Campaign Frame: Aethertide

Yesterday on Twitter, I was hit with a campaign idea for a Mage: the Ascension. Long-time followers know I love love love me some old Mage. This idea drifted from there, but rather than talk about where this idea came form, let’s just get into this campaign frame (meant for any game that seems like it’ll handle the job).


Reason is Heresy. Conviction is Everything.

The Pitch

Start with “Mage: the Ascension, ten minutes from now.”[1] Add in some Caprica and sprinkle in some Max Attax from Unknown Armies. Then rock out with your cock out.

The World in Brief

The Technocracy got their way: the Umbra is closed and magick’s mostly dead. Paradox is barely an issue anymore — paradox spirits can’t come in, and it’s more work just to get something to work in a sleeper’s view than to get it to work right.

The Technocracy had a plan. It worked, and now they’re as dead as we are. But they were able to pull off one final stroke of magickal genius. AIs are able to exist right in front of sleepers. They walk around in automation bodies. The soulless, magick-resistant automations are continuing the Iteration. If you have flash, you should be fearing them.

Who You Are

You’re the last remaining Tradition Mages, rallying around the networks created by the Virtual Adepts & Sons of Ether. There are some renegade Technocrats as well, who realize they’ve cut themselves off as much as they’ve everyone else.

You’re also part of a plan, a cell in an operation codenamed Aethertide. You can bring back Ether, open up the Umbra, and spark magick back in the world. It’s risky; the Iterations are onto you. It might not work; a world-wide magickal effect was damned hard to pull off before. But goddamned, you must try!

What Just Happened

The Umbra closed off a year ago, at the same time the Iteration went publicly online, unveiled by {Blanking On A Cool Corporation Name}. Everyone who was Awake was hit hard–some died instantly, mostly those with advanced Arete. Most of us went into comas. A couple hundred of use are Again Awake and have been able to contact each other. The Sons and Adepts started the Neural Network, a network that cannot be accessed by machines. From there, theorists have begun work on Aethertide.

The world is getting used to friendly robots serving them in stores and cafes, just like they got used to Google and Twitter and Yelp and Craigslist telling them about things to discover and trust and try. That’s all part of the current Iteration.

What’s Happening Right Now

  • There is a hospital in South Africa that has a elderly Zulu woman on life support. {Corporation Name} is providing them with free medical automations. Naturally, the world is celebrating this. But one of our own is in there, on life support. They say she’s an Oracle of Mind, who stayed behind. They say she’s part of the Neural Network’s backbone. If that’s true, soon the Iteration might have a way to tap into our last freedom.
  • The earthquake in Japan was no accident. It was an attack against a {Corporation Name} plant — one that went too far. That splinter group is planning further attacks. They say it’s necessary, but they’re hurting thousands of people. And if they keep going too far, they’ll disrupt the Forces piece of Aethertide.
  • There is a place in the heart of Russia that’s a wellspring of Prime. We need it. They need it. Our shadow war has been going on for three months in {Some Cool Location Name}. Commander Mehra needs reinforcements, especially those who know how to work very old Etherite technology (and most of them are still in comas).

What’s Looming in the Near Future

William McDouglas, a New World Order bastard, said that we have until May 21, 2011. That’s when the “next Iteration” is scheduled. {Corporation Name} is scheduled to unveil their newest consumer-level products at their expo that weekend.

That gives us barely four weeks. And the brightest of us are still in comas. Damn it to hell.

This is what Reason brought us.
The time for Reason is over.
Welcome to the Uprising of Conviction.
Welcome to Aethertide.

Audience Participation

What else has recently happened? What rumors are there about what’s going on right now? What else should we fear about in the near future?

Hey! If I get comments from ten other folks with ideas, I’ll post some more thoughts on Aethertide.
Which I got! There will be more Aethertide soon. But keep commenting with ideas! Some will find their way into a future post…

– Ryan

[1] Thanks to David Hill for that line.


17 Responses to Campaign Frame: Aethertide

  1. sandchigger says:

    Rumor from the frontlines in Iraq:

    Former Al-i-Batin mages, now cut off from their traditional destructive magics and familiars, are turning to reprogramming and refitting the household helper model robots into remote detonated bombs. Dubbed “Dj1nn1”, the hacked bots are sold at knock-off markets all across the Middle East, brought home, put to work only to escape during the day, while the purchaser is at work, to find a large group of people (usually a cafe or market) and overload their onboard power supply, killing and injuring dozens if not hundreds.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Wow. Holy crap. I have to admit, I winced at how well you tied in Mage lore with real-world badness. I don’t know if I’d play with this in the campaign I’m hoping to one day run, but it does make the world feel as dark as I was thinking.

      And there’s something to saying “We’re not going to touch on this in a game, but yes, this is a world where stuff like this happens.” Sort of like Chronica Feudalis’ Backgrounds–things about your character that you want to say are true, but not the focus of an adventure. Good stuff. (Well, bad real stuff, but good game stuff. *grin*)

      – Ryan

  2. EldritchFire says:

    Dude, Ryan. This is pure GENIUS! I want to play it nao! Unfortunately, I’m not really up to date on current events, so I don’t know anything else to add. Just wanted to say that this is epic in the making!

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      You don’t have to be up on world current events to add a rumor about something totally made up.

      “A stranded Void Engineer is desperately trying to make contact outside the Umbra. Is there a way to help me? And if he succeeds, will he call the right channel, or will that just bring Paradox back in at a time where we need it least?”

      Things like that. The trick with a good “right now” hook is that there’s a situation about to change and some implied potential badness to it, without fleshing it out completely. I’ve a thought to post about making campaign frames–I might do in the coming weeks.

      – Ryan

  3. EldritchFire says:

    A ha, I gots it! After a healthy and filling breakfast, I am now able to answer your question, Ryan!

    The Umbra is closed here on earth. Knowing that the Technocracy was going to win one of the important battles, some of the farther-thinking tradition mages made plans to tap into the Umbra from a bit…farther away. With the deadline looming ever closer, those mages are desperately trying to find a place in space to perform the ritual needed to reopen the Umbra, and flood magic back into the world.

    Did y’all honestly thing that good ol’ Uncle Sam footed the bill for all the near-space exploration in the past few decades? Not a chance! Influential and powerful mages made it happen. They knew that their salvation would not come from Earth, but from the reaches of the Ether that surrounds the planets…that infuses the cosmos!

  4. EZ says:

    Harold Camping also says we have until May 21, 2011. But he’s not a New World Order bastard, he used to be one of us.

    He was a powerful archmage of the Celestial Chorus before the Shutdown. He claimed to be close to “figuring it all out”. Rumor was, he was close to figuring out a ritual that would bring back Prime into the hearts of humanity, ushering a new age of magick and freedom, and the stars would align this May for it all. But like almost every other archmage, he died when the Iteration went online.

    Or so we thought. He’s been popping up in the media. He’s been putting up billboards. He’s got a huge sleeper following. No one’s gotten close enough to find out what’s really going on. Is he an automaton trap? Is he a sleeper, only half remembering his previous Awakened life? Is he Awake Again, just plain crazy, or worse?

    Only one thing if certain: he, or his past research, holds a key to victory.

  5. Dave Bozarth says:

    The last flight of the Endeavor space shuttle held many experiments; Transpermia was just one concept given the technocracy’s blessing of entering the general population… And just in time to classify the strange beings of the K’llasshaa hive ships found hurdling towards earth.

    Their last incursion was fought off by the bloody mages of the Aztec, but now the ancient blood pacts that held them are set to expire in time for Mayan calendar hysteria. At what cost, to hold back the K’llasshaa hell from being unleashed on earth?

  6. Rumor has that Cha0s Computer Cabal, a small and secretive group of former Virtual Adept alpha-hackers and Sons of Aether ubertinkerers is on the verge of reaching Release State on the project that had them thrown out of their Traditions on account of being too risky.

    But then again, their former superiors are mostly dead now, or not more lively than a cabbage.

    So, the Great Game is about to begin.

    Somewhere in the world, well hidden, the Aethertechs are pumping Prime that had been stored in batteries for years in a distributed Grid (the CCC seems to imply that the nodes are actually members of the Cabal acting as routers and firewalls to their multi-rack clusters, but that’s outrageous and impossible. Right?).

    When the Grid reaches production level the final phase of the conspiracy will be able to trigger: groups of Virtuatechs disguised as parties of MMO characters will start to lure the Iteration AIs in logicomagickal traps outside the actual game servers. Many will fight until complete devolving of their neural networks. But some will be converted and realigned.

    Then, only then, with new unseen allies they will be able to launch the final phase: the Augmented Reality Game.

    How will the barriers between the mundane world and the virtual aether be able to maintain coherence when a bigger and bigger percentage of the sentient beings on the planet doesn’t believe in them anymore?

  7. “I don’t know what the fuck you Mages did but thank you for taking out the fucking Tremere. The whole motherfucking lot of them. The world can go to Hell in a handbasket now for all I care, I’m a happy camper. I’ll also emerge from torpor in a few months to see which of you is left over to feed on.”

  8. Matt Troedson says:

    There are rumors rumbling out from the deep slums of New Mumbai that a child was born with strange markings, markings that the remaining Akashic Brotherhood believe to be a remnant of the lost and tattered Akashic Record. It was on the news last night. You have 24 hours to save the child before it disappears in the Machine forever.

  9. Todd LaRoche says:

    The Reign of the Wolf has ended!
    The Reign of Vermin begins.
    Viva La Cucaracha. Viva La Hive!

  10. John Powell says:

    “…rock out with your cock out”? Eww.

    Great idea!

    Corporate name:
    (From Wikipedia: The word “Yelm” is said to come from the Coast Salish word shelm or chelm, meaning “heat waves from the sun”,[5] referring to heat mirages.)

    Cool place in Russia:
    Mirny, Sakha Replublic, Russia
    Mir (Peace) Mine, largest diamond mine in the world:

    Hope this helps!

  11. Service outages abound in the Kansas City area, disrupting communication networks. says they have engineers working to solve the problems. What they aren’t saying is that the disruptions are being caused by a pissed off Euthanatos mage and his small cabal who are seeding chaos into the system in a series of guerrilla attacks. The longer these attacks go on, the more people begin to question the infallibility of their tech. can’t allow that, so they’re pulling out all the stops.

    Kansas City is locked down.

    Welcome to the New World Order.

  12. Stuart says:

    The Vermipox mega-virus that threatened the world 3 years ago has now been largely kept in check thanks medicine provided by Pentex Pharmaceuticals. Some say the drugs numb the mind and spirit, but few would risk contracting the plague by not taking them.

  13. Dave T. Game says:

    The Dreamspeakers would have enough problems being cut off from the Umbra, but instead, they’re the only ones who can calm the spirits trapped here, cut off from their otherworldly brethren. Unfortunately, that takes more effort in places where the spirits are strongest- who cares about the next iteration when there’s a hungry jungle that wants vengeance, and doesn’t care who it eats in the way?

  14. grumpymartian says:

    I don’t know enough about Mage to help specifically with the campaign. However, one of the things that was brought up in a session at Norwescon was that maybe in 10-20 years we’ll find out that cell phones have permanently damaged our auras. Clearly it leads a reasonable person to conclude that only those that avoided cell technology will be able to do magic as a result.