I have a player who wants to have as his Magus character a Tremere certamen specialist. That is to say someone who is even more focused on Certamen than the average Tremere. He initially wanted to go for Potent Certamen. Which I would have allowed but said that Magic Focus and Potent Magic were not stackable: you could have both but only use one at a time since they were different disciplines.
Now he has come back with a character who has both the Tremere Minor Magical Focus and Special Circumstance: Certamen.
I don't want to deny the player the character he wants (I don't want to be The GM Who Always Says No) but I have the feeling that I am making things too easy for him if I allow both: that I will have to stack hard any opponenets to make them a challenge for him if I allow a double bonus.
Also this doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that Special Circumstances was intended to model. Any suggestions?
A +3 for special circumstances is a good idea, yup. I see no problems with this stacking. A LOT of stuff stacks in Ars Magica. You can reach amazing totals with penetrations and lab totals due to that fact. Your player is just using well the V&F system for his concewpt, nothing more I would allow it with no issues at all. I fact, I still consider him to be somewhat weak for what he wants to be. Being accelerated abilities, arts rise fast, and a +3 tends to be smallish when you look at the certamen totals he will be generating/facing Remember that the +3 is not doubled, only the lower Art is.
If I was building a character who was focused on certamen, this is what I might do. First, I will assume that I will be the one who is challenging, not being challenged. Thus, most of the time, I will control the technique, not the forms. If I took affinity to two techniques, that means I can force a good technique for certamen for most occasions. Then I would take Secondary Insight, so I have extra points to spread around in the forms. I would take Skilled Parens, and use that as an excuse to buy Parma Magica to 2 (hey, if I was taught by an excellent teacher, why did I only get 5 XP for a season of study!) and then also take Puissant Parma Magica. Then I would take Puissant Penetration or whatever Arcane Ability are used in certamen. That should give me an advantage against even Tremere of around the same age.
The doubling is powerful, the +3 is almost nothing. Consider that high level specialists are 15-18 in their specialties and add a decent technique or two (say 6 or 7), you are talking totals of 21-25 before adding in any other modifiers. Sure +3 could skew things a little but not much.
I have a 60 years post apprentice character I made for one game, she has 44 and 46 in her best technique + form mix. She is 26-28 for her second best form. giving a +3 to someone challenging her is nothing. (she is really weak in a couple combinations to, only a 10 but then, again, +3 isn't going to make her loss any greater, though she would never get into one of those. She would either be her strongest two Techniques or one of her four strong arts).
Also, I would think very carefully about "stack[ing] hard any opponenets to make them a challenge for him if I allow a double bonus".
The player wants to create a character who is good at Certamen, and is trying to select Virtues etc to make this work. In response you seem to be saying that you will increase the power of the character's Certamen opponents to provide a "challenge". In other words you are trying to negate his character concept. I would strongly recommend not doing anything to the power of his Certamen opponents. Let his character be good at Certamen. That's what he wants. Tell stories where the fact that he is good at Certamen (and therefore wins lots of Certamen challenges, many of them easily) is a part of the story.
Plus if he starts to try to make every story a certamen where interacting with other mages, just have a wizard war or two get declared by a wizard war specialist (hired gun). If he survives, he might not be so swift to abuse certamen any more and save it for hwen it really is needed. THat or someone will trump up a hermetic crime against him and suddenly he finds himself voted down or quashed like a bug at tribunal (even marched) because everyone hates him.
Well, I still feel this isn't what 'Special Circumstances' is for. It feels too contrived to me but I'm going to let the player have what he wants. I don't believe (for the record) that it's the job of the GM to give the players a feeling of triumph: part of the job is give them the feeling that what they acheive they acheive by luck and skill not by gaming the system. So I'm going to have to give the player the brief pleasure of being the bold new cock of the walk for a while and then show him that even with Certamen Hermetic politics is a tricky business.
So he can have what he wants and we will see where it takes us.
In general, bullies do not last long in the Hermetic arena. A Certamen specialist should know that. Ifg he abuses the power, he can easily find that Cdertamen is ruled as an illegal procedure in his tribunal. The fact that CVertamen is accepted as a valid form of duelling means that it tends to be used well, not abused.
Certamen specialists are also given missions by their elders ("travel to Hibernia and win this case for us; yeah it will take you 2 seasons to go there, do that and return home") so it is a cool way to introduce stories for the player
For what it's worth that's not what I mean above. I agree with you that it is not the job of the GM. However, what I meant above was that the player wants a character who is good at Certamen, and (so therefore presumably) wants to tell stories about a character who is good at Certamen. You have to be careful as a GM that by making things "challenging" you are not destroying the player's character concept.
To me what you "achieve" collectively as a troupe is "a story". Individual players don't achieve anything --- except "turning up on time to the gaming session", and "spelling words like 'Mentem' correctly on their character sheet", and "portraying their characters in a way that is convincing/enjoyable for the rest of the troupe".
The continuing existence of House Tremere would seem to argue against that.
Not in canon. The finality of Certamen as a legal decider is a Grand Tribunal decision: theoretically reversible but practically not. And I would expect the player to regard such a ruling cropping up in my campaign as being an unfair means of restricting him. (Which it would be...)
Possibly, but his instructions from his Exarch at the moment are "Go to Stonehenge and do everything you can to set up this new covenant."
I'd disagree with this. I'd say that the Order of Hermes has plenty of successful bullies, from a range of Houses. Certamen is useful for non-Tremere magi, so just because there's a Tremere who's really good at it doesn't mean that it stops being a useful conflict resolution tool between a Bjornaer and a Merinita.
Additionally, there are plenty of non-Certamen ways for bullies to exercise their will - Hermetic prestige, threats of Wizard War, etc. The powerful in the OoH always have an incentive to be bullies.
The House Tremere hierarchy itself would ensure that their useful asset (a certamen expert) does not waste his or her talents on fruitless certamen challenges.