Certamen Choices

I have two questions, one based on a rule disagreement and one based on general opinions:

  1. Let's say I'm dueling in ReCo and lose initiative. My opponent chooses to attack with Corpus. Must I defend with Rego, or do I get to choose between Rego and Corpus for my defense? (We know I'll need to use whichever I haven't used for defense for my own attack.)

  2. Do you find some styles much better than others, or do you find them fairly balanced? On that note, do you find using a style you're not trained in worthwhile? Personally, I feel like there is an imbalance between the styles, but it's not severe. Meanwhile I feel like almost none of the styles are worth using untrained.

EDIT: We can ignore #1 now. But I have a new one: 3) If you are trained in Laquerius, do penalties accumulate? Can the total penalty become greater than your Finesse? My impression was "yes" to both because otherwise there is really no way to make your opponent's defense "inert" over time, as indicated by the description.


Assuming nothing else was specifically decided that deviates from normal certamen:

  1. You choose.
  2. I like hoplomachus best. I think there is an imbalance between some styles. I think standard certamen is just as much fun as any school of certamen.

Ah, a new question:

  1. When do you decline to do damage? Or maybe the question should be at what point is an attack successful? Do you decline before or after Weakening/Resistance? If we weren't talking about Certamen, I would say an attack is successful if it hits, whether or not it actually does damage. But are you declining to do damage then? The phrases used seem to be interchangeable. Since most of the styles are worthless and since the phrases seem interchangeable I would expect you decline before Weakening/Resistance. Thoughts?


With a little more time to write, here are my thoughts on #2. Ranking: great, good, OK, poor, bad. All of this is based on the assumption that you decline damage before Weakening/Resistance. If that assumption is incorrect, several style drop significantly in the ranking.

Trained: It effectively gives you a little more flexibility in the same way as choosing your Te/Fo. It's OK.
Untrained: You net a negative to gain a little flexibility. It's poor.

Trained: The substitution benefit might be good on a case by case basis. It's really useful against Bjornaer not trained in it due to the Arts. It's good.
Untrained: You get a decent bonus at no cost if you happen to be in the right Arts. But you'd only use it in that case. It's great!

Trained: Being able to pull of an extra two Fatigue or getting a nice bonus with no in-Certamen penalty is huge. It's great!
Untrained: It doesn't seem to provide anything. It's nonexistent?

Trained: Only rumored to exist.
Untrained: It's handy for those who can handle it morally. It's not clear if the extra spell needs to be the same TeFo. It's OK.

Trained: This could become handy, especially against Bjornaer with lots of Fatigue levels. Passing a Brave check of 5-7 followed by another of 9ish is likely to cause a loss, and that's well before a normal loss would occur. This is probably by far the most powerful one. It's great!
Untrained: Even not being cumulative this is still pretty good. There's a very good chance you'll fail three checks against a 5, again well before a normal loss. It's more iffy this way, but not that iffy. It's great!

Trained: There's a decent chance it could cause you to lose, but that could help you outside the Certamen. This should only be used in friendly Certamen, in which case it is nifty, or in a case where you outmatch your opponent by a wide margin. It's OK.
Untrained: You can do it for cool effect, but that just opens you up. You're better off not doing it generally. It's bad.

Trained: You net a bonus equal to your Finesse in return for losing initiative. If Quickness isn't your thing, this is powerful. It's great!
Untrained: Unless you plan to win by loss of concentration or have some bet about how long you'll last, what's the point? It's bad.

Trained: This gives you a way to get through if you're Weakening isn't great and their Resistance is. It's more effective to target Defense than Resistance (see Velitus) because it will trigger more often as you progress and because you can usually whittle down Defense more than Resistance, but it comes with a downside. It's great!
Untrained: The bonus is short-lived but may be useful. You should definitely choose Velitus, but that doesn't invalidate this one's intrinsic value, just its relative value. It's OK.

Trained: It provides a similar bonus to Hoplomachus. You might not lose initiative, but Resistance isn't as good as Defense due to other styles. It's great!
Untrained: If you've got initiative you can get a pretty good bonus whenever you want it. It's great!

Trained: So knowing you could have knocked off Fatigue you can decline to do so for a second attempt at the same? Your opponent can give up their attack and you're just back where you were for no gain. Or, if the opponent has initiative and is strong enough, they'll get in one more attack to finish you off. You wasted your training on this? It's bad.
Untrained: As above but you haven't wasted your training. It's bad.

Trained: Why not just possibly lose the initative? If you're nearly giving up your first three attacks to get a large initiative bonus you're probably essentially giving your opponent two free attacks plus the initiative. Giving up an attack to gain initiative? So you're giving up a successful attack to replace it with a possibly successful attack? It's bad.
Untrained: It's even worse. You give up a successful attack to have a chance of having a chance at a successful attack. It's bad.

Trained: Except at the extreme, Andabatus does the same without the several drawbacks. So Andabatus, which is only OK, is better. It is only useful if you have a very high initiative and duel a lot with those who both accept it and will duel to the first blow. It's OK.
Untrained: It doesn't seem to provide anything. It's nonexistent?

Trained: It only helps if your Weakening Total is 4, 5, or 7+. If you expect a useful result, then you're expecting about 6+. Two attacks doing 6+ divided by 5 are better than one attack doing 6+ divided by 3. It's poor.
Untrained: As above, but it only helps with Weakening totals of 5, 9, 10, or 13+. It's bad.

Trained: You get nothing when you could have another. It's bad.
Untrained: No benefits and no penalties. It's OK.

Trained: It's essentially a more limited Laquerius without the disadvantage. In the end they're roughly equivalent. It's great!
Untrained: It's a good option if you'll have trouble with Weakening vs. Resistance, as when trained. It's great!

Well, that was actually a very useful exercise. I see more value in some than I had seen before. Still, I can't see there being many practitioners of Pumilius, Retiarius, and Scissor. They're weak enough practitioners should head other directions. I would be happy to hear any disagreement with or any points I missed in my analysis.


Nice analysis, even though I have a few minor issues with it. I believe your assumption is correct (at least that's how we play it). I also think that a full analysis should consider the a) the possible use of vis and confidence (some styles interact much better with it than others) and b) the use of fatigue enhancing magic (extra fatigue from Bjornaer's Hearbeasts, from your familiar assisting you with Gift of Vigor, etc.).

I think it's important to stress that there's a profound difference between an Art/Art of 25/5 fighting with an Art/Art of 15/15, and two 15/15 (or two 25/5) fighting against each other, even if in all cases the sum of the Arts is 30. In the first case, the fight is going to progress far more quickly. If the fight progresses quickly -- whether by "Art asimmetry" as above, or because a side decides to use vis, the advantage of initiative is higher, because that one extra blow you have thrown immediately after attacking is likely to count more -- both in terms of raw number of fatigue levels, and of fatigue penalty you are inflicting. If you win initiative, Andabatus is very, very strong, because it allow to tip your scales in your favour even more -- that one extra attack carries twice your Finesse as a bonus.

In any case, Andabatus tends to make fights shorter, and there are at least three advantages in keeping fights short. First, long fights tend to give an advantage to styles, such as Laquerius, that give a persistent bonus in exchange for a one-time penalty (and these are some of the strongest styles around). Also Certamen rolls are stress; long Certamens are therefore likely to lead to botches, which have two effects: 1) they make the outcome more random 2) they inflict Warping points. Since battles with Andabatus tend to be faster, Andabatus tends to be slightly more useful if you are already ahead of your opponent, vastly more useful against styles such as Laquerius, and cheaper in terms of Twilight points gained over a career of dueling.

Overall, I'd upgrade Andabatus to at least Good, and probably Great.

I'm not sure what you mean about the Trained use -- why would it be more useful against Bjornaer?
I think that this style is useful in a sufficiently narrow range of circumstances that it's not really worth spending time on it. I'd certainly downgrade it.

The way I read it is that the description given is for Untrained use -- the last Trained users perished with the Diedne. And it's certainly the best of the styles to use Untrained, although one should not underestimate the "social costs" of using a technique associated with the Diedne.

A nice trick, though you are still bound by the code. Basically, you have to fight a certamen at some disadvantage for the ability to cast a spell -- if you win -- that bypasses the loser's magic resistance... I think it's utility is marginal enough to downgrade it to Poor.

If played as such, it's really a great style. But!

  1. Confidence can really help.
  2. Depending on how you play it, the Mentem form bonus might come into play. The silver cord of the familiar certainly does.
  3. Most importantly a little Mentem magic cast on oneself before the Certamen can completely nullify the use of this style by the opponent!
    As such, I would downgrade both Trained and Untrained use to Poor.

I agree with the analysis, though the evaluation strongly depends on the value you place on being able to "read a wizard's mind" without violating the code -- and on how effectively you could do the same through a simple conversation paired with a good Folk Ken roll. I'd probably downgrade the Trained use down to Poor.

First of all, I would point out that the Untrained use can be quite helpful if -- by means of e.g. a good Folk Ken roll -- you manage to guess that your opponent is going to unload a cartful of vis on you on his next attack (the same consideration applies for the "No attack -> triple Finesse as Defensive bonus" option in trained use). Thus, I would rate Untrained use as OK.

In terms of the "net" bonus, I would point out that a bonus to Defense is marginally less useful than one to Attack: if your Defense exceeds your opponent's attack by 3 or 33 it's really the same, but if your attack exceeds the opponent's defense by 3 or 33 it's one fatigue level vs. winning the duel.

Finally, the same considerations about short fights made for Andabatus apply in reverse to Hoplomachus -- which tends to turn Certamens into lengthy affairs: Hoplomachus tends to be less useful if you are already ahead of your opponent, relatively poor against styles such as Laquerius and -- perhaps most importantly -- it tends to make Certamen really, really expensive in the long run, because a large number of duels end up being fought "to the first botch".

I would still probably rate Hoplomachus as great, or at least as good -- about at the same level as Andabatus.

The real advantage of (Trained) Laquerius is that you pay your price once, and get the bonus for as long as the battle lasts. Thus, it's really great in long battles -- not only against Hoplomachus, but also against opponents with large stores of Fatigue (whether Bjornaer with "extra fatigue" from their Heartbeasts, magi with Familiars who lend them their fatigue etc.). I agree, it's great!

Untrained use lacks this advantage; its usefulness is thus very marginal and rarely worth it. I'd downgrade it to Poor.

I mostly agree. Plus, all the shortcomings of Essedarius apply, too.

Untrained is certainly bad. I'm not sure Trained use is so bad -- I'd upgrade it to Poor, maybe (just maybe) OK. The idea is that you don't need to use all your bonus to get a sizable boost of winning initiative. It's very good if you have one really high score, one really low one (and the opponent doesn't) and a cartful of vis.

I believe what you refer to as "Trained" use is actually "Untrained" use. It's just a trick, not a whole school.
In additions to duels to the first blow, it can be useful -- if you have the initiative -- against an opponent with just one fatigue level remaining. It's great to end battles against Hoplomachus, or if you can trick them into thinking you'll use vis (so they go into "Full Defense mode" that round).

It's much better if you use vis (and to a lesser extent confidence); you get much more bang for your buck (pawn?). In consideration of this, I'd upgrade Trained use to Ok, maybe Good, and Untrained use to Poor, maybe Ok.

I mostly agree with the analysis, but if you know another style where you can choose to have no bonuses or penalties (say, Andabatus), fighting in that style is still slightly better because it keeps the opponent on its toes.

Untrained: I think the same considerations made for Laquerius apply -- I'd rate is as Poor. Trained: I really think Laquerius is slightly superior (despite the defense penaly), because with Laquerius you can use whatever advantage you have already gained to increase your advantage further -- not so with Velitus. The difference is marginal in the absence of "fatigue enhancers", but get much more pronounced with those (or against a Hoplomachus).

Overall, I'd rate Laquerius as the best style to be trained in (with Velitus a similar, but very sligthly inferior alternative).
This also makes Andabatus -- quite effective against a Laquerius and Velitus -- a good alternative -- in particular give it's less obvious advantages.
Hoplomachus is also a very good style although the same subtle aspects that make Andabatus stronger than a cursory reading would suggest, make Hoplomachus weaker.

This argument completely contradicts itself once you finish making it: if your attack falls short of the opponent's defense by 3 or 33 it's really the same, but if your defense falls short of your opponent's attack by 3 or 33 it's one fatigue level vs. losing the duel.

Hmm, I have probably phrased incorrectly what I wanted to say -- namely, that afteracertainpoint* the marginal returns of raising your Defense decrease, while those of raising your Attack do not (ok, they do after you can knock out your opponent in a single blow).

Nice points. I'll have to look through them more carefully.

Thus gerg is still correct since they both hit a point of diminishing returns while your point is still valid. For Attack, as you said, it's when you're Attack before the roll is enough to put you up 30 or so when Weakening/Resistance are included. For Defense you only need to be up by 10 or so over their Attack. Of course, Defense is the safer one to be able to raise in case you lose initiative.

Edit: Of course, it should be remembered that raising either can be somewhat interchangeable if your Arts aren't even. For example, if you're past being up by 10 on Defense with your higher Art, you could move that Art to Attack and use the lower Art for Defense. That's what I like to do with Hoplomachus after the first round. Hoplomachus is probably my overall favorite, though I've also gone with Andabatus and Laquerius.


I hope people will forgive me for bumping a relatively old thread; it seemed the most relevant to something I've been thinking about.

This is a great write-up, callen. I agree with much of what you wrote and hadn't considered some of the conclusions you reached on some of the schools. A recurring trend I've noticed in analyzing the schools as well as watching how certamen plays out in practice is that virtually no one will fight "in the style" if they can possibly avoid it. A lot of the "follower" level mechanics are really strong and cool options for duels but trying to reduce them appropriately for "in the style" can be really difficult. So far, I haven't seen anyone voluntarily fight in the style if they could fight as a follower because the ostensible benefit -- being able to switch from school to school each round -- is heavily outweighed by the disadvantageous mechanics. It made me think that a simpler approach to fighting in the style would simply be that your Arts totals are reduced by a flat amount for the entire duration of the duel if you don't fight as a follower. E.g. you can duel as a follower of Hoplomachus as normal or you can duel with a set of mixed styles at -2 (there's probably a more appropriate number) to both Arts. In this way, the schools still retain their fundamental appeal (assuming they had some to begin with, of course), but you're going into the duel with a handicap.

Some schools would be more affected by this than others, I think, but I think it would promote school switching much more than the RAW.

I really like Hoplomachus for my Tremere disputant right now. My strategy is VERY balanced Arts, even distribution on the relevant arcane abilities, high Stamina, and Hoplomachus. There are some schools (Velitus and Laquerius) that can cause him trouble, but there's virtually no bad combination of Arts for him and if he catches an opponent on even one off-Art, it's easy to capitalize. With OoH Lore, it also makes it easy for him to call bluffs. If he knows someone has, e.g., high Corpus but they propose Animal, he'll almost always going to accept because the difference between his Animal and Corpus is usually smaller than the opponent's. And if it winds up being the lower Art, it's going to be doubled anyway, and THEN he gets to do the 2:1 conversion via Hoplomachus once the duel starts.

Trip Report: Normandy Tribunal certamen tournament of 1249. My 58 year-old Tremere Hoplomachus disputant managed to beat a 70 year-old Bjornaer Provocateur, 80 year-old Flambeau Laquerius, and 110 year-old (!!!) Ex Misc Bone-Biter mostly by getting lucky on the initial determination of who picks Techniques vs. Forms, obnoxious defensive stonewalling, and the opponents inevitably botching defense rolls. 0 vs. even a milquetoast attack total is still pretty bad unless you have a huge resistance total (e.g. from Provocateur). They were among the slowest, most dragged-out series of duels yet, but it's a really difficult strategy to overcome.

Hmm, I am probably misremembering, but I thought the determination of who picks Techniques vs. Forms at the Normandy tournament is not random at all -- the older magus always picks the Technique and the younger always picks the Form.

Would you post the relevant numbers of your magus? i.e. characteristics, Arts, and relevant skills and Virtues & Flaws? My theory is that for every magus there is one with no more than 2/3 the experience who can beat him more often than not. I'd like to put that to the test!

No, that's the way it's set in the The Lion and the Lily.

I haven't seen that rule (assuming it's for tournaments?), but you could be right. If that is the rule, then everything worked out as intended by luck!

I'm sure someone could easily build a disputant specifically to annihilate him without much trouble, but for the majority of duels that come up in play, he has an enormous success rate.

Venzi (Lüin) of Tremere
Relevant numbers are 5 Stam, 3 Int, 0 Per, 0 Pre, 1 Qik. Techniques: 15 Cr, 11 In, 12 Mu, 11 Pe, 12 Re. Forms: 12 An, 10 Aq, 10 Au, 12 Co, 11 He, 11 Ig, 10 Im, 10 Me, 10 Te, 12 Vi. 2 Concentration (Certamen), 4 Finesse (Ignem), 4 OoH Lore (Certamen Specialties), 4 Parma Magica (Corpus), 4 Penetration (Rego). Follower of Hoplomachus, trained in Andabatus, Bone-Biting, and Scissor. Relevant Virtues: Harenarius (well, not really relevant to the duels themselves, but...), Enduring Constitution, MMF: Certamen (of course). Relevant Flaws: Overconfident (Major), Oversensitive (Height Insults -- he has Small Frame, too) -- not immediately relevant in most duels, but it can make him do stupid things.

Build a juggernaut to destroy him!

E: Oh, he also has a +2 Gold Cord with his familiar.

I must agree. For a Tremere it is very useful if you can be set up with not terrible choices in Art/tech. But I will agree that it can be quite a stalemate unless someone makes a botch or you risk switching attack vs defense.

Actually, I was remembering correctly. It's the rule used for the Normandy certamen tournament, according to tL&tL, p.32.

A few quick questions to try and keep everything on an even ground:

  1. I notice Stamina +5. Is that the result of 2 Great Stamina picks, or some Corpus Ritual?
  2. What are his personality traits? Those are also relevant!
  3. Do you assume that magi can use magic to help them in Certamen duels - e.g. some variant of Endurance of the Berserkers enchanted in the familiar's bond or cast before the duel begins? If so, does Venzi have any such magic?
  1. Yes, two Great Staminas.
  2. Overconfident 3, Self-Reliant 2, Loyal 1, Loyal (Ivèrna - his familiar) 3.
  3. No, at least not the way we've played it in our troupe.

Thanks to you and Jonathan for pointing that out. It will be advantageous to me in the (near) future (only).

Out of curiosity, how well did your Covenant end up placing due to your character winning the Certamen contest?

Ha ha, not that well! These are the first magi any of us have made -- the first AM campaign any of us have played, actually -- so we didn't realize the importance of the Tourney in Normandy for a while and many of our characters were not built for it. The other magi of the covenant are more narrowly focused in their Arts and most of them don't have a combat focus, unfortunately. Well, I shouldn't say unfortunately because they're cool characters who do cool things, but when tribunal rolls around, we can't make a great showing in the assorted Tourney events. We had a great companion who did well in the melee, but he's retired now (so are our most experienced grogs) and the melee doesn't count for many points anyway. We have a magus building himself up for the Joust but he got walloped the last two tournaments (including this one). We still have the host's choice game to play through this Sunday, so we might place a little bit better, but so far the lookout isn't great.