How Mythic is your Europe?

First time poster but long time lurker. I'm sorry that this post is so long, but I've been thinking about it for a while.

The first edition of AM I played/ran was 3e, my small group had a blast with it and we ran it on and off for years. Then I moved 3,000 miles away and life and a long commute put an end to playing. I kept up with AM, buying 4e and numerous supplements, then 5e and, recently, at least half of the available supplements.

I found that 3e was more "mythic" than "Europe" whereas 4e reversed that, I found 4e to be a bit dryer and less interesting to me, both the core book and many supplements, though I really liked Hedge Magic. I bought 5e and was initially turned off by it but I've come around after a recent rereading of the core book, so much so that I've purchased nearly half of the current supplements and read most of them (still working through a recent batch). Overall I have found 5e to be more balanced between "mythic" and "Europe" and much of the supplemental material quite interesting (including Hedge Magic again) I am, however, still at a loss to explain some things to myself.

For instance, many of the spells provided in the core book have a definite "adventuring" feel to them, Pilium of Fire for instance, but there seems to be few targets to use them against. In truth, I find the power of the magi, along with the relative lack of magically powerful available enemies (other than other magi) coupled with the limitations imposed by the Order to put the magi into an "ivory tower (literally?) only" category.

I'm considering trying to find a group of players for AM (probably not going to be easy to do but if time allows, worth the effort) so I've been exploring Mythic Europe and trying to build my vision of it. I've come up with some ideas such as:

  1. Most mundane lords will have a magic adviser of some sort (to me, magic being demonstrably real, and somewhat common, means this would be inevitable).

  2. Existence of the Order would be well known by at least the Church and nobility, it's been around a long time and it does have mundane interactions. To me this creates a sort of fourth estate, the need to hide the nature of a covenant now becomes more of a nod-and-wink sort of thing. Most higher placed nobility would likely know the rules that the Order lives by and have come to understandings.

So my questions are these: How mythic is your Europe? How much magic, outside of the order, is present? What are the primary antagonists (perhaps I should just buy that book?)? What do your magi do?

In closing, I love the sandbox nature of AM, it is still one of my all time favorite games and I look forward to your replies.

"What the Nobility know" is discussed in the Lords of Men, on pg. 40 - and yep, it pretty much matches up with what you've postulated.

Generally speaking, The Order is part of Mythic Europe, not apart from it. As such, both the Church and the nobility have a basic understanding of "the natural philosophers who live over in that yonder tower". The nobility has a basic functional understanding of the Code of hermes and how it applies to them, and they even know a bit about the Schism war. Higher-level nobility even have a practical understanding of Magic Resistance for relics, priests, and kings, as well as a functional understanding of Order politics, tribunal boundaries, and (extremely basic) magical tradition.

Although my personal favorite section is the "what do Nobles get wrong", aka the "getting trolled by Jerbiton" section.

Jerbiton magi: "Oh, yeah. All of a magi's power is contained in their staff. Take it away, and he looses his power."
Noble: "Really? Good to know!"
Jerbiton: "Yep, and they're all creepy and scare animals. Oh, and they all wear pointy hats with stars on them."
Noble: "Thank you for this valuable information, my stylish, urbane, and obviously non-magical friend!"
Jerbiton: "Anytime."

Magical advisers would be weird. They would, at minimum, need to be taken to two-year universities as children to learn Latin and Artes Liberales and given a few years of independent study to learn the different (Realm) Lores. Otherwise, your fief would collapse and explode because crackpot fakers give stupid and utterly false information. Not an unbelievable circumstance, but not one that would prevail long. Higher-ranked nobles would probably want people who attended eight-year universities and the like.

Unless you meant magic-performing advisers? That would be a political mess. The higher-ups would want more powerful ones, but all of them except Elemental Physicians with Refining and Folk Witches would be roughly the same strength because they can't extend their lifespans to learn more. Gifted Hedge Magicians would be the exception, but a Gifted character projected into that position of importance would be given the Join or Die in short order. (Get it? Short order? Order of Hermes? Ugh...) I suppose at the very least there's a potential source of advisers actually being trained by a college in the form of the Learned Magicians of Balogna. But they usually don't have much to do with the (Realm) Lores...

The Order does have exceptionally little contact with mundanes, as a matter of fact. Or at least its wizards do. Or at least they try to.

... Yeah, the knowledge nobles and clergy have of the Order is pretty in-line with what you think it should be. Pretty nod-and-wink all around, though the nobles are a bit less informed than the clergy, with lower-end nobles not having much more than a vague recollection of the fact that Magi aren't allowed to swear fealty to them according to the core rulebook.

The great thing about Ars Magica (I don't know if this was true in previous editions, as I've only played 5th) is how incredible versatile the setting can be for your troupe. This is briefly covered in the later chapters of the Core book, so I don't need to say much, but you can play a lot of different kinds of games with this setting. Pilum of Fire is indeed a very adventurer spell, burning things out of your path and inflicting wounds of varying levels of relevance on monsters. It's not the kind of spell for a politics-heavy or fast-paced game, where you're advancing rapidly, rarely fight or travel much, and/or have very few worthy opponents that you can even fight without getting Marched over it. On the other hand, many troupes like making lots of use of the combat rules and enjoy adventures into the delves of mystical caverns and enchanted forests, especially in slower sagas with younger player Magi. Sagas can have a lot more or a lot less mundane interaction, a lot more or a lot less political interaction with the rest of the Order, a lot more or a lot less combat... And indeed, a lot more or a lot less Mythic.

My own games usually focus a bit more on the Mythic aspects than the Europe aspects, but only like a 70/30% split, not like a 95/5% split. This is simply because my games tend to avoid politics (I play with teenagers) in favor of struggles to overcome more powerful foes, lack of resources, and especially the sometimes chaotic feelings and emotions of the young Magi themselves. There simply isn't room to put in any Europe except for when the characters specifically go to market or meet with nobles. Magic also tends to be a bit more common outside the Order in my games, but not in a good way for society; there are some powerful allies on the side of society, but there's also a lot more hostility against human societies on the part of Supernatural creatures than in most sagas that I've seen others play in, meaning most lower-end fiefs constantly struggle to survive, especially with the amount of corruption I tend to include in the churches that can occasionally result in the lowering of strength of Divine auras until the players fix something. The main reason I don't give the fiefs themselves more access to magical power, of course, is to give the players something to do. That's a really important consideration when tinkering with how you'll run the setting.

The primary antagonists of your story or saga depend on the flavor of the saga. In my games, the main antagonists are powerful beasts and corrupted people in high positions of powers like archbishops and older Magi of the Order. People who you can't immediately open fire against on hunches without serious repercussions, both in them being stronger than you AND the Order's response (have fun getting Marched) but who can generate adventures having their guilt/necessity to be fought proven and whose plots can finally be resolved through generous applications of force. If your saga is supposed to be less combat-oriented, your greatest antagonists may very well be the people who are, according to official records at least, your allies. Say, a covenant of Magi near your own, with somewhat weaker Magi than those of your own covenant but who specialize in certamen and have a lot more political influence and more allies within the Order than your covenant. Suddenly, struggling with them for resources like vis and locations of import becomes a very serious problem that you can't solve with magic and backhanding skills alone no matter how generously or intelligently you apply them.

Magi in games I run, since they're played by teenagers who love action and emotional drama, are a bit different than most Magi, and generally spend a lot of time adventuring, discovering evil plots, and engaging in aforementioned drama. Magi in games I would like to play in if I ever actually had a chance to play this game, though? The exact same thing Magi are generally referred to as doing in the core rulebook. The goal in life of most Magi is, as a general abstraction, to become as knowledgeable and powerful as possible. Some Magi want to become knowledgeable and powerful in different areas, and they might have different reasons for wanting that knowledge and power, like a fear of dying of old age, a desire to lead the Order of Hermes, or what have you. But in the end, the general thing most Magi spend their time doing? They spend their time in their labs, inventing spells, creating items, reading books, studying vis, and for some Magi, adventuring to acquire powerful items or engaging in Order politics in an attempt to become important in the grand scheme. Some do original research to increase the bounds of Magic Theory, some study riddles and try to understand Twilight, some try to bring better relations between the mundane world and the Order of Hermes... They have an excess of possible goals, and most of them are more easily accomplished when you are knowledgeable and powerful. So, yeah. Most Magi do just spend most of their time in their laboratories, learning and becoming better at the things that will push them forward in their largely personal goals.

Hope I've managed to say something useful in this probably unnecessarily long post.

I've just started a brand new saga in Hibernia and I'm dialing the mythic up more than in previous sagas. For instance, Hibernia is home to the Fir Bolg, which is one of the ancient magical races. Rather than have then rarely encountered and confined to legend, they can be found as heroes in the employ of various kings and lords.

Magical advisers? My player characters found out the King of Breifne has an infernal witch that travels with his court. She is his eyes and ears for things supernatural. She won't be for long, I have to say - they've committed to getting rid of her and providing "alternative services".

Next session sees them go to Tribunal, at which various magical and faerie creatures will be present, can be encountered, spoken to, bargained with, and even vote. Hopefully I pull it off and the whole Tribunal meeting feels rather more mythic than a stock check in the barrel store.

Of course, the Hibernia book provides a lot of material to help make things more Mythic than Europe, but I'm going to push it as far as I can and see where it goes.

Welcome :slight_smile:

Don't worry about it.

This might just be me, but each time I start up a new saga, this is the sort of thing I try to discuss with the troupe.
Same as last time? More? Less?
You can't get everyone interested in this sort of discussion, but you can at least offer them a say.
...and then when only 2 of you have an opinion, take it to email. 285 of them or so, in our case :blush:

Same discussion, or atleast group of discussions.
My default answers would be that there are few magicians outside the Order, with more as you move away from the center of europe/the Order.
In Skotland, we have Gruagachan, in the Rhine tribunal, we had shapeshifting witches on the border to Novgorod Tribunal. I usually try to stick with a few local traditions.

As for supernatural Beings (dragons, fay, ghosts and all the rest of them), that kinda depends on the stories you want to tell, and how your suspension of disbelief works. For me, they tend to exist at the edges of populated lands, or hide themseles among humanity. Most are weak, some are very powerful.
For these sort of beings, the Realms of Power series are your best friend, I can personally really recommend RoP: Magic and RoP: Faerie - both of which are on the table next to me at the moment, as it happens.

For other types of stories, consider the politics of the Order. Enemies you can't just blast with fire can be a lot of fun. And make for rather intense stories, if your troupe likes having to think a bit.

Quite, but not so much that the average peasant is aware of much more than "faeries are really bloody annoying".

Dragons are mostly sleeping, until something bothers them. The great fey gods are too weak from lack of belief to actually enter the world. The Titans are trapped, for now, but they have agents seeking to change that.

Far more than inside the order. In far flung, high magic, tribunals like Hibernia and Thebes I actually have as many gifted hedge wizards/witches than members of the OoH. In the rest of the tribunals the OoH grabs up most of the gifted children, leaving the remaining ungifted wizards/witches without skilled training.

IMS: A mixture of infernalists, crusaders and holy men (run by the alpha storyguide) faerie tricksters (run by either me or the alpha storyguide), minor gods and very powerful hedge magicians (run by me)

They spend a lot of time serving their God or gods, and trying to maintain order in the region they occupy. They also spend quite a bit of time trying to gather knowledge and power... oh, and they seem to be running a nursery, because everyone now has a child character to play.

It's pretty Europe where the characters live, and becomes more mythic the further away from that they go. I know that the vanilla setting has this idea that everyone's Constantinople is the same Constantinople, but if I set a game in Thebes, then Constantinople is entirely different than if I set a game in Scotland.

The ancients said that more than seven waves from Ireland and you were in Faerie. Every culture has this idea that people live differently in Rome or Constantinople or Paris. I just say "Yep." and go with those myths.

I've always thought that even in well populated areas that the Order of Hermes only catches a fraction of the Gifted to make apprentices. When there's at most 100 magi in a tribunal, each of which likely to take 1-3 apprentices over his hermetic lifespan (100 years?), there's no way for them to get more than a small fraction. Folk Witches will probably spot and snag the rural Gifted long before a magus passes by, and once they're opened and learn a few abilities it's almost impossible to open them for Hermetic Magic. Many in urban settings probably fall prey to the lure of Infernalism - demons are surely looking for new pawns for their schemes.

My thought on how "Mythical" the places are is this: If you're local to the area, the local folklore/superstitions have influenced the customs you've grown used to, providing a certain degree of "please leave me alone". If you're foreign, you don't have any of that, and the local myths are a fair bit more likely to come out to play. Especially if you're a Power in your own right (such as a Hermetic Magus).

Anyway, I would recommend Lois Bujold's "The Spirit Ring". It's set a few hundred years later, and the system doesn't quite match up(although one of the protagonists clearly has Major Affinity: Fire and LLSM), but it has some very good brainfood with regard to how both Lord and Priests ought to react to magic in a world where it clearly exists.

Hell, the way most people react to Fiametta is also a pretty nice guide to how people(aside from a certain stinking muleteer) react to someone with the Gift.

And if enough people buy it, maybe one day Lois will be persuaded to write a sequel . . .


Yes! Very much this!

Myth as fear of the unknown, that's an interesting concept. It could also be that the locals know to avoid that path in the forest, faerie wards/rituals are well integrated in the tradition, or that people from afar bring better stories to faeries.

Middle. I like the mystic and legendary component to make the Wonders some touchable to the brave ones, but only to the story purposes, other time i would prefer the mundane things. or maybe some mundane and mythic relationship that throw back between both aspects.

Some very interesting ideas, thanks everyone for sharing. I do like the idea of places being increasingly "mythical" the farther away they are...hmmm.

The HIbernia tribunial seems to be more mythical than a few others, I like the ideas of the magical beings participating at a high level with the Order, at least in some places.

You've given me much to think about. Thanks everyone.

I seem to run counter to most people here, since I like every Tribunal visited to be more or less as it would be if my players were living there. That is, it's a pet-peeve of me that places are depicted in a particular way when you are visiting, but if you then start a new saga there, it looks completely different "to make it playable". So i tend to try and think of every place as I would devise it if it were the central place for a saga.

That of course doesn't mean that every place is the same, or that they don't have their local feel (or at least, I try for them to have it). But it means that I won't make where we play a very mundane place, but if they travel elsewhere they'll find giants and dragons walking down main street. I do tone the Mythic up and down depending where people are, but not differently so than I would if they lived there.

One corollary of that is, that I try to think how I would portray a local NPC if my players were visiting from afar, and I try to give my players the same amount of information and contacts I would give said NPC. This also leads sometimes to interesting stories where the players find themselves in the role of the NPC they would ask about something, drawing them into the roles of hosts and hostesses to travelling, adventuring NPCs. Which sometimes leads to adventures, and sometimes just ends being a brief encounter, depending on whether they were interested in why they were being asked about something, or not.