Certamen vs Covenant Charters

So, an "interesting" discussion has arisen, regarding those two aspects of Hermetic existance, "Certamen" vs "Covenant Charters".

Using the Arae Flaviae Charter as a base*, our intrepid group of magi set out to create our own Charter, and a Spring covenant.

(* The link will not autowrap, so to avoid breaking the thread it has been broken into two parts; cut and paste the entire URL into your browswer window) ... -games.com

The following questions arose- can a mage use Certamen to force another mage to vote a certain way in Covenant Council Meetings? (At first glance, "yes") But then, can a Covenant Charter ban such activity, or at least discourage it?

The relevant arguements went like this:

Pro Certamen:o It's an inalienable right of all magi.
o It's supported by the Peripheral Code (PC)
o It is necessary and desirable in order to avoid escalated conflict.Pro Charter ban:o Covenant Charters expand on the Code and/or expand/limit the PC all the time.
o Allowing Certamen in Council votes could undermine a Covenant
o Tribunals support the PC, but also Covenant rights.There are two phrases in the AF Charter that seem to support the latter:

"...a full member of the covenant shall be entitled to the full rights of the covenant; to whit, the right to presence and a vote in the Council of Members, which he shall exercise dutifully with due prudence."

It could be argued that losing your vote in Certamen does not demonstrate "due prudence", nor are they, actually, excercising their vote. (This is no slam dunk, ymmv, hence this thread.) (It could also be argued that enacting Certamen breeches promises of Covenant support etc, but let's ignore that for now.)

"Conversely, the rulings of the council cannot be overturned by an individual."

So, this ~claims~ that a single individual, via certamen or any other method, could not cause all the voting magi to change their votes and overturn a ruling.

It was pointed out that if a mage, strong in Certamen, could do this, then what is to stop that mage from legally and personally challenging any aspect of a charter as they pleased?

Otoh, if a Covenant can ban Certamen under some instances, what is to prevent it from doing so otherwise?

Many Covenant Charters include clauses that could be interpreted as "depriving a mage of his magical power" (tithing of vis found, involuntary duty to the covenant, censure and loss of Sanctum) - are these then presumptuous (ie, "technically illegal") as well?

Now (wait, it gets better!), if a Covenant did ban Certamen in the Council Vote, and a mage did invoke his right to use it, then the Covenant Council could sanction him under the Charter within their power, but that mage, in turn, could then bring them to the Tribunal on Charges of violating his rights to Certamen under the Peripheral Code!

But!... (and here I start to feel like the Sicilian "Genius" in Princess Bride...) ...If the Tribunal supports this complaint, then, since the plaintiff voluntarily signed the Charter, what good is any oath subsequent to the Hermetic Oath, since any subsequent promise or agreement between magi can be sidestepped by simply claiming Certamen, and winning?

Essentially, as I see it, it comes down to this: which is more important- a magi's right to Certamen, or a Covenant's right to govern itself as it will?

Any insights or opinions are welcome, but, as always, those supported by canon citations are more valued. :wink:

It seems to me that the canon citations on Covenant's rights, duties and powers are pretty hard to come by. Since they are "where the rubber meets the road" where PCs are concerned I beleive they are left greatly vague, since saga will vary by location, tempriment, and Storyteller.

That being said, as written there are a couple things that do keep covenants defended from Certamen happy members.

A covenant's main power to control its members is expulsion, and any member who does that to the dissatisafaction of the rest will be out on his own.

To this end, anything written in the rules of a covenant is enforcable, since the wizard agreed to them in the first place or are free to find a covenant more to his liking. "We're not denying you your rights, you are. Certamen your heart out, but if you do, you're gone."

Also, Certamen is allowed only for disputes. How can there be a dispute over a vote that hasn't been taken yet? Once the vote has been taken, the mages dispute is against the council, and not individual mages.

A mage carrying a disupte against another covenant member who refused a Certamen to tribunal would certainly not see their case upheld in time for the vote in question.

You could also argue that every member has a right to vote, and a vote is "the expression of opinion", not obligation.

Finially, stakes have to be set, and often the challenged can request reward enough to make the Certamen unattractive. Even a poor Certamen duelist can win a duel with enough Vis or luck.

But really, these are the sort of things that should be decided by a troupe. If it is well know that Certamen can be used to change votes then the PCs should know this ahead of time and decide how they will handle it in their saga. It is a cool obsticle to overcome? Or is it something that they feel makes their decisions worthless?

A practical and insightful truth.

The troupe is currently split, and each half adamant as to interpretation.

One problem with "undefined" aspects - the characters tend to know far more than the players.

Without paging through the Ara Flaviae charter:

Whether covenant votes and procedures are liable to interference by Certamen between covenant members depends on how binding to covenant members the covenant charter is seen at the Tribunal.

If it is clearly stated in the charter, that to covenant members it is as binding as Tribunal decisions/peripheral code, then Certamen between members cannot interfere with any rights, duties and procedures laid out in it. (See ArM5 p.89.)
To make such a statement valid and accepted by its Tribunal, a covenant wiil likely need a Quaesitor to certify, that nothing in its charter contradicts the Code of Hermes and the peripheral code: that e. g. promises of mutual help in the charter adequately handle situations of Wizards' War and Wizard's March.

As long as there are even only doubts about the degree of commitment by a covenant's members to its charter, these can be exploited by the 'Certamen politicians'. Especially, once a weak charter has been agreed upon and signed, they might well be able to prevent any later strengthening of the members' commitment to it.
(Trying to argue before the local Tribunal, that your covenant, as an assembly of magi, holds Tribunal rights anyway and that its procedures and decisions are per se as binding as the Tribunal's, hence do not allow for interference by Certamen, is a bad idea. :wink:)

Kind regards,


Looking over the Ara Flaviae charter:

The important lines appear to be in the quaintly worded first pledge:
"Just as I am pledged to the Oath of Hermes, so do I pledge the covenant to the Order of Hermes and the authority of the Tribunal of ..... ."
Since a Quaesitor in good standing has approved the charter, the 'anti-certamen' fraction in your covenant could refuse any Certamens regarding covenant procedures and votes, and if a 'pro-certamen' magus brings this to Tribunal, uphold that this magus has pledged to follow the covenant charter just as the Oath of Hermes, so cannot interfer with its functioning by Certamen.

Then it is semantics day at the Tribunal, and anybody can argue what 'pledge the covenant to the Order of Hermes and the authority of the Tribunal' really means:

  • whether 'covenant' refers to the covenant charter at all,
  • and whether 'pledge to' means 'accept as given by the authority of'.
    If yes in both cases, then the 'pro-certamen' fraction is soundly beaten by reference to the peripheral code ruling from ArM5 p.89.

Of course there will be a lot of pork-barrelling, horse-trading, do-ut-des and you-name-it before the Tribunal reaches a decision, and everybody in the covenant will be the poorer for it. And - perhaps - the wiser, too.

Kind regards,


I was one of the players involved in that discussion, and we are still writing the charter. Having two Tremere in the discussion with four total I dislike the idea that certamen to change peoples votes would be considered a betrayal. While the issue is not likely to come up often, I am playing a Tremere and certamen is part of the house heritage.

The best argument I came up with is that the charter gaurentees the right to vote. If I certamen you to vote how I choose you have still voted, therefore not a problem as far as exercising your rights. Not a good argument I suppose, but hey.

Apparently there will never be an agreement about the covenant charter between these four magi, unless the SG puts serious outside pressure onto the would-be covenant's members.
And, by putting on this pressure, he will run the very real risk of being perceived as playing favourites.

AFAICS, the best way to get a healthy, long-running campaign out of this situation would be, if one or two players reconsidered their character choices. This could also be promoted by the SG giving an adequate reconsideration bonus in terms of - say - a Virtue point or 30 experience points to the rebuilt characters.

Kind regards,


Great advice, and it could be either two. I think a group of 4 Certamen happy magi will find that their opinions matter not at all, as their decisions will all be made by the equivelent of a coin toss. However, a group that doesn't like long drawn out disagreements may find this a fine option.

Ironically, it seems that everything being equal, the challenger is at a disadvantage, since the challenged get's first pick in arts. In these odd circumstances, getting someone to challenge you could lead to debates every bit as drawn out as the actual debate :wink:

I can't stress enough that you all make sure exactly what you want out of your saga. A Certamen hungry bully can make a RPG experience into the equivelent of a PVP on-line experience. That is, being "jumped by suprise by a character designed to have no function beyond PVP"

Interesting assumptions.
As one of the Players involved , I can pretty much say I am not a 'Certeman Hungry Bully'. However the context of the discussion was the in game rules in the periphral code covering the use of Certeman and how it applies to the internal affairs of a covenant vote. House Tremere clearly favours Certeman as a means of settling disputes between magi which can not be quickly settled by negotiation so as a Tremere magus I was strongly supporting the view that Certeman mus have a legitmate role within the internal politics of a covenant. None of us could find any clear position on this in any of the 4th or 5th edition material .

Having Taken part in or witnessed the most incredibly fierce and lingwinded arguments in Ars Magica council's (and similar situations in other games) I think it wise to include a mechanism to resolve the arguments with less interpersonal ill will (when it has become clear that those involved has irreconcilable views which they cannot abandon).

Just to be clear , there are 04 Magi , of whom two are Tremere.
Do the two Tremere always vote as a bloc?

If it comes down to split votes on any topic ,
with both Tremere on one side ,
then they can always Certamen one or both other votes their way.
(if a unanimous decision is required)

How would this charter work if all 04 magi were Tremere?
(Not saying anyone should change , just curious)

If both Tremere are on opposite sides in a tied vote.
Easiest course is to challenge the non-Tremere on the opposing side to change.
However if one of the Tremere does this ,
the other Tremere will probably do the same in response.
Depending on outcome the Tremere can then challenge each other.

My basic assumption for Tremere vs non-Tremere is that it will be a Tremere win.
(power levels of the magi being roughly equal)

If i were a player ,
who knew that i would be subject to this kind of legal coercion by certamen (even if not all the time) ,
i would be a bit annoyed.

A provision in the charter ,
to allow the non-Tremere to have an outside Tremere take their place ,
strictly for voting challenges ,
might be an option.
(Though this could incredibly slow things down to get resolutions passed)

Even if only one voter was Tremere , the implication is ,
that they could challenge any number of other voters ,
on any topic ,
to change their vote.

Certamen is intended to resolve disputes, situations where both magi have a valid claim. When a magus has undisputable ownership of a vis source, another cannot call Certamen over it, while they could if ownership was uncertain (q.v. "Legality of Certamen" box, page 55 of True Lineages).

So, forgetting Certamen for a minute, you need to consider what claim your Tremere magi have over their sodales's votes. Unless something in your saga explicitely give rise to such a claim, I think they have none and thus no amount of challenges will give control over the vote.

Think of Certamen as a shortcut to bringing an issue to Tribunal. If you don't have an argument that you could present to Tribunal as to why they should rule in your favor, you don't have a basis for Certamen. While there might be arguments you could bring as to why the members of your Covenant should vote one way or another on a given issue, that is beside the point: what you would need to justify is why you should be allowed to decide how they should vote.

If your charter mandated that everyone vote on every issue, that a proxy must be named, Certamen could be called to get the proxy of an absent magus who just so happen no to have named one. There is an evident conflict of prerogatives there. But I wouldn't allow it to force the magus to choose a specific proxy in the first place, just like I wouldn't allow it to, say, force another magus to invent a spell for you if there was no reason whatsoever he would have done so in the first place.

Between the two Tremere magi things are a bit different: they would likely abide by House traditions and use Certamen more often. But that is essentially by mutual agreement to use it. Certamen can always be refused and it will be up to your Tremere to bring the issue of that refusal to Tribunal. Since the Sundering, I really doubt Tribunals would allow Certamen to take such a political importance again (except maybe in the Transsylvanian Tribunal which is Tremere-dominated). Furthermore, if you follow the 5th edition House description, I doubt Tremere magi would try pushing for it again.

If you want Certamen to be able to influence your Covenants internal decisions, you will have to add explicit clauses for it in its Charter. And there may still be a chance the Quaesitores woud refuse to ratify it.

We are only just starting the game, having never had any votes. I think neither me or Andrew, being the two Tremere in the game, want to use certamen to affect the votes. That is not the reason for the argument, but I at least take the view that as a legitamate and well viewed tool of the order for settling disputes and as part of our house heritage, neither of us would want a charter which says it cannot be used.

We had already discussed amongst ourselves that any attempt to dominate the council purely by certamen would lead to charges of bullying at tribunal, and other more skilled at certamen would defend the weaker if it seemed to be being abused. But the non Tremere took the view that the charter meant that voting rights were inviolate. The issue of how to break a deadlock in council (4 votes) was part of what prompted this.

As an aside to Fruny, what he said was part of the argument used by the anti-certamen lobby. However the response was that although the charter said everyone has a right to a vote, according to the rulebook and TL the only things that certamen cannot be used on are code protected rights and tribunal voted issues. The question was does a covenant charter come under the protection of code or tribunal ruling, and the answer as far as I am concerned is probably not. If the tribunal was to take a vote on whether charters were to be considered as binding as the tribunal rulings over the covenant involved that would be different.

I'm not making any assumptions, just cautioning you to be sure everybody will be happy playing in a saga where the strongest MAY decide a lot of issues in council, and a saga where the weakest may spend their time sneaking behind the backs of the stronger so things get done outside of the council. If they're not, the saga may enter winter prematurely.

I personally have no problem with however you want to run your saga. In fact the first Ars game I ever participated in was based in Mistridge and the PCs had a great time being non-voting members of the council, making deals, sneaking around behind the backs of the much more powerful Magi such as Grimgroth, Vulcris, and Felix Necronomicus. Our CHARACTER'S felt put upon, but we as players enjoyed it.

Looks like we posted at the same time, and it sounds like you've considered all the downsides and up sides of this sort of decision. I see no problem at all with a charter stating Certamen being a tie breaker, even though I don't think otherwise such a thing is required by the code. You might also consider allowing the Council leader being allowed to break ties or simply postponing any decision that can't be agreed upon by the majority of mages. This could also lead to a search by the mages for a new NPC who would be sympathetic to their world views. Good stories, there.

I choose to concentrate on the rule that Certamen can only be used to resolve legitimate disputes. You can't Certamen another magi into giving you his magic items, or not breathing, or giving you his familiar, or to agree that day is night, or that his vote should be against his true choice.

Your mileage and saga may vary.

And why stop there? All the challenged could challenge the Tremere back to change their votes, then be challenged by the Tremere to make them challenge them again to make them change their votes back. Followed by another round of the same.

That's understandable, but I don't perceive that the way one votes is, by itself, a legitimate dispute upon which a challenge can be brought. Even within ArM5 House Tremere, block voting isn't enforced via Certamen, but tradition and the idea that it is the Right Thing to do (as well as an implicit threat of renunciation).

Quaesitorial ratification of a Covenant charter means it is entered into the Tribunal's Peripheral Code and makes it binding. That's the whole point.

No, this has nothing to do with the problem or the question. It's not what the magi prefer, it's what they know of their world.

It's not a matter of "who gets their way", it's a question of "what is reality" in the Mythical World of the Hermetic Order. The magi would know what is acceptable practice, and a Quasitore or a Bonisagus, or someone (even if not among the group of PC's) would be able to say "that's perfectly reasonable" or "You're heading for trouble".

When a Quasitore approves a Covenant Charter, what does he say about such, that is the issue.

(Once the issue is ruled one way or another, then whether or not those particular magi want to sign that given Charter is another matter.)

So, this arguement would be that someone's vote, just like their opinion or the clothes they wear to bed, is not subject to Certamen, because it's none of the another magi's bussiness (regardless of whether either could have an effect on the world at large.)

I woulld say that a magi cannot sign away their "inalienable rights" under the Code in a Covenant Charter, but can they more tightly (or loosely?) define rights from the Peripheral Code?

I would say that, if they sign it, that carries the most weight.

Your magi, or you as players? If the former, that's a hard line but IC for Tremere. If the latter, that's rather selfish as players, imo, to say in effect "my character will dominate, or I'm not playing."

To make this clearer: What HoH:TL p.55 excludes from decision by Certamen, and what you appear to understand by 'undisputable', are only those issues which have been already determined by Tribunal, or by the Code of Hermes proper.

So the question here is: just which Tribunal has already exempted the votes in a given covenant from Certamen?
With a properly written covenant charter,

  • accepted by the covenant members as given by the local Tribunal,
  • certified as compatible with Code of Hermes and peripheral code by a Quaesitor in good standing
  • and requiring every vote to be cast 'after own best judgement', 'dutifully with due prudence' or such,
    this question is easy to answer: the local Tribunal did.
    But if the charter is weakly formulated, or is not ratified by a Quaesitor, I don't see which protections votes in a covenant would have from interference by Certamen.
    (OK, there could in a given Tribunal be a blanket ruling introduced by an SG, protecting all votes among magi, whatever their scope and purpose - but that's not in the books and just exercising legitimate SG prerogative.)

Kind regards,


A charter could introduce Certamen into the voting process just like it can decide, as angafea reminds us, that the council leader breaks ties, or even that only some members have voting rights. However, the Quaesitor who reviews it wouldn't miss the opportunity to remind the non-Tremere magi of that House's historical superiority in that field. As you point out, if they then still decide to go for it, it's their choice.

AFAICS, the Quaesitor will say: "You can have a charter protecting your covenant procedures and votes from Certamen. And you can have one which does not. And you can have charters allowing only some interference."
And then you, the SG, apparently have the problem, that - however the charter - two magi currently in your campaign might not sign it.

Kind regards,