Reality. Seems like a simple enough word. What you know you've seen must be real, right? What you know you've heard must be real, right? What you know you've touched must be real, right?
Wrong. Reality, belief, imagination - they are all different sides of a three sided coin. There is no one reality. In fact, there are as many realities as there are people. Most of the people are still asleep - they cannot sense or understand this. We are the Awakened. We know the truth about reality. We can bend reality, shape it to our will. But beware - bend too much, and like anything else, it will break.
In Mage: the Ascension you play a mage - a mystic who can bend reality itself to his will. Magi distinct themselves form normal people (sleepers) in their ability to bend reality, to force their will upon it. Some may call this the work of magic, while other may just call it belief, or even science.
Mage: the Ascension is one of the World of Darkness games (like Vampire: the Masquerade), so if you've played any other World of Darkness game, the system should be straight forward.
In fact, as World of Darkness tradition goes, it should be straight forward even if it's the first time you lay your eyes on it. The system is based on ten sided dice (d10) and on dice pools. A character is made up of nine attributes, divided into three types - physical (strength, dexterity and stamina), social (charisma, manipulation and appearance) and mental (perception, inelegance and wits). Each attribute is scored between 1 and 5 (although ancient and omnipotent mystical beings can reach higher stats). Skills are described as abilities that also range between 1 and 5.
Every time a character needs to see if he succeeds in performing an action, he rolls a number of dice equal to the sum of the appropriate ability and appropriate attribute (for instance, firearms + dexterity for firing at an opponent). The Storyteller (GM) decides the score needed for success, and the number of success are counted - the more successes, the better.
Magi in Mage: the Ascension are divided into different Traditions, each Tradition having different goals, beliefs, and its own unique style of magic. In fact, each tradition represents an aspect of life where people find supernatural qualities and spiritual ascension - religion, dreams, drugs, martial arts, science and even modern day gothism.
Magic in Mage: the Ascension is, as noted, not really magic in he conventional way of thinking. As said, there are an endless number of possible realities. Magic (or as real magic is called in Mage: the Ascension - Magick) is the ability to sense this truth, and to act accordingly. When a mage performs an act of magic, he in fact forces his own private reality on the common (static) reality. The more this change is drastic, it is more difficult to perform. A change too sharp will in fact break the reality, creating a paradox which will probably destroy the insolent mage.
For example - I have nothing in my pocket. It is not a great leap of faith to believe I could draw a pistol out of it, since you have no idea that it is empty. It would be much more difficult to just cause a pistol to appear out of this air, since it is even less realistic.
In fact, magi in there existence are paradoxical creatures - They wield the most awesome force you could imagine - the force to alter reality itself. Yet, they cannot use it at will. They are as much prisoners of their power as they are its masters.
Mage: the Ascension is a game of philosophy. If played in unskilled hands (both on the GM and the player's side) it could be distorted into the worst game ever played.
If you're into philosophy, or if you're looking for a game where you can let your imagination go completely wild, Mage: the Ascension is the game for you.
To learn more, visit White Wolf's official website.