Five Common Masquerade Explanations and Why They’re Bad

Literally every character in Teen Wolf is supernaturally good looking, but the townsfolk suspect nothing!

Recently, I wrote an article on ways to explain the urban fantasy masquerade. As soon as it was published, I realized my mistake. In my excitement to offer what solutions I could, I’d forgotten to tear down all the stories you like. *cough* I mean, I spent too few words describing why typical masquerade explanations don’t cut it, leaving people to think those explanations work better than they do.

For anyone who’s coming in now, the masquerade is the trope in which all fantasy elements in a real-world setting are a secret from most of the human world. The trope is both incredibly useful and incredibly implausible. Let’s go over some of the genre’s favorite nonsensical explanations.

1. No One Believes in Magic Anymore

A diverse group of people wielding magic The RPG Mage: The Ascension explains the masquerade with the idea of consensual reality – magic goes against what people believe in. This has problems, but at least the game has a weak explanation for why people stopped believing in magic.

Like most explanations, this one comes in a variety of flavors. Usually, it’s part of some belief mechanic in which magical things are hidden because people don’t believe in them. An example of this is the consensual reality in the RPG Mage: The Ascension. In Mage, casting magic out in the open does damage to the caster because onlookers don’t believe it’s real. In other stories, the lack of belief has pushed magical things out of the world, or most people can’t see magic just because they’re too stubborn to believe in it. Everyone’s into science these days, so there’s no room for fairies and unicorns!

Yeah, no. First of all, are you really going to tell your fantasy audience that people won’t believe in magic? Maybe you could’ve made that case back when people looked down on speculative fiction, but now that Amazon is spending a billion dollars on a fantasy TV show, that’s not going to fly. Plenty of people are ready to believe in magic with even the slightest rumor, much less solid evidence.

Assuming you can overcome that obstacle, there’s another issue. These worlds come with the assumption that people believed in magic long ago; that’s why we’ve heard of it at all. But then why did people stop believing in it? It would be like everyone deciding they don’t believe in electricity or raccoons anymore.

Speaking of which, why is only magic affected by belief? How did Nicolaus Copernicus prove that the earth rotates around the sun when everyone believed otherwise? If belief changed reality or even just our sensory perception of it, we would still think the Earth is the center of our solar system. If we all decided raccoons were a myth, would they disappear?

At best, this explanation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. At worst, it feels like an insult to fans who would like to see some magic, please.

2. There’s an Automated Forget-Me Field

A small person with short hair in a big jacket in front of brickwork and doors The novel Neverwhere actually makes great use of the automated forget-me field. The magical world is separate and characters don’t spend enough time in the real world to think too hard about the field’s effects.

In these stories, magical people are perfectly willing to share their existence with regular humans. But dang, the natural laws of the universe just won’t allow it. In particular, regular humans just can’t perceive or remember anything magical they encounter. Human spellcasters can be seen, but not their magic. Elves and dragons are invisible, forgettable, or look like some real-world equivalent.

That sounds swell, but in practice, it can become a headache.

  • What happens if you take a video or audio recording of something magic? Does every printed photo of a magical thing have magical properties?
  • Are magical symbols or spell ingredients visible or invisible? What about the stores that sell ingredients? Spellbooks?
  • If people talk about magic in person or over email and a regular human eavesdrops, what happens?
  • What happens when a monster leaves big claw marks or human bodies show up with bite marks? Wouldn’t some public safety or animal control group investigate what’s going on there?
  • When a mage does something impossible, does no one ever wonder how it got that way? If people can’t remember, is anyone investigating all these strange incidents of memory loss?
  • What happens when a regular person wanders into a place that has magical things everywhere?

Because no one in the story will make any effort to hide magic, every answer to these questions must also trace back to a natural law of the universe. If you have to explain all of these things in your story, you’ll end up adding more and more laws until your masquerade feels contrived. It’s as though some powerful presence is creating a bunch of random rules just to prevent humans from learning about magic…

That’s why I think it’s better to have an actual intelligence doing this in your world, for the explicit purpose of hiding magic. But depending on how your world is set up or what’s in your story, the automated forget-me field might actually work for you.

First, it’s easiest if there’s a clear separation between things that are magical and those that aren’t. That’s hard if your setting is really eclectic, but if all spellcasters have fairy blood or all magical things come from a fantasy realm, it’ll feel more natural when you decide what’s forgettable. Second, you don’t want to show magical things spilling into the normal world that much. The less magic impacts regular people, the less the audience will wonder why humans can’t tell something is up.

3. Regular People Will Hurt Mages

A white man pets the head of a giant eagle creature In Fantastic Beasts, J. K. Rowling retcons that wizards are hiding their existence because they are afraid of muggles. So to prevent muggles from finding out about wizards, Newt uses a Thunderbird to erase the memories of a whole city of muggles. Sure, those muggles would definitely stand a chance against the entire wizarding world.

Mythcreants has already discussed numerous times why society won’t turn on people for having magic, so I’m going to skip over all those dynamics of power and privilege among groups. Instead, I just want you to imagine that you have a cool magic power. Defying all reason, some people resent your magic so much that they want to hurt you. On top of that, we’ll say you’re a pacifist. You won’t use your magic to kick them to the curb even when they attack you directly. So what can you do?

You could hide your powers and engage in costly cover-ups to prevent anyone from knowing those powers are real. Or you could make your powers known and find a rich billionaire, corporation, or government that will pay you handsomely.

  • If you have teleportation, you could make a million bucks providing transport to a CEO or world leader.
  • If you have weather control, you could make a million bucks working for a big agricultural company.
  • If you have scrying, you could make a million bucks doing espionage.
  • If you have flying, you could make a million bucks saving rich people from dying on Mount Everest.
  • If you have super strength, you could make a million bucks working in disaster relief, rescuing people from collapsed buildings.

Once you have lots of money, your next step is to create your own secret service to protect yourself. Congratulations, you are now safer than you would ever have been as a person without magic, and you can have caviar every day too. Plus, you don’t have to hide your powers!

Please keep in mind that the people killed in real witch hunts couldn’t do this because they didn’t actually have powers. So if you want your fantasy witches to be threatened with an old-fashioned burning at the stake, an enemy with even more power than the witch must be behind that.

“What if magic is dangerous?” you ask. Well, if it hurts humans, then humans deserve to know about it regardless of how they react. In that case, there would only be a masquerade if every magic wielder is evil. If there’s one conscience among them, it’s all over.

4. The Government Is Covering It Up

A white woman with short brown hair outside on a gloomy day In The Rook TV show, the protagonists work for a secret government organization that steals magical children from their families and somehow hasn’t been exposed yet.

In some stories, the masquerade exists because of a giant government conspiracy. The government snatches up mages and puts them in some secret weapon program. It fights magical menaces, telling onlookers that the explosion was from a bunch of swamp gas. If you try to go public with evidence of magic, commandos will show up and drag you away.

Well, that makes perfect sense. As we all know, when electricity was invented, our governments hid its existence from us. Oh, wait.

Look, if you’re a government official and you discover something like magic exists, you’d give away money to help people use it. You’d offer research grants so we all understand it better, and you’d invest in businesses that want to use it to revolutionize the market. Then you’d offer fast and easy visas to mages around the world, so you can attract as many of them to your country as possible.

All of this not only gives your populace – and hence your constituents – innovations they’ll appreciate, but it also will give your economy a leg up globally. The more money your country makes, the richer you and your friends are, and the more money your government can collect in taxes.

“But what if magic is dangerous?” you ask again. Sure, we all know how our governments covered up the existence of drugs like cocaine and meth. That really helped them pass relevant laws and implement prevention and recovery programs.

Look, a real-world government just isn’t capable of keeping something like magic a secret. There’ll be a whistle-blower eventually, and the more people you employ to cover things up, the more likely someone will talk.

5. *Crickets Chirp*

Buffy in with soldiers Buffy the Vampire Slayer offers no explanation for the masquerade. As the show goes on, more and more humans depicted in the show actually know about the supernatural. In season 4, this group of government commandos even shows up. But by season 7, we forget they exist because government support would be no fun.

Some stories offer no explanation at all for the masquerade. Like the automated forget-me field, this isn’t the worst choice, but it can break down if the readers examine it too closely.

If there’s no explanation, any incident in your story where a regular person is exposed to something magical, they would naturally record it with their phone and put it on the internet. Any time someone with magic finds it inconvenient to keep that magic a secret, they would just prove its existence to whoever they need to.

You can keep your audience from thinking too hard about this by plotting your story so that no regular people are exposed to magic and no magical people have a reason to expose it. However, that means giving up a lot of sources of conflict. Your teenage protagonist can’t miss school and be left to make excuses. Your hero can’t lie about their secret identity to their loved ones. Your mages can’t even have a battle outdoors in a populated area.

If those constraints are too steep, you have to choose between making characters do irrational things just to keep a secret they have no reason to keep, or making it feel unbelievable that magic is still a secret. If you instead show how regular people are actually catching on, like in the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that opens up more questions. For instance, why isn’t the government helping the heroes save the day from magical threats? Why aren’t the heroes famous?

Altogether, this one works better if your magical conflicts take place in a separate, magical space, or privately between people who all have magic. The less often regular people are around to witness magical things happening, the less your audience will question the masquerade.

We all like the masquerade, but it’s bloody hard to explain. If you’re planning a story with this trope, start by looking for a solid reason that fits your story. Failing that, don’t explain it. That way, your audience can at least fill in a justification of their own.

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  1. AngelusLaguna

    Your knowledge of Magic the Ascension is lacking, sorry.

    On Ascension, the consensus MAKE reality: the moon in Ascension was not as in real world. But the home of faerye. LATER a Conspiracy of technomage CREATE the moonlanding and the global consensus “rewrite” the moon as we know.

    In the middle age, there are many sect and one take over the power : they used the scientific method as paradigma.
    Slowly, they REWRITE the laws of magic itself and actively debunked “the magic itself” and replaced it with science.
    They use “hypertechonology” that later became “knowed by the masses” and became “actual science”.

    This make a lot of sense, only a fraction of mages held the ancient ways and fight for “emoliate” the hardness of consensus about the magic.
    And NO: Amazon show, netflix etc, dont make people “belive” in magic.
    They belive that IN FICTION, magic is possible.
    Or Sfx.

    • Cay Reet

      There still are people out there who believe the world is flat.
      There are people out there who believe the earth is merely 6000 years old (because that is what a bishop once calculated from information in the bible).
      People believe a lot of odd things.

      The problem of the masquerade is always to explain why a huge number of people do not believe that magic or certain supernatural entities don’t exist. If magic were real, if there were people out there who could use it and if it were a power in our world, then, as Chris pointed out, our world would look different. Magic would be a boon for those who have it. Magic would change the way our world works, because magic would be the answer to quite some problems we have. Problems which science and technology can’t solve this far.

      The only masquerade explanation which works in some way is ‘magic is new to our world and hasn’t existed before’ – in that case, it’s easier to explain why most people don’t know it exists. They don’t know it exists, because until recently, it didn’t exist. It’s not going to stay like that for long.
      Even in this case, there would be people who film something weird with their phone or take a photo. There are actually videos and pictures online of ‘strange beings’ or ‘weird things happening’ which are believed to be real by a lot of people (demons, werewolves, mermaids, a lot of weird stuff). Magic wouldn’t stay hidden for long, not in our world of smartphones and social networks where a picture or video, once online, will never disappear completely. Even a huge conspirancy wouldn’t manage that.

      • Devan

        I try to reply as best as I can and I apologize in advance for my bad english (It’s not my first language) and for this wall of text that it’s in regard only on Mage: the Ascension RPG metion\parenthesis.

        I think that here you all are probably a little confused or you have difficulties to grasp what Mage: the Ascension is about.
        In the game, reality it’s like dough and can be reshaped and molded by our will. But only persons who have awake their Avatar they know it and can perform what we can call Magick, Magick is an act of will, an act that can reshape the world, but in the same time the world it’s made by the sleepers collective consciousness (all of us, the non awakened massess) that the game called the Consensus, that despite it’s sleeping, it has a little sparkle that it has and still dictate what the reality is about.
        The Consensus though. In the same time it’s like a weapon, a tool and the immunity system of our reality, most of the time is self-serving but can be weaponized and used if you know how to influence it, like for example, as Angelus Laguna mention, when the Technocracy Union has influenced humanity to believe that the Moon it’s a lifeless rock full of craters while in fact WAS something else.

        The game and it’s setting explain pretty well why you cannot see around any Mage flying or casting fireballs and also, the reasons why things are in that way in the game.
        One of the main reason besides the Consensus, it’s the paradox, the force which Mages in the Ascension RPG clash every time when they try to reshape reality with their will, will that goes against the Consensus. Every time a Mage in the game cast it’s like 1 Mage vs 7 billions or so Humans. The results can be often catastrofic for the Mage itself but can be somewhat avoided by using meaning or trick to fool the Consensus making them believe that what you do it’s somewhat plausible (that thing it’s called coincidental magic). In the end, “Magick” in the Ascension RPG it’s just a possible reality not already accepted into the Consensus. It’s a foreing element not already acknowledged, that with a lot of effort can be incorporate, like what they’ve done with Science, Computers, Internet, Smarthphone and so on.

      • AngelusLaguna

        Hi, i try to adress the issue that you mentioned !

        “There still are people out there who believe the world is flat.
        There are people out there who believe the earth is merely 6000 years old (because that is what a bishop once calculated from information in the bible).
        People believe a lot of odd things.”

        Exactly, the mage of “tradition” use their core ancient belif as a lever to counter the majority of the Consensus, as Devan perfectly explained.

        ” If magic were real, if there were people out there who could use it and if it were a power in our world, then, as Chris pointed out, our world would look different. Magic would be a boon for those who have it. Magic would change the way our world works, because magic would be the answer to quite some problems we have. Problems which science and technology can’t solve this far.”

        Exactly the plan of the Technocracy: they use their Paradigm ” The Science”, and was succesfull. They make the world as we know. It is the contrary: their magic became the science of our world.
        ” Magic wouldn’t stay hidden for long, not in our world of smartphones and social networks where a picture or video, once online, will never disappear completely. Even a huge conspirancy wouldn’t manage that.”

        And this is exactly the theme of the game: point the fracture of the “Consensus” and make the people dream and think again about the possibility of the universe.
        This is the core of the game, and the incipit for the player.
        The vastly majority of people in the world accept science as major expalanation of the reality: but that is NOT the unique vision.
        Mage player fight for give a more nuanced and more board colorfull vision for this.
        The Consensus of the Technocracy is not absolute: this make an enemy that is powefull but not impossible to attack and to work around

        I hope that this clear the doubt and issue about the game and its themes!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Just for the record because Mage canon is super complicated, the masquerade explanation is that way back in the day, everyone did believe in magic, until the Order of Reason (later the Technocracy) slowly took over and convinced everyone that magic wasn’t real. This is part of their plan to rule the world, naturally.

      The reason we call that a weak explanation is that it still has the chicken and egg problem. If magic was so much stronger back in the day because everyone believed in it, then the Order of Reason would never have been able to take over from the other Mage Traditions. There are explanations for this too of course, but they’re pretty weak.

      This is before you even get into other issues, like why Paradox only affects Mages and not Vampires.

      • Jeppsson

        Come to think of it… I think it was mentioned in passing in the Wizard of Oz (the book, I mean) that there used to be magic all over the world, but science/tech/modern stuff has somehow destroyed it in most places. There’s still magic in Oz (the wizard is a fraud, but there’s lots of real magic there too) because it’s so isolated from the rest of America.

        But it’s obvs different with really whimsical stories.

      • AngelusLaguna

        The principal problem with the old magickal culttures, was that they were really fragmented and not much cohese.
        Every culture had own “magick” with different power etc.
        The Order of Reason , very very slime version, give one very big breaktrhoug: make a system standardized for everything.

        Give a single Reason equally valid for anything.
        That and other factors, make an uproar, (vampire take too a part on its, marginally, but…) and the other fragmented culture reaorganized themselves about 9 big Tradition.

        Now, the power of Vampire and other creature, are not based about Magick, but other Very Powerfull Patron : God, Gaia, etc.
        They are “power player” among the Tellurian (God for obvius reason!) and them CAN impose their presence and “effect” upon Creation.

        I admit that Wod Canon is ultra complex… but their motivation are all but “weak”

        • Cay Reet

          It’s not the motivation, it’s the principle of masquerade on the whole. The question isn’t ‘how do I hide the magic?’ but ‘why do I hide the magic?’

          In a world where magic clearly does exist – hence there’s mages in the first place -, why would I pretend that there’s none?

          The ‘we have simplified and ordered all magic, so it’s easier to say how it works and how to use it’ part doesn’t explain that. The Lord Darcy stories also have a clear break where someone found the basic principles of magic and took it from a mythical energy to something science-like (although you need an inborn talent to wield it). Yet, in those novels everyone knows magic exist and the world has developed different after the 10th century when that discovery was made.

          • AngelusLaguna

            Because Tecnocracy want that no other use magick.
            They want one simple thing: science that rule Consensus.
            The very old motivation: monopoly over the resource and “power” itself.
            And absence of conflict and war about “other interpretation” of the world and universe.
            The price is banality, absence of imagination and eliminate any other alternative.

            First you objected about how , as Paradox, now about why.
            If you, or other, note other point, i am glad to clear any misinterpretation about.

          • Cay Reet

            What good is the monopoly over a resource, if it has no worth? Magic is useful when it can be ‘traded’ in some way. Mages you can hire when you need something done, for instance. If magic doesn’t exist for society, what worth has having it?

          • AngelusLaguna

            “What good is the monopoly over a resource, if it has no worth? Magic is useful when it can be ‘traded’ in some way.”
            Who say that this had no worth, excuse me?
            Each scientific ephyphany, eacth radical “experiment” , canon setting, is futuristic and very usefull and versatile as each magic in the past: the Technocratic “mage” can trade among themselves , earn prestige and commodity for their work, and of course self actualization.
            May i suggest to play some round of this game for grasp better its theme?

            “Mages you can hire when you need something done, for instance. If magic doesn’t exist for society, what worth has having it?”
            The fact that society dont recognize their magic as Magick, dont lessen their power.
            They can solve with “experimental technology” and “secret patent” problem that for “actual Consensuns” are impossible. Earn money, status, grant for themeselves recognization and power at the back of every other powerhouse.
            At a later time, they make their “last proud project” ready for public, and recognized as actual science.
            This became a mundane object/way to operate marvellouse results, as cure for sichkness, new robot, spatian enginering , etc.

            And make LESS trouble for use more powerfull secret “tecnology” that before was too problematic to risk to show to the world.

            Again: their masquerade is very complex and multylayered.

          • Luke Slater

            I’m not going to stand here and say that White Wolf totally had this covered, because they didn’t, but I do think a part of this was due – deliberately and otherwise – to Technocratic mission creep. The Order of Reason were super-democratic by Mage standards, and their popular motivation was to establish a standard and rational consensus reality that didn’t leave people at the mercy of bad mages and magical beasties. Their praxis was to move into an area – geographical or intellectual – and flood it with accessible wonders to ‘prove’ that the mage in the tower has just been grafting you all this time. If they succeeded – usually because the Trad mages are too busy shafting each other over whether sacred mathematics, spirit drumming, kung fu of being all goth and emo is the true path to magical enlightenment – they would by a series of steps edge ‘magic’ out of reality. Since magic demonstrably no longer works, the consensus becomes self-reinforcing: clearly ‘magic’ was just something people believed in when they didn’t understand science, and if a ‘mage’ occasionally blows himself up trying to cast a fireball, his robes were probably soaked in too many chemicals from that alchemical lab of his.

            The motivation behind the shift is what really gets muddled. In-universe, from the initial idealism, a bunch of the upper echelons get power hungry and wanted to control the world through super-science or something. That all gets murky though, because halfway through publishing the Convention books that laid out their deal, WW apparently realised that a lot of players were seeing the Technocracy as the good guys, so suddenly they go from being ‘authoritarian, but democratic’ to ‘mad science fascists from hell.’ By the time of Sorcerer’s Crusade’s publication, the Order of Reason turned out to have always been run behidn the scenes by a convention of card carrying supervillains in sinister cloaks.

            Ironically, the consensus reality shifted, and thus the Technocracy had always been villains, seeking power at the cost of creativity (because, as everyone apparently knows, scientists have no imagination.)

            Then in 3rd ed the rules changed entirely, the Technocracy’s science was always a cynical facade and the crystalisation of the scientific paradigm screwed them as much as anyone in the name of simplified Paradox rules.

            So, yeah; I think at some point it was a pretty decent set-up, but it got lost in the rush.

          • Cay Reet

            Sorry, but it sounds more like a simple rebranding to me. ‘No,sir, we’re doing no magic, because magic doesn’t exist, but I can’t hand you a book which explains what this machine does.’ *stuffs the imps more tightly into the machine*

            Honestly, this is a huge explanation to cough up just so the creator didn’t have to consider what would change in the world if magic did exist.

            First of all, magic has a bigger market than fellow mages – everyone can have a passive use from it. Keeping it from society is definitely not using its full potential. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a monopoly on it as one organisation.

            To employ Lord Darcy again: in this series, magic does exist and can actually be treated scientifically. Experiments can be made, there’s an internal logic to what it can and can’t do (although it’s hard to say why specific people can do it and others can’t). A magician must belong to the Guild and must have a licence from the church, which means every magician is under constant surveillance. Yet, they can hire out their powers to everyone who can pay, no matter whether that person is a magician or not. Yet, the author has also accepted that two changes in history (Richard Lionheart surviving the battle he died in in our reality and magic being codified) have made big changes in the world. Enough so there’s an Angelo-Franco Empire ruling a big chunk of Europe and the enemy isn’t Russia, but Poland.

            The true reason for the masquerade in every system or novel which uses it is to avoid coming up with an alternate reality. Our reality is theirs, because magic is hidden and everyone is forbidden from showing it to the world. That this wouldn’t work, especially not long term, is never discussed anywhere.

          • AngelusLaguna

            ” Sorry, but it sounds more like a simple rebranding to me. ‘No,sir, we’re doing no magic, because magic doesn’t exist, but I can’t hand you a book which explains what this machine does.’ *stuffs the imps more tightly into the machine*

            Honestly, this is a huge explanation to cough up just so the creator didn’t have to consider what would change in the world if magic did exist.”

            Well… sorry but this is not true at all.
            The Tecnocracy lead an huge and neverending battle with the “paranormal” and “Extra Consensus Entity”, for “make appear” the world of darkness as our.
            More “miracle”, more violence, more deaths and weird stuff and occultism, this is the bread and butter of the game for each table that play this game.

            The world is different, the magic is covered by a system as stated by me, Luke Slater and Devan that make an actual “self censure” and is granted that this is not perfect but very efficent.
            They are a powerfull enemy but not omnipotent.
            And of course, you can play as a Tecnocratic too.

            I am pretty satisfed for the point showed and each reader can make their consideration about this type of Masquerade.
            I dont think that your position will change, and it is not my intention to try to impose mine.

            I wanted to show some inaccurate position taken by the author of the article, and explain why one can give credit to this model of Masquerade.
            Thanks for this polite and interesting exchange, but i am sorry that this will be only redundant from now ^^;

            Have you all a nice day and wonderfull fun!

  2. Jeppsson

    Yeah, I’m not fond of masquerades per se, even though stories utilizing them can be really good sometimes.

    In our world, magic is very different from the laws of nature and technology, in that the former doesn’t exist whereas the latter do. I think it’s easy for real-life people to forget that this is the reason why magic seem weird and special TO US. If magic DOES exist, it’s just odd and arbitrary to treat it in a completely different way than other kinds of science and tech.

    It’s as if, in our own world, there were a giant conspiracy to cover up everything that had to do with atoms and nuclear energies. Like, we still had the science of physics, but non-secret physics kept dealing with macro bodies and macro bodies only, whereas the entire study and utilitizing of nuclear energies was something 99 % of the population didn’t know about. Somehow people doing ordinary physics could be doing this for decades, generations, centuries, without realizing anything about atoms and nuclear energies, because every time some ordinary physicist came across something hinting in that direction, no one else believed them.

    You’d need a really complicated back story if you wanna make this kind of scenario reasonable.

    • Rose Embolism

      The thing is, if magic is just another area of knowledge, you end up with the problem that the world you end up with looks nothing like ours. You don’t have urban fantasy, but rather something like Ninefox Gambit, something completely alien.

      For instance, Anderson’s Operation Chaos had magic be reinvented sometime in the previous century, had scientific principles applied to it, and already the world of the 1940s is radically different, and getting more so.

  3. mysterylover123

    Interestingly enough, the Buffy sequel comics broke the masquerade. They had the vampire Harmony get televised drinking blood, and then had to deal with the consequences of the whole world learning the truth. By the end of the Series, Buffy and Faith are working for the supernatural police department. Obviously that doesn’t change or excuse the original series not explaining it, but it is one of the few examples I can think of where a franchise actually does break the masquerade and explore the consequences.

    • JGrey

      And the did explain why the government didn’t intervene: For the first three seasons, it was because the Mayor was actively covering it up, as his plans were to make Sunnydale a perfect feeding ground for demons. Then season four showed the military get involved, which ended horribly for most involved with Buffy telling the higher-ups to leave Sunnydale to her people. (Though they did start black-ops operations to prevent people from weaponizing demons.)

  4. Innes

    I’ve always found that having most of the magical elements be ex-pats from a fantasy realm, like in the books The Iron King and Un Lun Dun, or having magic come from an alternate plane like the upsidedown in Stranger Things, more convincing than a lot of masquerade explanations. But on the other hand, since most of the magic fantasy of the plot (at least in the first two) only takes place in the fantasy realm I’m not sure they really qualify as masquerades at all.
    I remember The Iron King by Julie Kagawa being really (it might be nostalgia) and its one of those books that I think was before its time. If it were published now with YA fantasy with themes of political drama and romance being so common it would have got the popularity it deserved.

  5. Dave L

    One other problem w/ 4:

    Not THE Government. Every single government on Earth!

    Every single country, no matter how disorganized inefficient, or short on funds, would have to have a 100% success rate covering up magic
    No country, no matter how big or small, can use magic, except perhaps in subtle ways, for economic advantage, or even in war

    Magic I can accept in a story. EVERY country on Earth cooperating on anything? My suspension of disbelief doesn’t go that far

    • Jeppsson

      True that! I think people accept this because they’re so focused on the US, or sometimes the US+UK, that they forget how many nations there actually are…

      • Tony

        Some of my story ideas involve governments dealing with the supernatural — from pre-modern court priests and mages in the vein of Richelieu and Rasputin, to industrialised Men in Black-style organisations. I have plans involving various countries around the world and throughout history, not just the modern Anglosphere. For example, clandestine cults show up in the employ of the Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors in my stories set in those respective civilisations. I also figure that in my universe, the USSR would have all manner of secret paranormal projects to compete with the USA.

        I’m still trying to figure out why magic would be kept under wraps, though. My initial idea was that governments, corporations, organised crime, and the like have come to monopolise human involvement in the supernatural and protect their interests by keeping it on the down-low. (For their part, nonhumans tend to keep to themselves in their own secluded domains.) But now I realise that it’d be hard for even powerful human organisations to hide ALL their paranormal doings or to keep normies from getting involved themselves. As an analogy, the US military kept a lid on their experimental aircraft at Area 51, but that didn’t mean nobody else knew about planes. Nuclear weapons and (I think) the proto-Internet started as government secrets, but it didn’t take too long for them to become common knowledge.

    • Rose Embolism

      I don’t think you need all nations to do so. After all, there are nations here in the real world that have recently either actively persecuted the supernatural, or allowed their citizens to prosecute those they deem to have supernatural powers.

      And by nations I include the USA. McMartin Preschool was in my living memory.

  6. nick012000

    Mage: the Ascension actually combines multiple items from this list. It’s number 1, number 4, and also a bit of number 3, all thanks to the Technocratic Union, who managed to largely eliminate the belief in magic by creating a new, democratized form of magic called “science” back during the Renaissance, and then used their advanced science to take over the governments of the West to become the Illuminati-style shadow rulers of the planet, and kill or capture mages who are too obvious with their magic.

    • Cay Reet

      If they only control the governments of the western world, then how do they manage to capture or kill mages who do magic in the open everywhere? There’s Asia, there’s Africa, both huge areas where their influence then wouldn’t be complete. And once it leaks, especially in modern times, that there’s magic in Asia or Africa, the whole ‘there’s only science’ trick would no longer work. People would ask ‘if Asians can do magic, why can’t we?’ Besides, one mage being too obvious with their magic before being caught could be enough to get something into the internet. As soon as the picture or video is online, it will inevitably also land on illegal servers or other servers outside of western control.

      • AngelusLaguna

        Excuse me, one single last thing: if someone had issue about the game and its consistency, anyone can try to post on the official forum, della Onyx path.
        Here they can give proper answere for any question.
        It is a very good source for information for any other rpg of the white wolf or developed by Onyx Path itself!

        It is better as source and to make, in future ?, a new review with complete information and devoid to misconception of the setting.

        • Cay Reet

          I hate to say this, because it’s clear you know a lot more about RPGs in general and Mage especially than I do, but this is not a review. This is an article about writing, for writers and, I assume from the stories posted here every now and then (and because I’ve been around here for a while already), by writers.

          Chris is using the masquerade as used by Mage as an example for problems with the masquerade, for regular explanations of the masquerade (not necessary in the way the World of Darkness defines the term) which have their problems. She’s not writing about the details and ideals of the masquerade as kept by mages in the World of Darkness. She’s writing about the problems of using this kind of masquerade in a work of fantasy, be it a novel, a series, a movie, or an RPG. That’s the same way I have discussed the masquerade of mage. Not as specifically a part of the RPG, but pointing a finger at the holes in the idea, because that’s what happens sooner or later when you make masquerade part of a world building, as a writer.

          • AngelusLaguna

            I understand this, and i found many of her article very good and inspiring to me.

            But… this is another issue.
            If you talk about a product with poor knowledge and write untrue fact about this (see the part about “only magic and not material plane is affected…), i lose faith on you as reader in fsist place.
            She gave a judgement about a facet of and rpg without knowledge about this.
            And is very wrong.
            Do you agree with me?

      • Adam Thaxton

        It’s even weirder than that, since by canon WoD, there’s technology in Japan that doesn’t work anywhere else in the world due to paradox it generates, as per Demon Hunter X, Strike Force Zero.

        But that’s the tribulations you get when you use The Secret as a physics textbook.

  7. Paul C

    Very thought-provoking discussion. I’m definitely going to need to rethink some of my story’s milieu. (Again!)

    Also, Charles Stross’s “Laundry Chronicles” series starts with the magic being hidden (by more or less incompetent government bureaucrats around the world) but, as the apocalypse approaches, more and more mundane citizens either see it, discover they can use it, or get eaten by the other-dimensional beings that are responsible for “magic” — somehow. (My summary does it little justice.) It also incorporates a good, solid mathematical foundation for magic.

  8. LeeEsq

    One of the things that never made sense about the Harry Potter universe was that JK Rowling’s insistence that a human with a gun can beat any wizard. Harry Potter was aimed at kids and teens, so you didn’t have that much offensive magic like fireball but magic could still get very deadly. The one killing spell was effectively a bullet but you needed to say something rather than pull a trigger. When you have mages that are walking nukes, humans aren’t going stand a chance. The only way that regular humans could be a threat to mages is if magic wasn’t that powerful. It would need to be somewhat more powerful than what stage magicians do when entertaining or like stage magic but with words and stuff rather than stage magic techniques and machines. But if magic is that weak, why write a fantasy story?

    The masquerade is basically a laziness technique that allows the writer to use the real world as a setting but not have to worry about how the existence of magic or monsters will change everyday reality. Because the later would require a lot of thought. So you get to place your story in setting that doesn’t require too much world building on your part but don’t deal with the consequences because the masquerade.

  9. Maria

    Well… maybe just maybe the masquerade is incredibly useful and easier to work with than making a complex system which plausibly integrates both vampires, werewolves and regular humans. Yeah, it requires suspension of disbelief, but we humans are very good at this. Maybe I want to read about the adventures of a wizard in a secret wizarding school more than I want to read about european union regulations regardig the safe use of magic. Maybe one, as nonsensical as it is, is more fun than the other.

    • Rose Embolism

      Honestly, the only system that makes sense in integrating humans, vampires and werewolves would be “They existed, but we killed them all off.” Which isn’t much fun as a novel series.

  10. Rose Embolism

    Honestly, I still can’t get past the idea that a masquerade wouldn’t be necessary, or that supernaturals would be employed by the wealthy and governments. A look at real life shows that humans tend to deal very thoroughly with predators that prey on them. Also consider the real-world cases of vampirism, werewolves and witches. When people suspected there was a vampire in the neighborhood, they weren’t asked to put theri powers to use elites of the region. The Beast of Gévaudan was hunted, but not to be put in the employ of the King of France. And look to contempory cases to see how witches are treated. So no, I don’t think we would see an integration ofsupernaturals with society in any world that resembles ours. Let’s save that for the happy high fantasy world with the elves and dwarves.

    As for a workable masquerade, I think its easy to overstate how much of a masquerade would be needed. For a start, not having people believe in magic is a no-go. As a recent Pew poll pointed out, 65% of Americans believe in the supernatural; 45% believe in spirits and demons, and 13% believe in vampires. This in the United States, one of the most advanced countries in the world. (Dont even fucking TALK to me about all the people who believe in ancient astronauts and Atlantis). Remember, McMartin Preschool happened only 35 years ago. More recently, a family was arrested for a lethally gone-wrong exorcism. And in other countries people are right now being murdered for being witches. (And to reiterate, that’s a good argument for the existence of a Masquerade; otherwise the supernaturals would only be referred to in the past tense.)

    So disbelief is pointless, but obfuscation is not that hard. Go on to YouTube, and look at the exposes or autobiographies of “real life vampires.” Look at the people who claim to have supernatural powers, or photos of real life demons”. Right now there are stories circulating of werewolves and weirder things. The History channel has stories of ancient astronauts. But oddly, the youtube vampires haven’t earned millions of dollars and massive publicity. Hmm. I wonder why that is.

    I think it really wouldn’t be necessary to completely conceal magic or vampires or aliens- a simpler “we in particular aren’t supernaturals” diversion would work, one to simply raise significant amounts of doubt in a particular situation. So if I were a secret organization devoted to keeping supernatural kind hidden, I wouldn’t go for suppressing stories of magic, but I would go for a two-pronged approach.
    1. I would clean up any MAJOR messes. Werewolf goes berserk in a small town? The MiBs will be there to contain the mess, modify memories, and all that.
    2. A sustained disinformation campaign based around managed publicity of the supernatural. So a youtube video of “werewolf massacre” gets released, along with commentary about the effects work. And then the “Werewolf Skin” CGI program used in the video gets released. And then later, when someone releases another video, they get called a “Werewolf Truther”. Really, the advent of computers is provably a massive boon to anyone running a masquerade. Before then physical effects work was needed.

    This means though, there would going to have to be some sort of supernatural government or authority. Which would be something that would evolve in parallel with human governments, because again, the supernaturals that aren’t devoted to hiding from humanity would go extinct.

    • Cay Reet

      You presume that supernatural creatures not hiding from humans would go extinct, but look at it this way:

      Werewolves and vampires are apex predators who either sometimes or always (depending on whether vampires can live off animal blood or not) prey on humans. They are faster, stronger, and more deadly than a human. They see better in the dark, they hear more than us, they have a much better sense of smell, too. How are we humans going to kill them all off? Apex predators in our world usually don’t go extinct from humans hunting them, but from humans destroying their eco system and killing off their prey. As the prey for vampires and werewolves is us, that would only happen if all humans killed themselves. If anything, they could only go extinct from decimating each other or going to war with members of their own species (and even in that case, mankind has yet to completely kill itself off). There is no probability that humans would successfully kill all vampires or all werewolves (especially if both can infect regular humans to stock up on populace).

  11. julian matak

    sorry to rez a dead thread. Wow, I can’t believe I missed this post. It’s very thought-provoking, thank you.

  12. E. H.

    I think the reason many people like masquerades is that they allow us to have stories where magical things happen in a universe that’s otherwise our own. This type of story has appeal even if it isn’t perfectly logical. For example you can have vampires in your universe without government agencies to regulate them or having them take over the world.

  13. natew

    I prefer the fifth option unless it becomes inconsistent. Toy Story doesn’t really make sense (especially with Buzz in the first movie), but I accepted that there was some unexplained natural law in the universe for the purposes of the story.

    Then, at the end of the first movie, all the toys came to life and attacked Sid because they were in danger. Okay…but then later in the franchise, they didn’t come to life when they were in danger.

    At some point, I just accepted that it was a kid’s movie, but still.

  14. BLAKE 1001

    The trick with Mage the Ascension isn’t that there doesn’t appear to be Magick in a familiar, modern world were magic actually exists, it’s that there is no science & technology in that modern world, they’re just specific styles of magick.
    It’s a giant cheat, in a way.

    Or it brilliant and compelling. Depends on your paradigm.

    More generally, I think there’s two things making the masquerade harder than it needs to be:

    1) Overestimating magic: Since the earliest day of fantasy role-playing – the day Dave Arneson introduced a group of wargamers to the concept and gave the choice of playing a ‘Hero’ or ‘Wizard,’ and everyone picked Hero, except E Gary Gygax, who went on to publish D&D – magic has ruled the roost. In contemporary fiction, too, to make magic “seem magical” it has to be more wondrous than the modern world. But magic never claimed to be that. Take vampires, the vampires of legend that inspired Carmilla, decades before Dracula, were incorporeal spirits that preyed on their own families, a magical-thinking-explanation for tuberculosis and the like claimng sibling after sibling – no immortality, invulnerability, super-speed, mind-control, global conspiracies.
    Making magic a superpower instead of a supernatural phenomenon is the cheap & easy way to make it ‘feel magical.’

    2) Underestimating human stupidity: How could magic be real and no one notice or care? How could it be real without changing society? If it’s special knowledge how can it not get out?
    Well, electricity is real, you can do amazing things with it, but few humans did more than rub cat fur on amber for all but 200 of the last 200,000 years. And, apparently, when some clever Babylonians figured out a vinegar battery and did some electroplating, it was most again for a few thousand years. Then there’s the shape of the earth, germ theory of disease (still can’t get some people to wear masks or take vaccines), causes of heart disease and on and on.

  15. A Perspiring Writer

    What about a godlike entity constantly warping reality to hide the evidence? For context, the entity draws power from lies, secrets, and mysteries, and covering up magic would be the biggest example of all three?

    Does that make sense?

    • Cay Reet

      There’s a lot of lies, secrets, and mysteries around all the time – warping reality means using power, so it’s something which, like hunting for a predator, needs to be justified. Is the entity really gaining so much from warping reality (which must cost a lot of power, too) that the use of so much power is justified when it could just rest and let people lie and keep secrets and create mysteries without doing anything?

      • A Perspiring Writer

        Maybe instead of the entity gaining power from secrets, secrets are their power?

        They would have control over these secrets, and those within them, having the ability to hide evidence of a secret that someone had no prior knowledge of.

        They created the masquerade to have control over the world, and made it by steadily influencing more and more of the world, while keeping themselves hidden from everyone.

        When the time was right, they struck, casting an enchantment over non-magical folk (as magical folk wouldn’t be affected by it, due to being able to sense the enchantment forming), which hid all things magical from them, giving the entity control over an entire world.

        (They couldn’t do anything like that again, though, as they don’t have power over magical folk, due to those folk knowing about them.)

        How does that sound? If it’s vague, I apologize, it’s still a little nebulous in my mind as well, and I’ve never been very good at putting my thoughts to the page.

        • Cay Reet

          This again comes down to the fact that the more people know – and your magic folk would – the less likely something is going to stay a secret. One person can keep a secret. Two people are already less likely to really keep it. Five people – almost guaranteed a leak. Ten people and more – the secret is going to come out sooner or later.

          The problem with the masquerade is that it’s an excuse for the world being as it is with a very different past to it (because of monsters, magic, or similar differences). With something like magic around, our world would have developed differently – we probably wouldn’t have as much technology, but instead we’d have artefacts which can magically do the same things. With vampires around, we’d probably not have the night life we do, because we wouldn’t want to be outside after dark, especially drunk, while creatures walk around and pick their meal for the night. No matter how you phrase it, your masquerade will never explain how X can be different from our reality and have been for a long time, but the world still looks the same.

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