Mage: the Awakening Free Council Order Primer

Philosophy

As befits a young Order, the Free Council has considerable internal disagreement on the meaning of the cornerstones of its philosophy. The cornerstones themselves are invariably agreed upon, but they’re catch-phrases and truisms; what they mean and how to put them into practice has inspired debate for a century, and that shows no sign of slowing down. The Free Council has a lot to say on the topic; most of pages 24 – 47 deals with this, and its discussion summarized below.

Democracy seeks the truth; hierarchy fosters the Lie. The first cornerstone of the Free Council’s philosophy is both obvious and problematic. Uniquely among the Pentacle Orders, the Free Council seeshierarchy itself as an inherent part of the Lie that keeps humanity Quiescent. Top-down authority structures are yet another tool that gives the enemy power and denies mankind access to truth.

The Free Council accept the modern viewpoint that democracy and freedom are inherently linked. Collective decision-making and action reveals the pathway to truth in a way that solitary Mages – even wise old masters – cannot manage. By opening their eyes to a diversity of perspectives and ears to free debate, mages draw closer to the universal perspective of the higher world.

But if hierarchy is a part of the lie, it is an insidious part. Even the most dedicated, thoughtful Libertine has a hard time avoiding it, especially when pursuing the other two cornerstones. It’s difficult to help Sleepers or punish servants of the Lie without setting yourself in a position of authority over them, creating an instant hierarchy. TFC pgs 33, 38, and 44 have particularly good discussions of the common pitfalls Libertines encounter in their work.

Humanity is magical; human works have arcane secrets. To the Free Council, magic is not the product of a lost ancient paradise or far-off realm of ideals. Magic is produced by mankind, through creative works, science, technology, imagination, or plain ordinary wonder. Or maybe it’s let into the world by them; there’s many different takes on the same basic idea.

Underneath all of the magical justification, though, the simple truth is that Free Councillors value humanity and individual humans for their own sake. Yes, everyone should have the opportunity to Awaken. Knowledge of the truth, of the higher realms, is the birthright of mankind. But even those who don’t or can’t Awaken are worthwhile. Through their mundane works they can draw on higher truths and change the world just like magicians do, but in a completely different way. (TFC pg 35-37) The explosion of innovation and creativity since the Sleeper embrace of Democracy – and liberation from the Lie of hierarchy – means that the best place for mages to look for newly revealed higher truths is the modern, the new. (TFC pg 31-32)

Destroy the followers of the Lie. The Free Council was formed when the Nameless Cabals of the 19th century violently rejected an offer of membership from the Seers of the Throne, and this cornerstone never lets modern Libertines forget that. Despite their history, the call to action of this cornerstone is a constant challenge. Simply murdering anyone one suspects of being a follower of the Lie is a sure way to get oneself put down, often by other Free Councilors. Forcing followers of the Lie into a courtroom or trial creates an inherent hierarchy, making Libertines into servants of the Lie they claim to oppose.

Finding followers of the Lie is also a problem, as they’re rarely willing to admit to their service, or even capable of it. Even defining “followers of the Lie” is troublesome. Seers certainly qualify, but what about vampires? Scelesti? Thearchs? Sleeper servants of Seers or vampires? Sleepers who’ve inadvertently come to follow the Lie? Every Free Councilor is likely to have a different take on the answers to these questions, and be willing to debate them vigorously. (TFC pg 41-44)

Cosmology

The Free Council is unique among the Pentacle Orders in that it does not necessarily accept the Atlantean cosmology. Atlantis, the Exarchs, the Supernal Realms, the Abyss… All have had their existence questioned by prominent Free Councilors. Libertine meta-philosophers have developed many theoretical alternatives, with a special focus on vulgar magic.

Some propose that Atlantean doctrine has the matter backwards – under the “consensual reality” model, vulgar magic doesn’t provoke disbelief, disbelief defines vulgar magic. Others speculate that modern “covert magic” is the product of millennia of effort put into getting the universe to accept certain kinds of magic, and that similar effort will eventually do the same for all vulgar spells. And some just think the universe simply hates magic.

Proponents of each theory can point at ample evidence supporting their viewpoint, phenomena that traditional theory just can’t explain. The Free Council as a whole acknowledges that these new theories, while useful, are probably no more “correct” than traditional doctrine. They’re sure about one thing, though: whether or not there was an Atlantis, whether or not the Exarchs rule from a distant realm of Platonic ideals, what matters is beating the Lie, here and now, by nurturing the inherent magic of humanity.

See TFC pg 26-31 for a detailed discussion of nouveau Free Council magical theory, especially the “Who Is Right?” sidebar.

Assembly

The Assembly is the Free Council’s proposed alternative to the traditional Consilium structure employed by the other Pentacle Orders. In areas where the Free Council dominates, the Assembly replaces the Consilium, handling the Lex Magica and all of the other decision-making required to keep Pentacle society functioning. The Free Council still operates an Assembly in areas where tradition prevails, but it is more akin to an Order caucus, making decisions for the Free Council and other young mages who subscribe to their ideals.

The Assembly is built on the democratic principle of one mage, one vote, though voters must either have Status (Free Council) • or have been officially given permission to vote by the Assembly. Mages are not so numerous that representational democracy has any value to them and, at any rate, such a thing reeks of hierarchy. As a concession to practicality, the only ones who may engage in debate, speak before the Assembly, or introduce motions for voting are syndics, though they may recognize other mages and yield the floor to them if they have something useful to say. Strategos are also commonly afforded similar rights, but this varies from place to place.

Generally, each cabal that includes more than a single Free Councilor has the right to appoint a syndic. Others may be recognized – a group of Free Councilors who are the only Libertines in their cabals might band together to name a syndic, or a prominent philosophical school or other faction that includes members from multiple cabals might be allowed to appoint a syndic to represent its viewpoint.

Free Council Assemblies are tolerated by other Pentacle mages to a degree. When they’re just Libertines managing their own affairs, that’s one thing. When they replace the traditional Consilium structure, they are viewed with extreme skepticism. Mages from the traditional Atlantean Orders will usually not give them the same benefit of the doubt or default courtesies given to Consilia. Their decisions will often be questioned, their wisdom second-guessed, even by mages nominally subject to their authority.

Rules vary from Assembly to Assembly. Some require a simple majority of those present to pass motions, others require a majority or even a super-majority (three-fifths, two-thirds, or even more!) of all members of the Assembly. This should be written down somewhere, preferably in a Venue’s VSS or on the MES Wiki.

The Lorehouse

One of the Free Council’s greatest and most useful innovations is the Lorehouse. Rather than the private, poorly-organized, and archaic Libraries kept by the other Orders, the Lorehouse leverages the principles of open access and modern library science to revolutionize the distribution of occult lore. Any Free Councilor in good standing has the right to access any Lorehouse, though favors or tangible contributions to its operators are not frowned upon. Owners and operators take great pride in the accessibility of their collections, leveraging everything from computers to clever enchantments to help patrons find the knowledge they seek. Sometimes these collections also include enchanted items, though these are usually more tightly controlled. Information wants to be free, after all, but magic rings do not.

Status

While they do not have formal ranks, rendering that component of Status meaningless, Status for the Free Council still shares its other elements – accomplishment, authority, responsibility, and trust – with the other Pentacle Orders. The meanings of the levels are the same, but the processes and attitudes around them differ dramatically.

Status (Free Council) is granted by vote of a Mage’s home Assembly – that which governs in their Domain. A syndic must bring a motion to raise the mage to their new level of Status, and the Assembly must pass it. See Talking About Status, MET: Awakening pp 118-119, for some language that can help make this less awkward – though make up other terms or dress it up in long-winded descriptions if that helps. Stripping Status is, likewise, handled by a motion brought by a syndic and passed (or not) by voting.

Status among the Free Council does, indeed, tend to be rather fluid. The Status change must, however, still ultimately be approved by the Venue Storyteller. Removing a character’s last dot of Status (Free Council) must follow the usual Order expulsion process, including a Mid approval.

The notable exception to all of this is Status •••••, which represents influence and recognition beyond an individual Assembly. This level of Status is not voted on or formally managed in any way. Still, every Libertine knows these mages. For examples of this kind of broad recognition, see Razi (TFC pg 19), Adelard (TFC pg 22) and the other sample NPCs in The Free Council, Chapter 1. They are considered more famous thinkers than great leaders, though they still need to demonstrate a capacity for leadership in order to achieve this recognition.

Characters cannot be nominated for Status ••• or Status •••• without meeting the requirements outlined in the Pentacle Primer. Players of Free Council characters should check with their VST to confirm that these have been met prior to scheduling a vote on such matters. However, the Free Council does not recognize mystical authority in the same manner as the Atlantean Orders; thus, rather than requiring a Mastery, Status ••• and Status •••• have the following requirement instead:

  • be recognized by one’s home Assembly for having served six months as an Emissary or Minuteman.

Status •••• (and the caucus leader requirement of Status •••) are especially noteworthy, since Free Council Assemblies don’t usually have formally recognized leaders. Sometimes, when an Assembly is especially hard-pressed by its enemies, the powers granted to a Strategos effectively make them a caucus leader. Other Assemblies will recognize a “speaker of the house” or other lead syndic, responsible for managing parliamentary procedure and organization which, again, qualifies. The players of an Assembly and their VST should work together to decide how to handle such situations; some variation is to be expected.

When an Assembly does invest a mage with enough power to qualify as a caucus leader, they invariably couple it with lots of oversight. Any Free Councilor who’s been around the block has stories of Assemblies taken over by smooth-talking glib-tongued servants of the Lie, so those put in any kind of position of authority are generally not trusted.

Between the rarity, constant oversight, hostility, and the stress of the job, it’s common to see lots of turnover in caucus leadership positions. Characters will rarely hold this rank for very long; they will typically either be recognized as great thinkers and elevated to Status ••••• or fall back down to Status •• or ••• when they’ve had enough of the bullshit.

Positions

The Free Council has replaced the love of hierarchy of the other Pentacle Orders with a multitude of functional titles. Each has a certain minimum level of trust that must be achieved before the title can be granted, and a maximum level at which that duty is appropriate.

Voter (Status •+) is the simplest of these. Anyone recognized as a member of the Free Council is given this title, and allowed to participate in Assemblies. Assemblies may place requirements on this for mages just joining the order, including:

  • a simple declaration of intent
  • regular attendance at assembly
  • sponsorship of a voter or syndic

It is typically, however, very easy to attain. Unless a character has somehow significantly trespassed against the philosophy of the Free Council or committed acts abhorrent to the Assembly (such as committing violence against it) it is very uncommon for characters to be denied this Status. (TFC, pg 54)

Host (Status ••+) is a temporary title, granted to those who provide space for and host an Assembly. Often, Hosts will be recognized and thanked at the beginning of the Assembly. (TFC, pg 54)

Emissary (Status • – •••) is the most common position among the Free Council, used by practically every Assembly. Emissaries deal with presenting the Assembly’s wishes to outside bodies, such as the Consilium or other Order caucuses. They are empowered to talk and listen but not debate. Letter-carrier(Status •• – ••••) is an archaic position with similar duties. Once charged with carrying secret messages hidden in their minds with magic, the advent of modern communications technology has made them mostly obsolete. (TFC, pp 54-55)

Minuteman (Status • – •••) is a title commonly applied to Free Councilors who have fought on behalf of their Assembly. It includes cops, sentinels, soldiers, and bodyguards. The Minutemen take general direction from the Assembly, but, once recognized by vote, are trusted to use their own discretion. Unless they’re dismissed, of course. Citizen Agents (Status •• – ••••) are similar, but emphasize stealth and espionage over open violence. Spies, explorers, and infiltrators, they are commonly self-appointed. (TFC, pp 54-55)

Strategos (Status ••• – •••••) are granted broad authority to act independently over a particular area of expertise. The stereotypical Strategos is a general, given authority to lead the Assembly in war-time. Savants granted special dispensation to make decisions and act for the Order in affairs surrounding specific topics – “Atlantean” Ruins, for example, or vampires – are also given the same title. The office is almost always authorized only for a short period of time by the Assembly and must be regularly re-upped. (TFC, pg 55-56)

The syndic (Status • – •••••) is the member of a cabal (or, rarely, other organization) granted permission to introduce motions and participate in debates in Assembly. They are politicians, orators, and dedicated legislators and the Free Council’s democratic experiment could not work without them. (TFC, pg 56)

Playing a Free Councilor

The first thing to remember about playing a Free Councilor is this: you’re an outsider. The Free Council’s been part of the Pentacle for more than a century, but the Diamond had existed before that for millennia… Or so its supporters claim. Further, the Free Council exists to question and challenge the Atlantean Orders’ precious tradition and orthodoxy. If they don’t get flexible and move with the times, they’ll be left behind and the Seers will win, or not lose, which amounts to more or less the same thing.

The upside of this is that Free Councilors are expected to break the rules. When a Free Councilor speaks out of turn at Consilium, or scoffs at the Duel Arcane, or prominently wonders why everyone listens to the old senile guy just because he’s mastered sixteen Arcana, it’s not shocking. Because of this, when a Free Councilor goes along and plays by the rules for once, it’s easier for them to get what they want, as everyone’s grateful they’re not making a scene or asking difficult questions.

The downside, though, is that traditional Atlantean mages just don’t trust the Free Council like they do the other Atlantean Orders. Their traditions and protocols and guidelines have very little to say about how to deal with a Free Councilor, much less an Assembly of them. The freewheeling democracy, casual disregard for lore, and Free Council’s obsession with the modern and the new certainly doesn’t help matters.

Played up, this can be an excellent source of drama and a driver of play, but it works best with some give and take, some ebb and flow. Mix it up a little. Is there an Atlantean tradition your Libertine might admire for its beauty or effectiveness? Things they’re willing to tolerate in public – or in private – for the sake of getting along? At the other extreme, what can’t they tolerate? What, specifically, do they absolutely detest? If one of the traditionalist Orders has a heavy presence in your area, read their Order primer or – better! – book. Look at what they make public, and think about how it might look to an outsider, and how you might play off it. Is there anything in common with the Free Council? Anything diametrically opposed?

The Free Council are not just about “f*ck the man”-style defiance of social norms. They place equal emphasis on the future, technology, and integrating technology with magic. If you’re not interested in these themes, consider whether your character might be a better fit as a progressive member of another Order. Free Councilors should – generally – believe in the promise of technology. This doesn’t mean that every Libertine needs to be a scientist, egghead, or technomancer. Most Free Councilors should be excited about technology, follow tech news (The Verge is generally very prompt and accessible), and incorporate modern devices into their magical practice. Luddites aren’t a particularly good fit for the Order.

More generally, the Free Council is about progress in all ways – politically, socially, technologically, spiritually… Consider history. In 4000 years, human civilization didn’t develop all that much. We had a few revolutionary advances here and there, like the printing press. In the last 200 years, we’ve made more technological progress than the last 2000. The Diamond Orders are from this archaic past. The Free Council is the future. It is the only Order that not only sees the change the world has undergone, but seeks to actively incorporate it into their magical practice.

They haven’t succeeded yet. But if they ever manage to achieve a similar rate of change in magical workings as mankind has in scientific… Think about what might happen.

The Free Council certainly does.