The Holy Grail War
Death is one of the ten Arcana of Mage: The Awakening. As well as ghosts and the undead, its effects include things metaphysically associated with death, including darkness, decay and, most horrific of all, the stealing of souls.
While it is not made explicit in the rulebook, it is implied that Death, not Matter, must be used to affect vampires and other undead. The Arcanum of Death deals, as the name implies, with the powers of death and undeath.
A mage skilled in this Arcanum can steal and trap souls, speak with the dead, steal years from a target, raise zombies, and, with sufficient skill, even bring the dead back to life.
Death allows control and command of ghosts in much the same way that Spirit affects spirits. Mages draw a heavy distinction between the two, however: spirits are the native form of life in the Shadow, while ghosts are not proper beings at all. They are merely echoes, memories of a soul’s passage left in the ephemera which only mimic consciousness, and as such few mages have qualms about using them for their own ends.
This Arcanum grants a mage unparalleled power over the soul, and is justly feared for this reason. Other Arcana can only affect souls in specific ways; for example, Fate can sever a soul if it is not bound to its original owner, and Spirit or Mind are able to affect unmoored souls drifting in Twilight. Tremere mages steal souls as a matter of course, and so use this Arcanum extensively.
Influences: Darkness (note that this is different from merely the absence of light), decay, ectoplasm, enervation, resurrection, soul stealing, the lifespan, undead.
Nature and Power
Life is everywhere in the Fallen World, and where life is, death is not far behind. This Arcanum evidences itself in a manner too delicate to be seen by mere Sleepers, but its malign energies hover over the world like a thick cloud. From the crushing of the tiniest insect to the thousands killed in a volcanic eruption, death’s influence exerts itself behind the scenes. And the raw energy of the Arcanum can become visible to Sleepers, subtle though it may be, in the creation of ghosts, zombies, and other such undead revenants.
The powers handed to a mage versed in the Arcanum of Death control the powerful metaphysical forces behind these events. A mage who can wield the Arcanum skilfully enough can slay mortals with but a thought, rotting their bodies into nothing. Death can give one the ability to create one’s own undead, or bolster those that already exist, and it grants many more powers to those with the stomach to seek them. Mages using Death can lengthen their own lifespan by robbing years from another, or perform the reverse and hand another years from their own thread. Death mages can destroy Mana and sunder spells, make themselves or others appear to be dead, manipulate the shadows, create, transmute, or destroy ectoplasm (the substance of ghosts), cannibalise the souls of the dying for Mana, and, at higher levels and with a little power of the Arcanum of Fate, bring people back from the dead, but at the cost of their own lives. Death is both a terrifying and alluring Arcanum, and those who use it equally so.
Levels of Mastery
The first level of mastery grants an Initiate of Death the power to see the impact of death in individual people, noting how many have died in that person’s presence. She can also see the manner in which a person or creature died, and exactly how long ago that was. The mage also gains the power to sculpt ectoplasm conjured by a ghost or other mage, examine the health of the soul, alter shadows to conceal herself or an object, or speak with the dead.
An Apprentice of Death, with the second level of mastery, can bestow her perceptions of the weight of death on others. She can command shadows to move as though they were alive, even making them travel from their source, and can now create the substance called ectoplasm, an energy used in matters related to ghosts. It is at this level that the mage first gains power over auras, as she is now capable of suppressing them. She can cause physical objects, but not creatures, to decay, and can enhance her touch so she can interact with things in Twilight. Also, the mage gains the ability to summon ghosts, even against their will, and create soul jars, the vessels for soul trapping. Finally, she can leech the vigour from incoming attacks, rendering them useless.
The third level of mastery allows a Disciple of Death to force ghosts to do her bidding or raise zombies for the same purpose. She can heal the corpus of ghosts and create gateways into Twilight. Her shield can now be transferred to another. She can mystically destroy objects, shunt them into Twilight, or weaken the structure of objects already there. Her mastery over shadows extends to the point where she can make them from nothing, and she gains the ability to suppress her life signs and appear dead. Finally, she gains the power to convert the souls of the dying into Mana, and to sever the souls of Sleepers from their body.
With the fourth level of mastery, an Adept of Death gains the power to enervate her foes, sucking out their strength and rendering them weak and powerless. She can bind the recently dead into objects or places, dooming them to haunt these locations forever. She may also rot the living flesh of a creature, and create an intelligent, driven undead creature called a revenant. Also at this level are granted the powers to suppress the life signs of another, to shift into Twilight without a gate, to bind souls into a soulless person, or to destroy her aura permanently.
The fifth level of mastery gives a Master of Death the power to tap the souls of the perfectly healthy for Mana, to summon ghosts from the Underworld in order to gain their knowledge, or to bolster the power of ghosts already in the world. She may also steal years of life from Sleepers, destroy Mana whether it lies within an artefact, as tass, or even within a mage, and sunder any magic.