How to actually learn/teach a Major Breakthrough?

I'm struggling to make sense of the rules given in HoH:TL p 29 under "Breakthroughs in Play". Specifically, I find the game mechanics described for learning some else's Major Breakthrough through a tractatus or teaching to be somewhat puzzling, and rather unclear.

The rules specifically refer to the sections on "Teaching" and Books in "Long-term Events" in ArM5 as its basic game mechanism, but actually seem to invoke the mechanics in "Learning Supernatural Abilities", which are rather different and more specific.

Disregarding this inconsistency, the rules seem to be more or less as follows:

  1. A Major Breakthrough is to be considered a Hermetic Virtue. (Is it Major or Minor?)
  2. It is learned "similar to" a Supernatural Ability.
  3. Unlike a Supernatural Ability, the student doesn't subtract total Hermetic Arts (so presumably neither the default penalty of 15 either, though that is not stated).
  4. The student may or may not need to subtract the total of his other Supernatural Abilities. This would be the case for Supernatural Abilities, but it is undefined in the breakthrough rules.
  5. In the end, you don't get an Ability along with the Virtue, mind you.

This leads me to a number of questions:

  • Since the student doesn't get an Ability, how can the teaching process employ the Ability game mechanic?
  • How many xp are required to actually acquire the Hermetic Virtue? Is 1 xp enough, giving a score of 0 in this new Hermetic Ability (that doesn't exist, mind you)?
  • Supernatural Abilities must be Taught or Trained initially, then they can be freely studied afterwards. I.e., no Book Source. Is Teaching required initially for Hermetic Virtues, too?
  • If not, then why would anyone want to spend time on Hermetic Integration if all that's needed is to write a poor quality Tractatus to distribute to the world?

(As an aside, I'm left to wonder who wrote these rules, what they were on, and where to get some.)

To teach Hermetic Virtues, use the rules in Apprentices pg. 40 (these supersede the...lack of the corebook). You need an appropriate Teaching Source Quality, and it's more difficult if your student has more Virtues - thus, it's usually something you teach your apprentice. Whether it's a Major or Minor Virtue is a troupe decision and depends on the Breakthrough. (Of course it's not going to be consistent. Breakthroughs rarely are.)

You can also initiate the Virtue through a Mystery Cult, which is often easier than teaching it to an already-experienced magus.

Many Major Breakthroughs will not abide by this rule - for example, integrating a Major Breakthrough is itself a Major Breakthrough (usually) but does not require Virtue teaching - integrated Breakthroughs are taught by poor-quality tractati or a season's worth of classroom teaching.

I suggest adopting the integration rules from Ancient Magic (which can be found online, in its preview). It maintains that the new Virtue should be Initiated as per the usual rules for Mysteries, so that the discoverer needs to develop an Initiation Script (or, alternatively, make another Major Breakthrough to fully integrate it into Hermetic Magic Theory).

Under these rules the bit about Abilities is only relevant if there is, indeed, an Ability. Even then, since this follows the usual rules in practice this means that magi won't be able to learn a Supernatural Ability directly due to the penalty for the Arts so that in this case, too, an Initiation into the Virtue as a Mystery seems much more effective. Tractatus can then be used to further learn the Ability, of course.

That depends. Whether a Virtue is Major or Minor depends on the game impact. You could have a Major Breakthrough, or even an Hermetic Breakthrough, produce only a Minor Virtue if the "advantage" it provides is minor. E.g. True Transmutation of Trees: it allows you to change a tree into another tree - the change is instantaneous, with permanent effects, and changes the Essential Nature of the target. The greatest breakthrough in Hermetic Magic since the Parma Magica, but a very, very Minor Virtue. There are canonical examples (see e.g. Hedge Magic) of Major Breakthrough producing Minor Virtues, and certainly Minor Breakthroughs can produce Major Virtues.

I agree, it would make little sense otherwise. I assume that "doesn't subtract their Hermetic Arts total" is a shorthand for "doesn't subtract their Hermetics Arts total nor the 15 points that would be subtracted if the Hermetics Arts total were less than 15".

Because it's unstated, the default applies. So yes, other Supernatural Abilities do penalize the learning process. This is consistent with the fact that different magic traditions do not mesh well.

In general, no, unless the Virtue confers an Ability :slight_smile:

The mechanic is that for learning Supernatural Abilities: you need to acquire at least 5 ("virtual") xp in a single season for you to learn the breakthrough. Note that this idea of "5xp for learning one "thing" not directly captured by a score" was later used again and again in the ArM5 line: e.g. for learning True Names (from RoP:I, and subsequent books) or Formulas (from A&A).

I seem to recall that HoHTL explicitly states that in the case of a breakthrough the breakthrough can be taught from a book, but I might be misremembering.

Because if you do it, then it becomes part of "standard" hermetic magic. People do not need to spend a season learning it. Every apprentice automatically learns it, and it does not penalize learning other Hermetic Virtues as having a Hermetic Virtue would. Mechanically, it may not be such a huge advantage, but conceptually, it's like finding a way to merge relativity and quantum mechanics: it does not allow you to solve new problems, but it would probably make you the greatest physicist of your century.

Look at the credits! More likely than not, the author is on these forums too. Keep in mind that HoH:TL was written very, very early in the game line, so some stuff is mechanically a bit "rough around the edges".

If you're not into Mysteries and initiations then you can also learn the breakthrough by studying the lab texts for the stabilized insights from the development process. See HoH:Tl pg. 29 under "Multiple Laboratory Texts".

From what I recall of canon, there's only one actual Hermetic Supernatural Ability that can be taught - Holy Magic. Which makes sense to me: it's basically just an alternate, compatible version of Magic Theory. And, of course, there's a number of good reasons why a Hermetic magi wouldn't want to learn Holy Magic; pride being the main one, I suppose.

However, I always wondered how that ruling (You can easily teach breakthrough abilities) translated into 'normal' virtues; after all, an ability is a convenient abstraction that represents a gradated level of competency, while an outright virtue just represents an innate advantage. The in-game difference between the two, though - is arguably murky. Further, a fully integrated Ability probably doesn't add on an additional Art or Technique - rather, it gets absorbed into the greater body of Hermetic Theory. So at the end of the day, a fully integrated Ability and a virtue will very often look the same.

Personally, I'd rule that Breakthrough virtues aren't penalized in terms of being taught using the Apprentice rules, just like Hermetic abilities. Otherwise, that seems to be punishing people for developing virtues over abilities. But I don't have any explicit canon support for that.

Indeed, the HoH:TL rules are some of the first; from what I recall, they didn't even have the rules for Mystery Cult initiations at the time, so "how to learn a virtue" was kinda a question no one had actually answered. They were fairly quickly superceeded by the rules in Ancient Magics (which has the general form of how to learn things), and was further used in Hedge Magic and Rival Magics. Of course, they only had the Mystery Cult rules for learning regular virtues, but that was finally updated in Apprentices.

The other issue that pops up during this is the implied "penalty for learning virtues" - do all Supernatural virtues count, or just the ones that match up with that Realm, and do your Affinity Virtues (ie, the virtues that define a magical tradition) count? Different authors had different answers, depending on the time, the maturity of the rules, and what style of play they wanted to encourage.

What about Automata?

I agree that the HoH:TL section is written very confusingly. My decoding of the material is that major breakthroughs should be passed on by the method of using Lab Texts which I cited earlier. Presumably these spells/enchantments can be taught using the teaching rules as well as the rules for texts themselves.

It's not particularly easy unless the student is already an advanced hermetic magician. I don't think it's meant to be easy. The alternatives are to repeat the research process and fully integrate the breakthrough - which does make it easy - or to use mystery initiation methods, which usually involve taking flaws, investing high amounts of time learning Cult Lore, or both. Neither of these are easy either.