and they all agree.” Of course, a lot of this comes from the traditional White Wolf style of game, and is a good place to differentiate.

For example, I could imagine a system where there are a loose grouping of allied individuals who believe that the physical universe is a lie, encompassing philosophies like the Virtual Adepts (the universe is just a computer simulation) and the Dreamspeakers (the world is just a dream-like reflection). Each individual would have their own paradigm, but there are groupings of commonalities.

Power Levels

I like some gradation between the experience, potential power, and skill of different Mages, but I was never a fan of Arete as a measure of how good you were. I think this could fit into refresh in Fate pretty well if handled carefully. Sacrificing refresh for mundane stunts doesn’t particularly appeal to me though.

Just Mages and Their Side Effects

The supernatural does not follow its own rules – it’s all the creation of things in the mage’s cosmology. While I understand the different iterations of Mage within White Wolf needing to address how Vampires can do magic and not follow their own rules, I’d rather let all supernatural creatures specifically be the effects of consensus reality and paradox.

Consensus Cosmologies

The idea of the various spirit realms in mage never did a lot for me. Plus when you overlap it with the Technocracy’s “outer space is the spirit world, except when it’s another dimension” it got a little too twisty for me to effectively work into a game. Plus, a lot of spirit-related rules seemed to just be a way to make sure it meshed with Werewolf: The Apocalypse. I’d like to clean that up to preserve the parts that fit while not being too overwhelming to reference. (I also always struggled with the Spirit sphere altogether, and would not be sad to see it go, unless it can get a much stronger hook.)

Other Fate Considerations

Aspects will heavily feature into characters. Paradigm will be an aspect, but the rest are to be determined. I also like the idea that fate points sub in for quintessence, the magical currency that affects reality, so some of the usual actuals taken for fate points actually have an in-game explanation of how they work. When you spent a fate point to make a declaration, you’re actually warping reality.

It also means that quintessence is less about finding a place of power, but more about your life being full of change, which I think works quite well. But more on that when we get to the nitty gritty.

(BTW, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re tentatively calling this Project Paradigm, and will keep a running tag of all the posts in the series. It’s a much better title than my first proposed titles.)

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. One thing that’s interesting that I think we’re pointing to different parts of: the loose sense of allegiances. The VAs share a philosophy with the Dreamspeakers…but they also share a background akin to Etherites. We have a chance to make the messy relationship map something that the mechanics relate to.

    • That sounds great to me. Nebulous alliances fits much more into these gray areas. Anything to keep away from a lot of “kill on sight/you will never work with X” I think creates a more interesting tension within the game itself.

      • It gets into setting design philosophy, but one thing I like about having some “will kill X on sight” narratives is how that makes everyone who goes against that an interesting exception. You see that all the time in Mage troupe stories, so I’m not wholly opposed to them. They just gotta be interesting on their own, not just something to make interesting by countering them.

  2. Mike Maher says:

    I will be following you Project: Paradigm closely. Was a big fan of M:tAsc but never found the right group of players for it. Have recently discovered FATE via playing in a Spirit of the Century Game and really like it.

  3. Sounds awesome. I’ll be watching project paradigm with great interest!

  4. Weird miscellaneous thought: why not let a mage choose their refresh rate? Then attach refresh requirements to stunts. If you have lower refresh, you can pick more powerful stunts. Just a thought. This sounds really cool, and it speaks to how a Fate hack benefits from a massive amount of discussion of the fiction. (All hacks do, but Fate particularly benefits.)

  5. Ian Powell says:

    Hi guys! My name is Ian Powell. I’m co-writer of the game Project: Paradigm, from Eschaton Media. With all the stuff you just wrote, it sounds like you’d be a big fan of the game I co-wrote with Michael Pucci! If you are, please let us know! We’d love to hear from you!