When Nerds Collide!

Because I played a Mage in a White Wolf role-playing game for a few years, I can't help but notice that a lot of the things Gravel does in Warren Ellis' Strange Kiss, Stranger Kisses, and Strange Killings fit into the Mage system quite easily. So I'm going to do just that.

If you're unfamilar with the Mage system but want to understand this (for some sick reason), I can try to explain a few things. In Mage, magic is divided into 9 Spheres, which are the things the Mage is able to affect. They are Correspondence (space and distance), Entropy (chance and decay), Forces, Life, Matter, Mind, Prime (basic magical energy, sort of), Spirit (ghosts and souls and such), and Time. Each Sphere is further divided into 5 levels (for all practical purposes), which have names, but I won't use them. At the first level, the Mage can see or sense whatever the subject of the sphere is. At level 2, s/he can start to affect things, and at level 5, s/he pretty much has complete control over that Sphere.

One other thing for the non-gamers: when Gravel rips a living thing apart in a graphic (and awesome) way, that's known in game terms as Aggravated damage, or Agg. It's only ever caused by Prime magic or fire (which makes this simpler), and is often described as damage to the being's "pattern". I guess the pattern is sort of the magical root of its physical state, and Agg is damage to that structure, not just the body. Hey, I didn't run the thing, I just played it. Oh, and some people say chainsaws do Agg, but that's more of a real-world example than an actual thing in the game world.

With that out of the way, I present: So You Want To Be A Combat Magician

Gravel's first use of magic shown is an Strange Kiss #2, when he lights his cigarette. Forces 2 only lets you redirect existing forces, whereas Forces 3 lets you change one force into another, such as changing a slight breeze, or sunlight, or gravity, into heat. Next, we see him draw his pistols very quickly. I'm not sure that's magic, but if it is, Life 3 or Time 3 would be necessary. Since he doesn't really use any obvious Life or Time effects until much later, I'm inclined to think he's just that fast. Unless the lizard-woman was very fragile for some reason, Gravel kicking her in half is Prime 3, Enchant Life (allowing the being so enchanted to inflict Agg with punches and kicks). Finally, there's the ritual that lets him see what I assume is the corpse's memory. That would probably be Mind 3 to read the memories, plus some combination of Entropy, Time, and/or Correspondence because he's dead, it happened in the past, and it was somewhere else. It's complicated.

In Strange Kiss #3, Gravel wipes Dr. Hunt's memory of him. Mind 3 reads memories, and Mind 4 can alter them. Making her fail to notice that her window's busted would be somewhere at or below that level. Near the end of the issue, we see him enchant his gun (Prime 2 -- enchanting weapons is one level down from enchanting living things) and shoot the lizard-thing. There may have also been an Entropy 4 or 5 effect involved to make it decay rapidly, but I like to think the lizard-thing was just weak. Note that from here on, Gravel's bullets usually do a lot of damage. I'll leave that as the same Prime 2 effect for now.

The eye-gouging in Stranger Kisses #1 is either Life 3 or pure strength. Again, since I've seen no Life effects yet, I'll stick with strength.

Stranger Kisses #2 shows a few new things. He steals the videotape, which could have been done with some sleight of hand in the confusion of the shootout, but it's most likely Correspondence 3 (manipulate space over short distances). Then he disappears, which is either Correspondence 3 again, or Forces 2 (to bend light around him). It all depends on whether he teleported a short distance or turned invisible and walked away. We see him do both in later issues, and there's no evidence either way this time. At the end of the issue, he takes apart a key lock. Since it doesn't rust or break, I don't think it was Entropy or Matter. I'll guess Matter 1 to look at its insides and Forces 3 (telekineses) to take it apart. Maybe Matter 3 instead of Forces, to destroy some tiny parts that held it together.

In Stranger Kisses #3, Gravel causes bullets to turn around and shoot the cops who are shooting at him. Forces 2 could make them miss him, but Forces 3 would turn them around. Finally, there's his apparent suicide. Such a thing would be possible with lots of Life or Entropy, I think, but creating an illusion with Forces (3/4?) and/or Mind (also 3 or 4) would be easier and would use Spheres we know he already has.

We don't see anything new in Strange Killings until #2, in which he looks through a door or senses what's on the other side or something. Matter 1 (look through matter), Correspondence 2 (send senses through space), or Life 1 (sense life patterns, if the zombie things are technically alive, which they seem to be) would work for that.

In Strange Killings #3 he teleports or disappears again, but I'm pretty sure it's teleportation this time.

The Body Orchard #1 shows Gravel walking just above a water surface. Forces 2 will make you float and maybe push yourself in one direction; Forces 3 allows for controlled flight. He runs up walls and does some other aerial acrobatics, all of which should be covered by a Forces 2 redirection of gravity. Come to think of it, gravity manipulation should allow controlled flight at Forces 2. How 'bout that.

In The Body Orchard #2, Gravel blows out a window by touching it and runs through several walls, including at least one brick wall. That's Matter 3 (destroy structures). He also floats down gently from a few stories up, which is again covered by Forces 2. We also see him definitively teleporting for the first time (Correspondence 3). At the end, he teleports into the Body Orchard. Normally, Correspondence 3 only lets the mage teleport short distances, but I think it would also let him teleport to a place he has a "mystic connection" to, which in this case he definitely does. I only have the live-action rules in front of me, though, and they're pretty vague on that point. He might need Correspondence 4 or even 5 for that.

The Body Orchard #3 has Gravel tricking the terrorist magician into slitting his own throat, thinking it's Gravel's. Correspondence 2 ("apportation") lets a blow be delivered anywhere the mage wants, so he could presumably apply that to his enemy's weapon. Mind 3 or 4 (or maybe even 2?) would keep him from noticing what he's doing until it's too late. Later, Gravel uses what I imagine is Life 1 again to sense the other people's life patterns. In this issue, we also get a glimpse of what's growing in the Body Orchard. In a later issue, Gravel says he grows his own guns, but I don't think he's responsible for the Orchard; I think he just harvests them. The Orchard would probably be a Sanctum if other mages created it, or maybe a Node if those things just grow there on their own (unlikely, I know).

After nothing new in #4 (just some teleportation and acrobatics we've seen before), The Body Orchard #5 gives us Gravel fucking shit up old-school. He tears apart an entire station full of cops, using no weapons. For the most part it could be bolts of pure Prime 2 energy -- basically the same thing he does with his guns, but without bullets to carry the energy. But at one point, he makes a cop vomit up his esophagus or intestines. I'm pretty sure that's Life 3 (manipulate simple life forms), but since Life doesn't seem to be able to do Agg for some reason, I have to assume all the other cops get a faceful of Prime. But my understanding of Life could be off. I notice he's never healed himself at this point in the books, which belies the White Wolf Mage system, since Life 2 would let him do that, and the system doesn't allow for posession of a Sphere level without having the earlier levels too. #6 only shows him blasting someone's leg off, which again is Prime 2 or Life 3 if I'm wrong about Life sucking for damage.

With nothing new again in #1, Strong Medicine #2 shows Gravel viewing past events, which is Time 2 (scrying). I think this is the first Time effect shown, so now we can guess that he could be using a Time 3 effect to draw his guns so quickly. Toward the end, he kicks through the skinhead's leg (Prime 3, enchant life, remember), then reads his mind or memory, which is just Mind 3 for a living subject.

I think his conversation with Mogotsi in Strong Medicine #3 is all Mogotsi's (just like the precog dream in #2), but it's possible that Gravel might need Spirit 1 to read the echoes Mogotsi left behind. I doubt it, though. Note that he doesn't heal his gunshot wound, as far as we can see. Blowing out the candles is simple Forces 2 if there's any sort of air movement at all.

The only newish thing in Necromancer #1 is the toupee trick. That's Correspondence 3, yet again.

In Necromancer #2, we see Gravel rip off a zombie's head. That's not something Prime 3 (enchant life) would allow, so I think the zombies are fragile or Gravel's incredibly strong, either naturally, or from Life 3. It doesn't make too much of a difference, since the organ-spewing cop already proved he has Life 3.

After another issue of nothing new in #3, Necromancer #4 shows Gravel turning Amy and himself invisible. This is the first time it's definitely not been teleportation. Though it's possible to use either Mind 3 or Forces 2 for invisibility, Mind seems unlikely against zombies. It doesn't really matter, since he's already used Mind 4 and Forces 3, so he could do either.

Necromancer #5 is the first time we see Gravel healing himself (Life 2). If he needs a lizard tail every time, that might explain why he's never done it before.

Finally, in Necromancer #6, Gravel teleports a large shipping container. Due to the vagueness of live-action Mage, I don't know whether that would be Correspondence 3 or 4, just like his self-teleportation.

I think that gives Gravel a minimum of Correspondence 3 (maybe 4), Forces 3, Life 3, Matter 3, Mind 4, Prime 3, and Time 2 (maybe 3). He might have some Entropy or Spirit, but none of that is definitively shown.

All in all, in addition to being disgusting and loads of fun, it's a great series for showing people what a mage with a certain amount of power can do. Just the Prime and Correspondence would make him very formidable, considering his non-magical combat abilities.

Of course, like a lot of things that are great examples of how cool certain White Wolf games could be, it also serves as an example of how cool any White Wolf game you actually play will never be.