Mage: the Coreing

Some of my alpha readers for the Technocracy books I’m working on are also Fate Core fans, and one in particular wants to run a Void Engineer game after reading the Void Engineer pre-edit.

This morning in the shower, I mused on how to convert my Cortex+ Action hack of Mage: the Ascension into Fate Core. Here are the beginning of some notes, which riff a bit off of Dresden’s magic as well[1].


Spheres are like skills, but treated as their own separate character element and their own ladder, corresponding (heh) to the five dot ratings:

Initiate +0
Apprentice +2
Disciple +4
Adept +6
Master +8

When you’re composing your effect, the difficulty is 2 for every dot in the effect (starting at +2), which means that effects involving more than one sphere are more difficult.

  • A Matter ••• effect is +6 difficulty
  • A Matter •••/Prime •• effect is +10 difficulty
  • etc.

The effects scale by 2, not 1, because of the fate point economy meshing with the feel of Mage and the risk of Paradox. Things can affect the difficulty of a roll up or down: the presence of sleepers, the gauntlet, being at a node, etc. So, there’s flex built in (and another reason for the 2-step scaling instead of 1-step).

When rolling for an effect, you use your highest Sphere involved. Naturally, you can only do an effect that involves having one of your Spheres — you don’t start at Initiate ate every Sphere, you have to gain that level.

You can only naturally do an effect equal or less than the rank you have. If you  have Matter 3, doing a Matter 5 effect is out of the question. However, you can push yourself to do an effect that’s one rank higher than you normally can do, by spending a fate point. Doing a Matter 4 effect would cost a fate point. This works for multiple Spheres in an effect–if you have Matter 3 and Prime 1, you can do a Matter 4/Prime 2 effect for two fate points. These aren’t direct aspect invocations that involve a +2 or reroll, but an inherent invocation of a mage’s high concept aspect allowing her to exceed her grasp.

Naturally, effects can create advantages, obstacles, and attacks.

Finally, you can succeed with cost, in the form of Paradox.


So, that’s the core of the idea. Any thoughts? How should we build on it?

– Ryan

[1] Which is fitting, since Dresden’s magic system stemmed from Leonard Balsera & I loving Mage.


9 Responses to Mage: the Coreing

  1. Colin says:


    I have been tinkering with the idea of a Paradox rank, since that was one of my favorite parts of the game that never seemed to work that great. So each time you chose to fail on a spell/procedure it goes up one, each time you do something vulgar it goes up one, with a witnesses it goes up more, and so on. You can always choose to take a consequence to mitigate your Paradox rank just like you would stress. Whenever you trigger Paradox via cost (and maybe when ever you huck vulgar magic around) you make a roll against the Paradox rank using some skill like Will or maybe an Arete skill. Succeed with Style and your Paradox goes down a bit, Succeed on the roll and you dodge the bullet for now, tie and you take a Paradox aspect, fail and you eat some backlash based on the margin of failure. It’s rough still and needs some refining.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I did a bit with Paradox rank in the Aethertide build, as long-term Complications on a character (and as a Dresden-esque choice of “Do I let the Paradox out as backlash against the world around me or do I take it into my Pattern to absorb it?”). Eventually, Lily’s character had, I think, “Life/Prime Paradox d10,” which manifested as her being an entity of living metal.

      I wasn’t happy with the mechanism for gaining Paradox at any given point in the build, so toward them end I free-wheeling that part of the mechanic.

      As an aside, I’m generally never quite sure how I feel about Arete as a skill or whatnot. It always felt like a good idea that was too often used as a wet blanket on stories.

      – Ryan

  2. Fnorder says:

    I’ve actually thrown all other skills out the window in my Mage->Fate conversion which I’m working on. It’s still a diamond in the rough, but gives the players a feeling that it’s not another “magic system” but that they are bending the building blocks of reality. It also makes spheres directly related to what the player sees his character as. But as I’ve said, it’s still a WIP and will be for some time.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I used to think like that. But in playing with the Cortex+ hack, where the players more or less did that, it made the game fell too one-note, and it left a lot of what could be coincidental magic off the table. Especially in a game with Technocrats, I wouldn’t do a magic-only setup.

      – Ryan

  3. Jason Pitre says:

    If you would fail, count the number of missing ranks. Give the player an amount of Paradox (debt) equal to the missing ranks, or double that number if it was a vulgar effect. This is functionally Debt that the GM can use as a free compel or to deal a 2-stress hit.

    The aspects for a Mage Core game would be fascinating. Your high concept would be your paradigm (What is magic). Your trouble would turn into Resonance or Avatar. Exciting!

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Once you get into calculating shifts, you move away from much of the magic of succeeding with cost. That’s something I wouldn’t want to do with this hack.

      And now that you mention it, I think I want to separate High Concept and Paradigm as two aspects, so that there’s an aspect that relates to you who are in the context of community or story, and that you aren’t just your magic.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      On the other hand, we could also make it so that all magic attempts that failure instead must succeed with cost, and the decision point is what broad form of cost: fallout or backlash. But I might still make it static rather than about degree of failure, to keep the intent of SWC and to make it a simpler, quicker decision.

      – Ryan

    • Jason Pitre says:

      Yes, my original attempt was indeed in line with your second suggestion. I had felt that the increase granularity of scales of failure would heighten the sense of tension and simulate the feeling of revised-era magic. If this were my own design, I would probably just make coincidental effects static and keep the complexity for vulgar magic.

      Fundamentally, magic that fails to have any effect is not magic. Magic that causes more problems then it solves? Certainly!

  4. Andy says:

    Awesome! I love how DFRPG magic was set up. One suggestion I have is that if you want to attempt magic beyond your grasp, let the player use compels as well.

    You could couple this with giving each sphere of magic an Aspect (or even have the player take an Aspect explaining how they relate to that sphere), and then a compel translates to backlash themed to one of the spheres involved.

    You might want to limit this to only sphere-based compels, but it could work well. So let’s say you’re trying for that Matter 4 effect, but only have Matter 3. Your Matter aspect is “Weakness forged into strength”. You can compel that aspect to put the Matter 4 effect in your grasp; let’s say that your leather duster, by way of backlash, partially transmutes into a physically stronger material (like lead).

    Or something like that.