A Matter of Hermetic Law

Here’s the situation:

A small, poor spring covenant ran into some local trouble and all three Verditi magi spent a few nights in the local lord’s dungeon. A visiting magi came by, talked his way into the local covenant, killed the autocrat, stole some books, vis and magic items and burnt down the covenant to cover his tracks. He was operating under the assumption that the three magi were going to be killed.

Well, they weren’t. They got out and discovered that someone burnt their covenant down. This wasn’t too surprising considering the situation they were in. What was surprising is that the stairwell to the basement, which housed the library and supply rooms, had been sealed up—clearly by magic.

It will not be hard for the Verditi to figure out who did it. In fact, they already know, they just aren’t certain, but with a little confirmation from the Quasitores that won’t be a problem. Tribunal is in a couple seasons and I want to bring the matter up then.

Is this illegal? If so, what would be an appropriate punishment?

Now, my players seem to think that they won’t be punished, since the Verditi couldn’t defend their covenant, but I’m not so sure it works that way, and even so the head Verditi will have the political skill to get some action. (And there are a lot of uncovenanted magi who will side with the V.) And they think the V. won’t want the Quaesitores involved because they may have broken the Code in the matter that got them hauled off to the dungeon in the first place. But to my mind, this is pretty clearly depriving the V. of their magical power.

Any thoughts?

Were the Magi actually dead?
Until they are dead, or in final twighlight...
Deprivation of magical power..pretty clear from where I sit.

If a Magus was in twighlight for a couple of seasons, and his sodales raided his sanctum for his stuff. When he returns and finds his goods missing...
Loss of power...

A group of Magi out on an adventure for a couple of seasons...they return to find a visiting redcap has taken all the covenant Vis and books...he told the autocrat it looked like they weren't coming back, so he was 'protecting' the magical interests of the order...come to find out out he sold it...

Now...consider. A local covenant is destroyed by a demon (ouch). The neighboring covenant recovers what it can from the shambles (two seasons later).
This isn't a problem...
Now...one of the Covenants members was in twighlight from fighting the Demon, and just returned...
This is messy...
I would say the second covenant owes the magi something...perhaps extending membership (careful there) and a quantity of Vis...but something IS in order.

The crime that got the troupe thrown into jail is seperate an unrelated to the crime that they experienced.

One could argue that by actually sitting in jail and doing their time, they followed mundane law. Having done this, they did NOT breach the Code (interfering in mundane affairs) as fighting the inprisonment with magic would likely be seen as drawing attention if not interfering in mundane affairs.

Again, that someone took advantage of them while they 'maintained the peace' with the mundanes by servine their time is a gross exploitation of thier situation. Any competant Q could argue that should the perpetrator be set free, then any magus who leaves his covenant accepts that another magus has the right to pillage their property. This of course will not fly.

Furthermore, the guy didn't simply sack the covenant and steal a few books. He essentially leveled it. Based on deprivation of magical power (times the number of magi affected), I can only see the 'fair' punishment being death.

Seriously, as a victim who has lost not only all mystic revenue, but all revenue all together (food included), would you settle for anything less than death? As a 'neighbor' who didn't want the same thing to happen to one self, would you want to establish a precident that allowed this to possibly happen to one self? I think everyone of the Tribunal, and likely multiple Tribunals would consider the destruction of a covenant a High Crime.

Furthermore, TL suggests that Q's don't want to be bothered with 'the little things'. This seems pretty cut and dry. I suggest the covenant assaulted declare Wizard's War on the Magus who robbed them. If they don't feel they can handle the magus by themselves, call for some Hopolites (essentially a posse) to aid in the guys death. Waiting for a Tribunal seems absurd. Kill the guy and argue that he would have been found guilty anyway. Pay the Hopolites for their time and they will support your version of things when a Hopolite checks it out. Unless your hiding something from us, any reasonable Hopolite will dot his i's and cross his t's and move on to something that isn't as cut and dry.

So crack those knuckles, stretch those arms, and go kill yourself a covenant-wrecker.


If you read carefully, it seems to me that the Verditi who spent their time in jail were the NPCs. The Players were the Covenant raiders.


Yep. Sorry, I could have been more clear on that. But it does make the OOC situation more difficult. I really want to punish both the character and the player for his actions, but deciding how is a challenge. And the next session is going to be Tribunal, so the Verditious wouldn't really have much time to act before then anyway.

The player has both a familiar and an apprentice. Perhaps either or both should be stripped from him/killed as punishment.

He should be Marched.

Given Guernicus's own history in TL, I don't see him getting any sympathy from the Quaesitores, nor from the Tribunal. That's precisely the kind of things the Order was formed to prevent.

Yes that makes things harder, unfortunately. :frowning:

What restitution does he have to offer? Can he single-handedly rebuild the covenant?

That's not all black and white.

The reckless magus could later argue, that he only helped the three Verditii to keep their Oath of Hermes: these could no longer prevent their neighbours, who had them jailed, from searching and ransacking their covenant, finding Hermetic books - perhaps even on Parma or Order of Hermes Lore -, Hermetic correspondence, magical apparatus and so on.
And having your mundane neighbours in this way get a lot of good sources on the Order of Hermes would certainly be endangering Tribunal or even Order by most dangerous meddling with mundanes. Killing the autocrat could be interpreted as removing an unprotected witness. Sealing up the basement could be interpreted as hiding evidence which could not be removed. And so on. (Just think of the clean up man from 'Nikita'.)

Your magus will need allies at the Tribunal to pull this off, but might find them especially among the older magi adverse to fools who get themselves caught or even found by mere mundanes. They might still have him pay through the nose in terms of favors and obligations, though. His actions will certainly not endear him to younger magi - so a bad reputation 'old magi's pet' might be in order also.

Kind regards,


Just curious: why punish the player? I don't see that going very far...

How about this: run a session where the players (get a few extra if you have to!) play the Verditi, discussion the situation. What do they decide? Covert retribution? Wizards War? Wait for tribunal? Call on the offender and demand retribution? Sit home and sulk? Call on their house for help?

Whatever they decide, this has several nice features: the player gets to see the ramifications of his characters actions much more clearly then if he is just visited by the consequences; the player cannot blame you for the misfortune that results;it is oodles of fun, especially if you get in a couple of visiting players that have no mercy on the regular players.

The biggest hurdle is getting the regular player(s?) associate themselves with the Verditi for a while, and not worry about the consequences for their regular characters. Even if you don't think your players are capable of this, I'd suggest you ask them if they would like to do this. If they say "Hey, cool!", then things are likely to go fine. In any case, if the result is something you cannot live with, you can always declare the episode a wishfull dream of the PCs...

Futher random notes:

  • I think killing either the apprentice is a horrible idea: they are an infinitely valuable resource -- the future of the Order! Taking the appentice away sounds much better, but it also sounds like waay too little. Burning out the Gift would be more in proportion to what he has done, if you don't want hime renounced and marched outright!

  • How many people know about what has happened? I would think that very few mages are going to be willing to let the rogue enter their covenant anymore -- or even let him know where it is. A reputation of "Murderous Thief of Magical Power" seems the least that can happen.

  • Perfect opportunity for an infernal contact: "We're the only ones who can help you now..." (For extra pugnancy, get the character to sell his soul, but make the help he gets too little and too late -- so he ends up both dead and damned.)

  • If the character realizes the shit he is in, best options for him might be running away (Flaw: Renounced Magus coming up...) or begging for mercy.

  • How set in stone is the "next session is tribunal" bit? Can you inject restrospectives or sift focus elsewhere? What is the in-game timeframe? How much time have the victims had between discovering the situation and the upcoming tribunal?



Death is the only fitting punishment for the terrible crime the character has commited.

You need to make the player very much aware of this.

Next you need to offer him the only out that reasonably exists. I.E. strike a deal with the three Verditii. And the only reasonably way to do this is to become more useful to them alive than you would be dead. Realistically the player will have to offer enormous compensation to the magi to atone for his crimes. I'm talking a staggering amount of vis and books, over and above the amount stolen, and the funds to rebuild the covenant to a "better than before" condition. Also, some symbolic and deeply painful/humiliating atonement would be needed, such as working for a year as the the servant of each of the magi.

Even with all of this, he needs to be extremely eloquent and persuasive as the Verditii are likely going to be really mad at him.

Death of familiar and loss of apprentice are guaranteed. By his own hand would be a nice touch. Basically he is totally at the mercy of the mages he wronged and its in his best interests to convince them to spare him rather than kill him.

Now, in my experience, PC's generally are far too prideful for this (mine are at least) and having the PC marched would be appropriate.

In Hermetic law he is certainly deader than dead. This is the whole point of the order after all, it exists to stop this kind of attack.

Oh thats nasty. I like that.

In fact, this could take the saga in a whole new fun direction. The player sells his soul and escapes justice but is nearly kicked out the order, heavy penalities, massive nasty reputations. The only guys that seem to understand are the demons he has allie himself with. The start of a slippy slide into hell, dragging as many other magi with him as possible.

Oh the angst!

Because I want to not reward psychopatheic behavior. More or less on a whim he murdered an autocrat, stole some vis and burnt down a covenant. That's not a behavior I want in my game.

Interesting idea. I don't know if they'll go for it, but I'll consider it.

Sorry, I meant stripping him of his apprentice (he is a Bonisagus) and killing his familiar.

Heh, well if he doesn't lose his apprentice over this, the boy has been infernally tainted (they don't know this yet) so this has strong merit.

Pretty set in stone. He went to the Verditious covenant in the fall, Tribunal is the following Summer. With various fall out, the visit has strethced into three sessions: his arrival and torching, the companions saving the Verditious (he didn't tell any of the PCs what he had done, so the local lady went and rescued the Verditious from their certain doom, thus complicating his brilliant plan of letting them die), and then the Verditious coming to the player's covenant asking for aid.

I don't want this to drag on much longer, but if I had a suitable idea I'm sure I could push Tribunal back another session.

You could torment him with an Angel...or the spirit of someone killed in the fire...

A returning dilemma: letting a character survive vs. the integrity of the setting.

Why a dilemma? Otherwise SG wouldn't be so reluclant to kill of characters. Which is of course good, because the players have a lot invested in their characters - it might make a big effort for them to get under skin of their next character and because their deaths should never be meaningless, since that would be a very disappointing closure to the time you've enjoyed playing said character.

You could also say it like this:

The same certainly applies to invested role playing characters. Accident or for no good reason is a shitty way for your character to be finished off (pardon my french). That's why SG are often very reluctant to off PC's.

But... then there's the integrity of the setting! An important part of a role playing saga is its believability. Not that most of us, I presume, believe in medieval magic wielding Orders, but the fact is that given the presumtions of the setting, it should seems cohesive. Why else having a lot of stories with plots about staying clear of just solving your daily challenges by transgressing against the Code? To do role playing we all have to engage in something called a "fictional contract" - among other things that our imaginations are all in "tune". That the world of Mythic Europe is believable to exists independently of the little corner of it we portray in our indivudial sagas - and that the Quaesitors enforce the Code - this sound simple, but it's a cornerstone of making the fiction believable.

Therefore, if we grossly set aside the setting because of our understandable reluctance to kill PC, the setting and ultimately the role playing experience might suffer.

My own take on your situation would therefore be, honestly not knowing if I would have this reflectivity if I were in your shoes, to offer the character (player) a tight loophole (I would prefer one of the non-Infernal, because it is almost to obvious, and if you use one of the Hermetic loopholes the consequences of not honoring it will seem much more direct), but also stressing the gravity of his actions and the certain consequences.

I also think that the loophole should at least entail losing familiar, apprentices, resources, reputation and prossibly his dignity.

And finally, if he doesn't follow the details of the loophole I would minister swift, unwavering and unavoidable "judgement". Thus you've secured the integrity of the setting and if the character doesn't oblige, his death will be of his own conscious chosing - and then it can't be Accident or for no good reason.

Aye definatly give him some flaw that will follow him for a LONG time if you decide not to march him.

Supernatural or not, make it something he cant ignore.

Personally I'd have him marched, but to be fair give him a season (or to the end of the season) to put affairs in order before the hunt begins.
With some work he may be able to get some sort of support and continue on under an assumed name with dark secret. (one more strike and he's toast, and he'll know it)

fake your death, then masqurade as a hedge mage that wants to "join" the order is the 1st though on how I'd do it. You'd loose a few seasons as you were "taught" parma and made to learn the code

Is this typical behaviour for this player?
It might be better to ask him if he wants to continue with this character.
Going behind the other PCs backs ,
and plotting murder (that they might have been implicated in) ,
seems disruptive.

He may well see having an Infernal Pact as a good thing ,
it gives him less reason to work with the other players
and more reason to backstab them.

Have him work as an indentured Lab Slave for the NPC Magi.
Make it 02 out of 04 Seasons every year.
If he is allowed to improve , he can make restitution that much sooner.
A magically binding oath could be placed on him ,
his Familiar being used as an arcane connection.
The Familiar is not killed , but placed in a stasis of some kind.

Possibly even have the Familiar replaced with an Infernal Double.

I am afraid as a GM I would let the character be marched. Not only is it a Hermetic crime , there was no real effort to cover it up . Qualifies as Blatant idiocy to me and I would kill the character, I would have made sure he knew what he was doing but then

A good occasion to use those nifty Guernicus rituals like The Will of Alatheia.

Ok, I think we all need to take a step back and reevaluate this situation.

Yes I misunderstood who was who. Essentially one character is the 'bad guy' having sacked and destroyed a covenant?

The various contributors have addresses many issues. The continuity of the game world. The stability of the table top world. RaRodger has made it clear he has no interest in rewarding psychopathic behavior.

First the table top world. How do the players feel about this particular player and his character. Does the player get along with the other players? If the player plays trouble makers, causing stress in the game, is this 'game' stress or 'player' stress? I make a distinction because I feel there is one. Essentially some characters are headaches for other characters, but the players get along quite well. That's 'game' stress. When one player through his actions or his characters actions cause the PLAYERS stress, that's Player Stress, and this needs to be resolved.

I focus on this, because the GM not only moderates the gaming world, but they moderate the table and you need to have a happy troupe. Your resolution needs to work in a manner that satisfies you as well as the troupe. It need not satisfy any one individual, but the TROUPE needs to see it as a reasonable solution.

Second the gaming world. I think numerous contributors have suggested that in a world that makes sense, this sort of crime can not be ignored. While my first answer quickly said kill em, that's because I got confused on who's who.

The player character should be killed off if their story has been told or if their death will resolve table top problems. However in terms of roleplaying it may be more interesting to keep the character alive.

First, I like the idea of a special session. A majority of the troupe plays NPC's who need to decide the fate of the character. This will not only put the fate of the character into the hands of the players, but it will allow them to articulate reasons for that fate. Finally, the characters get to play other characters for a session. That sort of break can be refreshing. We've done this in the past and it's always fun. Forget about stats, it all about personality for that session.

I think Master Berengar layed out a perfect plan to keep the character alive. Print it out and follow it word for word. This would involve heavy roleplaying on the part of the killer turned defendant. He would need to aggressively roleplay to keep himself alive. He would have to argue and convince his peers (the players) that his actions helped the Order. This in ingenious and would require a great deal of acting, and possibly some bargaining to boot.

If the arguement presented is believed, it's possible to walk away from this experience without suffering any sort of punishment at all. Hopefully the process of nearly dieing and saving oneself through roleplaying and barter would clarify to the player why such actions can't be done in the future. This may solve your problem of not wanting to severly punish the player, but to make him understand this behavior is unacceptable.

Another alternative presented was the diabolic deal. A demon could work a trick altering the circumstances in a manner that allowed the defendant to be found innocent. But now the character is demon plauged and carrying a dark secret. This sort of roleplaying opportunity shouldn't be dismissed. This one act, could define the character the rest of their days and the demon simply won't go a way, and the magus can't ask for help as such an admission would lead to the character being Marched.

I think there has been plenty of ammunition to clarify why the character should die. I think roleplaying should clarify why the actions were wrong, but I also think roleplaying could save the characters neck and possibly be the source of future stories depending on the punishment inflicted or avoided.

Tuura speaks well. I'll address another angle further.

As Tuura points out, the distinction is between player's whim that doesn't fit the character, and an actually sociopathic character. I'll assume that the first is the case, since that is the trickier situation -- all the medicine on the table so far is eminently suited to dealing with the second.

The question is, what do you want? Get rid of the player without explicitly kicking him out, or make him mend his ways? In the first case, punishing the player is exactly the way to go, but in the second I'd recommend against it.

Assuming you want to make him to (1) never do it again and (2) understand why it was not OK, you need to find out why he did it. Question is, does he know he did wrong, and does he know why it was wrong? People can be both astonishingly stupid and incredibly astute at times, so if he was my player I'd just ask, even if I was sure I knew the situation.

If he was aware that what he did was not acceptable, and is one the same page with the actual reason for it not being acceptable, then "WHY THE HELL DID YOU DO IT THEN, YOU TWIT?" would be my next question, followed by rescinding his invitation to the game. ,-)

If there was some misunderstanding on his part, then I'd explain the situation to him from my perspective. If he doesn't get the message (or gets it but doesn't care), then kicking him out is the only reasonable action in my book. Most people (in my assumption), however, are not likely to engage in deliberately disruptive behaviour: either they mend their ways easily enough when they realize what the shared goal was supposed to be, or they realize that this is not a game they actually want to play.

Of course, if he is a buddy outside the gaming context also, then kicking him out can be socially awkward. The best you can hope for in that case is probably to get him to "resign" himself, saving face, etc. AKA "Not My Kind of Game Guys, I Hope You Don't Mind" solution.

(Obviously, I'd not hold this discussion in front of others, but privately.)

As for in-game repercussions, I'd talk to him about them after resolving the possible misunderstandings. If he was under some wierd misapprehension, and it really seems that he would not have done this had he understood what kind of game you are trying to play, then I would try to minimize the situation. Maybe he was under some sort of spell from a malignant fairy-lord, who wanted to get one of the books from the covenent? Whatever. Water under the bridge, etc, provided the player is less of a problem in future.

Out of curiosity, what did the other players think of his escapade?

Not Ars, but sort of on-topic still:

Robin's Laws of Gamemastering

has lots of good, sensible, down-to-earth stuff about communication between players and gamemaster (and more).

As a secondary point, I sometimes play "troublesome" characters whose actions should cause them a world of hurt, and every time a GM is lenient and lets the consequences slide, I am deeply frustrated: I wanted the consequences! I wanted to get the character into deep trouble! ...so I'd say that if this was all in character after all (the character just happens to be a murdering SoB), then toasting him is what I'd want, if I was the player...



I completely concur with Tuura's points (exept from one point, that I don't think killing PC are the best means to solve table top problems). Foremost try to find a way to make some memorable roleplaying out of the situation. I also like the "special session" model (playing the verditii or a gathering of guernici) and we have had very great experiences doing somethings similar to it. And keeping the character alive (here's to you d31m0z!) is certainly a better avenue to interesting sessions, even though as earlier described I wouldn't hesitate to outline the stakes!

If my former post was a bit grim, it was mostly because I got derailed by an interesting topic IMO: PC deaths being meaningful and true to setting vs. for no good reason. I presume good relations between the players as a prerequisite for good sessions, so my draconic means would only be to curtail characters, not players. And to keep the fiction alive 'n' kicking. And foremost to have interesting intrigues ahead of you; to inspire more great role playing!