Some people might be wondering who the Nephandi are. Well, they could be described as the TRUE villains in Mage, but when the game is essentially about differing perceptions of what TRUTH is, that could be used to describe all of the groups in the game. That being said, the Nephandi are Mages that have given up on Ascension. Instead, they have embraced the nihilistic forces of the universe and they are willing and active participants in the process of dragging the universe toward oblivion. So, the question is, why? Well, that is a good question and there are various possible answers. One reasoning could be; they have become completely devoid of hope. They know the world is going to end, that there is no longer a purpose in striving for a better world. Why fight anymore? Here are four ways to use the Nephandi in your game.
1) DON’T MAKE THEM CACKLING DEMONS:
The Nephandi are not all devil-worshipping cultists with demonic investitures looking for an excuse to cackle at the drop of a hat. Most Nephandi are fairly benign in attitude and appearance. Though some pawns of the Nephandi fit the obvious evil description, most of the Nephandi know that the truth is more horrifying. Everything will be destroyed, the Absolute/Abyss/Oblivion is inevitable for all things, they have seen into the darkness and they know the TRUTH. The world is slipping slowly into degradation. Hate, othering, violence, selfishness, all of these are elements of the darkness reaching into the world and breaking it at its core. The Nephandi support the status-quo of the World of Darkness: the breakdown of the hope and joy that encourages human growth. This makes them patient. The average Nephandus is offering help to those without hope, sure, she’s not offering hope, but she is offering a nicer ride along the way to oblivion. Play a Nephandus as an entity focused on the long game, you win many more converts with honey than you do with vinegar.
2) TAKE THE LAYERS INTO ACCOUNT:
There are many ranks of the Nephandi. Mage players usually see the Dregvati, the dregs, basically, the pawns. These pawns can be Awakened or un-Awakened but they all have been led to believe they will gain something from helping the Nephandi. These are Mages, people, and monsters that have willingly sold a piece of their freedom for power. Then there are the Shaytans, adsinistrati, prelati, Gilledians, aswadim, and finally the Dark Masters. (see Mage 20th p. 226.) Let your players see the dregs and assume that EVIL IS DUMB, but, then slowly begin to peel back the layers and let them see that the true dark forces in the universe are smart, so smart that if those layers are being peeled back it is because those powers see an opportunity to tempt the players into supporting their long-term goals.
3) USE THE BARRABI:
The Barrabi are former members of the Traditions and the Technocracy that have been through ‘The Cauls’. What are they? They are mystical places that can invert the Avatar of a Mage. Effectively, these Mage’s become an inversion of their previous selves, a twisted reflection of their Tradition or Convention. Imagine a Void Engineer that has fought most of his life against the aliens seeking to invade Earth. He’s fought long and hard, and he’s lost many soldiers in that fight. He finds himself the last survivor in a bloody battle with xenos, and those creatures tell him, “You have failed General, your people are dead, you’ll be dead as well, but we can offer you something better. We can give life back to your people, we can give you the power to win your battles from now on, we can save the marriage you thought you’d destroyed years ago. We can give you the life you wished you had. All you have to do, is join us.” He’s tired, he’s sick of fighting, these beings are offering him everything he ever really wanted. He takes it. Maybe they give him everything they promised, maybe they ignore their promises, but in the end it doesn’t matter, they’ve found the chip in his armor. Now this Barrabus is in charge of a whole fleet of Engineers, many of whom he is sending to certain death against an enemy he actually serves. The Barrabi are terrifying because they are able to hide among their former peers and they know the best ways to betray them.
4) THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THEIR MAGIC:
There are so-called Qlippothic Spheres; however, from a rules perspective there is no difference between them and the ‘regular’ spheres. Maybe there is no such thing as the Nine Keys to Hell? Instead, this is simply a massive shift in paradigm. They KNOW that the world is slipping into oblivion and they KNOW that the universe will eventually devour everything. So, their magic is more powerful in some ways because they KNOW that Paradox is simply a temporary response against their Will. Even if they are destroyed by Paradox… all that means is they have met the Absolute sooner. That being said, they can cause the same effects as other Mages, they can impact the world in similar ways, they simply fail to recognize that they have the ability to make the world BETTER. If they hear the player characters calling for Joy, and Ascension, and Growth, they laugh. They KNOW such things to be futile in the grand scheme of things and they will show the characters this TRUTH.
There is too much written about the Nephandi that is excellently written. The 10 pages they get in Mage 20th are absolutely amazing. I can’t do them justice in comparison. If you want to dive deeper, read The Book of Madness. If you want to move away from Mage for inspiration, read The Book of the Wyrm, read some of the Wraith books on Specters. There are numerous great books that touch on the topics the Nephandi represent in the World of Darkness. They claim to know the TRUTH of the universe, but the challenge for the players is to show that there is no SINGLE TRUTH. Instead, Mage is about the world living in an ambiguity of Reality. Truth is fluid, reality is simply our expectations gilded upon a quantum world beyond our perceptions. The Nephandi claim Oblivion is on the other side of the curtain. Mages, even Techno-Mages KNOW the opposite to be true. Pure potential awaits us on the other side of the universe we cannot see.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
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