FAQ entry proposal: immortality and Hermetic Magic

Dear sodales,

since I've noticed that the ways Hermetic Magic may or may not grant immortality are a recurring topic on this forum, I propose you to make a FAQ entry about it.

Moreover, I humbly propose the following material, in whatever revised form as you may deem appropriate, as stuff for the entry template:

Q: Can Hermetic Magic make a mage immortal ?

A: Current (AD 1220) canon development of Hermetic theory allows to greately minimize, but not completely overcome, the effects of aging, as shown by the effects of a longevity ritual.

However, a mage may accomplish levels of immortality well beyond that if one has, or is willing and able to develop by Mystery Initiation, the appropriate exotic magical insights as Hermetic Virtues.

Two kinds of immortality effects can be accomplished with established Mystery improvements of Hermetic Magic:

What may be termed "lesser immortality", by which the effects of aging are completely nullified, but the mage remains liable to warping, which will eventually cause him/her to be removed from the earthly plane. The advantage of this method is that up to that point, the mage remains completely human, with all the innate perks that come with human nature, such as unlimited freedom of movement, unrestricted potential to change, learn, and self-improve (which unfortunately includes the liability to be permanently diminished or destroyed by violent means), and the ability to draw power from multiple supernatural realms.

What may be termed "greater immortality", by which the mage is made immune to the effects of aging, warping, and, to a varying degree according to the method employed, permanent damage or destruction. Apparently, this is incompatible with human nature, but requires transformation in some kind of supernatural creature.

By their very nature, supernatural creatures are static and completely immune to the effects of aging and warping (they are already as "otherwordly" as they could ever be). According to the type of supernatural being, this may also grant also a varying degree of protection from lasting bodily or mental harm. However, this exacts a corresponding price in that the mage's ability to learn, better itself, and/or roam freely in the mortal realm are significantly limited without specialized magical help. Typically, there is a inverse proportional relationship between these three features, invulnerability, ability to learn without magical assistance, and ability to roam freely without magical assistance. Also, differently from humans, a true immortal can only be linked to, and draw power from, one supernatural realm ever.

So far, Hermetic researchers (i.e. mystagogues) have discovered effective methods to transform mages into humanoid faeries, magical (alchemical) humanoids, ghosts, spirits, and, by twisting the effects of Final Twilight, sentient magical beasts as well.

Various methods to accomplish these two kinds of magical immortality have been published in the following supplements: TMRE, HoH:MC, RoP:D, RoP:I, and GotF.

By evidence of the rules published in the above supplements, what the RAW (p. 79-80) tells most mages think, the Limit of Aging to be an effect of the Limit of Essential Nature, is a proven wrong theory. The Limit of Aging is a flaw of Hermetic theory and has absolutely nothing to do with the Limit of Essential Nature or the Limit of the Divine.

Also, while the Limit of Warping is correctly thought by some mages to be a manifestation of Limit of Essential Nature, there are two caveats:

While it is not possible to prevent Warping and remain human, the specific effects of Warping can be controlled, and it is a flaw of Hermetic Theory not to have such an ability.

Moreover, the Limit of Essential Nature itself does not prevent transforming a human into an immortal supernatural creature for good (alas, the reverse does not seem true), and the inability to do so is another flaw of Hermetic Theory. Such a change is within the power of magic and the essential nature of human beings. Cumulative warping does that in an uncontrolled, and therefore typically hapzard or harmful, way. Appropriate magic can do that in a controlled, and therefore typically beneficial, way. The Divine, for its own reasons, does not seem to interfere in this.

I like your writing, Wanderer. I agree with many of your points, too. I do think it isn't right to say Hermetic magic would be able to change Essential Nature, though, nor that the fact that Mysteries do so reflects on the ability of Hermetic magic to do so.

I can't comment on needing a FAQ entry at this point, for reasons better left unspecified.

I have recently wrriten the following on Immortality; I actually like your writing more in some respects, especially for a FAQ entry, but thought you might find my prespective interesting.


In Fifth Edition Ars Magica there are several ways in canon a mortal (in particular, a magus) can obtain immortality.

First, it must be clarified that immortality means "unaging" rather than "undying". Immortal magi are generally vulnerable to destruction, although this may be more difficult in some cases.

Second, "true" immortality also implies immunity to Warping, obtained by acquiring a Might score. A character could, in theory, remain active with any amount of warping, but in practice the line appears to assume that a Warping Score of 10 will result in Final Twilight through accident or a botch, and sooner rather than later. Lesser immortality allows magi immunity to aging at the cost of warping, meaning that they will exist the game when they become sufficiently warped.

Principles of Immortality

Several principles seem to frame the design of immortality in ArM5. Although not always adhered to, they seem to expalain much of the mechanics.

The eternal does not change
Perhaps the principle guiding principle, it seems that those who achieve immortality also find it difficult to change. Change (character advancement) requires external resources, generally raw vis, and is slower.

Freedoms have costs
Many ways of obtaining true immortality limit you in some ways. The more free you are, the harder it is to obtain that immortality. 'Hard' here primarily means requiring more magi to cooperate more in your service.

Safety has costs
Immortality does not mean invulnerability. The more safe you are, the more it costs - principally in terms of freedoms and effort.

Lesser Immortality

The most common form of lesser immortality is the Hermetic Longevity Ritual. At the canonic power level, Hermetic specialists will be more than capable of constructing potent longevity rituals that will not (or rarely) fail regardless of age. Magi are generally presumed to die of other causes or reach Final Twilight, not to die of old age.

Some magi may choose other paths, due to political reasons (e.g. wanting to make their own ritual) or economic ones (e.g. being unable to afford the high raw vis costs involved). One of these is the Immortality of the Forest, a fruit of a Forest Path presented in Guardians of the Forest. The virtue functions much like a potent longevity ritual, providing immunity to aging at the cost of warping - but at the cost of limiting the magus to the particular forest.

Other magi seek out the Guardian of Nature Mystery. Like the Immortality of the Forest, becoming a guardian limits you to one locale. However, it has the added cost of forbidding laboratory work and severly limiting your character advancement. As a means to power, then, it is highly ineffective.

Finally, Goetic Binding allows one to obtain a sort of lesser immortality. This is generally inferior to the Hermetic longevity ritual, as it requires more investment in its maintainance. However, this path is open to non-magi.

False Immortality

Perhaps the most powerful true mmortality in canon is that achieved at the final station of the Criamon Path of the Body. Obtaining full immunity to both aging and warping, the magus is nonetheless free to roam yet also to learn. However, roleplaying considerations limit its application so much that for all intents and purposes this is a way to retire that character, not to persist as an immortal character.

Another sort of true immortality seems to be becoming a Great Beast of House Bjornaer. The Great Beasts certainly seem immune to warping and aging, and to retain enough intelligence to nudge the House and act as Mystagogues. However, it isn't clear they pursue character advancement if at all, why they don't take a more active role, and where they roam. It seems the role of Great Beast is intended to be an NPC role, and not a true path to immortality.

True Immortality

Perhaps the most potent path to true immortality is Becoming, transforming the Merinitia magus into a faerie creature. By not completing the transformation, the magus may become immune to aging without incurring warping, and at relatively small costs. Even if this loophole is not allowed, a magus that fully undergoes the transformation is still totally free to roam Mythic Europe and can advance relatively easily - his magic, however, is seriously impaired, and advancement is still slowed.

Another powerful kind of immortality is the alchemical Elixir. Magi who achieve immortality in this way are free to roam the world, yet their magic is unhindered. Their advancement, however, is somehwat more difficult and (typically) bound up to their Talisman. It is very difficult to achieve.

The Mystery of the Living Ghost provides an alternative - greater safety borne out of the ghost's incorporeality, but at the cost of being somewhat more vulnerable outsdie the ghost's Haunt. It is also much easier to attain, not requiring the cadre of assistant-wizards that the Elixir or Ascendancy require.

Perhaps the most difficult to attain, and certainly the most safe, is Ascendancy to the Hall of Heroes. In some respects it is the weakest choice, as your ability to affect the world and advance is dependent on the actions of other magi. Without a cult to summon its aspects, an ascended magus is unable to affect the world or the saga.

Perhaps the best form of immortality, missing from this list, is Saoshyant's Elixier, a ritual available to Zoroastrian Magi. Warping still accrues, but fatal wounds aren't fatal. That's a great tradeoff. These magi cannot die.



Some Criamon magi on the Path of Walking Backward seem to do fine without becoming a supernatural creature: perhaps they do become a supernatural creature and no-one notices?

Classic Bonisagus original research doesn't seem to lead to any build-in side effects.

And what about ArM4 immortalities?
Hedge Magic (German version, dunno about English) has an interesting form of immortality (watching a Serpens). And there are others...

I am against any strict rulings on that point, because if a couple of Magi achieve some form of immortality in a private campaign (and the players are happy), the world keeps turning: Plus, as we know from other rpgs, immortality is not necessarily the end of a good story. It shouldn't become part of canonival Mythic Europe though, because that makes the background so much less medieval.

Good spotting. Thinking of the Criamon immortality methods makes me realize that another additional tradeoff should be added to the guidelines YR7 and me have proposed. Ethical, behavioral limits. You are not limited in movement or ability to learn, but you do have burdensome codes of behavior to respect. It's also the main limit that Divine-based immortality methods (like the Shaoshayant Elixir) have. To a degree, it might be classified under the amount of personal effort it requires to achieve and maintain, but I feel like maybe it's sufficiently different in flavor to deserve separate mention. What do you think ?

Apart from this, yes, I do think that your hunch is probably right and such Criamon become "subtle" supernatural creatures. After all, if one isn't blatantly inhuman in looks, like a Living Ghost or a Bjornaer Great Beast, you only notice it when you use specialized magical senses or spells, or you try to drive one through a ward or Aegis. Great Elixir alchemical immortals, and, I suspect, Becoming faeries (albeit not Quendalon) are rather unconspicous as supernaturals go.

Theoretically, it does not. OTOH, we reason from the available evidence about tried and true immortality methods available to Hermetic mages, which all seem to require some significant tradeoff. It's quite possible that upcoming RoP:M and RoP:F may reveal additional methods that can provide new twists to the issue. Ditto for Hedge Magic. E.g. I rather expect the old Grugach "External Soul" trick to make a comeback in some form, it's too falvorful to go wasted.

Heh, rules on this subject have changed so radically from previous editions that I'd be very hesitant to use them. At least until HM, RoP:M, and RoP:F are all out, I rather suspect some of the stuff you mention will make a comeback in a revised and updated form for compatibility.

Be at ease, I think nobody here wants to make strict rulings, it's more about trying to extract some coherent general guidelines about a subject that is a source of recurring discussion, from a half-dozen examples in as many books. No doubt, space for twists and half-exceptions do and will remain.

Absolutely, we had a recurring NPC become immortal by eating the fruit of the Eden Tree of Life and be a on-off member of the party for months of play and saga years.

Well, as long as true immortality remains the result of long and hard accumulation of Mystery Initations, it's rather doubtful it will become the purview of every Hermetic master and their dog. There are far too many other possible areas of magical expertise to master for an Hermetic mage to be interested in. Yet, it is quite expected for the average mage to meet thier demise by Final Twilight or violent means, not old age, simply by having a good enough Longevity Ritual. Lesser Immortality methods only add a significant extra boost by removing the residual chance of the ritual failing. OTOH, by now, sufficiently methods for true ageless, warping-less immortality have been published, to say that it's a perfectly feasible option for a determined Hermetic mage to achieve, if sufficient effort and dedication can be applied.