Affinity+Puissant is Bad Advice for -- Experienced Players

I just recently decided to run the numbers on the general suggestion that beginners should take 2x Affinity + 2x Puissant + MMF + Skilled Parens. (That is the general suggestion, right?) Having looked at Affinity+Puissant recently, I noticed that Affinity effectively devalues Puissant. It does so enough that Affinity + 50-experience Virtue is better than Affinity + Puissant until you reach 26 (or 23+3) in the Art. (In terms of Skilled Parens or Gild Trained vs. Puissant, it takes until 31 or 28+3, and that doesn't handle the spell levels or extra experience.) This means you're better off for quite a while going with Arcane Lore (using these points in Magic Theory, Penetration, etc.) and Educated (using these points in Artes Liberales and Latin) and diverting the points that would have been placed in these areas from apprenticeship over to the two Arts. Sure, eventually you get past both Arts at 26 and Affinity + Puissant becomes superior, but this is about the advice for being good right out of the gates.


I'm probably to blame for this being the general suggestion, if indeed this is generally agreed. But I wasn't trying to say that this was the optimal starting setup, only that it was a very good starting setup. It has excellent power now, a surprising amount of versatility for a build that some would dismiss as a one-trick pony, and room to grow. Oddly enough, I wasn't min-maxing. I consider this a completely reasonable starting point.

Expanding upon your point, or perhaps saying it differently:

A starting magus should probably have around 100xps in Abilities that cannot be gained with normal, pre-apprentice xp. If we call it 110xp, Good Parens plus Educated plus Arcane Lore let him recover the 110 xps from his starting 240 and has 50xp more, letting him put 145-->218xps into each Art for 20/20.

My setup has 2*Puissant Art instead. That leaves 190xp for Arts, or 95-->143, which is 16+3/16+3. That's not as good. In a sense, it is 32xp behind your suggested setup, and it will take a while to catch up. But I'm assuming that he will catch up. (Or rather, I'm leaving that possibility open, since a generic AM campaign sort of assumes characters will be around for decades.)

If you don't assume he'll catch up, then xps up front are superior.

I didn't include Gild Trained in the default because it isn't core, and core was all there was when I first suggested this. Also, not everyone plays with all the supplements. It's a superior virtue for this purpose. So is Baccalaureate.

Of course, a character can have all of the above. If a magus is permitted to use the 90xps from Gild Trained for Arts, that's potentially 390xps for Arts, which allows something like 23+3/24+3. Virtues? Focus+2*Puissant+2Aff+GP+GT+Bacc+ArcLore, which leaves 2 points, one of which is probably a House Virtue. That's the min-maxed version.



(well, some Flaws like Covenant Upbringing can further push this along :slight_smile: )

I don't recall anyone ever suggesting that as a serious character for play. It's some advice for maximizing a particular technique + form combination but I always felt that pastime was more about message boards than table tops. (Don't get me wrong I'm here more frequently than I play, it's useful advice.)

Also I imagine that comparing puissant to a bunch of xp gets more complex results than just better at level 23 and up. When I looked at affinity alone versus puissant alone I got (using the worst case scenario for affinity where it is never rounded up) this:

xp, how they compare
<44 puissant is better
44 they are equal
45-51 puissant is better
52-54 they are equal
55-60 puissant is better
61-65 they are equal
66-69 puissant is better
70-77 they are equal
78-79 puissant is better
80-101 they are equal
102-104 affinity is better
105-113 they are equal
114-119 affinity is better
120-126 they are equal
127-135 affinity is better
136-139 they are equal
140 -152 affinity is better
153 they are equal

153 affinity is better

I would imagine that there are similar ranges of xp for your two options.

I don't think so? It usually only comes up with respect to certain over-specialized builds, doesn't it?

Arcane Lore, Educated and the like are useful for characters with a short expected life spans, but do tend to loose their luster.

There's also the matter of the (soft, suggested) limit of a score no higher than 10 at Gauntlet (ArM5, p. 32), which may or may be relevant in your context.

Yes. I think I overstated things. It's really not such bad advice. What had happened was that I noticed how much Puissant Art's value had declined by taking the Affinity, and it surprised me. For example, let's say you pay for 18 with an Affinity. That costs (2/3)(1819/2)=114. Now you tack on Puissant, bumping you up to 21. If you had spent experience, you would only have had to spend 40. So taking anything that gives you 50 points would provide a spare 10 that could be placed elsewhere, while taking 60+ (Baccalaureate, Gild Training, Skilled Parens) would provide you so much more.

Yes. That is a good way to divert points. While it doesn't give you the extra 50 points, it does allow for more in Arts.

26+ for 50-pointers, but yes, far more complex. This is where things like the spell levels for Skilled Parens come in in strange ways, so it's not just 31+ but actually higher.

I've done similar examinations, especially with Affinity with (Ability) to show Affinity is generally the better option sooner than people realize. I was trying to keep things simpler here since I was comparing several things and combinations of those things. Note with your analysis just how soon you'd prefer Affinity. It's always the better choice at an investment of 80+, meaning 12+3=15, slightly earlier than the 15.87 would indicate. Also, since the 78-79 region is so narrow that you're likely to shoot right past it and that at this point the rounding might well make the difference, I would argue that Affinity is really the better choice at an investment of 70+, meaning just past reaching 11+3=14.

My point was just how long it takes to lose their luster. It's not until you get to scores of 26 in each of those two Arts. And you've been served a lot better by them until you reach 26. (Also, it's better to be at 26 without Puissant if you care to write/teach). Reaching two 26s is pretty far away for most characters, especially if you try not to start above 13 or so (the 10 adjusted for Puissant/Affinity). The actual statement is

But Ken's point is quite valid in my opinion. Here is this core book statement about not wanting to be over-specialized in a game that specifically rewards being specialized over not. As Ken said, there is "a surprising amount of versatility for a build that some would dismiss as a one-trick pony." The book is dismissive like this. But when it comes to being useful at spontaneous magic, dumping tons of experience into one Technique and one Form will allow you to do some really useful things via spontaneous magic that you just can't pull off well in other ways. It becomes fairly easy to pull off level-10 spontaneous effects in 13/50 of the combinations and level-15 to level-20 spontaneous effects in 1/50 of the combinations. That's over 1/4 of all Hermetic combinations. As "probably unwise," I've never read it as any sort of a rule, just advice; and knowing how things work, I read it as poor advice.


Also, it can be quite interesting to see just what you actually can pull off, with just those specialized Arts. But probably not for a pure beginner?

I've played it both ways.

I don't disagree, except it does somewhat depend on the player and the saga. How many magi are there - how many are likely to be present in a given situation. What resources are available for studies. How much the troupe values (and promotes) versatility etc.
But you know that. :slight_smile:


For a beginner, I think it is excellent advice. A more advanced player, such as yourself, can certainly squeeze more. But my suggestion is so awesomely good, that some GMs won't allow it, seeing it as the worst kind of munchkinism.

  • It only uses core

  • It works well in a game set long after Gauntlet

  • It works very well for a starting character, just 1 effective Art point behind using Arcane Lore and Educated instead of Puissant, and with something to look forward to.

  • It even works if the GM points to the very bad advice in the core rules about not starting with an Art above 10, and rules that the bad advice is not advice at all but a campaign requirement. At that point, Educated and Arcane Lore don't really help, Affinity does not carry its weight because it only acts on 37xp per instance, and Puissant is great and necessary, because starting Arts are limited to 10+3.

In other words, it is simple and it scales.

Optimal? No. Great advice for a beginner about to join some random saga? Yes.


I agree with the math, obviously. But the value of Puissant Art didn't decline by taking the Affinity, its just that its relative value compared to extra xps declined. And, in a sense, that was true even without an Affinity: Good Parens, for example, lets me take an Art at 10, leaving me 5xps and 30 spell levels, whereas Puissant Art gives me an effective score of 3 in that Art. I need to dump at least 120xp into an Affinity before the Affinity is as good as just taking a virtue that gives me 60xp.

This kind of finagling is not for beginners, imo.

Virtues that grant xps can be awesome. (Marko posted an early magus built around this idea, in which he grabbed lots of extra starting xp and multiplied it with Flawless Magic; not for beginners. I have posted odes to Strong Faerie Blood and how it can be used to create a very capable starting character; for advanced beginners.)

So yeah, I totally agree with your math. Just... not for beginners.

Probably. Affinity is obviously better than Puissant once it provides at least as many levels, but it has extra value as an investment. Actual value depends on the game.

Your analysis of Affinity vs Puissant Magic Theory was definitely an interesting take on it.

Yup! It also helps you get an awesome familiar and train a competent apprentice. It also helps you learn spells quickly in your specialty.

Did you push CrCo to become the next great healer in your lineage of healers? You can also cast a respectable Pilum of Fire and teleport at need; go ahead, take the starting spells.

Are you a master of InMe? You can also know about other things, and can do interesting things with other people's minds.

You're great at some things, competent at quite a few things, and still need the other PCs because there's a lot you cannot do that they can. If every PC did this, choosing a different TeFo specialty, you'd get a great foundation for a covenant.



I changed the title up top. I acknowledge you're right, that there is certainly simplicity to it that is beneficial while being strong and eventually pulling ahead.

Yup! And two more things: it allows for more Talisman space and, perhaps most importantly, you can get great penetration with your primary effects. The basic strategy is great. The advice in the core book about over-specialization is trash.


Speaking of unfortunate advice in the rules...

The Tremere certamen advice (raise 2T and 2Fo) only works if you're not a Tremere:

At low power: Generalist has a 5 in everything, ready to train his apprentice. That costs 225xp. Tines has four Arts at 10, the rest at 0, for 220xp. If they know about each other, they tie (5+5 vs 10+0.) If they don't, Tines has a chance to get 20. Advantage, tines: You have the benefit of high Arts and you'll either tie or beat the generalist.

At higher power: Generalist has a 10 in everything, for 825xp. Tines has 11 Arts at 5 to train an apprentice, and four at 17 or 18. If they know each other, the Generalist loses, 20 to 22. If they do not, the Generalist has a chance to lose even more. Advantage: Tines.

Unless you're a Tremere. Then the generalist can count upon doubling the lowest Art for 15 at low power and 30 at high power, compared to Mr Tines who gets 10 or 27.5.

I can't quite call that trash advice, since it is good to have a few high Arts. But it's probably not what a Tremere should do to maximize Certamen.

Maybe leave one TeFo very low?



Note that the Tremere "advice" is not really character-building advice. It's what the Tremere canonically are supposed to do, because "it's good for certamen" in the sense that they are always guaranteed one high Art in a duel in this way. I had initially taken umbrage at this statement, because I thought it made little sense (by a mechanical analysis similar to yours). However I am no longer so sure of my initial position.

One important thing to note is that "specializing in four Arts" does not mean "to the utter exclusion of every other Art". Maybe a Tremere who specializes in 2 Forms and 2 Techniques puts half of his Art xp into those 4 Arts, and half in the remaining 11 Arts. With 220-225 xp to spend, that could be, say, 28xp in the each of the four "Tines" (for a total of 112xp) and 10xp in every other Art (for a total of 110xp). A Tremere who does it is guaranteed to get 7 and 4x2 in a duel, with a chance to get 7 and 7x2, which is probably better than what he'd get with 225xp (vs. 222) spent to get a score of 5 in everything, yielding a 5 and 5x2. This is even more true if the character has Affinity/Puissant Art and chooses his Tines accordingly. Note that this is probably dumb for a starting character, because it lands one just 1 point short of the score 5 needed to train an apprentice, and ill-positioned to benefit from primers too, but we are looking it only from a "certamen effectiveness for a given number of xp" point of view.

You can think of optimizing this a little further and leaving one Form and one Technique out, but the results remain very similar (at 195xp vs. 202). Perhaps more importantly, it's not obvious that it really is an optimization. If your opponent chooses, say, the Form, and you have all Forms at the same level, you can force him to choose his second best Form (assuming you know or can correctly guess his Art strengths). If you have all Forms at the same level save a "lame" Form that is really much lower, you can't prevent him from choosing his best Form unless it coincides with your lame one. Is that worth the small boost you can get to every other Form by "recycling" the xps of your lame Form? Unclear.

More in general, certamen seems relatively simple, and is relatively simple once the duel starts -- but at the "strategic" level (i.e. stuff that happens before the duel starts, from Art study to champion selection to Art selection) it has lots and lots of twists that most players (and game line authors) tend to ignore. One crucial aspect is that building a certamen specialist is very much a rock-paper-scissors thing: give me any Certamen specialist and tell me if he's the challenger or the challenged, and I can build one with 2/3 the (relevant) xps that beats him more often than not. In this sense, an organization that can keep track of who's good at what, and can field the "right" champion against each opponent, benefits greatly from (diversified) Art specialization among its champions. This may or may not be "Tines-style" specialization.

Ezzelino, and that's why when speaking about certamen, HoH lore is the most important thing. Because if your opponent is good, you will not accept and rather strike with another hermetic tool (or suffer defeat) and if he is bad, you need to strike there.

IRL, I use this when organizing certamens contest : I let my players take notes of NPCs, because who knows, 7 years later, it will be useful. Maybe. And it gives coherence to the universe.

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That doesn't necessarily make it better! :slight_smile:/

My starting Tines character took my own advice about starting the game with good Arts; here, having many Arts at 0 is a Good Thing for most magi. My more powerful version didn't ignore the other Arts: He made sure that he could train an apprentice.


A Diedne generalist might also want to spread Arts. :slight_smile:

Things are more interesting a few decades later.

It actually might not be a bad idea to have one great TeFo, with other Arts upgraded as is convenient. It figures that I would say that, since that's what I almost always say! (Not actually always; my generic advice for beginners falls flat for many effective magi, such as transformation experts.)

But consider: If I have one great Technique and one great Form, the other guy is not going to ever choose it unless he's flat out better, and if I choose something else, say, his known weakness, he will have difficulty telling me to pick another Art, because I'll pick my strength.

Hmm. I think someone will have to do real math.

(Chris? :smiley: )

Certamen is a chestnut, maybe even a sacred cow, but I think it needs reworking so that it serves its intended purpose as a substitute for conflict rather than an irrelevant minigame.

I'd see a few different contests:

Strength vs Strength: Each magus choose the TeFo that he will use. This suggests how a conflict might turn out with each magus at his bets.

Weakness vs Weakness: Each magus chooses the TeFo that the other magus uses. This suggests how a conflict might turn out with each magus at his worst.

Challenger lets the other magus choose both: This demonstrates that the challenger is utterly superior, his weakness over the other magus' strength.

Challenger demands the right to choose both: A Tremere Gauntlet, or similar situation in which a magus acknowledges his inferior power.





Also, note that a Tremere (or any other) magus "specialist" is not just a freshly gauntleted magus. To me, "specialist" means a character at least a couple of decades post-gauntlet. Somebody who has actually had time to specialise.

Yes. In my experience, Certamen is often decided by good information (and good deceit) about Art Scores. Also having a good Resistance Total (Stamina + Parma Magica) seems very useful.

Also, there is a strategic element about picking what to fight over via Certamen. Even if you are confident of winning the Certamen match, the stakes have to be low enough that your opponent will abide by the result.

I just wanted to chip in for the original discussion

It can really depend upon the saga and troupe and in general,I agree with affinity being the better option; but there is some things to consider (Devils advocate and all).

Getting an art above 15 can be quite a slog, affinity helps but the availability of books of that level means your having to rely upon tractatus and vis study; pussiant give that boost you might need to do the work you want

Depending on how co-operative your troupe is, pussiant arts can be really helpful; under the Help in the laboratory section, it says that assistants add appropriate virtues to the lab total, pussiant is one such virtue

Now is Affinity + Pussiant the best option, probably not; reserves of stamina may be better for on the spot casting, or Inventive genius for lab work or a minor magical focus (or points towards a major)

On the other topic, my troupe has found that if you are a certaman specialist or known to be one, then others are less likely to want to challenge you to certaman and more likely to attempt other avenues like wizard war or just general intrigue

Puissant Art affects an Art, assistants do not add their Arts to lab totals. Virtues like Inventive Genius or Adept Laboratory Student, which directly affect the lab total apply. Puissant Magic Theory is fine, too, as it affects magic theory, and it is being used as an assistant.

Here's the relevant text from help in the laboratory:

Inventive genius says that it adds to the lab total when "you invent new spells, craft magic items, and make potions" (arrgh, potions, still pre-5th ed. terminology). Puissant art says "You add 3 to the value of one Art whenever you use it". There's an argument to be made that when you are acting as a laboratory assistant you are not using the art and it therefore would not add to the primary researcher's lab total.

Edit: ninja'ed


Inventive Genius is almost never the better option.

Unless the other option is something not very useful, or the character is experimenting, which is itself usually a bad idea.

IG isn't as good as Puissant MT, and probably not as good as Affinity with MT (which rivals Puissant MT.)

IG isn't as good as a seasonal Cyclic Magic.

For a specialist, IG isn't as good as Puissant or Affinity in the Art always being used.

Please note that this advice is not about how to create the most optimized AM character, but how to create a damn good character by focusing on a character's magic instead of on rules arcana. A player coming from another game, such as D&D, is not likely to appreciate that AM magi are not generalists in the same way as the spellcasters they are used to: In D&D, even a 'specialist' can take ultra-powerful spells far outside of their specialty. AM magic isn't quite like Xanth, in which everyone has One Good Trick to leverage carefully and cleverly. But like Xanth, all the PCs have magic. And starting off with One Good Trick in AM goes a long way toward differentiating a character and providing entre to all the features of Hermetic Magic.

For this purpose:

  • Inventive Genius is a poor generic starting virtue, because a starting character might not get to use it for a few sessions. In some sagas yes, in others no. (EG: We start off with a major adventure spanning four sessions. Or we are in a spring covenant, so we have to spend our seasons clearing the land, building the labs, fending off the faerie fungus, bribing the baron, and only then, at last, maybe use IG. Unless the character prefers to read in the library....)

  • Reserves of Stamina helps with the intricacies of AM rules, but doesn't cut to the fundamentals the way having a great TeFo and focus does. I'm not saying it's bad, just not straightforward.

  • If everyone takes this advice, but chooses a different TeFo, the saga is populated with characters who tend to approach problems very differently, but who all have opportunities to be utterly awesome, and explore the magic system.



Ken invoked my name :smiley:
I think he refers to Roberto, whom I have been playing online for about 8 years and has developed 22 years in game since gauntlet. There is some specialization, yes, and he has one really good trick (tht I try to refrain from using now a days). But in other ways he is very diversified and anti-optimized. His goals and interests have changed as he has aged, and I try to go at it from his pov. Real people do not measure their education in points. Some may plot out a career path, but it is almost always altered by real life events. His strong suits are Ignem and Spellcasting. I could have eailly been more optimized in either or both. But he has no Focus, and some spell virtues were overlooked in favor of more mundane things that fit his personality better (Warrior & Self Confident for example). The character was created for play, not game theory or math experimenation.
On a related note, though I do admire the work on the NPV magi of hermes threads and vanilla covenants project, I find them to be sort of stiff and inorganic. They are characters created for reading, not playing.
And that is what overspecialization does. The character is playable for a short period, but over time it gets boring and distracting. An interesting thought experiment (and ArM is great for that kind of play, don't get me wrong, it can be fun). But the character seems less like a real person and more like a stereotype/archetype.


I did?

Some days ago, I did invoke your name, in the context of a starting character you created who took lots of xp-granting virtues and Flawless Magic.

I don't know Roberto's character sheet.