After thirty-one sessions, my Mage: the Awakening chronicle, "No Justice Like Mob Justice," has come to its end, as one of the players is moving away, and it seems more practical to end the chronicle and start a new game (of something that is not Mage) rather than introduce a new character at this stage. The chronicle began on 25 May 2011, and ended on 21 September 2012. In-play, approximately two months passed - a source of many jokes for the players as well as this interesting idea from Samhaine. They progressed from pre-Awakening to the threshold of arch-mastery.
The final session involved a showdown with the Red Word cultists who were probably the #1 antagonists throughout the chronicle. In this showdown, the players recruited about half of Boston's mages (the half that they more-or-less trusted and felt could handle themselves in a fight) and hit up the Irish mob for a much-needed donation of materiel, including RPG launchers and Humvees. In the final action sequence, four of them drove the Humvee around the massive battle, toward the huge black monolith that they were pretty sure they needed to destroy, casting spells out the back at the avatar of the Blasphemous Scribe that they had to evade. They evaded it long enough to plant C-4 around the base of the monolith, using Death and Forces to make properly place and contain the blast... to no effect. Then Surya sounded his trumpet... and the monolith cracked. Between more Death magic being thrown into it, Fate causing it extraordinary bad luck, and the trumpet self-destructing, they finally destroyed the pillar and ended the Abyssal incursion.
I'm still processing what I've learned from the chronicle as a whole. I think that I won't run Mage again for a few years at least; I spent the whole life of the game wishing I had done more preparatory work for every session. Most of all I wish I had incorporated the motivations of other NPCs on a deeper level, and ironed out more of the fine details of cosmology and thaumaturgy. As much as they had going on, I don't know how I ever could have worked in more interaction with Orders, and with only 60ish mages in Boston, I never felt like there were enough to make Legacies a meaningful part of the game. I just couldn't deliver exposition fast enough! Mage, as a game, intends for the secrets of the Orders, and especially the rotes they can offer, to be a major part of play, and that just... never really worked out. (As has been pointed out so many times, removing the Gnosis factor and replacing it with an ability score and a skill can theoretically be lots more dice, but in practice it's a wash or a downgrade in a lot of cases.)
The chronicle came to what I believe was a satisfying and action-packed finish, though there were a lot of unresolved plot threads, such as the Hunter of the Deeps (a True Fey), Black-Eyed John (who the mages always referred to as "the pirate ghost guy"), the actual meaning of one character's Destiny, or the details of the connection between the Shadow Chorus and the Lantern-Bearers. They did resolve the Prince of 100,000 Leaves and his Abyssal incursion, Diomedes and the Iron Grip of Death, Megistos and the false pharaoh Khasekhem (with help from Sobek, in a massive kaiju battle), the Marinara Sauce Jar of Evil (an actual prop that the players made at the table - it's covered in runes and actually kind of awesome), Angrboõa and the Bad Trip... heck, in the next-to-last session, they even decided to join the Mysterium, if only so that they could finally fill in that spot on their character sheets. Of all the campaigns I've ever run, this was I believe only the second in which the final session was a planned climax that resolved the central plot, and one of only a handful in which I knew at the time that the last session was going to be the last.
The other thing that I never quite mastered was figuring out what "a satisfying challenge" entails, especially when rising Defense and Armor values means that a 12-die attack pool is a trivial threat that usually won't deal any damage to the target. In general this meant that the PCs walked away from encounters having taken only a tiny amount of damage, although they were usually mostly drained of mana and Willpower. I think the players found these to be entertaining enough, and a lot of their victories depended on one or two characters going into full-time Counterspell mode while the rest of the party did whatever they were going to do, so I feel like they paid for those victories in some forms of effort, even if I am not sure they were threatened enough. (That said, mages are fragile enough that there is a very fine line between "threatened" and "fragged.") Enemy mages are also complex enough to run that I never really used them to their full potential - I would have needed a lot more time to plan and consider all options, and my schedule and energy just weren't up for it.
On a broader, "just how nWoD works" level, I think most people at the table were frustrated with succeeding only on 8s or better. Very large die pools sometimes came up empty, even when the character had poured Willpower into the roll. Though probability suggests that this should be rare, the rare occasions seem to really crop up at clutch moments. Then there are the times that a player rolls more successes than the number of dice that were originally in the pool for that roll, because the tens Just. Keep. Exploding. The other thing that gets me is that I need to give the player the difficulty modifier to the task before the roll - it just runs counter to what all those years of D&D and other games taught us about the order of operations. There are a few other games in which the GM needs to announce difficulty modifiers first - but in Pendragon, for example, the player can easily recalculate the outcome based on this modifier, if necessary. In nWoD, you can't know what would have happened with, say, three fewer dice, and so the player pretty much needs to re-roll completely.
I am definitely glad that I ran this game. It was the second Mage chronicle I've ever run (the first had a completely different player roster), and the second in the published setting of Boston. The first chronicle focused on the puzzles and mysteries of the mansion one character inherited just before the first session, and while there was violence, most of the action felt kind of... dreamlike, maybe. A kind of free, creative usage of powers to solve bizarre problems, such as figuring out how to release a few thousand locusts from stasis to get to something directly beneath them. The second chronicle was darker and more violent, as the players ran into Banishers, Scelesti, Abyssal cultists and horrors, and Seers of the Throne; they also got more directly involved in Consilium politics that the first group did.
Many thanks to all the players, and to the friends who contributed advice and ideas along the way!