All Quiet in Music City
The Short Version (for the skimmers)
Your Storyteller will always tell you which attributes/skills/spheres/whatever you need to use for any given action. You roll the dice, and the Storyteller will tell you how successful you were.
Successes, Failures, and Botches
All actions in Mage, from trying to spot an ambush to creating a flaming inferno, are performed by rolling a number of d10’s. Every action has a difficulty ranging from 2 to 10. Every time you roll a number equal to or exceeding the difficulty of the action, you achieve one “success.” Most standard actions require 1-3 “successes” for the action in question to occur perfectly. Some actions, especially those that take a long time to complete, require more successes. If you score fewer successes than needed, you may be able to produce a diminished effect of what you’re trying to do, or you may just fail without any negative consequences.
However, every time you roll a 1, one of your successes is negated. Let’s say that you’re trying to punch your enemy (difficulty 6, 1 success needed to hit). You roll 5 dice with the results of 7, 4, 3, 8, and 1. You have two successes, but one of them is negated by the 1. Therefore, you manage to hit your target with a standard blow, dealing appropriate damage. If at any time, you have more 1’s than you have successes, then not only do you fail your action, but you also “botch” it. Botching an action always has some sort of negative consequence (e.g. you punch the wall behind your enemy), and with magic effects you always gain at least one point of Paradox.
On the other hand, every time you roll a 10, not only do you gain a success, but you can also roll once more. If you keep rolling 10’s with one die, then you keep adding successes until you roll a different number. For example, using the same punching situation as before, if you roll 5 dice and get the results of 6, 2, 5, 10, 9, then you already have 3 successes, and you can roll one more die.
Using Your Skills
Some actions in Mage are automatic and you do not need to roll any dice to perform them. Some examples are using Willpower to gain a success, soaking damage, tying your shoes, etc. For most other actions, like trying to jump across a 10-foot gap or trying to hack a security system, you will roll a number of dice equal to the number of “dots” (i.e. points) in the relevant attribute and its associated skill.
For example, to jump a 10-foot gap, you would use your Strength attribute and your Athletics skill. If your scores are Strength 3 and Athletics 2, you would roll a total of 5 dice when you attempt the jump.
Using Your Magic
Magic effects require a little bit more work. First, your dice pool for magical effects is always the same as your Arete score. Your Arete is a measure of your magical enlightenment and your ability to influence/change reality. Sleepers have 0 Arete, a newly Awakened mage has 1 Arete, experienced mages usually have 4-5 Arete, and legendary mages have 10 Arete. You can never use a rank of a sphere greater than your Arete.
Let’s say that you want to breath fire, incinerating your enemy 5 feet in front of you. Converting your breath into fire is a Forces 3 effect, so you must have at least 3 Arete to perform the feat. For this example, we’ll say that you have 4 Arete. So, you can roll up to 4 dice.
The difficulty level of the effect depends upon the level of the effect you are trying to create and whether your effect would be considered coincidental or vulgar. The former is static, while the latter is dependent largely on your paradigm and/or how you are trying to perform the feat. For coincidental magic, the difficulty is 3 + the highest level of sphere involved. If the magic is vulgar, then the difficulty is 4 + the highest sphere. If there are any Sleepers to witness your vulgar magic, then the difficulty is actually 5 + the highest sphere.
So, using our fire-breathing example, its coincidental difficulty would be 6 (3 + 3), 7 if it’s vulgar, and 8 if a Sleeper witnesses the effect.
The number of successes needed for the effect depends on the magnitude of the effect. For example, it’s a lot simpler to light a candle than to hurl a fireball. Simple effects require only 1 success, standard effects require 2 successes, difficult effects need 3, and anything beyond that needs 4 or more. Truly fantastic effects, like blowing up a building spontaneously, require 20 or more successes. Since you can roll only as many dice as you have Arete, the more impressive feats will often have to be done in a ritual (i.e. rolling multiple times, indicating that you are spending a length of time trying to perform the effect).
Any successes you have beyond the minimum requirement can be used to enhance the effect in different ways. For example, throwing a fireball requires 2 successes. If you roll a total of 4 successes, then you can use the extra successes to increase the range and/or damage inflicted. The Storyteller will tell you how much the effect is increased.
If you don’t have enough successes, then only a weakened form of the effect occurs (often with negligible results). If you botch the effect, then something awful accompanies your failed effect, in addition to Paradox.
Here is an example of producing a magical effect.
James is fighting a Technocrat in a dark alley. The two are are only 5 feet apart, and James wants to breathe fire onto his enemy. He plans to take his flask out of his pocket, take a large swig, move his lighter near his face, spew the alcohol into the flame, and create a miniature flamethrower. While the magnitude of the fire might seem a little large, the effect is nevertheless coincidental, making the difficulty only 6. This is also a pretty standard magical effect, so he needs 2 successes in order to make the effect happen. He rolls 4 dice, and gets the results: 6, 9, 2, 5. He gets both of his successes, and the unfortunate Technocrat is now bathed in flames.
But what if James didn’t use a coincidental effect? What if, instead, he planned to make fire erupt from his fingertips? As long as no Sleepers are around, the difficulty is now 7. If he has the same dice results, he now has only 1 success. He manages to conjure the fire, but it does not hit his target. Additionally, because he used vulgar magic, he gains 1 point of Paradox per highest sphere he used (3, here).
If, in the same example, a policeman happened by and saw this firefight, the difficulty would rise to 8. Assuming the same dice results, James still gets only one a minimal result, but he now gets an additional point of Paradox (a total of 4) because a Sleeper has witnessed something that should be impossible. Both Awakened people must figure out how they will deal with this Sleeper, and if they will continue their firefight.