Game Rules

Mage: The Awakening uses a set of rules called the Storytelling System aka nWoD rules.

• Rolling Dice: When rolling dice in the Storytelling System, you do not add the numbers together. Instead, any single die that comes up 8 or better is considered a success. You usually need only one success to accomplish a task, but more is always better (causing more damage in combat, for example). Any die that comes up a “0” (considered a 10) counts as a success and can be rolled again (and potentially get another success). If you manage to roll five or more successes, you get an exceptional success. If you roll no successes at all, your character has failed that action.

• Dice Pools: The number of dice you roll to attempt something is called your dice pool. It usually consists of the total of two traits on your character sheet (one Attribute and one Skill) and modifiers imposed by any special equipment your character uses or adverse conditions.

• Modifiers: The Storyteller determines what modifiers apply to any dice pool. Modifiers either add to or subtract from the dice pool (the number of dice rolled). These modifiers usually come from tools used (a bonus is listed with the tool), Merits that the character has (described in the character description), or other general circumstances. The Storyteller should grant or impose a bonus or penalty (usually ranging from +2 to –2) if the circumstances are especially favourable or deleterious. For example, an attempt to climb a wall that is slick with rain and slime would suffer a –2 penalty, whereas climbing a wall with plentiful handholds and ledges would gain a +2.

• Chance Die: If modifiers reduce your dice pool to zero dice (you can’t have a negative dice pool), you should instead roll a single die (called a chance die). A 10 rolled on a chance die generates a single success, while any other result is a failure. And yes, if you manage to roll that 10, you get to roll again and try for another success. As long as you keep rolling 10s, you keep generating successes. Rolling anything other than a 10, however, is not a success. In fact, rolling a 1 on a chance die (just on the first roll, not subsequent rolls after getting that first 10) indicates a dramatic failure. The Storyteller should describe especially troublesome results for a dramatic failure, such as a gun jamming or a tire blowing out during a car chase.

• Actions: Almost anything a character does is considered an instant action. You determine the dice pool, roll the dice, and see if you succeed or fail. In combat you can perform one instant action per turn. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to take an extended action, which represents doing something over a period of time, such as searching a room or casting an especially complex spell. In this case, every roll of the dice represents a fixed amount of time (usually 10 minutes, but it varies for some more involved actions). You accumulate successes from roll to roll until you get a certain number (described in the text), at which point either something happens or you run out of time. Some actions can also be contested, which means that two people are working against each other, such as in an arm-wrestling match, or when a character tries to sneak past a watchful guard. In a contested action, each player (or the player and the Storyteller) rolls the dice pool for his character and the person with the most successes wins. Finally, some actions are reflexive, which means that they happen automatically and don’t take up any time—you can perform them and still perform an instant action in that turn.

• Turns and Scenes: A turn is a three-second period and is used in combat. A scene is a longer period (usually an hour or as long as it takes for everyone to do what they want in a particular place). Some mage powers or spells function for a single turn, while others last the whole scene.


The character sheets contain all the game numbers that define a character’s capabilities, divided into a variety of types of traits. Most traits are rated from one dot (•) to five dots (•••••), much like a star rating system for movie reviews. Different traits represent different things:

• Attributes represent inherent capabilities, such as Strength, Intelligence, or Presence.

• Skills represent learned abilities, such as Firearms or Medicine. A word or phrase in parentheses next to a Skill indicates a Specialty, an area of the overall Skill in which the character is particularly talented. If you are asked to roll a dice pool in which your character doesn’t have the right Skill, you suffer a penalty of either –1 (for a missing Physical or Social Skill) or –3 (for a missing Mental Skill). If, on the other hand, you have a relevant Specialty in the Skill in your dice pool, you get a +1 modifier.

• Health determines how wounded your character is, and it has both dots and points. Your character’s dots are filled in on your character sheet, and they represent the total number available to him when he is uninjured. His Health points are recorded in the corresponding boxes, denoting his current state of health. (See “Health and Damage” for how to mark off Health points and the effects of wound penalties.)

• Willpower represents your character’s reserves. You can spend one point (and one point only) of Willpower on any roll, which gives you three additional dice in that dice pool. Alternatively, you can spend a point to raise your Defense trait by two against a single attack. Willpower is valuable, and you regain it only for acting in accordance with your character’s Virtue or Vice (see individual character descriptions). Willpower is ranked from 1 to 10, unlike most other traits.

• Gnosis represents the inherent higher understanding of reality a mage has achieved.

• Mana is the amount of distilled magical power that currently suffuses the mage character’s body. You spend Mana to cast or modify certain spells.

• Arcana are special degrees of understanding of the Mysteries of reality. The accompanying handout explains what fundamental forces each Arcanum affects.

• Rotes are specialized spells mages can cast, based on their mastery of the Arcana.

• Merits are special natural edges a character has, such as Contacts, Resources, or Striking Looks. The effects of each Merit are explained in the character’s description.

• Defense and Initiative Modifier are traits used in combat and are explained in that section.

• Speed is the number of yards a character can move in one combat turn and still perform an action. A character can run up to twice that distance in a turn if he sacrifices his action. Speed will most likely come into play in a chase.

• Wisdom is a measure of your character’s morality, of how well he tempers his growing power over reality with reason. Your character can lose Wisdom over the course of play. Wisdom is ranked from 1 to 10, unlike most other traits.


Surrounded by supernatural creatures who would rather remain hidden, as well as jealous hoarders of secrets, mages sometimes attract violence. When a fight breaks out, it can be important to keep track of who is doing what, and how badly they are hurting each other. When that happens, follow these steps: First tell the players that their characters are entering combat. Until the combat ends, everyone acts turn-by-turn, with each character getting one chance to act each turn. Next, have everyone roll Initiative, which is the result of the roll of a single die + the character’s Initiative modifier as listed on the character sheet. (This is a rare case where you add the number that comes up on a die to the value of your trait, instead of rolling a dice pool and looking for a success.) Starting with the character with the highest Initiative result and continuing on to the lowest, each character gets to take a single instant action (usually an attack). The player can choose to yield her character’s action until later in the Initiative queue, or until the next turn if she wishes. Resolve each character’s action before asking the next player what his character does. If one character attacks another, the attacker’s player rolls the appropriate dice pool:

• Unarmed close combat: Strength + Brawl, minus target’s Defense and armour (if any)

• Armed close combat: Strength + Weaponry, minus target’s Defense and armour (if any)

• Ranged combat (guns and bows): Dexterity + Firearms, minus target’s armour (if any)

• Ranged combat (thrown weapons): Dexterity + Athletics, minus target’s Defense and armour (if any)

Add bonus dice based on what weapon is being used or what effect is being performed, then subtract penalties for circumstance conditions. (Using an improvised weapon such as a garbage can lid or a broken table leg, for instance, levies a –1 penalty on the attack roll.) The player rolls the remaining pool. Each success equates to one Health point of damage inflicted, the type of which is determined by the nature of the attack. The Storyteller describes the attack and wound in narrative terms. Once everyone has acted, a new turn starts and the player with the highest Initiative gets to act again. Players do not make new Initiative rolls every turn.


• Avoiding Damage in Close Combat: Your character’s Defense trait represents his instinctive ability to duck and weave and make close-combat attacks harder, so it serves as a penalty to incoming attacks. If your character hasn’t yet acted this turn and is willing to forgo that action, he can dodge, which doubles his Defense for the rest of the turn. If your character is attacked multiple times in the same turn, however, it becomes harder for him to avoid being hurt. For every attack targeted at him after the first, reduce the character’s Defense by one (to a minimum of zero). If your character is dodging, the doubled Defense still decreases by one for each additional attack.

• Avoiding Damage in Ranged Combat: Defense doesn’t apply to ranged combat unless a ranged attacker is either close enough that he could just as easily attack in close combat (a few feet) or throwing a weapon. To avoid damage in a firefight you can either find cover (hide behind something solid) or fall prone (drop fl at to the ground). Falling prone constitutes a character’s action for the turn but levies a –2 penalty on ranged attacks. Anyone within close-combat striking distance (a few feet) gets a +2 bonus to hit a prone character, though.

• Concealment and Cover: If your character is partially concealed behind an object, she is harder to hit with ranged attacks. The penalty goes from –1 (crouching behind an office chair) to –3 (poking up out of a foxhole). If you are completely concealed, the attacker suffers no dice pool penalty but has to score enough successes to shoot through the intervening object (called the cover). Piercing an object reduces the number of success rolled by a number based on the durability of the cover: from 1 (for wood or thick glass) to 3 (for steel). If this penalty reduces the number of successes to 0, the attack fails to penetrate the cover and you take no damage.

• Range: Every ranged weapon has three ranges listed in yards in the format short/medium/ long. An attacker suffers no penalty when her target is within the short range. If the target is at medium range, she suffers a –2 penalty. At long range, this penalty goes to –4.


• Damage Types: There are three types of damage—bashing, lethal, and aggravated—and each is more serious than the last. Bashing damage generally results from blunt or stunning attacks. Lethal damage generally results from cuts, gunshots, and other more serious attacks (such as an animal’s bite). Aggravated damage generally results from especially vile supernatural attacks.

• Marking Damage: When a character suffers damage, the player marks off that number of Health points, starting with the box under the leftmost dot of his Health trait and proceeding left to right. The symbol used depends on the type of damage.

Bashing damage is marked with a slash (/) in the first available empty box. So imagining that your character has seven Health dots and had just taken one point of bashing damage, his Health boxes would look like this:


Lethal damage is marked with an X, and it pushes any existing bashing damage right on the track (so that it always appears to the left of bashing damage). If your character next took a point of lethal damage, his track would be:


Aggravated damage is marked with a large asterisk (*) by adding a vertical bar to an X. It also pushes any existing lethal and bashing damage right on the track (so that it always appears to the left of lethal or bashing damage). If your character next suffered a point of aggravated damage, his track would be:


• Wound Penalties: If a character is reduced to three or fewer Health points (by whatever type of damage), the player suffers penalties to all die rolls. When the third-to-last box is marked with a wound, the penalty is –1; when the second to last is marked it is –2; when the last box is marked it is –3. (These modifiers appear on the character sheet for easy reference). These penalties apply to all rolls except those related to losing Wisdom (see below).

• No More Health: Marking off a character’s last Health box usually means that the character has become incapacitated. If that rightmost wound is bashing (and the character is human) she falls unconscious. If that rightmost wound is lethal or aggravated, a mortal character quickly bleeds to death. Note that this would mean the character has no bashing damage at all, since it will always be the rightmost.

• Additional Damage: An unconscious person can still be damaged by further attacks. Without further Health boxes to mark off, you represent this additional damage by upgrading existing wounds. Any new bashing or lethal wound upgrades an existing bashing wound to lethal (make the leftmost / into an X). Additional aggravated damage converts a point of lethal or bashing damage to aggravated (make the leftmost X or / into an asterisk).

• Healing: Mortal human beings recover from damage thanks to rest and medical attention. Mages can spend their Mana to heal themselves more quickly, and some mages can cast spells to heal themselves even more quickly. Should they elect not to do so, though, they heal one point of bashing damage every 15 minutes, one point of lethal damage every two days, and one point of aggravated damage every week. Lost Health is recovered from right to left on the character sheet.

Game Rules

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