Comments on The Mysteries (Revised Edition)

I'm writing the entry on The Mysteries Revised Edition over at the HermesWeb Wiki, and find myself wanting to comment on the many Mysteries presented there. Maybe it is because Mysteries add new mechanics and there are so many of them there, but I feel nearly every Mystery deserves a comment saying either (a) it doesn't do what you'd expect or (b) it's better to change it. For my money. So, I'm turning to this august community - what do you think of the Mysteries there? Do you agree with my analysis, and/or have your own comments to make?

Here are my beefs, so far. I'll probably add more as I work through the book later.

Actually, I agree on this point in degree, if not in kind. Vulgar Alchemy seems to me to be a standard lab activity that one should be able to do without the virtue. Something similar to the process of investigating an enchanted item. I've wondered how all the canonical shape and material bonuses were dicovered by non-alchemists. I'm debating house-ruling this, but I want to game it out just a bit more before I do so. If, however, the troupe and/or storyguide decide that a virtue of some sort should be required for this, then I'm not sure how else I would go about it. The list of bonuses has grown long through the various supplements. What worries me is that given the difficulty in establishing A bonus for a shape or material -- let alone multiple bonuses -- that is broadly applicable in Hermetic Theory, then one needs to explain how all the bonuses have been so broadly communicated with only some magi demonstrating an interest sharing the results of such experiments and, perhaps only some of them with the appropriate virtue.

There may be an explaination, I just haven't found one that makes a lot of sense to me, yet.

Similar to above, I'm thinking Hermetic Alchemy would fall under the header of a teachable advanced lab technique. Closely guarded and certainly something one might intiate to prove ones desire and worthiness for the knowledge, but not REQUIRING a virtue to learn. Mythic Alchemy, though, makes a lot of sense to have as viture (and ability) on this track. YMMV.

This is a bit more powerful than many people realize. Consider that this has the ability to make any non-momentary spell "permanent" and is much more flexible in location than "ring" duration. Momentary CrFo rituals may be the more elegent and about as permanent as one might get (excepting momentary PeFo spells), but they may actually MORE expensive vis-wise than using this method in some circumstances.

Suppose, for example, one wants to change a small stone bridge into glass permanently. This method lets you cast a MuTe spell and then corral, say, an earth elemental into a prepared vessel and compel it to maintain the spell. Total time (vessel prep time + corraling the earth elemental + casting the MuTe spell (perhaps spontaneously, though that would be impressive) + commanding the spirit to maintain the spell) is probably less than a couple hours assuming one can summon an earth elemental quickly and in any case probabaly a good deal less than a season to create a CrTe ritual "summon the glass bridge" while your grogs are demolishing the old one. One can build similar cases where this would be preferred over a ring-duration spell, as well.

If anything, to the right magus (and more particularly an adventuring magus who knows how to summon spirits), this could be a powerful virtue and may be under-valued. If one can summon a spirit of the proper "weight" and form/association, and knows the ReVI spell of the right level, then potentiall ALL Diameter, Sun, Moon, spells as well as non-ritual spells with special durations can be made permanent on the fly and in the field. This one is a biggie.

Interesting idea.

Keep in mind, however, that this has two big advantage (at least in my opinion): (1) A ritual effect that can cast quickly, and (2) a seriously increased spectrum of spells that can be put into devices that agents of the magus can use. Rather than taking the time to cast "summon fire hurricaine" while your grogs are battling away as you carefully draw out all the symbols over the course of, what, two hours maybe, one can trigger the device in the course of a round and burn Venice to the ground without someone noticing that strange and sinister man up on the roof of the cathedral and doing something about it.

Also, IIRC, that this is something a Verditius couldn't do no matter thier level of initiation in House mysteries.

Great idea. Done! Bjornear felt a little light to me, anyway.

Hadn't really gotten into these in detail, but you've given me a lot to think about.

Never really bought the "shielded from the elements" requirment anyway. I like the Covenants way of doing things. Hermetic Architecture is a great start but I agree that it might need some refinement, though I would have to spend a little time working through examples to comment on the proposed mechanic.

GREAT post!!



Yes, that is a good point too.

Why should any magus be able to do extract other types of raw vis? That would be devalue raw vis, which is a shame. No, I prefer it to be a Mystery. Not necessarily a highly-secreted one, but not something any magus can learn and do (easily).

Yeah.... The thing is, for most useful permanent effects you either need a Ritual or a Ring duration will do just fine. And using Spell Binding involves lots of hassle - you need to invent the ReVi(Fo) spell, then find the right spirit, then cast the spell (which costs raw vis) and put it all together. So yes, it would in some cases be preferable, or cool, or even efficient - but rarely.

The clincher for me is the use of a Ritual spell. Creating the permanent effect costs raw vis, in addition to the "waste" of raw vis inherent in not distilling the spirit for some. It takes time, you can't curse someone in mid-battle or stuff like that.

For the right mage, I agree this can be very neat. Indeed, probably abusive as he piles on permanent effects. But in general, I think it's rather cumbersome, expensive, and not very useful.

All true. However, the result of Hermetic Empowerment as it stands is to create items with a set limit of charges. This means you invest lost of time and vis to create enchanted devices that can cast the ritual effect quickly - a few times. After that, there is an imprisoned spirit in the item that is too depleted to empower it, and its powers are useless. You might as well smelt it for raw vis again (speaking of a Verditius). This strikes me as a rather strange waste, and I prefer to see the spirits more "eternally" tormented, as the fluff suggest, and the item not rendered useless after a few uses.

Hermetic Empowerment can be a useful virtue regardless, as you say.

Our point has been to take magical potency and astrology as a general rule open to all magi under normal hermetic theory and to disregard the rest of the book. Not exactly what you were asking for, but we found the mysteries more a supplement for high level (old magi) powerrgaming and very low in mystery, if mysterious at all. The 4th edition supplement OTOH was quite useless as a rules supplement, but was quite cool in concept. 3 players IMS think this (including me), so it did not suit us to use this material, but as usual YMMV :slight_smile:


For what it's worth, I agree with Xavi that TMRE is more useful as background and flavor than for its actual mechanics. IMS we are usually playing magi who are just trying to build up their Arts enough to make their first Longevity Ritual and maybe train an apprentice.

Some of the Mysteries described there are awesome, though. :slight_smile:

Mysteries are, by definition, intended for highly-specialized magi.

My opinion is that mysteries do what they are supposed to do very well, but that the subject isn't going to come up in every saga. Indeed, mysteries-based stories are fundamentally proactive and character-centric. Nonetheless, the book is also an excellent source of inspiration, as previously noted...

Got to agree with Gremlin44. The Mysteries are a great carrot to get lab rats out of their hole. Players are going to have a long term plan. Mysteries are a great way to throw a choice at them, like life does. "One time chance to learn Vulgar Alchemy, it will be really helpful to my work. Who knew that Magic Lore would turn out to be an important skill? Now I've got to find a good book or teacher. If I go with my original plan, I might lose my chance to learn Philosophical Alchemy, and I NEED the Vis........ But they want a commitment! What if they send me to quest in Africa? How do I keep that secret from my Covenant?". Lots of stories to be told and all you did was give the player something he wanted.....

I would also go with the trapped spirit in hermetic empowerment being allowed to slowly recover the might lost, especially if powering a Year effect. We after all have the precedent from Calebais 5th edition of the trapped faerie providing a modified version of The Shrouded Glen permanently without being destroyed over the years. If it can turn up like that in a npc created ritual powering device then it should be fair game for player magi. It is also listed under hermetic empowerment that a year long ritual can be produced so long as no 'walking the boundary' is required, and in neither the shrouded glen or aegis of the hearth is that absolutely required according to the spell descriptions (Aegis of the hearth refers to 'usually' walking the bounds which means it is not necessary always). If a covenant can obtain permanent rituals like that from the investment then it pays back the outlay easily.

I have a few comments/questions:

1: Yes, it can do true augury, with the caveat that there is no absolute future in canon. In fact, there is at least one specific example of this given. The answers are based on the current state of things. However, even with this limitation, it allows more than In** allows in that regard.

2: Penetration is not necessarily poor, and really shouldn't be considered this way anyway. It's better to look at the casting total since that gives both an indication of penetration and ability. Plus, their penetration bonus is the same unless you have the Spell Mastery special ability for an In** spell. An In** formulaic spell wins out by a long shot on the one thing it can do. Things change when we move to spontaneous magic. Divination clearly trumps fatigue-less spontaneous magic, but that's not usually such an issue since you'd only use that for trivial little details anyway. Compare fatiguing spontaneous magic to Divination. The lack of dividing by 2 means the Aura helps (or hinders, but generally helps) more, your characteristic helps more, Puissant helps more, etc. Both of them can pick up a few other bonuses, but a lot of these balance out. In** spontaneous magic, however, has two fast-advancement abilities. Now they end up fairly even, with Divination lagging behind in progression, partly because what's the point in spending the extra points. However, there is a glaring exception: arcane connections. For any spell/divination of sizable magnitude it drops by 15 points (3 magnitudes) for Divination. Since we're not dividing by 2 here and we would be with spontaneous In**, that's like having a +30 bonus to spontaneous In** Arts. All of a sudden a 6 in Divination is like having 34 in Intellego and 2 in each Form (most efficient distribution for In** only) for a small fraction of the cost. So if you want broadly applicable spontaneous stuff, Divination can work quite well.

3: Does Enigmatic Wisdom really not apply? I must have missed that. I agree that the core book (and HoH:MC) suggests is should. I don't remember ever reading that Enigmatic Wisdom would not apply. Can you tell me where the section states Enigmatic Wisdom does not apply? Even if Enigmatic Wisdom doesn't directly apply, I would expect that walking the circle bonuses could be used.

Overall, I think Divination would work much better with some sort of a change. Perhaps it could be a fast-advancement ability instead of a normal one. Your suggestion incorporating it into Intellego would work well, too, especially if the special bonuses are retained. Right now it's good in only a limited enough way that you have to really really want it.


Hm... Good point on vis value. And, giving it more thought, it toys with the Limit of Vis. I think I'll rename it unless one really is transmuting Vim vis into another form, albeit inefficiently, in which case the Limit is bent/broken and the word alchemy needs to stay in.

As for the rest of it, I think we agree that a lot of spirit or theurgical Mysteries are not broadly useful. Perhaps that is the point in that they create a story path for someone who is willing to specialize in something, well, mysterious. The spirit magus would have no problems, really, in spending time developing spirit summoning and commanding spells and collecting ties to spirits. The terram magus would have problems, but then would he wouldn't sweat creating spells and effects revolving around "moving a quantity of dirt" imself instead of commanding an agent to do it for him (or her).

I guess if there is a general criticism I would apply to Mysteries is that some of them feel more like a "power buff" and less like a strange, wonderful, and unique form of magic. This may be just writing, though, and my players and I are creative enough to create sufficient fluff and house rules to address.


How does it allow more? It explicitly says that this is like Hermetic Intellego spells except [,,,], and the exceptions don't really allow more.

Hermetic magic isn't good at divining the future from the present, it isn't built for it. I do think that's a sound approach to the issue, but it can be done better - see, for example, the astrology rules in Art & Academe. With astrology you don't need to penetrate, it isn't (clearly) scrying, and you gain information that leaves room for surprise without being wrong. Other ways of dealing with this issue are to have the player create a "prophecy", which will translate into a story element he can insert when he feels like, a la Story Magic.

As it is, Hermetic magic is rather poor at doing this divination stuff. You can't get information about something's future without arcane connections to things that are related to it, you need to penetrate MR, you need to have wide targets to cover all those involved, and what you're checking feels wrong (checking whether X will kill Y is not like checking whether X currently wants to kill Y).

I think that the two are roughly equal in power, and of course the former is based on basic abilities that are more flexible. Remember that you can add Philosophiae and Artes Liberales to your spontaneous spell, as well as raw vis, talisman attunements, and a host of other bonuses from the various supplements (just about any one will add ways to improve Hermetic magic; hardly any will add ways to improve Divination). The effect of a Magical Focus should also not be underestimated. I think that brings the two methods up to par. Add in Wizard's Communion and the flexibility of Intellego, and it becomes more desirable.

The express aim of the Divination rules is to create a "specialist" in Divination, rather than in Intellego. It makes sense that the master diviner would not also be the master talker-to-plants, but that's not how Hermetic magic works. So this is a sound option thematically, but it is amounts to using Intellego without using the Intellego Art, which feels disconnected from the rest of Hermetic magic and a waste.

The section explicitly say that that EW doesn't apply, but it doesn't explicitly say that Craft: Carpentering doesn't apply either. ArM Abilities don't just get added into formulas when it feels right (not by the RAW, anyway). The rules for Divination are pretty specific about which Abilities add to it, and EW isn't there. Note that the affects of other relevant Abilities, like Astrology, are mentioned. I believe adding EW would constitute a house rule. I think it might very well be a good house rule, but still.

On that we agree.

Incidentally, on re-reading, it isn't clear to me whether non-ceremonial Divination requires using one Method or can utilize any Method. Anyone?

I think I'd phrase it a little differently - the problem is that the mechanics are often too removed from the interesting fluff. Alchemy is a good example - the flavor is all about changing substances, the rules are all about vis extraction and longevity. We already talked about hermetic empowerment. Another example that's on my mind right now is hermetic theurgy - the idea of having the magus summon spirits instead of casting spells is a great one, but why not have the "spell spirits" actually behave like ones? That would allow having the spirits cast their spells at Touch range, by moving to the target, for example. Perhaps multiple spirits can be talked into activating on the same round. Perhaps they could be ordered to activate automatically on certain conditions. Perhaps a discussion of what the spirit does if the duration expires without it being activated (going after the nearest target?). Instead, we get "spirits" that don't leave the magus, and apparently have no volition - and of course, no real statistics. They are called "spell spirits", but they appear to be more like game-mechanical affects.

A good observation, I think.

One of the things that I really like about the line in general is that all the authors seem to make a real sincere effort to do real research into historical perspectives. As someone who's interests bite into time for research for background of sagas and associated legends, I rely on it pretty heavily. That said, what little reading I've been able to do on the topic of historical alchemy seems to be about elevation and purification so I can see why the virtues can be seen to revolve around refining magical power (vis extraction) and using it to elevate (more powerful magical devices and longevity rituals) and ultimately acheive immortality using it. I guess that space in the books simply does not allow for more dots for folks to make those connections.

Indeed, I think this is a case where the mechanics overwhelm the flavor. And, incidentally, I think that now that RoP:M has been released, a few tweaks and maybe a new virtue would be worthwhile along the lines that you suggest. Back to the issue of flavor, though, there could have been more work done if page space allowed. Not sure that was the limitation, but in chatting with authors of other books, it seems the struggle is never "what can I add to meet my word count" but "what do I cut". In this case, I'm guessing that a good bit got cut.

And that leads us to my view our current situation. To me, the alchemical mysteries do make sense as mysteries (with the aforementioned issues with Vulgar Alchemy excepted, of course) and a pretty reasonable chain as described. We could quibble over the mechanics, and to make them fit in our own sagas a tweak or two might be appropriate, but conceptually I do see a common theme. I can say the same with theurgical and spirit mysteries, by and large, though the division to me seems artificial or under-explained in this case. And, more globally, I think that Mysteries:Revised can provide inspration for home-brewed virtues, particularly when taken in conjuntion with AM and RoP:M.

I just would like the text to (a) add more dots for connections to be made for no other reason than it helps with the heavy lifting of saga design, (b) a bit more work on suggestions why a magus might be interested in persuing the mystery, and (c) some perspective on what a senior initiate would look like beyond "Desiderata is now immortal." As a relative newbie to the game (5th ed only, really) it makes the game more approachable without seriously compromising or constraining other players more established in the line.




This virtue is painfully difficult to use. It takes a lot of effort to create a new general guideline, both in terms of time and in terms of being forced to experiment. A magus is much better off waiting for Atlas to publish new supplements with new guidelines that are free and generally provide better bonuses than can readily be gained here. Not worth a virtue point. Not even worth half a virtue point. This is so not worthwhile, that any magus who wants it ought to get it for free, so that SGs can tell any magus who says, "this thing should give me a bonus" to go research it using the rules.

In much the same way that Hermetic Magic has nothing to do with the historical pursuit of magic!

Very weak, unless you know of a cool 'abuse' that makes it worthwhile. (Sort of the way CrIg is very weak, except for abusive effects like setting people on fire! :wink: )

This virtue is actually quite useful as is. For one thing, it allows ritual effects to be cast without a die roll. For another, it allows ritual effects to be cast without spending 15 minutes per magnitude. Finally, it is the cat's meow for a magus who has any combination of Unstructured Caster, Rigid Magic and Twilight Prone.

This is a great mystery for anyone, though Verditius magi don't get to leverage their House goodies. In general, doubling the excess Lab Total can usually be made to exceed any possible S&M bonus, sometimes greatly. Some magi have Virtues like Craft Magic (ex misc) or Craft Amulets (ropd) that allow drawings or images of things to provide half the bonus of the thing itself; a tattooed magus with one of these virtues would gain these bonuses without needing to Blend with Substance, saving time, vis and Warping.


A spell or effect that shrinks the item for a season or three can also do the trick, though this doesn't always work out.

This virtue requires a magus with incredibly high scores and way too much vis and time on his hands. It might be easier to just kill Saint Michael and take his stuff.




Bjornaer, light? considers They have some awesome stuff. Sensory targets can be wonderful. The inner heartbeast allows any animal Quality to be self-initiated, and animal Qualities are often better than virtues. Where else can you get something like Tireless (2 fatigue levels?) or Pursuit Predator (Brawl 5, 1 fatigue level, Hunt 4)? Check out the various keen senses Qualities for more awesome. And a Bjornaer with Theriomorphy can use these in human form. Where other magi have to work hard to secure an eternity as a being with Might, a Bjornaer elder knows what Final Twilight has in store for him.

That said, not being able to bind a familiar is a nasty drawback. Familiars rule.




Mystery Virtues canonically represent advanced magics, but I prefer to see them as a toolkit for creating different styles of Hermetic Magic.

That is, I have no problem with a magus starting play with Mystery Virtues, especially if these virtues are balanced against Hermetic flaws. Hermetic Theurgy is a pretty useless virtue, for example, but it becomes very interesting for a character who emerges from apprenticeship with this virtue, a Major Focus in Spirits, a spirit familiar and talisman but can only cast formulaic spells that fall within his Focus, and thus has a bad reputation within the Order, which is suspicious of trafficking with spirits.



Although given their prejudice against shapeshifters, a Bjornaer with Theriomorphy should feel very dirty indeed.

I don't see that. They are just bringing their Heartbeast forth. I would think the inner Heartbeast "Chimera" would be "beyond the pale" for Bjornaer mages. I mean, in canon, doesn't that mean you ate someones soul?


Or might have a lesser Reputation within the House. Bjornaer who learn the virtue are probably the ones who fit it into their world-view. It is a House Virtue, after all.




Ken, I think that you and I disagree a bit on the Bjornear. The inner heartbeast virtues are definitely very good, though Saxonous raises an interesting concept on the Chimera, and I think that the other house virtues are pretty well thought out. I guess, just on reading and not having played a Bjornear, I feel that it just felt like there was not enough there. This may be more of a chicken-and-the-egg problem, though, insofar as it is not clear to me why I might want to play one and that skepticism prejudices my reading or that in reading the text I'm left not feeling terribly inspired and thus don't think about the possibilities much leading to a lack of desire.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I'm a little hung up on flavor text revolving around the history and foundation for any mystery cult -- exoteric and esoteric. I know, that's on me and I don't think I'm saying anything bad about the authors. I guess I'm just hungry for more.