Alternate settings

Hi all,

As a follow-up to the discussion about my op-ed on canon, I am curious what people would do differently if they were starting a new Saga and felt completely free to make major changes to the setting (not rules).

To be clear, I don't want this discussion to be about an eventual ArM6. A new edition would affect every saga. And, I would prefer to talk about the setting more than house rules. What would you do for your Saga, today?

To start things off, here is what I would do:

  1. Make faeries part of the Magic Realm. The Magic/Faerie distinction has major rules impact because you need different spells for each, but as far as I can tell adds little or nothing to the game experience. Faeries can still be mysterious, and House Merinita can still be distinctive, if faeries have a Magic Might.

  2. Introduce Celtic magic as a living tradition in Mythic Europe. Probably creating a new House. That's OK -- Houses Guernicus and Mercere can be dropped to make room for it as far as I care. Never made sense to me that the rest of the Order would let one House run the judicial system, or let messengers call themselves magi (as to the dozen or fewer actual magi in House Mercere, Ex Misc. can and should absorb them IMHO)

  3. Make the enemy in the Schism War mysterious again. Leave it as a real question mark: the Quaesitores did a massive cover-up like they did in 2E so most magi don't even know the name of the Renounced House, and nothing at all about its magic. Let the players ignore that or investigate, depending on which way they want the Saga to go.

None of these would I dream of ramming down anybody else's throat, so please don't panic just because I have my name on a couple of books.

Really, I am more interested in reading what other active players would do with a blank slate than in telling you about the awesomeness of my ideas.

Respectfully, that's a false premise. New ArM5 books don't necessarily affect my saga, so I don't see why ArM6 necessarily would.

What I'd do:

I'd like to run a campaign in the 1060s. There's a lot going on.
I'd like to run a campaign set in Jamaica during the Spanish Empire, because pirates are fun.
I recently ran a game where the Royal Society were the founders of the Order, and the guy who was a Corpus magus was a follower of Hunter, and the Herbam guy had been taught by Sir Joseph Banks and the Rego guy was trained by Watt, and you had a +3 roll whenever you did anything stereotypically British.

I think the Magic Realm needs a narrative role similar to the way that we have the Good and Evil and Human Limerance roles for the other realms. "It's just what is." is too boring. I kind of like the hint in the current book that Deep Magic allows time travel. I'd like to suggest that the dichotomy is as follows:

Good and Evil
Dreaming and Knowing

Magic is the realm of how things work. It's where the underlying mechanisms of reality are found. If you go there you are in amongst the underlying principles of nature, playing with the clockwork that runs reality. The stuff that's there does not want you there, because it's unnatural for humans to be in the clockwork. The people who have been there before you have just scratched the surface on the safe places and ways of behaving there, because its a really lethal place to be. The world is a stage for human benefit, but much in the same way that a bear doesn't get to leave the zoo, so a magus leaving reality to wander around in the Magic Realm is utterly unwelcome.

This is why, as I've said in the other thread, IMC your skill in Terram lets you identify gemstones, and your skill in Corpus lets you diagnose disease without Intelligo. Knowing magic is knowing how things really work. This is also why I favour hedge traditions using the same scales as Hermetic magi. Magic is not about its practitioners. You don't get your own magic in much the same way that you don't get your own chemistry. You can be as wrong about Chemistry as Cavendish was an still be a great chemist, but that doesn't make you right about what's really going on.

The first two that come to mind:

  1. There are no "magic" and "faerie" realms. There's the realm of Ideals and the realm of Dreams/Stories.
    Clears up a lot of oddness with no rules, or indeed setting, changes whatsoever.

Now there's no need to go "Well, everyone would call it a faerie but it's from the magic realm, so it's not really a faerie" and "the magic resistance it gets from its faerie might protects it against infernal powers, even though neither of those is actually magic".
Anything mystical is magic, whether it be the magic of ideals, the magic of stories (merinita), the magic of the divine or the magic of the infernal.

  1. Hedge gifted outnumber the Order of Hermes magi significantly; in fact in several tribunals there is an official ceasefire between the Order and non-hermetic traditions.

Well, it's an overstatement to be sure. It wouldn't affect my friend Bill's Saga either, because he plays a homebrew system based off 3E.

Let me rephrase, to say a full reboot of canon would affect people who didn't want to be affected.

I was playing round with things like this. Picked up some northern Crown supplements for some background on the New World magic for ideas.

I've been toying with the idea of playing in 875 or so. Most of the Founders are dead, but their apprentices are certainly still around and the Order (and Europe!) looks much different from what we see in 1220. The viking age is not yet 100 years old, so the Runemagi should be fully active and norse shapechangers stalk the lands.

Vim is still a mess (according to LoH) and much of the standard spells probably aren't around - or are newly invented and not widely circulated.

I've had a few ideas about running Ars through time - ancient Rome around the end of Commodus' reign and the ensuing civil war seems an ideal Roman setting (for the Augustan histories like to make wild accusations about the magical dabblings and religious beliefs of different emperors).
Europe during the black death allows for a more horrific setting, and forces a focus on survival and trying to find skilled people who've survived.

Going forward in time, the 1490s would be great - the printing press is new, plate armour and gunpowder is new military tech, and the New World is a brand new discovery. Politically, Henry VII has recently won a war in England and stabilised it, Spain is under Ferdinand and Isabella - it's an interesting time.

I believe that time period also gets you Rosicrucians. Gotta love that. :slight_smile:

Express and explicit relationships between the Order of Hermes and mundane authorities, in ways which the Order feels transcend/ensure the Oath's "non-interference" pact, for example:
A) Official relations between the Pope and a representative of House Guernicus;
B) A papal bull setting forth permitted and prohibited magics, probably along the lines of what appears in the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X;
C) Ambassador(s) from House Jerbiton in various royal courts, possibly including Michael Scot.

Yes, in my "You are the heirs to the Royal Society" game, that was one of the fun elements. There was one guy in the whole world who could kill you with a jet of superheated steam, which was basically the Pilum of Fire. Everyone wants to know what spells everyone else has developed are, and there's a heap of trading, because just learning the formula to, say, make a wall, is a bit of useful research of interest to the entire community.

Some initial thoughts:

I do find it very hard to justify House Mercere as a distinct House. There has been some solid content for this in this edition but the concept still feels a little gimmicky - they're the magi without magic. I think it needs something stronger than that to justify it. I think you could probably get away with trimming the Houses down to nine. I'd get rid of Mercere. I'd get rid of Ex Misc. Then it gets tough. I think you'd need to look carefully at Tytalus, Tremere, Flambeau, and even trusty old Guernicus. I wouldn't be above merging a couple of those in concept, perhaps Tytalus and Flambeau, and creating something new from their combination.

I think the each House is really an Order in and of itself. I'm not sure why the term House was chosen. I mean, we don't talk about the Franciscan House, we talk about the Franciscan Order. They derive their legitimacy from being recognised, permitted even, by a central authority. There is more that could be done with that, I think.

I'd like to see more variation supported within Houses (Orders). Single-House (Order) covenants should be the norm across the setting. How many Benedictines lived with Augustinians under Augustine rule or with Carmelites? There are magical interests or leanings that if a House considers important it should protect and promote. I can understand the current situation from a game perspective (don't constrain your players but let them play what they want to play) but I think the norm should be drawn more along House lines.

I would like to see more attention paid to personality and politics. For instance, I can't remember whether it is established who sits at the head of the Order as a whole, who the most senior figures in the Order are and what their interests are. That kind of position and influence should be memorable, but I don't know who wields the power and I don't know which Houses are in ascendance and which are sidelined.

Guernicus is the obvious one to go, in my opinion, because its social role has consumed its distinct magic (Terram). Guernicus spells either work in story-breaking ways (Did you do it? Frosty breath!) or are useless purchases (Ah, you have Frosty Breath, but perhaps a demon...). So I'd prefer that people are a little less magical CSI and a little more period sleuth. You could still make them an Exoteric Mystery Cult.

I can see Tremere going. Tremere is more a style of play than a series of magical themes. You could do the same sort of House support with fire magi if you liked.

The head of the Order, nominally, is the Praeco of the Grand Tribunal, who is the Primus of House Bonisagus, but because the order is democratic, his position is effectively honorary. The Grand Tribunal meets so rarely and decides so little it is virtually ineffective as a governing body. The only Tribunal that comes close to having regular courts and governance is Transylvania, with its tradition of annual "emergency" tribunals, and it's been gerrymandered into a single party state. Everywhere else, politics is what happens between meetings, so it is quite like the diplomacy of medieval rulers.

As to which Houses are ascendant: Jerbiton has been kicked so hard in the teeth that it has decided to become political again. Criamon doesn't care, and Tremere wants to create, and may indeed have already achieved, the Pax Americana.

I'd split up the divine realm- let there be a Christian real, a Jewish Realm, an Islamic Realm, and a suggestion that maybe other religions have their own divine realm but have fallen away because they don't have the believers necessary to maintain an aura... give them different interaction tables- Islam should be friendlier to magic than Christianity, maybe even split up Christianity into Eastern, Western, and Celtic Orthodox (of Protestantism if you go with a different era).

Friendlier? Have you read the Koran? O_o

TBH I like the fact they are all divine. Treat them all as divine, it's a nice feature of the ineffability of the plan. Use the rules for aspecting auras to a particular direction to aspect them a certain way. The Christian one is more about aiding others, the Jewish about protecting one's own, the Islamic about harming enemies?

I agree with cutting Mercere. The work their Gifted members do feels like it should be outsourced to the Verditii.

Again I agree. Guernicus is ... more of a function than anything else, and why have a caste of judges like this?

Besides, these 2 houses put together make the OoH much more strictly organised than what I'd usually envision.

You could, and for IP reasons they are probably the first to go. Which makes me sad - I like the house, even more so now, as some really interesting things have been published about them in this edition. And wwe've had some good use of the "brotherly" interaction of Tytalus vs Tremere.

I might have a look at Merinita actually. Re-make them as a faerie-focused Order, outside the OoH, which the OoH doesn't really know what to do with, as they are based in Fey rather than Magic.
You could merge the houses of Flambeau and Tytalus, but I'm very hesitant to do so and suspect strongly that the result would be a mess satisfying no-one.

Ex Misc? I'll have to think about that one.

Interesting ideas on all those House-mergers. I can certainly see Guernicus gone and the Quaesitor becoming a political/legal position for members of other Houses. Likewise Mercere gone too, with Redcaps perhaps remaining but not considered magi. I can also see House Ex Misc gone - the other Houses recruit whoever they want to into their ranks, after all; that's the whole idea on the "Join" in "Join or Die". While I really like what the authors did with House Tytalus in this edition, I think the house is rather ill-defined and I would drop it too; it's archetypes can exist in other Houses, notably Jerbiton (for the social mastery) and Flambeau (for the militant types). And if the Faerie Realm is eliminated, then Merinita must go to. I'd also drop House Bonisagus: every Founder is an apprentice of Bonisagus, duh, and a House dedicated to theoretical improvement really makes a mess (trying to figure out Hermetic progress in the past and advancement during the saga, and ruining the idea that the Founders were great - instead they were just incapable twats that didn't have access to all the great advances in magic theory made since). I would also drop Bjornaer - if you want to play a shape-shifter, learn the appropriate magic or take the Shapechanger virtue.

So this leaves us with just 5 Houses!
[] House Criamon; into the Magic Realm, including things like Nature Mysteries. Bjornaer-types probably belong here, following Nature Mysteries or their weird mystic ideas, weird Merinita as well.
] House Flambeau; militant valorous types. Militant Tytalus types belong here, as do militant Ex Misc traditions.
[] House Jerbiton; into the Mundane "Realm". Divine Magi and relations with the Church, Hermetic Architecture, some social Tytalus, Ex Misc traditions like Sierens or Cult of Orpheus...
] House Tremere; sneaky subterfuge types. Trianoma magi, as well as some social/political magi (e.g. some Tytalus), especially ones focusing on social manipulation through Mentem magic. Drop the military structure, let them just be a Societates for the social manipulators (rather than the valorous knights of Flambeau).
[*] House Verditius; magic items & lab rats. Including "Bonisagus"-style lab rats as well as magic-item-making ones).

This treats all Realms (Divine & Mundanes. Magic) except Infernal; that was what House Diedne was clearly into!

The title of the original post made me think of more radically alternative settings, however. As in "High Fantasy".

One such setting I'd love to run Ars on is Ancient Greece. But done more like Xena or God of War than as an historically realistic rendering. Lots of meddling Greek gods, Titan-spawn monsters, and of course warring kingdoms.

I once prepared a High Fantasy setting loosely based on the last days of Constantinople. The Roman Empire, at its peak, was the height of the spread of humans. The West fell to Infernal corruption, and was essentially where the evil sorcerers and demons were. The east was the wellspring of the Orcs, who were slowly advancing and eating up what remained of the Empire. To the north were the Centaurs (rather than Mongols et al). The campaign was essentially to be a struggle to retain the Empire against these three forces, starting with the rise of a new magic-friendly Emperor that creates the Imperial Order of Hermes to help him hold on to his falling Empire.

OK, let me just say that's awesome. :slight_smile:

I would drop both Magic and Faerie realms, but still have magic auras and regiones. So you have Heaven, Earth, and Hell as realms and little pockets of magic scattered over the earth.

Faeries are just a term used to describe a category of magical creature, which are ruled by a faerie king and queen (or some other courtly configuration), and drop the story-role stuff around faeries. A faerie aura is just a flavour of magic aura.

I would make the Gift very, very rare and the Houses much smaller.

Every House would be a lineage, and each House would have no more than a dozen magi, some would be on the brink of extinction with only one or two members. Depending on the size of the troupe, the player characters could be 5-10% of the entire Order.

Virtually every covenant would contain only magi from a single house, except a few that were dual house covenants. Regional Tribunals would be replaced by House Tribunals (i.e. meetings of the entire House) and the Grand Tribunal would be a meeting of all magi.

Arts would be something that could not be learned from books. I.e. it must be taught or learnt from (rare) vis (or Adventure XP). Hermetic libraries would therefore consist of Lab Texts, and books about Arcane Abilities (Magic Theory, Penetration, Parma Magica, etc). Travelling and visiting other magi to learn Arts would be an important reason for magi to interact.

I would keep all the Houses, but (due to much smaller numbers) they would all become much more focused and would have regional/geographic "territories" (which would, of course overlap in complicated ways). There is no need for schools, leagues, alternative Mystery paths, etc. Some of the Houses would need a bit of further thought. I would drop all the non-House Mystery Cults --- except that Infernalism would be a Mystery Cult (the extent and importance of which would depend on the saga).

a) I'd want a separation between the real events around some of the major events, and still have the version that the Order holds true. Meaning have the cannon reflect what did happen and then also what the order holds as true. I know that is splitting hairs and might break many campaigns but I have enjoyed the differences between the knowledge of the character and the knowledge of the player in many settings, such as Dark Heresy.

e.g. the schism war, House Diede, the vampiric corruption within House Tremere in 4e,

b) I'd make the Realm interaction much more streamlined. I like Infernal vs Holy, but see them as two sides of the same coin, so the power base can be made more the same. I'd also add Fay and Magic to be far more linked, and lean fay further toward being magical creatures with a propensity for glamours.

This might also include making Magi more inherently magical, and could even mean that many covenants are within low level Regio as a rule. To keep them from being obviously visible and present. (where is the huge black tower come from overnight, will never happen if the mundanes cannot traverse a regio?)

That said, I'd add in a dreaming realm which quasi-reflects the mortal realm and the other realms - similar to the Shaman rules from a while ago.

c) The Order needs an official stance within the setting with the other powers. the Curch, the Kingdoms, the Infernal all need to have some sort of known stance. It gives Jerbiton a huge plethora of hooks. It does not make sense to me that the Order and magicians work outside the rest of the society, yet are so bound within it.

d) Non-gifted magi are no longer Magi. Sorry Mercere. They can still be politically powerful, or revered for knowledge, but they are no longer voting members of the order.

e) creation of more Order wide edicts and rules of law for Magi. But then move execution of the rule and such to the tribunals, with very little oversight from the grand tribunal.

f) More magi choosing their house at the point of gauntlet, and some lore around this. Sure some houses are locked in, but it seems very perennial, where I don't think humans behave that way when they are highly educated and powerful.

I like Ars Magica very much as it is, though there are some things that I would change:

A) Houses: I do not see the reason why people want to get rid of House Mecere. In my eyes they deserve ther place in the order and the status as Magi. Redcaps are protected as a Magi against magical scrying and it is more beneficial for the True Magi employing the redcaps, than the Redcaps themselves.
However I would use the few gifted Mecere as continuing the legacy of Mr Mecere himself, like with the mutantum magic. He was the one who taught Bonisagius about Transformation and helped create the art of Muto.

Tytalus and Flambeau, get rid of these and combine them into one single house or just toss them out all the same, they are probably the least needed houses in the order (if each remaining house had more Quesitori per house).

Guernicus should be merged into Bonisagius (Political faction) and Jerbiton.

In my world, the following houses with their associated focus:
Bjornaer: Germanic/Russian Shapechangers
Bonisagius: Leaders of the Order and focuses mainly on diplomacy and expanding the lore of the Hermetic Arts
Criamon: Mystics tied to the Magic Realm
Jerbiton: Tied to the mundane realm and the protectors of humanity against the Order.
Mercere: Redcaps, and Transformation/Metamagic mystics
Merenita: Mystics tied to the Faerie and nature
Tremere: Combat magi, the protectors of the Order against outside threats.
Verditius: Magical Craftsmen, but they need something else

Ex misc: Should not be a House, but a status that means "Ally to the Order".

B) A better detailed history: I would like a book about the History of the Order for the Gamemasters who has not been around for the last 20 or so years.

c) Inconsistencies: That writers please look up in older books from the same edition. If you write a book about say the Lavant Tribunal, please look into the previously written books (of the same edition) about said area, so that the new book wont contradict the new book.