Aren't runes overpowered?

Hello everybody!

I've gone through the forum and I didn't find an opinion about the following topic. I apologize if it's been discussed before.

We are playing a saga in northern Germany, year 790, so one of my players is obviously taking a Vitkir and he chose a few runes (with a magical focus) that bestow bonuses in combat. Now he can give -4 encumbrance, +4 soak, +4 damage, +5 initiative, attack and defense. He can give these runes to any number of characters, since they are longlasting and don't require vis. This is a starting character and I'm already horrified by the day he will be able to rise these bonuses to +8 or more and have his army of super-warriors (and super-professionals in general). I understand that spamming runes is a liability because they constitute an AC with OtIT, but he won't always be challenging magi, and, at least at first, most magi won't know how to take advantage of it. So I was thinking of nerfing it and divide the bonuses by two (round up).

But what do you think about it... aren't these runes that give a +1 per magnitude to abilities too strong?

Another question: the Dagaz rune gives a +1 per magnitude to activities that last for a whole day. Of course the player wants to use it for seasonal activities, like study and lab works. Is that correct?

Thank you!

Yes, runes are very powerful.
My local troupe essentially banned Vitkir after seeing I, (the runemaster) carve runes to close the flesh (Berkanan) in use.

...and one of them keeps writing magi who wants to investigate them :unamused:

No, those take more than a day - perhaps point him to the Jera rune, specifically I, (the runemaster) Bless the work HMRE, p. 131-132?

Powerful? Yes. Overpowered? Nope.

It certainly helps explain why the viking raiders were so effective at plundering - groups of men being buffed by magic are pretty much a winning force. That said, so what? Force of arms need not be a large factor in games of Ars Magica. +4 on combat scores mean little when a faerie uses mind control magics on them. Or when a dragon breathes fire across a large area. As a Storyguide, you can easily adjust the adventures to challenge him.

However, consider that Rune Spells are always rolled on stress dice, and rune mastery is a virtue, not a learned Ability. Want to buff 10 guys with 3 spells each? That's 30 stress rolls and several potential botches (on average). Natt-thel is probably unlikely, but the viktir will accumulate Warping fairly quickly doing this a lot.

And the Arcane Connection thing is pretty bad. Don't just think about rival wizards, think about FAERIES glomming onto these Arcane Connections and using them against the viktir. A hermetic magus keeps most of his long lasting ACs close for good reason!

Compare with Gruagach, who can do much the same buffing (only with more flexibility), can cast on a simple die, and can master their spells. Gruagach also benefit from using (Difficult Art + Art) rather than what Viktir get, which is just (Art).

Really, Gruagach and Viktir should be considered Rival traditions, not Hedge traditions, they're both quite powerful. The use magic differently and that leads people to think that they're overpowered (OMG healing without vis!), but remember what Hermetic Magi are capable of. Crossing mythic Europe in the blink of an eye, conjuring a hurricane or tsunami, crushing a man's heart with a gesture. Turning an enemy into a frog or striking him with lightning.



Most faeries won't turn the ACs against the vitkir, because most faeries aren't the kind who are supposed to understand it.

That won't help you much, because all faeries recognize glamour. So if any of your viking buddies smites a faerie with a sword you improved, you might find faeries inexplicably coming to take vengeance upon you for striking the killing blow, or otherwise involving you in stories that you invited them to inflict upon you. And it's fine for them if you die without ever finding out why, if you're the guy who dies in the opening scene of a horror film that turns out to be someone else's story.

Strewing ACs and all those stress rolls can really ruin a vitkir's day.



Hermetic magi OP nerf plox :stuck_out_tongue:

Let's say your player pits his army of super-warriors against Flambeau. Flambeau is going to respond with a large-Group Creo Ignem for +20 damage, turning them all into crispy fried Vikings with much less danger to himself than the actual enchantment of the army was to the vitkir.

And I'll echo the fact that the Arcane Connection thing is a huge weakness. It only takes one of his soldiers to be mind-controlled (or simply persuaded with thirty pieces of silver) and his enemies have an Intangible Tunnel straight to Gandalfr's backside. Faeries get to play with him, or rival wizards get to enchant him.

Thank you guys for your opinion.

Yes, I'm not worried by the +4, but by the +8 i foresee in my future :slight_smile:
Of course I can always adjust the adventure. I'm the master, I can call God on earth to humble the pesty Vitkir! But I'm worried about the consistency of the saga and its environment. These rune-buffed-rapid-healing vikings look like an unbeatable force against regular soldiers. Remember that we are in 790 a.D., and we play in Germany, so there's a lot of vikings and saxons (vikings without ships), and more than a few vitkir. Much of the campaign revolves around the war between the christian Franks and the pagans, which should be weaker, 'cause they eventually lost... I guess I will be forced to call God on earth to balance the runes, and I'm not sure I like it. Not every time.
But then again, I guess this is a problem unique to my campaign, then it's my responsability to adjust the rules.

Also, when my player characters go around adventuring I would like the regular frankish soldier to be at least a little annoyance. At least at the beginning of the saga. At least I would like the magi to be around when they smithe an army :wink:

Yes, that's a limitation, of course... But those 10 grogs can be re-used a lot.

Maybe I'm just deluding myself by thinking that in Ars Magica PCs can also have non-supernatural obstacles to face.

Yes, you're right here. Although runes add a different kind of power to the game... and a power which is not limited by the Code of Hermes. I guess I'll have to make full use of the Divine.

You can certainly invoke the Divine but you should also consider invoking the Hermetics. There's no reason the Code should be interpreted in quite the same way during the 8th century as during the 13th, particularly when the question is put to a Tribunal as to whether chasing off a ravaging horde of foreign raiders from one's home area really counts as bringing ruin upon ones sodales through interfering with the mundanes.

Faith & Flame gives a good deal of support to the idea of Hermetic conflict with Vikings within the canonical background. I like to theorize that the conflict runs even deeper and leads to Pagan-Christian splits within the Order that eventually lead to the Schism War. I don't think it's a coincidence that the end of Pagan incursions into Western Europe largely coincides with the twilight of the Diedne.

You don't even have to go that far. Christian lands in the time you're playing in are 'nominally' Christian in many respects. Think the of the Novgorod Tribunal in the 13th century, only more-so. Pagan priests are still running around and even arguing with Christian priests. Most peasants are probably dual faith or entirely pagan because the missionaries concentrated on the nobility. Practitioners of darker arts are basically unchecked by Dominion auras.

So a nobleman could be backed by a Faerie Wizard, a practitioner of the Goetic Arts, a proper Diabolist or some form of pre-Hermetic Gifted individual (see the Ex Misc section of HoH: Societas for the kind of things they might be able to do). Or he might be a good Christian and have a missionary with Holy Powers/Methods backing him up.

You don't need to default to Wrath of God as step one.

Also, Druids, though you'll have to flesh those out yourself. I'd just steal Gruagach rules and call them Druids, YMMV.

Um, what? It's a power that is not protected by the Code of Hermes - which protects mundanes (to the extent that it does), not hedge wizards. Remember that the Order has a very firm policy as of this point, summed up by "Adjungite nobis an perete!" If Viking wizards start making noise on the shores of Europe, the Order will respond.

The thing with the Code of Hermes is that wizards (sometimes excepting Divine practitioners) can't really opt out of it. If a Gifted wizard steps on Hermetic interests in any way, he will either be commanded to join or die, or he will be made to die. This has been policy since Flambeau. If an unGifted hedge wizard steps on Hermetic interests, they can't join the Order, but they can be made to serve or die - they have no protection whatsoever under the Code.

A simple Hermetic counter to these 10 grogs +8 is a magic item bestowing Shriek of the Impending Shafts (ArM5 p.136) with Requisites, like:

Effect Name: Shriek of the Impending Missiles; Effect Level: 30; Effect Details: R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Hearing, Requisites: Animal, Corpus, Terram, Unlimited use; Arts: InHe 20; Design: Base 2, +2 Sun, +3 Hearing, +1 Touch.

Boosts 10 grogs per minute before a battle. No warping of the turb, unless used too often on them. No botch dice for the magus applying the effect. No arcane connections involved. No troublesome aura interactions. No Flambeau garrison required at your covenant, but a little training of your turb with this effect is in order. (Whether such an effect is possible with your 790 AD Order, I don't know - but that's yours to balance.)

As for a Viking chieftain and his warriors being accompanied by their local Vitkir: yes, this makes Vikings quite fearsome. And they were in 790 AD! But the number of Vikings, of Gifted Vitkir and of longships are all limited. And Vitkir with applicable Major Rune Focus (HMRE p.121 and p.122 box) are likely very rare.
The mundane response to Vikings was along the lines of the Edict of Pistres (see ), but whether this edict was really acted upon is rather doubtful.


Hello everybody and thanks for the food for thought! :slight_smile:
I'm answering all of you in this same message.

Exactly. One of the main theme in my saga is whether the Covenant will side with Charlemagne or the Saxons. The Jerbiton and Guernicus PCs are supposed to back the christians, the Bjornaer and Merinita lean towards the pagans, while the Tytalus would only see the war go on forever. The covenant itself is built on saxon land (the Harz mountains) and thus being aggressive towards the saxons would be unwise... at the same time, Jerbiton has met Charlemagne just one year ago and the king publicly spoke in favor of "benign magic". Theoretically the relationship between the crown (and the Church) and the Order could evolve into a "friendship" or even collaboration. This isn't unheard of in canon, since there's a priest in Antagonists which is trying to turn the Order into a sort of monastic order. Remember that in these years every lord has a court wizard of sort, and even a few Popes are said to be magicians. On the other hand, by favoring the Dominion, the Order would just accelerate the shrinking of the magical Auras and magical resources.

Thus, you see, taking a stance is not so easy. The vitkir's role is going to shift between friend and enemy as the campaign goes.

Yes, absolutely. Charlemagne has been warring the Saxons for 18 years already and rebellion will continue for 14 more. Most saxons have been baptized by force, and when the king rides through this land with his cavalry, no one can resist him. But as soon as he turns his back for a moment, the pagan rebels revolt again by burning churches, killing traitors and taking towns. Also consider that this land is almost all covered in forests: there is just one proper road, no cities, no stone castles whatsoever, and strong faerie and magical auras everywhere.

So the saxons are gonna clash with the christians... if the former have runes, the latter need God.

I mean that a Vitkir doesn't have any rule against interfering with the mundanes. An hermetic magus is stronger, of course, but restrained by the Code of Hermes.

Yes, but we are just a few years after the founding of the Order, and the organization is not so powerful as we're used to in year 1220. Hermetic Magic has not reached its full potential, and powerful magi are very few and very scattered. In northern Germany there are just three covenants (Crintera, Rethra and ours), with an average of four magi each. So the Order not only isn't capable of enforcing his rules full scale, but it could be harmed or even destroyed by a war with other magic-users.
The survival of the Order is actually another theme of my saga, as powerful enemies, both within and without, threaten it.

Yes, hermetic magic has many ways to deal with warriors, as strong as they may be. What bothers me is when those warriors go against non magical soldiers.

I talked about Vikings because they are more renown, but I'm actually dealing with Saxons, which is a people that shares the same culture as their northern cousins. We play in Saxony (northern Germany), a land never touched by the romans, which just now is being invaded by the Franks. Saxons are the inhabitants of this land, and they are a lot. Vikings raids are yet to come.

There is a lot for you to read up on and map into your campaign.

Historically, Charlemagne's Saxon Wars (begin with ... edirect=no ) are about a Germanic, Pagan, fragmented and tribal culture beset by a Christian, militarized and centralized monarchy.

In Mythic Europe 790 AD you need to balance Frankish advantages in organization, leadership, equipment, horses, communication, mobility, the effects of the Dominion, the Church and its Saints against Saxon numbers, tribal cohesion and their Pagan magic and eventually miracles (like those from subrosa #16).
How many Saxon 'Vitkir' would even start to make a difference in the history of these wars? What would be the result of their magic and its resulting Warping for the cohesion of the Saxon tribes? To which purpose a Saxon chieftain would use his 'Vitkir' - if he is lucky enogh to have one? I am quite sure nobody so far has even tried to figure this out, but it looks like you will take it on for your campaign.

The power of Vitkir runes in the hands of optimized casters (like PCs) is only a very small aspect of this - and probably not warrants a general thread header like Aren't runes overpowered?.


I suppose in the most technical sense this is true. Less technically, I'd argue that the vitki is effectively bound by that provision of the Oath as a matter of survival. "Nor will I interfere with the affairs of mundanes and thereby bring ruin on my sodales." If a vitki is interfering with mundanes to the extent that it's causing trouble for Hermetic magi, they're going to deal with him just as they would one of their own going out of bounds - it's just more likely to be done through open combat than through Tribunal. Conversely, if Hermetic magi aren't harming their sodales, then nobody cares about their interference (particularly in 790, because the rules on interference are far less hashed out).

You're right that war with other magic users is more dangerous, but if I were one of your players and our covenant didn't have firm guarantees of peace or alliance with this guy, I'd endeavor to get an Arcane Connection to him as quickly as possible (if not one of his runes!), scry him intensely, and if he looked like he and his men were going to step on any of the covenant's strategic interests, bring the hammer down on the guy. He's powerful enough to be a threat, but unlikely to be powerful enough to defend himself against a covenant of hostile magi - so conversely, if he wants to operate in the area, he'd better make sure to either join the Order (which would prevent him from fighting for the Saxon cause unless the other magi were on board) or strike some kind of deal with them to avoid a turf war that he'd lose (which does the same thing, really).

I strongly advise against using God as a direct adversary just to push a story the way you want it to go. You'd do better to bring up a few Christian saint-soldiers with Divine powers. Back them up with their own magicians of some kind. (A local cunning man? A few Mercurians with access to a handful of ritae that approximate low-level Hermetic effects? Some lost Heronian Mechanica from Rome? Christianized vitkir?) The Christians have options.

Warp him. Hit him with enough Warping that Natt-Thel happens (whether by a failed roll or by doing it in a situation where concentration to avoid it is too problematic/impossible) and all his runes go poof (unless he saves some of them by accepting extra Warping) among other (nasty) things.

Yes, I've dug into it quite a bit. "The Conquest of Saxony" by David Nicolle and "Saxon, Viking and Norman" by Gerry Embleton were especially useful.

Yes, that's the goal, and I'll post something here as soon as I find some time. The more I learn about this setting the more I think it's a beautiful setting for an Ars Magica campaign.

You're right, we've veered off towards my specific situation... Let's get back to the general discussion:
a single Vitkir can carve thousands of runes before the warping becomes too much, and each rune lasts for years. He can grant a +5 when he's a new character and can rise the bonus to +7 or +8 after a few years. That's a lot of bonus spamming. I've already talked about combat, but what about everyday activities? I mean, a vitkir is capable of turning every artisan, every artist, every con man and... well, everyone with a decent knowledge of an ability, into the best in the world. He can turn a novice into the best in the country in the blink of an eye. The people of a village blessed with a Vitkir could easily be exceptionally talented in everything they do. A nation that can count on the rune magic is a marvel to behold!

I understand that in a regular 1220 saga vitkirs are meant to be rare, but rune magic only requires the gift, to be learnt. So a single vitkir could teach the runes to many people and then snowball... it's just too useful. Isn't it?

Yes, it is in 1220 when vitkir are very rare and the Order is much much stronger, it isn't in 790, though.
So you're certainly right under normal circumstances. I'll drop this exception.

Yes, that's what I meant.

I don't know... I'd rather nerf the runes than vex the character with improbable situations...

All of this was already addressed by others on this thread.

What's in it for the Vitki: ACs to him spread all over the countryside, and lots of chances to botch? And latest after 5 years, and after just a year for the higher bonuses, the beneficiaries of a each Rune get a Flaw chosen by the SG due to Warping? Compare with (HoH:MC p.124f) Objects of Quality, which take more time but less study to prepare, and have none of the mentioned drawbacks.

I don't see a sane Vitki 'spamming' bonuses right and left, or focusing overly on Runes providing them. The big perk of the tradition - in there to give them some edge and to make a magus envious - is vis-less healing. This fits the rougher culture they hail from, but a single tame Vitki can circumvent some resource problems in sagas.



Best of all, those unhappy people given flaws by the evil vitkir come back and kill him for his foul sorcery. Especially if they don't perform as well in battle as they drunkenly boast. "My longship went to Lindisfarne, and all I got was Plagued by Supernatural Entity."



A nation that can "count on rune magic" in that sense is a nation of badly-Warped people with severe disadvantages from all that magic. Also, there really aren't enough vitkir to go around - see below.

No more than Hermetic apprentices cause a snowball effect. First, the Gift is not common or easy to find - it's an adventure just to find a single Gifted kid. (Seriously, in 1220 there's only a thousand or so Hermetic magi in all of Mythic Europe. And no, Odin's Sacrifice is not an "easy" way to get the Gift.) Second, remember that after you open the runes, you've got to teach your apprentice (fifteen seasons down the drain) - and vitkir don't get the benefits (social or otherwise - vitkir can't work as lab assistants because they don't use labs as such) that Hermetic magi do from having an apprentice. So while you might see a vitki taking one or two boys (in this era, it's entirely likely that the tradition is still male-only) over his long lifespan, he won't be mass-producing heirs. And most vitki have better things to do than to mass-produce rune scripts that would fall into their enemies' hands.