How to trap a laboratory?

Hey guys looking for help on how to trap a laboratory. The only part I am having difficulty with is figuring out how to trigger it? How can you make the enchantment trigger when it someone who isn't supposed to be in your lab, and not every time you enter.

Have you checked out this thread?

Hermanus from Legends of Hermes book (starts p.95, protections start from p108) has some nifty lab protection spells. Eg. A lock improperly opened, ascertaining the absence of images, Sense the Airy Tresspass.

Idea - Have the effect pause for a moment and wait for a phrase, sound, gesture, or symbol, etc? Like a regular alarm pad.

Or have an effect on the item which disarms it, and it's only usable by the creator, +3 effect modifier. Linked trigger to the nasty spells.

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Hermanus? which book would that be. Also neat idea. The only trouble i am having is figuring out the actually modifiers for the triggers.

Updated post with book and page

A few ways to do this are in the core book - among the Rego Vim Spells (p.161f): Suppressing the Wizard's Handiwork and Watching Ward.
So you do not have to read LoH's The Sunken Laboratory of Hermanus, which your troupe/storyguide may reserve for adventures still to come.


There are tons of ways to do this, most depend on the magus doing the rigging. Are there mundanes you want to allow in? What are your strengths? The biggest thing will be simple familiarity with the lab. You can have an enchanted device which is deactivated by a gesture for a minute, and place it right inside the door- anyone who doesn't know to make the gesture is hit with whatever the enchantment does...

You know, this question recurs, and it made me realize that one of the first real set-piece "adventures" I played in Ars Magica was "trying to get into the lab of one of your elder magi who has died or passed into Final Twilight." And, now that I think about it, Calebais has a lot of this, albeit with a "dungeon crawl" and necromantic flavor.

It seems to me that this is a very rich area for exploration: as a stand-alone adventure suitably different from Calebais (and perhaps benefiting from the advances made by 5e over the course of its development), a mini-game, a "thrice-told tales" sort of set-up in which the players discover multiple layers of defenses and have to come back. A single lab is small enough that it makes a good task for a GM new to the game. And because it is based on a dead/missing elder magus, it can be inserted into a great many covenants. Even Spring covenants, founded by new magi, can encounter the ruins of a single wizard's tower.

I guess I'm just saying that, like the concept of a Certamen mini-game, this seems like a very fertile ground for out-of-the-box development on Ars.

There's always the question of how much effort a magus will put into trapping his lab. Simply put, how many seasons can one afford to spend rigging up traps?

For low-investment magi, Watching Ward at a decent level is multi-purpose. Combine with a ReVi spell to suppress the Watching Ward as required, and you've spent 2 seasons (maybe one if you have good ReVi and the lab texts) to be able to trap your lab with whatever other nasty spells you know.

Tamed magical creatures (ones with Cunning) can be very low-investment as well. If you have decent Rego, most creatures will take only a single season to tame, two if they are very powerful. Being able to subdue them in the first place requires some investment in other spells, but that investment is general purpose magic and well worth doing. Having a magical lion in your lab to eat intruders probably works a lot better than any Watching Ward.

Charged items don't cost vis and you can often make multiples of them, so they are very attractive, especially if you want high Penetration on them. They tend to lack the potential intelligence of Watching Wards (which can have Intellego spells loaded into them) or tamed monsters, but one or two seasons can establish some decent defenses.

Imaginem specialists have a huge advantage here. High level Moon duration spells to disguise the entrance can be very hard to penetrate, though discerning one's own illusions is actually quite easy. Any number of non-magical traps could be concealed with such spells to create a deadly gauntlet that any intruder would bumble through, while the creator never suffers harm. If you want longer than Moon duration, an enchanted object will suffice.

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I think an item is the way to go. Watching Ward requires the spells to be known, and has vis investment. An item can be made to suit the caster's strengths and might improve if more defences are desired later.
Instead of investing all the powers in one item several might be made with complementary trigger actions.
Great point on charged items too.

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One could also rely on mundane traps, expecting the intruder to be focusing on magic. After all a high Parma will do jack against a crossbow with trip wire.

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Mundane traps are often very easy to counter with magic, however. A single Prying Eyes spell into the room will identify the trap and probably how to bypass it (or trip it safely, such as Unseen Arm). And wards against wood and metal tend to be popular (and magi have Form bonuses to soak and may have enough other soak bonuses to laugh at such things).

And mundane traps generally make life in the sanctum difficult. Rug over a pit trap? Suddenly you can't walk over there anymore. OTOH, a magical rug trap that ignores you and your servants is not problem at all.

I'm not saying it can't be done, and some mundane stuff like a mockingbird floor or bead curtains make great intruder alerts.

There is a gradation in the level of nastiness put to protect a sanctum:

  • if the magus is using the lab, these protections will be pretty minimal to avoid risk during the magus day-to-day activities. The most simple one is not to have a door: you need to teleport Inside or move stone/metal to get in. Once you are in, not much trouble. Therefore it can be the state of a sanctum whom it owners met an unfortunate demise (final Twilight or just natural, but sudden death). What could be a threat is a experiment in progress which was left uncontrolled: noxious cloud, opening to a regio in the Void, powerful magical energy building up and about to explode if a mag 3 or higher spell is cast...

  • if the magus is leaving the lab for more than a season, but is expecting to come back. In this case, he will make more effort into protecting his sanctum and would not mind setting trap Inside the lab. Watching Ward spells are good, but they need to be of high magnitude if you want to link them with a detection spell of some sorts, there are also usually a one-of bullet: they won't retrigger and if the invader send some decoy to disarm the trap or manage to soak the effect of the spell, he is free to pillage the lab. Items, and here we talk about major item with several effects, with trigger conditions are probable the best one to have. They can also have high penetration score, which any suspicious magus would need to make his protection effective. He can also traps is lab simply by mislabelling or pepering his ingredient storage with dangerous component. Unless every ingrédients is carefully examined - with magic or more mundane means, the trap can blow several weeks after the lab had been plundered, once the thieves/archeologists dropped down their protections and wards.

  • if the magus is expecting a Wizard's War: depending on his resources, he might simply leave just a decoy lab which will be the trap in itself. Otherwise, expect all kind of magic and invisibility detection, Intangible tunnel countermeasures to be up, either triggering an alarm or various spells and effects. Maintaining this level of defense is taxing both mentally (you need to remember what not to do to not trigger them) and magically (Vim Wards are very often rituals).

Regarding traps, instant death might not be the usual outcome: it required high level spell, which translate usually in low penetration. It will be effective against mundane threat, not against magus. To outright kill a human, the base level is 30, but to loose one fatigue level is base 10. Cast every round, in an area effect (room, +2), you will have everybody in coma very quickly. People will either starve, or be in coma until their Parma drops, or maybe there is a mundame, but deadly gas slowly killing everybody (CO2 poisoning for example with some wood starting to burn poorly, mushroom spores clouds...). A magical item casting every round Invocation of the Weariness in a Room, with unlimited charges can be simply effective (and bypass any armor and wards). The magus knows where the object is hidding, what are the trigger words to stop it so he might take a few Fatigue level loss but manage to stop it in time, whereas outsiders will waste valuable time in casting detection spells (good luck finding the right item in a lab full of magical component), the carrying the item far away (disenchanting it is out of question since it is a ritual) when other effects are trying to keep the intruders in.

Illusion spell hiding or disguising mundane traps can also be highly effective because they don't need to penetrate Parma: pits, invisible Fire combine with PeIm removing the sense of touche and heat, deadly gas without any odor...

Thirdly, if the magus has access to Spell Binding, there can be permanent effects that intruders might not expect: "He is dead since two decades, so no spell should remain active." (famous last words).

Finally, a magus might not care about killing the intruders, he might just want them not to have his precious notes, or discover that he was a Diedne-Diaboliste-Tremere vampire in disguise. So the traps will triggers destruction of key elements and ressources, and small magnitude spells or even just plain mundane effect will do.

The important point is that given time, a magus (and a group of magus PCs even more so) can solve any traps and problems, so time pressure is the most effective way to make plundering a sanctum challenging: sure they can invent the perfect counterspell, unfortunately the spell burning the whole Library was just triggered, every rounds will see more precious books being incinerated or the lab is flooded, a great chasm will claim the sanctum, all imprisoned ghosts, spirits, elementals and demons are released one at a time...

Alternatively, there is no time pressure, but they need to come up with a specific solution to access each part of the sanctum (or each sanctum if we consider a whole Covenant). Then it becomes more about managing resources, and when a magus really needs what is in Sanctum X, he will devote the right number of season to get in safely. Will the cost of solving the problem be too high for the reward ?

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It's possible to be clever about this - for example, in another thread I suggested that a magus goes barefoot in his sanctum and has enchanted rugs that trigger on being touched by shoes.

In general, however, the first 'layer' of defense is keeping out intruders that want to be subtle. If someone has to put a hole in your wall to get in, they're not being subtle. If you're not at home, keeping them out entirely is possible. For example, an item that turns the air in the room into brass (constant duration) makes invading a sanctum very difficult without the proper spells (PeTe at high enough level to destroy brass on Part target, and even then it will take many, many castings), which most magi won't have. If you are gone for a very long time (or dead), this isn't a huge obstacle to an intruder, but in the short term it's practically impassible.

The second layer is going to be about detection of intruders, whether you are at home or not. If someone gets in, you need to know about it - if you're at home, you can confront them, if you are not at home, you can activate your nastier defenses (remotely) or get home (The Leap of Homecoming). This could be something relatively simple while you're at home (a room based InAu spell that detects air movement, with an Imaginem requisite to turn that motion into noise), but gets more complex and difficult if you are not home (typically involving arcane connections).

The third layer is those nasty traps. The hard part about hermetic magic/enchantment is setting up traps you can remove/disable regularly, or activate remotely. This is generally the stuff that takes the most investment of time and effort/vis. This leans heavily towards what your magus is good at, and that makes it easier for magi to prepare against. Knowing and mastering Unraveling the Fabric of Terram is invaluable if you are invading the sanctum of a terram specialist. It's no wonder some Verditus magi make a lot of profit selling specialist lab defense objects.

The fourth layer is obfuscation. If you're leaving your sanctum for a long period of time, hiding your precious goods is pretty much necessary. Hiding a magical object inside a stone wall isn't too hard and needs a specific kind of spell to locate that the casual intruder won't have.

The fifth (oft neglected) layer is trust. Going on a long journey? Leave your valuables with someone you can trust. Unless something is a big secret that will get you in trouble, why not move your personal vis into covenant stores? Why not pile your books into a chest and leave it with another magus (like your pater, or filius)? Is there a hermetic equivalent of a safety deposit box or bank (the Redcaps might have such a thing)?

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On the use of charged devices

I see some of the advantages being that they don't take vis to produce, they can get large penetration totals (even if you house rule their penetration, they can typically get good totals). Also you'd hope that the traps don't get triggered that often so the limited charges of a device aren't a drawback.

Some of the downsides are that they can only contain a single effect so the cleverness that one can get out of linked triggers with intellego effects is harder to access and they do take more time than watching ward/waiting spells. They take a season to produce. My experience with them (well, it came up only once in a game I actually played but much more frequently when messing around with the rules and discussions here) is that it is "typical" to spend one season creating a charged device with a level equal to the lab total and a second season creating a device or devices with a number of charges equal to the lab total divided by 5 from lab notes.

Hermanus in Legends of Hermes was a legend because of his political accomplishment to get the resources to build a myriad of "traps" for protection of House Tremere's supplies of vis and enchanted devices. For the most part these protections took the form of invested devices that had two enchantments first a powerful intelego effect and second a linked Rego Vim effect that set off a charged device in the same room. So you could think of it as having a bunch of sensors constantly searching for criteria indicating that there is an issue, when they detect their criteria they send out their "alarm" signal or perhaps detonate signal if you'd prefer. The alarm signal activates all of the charged devices in the room that have the right triggering action to go off when the "alarm" sounds.

That's a really vis and time intensive way to do things. Which makes sense because if you've earned a legendary reputation based on your ability to get your hands on resources, you can use those resources to do your things.

You can manage almost the same level of functionality with watching wards for a fraction of the time investment. A watching ward can is a rego vim spell. It is not limited by the Muto vim limitation from spontaneous magic. You can put multiple spells in a watching ward with one being an intellego spell and the other being the spell that you want to go off when triggered by the intellego spell. The simple thing to do is use two spells in the ward which more or less accomplishes what you want (your intellego spell senses that there is an issue and the other spell takes care of that issue), but this might require a very high level watching ward.

Another choice, useful if you don't have a high level watching ward spell, is to fill one ward with both an intellego spell and a spell to activate another effect outside of the watchign ward such as a charged device or a second watching ward. Hermans had his Rego Vim alarm signal to activate other devices in his room once his sensor was triggered but that's much than you'll typically need to activate another device or ward. In fact a creo imaginem spell that creates an image that effects one sense for momentary duration such as making an item speak a command word is level 1. That's right level 1, you put a watching ward with an intellego spell in it (perhaps an intellego spell that you don't even know as a formulaic but can cast with ceremonial magic) and a level one CrIm trigger word effect. This trigger word effect then sets off a second watching ward or an enchanted device that hopefully handles your invasion issue.

Of course you don't have to limit yourself to one device/effect that gets set off when your alarm is triggered you could set up as many as you have time/vis for. Likewise you don't have to limit yourself to a single intellego spell to set off your defenses, you cold have many of those as well.

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Having work in a chemistry lab, and working regularly in food/chemistry factory, the last thing I want to do is walk there bare foot :cry:
That being said, it is clever trick. If you combine that with a cultural habit which could justify why he does that, nobody will be suspicious (it is very common in some asian countries to remove shoes before entiring a home and go barefoot).

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It's easy to vary the theme, though. Once you can give an object a sense of vision (so it can see stuff rather than using direct Intellego magic, which is resisted by MR), you can make defenses that ignore people in the right kind of clothing, medallion, haircut or other distinguishing physical characteristic.

Barefoot is good because it is such a simple triggering action ("Activate if touched by a shoe") that it's enough to work with charged items without extra effect.

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How do you give the object the sense of visión? Creo? Muto? Intelego cab give you a magical sense but based in natural senses and the object has no sense at all... This is near to the case of the blind magus. I think you will need also a mind to discern a shoe but I am not sure.

It's an area with some ambiguity. If you had an enchanted device with the triggering action "touch this device with a shoe" I think that would be fine. Touching with a shoe seems no more difficult for the item to interpret to me than waving the device and saying "abracadabra".

There is the matter that spells like Words of the Flickering Flame and Stone Tell of the Mind that Sits show that inanimate objects do have a crude sort of senses even without ears, eyes and the like. There are some example devices in the texts that use magical sense spells on these only kinda real senses.

It's my opinion (albeit one I'm not certain of, that you could easily change with a persuasive argument) that adding a requirement that an enchanted device must have an effect to grant it a sense before being able to enchant a functional magical sense effect in it, while logically consistent, is leaning too much towards emphasizing unimportant piddly details at the expense of letting the players do cool fun things with their character's magic.

Adding a mind before you add a sense before you add the effect that you actually care about is an even worse proposition for how much enjoyment your players will have.

Intellego Imaginem would be the art necessary. This is explicitly possible, as a Bjornaer mystery script (for Sensory Magic) requires the initiate to do just this to a magical object. This doesn't require a mind if it's just used to trigger another effect in the object. For example, if you give an object the ability to 'see' the contents of a room and the linked trigger is that the enchantment is activated if it 'sees' the color orange, it's sufficient. You could certainly add a Mentem requisite if the triggering conditions are complex, but in many cases it's probably overkill.

Objects don't have a mind but I think making an enchanted object able to process species in a very specific way isn't terribly complex. As Erik mentions, it's fundamentally built into the triggering actions of most enchanted devices already.