A less powerful order of hermes, a more S&M magic system

Hi all,

My troupe has recently finished a very high powered saga set in the isle of Mann. Thanks to hermes Portal and its author for the de facto amazing tribunal book there since it was extremely useful. In the end we basically were playing Arab potentates sitting in an oil (vis) field. we were extremely vis rich and went out on a rampage to play the system to the limits. Using mountains as slingstones and enslaving dragons to do our heavy lifting was the order of the day. That was great fun, playing the big fishes in the pond.

And we want a change. As it is we had great fun, but it ended up totally breaking our suspension of disbelief. Such power levels are not fit for our vision of Mythic Europe. We thought it to be totally unrealistic for how magic is seen in most fantasy that we enjoy. We prefer magic to be more subtle. If you want to throw level 35 spells (or 50) on a regular basis, you would need to play with your friends and cast the thing with A LOT of props. We also like the use of newt eyes or henbane collected on a moonless night since we think it adds a lot of “cool factor” to magic. Casually incinerating Paris is not what we think should be the act of magi before they are really old. And I can create a magus that can incinerate Paris BEFORE apprenticeship ends. He would die in the process, but that is beside the point :slight_smile:

So, we are about to start a campaign of relatively low level magic. We have decided on the setting (modified Triamore) and are working on the character concepts. Right now we favour the use of hedge magicians and Companion level characters with supernatural virtue packages as our main line of approach. That is our new version of what the OoH is.

However, some people suggested going for a toned down version of the power level of the Order instead. I have been tinkering some with it, and if I am happy with the result will present it to my troupe. I have some time before the saga develops since we are currently chasing a half orc servant of Saruman across Middle Earth with our Dunedain Ranger party trying to prevent it handling him a Palantir after the botched first adventure. We are in the Gap of Rohan already, but things are getting frisky, so it might take a while before the mess is cleaned up. :slight_smile:

Soooooooo, here it comes.


  1. Warning: We play using D6, not D10, so die randomness is somewhat reduced. If you roll a 6, you roll again and add the result (no exploding dice). If you roll a 1 in your first roll, you roll again. If you roll a second 1 it is a botch and we roll for botches. If it is not a botch it counts as a 1.

  2. We use arts as abilities as appeared in Hermes Portal. Spell levels do NOT go down.

  3. Important abilities I want to use: Artes Liberales, Philosophiae, Magic Lore, Magic Theory.

  4. I like the use of kraken eyes, bat wings and the left paw of a griffon stricken down during a storm in spellcasting since I think it adds a lot of flavour to magic

  5. 3 types of magic. Spont, Formulaic, Ceremonial. Ritual is just a variation of Ceremonial that requires vis.

Dex/Com/Pre + TeFo + Aura + 1 x S&M bonus used.
/2 if fatiguing or or /5 if not fatiguing as usual.

I am still unsure on which characteristic to use, but I want it to be more a thing of you commanding magic or manipulating it deftly than you being smart.

You can use Shape and Material (S&M) up to your Magic Lore score. Each one of them adds +1 to your casting roll. So if you have a Phil of 4 and you use newt eyes, bat wings, an emerald or the tongue of a firedrake (or all 4 of them) to gain up to +4 to your casting total. The items used have to be usable /(provide a Shape or material bonus) for the spell, of course. This is to encourage the use of props to magic.

Sta + TeFo + Aura + One S&M bonus
Formulaics are stuff you know well.

You can use a single S&M bonus. HOWEVER, you get the full benefit out of the S&M item used. So if you are using a star ruby (IIRC it was that) to cast a DEO you get the full +10 bonus out of it.

Int+ TeFo + Aura + S&M bonus used.

You can use several items to provide their full S&M bonuses. The maximum number of items you can use is the lowest of your Philosophiae or Artes Liberales. You can always use at least one item to provide bonuses, even if you have a score of 0 in both of them.

I am not totally sure about the abilities. The idea is to use Magic Lore to be the limit in Spont Magic and the more academic things be related to well prepared spells so that educated dudes are better at ceremonial (and ritual) casting, and dudes with a broad knowledge of the world can better improvise stuff on the field. How does that sound?

Your talisman adds its full potential to all your spells. Talismans are cool and powerful, and so greatly appreciated. Quite necessary to throw level 20-25 spells as well! Without your talisman you might have problems reaching that power level

If your casting total is equal or up to +9 above the spell you cast it, but you lose a fatigue level.
If your casting total is +10 above the spell level you cast it without fatigue.

Instead of wizard’s communion the OoH uses Ceremony. It adds Int + the lowest of your Technique or Form (being used in the spell) for the bonus. It is the main reason of why covenants exist.

I am not sure about this, but maybe there will be only tractatus on magic, with an average quality of 8 or so. Still thinking about this. The current book levels are not something we like since evolution of power is too fast for our liking.

I really liked cantations in Apprentices, so I am thinking about allowing magi to buy cantation at 2x1 cost at character creation. So you can buy 30 cantation levels for 15XP, for example.

How does this mess look to you all?



You might also want to look at the other abilities, in my opinion there are too many social abilities, they could be grouped a little.
Folk ken+etiquette
would be a sample, maybe bargain for buying could better be lumped with folk ken, and selling with guile

I was planning to split magic theory into two skills:
Hermetic theory: Bonus to invent spells, investigation, opening apprentices and recognising spells (more along these lines)
Hermetic practice: Vis limit (x3 instead of x2), lab refinement limit, Bonus to enchanting, bonus to Vis harvesting (more along these lines)
Non-hermetic magic would fall under magic lore.

We already have a heap of other house rules. We only have 3 social skills for example (folk ken for perception, bargain for competitive situations and charm for collaborative situations) so yes, we have fone some way in the direction you point out :slight_smile:

However, here we are dealing only with the hermetic magic system. :slight_smile: Any opinions on that? Glad you liked it in any case :smiley:


If you limit book learner and depreciate the quality of summae, you could leave them in, Wizards pouring over books is an image I'd like to keep. With the Arts as abilities, the levels would stay low.

For the characteristics to use, it might be interesting to tie them to the Technique instead of the type, like I posted in the house rules.

Ok. Will consider that. Library rules are a pet peeve of mine, but so far I have failed abysmally to produce anything that I consider mildly worth sharing. My troupe tends to flak my library ideas quite fast, and with good reason :laughing: Last time I was told something along the lines of "you know, your notes are written in a material that supports the use of CrIg pretty well"

Hmm... missed that. Will need to check it. Thanks :slight_smile:

All I can say is that I have a similar (almost identical actually) idea toward a similar goal. However, I haven't seriously tested it because I currently don't have any PC magi in my group and you can't judge a systems performance through NPCs.

I flashed this to the rest of the troupe and after all the insults thrown my way and promises of a painful death for me and my descendants Jordi asked if he could use Ceremony to cast spont or formulaic spells as well. A pair of magi joining (magical) forces to hold a door shut so the demon in the other side cannot cross it is thematic after all.

No idea about this, so I put it in the thread so you can discuss it as well.

First of all, change how Size modifications is handled. Instead of 1 Magnitude equals *10, set it to *3 for one M, *10 for 2 M, *30-*100-*300-*1000 etc.

There´s also the possibility of modifying the R/D/T values like i have done, together with the *3 instead of *10 modifier, it stretches the needed Magnitudes spent on R/D/T rather quickly, so while a mage can still do "DAMN COOL IMPRESSIVE STUFF", they have a much harder time doing it at vast distances, durations or at huge targets(and all at once is practically impossible).
My version puts standard Moon at +5, a Month at +6, an Hour at +2, until sunrise/sunset at +3, until next Moon Phase at +4 for comparison.
Ranges in comparison has the RAW ones at usual levels but adds unrestricted Ranges as much weaker effects at the same levels, so at +2M there is R Rod(roughly 5m), at +3M there is R Actus (roughly 35m), at +4M there is Stadium (roughly 185m), at +1M there is also R Reach(what COULD be touched, but requiring a Finesse roll to work) and R Shadow(affects what you can touch with your shadow during casting).
(Highest Range is Unlimited at +20M, highest Duration is Permanent, also at +20M(and requiring Vis), highest target equals a continent, the Pacific or Selective Radial(out to Range distance) at +10M)

My version probably isn´t suitable for you, but might give you ideas...

This is a very good one to use. Also consider how you handle "the rest", so for example, if you end up below spell level i think you should loose 2 Fatigue levels.

Consider using a version of my addition of patterns(in the HR thread) as well then, set the bonus low and you have the option of spending a lot of time drawing fancy mystical signs and patterns (in a determined place) around you to move a spell from "might cast" to "will cast".

Make it an individual choice by each mage? Possibly in the style of ~get one for free and can add another one through a Major Virtue? This would allow Spont specialists more easily if you want.
Which reminds me, make initiating Virtues harder than in RAW...

You already went to Arts as Abilities. If you want the main forcus of learning to be through teaching or learning from Vis, then ok, but the Ability progression will already cut away on advancement you get from books anyway.
And if you do want to focus more on learning from Vis, make it less dangerous.

It´s not easy to make good changes in that area indeed.

I find the "Hedge Order" has a very different feel from the "Weakened Order". The problem is that Hermetic magic is still extremely flexible and, with enough experience, powerful. Hedge magic tends to be highly restrictive, so all those enhanced items of virtue, magical vis, and magic items/artifacts really do shine. However, I suspect that in-game HM can be too restrictive, creating "paper tiger" or "one- trick pony" characters, especially over the long run. And it's a mess to run and likely very unbalanced.

So, enough chit-chat. Let's get down to buisness...

I liked all the above suggestions, especially about modifying the Size increments. That can really make a difference.

Ah, my favorite house rule...

I think it's important to have a clear conception of what each of these contributes to magic, what it's about (in its Arcane aspects) and what does it do. I would suggest:

Magic Theory is concerned with applying general principles of magic to Hermetic magic. As such, it is mostly a "facilitator" Ability - it allows you to add things like Shape & Material bonuses up to your MT score, and so on.

Artes Liberales allows you to add astrological correspondence, arcane geometry, numerology, and so on to increase your magic.
Philosophiae allows you to draw on the Platonic forms, Aristotelian essences, and so on; in practice, this is Shape & Materials.
Magic Lore allows you to draw on Magical properties of things, adding enhanced Things of Virtue, being able to make use of undistilled raw vis, and so on.

You can switch Magic Lore and Philosophiae to get a more "hedgie", less scholarly, feel, but then Magic Lore will both provide S&M bonuses AND be useful for general knowledge about magical stuff, while Philosophiae will probably feel rather useless...

OK... are RAW Ritual spells still Rituals, or are they merely Ceremonies? I'd recommend Rituals, just because I'd like to keep them rare...

I like the suggestion of using different Characteristics for different Techniques; it has a thematic feel to it, and increases variety.

Nice, but which Ability governs this? I would suggest Philosophiae (adding Shape & Material), bounded by Magic Theory (applies to Hermetic magic); so you add +MT or +Phil, whichever is lowest.

I'd leave Magic Lore out of it, as applying to more Magical properties, to make room for Philosophiae.

I can see the logic of this being an effort, so requiring Sta - but so is fatiguing Spont magic, isn't it? An option would be to let non-fatiguing Spont magic be one char (Pre?), while Fatiguing one will be Sta. Also, if you do decide to use the "by Technique" option, it feels like a waste to do so only for Spont; it should apply to all types.

And why a SINGLE S&M bonus? Why not allow each item to contribute up to his full S&M bonus, so that you CAN use just one if it's powerful enough, but you're not crying because you can't get the fat bonus you could with lots of smaller items for Spontaneous magic?

So, I would suggest - lowest of MT and Phil, but each item adds as much as his full S&M bonus. So formulaic magic doesn't get you higher casting totals (what would be the point of that? It's divided by 2, at least, anyway.)

I can see Int working here.

I'd be worried about power inflation, with so many resonant materials. I would suggest to keep the S&M bonus limited as per formulaic, but allow ALSO the use of Artes Liberales to add astrological, geometric, and numerical bonuses - in practice, you draw lines, wait a little for the right time, place odd numbers of strange things in the right places, and so on - and get to add +AL capped by MT to your total, so lowest of AL and MT.

I prefer to use Phil to represent S&M and AL to represent geometric shapes, astrology, etc. In this framework, Magic Lore doesn't get to add directly, but I'd heavily emphasise the use of enchanced things of virtue and magic-granting vis in the saga, and would require either vis transfer (lab activity) or cap vis use by Magic Lore as well as Magic Theory, so that ML is important to use raw vis and to have access to "magic items", as well as to have knowledge of creatures and auras and so on.



... that is overly generous. I shudder at the thought of a Tribunal gathering to cast a massive Ceremony... and even a single covenant of experience magi could manage - well, let's assume 6 magi, +3 Int each, +10 Te/Fo each; assisting one of their number, this comes to a whopping +65 to his casting total! I thought you said you DIDN'T want them to burn down Paris on a whim.

Decide what power level you want you magi to reach - what Art scores and how much on top of that, to what Casting Total. Include in that Communion, Vis, and (Arcane/Sympathetic) Connections [these boost the penetration, if not the bare casting total], as well as S&M in your case. Include also Magic Focus, Affinity and Puissance, and so on. I'd suggest something like this, for a rough estimate of top-gun power levels:
3.5 die roll
+3 Characteristic
+0 mundane aura, just to a have a standard.
+20 top Te
+20 top Fo
+6 Magical Focus (no, that's not a type; it's a house rule...)
+3 Affinity/Puissant in Te
+3 Affinity/Puissant in Fo
+10 S&M capped by MT of 10
+10 AL bonuses capped by MT
+20 Communion
+20 Vis

118.5 Casting Total, let's round up to 120

This allows casting a Level 75 spell with almost 45 penetration, or reaching 75 penetration with a level 45 spell, and 100 penetration with a level 20 spell. I think that's a reasonable power level, and amounts to having 5 "big" contributions of up to about +20 each (Te, Fo, Phil+AL, Communion, Vis) plus sundry other bonuses, so each "big" component doesn't overshadow the Arts.

Sympathetic/Arcane Connections would increase the penetration further, but are so cool I don't really mind...

So now all you have to do is have a Communion mechanic that can add up to about +20, with 5 extra magi, but not much more with lots of magi. I suggest having each magus add his lowest Art/2, and limiting their number to Leadership. This could result in higher contributions, but not by much, and feels pretty organic and reasonable.

That sounds good. A standard Source Quality of 8 will bring you to about level 20 at one Season per year over 120 years. Affinity will boost that to 24, which is still reasonable.

Looks great. :slight_smile:


OK, will have to rethink Ceremony, then.

I am not that worried about the power inflation because of S&M bonuses. magi achieving large lab totals is NOT a problem in itself. What I hated was magi achiving them with little effort. A single magus could do that. If you need a whole covenant to do that, power level has gone down already since you do not have all your pals available all the time, and it will be a ceremonial/ritual situation, so no fast casting BOAF on a regular basis either. Still, large lab and casting totals need to be possible to get some spells and effects to work. I want magi to be able to cast neptune's wrath, but requiring preparation and effort to do so. I think it works fairly OK to do that :slight_smile:

RAW Rituals are still rituals for sure. You just cast them ceremonially, so you can use the bonuses for ceremonial magic :slight_smile:

Will have to think about removing magic Lore from the equations. At first I do not like doing that, but we will see. I have a grimace thinking about an exmiscellanea knowing a lot of philosophiae, in an sense.

For formulaics I decided to go for a single bonus to recover spell foci in a sense. it is a trinket you use to commune with your magic and channel it, but you do that fast, so you do not pile on a heap of stuff. you just grab your amethyst and cast the spell. You have thought the spell inside out before, so you get the full bonus from the amethyst, but you cannot start rummaging your bag for amethist, black candel, griffon paw and that pit of unicorn hair you have in your shoe.
The bonus is larger than for sponts, but not as large as for ceremonials. And that is what I wanted to have.

Will keep you posted :slight_smile: Thanks all!


I'm curious how you plan to handle aura interactions? Is strong magic just functionally impossible in a high Dominion area?

There are 2 venues of approach.

Laura (our beta SG) has repeatedly pointed out that she find moronic that Magic creatures and auras interact negatively with supernatural powers. The troupe as a whole tends to agree. Option 1 would be to have ONE kind of aura (we are down to 2 realms only already anyway) and have all auras be the same. They will add and detract according to your intentions. A door to hell will happily help you if you try to incinerate a nun, while the basilica of Saint peter might look positively on your Rego Corpus to force an unbeliever to kneel before the altar or to save someone. If in doubt, the aura applies.

Auras provide a much lower benefit/penalty. +1 per aura point.

We only have 3 level of aura already. Weak (+3), medium (+6) and powerful (+9). Medium and powerful auras warp.

But yes, casting powerful magic not aligned with the divine in saint peter's will be quite difficult. The way to do so would be to use magic items and ceremonial magic, with cantation-like spells as your fast and dirty formulaics.


Xavi, it looks great. I think a number of us have been musing along similar lines for some time now but you're the only one to structure this out and playtest it. Please keep us updated how your rules game out and evolve.

I would love to see the similar systems thought by other people. It is always great to read them, since it is fairly easy to dig great ideas from there, even if none of us will ever find the system of another to be perfect :laughing: :slight_smile:


Well, you asked...

My current working thesis starts with the Arts as Abilities at the core. (Yes, YR7 sold me on it).

I've tweaked some of the spell guidelines, mostly making elemental, and especially Creo elemental spells a bit more difficult and a few other things (like blessing crops & fertility magic) a bit easier... with an eye toward making magic more "traditional folk magic" and less "throwing fireballs and conjuring up earthquakes." Sure, really skilled wizards can do that... but you don't start as Merlin.

I came up with much the same idea as Xavi for allowing one item to be as a "spell focus" granting a shape/material bonus to the casting total.

Basic casting total is Communication + Tech + Form + modifiers. (I liked that from Learned Magicians in Hedge Magic Revised)

I include a lot of the "hedge magic" as already integrated, most significantly the Quick Charged Items which changed a lot of the dynamic of how wizards work for us.

Sympathetic magic bonuses provide a flat +X bonus to penetration, rather than a multiplier.

Magic Lore replaces Magic Theory for all purposes... the professional knowledge of wizards includes knowledge of the magical world.

Ideas I'm toying with but haven't implemented in a long running test...

Either a) Divine auras, instead of penalizing spellcasting provide Magic Resistance equal to 3x aura. An individual can choose to lower his resistance by agreeing to allow a magus to cast spells on him... and unscrupulous wizards will try to trick people into giving permission and then casting a different spell altogether or b) Divine and Infernal Auras provide a bonus to spell casting equal to half the Aura... just like you can use divine vis, you can use divine auras... but at a risk of extra botch dice equal to the full aura.

There is no Gift. (I know, this is a total setting changer.) Instead, Ars Magica is a major mystery virtue which gives you the ability to learn the Arts. This virtue most often is initiated by the various magical mystery cults that exist instead of the Order of Hermes.... usually as a second level Initiation, after the petitioner has earned access to the inner mysteries... but it can be self-initiated if someone can find or invent a suitable script. Most magi start their study of the Arts at a much later age and your average magus is more likely to have a few grey hairs and a solid grounding in academics or folk practices gained prior to his or her initiation. (In my current saga, I have two characters... a companion and a grog... with the stated goal of earning their second degree initiation in the Order of Astrologers and gaining access to the Arts. Neither has succeed yet.)

A few other little tweaks here and there, but those are the major ones.

I did indeed! :slight_smile: And this is extremely interesting. Thanks for it. I like the Aura MR thing. Makes a duide in a church holding a relic difficult to affect, while he would be morwe easily affected if he was in the village turf or he had no relic. Instead of 2 thresholds you combine them all into a single MR score. makes calculating your own casting total more neat, and makes the players less aware of the aura they are in unless they cast intellego spells to determine it. Neat. Puts auras in a mystical place again, in a sense.

I had already been sold on Arts as Abilities by MdV in the original HP aerticle, but yeah, great minds think alike :mrgreen: Or crappy people copy the great ones! Chose yours :laughing:

Com as the basic spellcasting ability for you. OK. I am still undecided on that one. I think I prefer Presence, as you commanding magic to do your bidding, but still unsure here.

Sympathetics: OK. AC still provide a multiplier? I guess so.

Magic Lore instead of MT seems OK. Makes creating small arcane items (enriched stuff) a more everyday activity for magi as well, which sounds adequate. However, it makes hermetic Magic, "hedgier" instead of an academic ability, so I am not totally bought on it. yet :stuck_out_tongue:

The Gift thing is really a setting changer!!! :open_mouth: Makes sense somehow. A 20 year old will be able to play tricks on you (read: use enriched stuff and use one or 2 supernatural abilities), but he will be unable to cast "real" spells. Hmm... Will have to think about this. Somehow it sounds right, and somehow it sounds awful at the same time!


That was the other big change that slipped my mind... in my saga I'm only using one magic system, hermetic magic, rather than hermetic and the dozen or so hedge systems. Minor magicians use a variant on the Folk Magic virtue to handle small magics. The Learned Magicians of the saga gain the Astrological Magic virtue, which allows them to add their Artes Liberales to their lab total and ceremonial casting total. So your scholarly magician with an Artes Lib 5 and a Magic Lore 3 can pull off more than your folk wizard with only Magic Lore 5.

I think it's a little more "medieval" ... magic as a talent you're born with is really a more modern concept. Magic, in the Middle Ages, was seen as something you learned... a mystery known to scholars and philosophers who understood the hidden powers of the world.

Mechanically, my intention is that starting magi will be older and have a more developed and rounded skill set. A magus, equal to a typical core rules hermetic just out of apprenticeship, who is also a 35 year old magister in artibus is the "standard" I'm aiming for. He has a full set of academic abilities, Mystery Cult Lore 3, a little Magic Lore (aided by his Artes Lib thanks to Astrological Magic) and a modest number of spells and Arts. He's better at ceremonial magic and making quick charged items than he is at slinging quick spells, so he uses his formulaic magic for things he wants to be able to do quickly... but give him some time to prepare and foresight to make the right items and he can handle himself well.

A magician in his 20's is more likely to be functionally an apprentice, less skilled in Arts, with fewer low level formulaic spells, even more dependent on items and ceremonies, and beholden to his master (which is a whole story hook in itself). My "Storyguide's PC" in my current saga is exactly this.

Anyway... that's the idea. I haven't given it a live playtest yet.

Hmmm..... Wouldn't that be a Magister in Artibus that invests in the A&A systems (theriacs, reagents and inceptions) and that ha s a fair magic lore score to enrich items? I would think so. Add Mythic Herbalism to the mix and you have quite a character there without the need for anything purely magical. Add magical air due to warping and a magical animal companion and you have a nice character :slight_smile:

I am actually planning a folk witch character that is somewhat like that, even if he has a familiar et al. hex+mythic herbalism (+enriched mandrake roots and topaz stones) is a great combo for that witchy feeling IMO.

Regarding my system.
I have a concern that the character development will be flat in my system. I think this is the main potential problem. Raising your Arts from your starting score of 2-3 to (say) 8-9 does not bring you much extra power, really. And it takes a lifetime to do so. So the order is much more stable in power level across the age of the magus. I am not sure I like that. Well, in fact I do not like it much. An old magus should be 2 to 3 times (or up to 5 times) as powerful as a new one.

The idea behind LuciusT proposal might have a less flat progression. Is the saga where you are testing it online so we can see the character at 3 points in history or so? That would be awesome :slight_smile:


That´s one of the downsides with it yes.

One change you could consider is to let Forms advance as Art while Techniques advance as Abilities.
It still keeps the totals down to about 1/2 to 3/4 from RAW but it becomes easier to specialise in Forms, which there are more of, and to generalise by putting as much Xp in Techs as in Forms.

If you seriously want that, then you pretty much need to run with Art advancement for all Arts.

I like this, and fits with Bonisagus admonition for masters to teach their apprentices the forms, first.