Casting to learn about the Aura

When a character casts a spell, there are aura modifications.

Do you tell your players straight ahead: "You enter a dominion two aura". Or do you keep quiet about it?
Do you make the characters' spells mysteriously fail in high auras? Does magus realize what is going on?
Or do you say: Oh, there is a -4 modifier on your result and I am not telling you why?

First as noted in realms of power books (at least in divine and infernal), a mage should feel something specific from an aura : for a divine aura, IRC his hands can itch, he can feel humbled by something greater etc.

That's how I play it anyway : I discribe this feelings to my players if the aura is strong enough, at least 3-4, and they can also cast InV spells to be sure. Then I tell them the strength of the aura, and what it does (how many botch dices, what is the malus/bonus). If they don't care about determining the aura strength and nature, I just apply the modifier and tell them when their spells fail, or when they fail to penetrate a magic resistance. Most of the time they soon realize they are not in a friendly aura...

Another Storyguide I play with doesn't do it this way. He just tell us the aura nature and strength when we need it.

Hi,

Although my instinct rails against it, because I prefer to exclude game mechanics from narrative, if it comes time to roll dice, they get to know the numbers. If they cast a spell that tells them about the Aura level, likewise.

A few words from me hardly compares to the experience of actually living in the game world. The least I can do is provide some numbers.

But I don't provide numbers otherwise. If a priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a cathedral, I don't tell the players "you're in a Divine Aura," but provide narrative. (And ITSIDR, the three will not experience the Aura in the same way.)

Anyway,

Ken

Salvete, Sodales!

Actually my handling of aura effects is different in different situations. In game I tend not to mention low level auras (~ up to 2 or 3), as I think they seem to be so common (especially Dominion auras) that people don't really feel them. If it comes to game mechanics it is really dependant on the situation. For simplicity's sake, I'd tell the players the level of a rather obvious aura (e.g.: "Unless I tell you otherwise or you search for special places you have a general level 2 Dominion in this city."), but if they are for example within a subtle Infernal aura it is my turn to do the math and surprise the players with unexpected results of their magic. In general the moment the characters know in game that they are within a low, moderate, high or extreme aura of a certain realm, I don't see that it hurts to tell the players the exact level.

Vale,
Alexios ex Miscellanea

IMS magi "feel" when they are entering an aura and its aproximate strenth (weak, medium, powerful) and if it is positive or negative for them. The exact strength of the aura is only known when they cast InVi spells or if they have an appropiate V&F (magic senstitivity, susceptible to that kind of aura, sense holiness and unholiness....): those V&F give the magus or supernatural practitioner the exact strength of the aura straight away. That kind of carpet effects are felt straight away. More specific info requires casting spells or other kinds of investigation.

Cheers,
Xavi

Same here.

N.

Determining an Aura is a trivial spell - Base 2, momentary, no reason "Taste" doesn't work (if the mage is willing to "lick their lips") - so unless a mage has a Deficient Art, no scores in those Arts and can't use regular gestures, they should be able to nail any Magical or Fae aura easily enough. (A negative Aura, Dominion or Infernal, might be another matter...)

I usually describe the "feeling", and if they have time assume they check it out and give the value - unless things are immediately dramatic and/or there's reason they can't ID it via a quick spell. But even then, if it's a long spell-casting scene (a battle, whatever), they'll usually figure out about where they are fast enough, so, again, I give it to them out of practicality for the flow of the game and pacing.

Unless, again, there are dramatic reasons to withhold it. Rare, but certainly possible. No rule carved in stone, whatever makes the best story and session.

The biggest killer of any adventure sequence is always the numbers. We need numbers to make the game flow, provide advancement and make people feel they are taking part in a dynamic sequence rather than a scripted one. So overall giving them the aura details is a good plan to speed things up.

However, as much as possible as an SG I try to smear the lines of certainty. Ars Magica is one of the worst games for encouraging players to believe they cast an investigative spell and scored 'I win' and therefore expecting to be told everything they want to know. This completely sucks as a game mechanic when in my many years of roleplaying experience the stories are best when they are acts of discovery. When the reward is a greater knowledge and understanding of the universe in which they live.

It is one of the few areas of Ars Magica I have always been very unhappy about. It also unfortunately tends to push so many adversaries of my players as being masters of magical deception simply because that is the only way to prevent a gang of magi desending on a spoor and instantly conjuring the stat record and life history of whoever took the dump. Then proceeding to blast said beasty from out of nowhere via arcane connection destruction magics. Story ends, 5 XP ignored and everyone goes back to reading books... top banana.

Hi,

Yes.... AM doesn't do well with these stories. Sort of like trying to run a 1920s Agatha Christie mystery with the cast of CSI.

But there are other stories.

Anyway,

Ken

Yup. You discovered who is the bad guy et al. Now, what do you do with the info? Blasting him to pieces might not be an option if he happens to be the son of the local magnate, you know...

Hi,

The steward of your covenant has discovered that his wife has been having an affair with your apprentice, or maybe your master weaponsmith. You can stop him from killing her in rage, but now he wants her brought to justice, medieval style.

Intellego your way out of that.

A murder has been committed at your covenant, and through Intellego you rapidly discover that your new saber tooth tiger familiar is the culprit. (Or maybe the promising apprentice of the Tytalus magus....)

I have a deep, personal bias against whodunnit games in any system. These games (often the hallmark of a mediocre CoC convention game) tend to be similar to those old-fashioned Infocom games, where you have to slog from place to place and if you interact properly with the NPC, you get a cookie, er, clue.

Whydunnits and whattawegonnadoaboutits are far more interesting. That's where PC choice and roleplaying lie.

Anyway,

Ken

I am in complete agreement :smiley:

Oh I agree with that, I was more expressing the fact that it becomes very hard to conceal things form players for dramatic effect until the story is ready for a climactic end. Unless you do a lot of thinking in advance about how to magically conceal things you all too often discover your players have identified the 'endgame' villain and his location at the very beginning of the story.

Hi,

Yes. Absolutely. And I see this as a Good Thing.

It means that a bad story cannot be rescued by a climactic dramatic effect. The drama has to be there all along, and the climax mounting. (Mmm... Climax. Mmm... Mou---)

It does make things harder for a GM, because his stories have to be more interesting.

(Lord of the Rings works even though we know from the beginning that Sauron is the bad guy. Heavenly Creatures works even though (even because) we know from the beginning who kills whom. The climax of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is given away in the title.... These aren't rpgs, of course. But I think that the best games are the ones that are about the characters, and most mysteries are intrinsically about the people whose doings are discovered more than the discoverers.)

Anyway,

Ken

Again, very true, but not every storyteller is ready for this and it often leads to some very disapointing games when the many players have thought faster between them than he.

I suppose I am mainly concerned that it has driven me into creating master villains who are invariably masters of deception, practice wholesale brain washing on their goons.

After several years of gaming Ars they are startign to fall into a rather familiar pattern. I want something slightly less than Moriarty which remains challenging without having to hide the evildoer in a fortress which would challenge Indiana Jones.

There is always inter-house scheming to consider of course, the infernal can lie about anything including the returns on divination or intellego magics, the unassailable enemy from a rival house. I like to keep top villains in the background for as long as possible to build a real sense of irritance in the players over many years of gameplay. The final defeat being all the sweeter then when they destroy something they have been combatting for so long.

After 20+ years of roleplaying I freely confess I am running our of fresh ideas and like to be able to have a session now and then where I have not thought out then next 6 weeks just in case the PCs come up with something I havent thought of. It is also noce to have someone in the story that doesn't have a character sheet - in Ars Magica that can quickly lead to a game breaking situation where players ask for soemthing you simply dont have. I am not saying its wrong, I am saying its an awful lot of work and does not necessarily add much to the game experience.

Hi,

Isn't that usually the way of things? :slight_smile:/2

How about no evildoers at all? People just doing the things they do will inevitably cause problems for the magi. There's no need even to justify why people are always causing problems for magi. The Gift is justification enough. So when the magi first have to deal with the friar who riles up the peasants, and then have to deal with the peasants blaming the magi for both the bad weather and for the soldiers who trooped through on their way to somewhere else, and then have to deal with a Bjornaer who wants them all to go back to nature, and then a message from the local baron arrives requesting a 'favor', and then the Quaesitors show up then next year to investigate the covenant for mishandling the baron (and that might happen no matter how they handle it), and then a beautiful woman seduces one of the magi.... who needs a Big Boss villain waiting at the last level?

But of course, there can be one. This is Mythic Europe, after all, and there is a Big Bad.

The big adventures are still possible:

A peasant presumed dead years ago stumbles into the local village babbling about the Lord of the Five Rings and then dies for real. The big Intellegos reveal that the peasant is really dead, really was the peasant who vanished years ago, and believes his babbling. There we have a Big Bad who doesn't need to be Moriarty, but might not even exist. What are the Five Rings? Is Veriditius somehow involved? (And who will prosecute first, the Tolkien estate or Alderac Games?) Intellego might solve the mystery quickly, but to use it you have to get to the Lord and his Rings. This might be in a fortress to challenge Indiana Jones--and such a fortress might be easy for magi--but could be somewhere else, and there's a series of adventures involved in getting there. And no matter what, the real fun begins once the magi have the Rings and need to decide what to do with them; various magi from House Verditius are probably quite insistent on reclaiming their heritage, but what about the Bonisagus who demands the right to study them, that crazy Criamon who is certain that these rings hold the secret to the Enigma and will stop at nothing to get at them (he won't harm you because he is non-violent, but if you get in his way he will help you achieve enlightenment by gifting you with two Warping Points....), and those hapless but determined Keystone Krusaders determined to cast the things into the fires of Mount Aetna?

The Dominicans and French nobility, having put paid to the Cathari heretics, turn their attention to the blasphemers of Hermes. No big fortresses, no great villain, just devout and ambitious Christians doing what people do. This is a great challenge even in a game where the SG doesn't allow any powers from RoP:D: No saints, no miracles, no holy magic. Only a dominion aura, minor relics, public opinion and religious fanaticism. (Hell, I'll even keep my Diedne out of the way. :slight_smile: )

And so on.

Yes. AM character sheets ought to be much simpler. A peasant's complete character sheet ought to read something like "Gerard Smith, male, age 32, Profession: village blacksmith(narrow focus), Large, Successful Womanizer, Superstitious, Covertly Resented. Lives in Amesfield. Has 3 children, a wife with very mixed feelings about him, a lot of female admirers and a bunch of men who are willfully oblivious."

Anyway,

Ken

Well, I would suggest that this is not an optimal sort of storytelling device. If you are an exceptional SG, maybe you can pull it off. But as a player, I usually find this tactic annoying. It feels as if I am being led through a plot by a hook in my nose, and if I take any action that takes me off of the predestined path I become the disruptive player for ruining the story.
Two suggestions...

  1. Try sharing all of the information ahead of time. It is okay for the players to know every detail (and read the "module"), just so long as they can play as if their characters don't know these details. Tell them "This is what I am trying to accomplish, how can you help me get there?". This relies heavily on troupe style play, where all of the players are helping generate the saga story. It removes the session from being an example of tactical war gaming and "roll" playing", and makes it more about character development and "Role" playing.
  2. Don't offer any clues in the first place. This is fun for the SG, though frustrating for players. In the current story of my saga, my players are frustratingly trying to use Intéllego to find clues that are not there. I had to blatantly tell them they are chasing red herrings. They already found out just about everything they can with Intéllego (I fed it to them right away to get the story started). But, being gamers, they assume that I am holding out information from them. I am a little bit, but nothing important and nothing that can be revealed with the tactics they are using.
    And some answers are so obvious, I just feel it is beneath their intelligence to simply tell them. If you are wondering how the enemy spirit got into the Aegis and stole the sword (releasing the other spirit trapped within), I suggest you have a talk with the resident summoner who is often careless about the spirits he bargains with.

Make the parens of one of the PC plot against the covenant for whatever reason you can imagine. No intellego available. In general, if the culprit is a magus you will have more investigative problems, specially if he did the crime himself.

What about an angel playing tricks on them to see if they act according to God's law, even if it goes straight against the mundane law of their area?

Or you can create a mystery plot in an adventure in the cirty where only grogs and companions are available, so they cannot do all the fancy stuff that magi can do, and cannot notice the infernal aura of level 6 they are standing in.

Just 2 random ideas

Xavi