Alternate Setting - can I keep the Order?

My current, recently kicked off, saga is an experiment with an alternate setting. It's still Mythic Europe, but our conception of magi is different for Ars Magica canon. While we are using the rules for Hermetic Magic (albeit with a raft of house rules), we are envisioning magi as being Learned Magicians and Cunning Folk. For those without Hedge Magic, revised, Learned Magicians are scholars of astrology, natural philosophy and medicine whose studies have led them to the secrets of magic. Cunning Folk as village wise ones and rural magicians whose study of herbalism, folk lore and whose encounters with the magical and faerie world have unlocked their magic. In both cases, these magicians are in some way part of the world. Learned Magicians are scholars, clerks, teachers or even priests. Cunning Folk are the wise ones and herbwives of villages or the apothecacries of towns.

Given all of that, I find myself wavering on whether or not I can preserve some form of the Order of Hermes in this setting. On the one hand, the heavily structured, powerful and entrenched Order, with covenants as powerful landholders and an organziation spanning all of Christendom and beyond, feels inappropriate. On the other hand, there's that nagging thought that keeps saying to me that Ars Magica without the Order, without the Houses or the Tribunals, etc , somehow isn't quite Ars Magica.

I'm hoping some of you creative and open minded folks here on the forums can help me thrash out some ideas.

Why not just make less of them?

Cut the Order of Hermes down to say a couple of dozen magi scattered throughout Mythic Europe. Make it so that there is just one Tribunal and make the Houses more lineages, rather than organisations. I.e. a magus is descended (in a training sense) from a particular House, but there are only a few magi of any particular House at any one time. And maybe make some more of the Houses extinct (or at least 'lost').

You could then have one or two Learned Magicians (and perhaps Cunning Folk) actually be members of this truncated Order of Hermes. So, the Order becomes a rare, secret society amongst the wider magical community of Mythic Europe.

As to why this is, if you need to explain it, then just make the Gift required to be a Hermetic magus different and much rarer than the "lesser" Gift required to be Hedge Wizard.

Do you want the players to be Learned Magicians and Cunning Folk while the Order exists as a seperate, possibly nemesis entity - or are you transplanting the Order over so these Learned Magicians and Cunning Folk are actually the members of the Order?

I am guessing the latter, since the former is pretty straightforward.

The main changes would be the Code regarding interactions with mundanes. If all the members of the Order are already interacting with the mundane world as astrologers, midwives, priests, etc. then I'd expect the Code to look quite different on that front. Second to this the Order in the environment you're proposing sounds like it'd be much more answerable to mundane courts (civil and/or canon as appropriate). It begins to sound more like a cult or mystery group akin to the Virgilians from Rival Magic, only with a broader recruiting criteria. You'd probably even get class-ism between the scholars and the cunning-folk to go with it - not dissimilar to the true lineages and the hedgies.

As to whether a group of people would form a semi-secretive organisation to further their own aims? Very much so. Everyone else is doing it. Just think of it as a 'guild' of magicians, with a covenant representing one regional guild and a tribunal representing an agreement between a bunch of regional guilds. With the increased amount of interaction with mundanes I could see tribunal meetings devolving into politicking about fees and rates or which covenant has right to act as seers or astrologers to certain groups in certain areas.

It'd definitely change the flavor or the Order, but it certainly doesn't preclude its existence.

If your Learned Magicians and Cunning Folk are happy to learn from each other, keep each others company, and occasionally even work together I think you can preserve a scaled down version of the OoH. I like Richard Love's suggestion of Houses becoming lineages, and unless travel is promoted this would remove much of the need for tribunals as the 'Houses' would be far more localized.

If the Learned Magicians and Cunning Folk do not like to operate together I don't see why they would participate in a joint organization. I suppose there could be some reason, perhaps due to some past event they share a common Code even though they do not operate together, or maybe some external threat has resulted in an alliance for defensive purposes but beyond this they don't really interact. Without some pressing reason like this I'd expect these two groups to have their own separate organizations.

Having recently looked at Ars Magica First Edition for Sub Rosa, what you're describing isn't a million miles away from the original game.

A Tribunal was simply a council of magi who lived near each other. And there were no Houses. You pretty much had free rein to do what you want how you wanted.

In my opinion, a covenant can be as simple as an oath or agreement sworn between friends or allies. They don't need to live on top of each other, but they do need to come together when stories threaten one of the covenant. That means that the Natural Magician working hard in Cambridge is obliged to help the Folk Witch in her hour of need. Or when she needs knowledge outside of her experience or training.

And that can be done with or without the Order in existence. If you want to be really bold, write your own history and have this as an alternative view on how the Order (or something like it) formed.



Floating out an idea... I'd like hear what folks thing...

The Order of Hermes is a myserty cult of astrologers and natural magicians which claims descent from the astrologers of Rome, the Persian magi and the ancient wizards of Egypt and the east, to name a few. During the Dark Ages, much of their magical learning was lost and forgotten. In the 8th century, a group of wizards gathered under the last surviving master of the art, Bonisagus, and were initiated into the inner mysteries.

The magi are all members of the literate classes, most are clerks and more then a few are priests. For much of it's history the Order has existed as a secret society within cathedral schools and nascent universities. Hidden among the canons of the great cathedrals, the magi of the Order find those with the talent and inclination to the arts and have initatied them into the Order when they seemed ready. With the rise of universities, the Order has begun to seperate itself from the church and the newest generation of university educated magi often possess very different ideals then the older wizards who have lived long in the shadow the church.

That can fly quite elegantly, I would say.

I'm thinking of going with the Houses as lineages rather then organizations. Each harks back to one of the original wizards who was initatied into the inner mysteries by Bonisagus, and each of whom represented a slightly different ancient tradition. However, I am reducing these "founders" to either 9 or 7. Merinita, Bjornaer and Diedne didn't get invited... and I'm thinking redcaps are unnecessary and quaesitors are a title rather then a House... so Gerenicus and Mercere don't work, at least not in their current incarnations.

The history of the Order works in broad strokes.

Damhan-Allaidh certainly works, not as someone resisting the dominance of the Order (since the Order doesn't dominate in this model) but certainly as an evil wizard who attacked the Order and was put down but Pralix and an alliance of British cunning folk. However, rather then leading to a formal unification between the cunning folk and the Order, I see it as more leading to an understanding that the two can help eachother in times of need.

The Domination of Tremere and the Corruption of Tytalus doesn't need much reimagining. Both work more or less as written.

The Schism War is more of an issue. Without a House Diedne to fight against, this event simply doesn't happen. The name doesn't really work if it is a war between the Order and an outside organization of druids. I had considered that perhaps it wasn't the Diedne at all, but perhaps the Tytalus who were the victims, with the Schism as a violent escellation of the Corruption of Tytalus. Not sure about that...

I'd be happy to hear any thoughts folks might have.

I think it works fine :slight_smile: However, I would use several traditions for the diverse houses. Some natural magicians, but also summoners (tytalus and tremere) faerie dudes (merinitas), elementalists (flambeau and guernicus) etc etc. Might end up being somewhat more a ragtag approach. If you keep the Parma Magica as the discovery of bonisagus they will still have the upper hand against most other traditions, but not by that much and certainly the general power level will be much lower. And parma will be effective as a magical defence vs other OoH members, that it is always a boon.


The lineages in my Order are Bonisagus, Criamon, Flambeau, Jerbiton, Tremere, Tytalus and Verditius. Of those, I think Bonisagus and Jerbiton are astrologers. Flambeau I'm actually basing on the Legion of Mirthras from Mysteries, so less emphasis on the pyromanic elementalists and more on the warrior-magi. Tremere and Tytalus are theruges. Criamon are also theruges, but also "openly" gnostic. Verditius are proto-alchemists (my saga is set in the early 11th century, before alchemy became widely know in Christendom).