A lengthy review of the nature of Certamen.

I've read David Chart's Certámen House rules, and I loved them! They're for the 4th edition, though...
I'm currently SGing under 5th edition rules, but I would like to introduce those rules into my saga.
Do you think it needs any tinkering before it can be played under the new edition rules? It seems to me that the system was designed with high art scores in mind, which are far more difficult to attain under 5E rules.

If it doesn't serve as an accurate proxy for war, then there's no point in doing it, IMO. This means the Tremre thing, where they get a far greater chance of winning at Certamen than war, breaks Certamen.

Yes, but the Tremere don't have -real- power to back their certamen outcomes: they have gamed the system.

Actually, I think this would be true for any other house but (5th edition) Tremere.

Tremere are stronger at Certamen than they ought to be according to their individual, intrinsic magical prowess. But they are also stronger at war than they ought to be according to their individual, intrinsic magical prowess - because they are such an organized, cohesive and militaristic house. So getting into a Certamen with a Tremere is 42% more dangerous than his Art and ability scores would suggest, and getting into a Wizar War with a Tremere is 42% more dangerous than his Art and ability scores would suggest. The equation balances out nicely, and correlation between menace in Certamen and War remains independent of House!

Ahemm. Any hope of an answer to my three questions on certamen? :slight_smile:

Since the CFertamen ability does not exist anymore, you will need to use an other ability here. I would suggest Magic Theory or Finesse, your choice.

Apart from that, you do not need to change anything more about these rules for them to work. The differenc ein Art Scores is not important to the overall effectiveness of the system. both attack and defense totals will be lower, so the net result qwill be similar.


Sorry, where?

Here :slight_smile:

Certamen ultimately 'is' a way for elder magi to get their way. That is the social function it serves, ultimately, to give a right of precedence to the most powerful mage. That is why it was accepted by the Order. It is a //nonviolent// way for Magi to settle who is the better, and then act accordingly without anyone having to die to prove it.

I keep this in the context of the 'warring states' period of Ars history, when pre-Order the Magi were supposedly very aggressive and paranoid toward each other. Not that we have changed terribly much now, depending on saga, but Parma, Certamen, and the Code serve to moderate those tendencies into something that can be a society. But it doesn't mean that the original idea of the better mage should win out has gone away, it just means better mage doesn't mean 'he who is not a cinder' anymore.

Now I will agree, it is more interesting if you have a chance to win, but the social idea of it, and the imperative not to challenge or put yourself in the way of your betters should still be there.

For instance in the Rhine, with the Masters automatically winning Certamen ruling, correct me if I am wrong but this works both ways yes?

If a Master is unhappy with you and/or your covenant he can be a real pain if your covenant has no masters... just by issuing the challenge and walking away with a 'win' verdict. This makes things much worse, IMO, for young magi. It makes them far more open to predation by the elders.

Given the sometimes uneven application of techniques/forms Ladyphoenix has illustrated... I don't necessarily agree with that as a general assumption. If Certamen somehow was more even, and not a 'do you know this one or not?' affair, then it would be true. Logically it 'should' be true, in the context of the setting. But I don't think it is.

I don't know about the exact math, but I agree and would fully expect a Tremere to go and get armed up from the local House storehouse with lots of high penetration expendables and other assorted gadgetry, free of charge so long as the House didn't think he was obviously in the wrong. Winning a war vs. even a young Tremere I think would be challenging because of all of the support and advice he would get. Even worse if you have a Tremere in your own covenant to give him intel.

Perhaps it may seem to you folks like a "simpleton's fix," or perhaps it's just my own lack of confidence in borrowing ideas, but our troupe has added a "Rochambeau" (or "Rock-Paper-Scissors", Jan-ken-Pon, etc.) to Certamen.

Ties give no bonus to that "round" of combat, but the winner receives a bonus to their roll equal 3 times their penetration score.

This system has worked for us pretty well, and gives young magi a fighting chance against older magi. We're still working on it, and revising stuff. We use cards for the Rock, Paper, and Scissors.

I got the idea originally while playing through the "Suikoden" video game series, in which dueling and war strategies are handled similarly.

It seems to me that there are basically three criteria that you'd want to address in almost any mechanic: 1) balance and 2) playability 3) effects on the setting.

1 Balance:
What is 'fair'. Is it ok that young magi generally don't have a chance against older magi, or is it necessary to introduce enough variability to counteract the tendency for older magi to dominate. Personally, I don't mind that older magi dominate... such are the struggles (and stories!) of young magi and their navigation through the personalities and politics of the Order. This is how groups of like-interested individuals coalesce into groups. The way young magi the can 'compensate' in the current system are through champions or vis expenditure. Is this enough? I don't know, but I do know I don't have a problem with senior magi wielding the 'umph' to get what they want. I do also think that one way to add drama would be to enhance 'risk'... While I think that it's ok for older magi to dominate I also think that there should be enough added risk and enough of a chance of failure to discourage 'willy-nilly' certamen, and I don't think the 'current' amount of risk (of losing or in the consequences of losing) does the trick.

2 Playability:
I totally agree that the current (and past) system of 'just rolls' is unsatisfying and certainly not dramatic. In part I think that there are not enough 'decisions' that players can make, or at least the decisions they can make in a contest have limited utility on effecting the outcome. In a hypothetical sense any 'contest' could be reduced to a single roll or expanded to include 'sub-steps' of various mechanics and intricacies and it seems to me that the current system errs too much in the former tendency. The one thing that I do like about the current system is that it doesn't take too long, which I think should also be a primary consideration (or perhaps two mechanical versions of the same event: 'simple' and 'detailed').

3: Effects on the Setting:
These considerations are largely a consideration of the 'consequences' of the previous two considerations. In the current system, the effect on the game is that certamen is generally avoided too much I think. The effect on the setting, however, I think is right on... older magi generally push younger magi around to the extent that they can. It's a story as old as the hills. The truth is that the Order is among the more 'upwardly mobile' institutions in Mythic Europe and because of that, there are traditions like certamen, primi, etc... to enfranchise the incumbent powers somewhat.

The problem is that Certamen as written breaks down the rule of law of the OoH. It is a bully institution much more than a slight-solving method. I would laugh in the face of any tribunal that pretended to be lawful using certamen as a tool.

The Rhine tribunal rule of 1 vote for newbies, 2 for normal dudes and 3 for the big gfishes around is way more democratic and fair than a tribunal that uses certamen. In fact, it is sensible a sa voting mechanism for a meritochracy (sp?) like the OoH.

As written, certamen is a weak spot of the setting at all levels (play, fun and consistency). The idea is cool, but the development sinks really fast.


Simple but probably workable and fairly good...

That rock-paper-scissors thing is sort of what I had in mind. However, I didn't think just doing rock-paper-scissors would be so great. At that point you might as well roll a die to determine who gets the bonus. The version of rock-paper-scissors I had in mind was from Empires in Arms. You had about five options for each of attack and defense. Certain options were inherently stronger against certain options (the rock-paper-scissor part). However, each option had relevance to your troops. Depending on your troops available, outflanking (for example) might do very poorly even though it would be a superior choice. Thus, by having some idea about the opponent's forces, you could make judgements about their preferred attack/defense. It becomes far more interesting than simply rock-paper-scissors. I was thinking it would also provide a place to apply Timothy's cool schools. I'll have to see if I can assemble something concrete for everyone to look at.


Yes, absolutely that is the in-character function of it.

However, out-of-character it is meant to be "fun" for the players. I think it is more fun for the players if the certamen matches that we actually play are relatively fair --- but this is nothing to do with the mechanics for certamen. It just means that the storyguide needs to provide an opportunity for peer vs peer certamen.

Yes, that is exactly what happens.

The point is though, that as players we never sit through dreary die rolling events where the magi are whipped by the masters. If a master challenges our journeymen characters, then he wins certamen, it is over and done with, the story moves on. The only certamen challenges that are played are the more interesting, fun ones that are peer vs peer challenges.

That's an entirely different issue. That has nothing to with how "fun" certamen is for the players. If you don't want your young magi characters predated on by their elders the troupe has to find story reasons for it not to happen. In our saga, the fact that masters are busy with their own business means that they don't really have the time or inclination to bother themselves with what young magi are doing...unless the young magi go out of their way to make a nuisance of themselves.


An idea struck me yesterday, regarding the fun derived from certamen. I haven't developed it any further than some rough sketches and random thoughts; for I believe it would be more sound to let the elders (you folks) to digest, discuss and alter it (or simply spit it out). Otherwise it shall fall under my incompetent hands, where it would become so personalized (or tainted, read whichever satisfies you), that I would be ashamed to post it here afterwards.

So, I was thinking, why not let the procedure of certamen behave as an... another world, in itself? To give a little more freedom to the participants (personally, I would let more than 2 of them in the same "duel"), to loosen the restrictions. If the basic goal of certamen is to determine which side is better in terms of raw magical power (without causing harm); why restrict it? Let them slam all their might on the table!

Here are some ideas to ponder with:
-after choosing the form and technique* (let's call them main, or primary, or something like that); the participants choose a goal**, which should be reached somehow through phantasms; and in the duel they can do (almost) everything to reach it and/or hinder the opponent in reaching it. For example in an Intellego Terram match, the "terrain" becomes a labyrinth, and one could invoke earthquakes, storms, etc to delight his/her opponent :slight_smile:.
-Spellcasting during certamen, "inside" the phantasmal "world". To continue the example, one could use spontaneous, or even formulaic spells*, to invoke those obstacles, or to lighten his/her own way to the center.
-Changing* the "primary" form and/or technique, mid-duel. I would rule it fairly hard a manuever, though. Maybe it could be accomplished by a MuVi spell... Which suggests that Vim spells could wreck serious havoc...
-et cetera...

*maybe let the sides choose a distinct form/technique, or both. The use of primary F&T may (or may not) be granted some kind of mechanical bonus. Or maybe keep the restriction of using only the chosen F&T (up until one of the participants change it).
**a goal, which may, or may not be connected to the chosen form and technique.
***making the phantasms look like the magi; or even, letting the magi percieve the phantasmal "world" as the phantasms, or letting them control from above, like a deity, or a strategist.
****during certamen, spellcasting may or may not have the same rules as in the "real world". Maybe a spell should be designed to be able to be cast in the phantasmal world during certamen, or a new spell mastery is needed instead.
-being able to decide upon the rules in certamen, letting spellcasting, "dirty tricks", manuevers, etc. Similarly to the choice of weapons in a gun duel, or of how many steps are needed to make before turning and shooting, etc.

Sorry for the mess I have made, and for not completing my thoughts properly, but I must run along now (gotta study for tomorrow). I may or may not edit this post later, depending on the time I have by the end of the day.

EDIT: Feel free to ask for further explanation, for I also feel that my ideas presented here aren't clear enough; although I don't want to completely rewrite this post.

Bye all

In a previous edition the Provencal Tribunal resolved every dispute at Tribunal by telling the parties (or their appointed champions) to get in the ring. And that actually doesn't seem unreasonable at all as a reflection of medieval trial by combat. Yes, it's law by the strong, for the strong. But that's the middle ages in a nutshell.

The Church banned trial by combat as sacreligious in 1215. THey thought it legally stupid and religiously presumptuous, for it forced God to make His will known.

So, there are quite a few people in Europe who think trial by combat's a bit silly. And, it kind of is silly: because it doesn't actually reflect the advantages of each side and act as a useful proxy for war. Certamen's a bit better that it is, actually.

While that is all true, the Order of Hermes, and certamen, dates from well before 1215. It seems entirely sensible that the magi of Bonisagus' era could think that trial by combat was an appropriate means of resolving conflict. Of course, some of the more modern minded magi in 1220 might not be so keen on the idea --- but that's a possible motivation for stories about conflict between progressive and traditionally minded magi.

Also if the Church was banning trial by combat in 1215 (which is true) it probably meant that some people were still actually using trial by combat in various circumstances. There wouldn't be any point banning it if no-one was doing it.

Totally untrue. There are plenty of laws that have been added years, even CENTURIES after it became nearly extinct anyway.
Emphasis here on "no-one" and "nearly extinct", meaning it may still happen but its possible it happens once a decade in whole of ME.

Just a few shots in the dark on Certamen.

  1. It isn't intrinsically boring to be rolling dice. Mellee duels are resolved in a similar fashion, not to mention casting spells in a real spell duel. So that it involves die rolls isn't a negative aspect to the rules.

  2. The use of Vis should not be allowed. This prohibits the buying of a victory. As the principle of a duel of honor is that both sides be equally equiped it goes right out the door. At the very least winning by use of Vis should result in a negative reputation.

  3. Again as it is a duel of honor, picking on someone who can't win should also result in the reputation "Bully" and people responding in term to the person in that respect.

  4. To make Certamen more interesting to the players it needs to be intergrated into the game far more. One option is to embed it into the law. Not as an alternative but as necessary in some cases. Thus a confict could proceed through: tribunal mediation, to certamen, and lastly wizard war. So it gives it a place in the law, and one that is clearly defined. But it should also be a distinct part of tribunals. To be the leader of a tribunal should require Certamen challenges (other things should also be required but at the least you should have to win a certamen tournament). Also making a "point of personal privilage" could result in a certamen challenge to allow this. Certamen should be a regular part of the mages lives much like anyone who carried a sword in the company of others can expect to be called out to show your skill.

  5. Get rid of the tremere focus on it. That just renders it silly for the other players.

  6. Publish some stories where it is a focus. This more than anything else will help make it more interesting.

Back to it being a part of the lives of mages. This requires that it be codified and very clearly codified. Viewing it as duel helps. Also there should be levels of it, so two mages could have a certamen duel to decide who stands watch first (or something equally trivial) which has no impact on them in a real manner (the equivelent of a friendly arm wrestle), to a duel which leaves the looser drained of fatigue, to a serious duel where injury and possibly a twilight trigger is involved.

Having Certamen trigger twilight would also make it something an older mage thinks about before just using bully behavior.

Lastly it is difficult to see how it could be allowed to dominate tribunal meetings, which is why I suggested the leader also be good at it. But it is sensible that it could be raised as an objection. This should have a strong RP effect. So if people are willing to enter into a likely loosing match over the issue all the rest of the tribunal understands they are serious about their objections.

It would also be possible to put in things like "Take back that last statement or meet me in the ring." Require a duel to change the agenda or add a point to it (if you are serious enough to duel about it then it is worthy of the tribunals time). Also loosing at it, depending on the seriousness could result in the looser oweing the winner something (Vis, a book, training etc) in the same fashion the looser of a tournament battle gave his arms and armour to the winner.

Fundamentally unless you have intergrated Certamen then it is left as the bit on the side, the coloured sugar sprinkles on the top of the icing etc.

My feeling is that give it a clear place in the mages lives or just delete it from the game. Wishy washy rules are rarely good for a game and the last thing you want is it devolving into another place where min-max-twinkbot-munchkin-rule-lawyers dominate.