Domus Parva 790 A.D. - alternate setting

Salus sodales!

This is my first post on this forum and I’m glad to become a part of the community. Forgive me if it's a little long :slight_smile:

My group used to play Ars Magica back in the 90s, when we had a couple of campaigns that went on for a few years, using 3rd and 4th edition. Then we moved on to other RPGs and left AM in a drawer. But it always stayed in our hearts, and now I got a sudden urge to come back to it. I was delighted to see all the great manuals that came out and to discover this active and enthusiastic forum. I took a lot of good ideas from here, while lurking, and I am grateful for that. I want to credit Heaven’s Thunder Hammer and the people that replied to his posts about a campaign set in late VIII century for some of my saga's features.

Thus, what follows is the setting for a new campaign that I plan to begin soon. I post it here not only for the joy of sharing, but also because I would enjoy more inputs and ideas. So every comment is more than welcome.

[center]DOMUS PARVA[/center]

The saga is set to begin in 790 A.D, a few decades after the birth of the Order of Hermes. All the founders but Criamon are still alive and the hermetic lineages aren't beyond the third generation. I moved the First Tribunal ten years earlier (757) to be able to have third generation magi by 790 A.D, a year I liked for historic reasons. Here is what is the scenario like in those days:

First of all, I think the origin of the Order as we know it is an edulcorated tale, easy to teach and good for setting a common tradition which serves as a source for inspiration. But things must have been a lot rougher back then in the 700s. The founders were powerful wizards, used to centuries of enmities and distrust. This is stressed enough in the Order's lore to explain the importance of Parma Magica in allowing the magi to be in the same place without instantly blast one another. But the Parma Magica alone couldn't be the magic trick that made them all work together, share knowledge and support each other. There must have been more secrets kept secret, wrestling for power, backstabbing and uncertainty. The Order could have well failed because of internal and external struggles, and in my saga that’s certainly a possible outcome.

Another major difference from official history is that the magic of the Order wasn't so polished from the start. There were big holes in Bonissagus' Magic Theory and in its understanding, so much so that many magi still relied more on their old ways. Most magi, including the founders and the “persuaded", had been raised in non-hermetic cultures, and had had a hard time switching to the new paradigm. Only after several generations of hermetic teaching the magic of Bonissagus would be perceived as THE magic.

Finally, the world was different back then. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the great migrations of pagan tribes, christianity had suffered and urbanization had dwindled. Thanks to Charlemagne the Church is on its way back to power, but in 790 it isn't still ubiquitous, it hasn’t just one voice and it lacks strenght. As a consequence the Dominion (and the infernal) is less extended, while faery and magic auras are larger and much more common. Magic users are all around the place, from the tiniest village to the court of nobles. Even Charlemagne has Maugis the wizard as one of his paladins!

Given these premises, what are the differences between this setting and a conventional campaign set in 1220?

  • Bonissagus’ Magic Theory wasn’t built in a day, and neither in thirty years. It’s been a work in progress that required centuries of development to get to the point where it usually is by 1220. Back in 790 it has a lot of deficiencies, since many breakthroughs are yet to come (see below for a partial list).

  • It took almost thirty years for Trianoma to gather the founders and for Bonissagus to teach them the basics of his Magic Theory. They began in 740 and ended well after the First Tribunal. Some of the founders were trained first and had more time afterwards to expand their Houses, some were late comers and began growing later. At the end of their “apprenticeship”, most founders were still much stronger using their old magic than Bonissagus’ tricks.

  • Most founders shared with Bonissagus just a fraction of their knowledge, while keeping most of it for themselves and their followers. Each House has its secret set of knowledges which I took from Houses of Hermes, The Mysteries, Ancient Magic, Rival Magic and other manuals. Some of this stuff is non-hermetic, and some is a hermetic adaptation of non-hermetic magic. This is what constitutes the core of each House’s mysteries and each House guards it jealously, teaching it to its member in due time. Someday some of this knowledge will converge into the Magic Theory and some will be forgotten. But not yet.

  • In 790 A.D. the Order is small. Since 757, the few founders rose to about a hundred magi (one third Diedne) through teaching and assimilation. These magi live in a few underpopulated covenants, which are often little more than crumbling buildings, dark caverns or villages in the woods (with the notable exception of Durenmar). If we exclude Diedne, the Houses count an average of six magi each, living in one or two covenants. All covenants are inhabited only by magi of a single House.

  • We are not even close to the homogeneity of 1220’s generalist magi. In 790 almost each magus is one of its kind. There are the founders, skilled in old and new magic, the new breed of hermetic filii, and a mixed bag of wizard-priests, summoners, shapechangers and witches which joined the Order but barely learnt the basics of Magic Theory. Each one has a different worldview, personality and skill set. Each one demands to be different.

  • Having said that, it’s clear that the Order is structured more around personal relationships than politics. The founders’ leadership is still the main glue that prevents all the pieces from being hurled away by the centrifugal force. But the relationships between founders are often shaky, and new personalities grow fast and want their space.

  • The apprenticeship is a matter of trial and error. The teachers are either the founders, with their mix of hermetic and non-hermetic notions, or young magi, pushed by the need to expand the House to take an apprentice a few years after their own gauntlet. The process of opening the Gift is faulty, and so the gentle Gift is extremely rare (that’s for making companions more useful). There’s no standard method of teaching, just a few crappy books around, and often a lack of will to teach well (because of selfishness or distrust). Thus, failed apprenticeships are more common, and most young magi pass the Gauntlet with an incomplete training.

  • The Magic Theory is not the only thing that still needs maturing. The Code of Hermes lacks some of its parts, and the Peripheral Code is just a very small collection of laws that no one knows. These codes will be shaped by needs and crisis, but they are just a stub in 790. There have been just two Tribunals so far, and the role of quesitor is yet to come. Guernicus and his few filii are working hard towards this goal, but at the moment there’s no official structure that can investigate a violation, pass a sentence and enforce the punishment. Respect of the spirit of the Code is mostly entrusted to personal goodwill and wizards’ wars.

  • Given the tolerance of benign magic by the Church and the Rulers, interference with the affairs of the mundane is not taboo within the Order. Things will probably change, in time, but so far a magus could even legally be a court wizard (it will been forbidden in 865). Mundanes, though, receive a magic resistance from being inside the Dominion (5x aura). And bishops, missionaries and saints are closer to God than usual.

  • This saga is set in Saxony, a borderland between Charlemagne’s holy empire, the heathen nation that live in northern Germany and Scandinavia, and the slavs that dwell east of the Elba river. Here the faery and magic auras are very strong and very big, and a major source of tales and adventures. The clash between Jehovah and Odin’s breed will be a prominent focus of the campaign, and the fact that Odin is like another name for Hermes won’t be overlooked.

  • [EDIT AUG 31] Mythic Europe is much richer in faery and magic auras, and thus also in vis and non-hermetic magic-users. The relationships with these people will be very important to the campaign. Many of them will be loners, of course, but others will have some sort of organization (the “order of Odin”, for instance), and time will tell if they’ll be dangerous foes or useful allies. Or dangerous allies and useful foes. Some of them may have also stolen the secret of Parma Magica.

  • The PCs’ covenant is an idea of Trianoma. She is worried that the Houses keep being secretive and non-collaborative. If the Order won’t find a way to merge all its different cultures, it won’t last for long. So, the maga arranges a visit to each of the founders and asks them to participate in founding a new covenant with magi from different Houses, aimed to foster friendship and unity. The name of this covenant will be Domus Parva, as opposed to the current covenants which are almost only Domus Magnae. Some of the founders are just not interested, but Trianoma manages to persuade a few. And so, a handful of young magi are gathered at Durenmar and instructed about the value of this new project. They are mostly a bunch of misfits, though: there’s the trouble-maker, the slow learner, the boy that his pater doesn’t trust, the non-collaborative ex hedge wizard, the natural son of a founder at odds with his father, and of course the spy. Oh well, all of them are actually spies of their Houses. All of them are intended to be puppets by their Houses, sent there to discover secrets and reveal none. Will they fulfill Trianoma’s dream and be the seeds of a better Order of Hermes, or will they be the trigger of hostilities between Houses that will endanger the whole organization? We’ll soon find out.


As I said before, the Magic Theory is still incomplete. Below there’s a list of things that makes it so, but I would like to expand it, and I would very gladly welcome some ideas from you:

Several spell guidelines are missing in 790:

  • Ignem doesn’t include light (Elaine of Flambeau 818), heat or cold. Just fire.
  • Auram doesn’t include electricity and lightnings.
  • MuCo spells can’t be interrupted by simply concentrating (Mutantes of Bonissagus 912)
  • Mentem has the Limit of Soul, and can’t affect thoughts and intelligence. It can affect intelligent spirits, memories and emotions.
  • Vim can only be used on active magic or creature and accident of the magic realm. It can’t be used on creatures and accidents of the other three realms (Conciatta 930). ReVi and MuVi spells can’t be invented, at the moment. The only MuVi spell is Wizards' Communion, which is a Cult of Mercury heritage ritual.

The Certamen is yet to come (Tremere 817)

The Aegis of the Earth hasn’t been invented (Notatus of Bonissagus 836)

The Twilight is still a complete mystery.

The Parma Magica can’t be temporarily suppressed (not sure about this).

[EDIT AUG 31] Penetration is being studied by Flambeau, but is not common knowledge yet.

[EDIT AUG 31] Longevity potions don't hold back the apparent ageing.

I have also invented a new minor hermetic Flaw which should be taken at least once by every PC:

Flawed Arts: your apprenticeship was incomplete and you need more study in order to learn to use some of the arts efficiently. Choose two techniques, or four forms, or one technique and two forms. All totals including these arts are halved as per Deficient Technique or Deficient Form. You can remove these limitations by being schooled by a Bonissagus with a Magic Theory value of at least 5. It takes two seasons of teaching to fix a technique, and one season to fix a form. Of course, the Bonissagus will want something in return.

(added september 7)

This is my take on the role, which differs from canon, because it develops slowly.
At the beginning the Order of Hermes had no quesitor role. The majority of the founders didn’t want some stranger to come looking into their affairs. The community was still small enough that controversy could be managed personally on a case-by-case basis. But the Order grew quickly and things got complicated just as fast. Soon the lack of a legal system and the vagueness of the Code lead the magi to think that wizards’ war was the easiest and quicker mean to settle a quarrel. By 790, it is quite common that when there is an issue, the stronger magus calls for a wizards’ war against the weaker one, forcing him to surrender or fight. This brings to a sort of law of the jungle.

The situation has become worrisome for everybody involved, with too much violence and intimidation, both internal and external to the Houses. The issue is therefore brought to the 799 Tribunal, which rules that every House names at least one quesitor inside its ranks, and puts him in charge to be a mediator between disputants, basing his judgement on facts and the Code. Each quesitor will work alone should the quarrel be inside his own House or in collaboration with the quesitor of another House when needs be. The only privilege of a quesitor is that none of the parts involved can declare a war on him, but beside this, he has no special power and he is therefore more a mediator than a investigator or judge. Nontheless, his actions and decisions are usually backed by the Primi and the community, because a peaceful resolution is often better than a war which could lead to collateral damages and long lasting feuds with uncertain outcome.

At first the magi of a House take turns in taking this role, but soon enough some of them emerge as the best choices and become permanent quesitores. They mostly develop a respect for each other, and the ones from House Guernicus earn special recognition for their wisdom and understanding of the Code. More and more their help is requested to help solve the most delicate situations, even outside their own House. Finally, the Order’s major crisis greatly contribute in defining House Guernicus as the House of the quesitores. They also push the Order towards granting more and more authority and power to the role, up to the point where it is in 1220.

(added september 19)

Damhan-Allaidh is one of the founder and he is Primus of House Davanallus, which populates the British Isles and especially Caledonia (Scotland). It is a very loose House, were the members are often just hegde wizards belonging to the gruagachan or rune wizards tradition. Davanallus doesn't care about the rest of the Order and refuses the role of leader of his own House. See page 2 of the replies for the complete story.

And that’s it for now. If there’s some interest I will post more about this stuff, such as details about the historical setting, stories of the founders, characters and long term storylines.

Hope you liked it. Let me know!

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Unwinding the breakthroughs made up to 1220 is always an interesting exercise. Liking what you have so far!

If you're interested in some 5th edition canon for the founders, Faith & Flame has some interesting tidbits on Flambeau and his final(?) fate, along with at least one other character who would be era-appropriate.

On the mundane history side, one can't help but draw some parallels between the squabbles between Tytalus and Tremere, and the similar amounts of brotherly love between the two Carolingian brothers. Given the area you're setting the game in, the influences of that particular conflict are probably still being felt - even though Charlemagne has at that point secured victory and removed his brother's lineage from the line of succession for East Franca. The fun part is that Hermetic apprenticeship may well have been the fate of one of Carloman's sons, and if so he'd be finishing his apprenticeship right... about...

Could be a fun concept for a character, either PC or NPC.

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Interesting setting - would love to know more about it.

Hello Kid Gloves and thanks for replying!

Yes, of course I'm interested. I've digged everything I could find in the books I own, but some new addition would be very welcome. Also because I have decided that one of the five covenants already founded in the Rhine tribunal, Rethra, is at the moment a Flambeau only covenant. Given the different worldviews between the founder and Apromor, the latter has decided to move out and find a new home in Pomerania: a land rich with pagan magic-users ready to be killed or persuaded. This covenant also serves to bring some tension in the area, since it's between Crintera and Fenistal.
So yes, I'll probably buy a digital copy of F&F, thank you for the advice.

This is really interesting! Since Carloman is always treated as a side note in Charlemagne's rise, I haven't considered to use him. But you are right, it could be a source of intrigue (there's never enough of those), and I need to take a closer look at this. I have a similar storyline in my plans, though, and I should consider if they both can co-exist.

My idea involves the breed of the Merovingian sorcerer kings, of course (that's less original than choosing Carloman, I know). I found out that according to the Matter of France, the grand-daughter of Clovis wedded the saxon king Brunamont, and their descendants are claiming the frankish throne during the saxon wars. So my idea is that one of the companions is a saxon boy, which secretly descends from the merovingian kings. Ideally he will grow into a leader and a warrior, with the aid of the Jerbiton PC in the role of Merlin, and one day he will challenge Charlemagne (or his sons) for the frankish throne. Or he will just win independence for his people. Or he will die trying. Maybe.
The conflict between the sacred Charlemagne, with his priests and paladins, against the pagan saxons, with their vitkir and berserkers, will be central in this saga. It is the physical representation of the war between Christ and the gods, between the Dominion and Magic, between the new world and the old one. The Church has not won this war yet, and the Order will have to pick a side. According to canon, Jerbiton has met with Charlemagne in 789 and has obtained a public declaration of tolerance towards "benign magic". But now his natural son (the Jerbiton PC) is aiding the king's enemies. That's a source of conflict inside and outside the Order.

Interesting ideas it sounds like I was definitely an inspiration so thanks for the mention. Did you just read the one thread of mine or did you hunt down my other posts on this topic in other threads?

Hello HTH!
Yes, I dug a few of your posts, looking especially for the ones about the general setting. Then I got carried away by researching and writing for the new campaign (and I wrote a lot), but I'm sure there is more stuff I still have to find.
Actually I have had the idea of an early Order setting since the 90s. A setting where the Magi were less powerful and more peculiar, the companions more useful, and the Order was much less organized and much more of a mixed blessing for its members.
So when I decided to actually make it real I came to the forum specifically looking for early Order settings that could give me some ideas. I expected to find many, but actually I only found yours. Your posts gave me more than a few inputs, though, both by you and by the other guys, so thank you. I also found somewhat useful the last issue of Sub Rosa (n.16), although not as much as I had hoped.

Anyway, I will post more details next week, I think.
See you around, Hammer :wink:

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The one thread that really ended up defining my campaign was this one, where I decided that the pre history of the order was completely different than canon. I

Here's all my other threads/ posts I made that were related to my game, I'm guessing most of which you've read.

Queasitor Powers
I also got some ideas from this thread: "The History of the Order is a Lie, what is the Truth?"

Asking about Pre Schism War experiences from other players:

Here's how I ran the grand tribunal of 784:
Goals of the Titanoi

Here's some of my standard advice I've given to some people who PMed about running early OoH games from my experiences:

It sounds like you've come up with your own solutions to the 1200s level power that causes narrative imbalances in what wizards can do in the setting, so that's good. :slight_smile:

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I can't recall which Tribunal meeting broke the Order into different Tribunals.

I can't remember if it's 4th or 5th edition, but my recollection is that neither the Transylvanian nor Novgorod tribunals were part of the original divvy. Transylvania was part of the Thebes tribunal because of its match-up to the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, which at that time was big and vibrant, and Novgorod, such that it was, belonged to the Rhine. That is, of course, after the decision to actually split the Order into separate tribunals at all.

Noble's Parma on the exact dates of those events, which of course you're entirely at leisure to ignore anyway! For some reason I get the feeling the Transylvanian/Thebes split came about as a result of the Sundering - essentially creating an entire tribunal worth of 'go and sit in the corner' for Tremere, but I could be wrong.

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This was the 6th Grand Tribunal in 865 AD.

Indeed. For this in ArM5, best look up GotF p.140, with for that page.

But Argentarium has found out already (see ), that the state of the Order at the 6th Grand Tribunal - as decribed in 865 AD: Voventes Centennales in Sub Rosa 16 - is quite different from what he desires for his Domus Parva.


Added a few EDITs to the original post.

Thank you very much, THT! I did indeed read almost all of them. But there's a few things I didn't remember that I can use, like reserving some T/D/R to some Houses. I'm not sure about the increased magnitude, since I already nerfed magic a lot by giving less points to buy arts and spells at character creation, no good books, and other limitations. I guess that may be enough.

Yes, that's one bonus of choosing such an early date :slight_smile:

But regarding the excessive power of hermetic magi, I was thinking about Parma Magica. I can't believe nobody smuggled it outside of the Order. Especially in the first decades, when there was a lot of hedge wizards joining and too few hermetic magi to control everything. A vitkir, say, could join the Order and then teach the Parma to his old colleagues shortly after. No civilization has been able to keep a technology secret for long. Sooner or later everything leaks.
Thus I will probably allow some non hermetic magi to have Parma, later in my campaign, when my PCs will be stronger. Members of the Order of Odin, or the druids, or the witches and shapeshifters of Pomerania. I see that Parma Magica was the first invention of Bonissagus, and I understand you don't need to know a lot of Magic Theory to learn it.
Of course the seek and destroy program will be one of the main concern of the OoH, as well as the identification of the moles.

This is not very clear in the books. Somewhere it looks like it was the Tribunal in 773, somewhere it's stated that it happened in 865. Probably the second GT defined the regions, but it wasn't until 865 that the regional tribunals were allowed to have their own laws (which couldn't contradict the Order's laws, of course).
In 790 most of the covenants are either in the Rhine tribunal or the Diedne area (Brittany and british islands). Other regions (the Alps, Rome, Transilvania, Provence) have probably just one or two covenants each, and thus there's no need for regional tribunals. So, the Grand Tribunal will be the only one, for some time.

Yes, indeed it is. The Order as described in Sub Rosa is already very similar to the one we use to know. I guess that's also because the magazine tries not to diverge from canon, and the official manuals don't go into the "what could the Order be really like, during its childhood?"
In fact the infos that I found most useful in SR16 are those regarding the pagan people and their religion.

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GotF p.140 (plus errata) has the Second Grand Tribunal in 773 AD define the conditions and procedures for the meetings of magi being Tribunals, and the Sixth Grand Tribunal in 865 AD define the regional Tribunals and their geographic allocation. The same distinction you find on TLatL p.141 (plus errata). HoH:TL p.41 box Tribunals is just a bit unprecise.


Ok, thank you. That's more or less what I gathered. It just seems odd that the founders felt the need to set those conditions (expressing a need) and then nothing happened for ninety years. I think it's probably the legacy of a change of mind by the authors.
I'm gonna have some unofficial regional meetings before 865, I think, but at least three covenants need to be in the same area for that. Maybe those magi could have a meeting before the Grand Tribunal to try to have a common stance on some issues. Or they may meet more or less regularly just to have some conversation on common problems and to address some Code's violations. Probably you just need one representative from each covenant for that, though.

i don't know if anyone mentioned it yet but sopposedly vim was once 4 different arts(Infernal divine etc) until someone(can't remember her name) changed it

Hello Adrian

I have tackled Vim in one of the guidelines change towards the bottom of my original post. But I'm not sure about the situation before Conciatta. It's clear that before her work, you couldn't use Vim to affect the four realms, such as for guarding from creatures from those realms. But what would you use? I thought that you had to use the other known forms, such has Ignem for a fire elemental, Mentem for a ghost, and so on... But I see someone else thinks there were four more Forms, each one for a different realm. Like Vim-Dominion, Vim-Infernal, Vim-Faery and Vim-Magic. Is there a consensus about this?

Not quite.

The word Tribunal in ArM5 has several meanings. In particular:
(1) Tribunal Meeting: a meeting of magi entitled to make decisions for the community (see ArM5 p.14f).
(2) Tribunal Domain: the geographical area of authority of Tribunal Meetings.
I will keep these two in the following separate for ease of understanding.

The Second Grand Tribunal in 773 AD defined, when the decisions of a Tribunal Meeting would be valid: it had to consist of at least 12 magi from at least 4 covenants. The Tribunal Domain it left to the power of the assembled magi: conflicts between different Tribunal Meetings were unlikely and not anticipated. In F&F p.9 we have hints at local Tribunal Meetings of a Val-Negra Tribunal after 773 AD.
The Sixth Grand Tribunal in 865 AD then defined stable Tribunal Domains throughout the Hermetically settled Mythic Europe, with regular Tribunal Meetings every seven years.


You should read for this first LoH p.12-13 Research, describing Conciatta's breakthrough from 930, and the state of Hermetic magic before it. The underscore is mine.

Then, perhaps the box on Sub Rosa #16 p.50 and Forms for the Supernatural there might be helpful. But in 790 AD Hermetic magic might be still far less refined than that - and just have no approach to any realm but Magic.



Oh great, that's crystal clear.
So between 773 and 865 anyone could call for a tribunal meeting, and provided that it had the numeric requirements, it would be recognized by the Order. Of course it couldn't modify the peripheral code, but it would suffice for legal proceedings and local matters.
I like it because it makes sort of sense, but it's so prone to unfairness that it can be well used for stories.

The Rhine tribunal domain has five covenants. Rethra calls for a tribunal meeting to be held in its covenant, where it wishes to denounce a magus from Crintera. Fenistal receives no invitation, because people from Rethra know that the Merinita would support the bjornaer (Rethra claims that Fenistal is closer to Transilvania than the Rhine, if it cares to give a justification). Crintera declines to participate, invalidating the tribunal meeting (less than 4 covenants participating). Rethra doesn't give up and calls for another tribunal meeting, inviting the same four covenants and another one in the Alps. Now, if Crintera wouldn't participate, the tribunal meeting would be valid anyway, and its magus would be prosecuted. So Crintera declares that it belongs to the Novgorod Tribunal domain, and its magi can't be prosecuted by the tribunal meeting to be held at Rethra... and so on.

Ok. So in 930 Vim could only be used against the Magic Realm. Several Magi were trying to add new forms for the Divine, Infernal and Faery Realms, when Conciatta succeded in expanding Vim to those Realms. Supercool!
Still... even before 930, mentem could be used against ghosts, aquam against water nymphs, corpus against demons in physical form and so on. Is that correct?

Wouldn't Rethra offend Bonisagus and Trianoma in Durenmar by such shenanigans - not to speak of Birna, and Quendalon subbing for Merinita? I should think, that in 790 you always need to consider the personalities of the founders for such kind of politics.

Generally yes. There may have been already in 790 demons whose physical form had nothing to do with Corpus, though. And any kind of Wards are still a problem in 790.


Yes, of course! This was just a silly example, just to show different kind of possible exploitations.

Yes, it would be a terrible headache to design a ward for every single supernatural creature that could attack you. That's why Conciatta's breakthrough is so valuable.