Mage: the Awakening Silver Ladder Order Primer

The Elemental Precepts

The Silver Ladder is an Order based on a concrete, practical dream: global Awakening and Ascension, a perfect world ruled by just philosopher-kings. Its foundational principles are just that: the foundation of the Awakened Nation, Hieraconis, laid down by théarch thinkers over the millennia since Atlantis. They are divided into two broad groupings. The Greater Precepts are the refined, “higher” form, while the Lesser Precepts are more of a pathway leading to the structure proper. The Greater Precepts are only shared with other Awakened, and even then shared only cautiously. The Lesser Precepts are advocated as broadly and loudly as possible, and even Sleepers may learn and apply them.

The Greater Precepts

“The Awakened are One Nation” is the Diamond Precept. As the idea of the “commons” represents a shared source of unity and strength for Sleeper communities, so too do the Consilii and Great Rites organize and bind the mages of all five Orders in this Fallen World. There is a common enemy to be fought, resources to be shared, and the path to Hieraconis to travel. So, too, there are enemies of unity that must be stopped. Banishers, Seers, and the left-handed are worthy of destruction, as they not only are a threat to the idea of an Awakened Nation, but to the Sleeping charges the Silver Ladder have sworn to protect. We’re all on the same team, so work together. (tSL, pp 35-37)

“Imperium is the Right of Humanity”, the Thunder Precept, asserts that magic is humanity’s birthright. The Silver Ladder must play a role in claiming that birthright by guiding Sleepers to enlightenment. To that end, members of the Ladder acknowledge their magical prowess without fear or pride, walking the fine line between overconfident hubris and meager cowardice. They must be Sages, rather than Stags or Lions. Don’t be a predator, nor prey. Use your power to change the world, but temper it with responsibility. Lead by example. Be just, powerful, wise, and fair. (tSL, pp 37-41)

The Precept of the Star proclaims that the Silver Ladder is the Path to Victory. Blending legal and spiritual systems, this precept teaches théarchs that theirs is the right to rule. Building upon the previous precept’s demand that mages be just and powerful people, this precept says that since the Ladder is more concerned with the morality and righteousness involved in the Awakened condition than the other Orders, they are naturally fit to lead. They take this as a burden on themselves, but they must be wary as well; if other théarchs view them as being selfish or unfit for leadership, then they risk censure by their peers. They must hold themselves, as leaders, to higher standards than might otherwise be possible. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. (tSL, pp 41-45)

The final Precept, Blood, declares that the Sleepers Follow. This precept has a deeper meaning, just as Blood has a deeper meaning than mere water. While the Ladder does involve itself quite heavily in mortal affairs, it is important to realize that they do so as enlightened leaders with a purpose: Global Ascension. If the Ladder act as true paragons and examples to all, including Sleepers, then the world will Ascend. Sleepers will instinctively follow what Mages do. Be a positive influence on them. (tSL, pp 45-48)

The Elemental Pilgrimage or the Lesser Precepts

The lesser precepts do not form a coherent foundation for an Order that seeks to shake the vaults of heaven. They are not a prescription for how the Awakened are to live. They are, instead, a series of lessons that the Silver Ladder believes teaches the proper mindset for Awakening, which can be introduced to Sleepers subtly and covertly, and can be used to lead recalcitrant mages to proper thinking. Even those that fail to Awaken are properly prepared for service in a Cryptopoly. (tSL pg 90-98) Generally speaking, they are:

  • Earth: Societal divisions are both artifices of the Lie and weapons to use against it.
  • Water: Mankind follows its leaders. Collective power can change the course of history.
  • Fire: Morality is important. That which is immoral, selfish, or tyrannical must be purified.
  • Air: The world is a Lie, and all souls crave liberty. The ultimate liberation is Awakening.

The Avatar

The Avatar is the summit of the Silver Ladder’s philosophy. It is the concept of the immanent godhead in every human being, the only true divinity, the only true object of worship in the whole of the cosmos. The Avatar is what Awakens, is what allows man to wield lightning, and is, ultimately, what will cast down the Exarchs and other false gods of Shadow and Abyss. (tSL, pg 82-83)

Cryptopoly

The Silver Ladder’s influence on the Sleeping world is managed chiefly through its network of cryptopolies – cults that serve the dual purpose of propagating the Lesser Elemental Precepts (and guiding Sleepers to Awaken) and allowing théarchs to wield social influence as a weapon against the Lie. Théarchs do not control their cryptopolies directly. They do so by way of Illuminate Retainers, Sleepers or Proximi initiated into the Lesser Precepts and used as catspaws to protect théarchs from sympathetic assault. (tSL, pp 55-62)

The Fourfold Scepter

Every Order has their own principles by which they interpret the Lex Magica. For the Silver Ladder, those principles are the Fourfold Scepter, also known as the “Metal Laws”. They are named after the traditional composition of the Mace of Convocation, from its gold head to its iron counterweight. The Ladder often insists that the Fourfold Scepter should be given precedence over other interpretations of the Lex Magica; the law is, after all, derived from their works. How much sway this argument commands really depends on the strength of the Silver Ladder in a Consilium.

The Fourfold Scepter ranks the laws that mages are subject to by importance and scope. The demands of a higher-level law trump lower-level law, unless the lower-level law carves out a specific exemption to higher-level law. You cannot, for example, make someone swear an oath to abstain from the Duel Arcane, since the right to the Duel Arcane is Gold Law. Laws that cannot be traced back to a level of the scepter are unenforceable, at least in the eyes of the Silver Ladder. (tSL, pp 71-73)

Gold Law is that which plausibly originates from Atlantis, law that has either been found written on an Atlantean artifact or law that can be traced back to beyond recorded history in Consilia on three separate continents. Gold Law includes:

  • The right of the Guardian of the Veil’s Interfector to murder at the direction of a Ruling Council.
  • The right to the Duel Arcane, though specifics are vague and the topic of much debate.
  • The five Great Rights.

Silver Law is the body of formal rulings of a Consilium, laws passed by a 2/3rds majority of a formal Ruling Council. They vary from Consilium to Consilium, but especially wise and important rulings may be spread by a Convocation. In particular, the Silver Ladder generally requires that any punishment from the tetragrammaton be passed with a 2/3rds majority and, thus, be Silver Law.

Bronze Law is Consilium precedent; decisions made by a Ruling Council that either did not achieve a 2/3rds majority or were not couched as laws. Resolution of private disputes between cabals are the most common rulings categorized as Bronze Law, and they almost never spread beyond a single Consilium. When the decisions of Free Council Assemblies are recognized for the sake of diplomacy and unity, they tend to be classified as Bronze Law.

Oaths are Iron Law; while they don’t affect anyone other than the mages sworn to them, they’re still law. To qualify as Iron Law, all parties to the oath must explicitly agree that they expect the oath to be backed by the Consilium, an Awakened witness must be present, and none of the parties to the oath can be under any kind of duress.

Hieraconis

The ultimate victory of the Silver Ladder is still, despite millennia of work, a distant dream. More than a successor of Atlantis, the Awakened Nation – or Tianguo, Shambhala-lokha, the City of God in Man, and more besides – will surpass its predecessor in all respects, ultimately liberating all of mankind. Still, théarchs are profoundly uncertain of what, exactly, Hieraconis should look like (tSL pp 36-37) or even what the final stages of the battle against the Exarchs and their Lie will look like. (tSL pg 117) The one thing they’re sure about is that all of mankind will have Awakened, and everyone will have equal opportunity for Ascension – direct access to the Supernal Realms – and Imperium Mysteriorum – complete and universal mastery of magic. (tSL pp 40-41)

The tradition of Consilium was a good first step on the road to Hieraconis, but it was just that: a first step. Since at least the 12th century, théarchs have been promoting Convocations, formal affairs that allow mages from several Consilia to gather and work out their issues in a common forum. During a Convocation, mages settle grievances too large or complicated for a Consilium to manage by itself, plan approaches to larger-scale problems, distribute lore, and debate complicated philosophical and ethical issues. Convocations are detailed in The Silver Ladder on pp 48-55 and in the MES Convocation Primer.

Although it certainly has paternalistic elements, especially towards Sleepers (tSL, pg 116), the core of the Silver Ladder’s vision is a confident, empowering, assertive, and liberating spirituality or philosophy. Théarchs spend their time laying the foundation of the Awakened Nation not just among other mages, but among Sleepers. While they cannot understand the full truth of its arcane secrets, the Silver Ladder’s philosophy is for everyone. (tSL, pp 39-40)

Rank and Titles

The Silver Ladder’s ambitions to Hieraconis and the emphasis it places on leadership have given rise to a hierarchy that is the most complicated of any of the five Orders. It can be understood as following three divisions. Caucus positions are titles that describe a théarch’s role among other théarchs in their home caucus. Legal jobs are special duties related to the Lex Magica. Finally, there are formal ranks, the basis for Status in the Silver Ladder.

Caucus Positions

Though not tied directly to Status, caucus positions are every bit as much a formal hierarchy. The listed dot levels are guidelines for the Status of the théarchs that commonly hold the position. A théarch with less than the listed Status will typically struggle to perform the required duties, while one with more will have additional responsibilities thrust upon her. Caucus positions are local to a caucus; when traveling, the fact that one is an Acolyte or Claviger back home means little, though Deacons still command considerable practical respect even if they lack formal authority.

An Acolyte (Status •, tSL pg 76-77) is a common member of a Ladder caucus. They are those that take care of general, low-level business and support the Clavigers and Deacon for more complicated, detailed, or involved work. An Acolyte with a higher Status could be a retired Claviger or Deacon, or simply a mage who has been a very successful servant. All théarchs with no other caucus position automatically qualify as Acolytes.

The Claviger (Status •••, tSL pg 79-80) can be seen as the “middle manager” of a caucus. To become a Claviger, one must simply demonstrate a firm grasp of the elemental precepts to the satisfaction of one’s Deacon. A Claviger below Status ••• will find he must expend considerable social capital – trading favors and oaths – to effectively get anything done. Clavigers serve at the pleasure of the Deacon, and may be demoted back to Acolyte as a punishment for offenses that do not violate the Lex Magica but are still worthy of censure.

The Deacon (Status ••••, tSL pg 80-82) is the leader of a Silver Ladder caucus. A character accepted as the caucus leader by more than two-thirds of a Domain’s Silver Ladder caucus may claim this title, though acquiring the commensurate Status (••••) requires formal recognition as a Magister, detailed below. Deacons are responsible for managing their caucus’ affairs, representing the caucus at Convocation, and tending to the spiritual well-being of the mages and Sleepers under his charge. Those that lose the support of their caucus are demoted to Claviger.

Legal Jobs

The Silver Ladder takes the Lex Magica seriously. The Order has two positions specifically dedicated to ensuring that the law continues to adhere to the Ladder’s vision.

Lictors (Status ••+, tSL pg 77-78) are traveling judges. Strictly barred from participation in the regular political process, they may not:

  • serve as a Magister, Deacon, or Claviger
  • hold Consilium or cabal offices
  • mentor other mages (with the exception of training a successor)
  • possess a Sanctum (they lose access to all Sanctum benefits while in office)

They are required to travel wherever is necessary to do their job. In addition to judging cases, they lead the primary investigation, are granted broad immunity to prosecution (including duels arcane), and are authorized to demand whatever resources are necessary from a Silver Ladder caucus to continue their work. They are expected to judge fairly and deliver the punishments they pronounce themselves if necessary.

A Lictor may pass on her title to a successor by retiring. The Magisterium of a Convocation may give a Lictor permission to name another Lictor without retiring. Either is a High Notification. This relative independence and lack of oversight is matched with strict sanctions. Corrupt Lictors – those that allow politics or favors to taint their judgments – are subjected to torture followed by spiritual annihilation.

Factotums (Status ••+, tSL pg 77) are the lawyers of the Lex Magica. Mages of other Orders may call themselves factotum, but only among the Silver Ladder is it a rigorously-defined position of honor. Factotums must possess Academics 3 (specialty: Lex Magica), Investigation 1, Occult 2, Politics 2, and Persuasion 2, and pass an exam administered by a Deacon, requiring three downtime actions and Low Approval. The VST and the player of the Deacon should ensure that the new factotum’s player is comfortable enough with the concepts of the Lex Magica and Silver Ladder doctrine and precedent to portray them responsibly at game. Once so recognized, the character immediately ascends to Status •• and joins the Famuli.

Ranks

Finally, the Silver Ladder has a system of formal ranks that directly reflect a character’s Status. The Silver Ladder recognizes rank slowly and cautiously, in part because its upper echelons are granted wide-spread authority through participation in Convocations. While caucus position may fluctuate, rank forms the stable rungs leading from earth to heaven. (tSL, pg 107) Rank in the Silver Ladder (with the exception of Magisters, below) is permanent unless the character’s betrayal is egregious enough to deserve expulsion from the Order.

Théarchs resolve internal disputes and punish criminals and rule-breakers using the Lex Magica – which is, after all, based on Ladder doctrine – as viewed through the Fourfold Scepter. This can be broader than the Lex Magica used in a caucus’ Consilium; when judging a case, a Lictor may incorporate forgotten precedent, rulings from Convocations, or Concords – rulings by Deacons or Magisters that the Silver Ladder believes should be Silver Law, sometimes called Shadow Law. (tSL pg 73-74)

The Silver Ladder even goes so far as to punish general criminal acts from those within its ranks internally, as long as their crimes remain secret. (tSL pp 122-123) In addition to the punishments of the Tetragrammaton, sentences can include a temporary loss of Status; this sentence reduces the character’s effective Status by one, and recognized rank accordingly, and expires after six months, though the character must still meet all necessary qualifications for their full Status upon expiry. During this time the character may not gain Status, nor may they ever have their permanent status reduced by more than one.

These punishments must come from formal trials administered by a Lictor or the Magisterium of a Convocation that the accused’s Consilium is participating in or the accused is attending. (tSL, pp 50, 54, and 77-79) The attendance of a Lictor may be requested by the complainant or the Lictor may independently decide that an offense is such an affront that they must involve themselves. Refusal to participate in a trial may be construed by the presiding Lictor as admission of guilt. (tSL, pg 78)

A Neophyte (Status 0 – •, tSL pg 108-109) is one who has been accepted into the Silver Ladder, but not yet admitted into the true Order. A Status 0 character is very much “on probation”, while a Status • character has been formally initiated (tSL, pg 105-107) and is being groomed for further advancement. They tend towards zealotry, evangelism, and elementary misunderstandings. Famuli often use Neophytes as unwitting spies, as their lack of tact can encourage other mages to let down their guard.

Almost every neophyte will be actively learning from a master among the famuli; either magic and doctrine together, or, if the mage converted from apostasy or another Order, the doctrine alone. Their enthusiasm is tolerated as long as it drives the ambition necessary to climb farther.

Famuli (singular Famulus, Status •• – •••, tSL pg 109-112) are the Order’s backbone, split between duty as Acolytes (who follow) and Clavigers (who lead). Initiation into the Famuli requires acceptance by a majority of the other famuli in the character’s home Domain, Low Approval, and:

  • Adept-level knowledge of one Arcana or Disciple-level knowledge of two.
  • Assumption of a prominent position in a cabal (hearthmaster or edgetender, see Sanctum & Sigil pg 20-23 for details) or a Consilium office. The character retains the rank even if he later loses the office that qualified him for it; this should be presumed to be the case for characters who begin play at Status ••.

Similarly, the Famuli of a caucus collectively decide when one of their number is worthy of Status •••. Magisters rarely, if ever, bother to participate in these discussions. Famuli participate actively in the Cryptopoly, follow Convocation, engage in the politics of Consilium, mentor newly-Awakened mages, and assist mages of other Orders in administrative or organizational work as necessary. A caucus in need of leadership will turn to its famuli to appoint one of their number Deacon, a promotion that often presages elevation to the Magisterium.

Magisters (Status •••• – •••••, tSL pg 112-115) are standing at the rarified heights of the Silver Ladder. They provide spiritual, mystical, and practical guidance to théarchs over a wide area, and can exercise considerable power through a Convocation. Characters can only be recognized as Magisters by the Magisterium of a Lesser Convocation (so, at least three other characters, though some or all may be NPCs with High Approval) and must, in addition:

  • Be a Deacon. This is, strictly speaking, part and parcel of the requirements for Status •••• from the Pentacle Orders Primer (which must all still be met), but is worth re-stating.
  • Be a factotum. All Magisters must be practiced in the application of the Lex Magica.
  • Submit a High Notification.

The requirements for the position were once even higher, but a century of active conflict has been hard on the United States’ Magisteria; they can no longer demand new candidates possess double Masteries, or require they have an artifact to serve as a badge of office.

A Magister automatically loses his Status if he loses the title of Deacon or is ejected from the Magisterium at a Lesser Convocation. In order to be promoted to Status •••••, the character must formally be recognized as a Great Magister at a Great Convocation, in addition to the other requirements of Status •••••. Once this is done, the above restriction is lifted and the title is as permanent as any other rank of the Silver Ladder. Only Magisters are ever recognized as Great Magisters. A Great Magister could theoretically be recognized as a Grand Magister at a Grand Convocation… Were one to ever occur.

In addition to their duties as Deacons, Magisters are responsible for convening and administering Convocations; see the Convocation Primer for details.

Playing a Théarch

Silver Ladder PCs in the MES chronicle face something of a unique challenge. While your character is a member of an Order with millennia of precedent for leadership and administration, for an occult subculture shaped by their doctrines and philosophies, you are not. The people playing the characters you’re interacting with don’t live and breathe a culture that institutionalizes your character’s Order’s privileges, nor is there a Storyteller with legions of NPCs at the ready to establish and maintain an appropriate atmosphere.

This means your job’s way harder than it “should” be, and most of the advice in The Silver Ladder about théarch tactics and methods (especially pages 119 and 121) will, at best, usually result in other PCs getting defensive and hostile.

Thankfully, the doctrine of the SIlver Ladder has an answer for this problem in the metaphor of the Stag, the Lions, and the Sage. (tSL pg 38-39) The Stag goes along to get along. It’s humble, restrained, and passive. The Stag is a bad théarch. The Lion is the exact opposite – fearless, assertive, selfish, and domineering. The Lion is also a bad théarch.

The Sage is a middle path between the two extremes. It leads by example, not seeking to dominate others as the Lion does, but also not allowing itself to be enslaved by them, as the Stag does. It employs power for just ends: to set the multitudes free. While simplistic, the overall philosophy works well for those seeking to lead in a large-scale collaborative storytelling game. Protect other characters from others who would dominate them, but don’t dominate them yourself, and you’ll win their loyalty… Or expose them as bad actors that no-one should cooperate with.

It’s also worth noting that most théarchs aren’t especially interested in politics. (tSL, pg 117) Their interest is in leadership, organization, administration, and guidance. If they have to politick to do that, they’ll politick, but they’ll hold their noses all the while. Experienced théarchs, in particular, are much more comfortable when someone else has taken center stage, but they’ve got some kind of privileged advisory or behind-the-scenes decision-making position. Councilor is, in the eyes of most théarchs, the perfect balance of power and visibility, though they’re equally effective as Provosts, as much as they hate to admit it. (tSL, pg 119-12)

The Silver Ladder’s emphasis on Convocations – especially for advancement – would seem to present an accessibility barrier to those unable to regularly attend conventions, be it due to disability, the cost of travel, or work schedules. This is true. For an Order that emphasizes unity and organization, being able to attend conventions regularly and meet movers and shakers face to face has undeniable advantages.

There are, however, workarounds. Least Convocations can be held at featured games, and while they can’t promote a new Magister, they’re just as good for the purposes of establishing a Magisterium as the larger Lesser Convocations typically held at regional conventions. As per the Convocation Primer, they provide a good way for Magisters – especially NPC Magisters – to see how Deacons fare when given a taste of power. Extraordinary Convocations – Lesser or Least – can be held online, VIA e-mail or IRC. With some networking and some effort, regular proxy or list play can provide just as much of a benefit to a théarch interested in making the best of his Order membership. And remember: ultimately, not everyone can be a Magister. The Silver Ladder needs its Famuli, Clavigers, Acolytes, and Lictors as much as it does its secret masters. Think carefully about what role best expresses your character’s concept, and how you can leverage MES infrastructure and Order traditions to have fun with it.