HoH: Mystery Cults - first impressions *long*

Finally stumped up some hard-earned to pick up Mystery Cults on friday, and having begun to peruse it I thought I'd share my first impressions. Purely because my early opinions seem to differ so very much from those I've heard expressed on the boards!

ArM5 and HoH: TL have done a huge amount to enrich the background of the Order, begin to explain it's raison d'etre and generally create a much more coherent picture of the order. From HoH:TL we learn the history of four of the houses and, significantly, what their role was in Bonisagus' / Trianoma's great experiment. We know that Bonisagus derived Hermetic Theory (as well as Parma), we know that Guernicus contributed to the understanding of Terram, as well as being instrumental - as was Mercere - in founding the political and administrative structures of the Order, and we know that Tremere worked with Bonisagus on the creation of Certamen. WE get some rules that enhance the interest and differences of these houses, without significantly affecting game balance in any way. All in all, an excellent, well written book that avoids D&D-esque splatbook inflationary tendencies.

Onto HoH:MC. Firstly, it is immediately obvious that The Mysteries:Revised is virtually a prerequisite. References to Mystagogues on the very first page without explanation or glossary set the scene for some extremely obtuse mechanics hereafter. They make sense for sure, but the introduction there is is insufficient and the lack of glossary (unless it's at the back - not the place I'd look for a glossary, so I havent!) makes it slow progress at first. OK, so I'd been warned in advance of this, but it doesn't make it any better.

Then the content. I still don't know why Bonisagus invited Birna (clever linguistics or unnecessary tinkering? I'm still not decided) to join the order. What exactly did she contribute to hermetic theory? Er.... nothing, because she kept her magical knowledge secret. Still, at least we know that Bjornaer heartbeast is actually ancestor worship. Or so its claimed, although this argument quickly loses pace in place of rules to power-up your heartbeast. And has anyone really thought out the rules on Septs? Septs seem to be highly significant in the internal mystery-management of the order. Yet, do some sums... 79 bjornaer magi, 6 clans = only 13 magi per clan. Clans are - we assume - evenly distributed, while Septs tend to have geographic correlation. On this basis, an average of 2 magi clan per tribunal means I cant see how Septs can ever function! Of course, I may have got confused about Septs needing to be clan-specific. But even so, they are supposed to be made up of magic of similar heartbeasts and/or temperaments. With all the infinite variety of nature, getting enough homogeneity seems unlikely in the extreme.

Which leads on to the role of the Seat of the Swan, which is always held by someone of the Heron heartbeast. Firstly, it seems sad that there is an assumption that the same old heartbeasts will crop up time after time. Secondly, how old is this tradition? The order is only 400 years old, and magi being the long-lived chaps they are means...well, this could well be a tradition of just 3 or 4 people. Hardly the most significant, you'd think.

Add to the mix the Huntress of the Wood, a group who could well attract the interest of Guernici or Trianoman Bonisagi, and I'm left concluding that Bjornaer is inconsistent, non-hermetic and not one that I shall be using in my campaign.

That's only the first chapter, admittedly. Criamon has some promising information - at least we know a bit more about what the Enigma is (although in some ways this is almost a shame, as a rational basis for Criamon almost undermines the mystery of their identify). However, again it's not really clear exactly why Bonisagus felt it necessary to invite Criamon to his party. A minor detail perhaps - I could well see that Criamon could've enhanced Bonisagus' understanding of Vim perhaps, just as Brina could've contributed - as an alleged ancestor spirit worshipper - to mentem - but it would be nice, just to build on the understanding of the order's foundations set down in HoH:TL.

I await with dread the time when I get round to Merinita and Verditius. In part, I'm concerned because the HoH:MC risks imbalancing the tentative game balance within the houses. Admittedly Mystery Cults abilities build on virtues and flaws in part, but not necessarily so. The bjornaerian benefits of permanently accessible, non-detectable shapechange are significant enough without piling on the potential munchkinism of the inner heartbeast. In game, GMs will need to very carefully balance the number of seasons spent pursuing mysteries against the benefits of studying, about which I fear there is too little guidance.

Two final points. Firstly, I'm bothered by the metaphysical mechanics of the mystery cults. Perhaps this will be explained when I pickup The Mysteries Revised, but at the moment I dont understand what mechanism is at work to grant these additional powers - particularly in the case of Criamon, where the 'official' ruling is that criamon philosophy is wrong.

Secondly, I'm disappointed with the writing styles used in the first two chapters. It's still better than 4th edition snore-manuals, but they are full of jargon and arcane terminology in a way that - for me at least - grates. Whereas a sprinkling of latin enriches ArM, language like mystagogues, arams and septs further mystifies what is already for some an impenetrable game. I dont think this is good for ArM, as it risks undoing the good work of ArM5 - and it's to everyone's benefit for ArM to gain in popularity and pick up new readers, as more turnover means more product support.

All my own opinions, and plenty to disagree with I'm sure. If Merinita or Verditius chapters change my mind in any way, I'll be sure to let you good people know :smiley:

I agree that the septs would be too small and haphazard to be meaningful. I don't particularly like them. I'm not that keen on the 'ancestor' worship too - I find it hard to reconcile 'ancestor' with 'bear'.

Despite this, I overall liked the House. I felt it added some nice feel to it, especially the rules and fluff on the Inner Heartbeast that made the Great Beasts interesting and a subjcet of owe rather than deranged pathetic animals.

I also very much liked the Huntress, indeed I'm gonna play one. :slight_smile:

You bring up two things in your post, why did Bonisagus invite the mystery cult founders, and are the mystery cult houses overpowered compared to the others?

For the first, whatshername(Trisomething, Bonisagus's first apprentice) did the recruiting of anyone who would join - not just recruiting those promising to teach, but any capable mage...

For the second: All magi get house advantages beyond the free virtue, Bonisagi can take apprentices, Guernicus get special mastery options and special rites, Mercere gets mutantes magic, Tremere gets a lot of house support, MC houses get to start in a MC...
Anyone who doesn't start in a MC, can simply join one later.

Ah, I can see you missed this bit: before Criamon wizards who did anything that now makes them go into temporary Twilight just died instead. Criamon is the way everyone gets to Twilight.

Heh, thanks for that. Well, that's ok then, a highly significant contribution! Criamon can stay then. However, looks like Bjornaer are going to be following Diedne in my campaign (hell, at least Diedne contributed Spontaneous magic!)


"As magical senses were successfully integrated into standard Hermetic theory by Birna and Bonisagus" HOC:MC p28

for the contribution of house Bjornaer to the Order:)

At least?!? What would the Order be without it???

Ah - you beat me to it! And welcome aboard Hakab!

But in any regard I'm with Ulf that down the road anyone was invited. And many of the contributions was neccesarily a specific branch of mechanics but just as much a proficiency in a certain area (Forms) such as earth magic or necromancy.

It is somewhat a problem how closely the book rests on TMRE - most of us experienced that as the books was published in reverse order. I can only think of two other options: having published them in one big book or having scrapped the project - as is I glad they didnt do the latter and having done the former might not have been financial wise. For now you can at least use them seperately, but it is a downsized version for those not also investing in TMRE. A price IMO worth it if the alternative was not daring to integrate the different books.

Power. Well, as mentioned by Ulf all the Houses now get particular advantages. Just as well as mysteries are not closed to the other magi, they'll just have to pursue them in other fora than their House. On top of that the initiations takes time - time you equally could have used to study, improve yourself or invent new spells (and that's without the prices of the mysteries often 'granting' you Flaws in exchange for initiations!) and this is quite a balancing factor.

As for the language and writing it's utterly YMMV - and it does. I like it the way it is and I don't hope it significantly adds to the threshold on starting out playing Ars Magica. To some it might even attract.

On thing I agree with you - but that doesnt mean a lot to me - are all the subgroups being added. Besides House, Covenant, Tribunal and pater/filius relations we now have gilds (GoTF), mysteries, inter-House groupings (septs being one of those) etc. I think there is a limit to how many group dynamics and loyalties that can be mixed together and still keep the setting integrity intact. Especially with the limited population of magi. So I tend to either use them only in a small scale or to make them very informal and/or contextual.

My experience in play has been that this worry is unwarranted.

I've had two fifth edition mystery cult characters in my game and in both cases initiation into mysteries has increased their power less than an equivelent amount of study would have.

Lets look at how much effort initiating a major virtue (like inner heartbeast) takes. I've no book with me so please excuse any mistakes I make.

The character needs to get his cult lore up a reasonable level before he or she gets initiated. This doesn't show up in the formula but it is discussed in the mechanics chapter IIRC the requirement for major virtues is typically five or 75 experience point.

The character needs to track down someone to perform the initiation and perhaps (done throught he redcaps or cult meetings). The mistagouge may possibly have additional requirements, then there are the requirements of the script itself which vary greatly. I'd think that an average of these factors for a major virtue might be four seasons and a minor flaw.

Assuming a cult lore instruction of ~12 xp per season we are looking at somewhere around 10 seasons and a minor flaw to gain the first major virtue and perhaps a year and an additional flaw of some sort to gane a second.

Looking back to the example of the inner heartbeast compare the outlay for gaining the virtue with the other choicedss that a magus has for his time. With ten seasons to work with a character could spend a year raising muto, two seasons polishing up their animal score and learn all four of the beast-humor spells. This would give the character four super heartbeasts to choose from rather than one and they'd have a much higher muto and animal for their spontaineous magic.

And all that can be summed up as: too many unnecessary rules creeping in the supplements. YMMV and all that, but I am starting to miss hermetic magtic being... well, hermetic instead of an oprder of hodgepodge wannabe bunch of exmiscellaneas. I already had the same impresion with the original HoH:TL, since quite afew of the new rules were completely unnecessary (mutantes, for example).

The problem with the numbers per house na dthe implicatyions of subgroups can be avoided by simply taking tippex and deleting the "number of magi per house" entry in each house. it is one of those nailing down issues that mess with the rules and can be disliked byu a fair number of playuers IMO. ArM4 did better in this point, since it allowed for an OoH that could be massive or extremely small. I have multiplied the numbers per house by 4, as an example. it still keeps the setting consistent, and avoids some of the material being inconsistent. Just a footnote.



If you think House Bjornaer suffers from power inflation, then you'd better steer clear of TMRE.

No it can't be. It can be summed up as "the mystery rules are balanced". Your option-o-phobia issues may be a real concern of yours but they have nothing to do with my statement.

I agree and disagree. I think Hermetic magic should largely be compatible with Hermetic magic in the sense that it can be wielded by Hermetic magi. Potent Magic is a good example of this - anyone can learn and cast a Potent spell, even though only magi with the Potent Magic virtue can invent potent spells. I think all the major groups of magi - all the Mystery Cult Houses - should follow this principle. This is vital in creating and maintaining a common corpus of spells and magical practices throughout the Order. Note that this is broken by the core book Merinitia.

I do like the idea of many, though perhaps not most, magi having access to Mysteries that allow them to stray from vanilla Hermetic magic in such a way. House Criamon's paths largely allow for such benefits - benefits that can't be obtained by Hermetic magic by aren't really spells (the Path of the Body for example, provides replacing longevity rituals, more uses for Enigmatic Wisdom, new ways to establish Arcane Connections, and so on).

For smaller cults, whose size is SG-determined and whose corpus of spells may be non-Hermetic, some traditions that not only use Hermetic magic differently but rather go beyond Hermetic magic are appropriate. Thus I have no problem, for example, with members of the secretive (and small) Huntress in the Woods harboring and developing grimoires and spells that are useless and meaningless to Hermetic magi (although Hermetic Theurgy is nice in that it allows non-initiates to for example use the spells to summon the daimons).

I do have a problem when large sections of the Order are privy to magic that is non-Hermetic in nature - investing heavily in inventing spells that the rest of the Order cannot understand or use. Thus I don't like the fact that in every Merinitia's grimoire may be found faerie spells that can't be cast and learned only by fellow Merinitia magi. To the degree that such spells are common and useful, this drives a wedge between the Merinitia and the rest of the Order.

For the same reason, I'm not keen on more inner House mysteries that do the same. I don't particularly like the Bjornaer Sensory Magic for this reason, not as a House Mystery - I would allow anyone to learn and be able to cast such spells, perhaps imposing a +1 magnitude difficulty in learning and casting it or something (to account for the use of a non-standard parameter under Hermetic magic theory). With this rule in effect, any magus can have this power, there is nothing non-Hermetic about it - there aren't (many) secretive spells being circulated, researched, and used by an entire House that aren't relevant to the entire Order.

Compare this with the other Inner House Mysteries of Bjornaer - Secret Name, Theiromorphy, and Inner Heartbeast - neither of which are really spells and each provides or improves a unique capability without making the magus' magic non-Hermetic.

And again, compare this with more minor "Clan Mysteries" - as smaller, sometimes very small groups, a few having access to more exotic magic may be appropriate. So for example Dream Magic of Clan Maruhs is pretty appropriate - there are only few such magi, fewer still that know the mystery from amongst them, so it isn't at all far-fetched to have them collect and hold some non-Hermetic magic.

No, they are clan-specific. However, they are cross-tribunal. The Tribunals are quite small; if you are travelling as an animal, and can be crossed within a week, in most cases - more if you have a bird heartbeast. There are many areas in Mythic Europe where there are two or three tribunal boundaries meeting, and septs don't necessarily meet that regularly. For example, the Sept of Orn - which is one from my own saga - has some members from Horsingas (Kielder moors), one from Voluntas (Vale of York) and one from Ungulus (Lake District), as well as the PC magus from Berwickshire. This is a huge geographical area.

Being part of a sept is not obligatory. It has its benefits, but also its downsides - the overall effect is neutral. Those who are not sept members have no penalty with respect to Initiation, as long as they know where their nearest ranking clan-member is.


I suspect you under-estimate travel times. Can a fox really travel the 300 miles from one side of the Stonehendge tribunal to the other in 7 days. Even 10 days seems optimistic. I could easily see a month being used up for a single meeting, which is hardly effective use of time.

Indeed, much advantage would result to the order from better research into communications magic I suspect!

I think in large part this is one of my issues, and my post was motivated through the frustration of buying a product which I immediately realised would need to be heavily edited and house-ruled to meet my personal perspective of ArM and Mythic Europe. C'est la vie, I guess.

I do like some of the Bjornaer ideas - sense magic and secret names - and think YR7's suggestions look good to me. I'm still not convinced by the inner heartbeast, but I agree that GM control can ensure this is balanced. Personally, I'm not entirely happy with hand-waving the costs of heartbeasts either, but again this is easily house-ruled by making bjornaer magi spend their own virtues if they have over-sized or over-powered heartbeasts.

However, my opinion of the text has been reinforced. I've still not got to Merinita. Let me put this in context. I have a degree in Law, and a Master's degree in Medieval History. I am literate. But I have found the Criamon chapter turgid, full of jargon and simply not a pleasure to read. Just because Criamon magi are supposed to be wacky, mysterious philosophers is not a good reason to obfuscate the text with unnecessary technical and archaic terminology. As someone who writes for a living, my advice to my trainees is always the same: long words and complicated sentences might look clever when you're at university, but when you're in the real world, clarity and simplicity is the real art. It's an art that ArM5 rulebook reflects, it's one that the line editors seem to have forgotten for HoH:MC.

(I'd post examples if I had the book with me - apologies for an incomplete argument!)

The Criamon has taken many beatings because of the changes of the House, but attacking the text is a new things.

Personally I disagree with you Phildack - I didnt experience the chapter in any way like you describe it - but for any further discussion I think, in light of your direct attack, it should be left for you and the author.

Less attack, more of a criticism. At least, that is certainly my intent.

As a relatively uneducated person , having finished High School over 30 years ago ,
not being particularly well-read , or having a Degree in anything ,
i did not find the Criamon section to be as described below

Certainly , i am not familiar with Empedocles.
But i did find most things made sense in context.

I'm inclined to agree. The content of the chapter doesn't appeal to me (at all), and neither does the presentation.

Timothy did a brilliant job with Tremere, but IMO Criamon ... isn't his best work.

Your opinion is you don't like it. That's fine. I can't please everyone, and slightly after I finished the Covenants rough draft I stopped even trying.

I listen to advice, and care about opinions, but not from random people on web forums. You could be a talking bear for all I know.

I'm sorry if that seems callous. You give the impression that because you have some degrees and teach writing that your opinion should matter, on some level. To me, that you teach writing and that you have degrees doesn't matter all that much: you are as entitled to enjoy or not enjoy the book as any other purchaser. I also have three degrees. I ran an incorporated arts society for several years teaching writing on a weekly basis. Does that mean my opinion of Ancient Magic is woirth more that some other customers? I don't think so, really.

Your degrees don't give your opinion greater weight, IMO, because your line of argument shows that you do not understand why I chose to write the way I did. You choose to give me writing 101, cribbed from Strunk and White, rather than examining the game design problems I faced and coming up with a better solution.

Your opinion is that it is jargon heavy: and you are of course correct. Your opinion seems to be that this demonstrates a lack of foundational skills, and this is where, respectfully, you miss an obvious counter-arguement. The level of jargon is a deliberate choice, because jargon is useful in certain contexts.

The function of jargon is to concentrate text. Writing n this style allowed me to include the Path of Seeming and the Path of Walking Backwards. A more conversational style, which was the way the first draft was written, is significantly less dense. The first complete version to maximum length had three Paths. Even with the extra density, there wasn't space for the Path of the Circle and so I cut it, as it was the weakest, and still have it on my hard drive in its part-baked and cut form.

So, sure: it's a dense read. That's deliberate, and I don't back away from it, because it was necessary to fit in as many paths as you got. IMO, the added value in this book is made up of the new play options you get, and the Paths are integral to that. It was worth packing the text in hard, even if that means you need a glossary to pick through it.