go down

Lyorn's Frequently Answered Questions:

Seekings in Mage:
What they are about and how to play them.

Please note: I have no idea if any of this works for Revised. I play 2nd Ed.


What is a 'Seeking'
How to play it
Some further ideas
Info in the Mage Sourcebooks
Stories to ...er... borrow from

What is a 'Seeking'?

A seeking is a 'test' the Avatar puts the Mage through. This 'test' is necessary for the Mage to advance on the path of enlightenment (= gain the next dot of Arete).

Usually the test challenges the Mage's assumptions and expectations about him/herself, Magic, Reality, and what-have-you. You can handle that in a highly symbolic fashion, create a mindscape for every character through which they advance in their seekings or suit every seeking to the situation the Mage is currently in. A seeking should use symbols that fit the Mage's paradigma and traditional style.

How to play it?

The simple answer is: As soon as the player has the XP for the next dot of Arete, play a one-on-one with them. If they do well, let them pay for the dot. If they mess up, do not let them pay. (Taking the XP from them without any benefit is needlessly cruel.)

Of course, the above still doesn't tell you how to do it. Here's how I do it.
      I check the character's background story, the Mage's essence and the description of the Avatar for clashes, inconsistencies and unresolved issues. I also make notes in-game if some pattern occurs repeatedly in a character's actions. That way I get some idea about what the Avatar might want the Mage to do, change, review or resolve. These are not moral problems or decisions, nor 'play-nice'-hints from the GM, or at least they need not be.
      Next I clothe the abstract concept in symbolism that suits the Mage. A Dreamspeaker would get Spirits, a Virtual Adept technological problems, a Void Engineer a place where 'no man has gone before'. I think about what challenges the Mage will encounter and what faces they will wear.
      Last I decide on win/lose-conditions. Generally, acting in accordance with essence, personality and agenda of the Avatar is 'win' (= get that next dot of Arete), going against it as well as a lack of clue, courage, decisiveness and willpower is 'lose'. There can be additional penalties applied to losing, or there can be halfway-successes, which make the next attempt easier, or have some other beneficial effect.
      Finally the whole thing needs to be tailored to the player in question. For that it helps to know how the player relates to the character. A player who gets deeply IC needs a slightly different seeking scenario than one who uses the character as a game piece.
      After I made notes for all that, I get the player for a few quiet hours of roleplaying.


First one I read in alt.games.whitewolf.mage some time ago: Character was a CoE musician, looking for a legendary guitarist he wanted to learn some things from. But every stage and practise room he came to, the band said that the guitarist had just left, and wouldn't the character jam with them for a while? So he jammed and searched a whole night and in the morning he came to understand that the mystery guitarist was himself.(You can find the original post on Google)

Next, a failed seeking. Character is Verbena, she was something of a prodigy and had become used to (and dependent on) praise, respect and recognition. Her Avatar, though, is primordial, a wanderer associated with wind spirits. She also has past life experiences she refueses to confront. At the time of the seeking she was the golden child of a coven which expected great deeds from her, but she herself was eaten up by everyday things and keeping up appearances, while not going anywhere.
      One day when walking home she ended up in a valley she'd never been to before. The valley was filled with thick fog. She decided that she'd better wait for it to clear up before becoming totally lost (1st mistake... as a Mage, you do not sit down and wait for the world to change: You change it yourself.) Then she smelled smoke. Still she stayed, hoping that a nearby creek would protect her. (2nd mistake: If you smell danger, get off your ass!) The outcome was that she got badly burned by a forest fire, rescued in the last minute, got a little insane for months and aquired a serious phobia about fires.
      She re-did the seeking a year later under very different circumstances, and just followed the creek uphill, got out of the fog, climbed a mountain and watched the sun rise and wondered what had been so hard about it a year before.

Another failed one, a young Dreamspeaker. His mentor is very competent, nearly fearless and has a rural background. He was 16 at the time, trying to balance magical and mundane life and failing, and is a city kid (plus, he has a past life in some techno tradition/convention). She sent him looking for a spirit guide. He was lost and clueless, lacking all affinity to 'traditional' spirits, panicked and attracted a few banes that tried to eat him. He escaped, but lost a week and returned to find his life in shambles. When he had put himself together again he renounced the tradition, he now claims to be an orphan.

A successful one: The character has some very bad things in her background, she lost her children and her home and in the effect became emotionally detached from everything human. Her avatar is old, wise and responsible, a teacher and guardian.
      Her seeking put her on a glacier, where she could have found the images of her past under the ice (she didn't, because she didn't stop to examine the situation closely -- I keep that idea for the next seeking), and finally came to a village where no one could see her and she could see the people but not the houses, smell the food and the fire but not eat nor get warm. She had to make the people 'real' so they could show her the way out: stop seeing them only as means and obstacles but understand what they were doing, how they were interacting and what it meant.
      It took some prodding but she managed before she ran out of health levels (due to the cold) or willpower, which would have sent her back to her starting point, unharmed, but failed.

Some further ideas

I currently have some ideas about seekings that go one step further and challenge the assumption that the Avatar knows best.
      That would mean having seekings where the Avatar shoves the character in a direction that the character and the player consider wrong... like someone with a pattern avatar which dons the face of his father and wants him to stop finding creative, unorthodox solutions to problems but instead handle situations 'as it has always been done'... Or a strong-willed widderslainte whose Avatar wants do drag her into darkness while she tires to resist. Never actually used those ideas for a PC yet, though.


I like to have seekings fail occasionally, but the results should be interesting and playable, and the character should get another try after a reasonable timespan. Plus, seekings, failed or successful, are a great opportunity to play around some with Merits, Flaws, Backgrounds and Willpower.


The following lists of sources and inspiration are in no way exhausting nor are they intended to. They just contain a few things I found helpful.

Info in the Mage Sourcebooks

Mage 1st Ed (WW4000) has some helpful hints and seeking ideas dependent on the Mage's essence on pp 238/239

Mage 2nd Ed (WW4300) introduces Seekings on p31. The text is a little less substantial than the 1st Ed one, though. Seekings are also described in the flavour text on p37 and p59. The part on Advanced Techniques (p153/154) can be quite useful for storytelling seekings. (Since they are played 1-on-1 outside of the strict confines of game world and logic, playing them is a good opportunity to experiment some.) On pp 227/228 most of what is said in 1st Ed is repeated.
Quiet is explained on pp 178/179.

Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade (WW4800) takes a less abstract view. Avatars have characteristcs like elements (p80) and, in a seeking, lead the characters through some wilderness (p19) On p177 is a nice step-by-step guide to seekings.

The Book of Shadows (WW4050) contains a very archetypical Seeking story on pp 173-176.

The Book of Madness (WW4251) describes Quiet, Hobgoblins and Mindscapes as Paradox effects. Those make also great backlashes of failed seekings. (pp 52-55)

The Book of Worlds (WW4007) introduces Uranus and Neptune as the Shade Realms of Spirit and Mind (pp153-155). The description contains a few ideas on how the place where a seeking takes place might look like - and feel like! On pp 46/47 in the same book is a list of symbols that can be used to 'furnish' a mindscape.
Generally, many of the worlds described in the book can be useful 'stages' for inner conflict, because they are symbolic in themselves.

The Book of Mirrors (Mage Storytellers' Guide, WW4302) is a very useful book in general. It has a chapter on 'Seekings and the Avatar' on pp53-55. It contains roughly the same step-by-step guide that Sorcerer's Crusade does, plus some vague ideas, and says that the 'test parcours' is basically the same for every seeking a Mage does. This passage is IMO the most helpful in all the Mage books. For those not scared of theory, Ross Isaac's essay "In the Mind's Eye" (pp 145-148) might spark a few ideas.


Stories to ...er... borrow from

Richard Bach: Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
It's about a quest for perfection - always good material for Mage.

Neil Gaiman: Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes and A Game of You
In "Preludes and Nocturnes" the hero has to pass trials to regain mystical treasures that he lost. In "A Game of You", a woman's mind is lost in a Dream Realm and her friends try to get her out, having to make some harsh discoveries and decisions in the process.

Neil Gaiman (again): Coraline
Through the forbidden door, the hero enters a world of symbols (with teeth) and, with the help of a Guide (a black cat), has to retrieve five lost souls from under the nose of child-eating caricature of a mother to save her reality and herself.

Michael Ende: The Neverending Story
The second half of the book is the interesting one, Mage-wise. Bastian slowly realizes that he needs to find out what he really wants in a world where his wish is the law and has to face and work through the repercussions of his early, ill considered wishes.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit
After getting seperated from his friends, Bilbo has to go down deep into the earth, best a guardian and gain a treasure before he can return to the light of day.

Ursula LeGuin: The Wizard of Earthsea
In the last chapter, Ged travels to the end of the world and beyond to banish the darkness he has unwittingly let into his life.

George Lucas: The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi
On Dagobah, Luke enters a 'dark place', and battles his enemy only to discover that the enemy is wearing his own face. In choosing battle, he fails the test.
In "Return of the Jedi" he faces the same test when confronting Vader and the Emperor. That time he succeeds.

Tennyson: The Lotus Eaters
Strangely enough, whenever I think of a Mage abandoning his quest for Enlightenment for good, I have to think of these lines:
      "Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
      Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
      O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more."


top of page
role playing page
mail me!

Graphics by:

Eos Development