I realize various sagas may deal with it differently etc etc, I'm just curious on the whole how you deal with the infernal. Reading the sourcebooks, the infernal really can be anywhere and everywhere. From an SG perspective, that's rather complex! I don't know how to be true to the spirit of mythic Europe in a way that is simultaneously subtle but...discoverable? How do you make the infernal present, without tons of obvious broadcasting, but also without it being impossible to discover? I'm curious on y'all's takes!
Sub Rosa #21 treats Heaven and Hell. You might wish to check that out.
I like the infernal as an opposition, because on one hand it it without doubt evil, and it is something the Order needs to combat not work with in any way.
But still the infernal rarely works overt and violently, it requires a certain subtelty, or else the magi come off as the agents of evil. The infernal needs to slowly corrupt, in order to win souls.
Infernalists are good plot makers, and (minor) demons make good cannon fodder, to allow combat capable magi and grogs something to kill off and show their skills.
But I don't like it when everything bad is because of demons, and where you can't turn a rock without stumbling over an infernal plot. So I have select individuals or organizations be under demonic influence, as an ongoing thing. Once in a while, an event pops up, which insinuates demonic influence. Some of the problems can be dealt with, others need to be carefully considered.
E.g. if a person of authority, in a town, a nobleman's manor, or in the church seems corrputed, the magi can't just go lop his head off - not without consequences. They need to investigate and plot how to get rid of him. Perhaps they can prove a crime and have him removed by legal means? But removing the cause of the "illness" is not easy. But removing the symptoms is easier: kill off his minor agents, influence the people he is corrupting in a good way etc.
In the few IRL saga I've played, It came up when a player used his infernal vertues (invocation and ablation I believe) secretly in his lab to get extra infernal virtus and then proceeded to use it for enchantment and stuff in the covenant.
The SG make it more and more obvious with signs of corruptions appearing so we got the chance to investigate it's origin and eventually found the magus was the culprit.
There was also a saga where a whole secret cult was corrupted after a degree of initiation and we had to get into an infernal regio to take care of them eventually. This was the sole occasion we encountered really puissant infernal magic and it's very fearsome. We almost died.
We're using very few demons, or angels. We're more interested in shades of grey, faeries get more love for this reason I believe.
as a SG I have had games chock full f infernal plots that the players never discovered were infernal. I've also had games where I didn't use the infernal at all. The thing is that the infernal may often work against itself and is also about being very subtle, corrupting yes, but gently pushing people occasionally may work far better than concentrating a lot of effort on one person. Then again other demons may decide to plague people. When the infernal gets obvious it is generally because mortals are involved- someone trying to command demons to achieve mortal goals and risking or sacrificing their soul in the process.
During my first home saga, I had an infernal plot that was kind of fun. Local noble took some dark bargains for power with what he thought was a faerie in his local woods. Hijinx ensued. Trigger-happy magi ended up roasting the noble when he was out in the woods, got out of the hermetic repercussions because proven demons.
It was pretty low power compared to some of what could have happened, but still worked well.
The nice part about infernals, you KNOW they're the bad guys. It's a good villain, it is definitely not in your best interests to work with them. People doing so are damning themselves and others. But you really need to have it interspersed with nobles, faeries, hermetic politics, magical things... Plots that there's moral gray areas. My take on it at least.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of the infernal, it's something I would see used sparingly. Ars magica is a game about people with great power (mages) and how they chose to use it. By involving the Infernal too much, it looses moral complexity because "Demon bad" makes for very black and white gaming. People do not need demons to behave badly, to harm each other or to act out of self interest.
I find that fellow magi are the best antagonists for ArM because they will have comparable, scaling, power level to the PCs, the Order's rules make it difficult to outright kill them and in most cases they will not be silly moustache-twirling villains but will be a lot like the PCs, but with different a conflicting motivation.
The infernal is everywhere, waiting for you to slip, expecting you to slip, making it easy for you to slip. It is ever present...
But so are the other powers.
What I love about fifth edition is that the focus is on character. It’s not (necessarily) about demons murdering people in alleyways, but about temptation and response. Small sins well-rewarded.
So... it is real easy to engage with the infernal to whatever degree, and real power can be achieved through that. But engaging with the divine is just as easy and the benefits there are tangible too.
Inferno has a presence in our campaign that mostly is in the background. Demons don't like magi of the Order, the risk-reward balance isn't appealing, it is far too risky to piss of hermetic magi. Magi on the other hand can't deal with demons. If they don't walk the other way when finding a demon then they violate the hermetic code (with a few exceptions). They can't analyze, they can't map out, they can't search for weaknesses, they can't investigate.
How the code is interpreted basically means that the real threat of demons isn't what they do, but that you actually do something with or against them. It is a weakness of the Order, they will never be able to fight or oppose inferno because of it. I use inferno mostly as behind the scene manipulators. Once when the characters found out that someone who wanted to help them against a horde of insane ghost and a demon that possessed a good part of a town actually was a demon, they just turned their back and walked away (as hermetic magi should).
So I entirely agree with this, which is in fact why I asked this question. It seems the most natural thing is for the church to be a nuisance, the infernal to be more or less non existent (a bogeyman more or less), and the real drama to be with mages. Which is great! But there's so much material on the infernal and the church haha.
There's also a notable risk in some sagas that magi of the Order are going to break the code and the goal is to not get caught. Yes, the interfering with mundanes is a mess we hide. Bob has an infernal Familiar, and nobody knows about it - it's cool.
Not really there at all. I mean it might be present in a particular scenario or campaign arc but outside that moment it doesn't really have a presence. It is definitely NOT the big bad that is underlyng everything that is wrong everywhere.
To me the game is about Magic (and a lesser extend Faerie as they are 'magical') and so I downplay both the Divine and the Infernal in both my setting and campaigns. In fact I am really glad that 5e reduced the whole "Infernal is everywhere" that previous editions had.
That all said the campaign saga idea of the Four Consciattas (not with my book at this moment to look up the spelling) is a saga that has the Infernal in a brilliant awesome way.