I did not see this question coming when it came up in our troupe.
Does the flaw Poor (Characteristic) define an essential nature which the well-know Hermetic CrMe/Co rituals (characteristic of the hero/follower) cannot change? If so, does it mean that Hermetic magic can only boost the characteristic to +4 (+5 for a double flaw), or that it cannot boost the characteristic at all?
If a Poor Char cannot be repaired, does this extend to weak characteristics? Meaning that if you have weak characteristics, no characteristics can be improved by Hermetic magic?
It was said, but I have not been able to recover the rule, that RAW says that a starting flaw, such as a missing hand, cannot be regenerated by Hermetic magic due to essential nature. I thought this did not apply to ritual Creo magic. Creo magic does not violate the essential nature [core:80].
Any more thoughts on this? Are there canon rulings that we have missed?
This does basically restate ArM5 p.77 Creo (Cr) "I create", when it describes how Creo magic can't go beyond a target's essential nature. It does best show this here.
Thus, Creo can make a horse as swift as the fastest horse, or a man as strong as the strongest man. Creo cannot make a horse able to run as fast as the wind, because no ordinary horse can do that, nor can it make a man strong enough to lift a castle.
I accept mim-maxing is a beloved thing in Ars Majica and in many games. I will accept some min-maxing, however, I find egregious abuses a step too far.
Someone gives themselves a -5 communication, and uses magic to give them a +5 communication to write summae and tractatus, that's a step too far.
I'd be looking at giving 1 or 2 major disadvantages to the person doing that. I'd give the player a huge warning. Say something like "Your -5 means you are either painfully shy, have tourettes, something big for it to be that bad. I get that they are abstract numbers on paper, however, in the game setting, this will clearly involve radical adjustment to the character's mind. How many people are willing to accept waking up as pretty much a different person?"
FWIW, anyone going for a severely bad characteristic I would have warned them at the start. Things like in a stressful situation I may require a communication roll, and if you don't get to 0, you can't speak. A -5 strength, means you struggle with a wool cloak and wont be able to go out in cold weather for a long time. A -5 presence means you may be kicked out as they think you are a hobo. Getting bad characteristics with the intent to fix them, should come with a cost.
If after many a warning, a player went through with it, I'd throw on some diasds. For the communication min-maxer for example, Maybe overconfident, gregarious. Maybe Obligation - the mage was so used to never speaking, this newfound eloquence means whenever possible the magi will speak to nobles and other magi whenever they can, with more than 1 season being disrupted by more than 10 days.
Virtues and Flaws are a game balance mechanic. The difference between a +5 and -5 characteristic is 8 points of virtue. Some Creo specialist shouldn't be able to achieve 8 points of virtue/flaw turnaround with a relatively small amount of vis in a moderate to high end campaign.
I completely agree that there is scope for abuse here. I am not so sure mechanics is the solution. It is certainly not black an white.
If a magus starting at -5 Com, and then, after a century of advancement and ten real-life years of play, get to +5 Com, I don't think it is a big deal. Not in terms of game balance anyway.
If the magus coming out of gauntlet with -5 Com is able to get the necessary rituals to advance to +5 within a couple of years, the main problem is that these rituals, and the vis to fuel them, are too readily available. A gentleman's agreement may be required to prevent the players from rigging it, but I prefer to play with gentlemen and their counterparts of other genders any day.
Capping the Creo magic at +3 for the doubly-poor characteristics does not really change the need for such a gentleman's agreement. And going from -3 to +5 is not much of a difference either.
As you say, going from -3 to +5 is a pretty big deal - and you can have -3 in a characteristic without having any Flaw at all.
Of course, to get to +5 with CrCo on more than a temporary basis require a number of high-level rituals, meaning you have to find someone willing to cast those rituals and have to spend a few tons of vis. And you will likely get a few warping points from those rituals.
Still probably worth it if you can get it.
So either the RAW is a bit too generous about this, or you are supposed to be able to fix bad characteristics this way. (Though I am inclined to agree that Poor (Characteristic) is part of your essential nature and not easily done away with.)
If Poor (Char) is essential nature, shouldn't also Great (Char) be that? So that the essentially natural human range is ±3, rather than ±5. Yet, we already know that Creo magic can boost to +5. There is a certain asymmetry which does not make sense to me.
To me, the char boosting is one of the few things which makes 5ed a backwards step of evolution, but that is really besides the point. It is clearly supposed to be possible in canon, but that does not mean it has to be easy. It costs 54pvf to go from -3 to +3 using standard spells. Mercurian magic halves it, but then you probably have to pay for someone to cast it and take six warping points, and given the botch risk, it makes sense to charge an arm and a leg. There are probably not many who are able to cast the rituals, I would guess less than one per tribunal, and a single client is likely going to provide all the vis income they need for a couple of years. Junior PCs will find a long queue in front of them.
Normal human range is +-3, but the natural range (i.e. what someone can get without anything supernatural being involved) is +-5.
Poor (Char) is only one way of getting down to -5. Natural aging is another.
If the -5 would be part of someones essential nature would depend on if they had a Flaw for it or not - similar to how some people have a missing ear due to essential nature (and thus a corresponding flaw) and others have it just due to an accident. One is "easily" fixed by magic, the other is not.
I think the raw cost in Vis is being understated. Yes going from -5 to +5 is a pretty big deal, but it is not something that is cheap or simple. There are two paths to it on the extremes, one requiring 6 rituals and the other requiring 1. Most characters will use somewhere in the middle of these two, so I will only work out the two extremes and people will fall somewhere between them.
The most Vis efficient route requires six rituals. Calculating them with touch range, they are level 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60. You have to cast the first one five times and the next five once each. That requires a total of 85 pawns of Vis. The most Research/Learning efficient route requires a single ritual, level 60, cast ten times. That requires a total of 120 pawns of Vis.
Then you have to take into account the required Arts, Finding/Purchasing/Learning or Researching, and the potential for some pretty catastrophic botches. If rather than learning them yourself you pay another Magus to cast them you have to find one who can (high Arts and knows rituals) and will (botch risk, willing to take Ritual for hire work) perform them. You have to schedule and travel to the location the rituals will be cast. Three times the Vis cost seems to be the common price for rituals/enchanted items, so you are looking at being charged 255 to 360 pawns of Vis.
The Cult of Heroes use a middle way - one level 35 ritual to get up to 0, and a level 60 ritual for the steps up to +5 (HoH:TL p96 and p103). Total of 95 pawns of Vis to go from -5 to +5, but if the Cult of Heroes is involved it is a safe assumption that the caster will have Mercurian Magic, so "only" half that amount of Vis.
Most characters won't start with a -5 in any stat though. Most will have no worse than -3 and many won't even have any that low at the start.
That is only for one characteristic though. Separate spells and castings needed if you want to raise multiple characteristics.
Mercurian Magic might reduce the cost for the Magi casting the spells, but do you think they would pass on those savings to someone they are casting the ritual on? Even a 0 to +5 performed by the Cult of Heroes would be "30" pawns of Vis, though they would most likely still charge you the full 180 pawns.
Add to that the 5 points of Warping gained and the cost per Characteristic is still pretty high.
Since you work out the details, let me try to complement them.
If I know these rituals, and can get one magus to pay me 170pvf to cast it, over and above my expenses, I am going to have what I need for the next 5-10 years, so I am not going to take another customer any time soon.
A Mercurian can do this for half cost, and also half botch dice. If he wants to make a living from this, he would have a base seven botch dice. He would certainly make sure to have a familiar with golden cord five, and spend 15xp on mastery for zero botch dice. Once you have the lab total to learn (Char) of the Heroes, these investments are fairly minor. Thus botch dice is not really a big deal for a Mercurian who actually want to do this on a scale.
Without Mercurian magic, we start on 13 botch dice, which is rather unrealistic to reduce to zero. If you cast the ritual ten times on a client, the risk is significant. Then you really deserve the 170+pvf and pushing it is certainly not worth the risk.
Anyway, if the PCs can pay those 255pvf in the first two decades, I think it is SG being too generous with the vis, rather than the mechanics being generous.
True. Unless of course you are the Mercurian magus casting the spell on yourself.
Then you incur no warping, and only need Vis for the ritual itself.
First casting the ritual on a few others and charging them Vis for it should provide enough Vis to cast it on yourself as well.
A Creo specialist with Mercurian Magic with a relevant magical focus could invent and cast the spells needed relatively easy (so no need to even involve the Cult of Heroes). Add in Cautious Sorcerer and a familiar with a strong Golden Cord you can keep the botch risk fairly low.
With the possible exception of the focus, this is a very standard magus build, and one which also happens to make a good healer.
Boosting your characteristics up to +5 isn't something you can easily do straight out of Gauntlet, but it won't take all that much time before you can do it.
True, which, to me, suggest this gentlemanś agreement, that if you take Mercurian magic an plan to speciualise in CrCo/Me, you do not take poor (char) because it is abusive. Problem solved.
If you want to go all the way to +5, it is going to take a while, and that is what you do. If it gets out of hand, you have already played a long and rewarding saga, and if it ends that's a victory rather than a problem.
Only half the problem, because such a character could easily cast such spells for payment on others, thus earning the Vis needed to later boost himself up to +5.
A CrCo/Me specialist with a relevant focus could feasibly invent the level 35 ritual needed to boost stats up to 0 straight out of Gauntlet. With Mercurian Magic that only costs 4 Vis to cast, and with Cautious Sorcerer and spell mastery you can get rid of all the botch dice.
Cast that for payment on others and you should quickly earn enough Vis to get rid of all your own negative characteristics. Even ignoring the possibility of the Poor(Char) flaw, this can improve a number of -3 dump stats to 0.
Then, a few years later with improved Arts you invent the higher level spells and start boosting yourself and others. By this time you should have a familiar with a Golden Cord of 5. Getting your characteristics up to +5 does cost a lot of Vis, but there are sure to be some people who are willing to pay Vis to have the rituals cast on them.
Fairly easy to abuse even if nobody has taken the Poor(Char) or Weak Characteristics flaws, and you don't even have to go outside the core rulebook or use any controversial rule interpretations.
Is Mercurian Magic actually a common Virtue in most games? Or a Focus in Self-Transformation (not Healing)? Both of those seem pretty specialized, a Major that hampers Spont and a Minor more for shapeshifters.
For most Magi who are not a member of one of the varies Cult of Mercury and with a not so commonly taken Focus, the spells will not be the easiest thing to research. They will also be fairly dangerous to cast in large numbers due to the botch risk, even with things designed to reduce the risk (Gold Cord, Cautious Sorcerer, Mastery).
That is not to say that a Magus can not and has not made that their focus/specialty. But then you can perform some rather powerful things with a focused/specialized build. You can create a Magus who shortly out of gauntlet who can create Mercere Portals. The possibility does not mean that they will not be extremely rare, maybe occurring once every generation or having not happened within the Order yet.
I don't think Mercurian Magic is exactly common in any saga - but not much more uncommon than any of the other Major hermetic virtues.
If you do have Mercurian Magic, then becoming a Creo specialist should be a fairly common choice, precisely because of the need for momentary Creo rituals.
A Mercurian magus having a focus relevant for stat boosting, now that should admittedly be fairly rare unless they intend to specialise in just that.
You are right, but I don't consider that a problem. The same gentleman's agreement might have to cover also taking three -3s to get four +3s as starting characteristics, but a reasonably balanced character bringing all the stats up to 0 is not that big a deal, and getting several spells to do it for several stats takes time.
I actually had a player who went that route. When he retired the character after a year of playing, 7-8 years into the story, he had still not cast the first ritual, and he was not on the verge of doing it either. (This character gained Mercurian as a false power, and emerging qualms about this infernal story line was one of the reasons for retiring the character.)
If you keep a modest power level in the saga, in terms of books and vis, this tentative abuse does not come quickly. In the longer term, it is only one way out of many where the characters can reach ridiculous levels of power.