Posted on July 8, 2008 by Matt-M-McElroy
Today we’re switching over to a new book for Mage: the Awakening.
The Silver Ladder is a sourcebook that features the history, methodology and ultimate goals of the Silver Ladder as well as new spells, Artifacts, imbued items, Legacies and more.
Today’s preview offers up a sneak peek at this new book:
The Silver Ladder
Silver Ladder lore records that there was no greater treachery than that of the Exarchs. The Awakened are one nation. And yet the Exarchs broke faith with their brothers and sisters, treated their fellow mages as enemies rather than as sacred kin. Imperium is the right of humanity. And yet the Exarchs betrayed humanity, casting off their own parents and siblings and children as if they were a pair of dirty and broken sandals.
“Remember the ladder,” it said. “The Exarchs betrayed all of humanity, but that does not mean we cannot ascend again.”
Though the role of the Vox Draconis was lost with the First City, the dream remained. The order continued, marking its members as followers of the Silver Dream, aspirants to recreate the ladder. Under the sign of the Silver Ladder, they spread to the corners of the world to begin again.
It’s difficult to accurately track just where the Silver Ladder was active, and what Sleeper cultures it may have influenced over the years. According to the théarchs, they were everywhere. Where their fellows chased after conflict or scattered lore, the children of the Vox Draconis were interested in Sleepers, and followed wherever the Sleepers went. There are precious few civilizations of strong historical note that haven’t had some claim or record of théarchs moving among them, encouraging them along the road to enlightenment.
The Long Count
The Silver Ladder claims some responsibility for influencing various Mesoamerican civilizations, including the ancient Maya. Though they don’t claim credit for introducing such concepts as writing and the calendar to the Maya civilization, they do stress that théarchs were present, and that they did their best to guide the Maya kings to a form of enlightened glory. Even though the Maya civilization ended in collapse, a number of mysteries surrounding the Ladder’s presence in Mesoamerica are said to endure. One of these involves the Long Count, the calendar that was devised to measure dates across long spans of time.
Within the order, the Long Count is held to contain some potent mystery laid down by those mages who fled from Atlantis to the Americas. On December 21, 2012, the current b’ak’tun is scheduled to come to an end, and the thirteenth is scheduled to begin. According to the Popol Vuh, the previous age of creation ended the day before a thirteenth b’ak’tun, and the current one began on that day. Naturally, this has led to some speculation (particularly among various New Age figures) that the upcoming shift will in some way signify a great change to the world — perhaps a cataclysm, perhaps a shift in humanity that will herald a new age.
The Silver Ladder doesn’t promote the idea that the change of the Long Count will signify an inevitable disaster, or that it will in itself change the “age of the world.” After all, the last b’ak’tun didn’t plausibly coincide with the fall of Atlantis: in 3114 BCE several of the various Sleeper civilizations that post-dated the First City were already established. It is widely accepted, however, that the Long Count records an upcoming opportunity. Something is likely to happen on that date — an upcoming winter solstice, no less — that will offer a fleeting chance for mages to achieve a near-impossibility. Unfortunately, the Ladder isn’t entirely sure what that opportunity is. Popular theory has it that a temporary bridge will be laid across the Abyss, at some as-yet undetermined location. As the date draws nearer and nearer, the Silver Ladder is devoting an increasing amount of effort to deciphering the riddle of the Long Count, delving into obscure locations and texts that would make even the Mysterium raise an eyebrow.
Scattered Attempts at Unity
Every order made attempts to rebuild Atlantis after the Fall. The Silver Ladder was no exception. However, its tries at reconstruction were numerous for a few centuries after the Fall, then began to rapidly decline.
The last recorded attempt at a second Atlantis occurred eight hundred centuries before the birth of Christ, an aborted plan to build a city in the far north of Europe, shaping the land to resemble myths of paradisiacal Hyperborea. According to a battered set of scrolls dated back to that time, a group of théarchs calling themselves the Five Princes were responsible. Each claimed to be the chosen inheritor of one of the Five Kings, a Magister who could hear the Oracle’s voice. They built a palace on an island in the North Sea, and began to work magics to both adjust the climate to their liking and to begin sending summons to other mages around the world. Careful perusal of the scrolls does not reveal whether it was the weather-magic or the attempt at the call that went awry, calling down another disaster on the tiny island.
These initial attempts, and the failures they induced, were key to the théarchs’ strong reexamination of their purpose. In the millennia since the abortive, mad try for a Hyperborean Atlantis, the order took a considerably more conservative assessment of its ability to recreate the First City. The goal was still important, of course; more than that, it was pre-eminent. But the world after the Fall would demand much more from the mages who would found such a thing.
In analyzing former attempts and carefully laying out its plans, the order began to assemble the shared dream of Hieraconis — the Final Nation, the Final City. The théarchs insisted on teaching their students to dream a dream that would work, even if it wouldn’t be seen for many lifetimes. This would prove to be one of the great keys to establishing the Silver Ladder as a true order. It had an ancient heritage as the Vox Draconis; it was refining the metaphysical truths of the Elemental Precepts. And with the dream of Hieraconis, it had a purpose — one brighter and purer than any other.
The Larvan Schism
The Silver Ladder and the Seers of the Throne are virtually mirror images, one dedicated to enacting the will of the Exarchs, the other guided by the dreams of the Oracles. In the early 11th century, this similarity was brought into sharp relief.
At the time, one of the most prominent Magisters in the order was a charismatic théarch who called himself Larva, after a Roman shade of the dead. Larva had a particular gift for oratory, and seemed also to have a particularly strong connection to the wisdom of the Oracles. Remarkably, he claimed to have assembled a plan for reconstructing the star ladder of old, without first achieving the Awakened Nation on Earth. Those who spoke with him were more often convinced of the plan’s potential than not, and he swiftly built a strong power base within the order.
The teaching was that for the ladder to be built again, it must meet in the middle, with the Silver Ladder extending its portion up from the Earth, and its allies extending their portion down from the Supernal. In the middle of the Abyss, the halves would join, and the light and heat from that fusion would dispel the yawning darkness. Larva was able to produce several signs that the plan had the Oracles’ favor, enacting works that would otherwise have drawn down Paradox.
Many skeptics questioned the plan, but Larva and his followers began assembling the materials for the first stage all the same. However, the strongest opposition came when the Magister Ulfsdottir arrived from the north, proclaiming that Larva had no contact with the Oracles — but rather the Exarchs. Such an accusation could not be ignored even if Larva was innocent, and it was enough to spark a bloody conflict between the two and the théarchs on either side.
The struggle was merciless on both sides — and kept utterly secret from the other orders. Neither Larva nor Ulfsdottir went to the other orders for assistance, though they surely could have; even when Larva was cast down and revealed to have been the traitor Ulfsdottir claimed, the Silver Ladder did not speak of it to others. If Larva had been able to eliminate his rivals quietly, he would have been perhaps the best-placed Seer of the Throne in history, poised to disseminate the Exarchs’ will under the guise of the Silver Ladder. If Ulfsdottir had gone to the other orders, she would have exposed a critical weakness in the Ladder, potentially destroying its members’ credibility as leaders and advisors. The conflict had to be kept quiet. To this day, the Silver Ladder exhorts its members to remain exceptionally vigilant against the machinations of the Seers of the Throne. There are few motivators as heated as shame.
Ages of Ambition
The Age of Exploration excited the Silver Ladder into a frenzy of activity. It was akin to the old stories of dragon-dreams, with contact being reestablished with long-lost cousins, just as the scattered races of humanity had come together prior to the founding of the First City. Théarchs who had devoted themselves to gradually uplifting the cultures of Europe took a furious interest in the expanded contact with new peoples across the oceans. The dream of one grand Awakened Nation seemed as though it could be reached all the sooner.
Of course, the dream had to contend with reality. By the time some théarchs managed to travel to a point of contact where they could interact freely with another, formerly unknown culture, one group of Sleepers was already enslaving, murdering, raping or plundering another. These conflicts polarized the théarchs — what to do? Some struck against the exploiters in their anger, only to find that their acts of terrorism fueled further reprisals against the “godless heathens.” Others found themselves unable to turn against the very men and women who they’d watched over for years, or who had shared in the journey across the ocean. The initial surge of hope was quickly tempered with disillusionment and despair. To this day, mages of the Silver Ladder speak of particular conflicts where a predecessor had done all he could to bring peace, only to be sabotaged by some outside force. Some philosophical members of the order simply say, “They weren’t yet ready.” Galling though the implications are, they still serve as a call to arms for théarchs: if humanity wasn’t quite ready then, that just means the Silver Ladder must work all the harder to reach more people now.
Not all anecdotes from the time end poorly, though. Now and again, the inheritors of the Vox Draconis found one another, and learned. One mage who had kept the dream of the Dragon’s Voice alive among the American nations would come tentatively to speak with his European cousin. Each side offered up stories, lore, and even magic, in hopes of piecing together a few more fragments of the shattered vision. They spoke of the ladder that reached to the heavens, and of its sundering — and of how to build it once more.
At roughly the same time, the Renaissance was beginning to flower. The Mysterium took a strong interest in the rising tide of humanism, and even took some credit for the movement’s progress — credit that may or may not be deserved. The Silver Ladder also found great interest in the movement, in particular in those aspects that showed promise for bringing greater education, enlightenment and quality of living to the Sleeper masses. The revival of interest in Greek art also stirred a revival of interest in democracy and philosophy, topics that encouraged people to think. Religious institutions employed artists to create magnificent works, imbuing base materials with an art suffused with love for the divine.
The Silver Ladder threw itself into the practice of patronage. While there were certainly accomplished artists, poets, musicians and the like among the order’s numbers, the emerging interest in the arts represented a wonderful opportunity. By encouraging and promoting talented artists, the Ladder fostered inspiration. Each new Michelangelo would, it reasoned, inspire many more artists to try their hand. Each new Brunelleschi would assemble buildings that would instill a sense of pride in a city’s residents — pride in what human ingenuity and skill could accomplish. Furthermore, the act of patronage gave the Silver Ladder an opportunity to find and interact with some of the most talented and clever Sleepers of the time. Records indicate that this process was quite successful in locating several visionaries who would, with a bit of proper nurturing, fully Awaken. To this day, the Silver Ladder will often cite a reference to one obscure artist or another who managed a few talented works then dropped into obscurity. It wasn’t that they lost their talent: it’s that they were brought into the grander work.
One more cultural event was difficult for the Silver Ladder to ignore — the Protestant Reformation. This was one of the more divisive issues among théarchs. Some took the splintering of Christianity as a step backward from a unified nation, an obstacle that would make it all the harder to bring all of humanity together in a shared vision. Others argued it was a necessary step toward greater enlightenment, citing the elements of corruption within clergy and the upper class that helped fuel the Reformation movement. Ultimately, most of the Ladder wound up supporting the Reformation as an opportunity to promote the humanist ideal further.
There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire; there was always some bit of soil somewhere in the world nominally under the control of the English monarch on which the sun was shining. Though the Empire was a long way from being even a half-hearted stab at Hieraconis, it still managed to spread one country’s culture around the globe in a way that could not help but attract the Silver Ladder’s attention.
The order’s position on the ethics of the British Empire was frequently divided. The British weren’t improving the lot of the colonies they oversaw quite as much as they liked to think. Many high-ranking figures within the central and colonial governments meant well, but their prejudices and assumptions often led them to do more harm than good. Often officials didn’t even mean well in the first place. The théarch Zephirus openly condemned his fellows who supported (or even tacitly ignored) the atrocities committed against the native Australians. He argued that the Sleeper civilization that would permit, much less encourage, such a thing was not only not on the road to Hieraconis, it was actively undermining the path to such an ideal.
However, most found the practicality of the Empire hard to deny. As a citizen of the British Empire, a mage could arrange travel to any number of colonies and expect to find at least nominal contacts there. The colonies were also a potential source of new mages and Sleepwalkers who could bring their own disparate lore into the service of the Silver Ladder. The order nestled itself comfortably into the British Empire, and more than one high-ranking théarch grew accustomed to pulling on strings that ran so far out into the world.
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 sent a shock through the order. Many théarchs who had tacitly approved of Britain’s tactics there found themselves hard-pressed to justify the treatment of India under East India Company administration. The Crown’s attempts at social reform had greatly alienated the native population, which called into question the Silver Ladder’s own part in such tactics. By the end of the 19th century, more and more théarchs were actively questioning whether the British Empire could be maintained, and even whether it should.
To make matters worse, it soon became evident that the access to other cultures, and the mages who Awakened there, was not necessarily assisting recruitment. Many promising young mages who would otherwise have made upstanding théarchs backed away from the order; they sought out teachers who weren’t as closely associated with the Crown, thanks to their past experiences with British governance. Where the Silver Ladder had once comfortably associated itself with the Empire, it gradually began to disassociate itself with it. It seemed this was another learning point for the dream of Hieraconis.
Another negative point that haunted the order for some time afterward was a matter of public perception. The Silver Ladder’s seeming favoritism for the British Empire was frequently something of a negative for its public image among the other orders, particularly mages who sympathized more with the native inhabitants of a colony than with the British settlers. Where the Adamantine Arrow openly fought on both sides of a conflict, and was notorious for accepting warlike mages of any creed, the Silver Ladder was perceived as favoring British culture above any other. An Indian théarch recruited during the Raj was, according to most outsiders, more likely “appointed” to the post than granted full brotherhood. These accusations were largely untrue, but the Silver Ladder simply hadn’t done enough to openly refute them. It would take many more years before the Ladder would again be perceived as truly neutral where Sleeper nations were concerned.
It’s every true théarch’s innermost hope that he will see the Silver Dream fulfilled within his lifetime. Unfortunately, the world is still beset with many troubles, and the Sleepers are far from unified behind the Awakened. That won’t stop the Silver Ladder from trying, though. It isn’t enough to have power just in this world, in the Lie, no matter how much it might have. Its work won’t be done until all of humanity achieves Hieraconis.
The age of communication and travel presents a great many challenges for the Silver Ladder. On the one hand, it’s now easier than ever before to coordinate efforts with fellow théarchs around the world. They can compare methods and exert influence on one another’s behalf on a truly impressive scale of distance. On the other hand, the Sleepers are less of a captive audience than they ever were. It’s hard to really reach someone who’s already so close to information overload that she has to pick which information to pay attention to and which to filter out. Some théarchs say this is a good thing, at least philosophically speaking: the Sleepers have more choice and self-determination now, at least in the First World. But it’s no tremendous secret that the Silver Ladder has plenty of mages who are just a little bit interested in personal control, and many are secretly resentful of having to compete with so many near-worthless public figures for the average Sleeper’s respect and attention.
It can generally be said that the Silver Ladder has an interest in any event that has a large impact on the Sleeper population. In part, this is due to humanist or humanitarian concerns; in part, it’s simply the pragmatism of looking after the resource most valued by the order. However, when one considers the number of events that impact Sleeper populations, it quickly becomes apparent that the Silver Ladder can become deeply involved in only a few. Wars, disasters, terrorist strikes, ecological issues that impact a large number of Sleepers, upswings in poverty or crime — every théarch in the world could devote his or her waking hours to aiding the lot of Sleepers, there’s so much to be done. But if they did, the order would be unable to devote the time needed to its own affairs — recruitment, governing the other orders, pursuing further enlightenment, recovering lost Atlantean Artifacts and lore, and fighting against the hidden threats of the world. Hard though it may be (and for some théarchs it’s a less gut-wrenching choice than for others), the Silver Ladder needs to prioritize.
As a result, the order is often drawn to crisis points, and does indeed devote its attention to helping Sleepers rebuild their lives after a disaster, but that’s more the province of individuals than an order mandate. In general, théarchs help where their consciences dictate, and thus might be found in any war zone or disaster area around the world. But the formal work of the order remains focused not upon helping humans through dark times, but in preparing those humans who are ready to lead their fellows. Teaching them to fish is the ultimate gift the order can bestow.
A Character Book for Mage: The Awakening
Look for more previews on Flames Rising and updates about upcoming RPG releases at GenCon Indy.