You’ve got a boatload of spare XP burning a hole in your character sheet. You want some extra punch for your character’s improvised spells. Or maybe you want to boost their raw attributes even higher, or chase after that third attainment. Whatever the reason, you’re looking at putting in an application for a Gnosis of 7+ for your Mage PC.
Like any power stat in any World of Darkness game, Gnosis has a meaning beyond the dots on your sheet. But unlike a vampire’s Blood Potency and its increasingly-stringent feeding requirements, the reality-warping power of a changeling’s Wyrd, or the alienation of a werewolf’s Primal Urge, much of Gnosis’ meaning comes from the importance assigned to it by Awakened society. Let’s explore what that means and how you’ll be expected to use it in play.
A high-Gnosis mage is simply better with magic than a mage with less Gnosis, but requires greater access to scarce occult resources (mana or a demesne) to use their power safely (without risking Paradox). Even compared to a Gnosis 5 mage, a Gnosis 7 mage casts ritual magic or leads rituals in a third the time (10 minutes, fast enough to cast during live play), can have 3 dots in all their Arcana, and has access to their third attainment. While its development was hardly so simple or utilitarian, much Diamond tradition can be understood as ensuring that not only do high-Gnosis mages have the resources they need to work magic, but that their interests are aligned with the interests of the Order and their local caucus. How? Simple: they’re put in charge.
From another perspective, consider the work necessary to become a high-Gnosis mage. You would require access to libraries and mentors and, more than that, the ability to take time for meditation, introspection, and personal development. This comes easily at first, but requires more and more time as your power grows. Diamond tradition offers the answer here, as well. Low-Gnosis mages are expected to handle the time-consuming day-to-day Order business. In exchange, they get mentorship from high-Gnosis mages. Those same high-Gnosis mages get their concerns and agendas attended to. In exchange, they have the time and resources for the experimentation and consideration they need to progress further.
Many social traditions combine to create this effect. Chief among them is the Great Right of Emeritus. Cabals that follow this Right advertise to their elders that they and their members will repay tutelage or aid with respect and support. Through the Great Right of Emeritus, a high-Gnosis mage can multiply their return from using their magic or dedicating time to a less powerful mage many times over, gaining the regard of and sway over up-and-comers in other Orders.
This works in reverse, as well, with low-Gnosis mages who assist a high-Gnosis elder winning Emeritus with that elder’s entire cabal. Of course, they have less leverage, but it’s still something. Remember, too, that like most traditions of Awakened society, Emeritus is personal and direct. I helped you specifically, so I can expect you to extend me Emeritus.
In play, a high-Gnosis mage should:
- Delegate matters that don’t require their power to lower-Gnosis characters. These could include mundane or minor magical downtimes, initial investigation or final clean-up of plot, or handling magical threats that do not require greater power.
- Actively intervene and assist when their powers are called for – dealing with major or complicated magical threats, casting powerful rituals in downtime, etc.
- Expect lower-Gnosis characters to provide assistance for the master’s ambitions.
- Expect lower-Gnosis characters to contribute resources (mana) in exchange for help.
- Pursue leadership positions in their Order and caucus – Status 3, minimum, and be angling for Status 4, an advisory role to the Status 4 caucus leader, or, if the player is interested in regional or national play, Status 5.
- Seek to demonstrate their Order’s doctrines in play OR to conspicuously contravene those doctrines in a way that continuously and visibly causes trouble for them.
The Free Council
The Free Council does not care about Gnosis. A lot of the power dynamics identified above are still in play, but they’re not backed up by any kind of social norms. High-Gnosis mages in the Free Council have much more freedom to define their own place, but also have much less institutionalized leverage over their fellows. A High-Gnosis mage in the Free Council who attempts to manufacture that kind of privilege should get punched down. Hard.
Internally, a lot of Legacies have structures of power, mentorship, and enlightenment-based authority that look a lot like the Diamond Orders. This is hardly a surprise, since many Legacies arose from those same Diamond Orders, or from those trained within them. Even among Legacies that arose from the Free Council, internal power dynamics tend to trend back towards Diamond tradition, as Gnosis, mentorship, and Legacy advancement are tightly connected. A mage requires a Legacy mentor with at least their second attainment, and the creator of a custom or divergent Legacy must reach the third attainment before any of their students can reach the second.
Some high-Gnosis mages, even Diamond Order mages, focus their attentions on their Legacy instead of their Order. This is especially common among highly-ordered or tightly-knit Legacies like the Thrice-Great or the House of Ariadne, or many young or small Legacies. Players of high-Gnosis mages who want to focus their attention on their Legacies should reference the advice above for Diamond Order mages, and adjust appropriately for their smaller, more intimately-connected environment.
High Gnosis Approvals
When applying at Top for Gnosis 7+, players should take the setting details summarized in this guide into account in their application. Explain not only how your character fits into the setting as described, but how you intend to highlight the setting and your character’s place in it in live play. Focus on relationships with other characters, whether in your local Order caucus, in the broader chronicle, or with your cabal. Demonstrate that you’ve read the Awakening setting primers. You don’t need to detail your character’s arcane studies, or even back them up with downtimes or RP. You should include some thought about how your character makes time for those studies.
If you’re applying for high Gnosis for a character that’s a member of the Free Council, spend some time addressing why your character is toughing it out and hasn’t left for greener pastures. Go beyond “My character loves liberty!” What keeps him here?
If you’re applying for high Gnosis for a character that focuses on their Legacy, be explicit about that. Detail how your character has sought out and mentored new members of their Legacy. This path is harder than accepting the obligations and expectations of high Gnosis among an Order. While it doesn’t necessarily need to be a source of tension with your character’s Order (perhaps your Legacy is extremely valuable to your Order?), put some thought into how it’s harder and what that difficulty means to your character.
Practically speaking, the amount of XP offered in the MES chronicle means that the distribution of Gnosis among player characters isn’t going to look much like the middle-bottom-weighted distribution of Gnosis described in most of the source materials. Gnosis scores can be expected to be in the 4-to-6 range, rather than the 2-to-4 range. The resulting smaller difference in magical power demands more finesse from high-Gnosis characters in handling their relationships with their subordinates. On the other hand, this means more potential for drama and emotional exchanges over practical considerations. Highlight your consideration of these factors in your application as well.