Mage Player's Guide


To wield the Unseen Powers of the world and bend them, and it, to your will. Is this not what everyone wants? Since time immemorial, people have always yearned to possess abilities beyond the ordinary, to bend the unbendable laws of reality that govern our lives and stand in awe or admiration of their fellows. In short, everyone wants to be a Mage.

Becoming a Mage takes long years of toil and study dedicated to the magical tradition of those who teach you. However this alone isn’t enough. The truth too many face in the end is this; not everyone can master magic. Only a few are born with the Gift, the knack to take their knowledge of the arcane arts and translate it into real power. You are one such individual, a Mage, with the knowledge and power backed by centuries of tradition and knowledge.

Mages in the Dark Medieval are organized into Fellowships or Traditions, the term is often used interchangeably. These Fellowships teach their initiates how to utilize their magical gift to work their will on the world through their traditions and practice. Each Fellowship knows, beyond doubt, that their way of practicing magic is the only real way and everyone else is wrong. Not misguided, but fundamentally wrong. This causes a good amount of internal conflict among Mages as each Fellowship competes for recruits, territory, secrets and power. In the coming centuries Mages will gather and talk, they will learn that their magic has common ground and learn to work together and share their knowledge but in this age each Fellowship is a silo, protecting its secrets from others and believing their way is the only true way. 

Playable Fellowships 

The Al-I-Batin are an ancient order who found a common philosophy in Islam. Most of their adherents are members of that faith and hail from its lands. Known as the Subtle Ones the Al-i-Batin are mistrusted in most of Europe. They are consummate spies, assassins and diplomats but these proficiencies were adopted for need, not as any part of their doctrine. The Al-i-Batin seek the Oneness, the connection between all things, that will allow them to join the divine.

The Messianic Voices are rising to prominence with the Catholic Church. Once a small voice of a larger Choir their Fellowship dates back to antiquity, not just Christianity’s rise. Where once the Voices’ unifying trait was their belief in a single God, even if they couldn’t agree on what that God was, the Messianics have cemented Christ as the Fellowship’s one true deity. They believe their magic stems from God and is channeled through his saints and angels. They simply are put in the right place at the right time to channel his miracles. 

However all is not well between them and the Church and many of their views are considered heretical. The belief that they can merge with God and become part of his divinity and that all things, including the monsters of the night, are part of God’s plan provide friction between themselves and the Catholic church. Most are confident the Church will see the error of their ways while others advocate for a closer tie to Catholic dogma to ensure theirFellowship’s survival.


The Order of Hermes are what one thinks of when they think of a Dark Age Wizard. They study magic through the eyes of one as close to an academic as existed in the Dark Medieval. They  look for how to replicate spells through formula and push the boundaries of what is possible. Broken into Great Houses that have specialized roles and lines of research the Order Hermes studies away in their libraries, towers and sanctums. Of all the Orders they are the most arrogant, seeing anyone incapable of working magic as a commoner not worth acknowledging, and any will worker not of the Order as little more than a hedge mage. None, however, can doubt the Order’s knowledge, power, or versatility and they are the most well educated and organized Fellowship in the Dark Medieval.

The Old Faith is one of the most disparate of the Traditions. Made up of all the pagan magical practices of Europe they formed as a group due to the oppressive rise of Christianity and the Messianic Voices. Their weakness is also the key to their survival, they lack any central authority to attack and so for every coven stamped out by the Cross 5 more remain hidden, secretly teaching the old ways. Despite the rise of Christianity few peasants think twice about going to the wise woman when sick, especially in the less urban areas of Europe, and in such spaces the Old Faith thrive. Practicing their ancient magic in the wilds and rural towns and villages of Europe while keeping the belief in their gods and ways alive.

Spirit Talkers are the least organized Fellowship, with authority rarely reaching past master and apprentice. These mages are born with the ability to speak with and see spirits. They are often seen as the touched or crazed madmen of their communities. Their unseen friends are potent, however, and that potency has allowed them to find safety and security despite their oddness as they can often solve problems no one else can. They can be found almost anywhere in Europe, ostracized or hidden in its cities or living more openly in the wilds. This Fellowship works closely with the spirits of all things and, often, becomes accepted by those spirits as a brother or sister.

Valderman hails from the frigid Northlands of the Danes. They seek to emulate their gods in pursuit of magic and do so through powerful sacrifice. Like Odin, who sacrificed himself to himself for the knowledge of the Runes, they sacrifice of themselves to empower their magic. While in the North there is a powerful stigma against men using magic, that doesn’t exist elsewhere and these powerful mages are known for potent curses and miraculous cures. The Valderman are only marginally more organized than the Spirit Talkers and are rare to encounter outside of their lands.

The Veneficti are a group of Infernalists who seek to subvert creation and become nothing short of gods. To do this they often summon and bind demons, spirits, men and all sorts to their will. It would be a mistake to believe the Veneficti are thralls, for they look with disdain upon any too weak to control what they’ve called forth. They control a group called the Circle of Red, which is made up of Infernalists of all types from human to vampire. They seek to master the control of the self through removing the temptation of Sin. The temptation of sin is removed by purposely engaging in it at one’s choosing so that its temptation is broken. They leave pain and misery in their wake and care not, for what concern is the suffering of ants to a god?

The Differences in Darkwood Nights

A few things are different in the 900’s compared to the default setting in the Dark Ages Mage book (1300’s). The major differences are detailed here, first in general and then by individual Tradition. If a Tradition isn’t listed there aren’t major differences to note, although when reading the source material you should always be conscious of the dates of events as they may not have happened yet in our game.

The first and largest difference is the power of the Catholic Church. In the 900’s it is rising but hasn’t become the oppressive monolith it will be in the coming centuries. The Inquisition has not yet begun to form and so magic users are not actively hunted. There are still a mix of Pagans and Christians throughout rural Europe, although Christianity has taken solid hold in most of its cities. The Church itself is more lenient and accepting of Pagan traditions, seeking to convert through inclusion and adapting local practices over stamping them out. The conflict between the mages of the Pagan Faiths and the Abrahamic religions still looks winnable from either side.

The 900’s are also before the first of the Grand Conclaves or the formation of the Craftmasons and as such cross tradition Cabals and cooperation is extremely rare, but does happen. What hasn’t happened yet is the Fellowships finding the common threads among how each works their magic that allows them to teach and learn from each other. The Fellowships are completely siloed in the 900’s and the very concept that their method of working magic isn’t the one true and acceptable way is usually grounds for expulsion or worse. This isn’t to say that mages don’t work with other Fellowships for specific purposes but that there is a fundamental disconnect in the magics that at this time has not been, and cannot be, overcome.

Order or Hermes has arguably the most changes. First and foremost House Tremere hasn’t fallen to vampirism and the Messana War hasn’t started. These two events radically change the shape of the World of Darkness and the Order Hermes. Without them the Order has done little research on vampires or how to combat them. The spells for breaking the Blood Oath have yet to be invented and the Order still sits comfortable in its magical superiority. Similarly House Diedne has yet to be destroyed so the Order still possesses its Druidic House, although the rumors of their infernalism are starting to spread, fanned by House Tremere. The existing Great Houses are: Bonisagus, Flambeau, Quaesitor, Tremere, Tytalus, Verditius and Ex Miscellanea. The last of which encompasses all the other, lesser, houses of the order such as the previously mentioned House Diedne. The idea of moving away from the House model has not begun, a few whispers that a different organizational structure may be heard in back halls, but no movements have formed from them.

  The Valderman that leave the lands of the North find a softer, and often, more accepting land. The stigma against men using magic doesn’t exist outside of the Northlands and their unique magic can find fertile soil away from the North. As the Viking Age begins in earnest the Valderman travel to lands never before touched by their Fellowship and, while rare, can be found all over Europe. 

Additional Resources

For more information you will want to read Dark Ages: Mage and Dark Ages Mage Grimoire. These can most often be found physically in second hand book stores or purchased online PDFs / Print on Demand through Drive Through RPG. 

Why Play a Mage?

The Mage game is a mix of wonder, discovery and power. Mages start out the most human of any Faction in the World of Darkness, and therein lies the horror internal to Mage. For as a mage grows in power their abilities separate them from the human beings they once were. What separates the king from the horse? One has power and intellect, the other a beast of burden, clearly lesser and as the Mage’s power and intellect grow the general masses appear to be… less. How far are you willing to go to achieve your ends? How monstrous will you become to achieve power? These are the questions and themes that Mage asks of its players. 

Mages are, at their core, still human and so their fragility allows the player to immerse themselves into the horror of the setting, to feel their character’s fear and the rush that comes with it. For a Mage knowledge truly is power. A prepared Mage is a force unlike no other while one caught off guard is little better off than a normal human. Preparation is the key and knowledge unlocks a Mage’s ability to prepare.

Mechanically, Mages are the most versatile of all the Factions in Darkwood Nights. They gain quick access to sensory powers through Awareness, including the ability to know what power calls are being used around them, and their Foundation and Pillar powers set up a solid core of versatile powers to build off of. With Rotes Mage characters can customize their concept and abilities beyond what any other faction can and the sheer breadth of options available makes dealing with Mages of even the same tradition a surprisingly difficult affair.

Mage Attributes

Mages have additional Attributes that set them apart from regular humans. These are: Font, Quintessence Pool, Awareness, Foundation, Pillars, and Rotes. 

Font is a Mage’s innate magical energies and determines both the character’s Quintessence Pool as well as how many Quintessence Points are restored each day. When a Mage sleeps for 5 hours they regain double their Font Rating in Quintessence Points. Font is rating 1-5 which provide the following:

Font Rating Quintessence Pool
0       10

1       12
2       14

3       16

4       18

5       20

Quintessence Pool is a Mage’s energy pool which is determined by the character’s Font rating. As a Pool Attribute the character begins the game with a number of Quinessence Points equal to the attribute rating which the mage uses when casting instant spells (see spell casting below) and activating some powers granted by their Foundation. Quintessence points can be regained throughout game by following ways:

Cray: Refer to the Game Mechanics section under ‘Special Locations’

Font: Restores 2x Font Rating with sleep.

Umbra: Up to 4 times per day a Mage can regain 1 Quintessence by spending 30 minutes in the Umbra.

Magical Components: A Mage may consume a Magical Component to regain Quintessence. 

Sacrifice: A Mage may regain Quintessence Points by sacrificing creatures or drinking their sources of power. All Mages know the following rituals/processes to extract Quintessence, others may be found in game.

Awareness  is a Mage’s supernatural perception. Each Mage begins with 1 Dot which gives the following at each dot:

Dot  Powers

1 Read Magic
2 Sense Faction  |  Sense Aura

3 The Mage knows when they are targeted by a non-sensory power, who used it, and can take knowledge of the power call In Game. 

4 Sense Condition. As Awareness 3 but the Mage can take knowledge of all non-sensory power calls they hear in game. They know the power called, who used it and who it targeted.

Foundation is the basis of a Mage’s magical practice and is the fundamental skills, knowledge and rituals taught by their Fellowship. Each Fellowship has a unique name for their Foundation which has a rating of 1-4 (see Appendix below for each Fellowship’s Foundation and powers). 

Foundation is integral to a Mage and as such a Mage cannot learn magic they do not have the Foundation for. No Pillar may be raised higher than the Character’s Foundation. Additionally Foundation determines the number of Foci a Mage can attune to at any given time and so also determines the number of Pillars a Mage can Quick Cast from (see spell casting below). Finally each dot of Foundation has a power associated with it that a Mage gains when purchasing that dot.

Pillars are the specialized focus of a Mage’s spell casting. If Foundation is the magical muscle Pillars are the techniques learned to utilize that strength. Each Fellowship has 4 Pillars that each have 4 Dots. The first three dots each grant 3 powers called spells, while the 4th provides PIllar Mastery, casting without using a Foci and reduced Instant Casting cost when using a Foci with that Pillar, and a capstone power for that Pillar(See the Appendix for each Fellowship’s Pillars).

Rotes are individual spells (powers) that you can use to customize your Mage. Each has requirements to learn which are listed in the Rote, such as the Old Faith Rote “Aura of the Gods” requiring the Pillars Summer 2 and Autumn 1 that the character must have before learning the Rote. Once learned Rotes are cast like any spell granted from a Pillar, with the highest Dot rating required to learn the rote determining what Pillar’s Pillar Mastery effects it (see Spellcasting below). Rotes can be freely purchased with xp at character creation, or learned from other characters or grimoires in game.

Abilities of a Mage

Mages have a number of unique mechanics to support their themes and play. Their signature ability, Spell Casting, is what most of these mechanics support.

Foci are special tools a Mage imbues to help them cast their spells. When a Mage learns the first dot of a Pillar they gain a Foci tag for that Pillar. Additional Foci tags may be purchased at Check-in for 1 XP. These tags must be attached to a thematically appropriate object and have one of the Pillars they know in the Pillar field of the tag,  Foci has several functions and uses.

Spells are powers a Mage has access to from Pillars or Rotes. 

Spell Casting is how a Mage uses their Spells. It is done in one of two ways and the Mage can choose which each time they use a spell, Quick Casting or Ritual Casting.  Remember Powers from Foundation are not spells and do not follow these rules.

Learning and Teaching: Seeking knowledge is a key theme of Mage. As such finding the proper instruction, lost piece of lore, or Rote is important to reinforce those themes. However at the same time we know that having character progression tied to other players and Storytellers can be frustrating. As a middle ground we’ve developed these rules around teaching. A Mage may progress is several ways.

Note: Rotes must be taught by another player or learned from a special In-Game item called a Grimoire. See Grimoire’s in the Economy & Items or the for details on their function.

Weaknesses of a Mage

‘Only Human’; Mages are human at their core and this is their greatest weakness compared to other supernatural denizens of the World of Darkness. Once you get past the spells and trickery of a Mage they are no more difficult to kill than a human. Unlike the other Supernatural Factions, Mages follow the normal rules for Incapacitation, Dying and Death. However a Mage is still a Supernatural creature and so they don’t share the Human’s weaknesses; The Delirium or The Curse.

Backlash is caused when a Mage pushes their magic beyond their limit. At Darkwood Nights this is represented by Quick Casting a spell you do not have enough Quintessence points to cast. When this occurs the Mage suffers Regular Damage equal to the difference between the required Quintessence cost and the number of Quintessence points they can spend. 

Example: a Mage has 1 Quintessence point and Quick Casts a spell from a Pillar they do not have Pillar Mastery with. The Mage must spend their only Quintessence point and then suffer 1 damage after which the spell is cast. A Mage can suffer Backlash to cast a spell even if they possess no Quintessence Points, paying for it with their Health instead.