Art Specialization Without Common Virtues?

Assuming you're trying to fulfill a particular concept that requires much if not all of your Virtue/Flaw space, but you still want the character to specialize in a certain specialized area of magic, have you gimped yourself too much by not taking any Affinities or Puissants in the Arts compared to somebody who did? Like, obviously you won't be as effective, as the whole point of those Virtues is to make you more effective, but would you be any more gimped than you would expect by a lack of Minor Virtues? Is the lack of a Puissant or Affinity equally as gimping as, for example, not taking Inventive Genius with an item crafter, or not taking Method Caster with somebody who casts in the field a lot? Or, as I fear, does it gimp you substantially more than the lack of those Virtues would?

... Is it wrong that I'm using the word gimp entirely seriously?

It's hard to gauge, but I think the effects would be similar. Inventive Genius will get to add to only lab work, and often just as much as the Puissant Art does, so it will contribute similarly. Method Caster will get you a few tricky shots over the required EF here and then, which is great fun, but will be less effective than an Affinity or Puissant for a specialist.

The one thing that will really hurt you if you don't take it is Magical Focus. This really ups your power. Depending on your saga, however, you may be able to acquire Magical Focus (or other Virtues) by being initiated into the right Mysteries; talk to your SG about it.

The actual effect of Virtues that increase learning depends on the specific saga. Affinity with Art becomes as effective as Puissant Art from about Art Score 13, and becomes more effective from about Art Score 18. So a "standard" (TeFo) specialist, with two Puissant and two Affinities, with (pre-Affinity/Puissant) Arts at 13-17, will have something like +12 on his Casting and Lab Totals on you. This can increase to +18 with a Magical Focus. That's not insignificant, and will lead to being able to develop spells faster, without having to learn as many books as you do, i.e. he will have not only better totals but also better spells & items at comparable age (if given the same resources to work from). I don't feel it's such a huge difference, however - your specialist could still do a lot in his field, and with your other Virtues you could do more stuff or get access to resources the "pure" specialist couldn't. So I don't think you will suck as a specialist.

Note that getting from Score 10 to Score 18, working off Quality 11 Tractatus, will require something like 11 Seasons of study. This could easily mean 11 in-game years. Just how long do you expect your saga to last? How long do you want to keep being a competent specialist? In 50 Seasons of study (50 in-game years?) from Quality 11 you can reach Art Scores of 34, which means Affinity can provide as much as +8 so that the "true" specialist will be +22 ahead of you (+33 with Magical Focus) in Casting and Lab Totals.

Finally - why do you really care? Will you be compared to "true" specialists? If, after 50 years in-game, you "only" have two Arts at 34 instead of 42+3 - who will know you are "behind" the curve? Assuming NPCs won't get the full package of Virtues and as many good Quality sources to learn their specialized Arts as you do, the ones at your age will probably not really have 42+3 in both specialized Arts, and may not have access to the lab texts (and, hence, spells and items) that you have. So the difference in practice between you and specialist magi of the Order of the same age can be much smaller than the above numbers would indicate. As the saga progresses, you'll probably also acquire lots of resources (and, perhaps, Mysteries) that will make your raw Art scores less important, and you will face difficulties commensurable to your capabilities anyway.

In summary - I think not having the "full package" shouldn't deter you from playing a specialist. You can be a capable one (assuming SG cooperation, which is always needed). Choosing Affinity and Puissance are cool additions and let you ramp up your power more quickly and feel superior to other magi; but they are not essential for playing a specialist. In my opinion.

That being said - Ars does tend to shine with Specialization: funky, fiddly bits from various sources coming together to create something quirky and really cool. And it's not as much of an issue as with other games, as (as is suggested in the above post), you aren't competing with other players nearly as much, due to not being on-screen as much with each other.

However - your character concept sounds like you're functionally trying to build two separate builds: one that is a more-or-less standard TeFo specialist, and another that is centralized around an idea or concept. Or rather, you're wondering about the consequences of NOT having all those virtues that allow a TeFo specialist to shine.

Which, IMO, is fine. However, from a pure empowerment gameplay enjoyment perspective (which is, of course, subjective), I'd recommend building the specialist FIRST. This allows your character to go out and Get Stuff Done (ie, engage in plot points) a bit more easily than a pure character-based one. Once you get the character to the point where they're able to do Cool Stuff, (For example: by taking an extra year or ten post-Gauntlet to get your arts and Spells up to snuff), you can start your campaign with the plot point of "go off and Initiate yourself into the other branch of magic".

I say it like this because usually it's probably easier to get as sense of verisimilitude out of a Mystery Cult built around a somewhat inefficient-yet-interesting idea (Cult of Posiedon with with water and horse-based magic, for example), rather than around one that is hyper-optimized to pump out TeFo Specialists.

For example- the last character I played was a hyper-optimized Rego Vim lab rat. After aging him a decade or so pre-play, he had 20's in his main Arts, and 2 dozen or so useful Vim spells (mainly Rego and Perdo), and had I didn't have him study anything else for the rest of the game. Instead, I had him go out, set up a Wizard's school, and Initiate himself into a Kabbalah holy magic tradition. And you know what? It worked fine - I had enough tools to be "the vim guy", so that I felt useful to the group, but I also had an interesting plot thread that I had long-term goals for.

But maybe that's just personal preference on my part - I'd prefer to be the highly-competent specialist who is branching out, rather than the quirky generalist who is trying to specialize.

However - if you character concept NEEDS to start that way, (such as multiple Major Virtues that simply don't fit well into a Mystery Cult concept), then sure - go for it.

The other thought is that the TeFo specialist is an artiface of PC hyper-gamerism, and that there really aren't all that many in the Order of Hermes of your table's Saga. Which is suppose is something you need to work out with your GM - if no one else is playing one, then it's not an issue. However, if everyone at the table IS playing one, and the GM designes encounters based on that assumption, then there might be cause for concern.

...unless it never becomes an issue - ie, if your character has all the Healing magic, then even of everyone else is specialized in Blowing Stuff Up, it doesn't matter: they still all need to be healed, and you'll have something to do. (Or whatever your non-specialized specialty is.)

But again, that gets back into "how often will all the magi be on-screen simultaneously, and will that ever be an issue?"

Being a generalist seems to be the problem. The various Puissant Virtues add a little, but the main thing that will stand in your way is wanting to learn a bit of everything.

Once you've hit five across the board (so you can take an apprentice), then I'd suggest that a player is going to get more out of their character by specialising to some degree than by spreading themselves thinly. Sure, an Affinity helps you get there quicker, but that's just numbers - if you're the Ignem specialist in your troupe then you're probably going to stay the Ignem specialist if the others are pursuing Vim, Corpus, Mentem, etc.

So the object really is the same as if you had Puissant Ignem - find more study sources from which to learn Ignem and the Techniques you're interested in.

I'd also not look at the specialism from a strictly Arts perspective. Even with moderate Arts, pulling off decent Spontaneous effects is hard. So invest in Lab Texts. Invest in Mastery over your preferred spells. That, to me, is where the effects of specialism come through - no point having a score of 25 in Ignem alone if your spontaneously-cast Pilums of Fire just bounce of the unfriendly ogre.

I think it's pretty sensible to create a magus with a Focus in mind but again, taking the Virtue is just a case of numbers. Ars Magica allows your magus to get powerful. That's almost inevitable. The only thing you're adjusting by taking the Virtues is how quickly the magus gets there.

So, assuming you're taking no Virtues or Flaws, how do you get to be an Ignem specialist?

  1. Spend your starting XP to reflect your specialism
  2. Set specialties for Magic Theory, Penetration, Finesse, Parma Magica to Ignem
  3. Seek out study sources for Ignem
  4. Trade for Lab Texts for Ignem spells
  5. Master your key spells
  6. Acquire Ignem vis

That, to me, looks like a specialist. Once you add on a couple of Virtues you simply accelerate the journey.

Specialization is good!

A specialist with Affinity+Puissant in a TeFo (4 virtue points) will start off significantly better in that TeFo than a specialist without it: ~210xp for the unvirtuous--> 14 in each (28), but the virtuous specialist has 20 in each (40). That is a significant gap, which will only grow.

Adding a focus -- and magical foci do not always work well for a specialist because of requisites -- only makes the virtuous specialist better. Potent magic adds a constant value... and is usually not optimal because virtue points are limited. But going all out is never wrong.

A specialist in a single Art -- viable, though with less 'punch' than being able to specialize in a TeFo -- will still benefit greatly. If that Art is a Form, Deft Form can be added. Great for subtle Mentem and Itellego, even though brute power is not added.

Finally, Covenants allows specializing a lab. A lab specializing in certain Arts can add a substantial bonus to associated totals. This costs no virtue points, though might require stories to accumulate the needed resources.

So far I've talked about specializing in Arts, but there are other kinds of specialization. A Finesse specialist is great for crafter/artist/aimed spell specialists. (Pu+Aff+Cautious) with Finesse. Free Expression adds to certain Finesse rolls.

A specialist in a kind of circumstance can also make sense: Gentle Gift+Silent+Subtle lets a magus mingle with and cast spells within mundane society unnoticed. If he's Bjornaer, he can do it as an animal. Special Circumstance is an obvious virtue for a more restrictive circumstance.

Faerie Correspondence is also useful for certain kinds of specialist, either based on circumstance or focus, but it does not effect Arts. So a ritual, ceremony (and possibly someone with Mastered spells; there is a disagreement and without a formal ruling, both sides have merit imo) can sometimes tack an FC onto a casting score. It also effects concentration and finesse and penetration. Very useful.

A virtuous specialist can be so much more effective in his specialty than a "specialist" without associated virtues.

Some generalist virtues (Af+Pui in MT, Inventive Genius, Int++, Sta++, Cyclic Magic, Book Learner, etc.) are certainly excellent too. A magus can be effective without specializing, or lighly specializing.

But specialist virtues make a huge difference.



No. Lack of Affinity with Art or Puissant Art does not cripple your character; nor does lack of a Magical Focus. I can say this from direct experience from a magus in our current saga. The key issues here are:

a) Hermetic Magic is already very capable of "doing lots of fun stuff" without extra Virtues. Of course, you do need to focus your studies, but Puissant Art just adds +3 to your score in that Art, and an Affinity adds about 20%.

b) As noted by another poster, even without Affinity/Puissant/whatever, if you are the Aquam specialist in your troupe, you will not be competing directly with, say, the Corpus specialist. So, even if you are somewhat less effective at Aquam than he is at Corpus, you will be much better at Aquam than he is, and generally better than him in all situations where Aquam is better than Corpus.

There's one key exception here. If you are playing in a short term saga, and your magus concept is build around a particular trick, that trick might be just out of reach without taking some Virtues to boost your Art scores. But other than that, feel free to avoid taking Puissant Art or Affinity with Art; in fact, Virtues that allow you to do different stuff rather than boosting your prowess in a given area are often more fun in play.

I agree. The main effect of the Virtues is to just change the age that you reach a certain level of specialisation.

The other thing that the Virtues let you do is maintain a specialisation while also allowing you to remain a bit more generalist. In fact, that is how I tend to see them used in play. Say, you have Affinity in an Art: this means you can spend less XP in that Art, to gain a particular Art Score, so you have more XP to spend in other Arts.

Summary: if you just want to be a specialist, then you don't need the Virtues: you are just either a bit older or a bit more specialised than the equivalent magus with the Virtues. The gain, though, is that you get the benefit of the Virtues that you did take instead.

If you talk about Art specialists, it depends on what you want your specialist to be able to do: is it about inventing spell of very magnitude ((Hermes Portal or all the Aura spell from Architecture magic). In this specific case, a focus is "almost" a must have if you want to be able to generate lab total in the 100+ value.

As it was said Puissant and Affinity help you reach higher value faster but with the following caveat: once you have been through the best summae available to you for your art, your progress will slow down as you need to secure Tractatus or go the expensive "study from vis" path. Both virtue are still very good, but they only act as "accelerant". Focus is the only virtue which let you really jump ahead and reach level than no other magus can.

So for Art specialist, only Focus (minor or major) is really needed, and then only if there is a need to look for very high magnitude spells. And they are far an few above level 50, so it might not even be needed.

A specialist can very well be the guys who knows every spell in a Art at level 35 and below, then a skill at 25 in the Art, with decent level in the others will be enough to achieve that. Nobody will dispute him/her this fact. If he has the Strong Teacher/Writer virtues, his teaching and tractatus will be in high demand even if he does not know that level 50 spell.

For all practical purpose, Arts level of 30 and above are only useful to achieve high penetration score with medium/high level spells and to search some of the very rare, very high level spell. On top of my head, I can only think of a few types of high level spells presenting some interesting story aspect: The Shadow if Life returned (CrCo75 ?), The Hermes Portal (ReTe75), the whole range of regio/aura spell from the Hermetic Architecture (ranging from 60 to 100) and the characteristic boosting rituals (CrMe & CrCo 60).

Sure, you can always designed impressive and unique high level spells, but very often some clever approach or some well though enchantments can achieve similar results (the example of the flying castle in Legend of Hermes comes to mind).

Experience in our troup show that Puissant/Affinitiy in skills yields more benefits as they grow much more slowly and a 2 level difference is more significant than in an Art: Magic theory comes to mind, but Philosophae and Artes Liberales are also very useful; Puissant Penetration/Finesse for combat oriented magus offer more bangs for your bugs than 3 more level in an Art.


I'm not saying that a character with a moderately high TeFo cannot be effective or fun, just that a true specialist will blow him away within that specialty. This is as it should be, since the latter devoted 4+ virtues to do just that.

I also disagree that Af+Pu is merely an accelerant. Yes, it is an accelerant. But Puissant keeps an Art score 3 pts higher than otherwise, everything else being equal, which it is. So that's 6 pts of casting score or lab total consistently over the course of a career.

As for Affinity with a TeFo, I see 3 phases. Phase 1 is character creation. Here, a character gets a big sendoff that cannot be duplicated some other way. We can call this Spring, because the character, um, springs forward. Phase 2 is summer, because of all the Summae(r) that he reads. This is probably a short phase, since the character already starts with high scores. (In some sagas, summae are not so readily available, btw.) Here, Affinity is purely an accelerant. Phase 3... Autumn? Heck, I can't think of anything suitable, but the season is correct. Tractatuseses are less of a bonanza than summae, but having an Affinity makes them much more worthwhile, since the extra xps are not capped by book quality. Also, the virtuous specialist who places his 2 exposure xps into the TeFo gets 4xp for the season, during which he can invent spells or enchant items within his specialty. This is kind of attractive! High Art scores aren't worth much without an investment in real world applications. This kind of efficiency also works well for adventure xp and for correspondence xp, in sagas that allow this. Higher Arts let a magus learn associated spells faster and/or of greater difficulty; same with enchantments. It helps Penetration and overcoming casting penalties. This yields extra seasons to boost Arts even higher, try for a breakthrough, train an apprentice, earn fame and glory by writing summae on his favorite Arts....

FWIW, if an Affinity isn't good because it is merely an accelerant, Book Learner is also not a very good virtue.

Of course, a non-specialist in a TeFo can also be very effective. Pu+Af in MT yields lab totals only 3 or 4 points higher, but it applies to all lab work, as does Inventive Genius. Book Learner adds +2 to reading, which is less dramatic than an Affinity because it is useless during character creation and typically offers a lower bonus, but works for everything, acceleration the reading of summae and making tractati more attract...ive. Cyclic Magic (seasonal) lets you specialize slightly during your favorite two seasons :slight_smile: (2 seasons adventuring or in the lab, 2 seasons or taking care of business). FM, LLSM.... many good things.

But a specialist who starts with Pu+Af in a TeFo, a focus in some subset of that, maybe Deft Form, maybe Strong Parens (more xp to power that Affinity) will leave Gauntlet qualitatively better than a specialist without those virtues, and is likely to slowly widen the gap, except in a saga where summae are awesome and tractati rare.

A sneaky Tytalus who begins play able to punch through your Aegis with his teleport and rifle through your sanctum with no one noticing... a Flambeau who emerges from Gauntlet able to incinerate pesky faeries.... a junior Guernicus who can silently peer into an abbot's mind in his monastery... these characters are qualitatively different from magi who are simply pretty good with ReCo, CrIg and InMe, respectively.



Only assuming, as you say, "all other things being equal". However, in practice it isn't. In practice, the player (to the best of his ability/enthusiasm) takes the character's Virtues into account when designing/advancing her.

In play, the specialist without the relevant Puissant Virtue (or whatever) can have exactly the same specialist Casting/Lab Total as the specialist who has the relevant Virtue(s).

The specialist without the Virtues merely has a lower Score in off-suite Arts, or a lower Latin Score, or speaks less Languages, can't ride a horse, or something. Or she is merely 5 (for example) years older. On the other hand, she has whatever feature/power the Virtues she does have give her. It's just a trade-off.

She's just a different character, if she has different Virtues.

Making up a 12 (and widening) point deficit on casting scores and lab totals isn't easy. If the not-so-specialist tries to keep up with the specialist, the specialist can either a) spend the same amount of time to keep way ahead, or b) spend a little time to keep a little ahead while developing other abilities or c) let the other guy catch up. You are assuming (c).

I totally agree that it's a trade-off. A non-specialist can be very effective and fun.

But I think saying that the not-very-specialist can simply be 5 years ahead sort of makes my point.

And as for everything being unequal, I think that if anything, a virtuous specialist has more incentive to put more time into his specialty, since exposure xps are doubled and since even crummy tractati are not so crummy for him. I might not bother with a 7xp tractatus, but 11xp looks kind of worthwhile.



I think that, usually, in play, there is no "other guy". In play, you have your character who may be a specialist, with or without specialisation Virtues. The rest of the troupe may be specialist magi too, but only rarely would they be specialists in the same Te Fo combination as your character. So, there isn't actually anyone to keep up with.

Indeed. It's a bit misleading to talk about this character as a non-specialist though (which I realise is probably not your intention). Both characters are a specialist and potentially have exactly the same Art Scores in the specialisation TeFo combination. Just one has spent more XP to get there, the other has spent more Virtues to get there.

It's a fair point, that in play, a character who is a not-so-specialist is still likely to be the best in the Covenant.

I still don't agree with your other point, that the specialist without supporting virtues can always reach the same place as other guy, simply by spending more xps, because if the other guy wants to, he can stay far ahead.

Maybe a deeper difference in philosophy is at work here: Many gamers prefer starting characters to grow into their specialty, beginning play with less. Except in a bildungsroman or something similar (such as the HBO saga online which I rather admire), I (in the minority) prefer characters to basically begin as what they are. They might become even more epic, of course.

So for me, an old school Flambeau parens is going to make sure that his apprentice leaves his care able to ash a moderately powerful faerie, say, Might 20. Anything less and you have a very disappointed, maybe even Tormenting Master. For many, possibly most players, however, that character starts off too good and should grow into that kind of power.

Somebody is always better...
Even if the specialist does have Affinity and Puissant, it is likely that someone else is better. Maybe the specialist doesn't have as much time to study, or he's poorer than the other guy and can't afford good books...

Or maybe he had some Infernal help...

I had to break my post up, because I needed to run to an appointment. Actually I clicked submit instead of save.

Well that saga was starting out as apprentices, so it goes without saying that they didn't start at their full potential.

It's possible, but not likely that, at gauntlet a Flambeau magus can take out a Might 20 faerie. Making him Ash almost necessitates a Ball of Abysmal Flame, and not a Pilum of Fire, and it is unlikely (in the extreme) that a newly gauntleted magus will have a CS of 55 for BoAF. But a Pilum of Fire is a 20th level spell and a CS of 40 is possible, although I will say it is still a bit on the extreme side.

stamina 2, aura 2 (casting at a faerie in a level 3 aura), penetration 3, confidence 3, die roll 7 that's 18 before you get to arts and virtues.

you could have
puissant penetration
spell mastery
method caster
puissant ignem is a free flambeau virtue does it really count as not a specialist
life boost
special circumstances virtue
cyclic magic positive
or a bunch of other things.

If they have one or two applicable virtues or some spell mastery then an art total of something like 18 is what you'd need which is, as Jonathan said, a bit on the extreme side but IMO only a tiny bit on the extreme side. (and not at all on the extreme side if they've had two seasons in the library).

I could see a non-affinity, non-puissant, non-focus magus still being able to do this if that's what they wanted.

And the PoF doesn't ash the faerie on average (15 damage is a heavy wound, rolls, on average cancel each other out on the soak and damage side), and next round it is as if he were never damaged, since he can ignore anything that isn't incapacitating, unless it's part of his story. PoF isn't the big deal, BoAF is. And I have designed a maga who can cast IoL at +23 penetration at gauntlet, she has life boost. It is possible. It would have also taken her out of the fight afterwards if the damage roll botched, or the soak roll exploded.

Oh, and the faerie gets the full aura bonus for MR, while the magus gets 1/2 aura for his casting score. So You now need to beat a 23 MR...

by "casting at a faerie in a level 3 aura" I meant a level 3 magic aura where the magus gets the full benefit and the faerie half. We don't really disagree about anything here. Without the common "specialist" virtues you need to be a bit extreme.