Breakthroughs and Background Events

An idea I've been mulling over for a while is to start having some of the suggested breakthroughs in the various published books happen as background events for a saga.

In the saga in question we have two magi who are both seeker types, and are starting to see actual tangible results from this. It feels quite flat that while our covenant is coming up with these brilliant new things that the rest of the order is sort of just frozen in time so the idea here is to make the setting feel more vibrant and active when the player covenant isn't present.

This could probably be achieved by just picking some breakthroughs and adding them to the saga over time, but both I and the group I play with have a particular weakness for deciding things by random rolls of the dice...

The format would be like this:

  • Compile a list of all of the breakthroughs that can be made, not going too specific or detailed - just a short description and maybe a page reference if there's one applicable.
  • Remove any the troupe doesn't want to be a possibility in the saga, or to happen randomly.
  • Each in game season (or maybe year if you wanted slower advancement?) roll a die to decide which breakthrough might make some progress.
  • Roll a second die to decide if we get a full blown breakthrough (on an explosion, perhaps), some major progress, some minor progress, no progress, or the loss of existing progress (on a botch).
  • Come up with the outcome and, if appropriate, introduce it to the characters (otherwise they don't hear about it, or it's kept secret).

So for example say it's our first roll and the breakthrough is in Canaanite Necromancy (from Ancient Magic) which grants a virtue when integrated and a new range Veil of Death.

A full blown breakthrough means someone has actually integrated the virtue. As this is out of the blue we might say that the Disciples of the Worm have been researching this in secret, and this virtue slowly spreads through the upper ranks of that mystery cult.

Major progress may mean someone has made headway in locating the biblical En-Dor, or a similar site that could greatly advance this research. Alternatively a very useful partially integrated spell with the "Veil of Death" range is invented, perhaps by a Tremere Leadworker performing original research.

Minor progress might mean a novel but not very powerful spell is invented, using Veil of Death range.

No progress means that nothing happens.

Loss of progress doesn't do anything as this is our first roll, but if any of the above had been rolled already then this might mean that the supposed site of En-Dor was a hoax, or that the invented spell have been ruled illegal in some tribunals and this looks to spread, or that the original lab notes for the discovery have been destroyed.

Thoughts? Good idea, bad idea, "just... why?" idea? Has anyone tried something like this before in their own saga(s)?


I like the idea, but I'd remove the no progress option from the second roll and just put no progress on the first roll, even though rolling two dice at once would solve the problem of uneventful rolls.

In my sagas breakthroughs - even those by NPCs - tend to be BIG things changing the outlook of the Order of Hermes onto the world: I like to foreshadow these, and would not entrust them to some die rolls.

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I like the idea, but I do think that at least some breakthroughs should not show up entirely out of the blue.

In fact I have criterion for decided which breakthroughs are too big:
If a breakthrough once made changes the saga to such a degree that the saga is now almost solely about the consequences of that breakthrough, then that breakthrough is too big.

As a counter reservation if your game has as its premise that such a breakthrough could indeed happen and if it does your group is okay with dealing with the fallout then that is perfectly fine.

I have been thinking about how to introduce breakthroughs to my saga both as things that players can pursue and things that NPC's can achieve. But I have not come up with something yet. Having tables to roll on is a good idea, and I would love to see it in practice or help develop it.

The core system that you propose in the OP is a really solid foundation to work upon.

I'm very aware that having actual full blown breakthroughs happen is, at least for some more significant breakthroughs, a setting changing event that could overshadow what's going on in the player covenant, which is something I'd like to avoid.

The general intent is that it should be very low odds for a breakthrough to actually happen, and that most seasons will see nothing happen, or a minor bit of progress such as a single unusual spell being invented. That way you get little hints that the order at large is working on big problems, but only very rarely get anything that is of order-wide significance.

Maybe the "what happens?" roll could be a stress die with something like the experimentation tables, along the lines of:

Botch - Major Progress is Lost
0 - Progress is lost.
1-5 - Nothing happens
6-9 - Minor progress
10-19 - Major progress
20+ - Breakthrough

So the vast majority of the time we just get small novel effects or very minor things, an explosion is needed to get a major novel effect, and two or more explosions minimum are needed to get an actual breakthrough.

Perhaps to have more of a progression, each minor or major bit of progress in a given breakthrough might add +1 to subsequent rolls?

@OneShot in practice we would probably roll these events out for at least several years in advance of the current saga date, so as to be able to work them into plot threads if necessary, the randomness is more just to sort of arbitrarily pick what other people in the order are working on (from the options that are palatable for the troupe, which will probably weed out all the paradigm shifting hermetic breakthroughs, at least for us). Still, that's a troupe preference - we like surprises, and they can be hard to come by in a troupe style game! It's not to everyone's taste.

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I would instead suggest that for every roll-cycle (season, year, decade, whatever) that passes without a result you add a cumulative +1 to the next roll, until you get something different from "nothing happens". When you do get something that is not "nothing happens" then you reset the bonuses to +0.

You can also add permanent or temporary modifiers and even change the system. For example you could say that because of the conservative, anti-hedge-magic outlook that curerntly dominates the Durenmar and house Bonisagus leadership breakthrough involving hedge magic have a lower change to occur. Globally because all of the great library's sources on hedge magic are locked away. I would simulate this by making breakthroughs involving hedge magic take up less of the number space in the tables that determine which breakthrough sees progress in a given season.

You could also have a temporary modifier as a response to a partial breakthrough, say that in one season someone presents a highly useful spell with the veil of death Range and as a result Caananite necromancy is suddenly all the rage, and everyone and their apprentice seems to be engaged in research of caananite necromancy. So we add a +3 modifier to the seasonal breakthrough table roll, but we also say that if a breakthrough happens we roll a dice and if the number is even then the breakthrough automatically happens in Caananite necromancy, instead of being determined by a roll on the breakthrough tables. However because of the increased interest in original research we add extra botch dice to simulate the effects of researches taking greater chances in order to win the race to full integration and the influx of sub-par researchers wanting to get in on the fun. Once a botch happens the modifiers are lost for now, since a lot of people decide that it was all hype and move on to the next big thing.

I would probably decide that once a breakthrough happens there is going to be a universal penalty to rolls on the table for a number of years to simulate a lack of interest in further original research as resources get prioritized towards exploring the newly made breakthrough, instead of trying to make additional ones.

Maybe with modified values (for a season on season roll):

Botch - Major Progress is Lost
0 - Progress is lost.
1-8 - Nothing happens
9-13 - Minor progress
14-22 - Major progress
22+ - Breakthrough

This way most seasons will see no progress but to simulate that those who are working are really making no apparent progress because right now their work is not paying off but that they are still getting closer, if nothing else then by elimination of the unfruitful paths.

Of course the exact numbers are always going to be the subject of debate and saga-specific adjustment.

I would probably use the roller on a year-by-year basis to minimize the required book-keeping. But in making it year-by-year rather than season-by-season I would also make breakthrough a little more likely to happens pr. roll to keep the amount of breakthroughs per year more in line with what you would expect from a season by season roller.

Anyway there is lots of great stuff to work with here, no doubt about it. :smile:

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Put some "reverse breakthrough".

Not all ArM5 is active, some are breakthrough in progress.

For instance, double the penalty for supernatural ability SQ or make the minimal Art penalty 20. It won't affect your players, but it will show growth of the background.

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I like this idea. I just didn't see it until now.
Although I've never liked the botch dice.