Death is one of the ten Arcana of Mage: The Awakening, the Subtle ruling Arcanum of Stygia. 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. It is primarily used by the Moros, as their epithet of Necromancers would suggest.
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: according to Atlantean lore, 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.
Darkness (note that this is different from merely the absence of light), decay, ectoplasm, enervation, resurrection, soul stealing, the lifespan, undead.
Nature and Power
The Arcanum of Death is the Subtle Arcanum of the Supernal Realm of Stygia, the realm that also generates the Arcanum of Matter. Death is all around in Stygia; the tombs of the dead spring up like macabre mushrooms across the bleak and featureless countryside, and the shades of the departed wander the area or simply sit and contemplate. The power of Death is rather more diminished in the Fallen World, as with all the Arcana and the Subtle Arcana especially, but it still pervades the material realms and the Shadow World.
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. They 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 themself or an object, or speak with the dead.
An Apprentice of Death, with the second level of mastery, can bestow their perceptions of the weight of death on others. They 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 they are now capable of suppressing them. They can cause physical objects, but not creatures, to decay, and can enhance their touch so they 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, they 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 their bidding or raise zombies for the same purpose. They can heal the corpus of ghosts and create gateways into Twilight. Their shield can now be transferred to another. They can mystically destroy objects, shunt them into Twilight, or weaken the structure of objects already there. Their mastery over shadows extends to the point where they can make them from nothing, and they gain the ability to suppress theirlife signs and appear dead. Finally, they 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 their foes, sucking out their strength and rendering them weak and powerless. They can bind the recently dead into objects or places, dooming them to haunt these locations forever. They may also rot the living flesh of a creature, and create an intelligent, driven undead creature called a revenant. Also at this level, they 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 their 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. They 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.
Archmaster and Above (●●●●●●+)
Archmages are rare but not unheard of. They don’t follow the same rules as the other ranks. Archmasters become Avatars of the Arcanum they studied, living embodiments of the Watchtower their power comes from. They become conduits for power and are no longer barred from their power by the Abyss and so aren’t subject to Paradox. They take on the physical characteristics of their Arcanum. Archmages can cast all the spells from Initiate to Master, without using any Mana, and in any preferred duration. They effectively gain the powers of a God, including limited immortality (e.g. they stop getting older, and become immune to all diseases), but they’re still human beings and as such can be killed just like anybody else should they become careless. They still suffer penalties of their Inferior Arcanum.
The powers afforded to an archmage of Death are many and terrible. An Archmage’s voice takes on an echoing quality as if it were issuing forth from an open tomb, this ability allows the Archmage to call forth the shades of the ancient dead and converse with them, maybe even control them. This vocal quality does not affect living humans, animals, spirits, or werewolves, just the dead and undead, Kindred included for a short time. An archmage can perform such feats as adding years to his/her own lifespan without taking them off another, or take these years from the Awakened. They're able to raise armies of undead servitors, or consume the whole of a victim’s soul. Even these great and terrible powers pale in comparison to the full potential of archmage of Death: the ability to bring people back to life.
In Conjunction With Other Arcana
A Master of Death and Apprentice of Fate is capable of bringing the dead back to life. So long as the corpse is still intact and did not die of old age, it can be brought back to life and, better yet, Awakened. But the cost of this spell is the caster’s own life; thus, it’s not often used unless the need is truly dire or the mage’s desire to see this person live again is so powerful that their own life becomes less important.