In Favor of Higher Ease Factors

I think a problem with ArM, in all editions, is that it is tailored to what I shall call the Journeyman Game. This is the game where everyone plays a Journeyman magus, straight out of gauntlet, for a few years or at most a very small number of decades of in-game time. In that time they want to see their characters reach the peaks of power, and so the entire game gets skewered to let very young characters gain lots of XP and powers. This problem has been addressed in ArM5 to some degree, but I'm here today to say it hasn't been addressed in regards to Ease Factors, and in particular the Ease Factors of Supernatural Abilities. I advocate increasing the Ease Factors, and for concreteness I'm gonna focus on the first Supernatural Ability - Enchanting Music.

The official Ease Factors given for Enchanting Music are:
9: Calm the upset
12: Win someone’s love
15: Incite a riot
24: Win back a soul from the Prince of Darkness

This is the typical scale used in other Abilities, e.g. Whistling Up the Wind in the Ex Misc chapter of Societates reaches 18. It works fine for most skills, where extreme competence isn't really an issue and there just aren't many modifiers. It doesn't work well, I argue, for Supernatural Abilities that are influenced by Aura, are the focus of Companion characters that can live for many decades and gain all sorts of perks by adventure, and where competence is measured in comparison with the power of Hermetic magi.

I suggest instead to utilize a broader range. It should start at lower values, to facilitate the Ability's use under adverse auras. And it should end, with spectacular supernatural effects, at a higher value, a value that will confine such feats to the realm of the truly exceptional Mythic masters of the Ability.

Here is one:
3: Incline person to be kinder towards you, to do you a small favor
6: Calm the grieving
9: Lead a herd of sheep despite distractions
12: Calm the upset
15: Convince a fair wench to spend the night
18: Incite a riot in lower-streets
21: Win someone’s love; incite a riot in city
24: Convince peasants to rise against local lord
27: Convince peasants to rise against king or bishop
30: Win back a soul from the Prince of Darkness [well, a demon]

To demonstrate how it works, I'll tell the remarkably similar tale of two heroes - Dabblus and Mimaximus.

Dabblus picked up Enchanting Music, and the player intends it to be a major part of the character – but only a part. He ain’t about to invest lots of virtues or XP on it, Dabblus has other aspects that vie for these resources. Still, he invests some. Dabblus starts the game with Enchanting Music 3 and Communication +3, so his Enchanting Music rolls are at +6+Aura.
[color=blue]Strolling along the beach, Dabblus encounters an angry and belligerent woman. He calms the upset but fair lady with an average roll [6 die+6 bonus+0 aura =12], and after hearing her tale leads her to the covenant. Later, he manages to get her to trust him even though she knows she shouldn’t, and she confides a secret to him [9 die+6 bonus+3 aura =18, a hard task] with a lucky roll. Sneaking to the city, he tries to convince an old lady to lend him a jar, but rolls poorly and just fails to meet the ease factor [3 die+6 bonus-9 aura =0]; the player decides to spend Confidence, and Dabblus succeeds after all. Using the jar of ale, he manages to convince the fair ladies’ grieving brother that he departure isn’t as bad as death [7 die+6 bonus-9 aura+2 ale =6], by a smidgen of luck.
In time, Dabblus improves his enchanting music but still he isn’t overly focused on it. He has reached a respectable professional level, Enchanting Music 5, and has acquired a magical lute (+1 bonus); his bonus is now +9+Aura.
[color=blue]Accosted on the covenant by an enemy spy that he inadvertadly exposed, Dabblus amazingly manages to convince him to turn against his master with a sad dirge [9 die+9 bonus+3 aura+3 Confidence =24] – he rolled well, AND invested Confidence, on his own turf. En route to the enemy castle, he convinces a peasant to give the magi shelter in return for his songs [6 roll+9 bonus+0 aura =15]. At the enemy’s castle, the sanctum of a powerful infernalist [Infernal aura 6], he tries to lead the party past a herd of infernal sheep but rolls poorly and just fails [3 roll+9 bonus-6 aura =6]; the party triumphs at the end, despite the setback.
Even in old age, Dabblus’ music hasn’t improved much. With several decades (and a longevity ritual) under his belt, he has managed to improve his Enchanting Music to 6, and a faerie blessing granted him Puissant Enchanting Music as well; his bonus is now +12+Aura. The covenant has by now moved to a magical regio with a +6 aura, as well.
[color=blue]While visiting the city, Dabblus aids a merchant manage his herd in the busy market [6 roll+12 bonus-9 aura =9]. This ends up leading him to a small village outside, where he incites a riot against the new lord’s policies [6 roll+12 bonus+0 aura =18]. Later, at the covenant, he once again convinces a spy to turn on his master[6 roll+12 bonus+6 aura =24]. All in a day’s work – what was an extraordinary achievement but a few decades ago is now his regular performance. Impressed with himself, Dabblus tries to win back the soul of his long lost beloved, but fails miserably and burns eternally in the fires of hell [24 is still not 30].

The eyes of Minmaxus’ player gleamed when he saw Enchanting Music. Dreaming of unsurpassed power, he focused on Enchanting Music to the detriment of nearly anything else. Minmaxus starts the game with Enchanting Music 5, Communication 5, and Puissant Enchanting Music, for a bonus of +12+Aura.
[color=blue]Strolling along the beach, Minmaxus met a fair and noble lady and, with a song, convinced her to bed him [6 die+12 bonus+0 aura =18; bedding the young lady was only a step harder than the example wench…]. Later, in the covenant, he wins her love [6 die+12 bonus+3 aura =21], and she confides her secrets in him. Traveling to the city, he rolls poorly [3 roll+12 bonus-9 aura =6], but still manages to convince her grieving brother to calm down about her death, which he attributes to the magi. With a new song, and a bit of luck on the dice and a bonus for good roleplaying, he even manages to [7 die+12 bonus-9 aura+2 roleplaying =12] convince him to calm down about the magi.
Investing in his powers, the mature Minmaxus has reached Enchanting Music 7, and sports a powerful magical harp (+2). His bonus is now +16.
[color=blue]Accosted on the covenant’s grounds by demon, Minmaxus manages the impossible with luck and investment of Confidence [9 die+16 bonus+3 aura+3 Confidence =31] – he convinces the demon to let him keep his soul (fortunately, Minmaxus learned a few tricks from the magi – he obtained shed skin as an arcane connection, and used the demon’s nick-name and signature as a sympathetic connections; together with his Penetration of 5, this sufficed for penetration against the Might 20 demon.) En route to his human master’s abode, Minmaxus wins the heart of a peasant wife [6 roll+16 bonus+0 aura +3 Confidence=22], which allows him to spend the night at her farm. At the sanctum of the powerful infernalist [Infernal Aura 6], he rolls poorly [3 roll+16 bonus-6 aura =13], but still manages to charm down the irate guards with a quick song, which allows the party to sneak in and eliminate the diabolist.
By old age, Minmaxus has walked a Forest Path and acquired Affinity with Enchanting Music; with it, and a benign Twilight experience (don’t ask), he climbed to Enchanting Music 12+2. His bonus is now +21.
[color=blue]While visiting the city, Minmaxus aids a merchant prince incite a riot in the city’s harbors [6 roll+21 bonus-9 aura =18]. In return, the prince looks the other way while Minmaxus arranges for the kingdom’s peasants to overthrow the king [6 roll+21 bonus+0 aura =27]. Later, at the covenant, he convinces yet another demon to forgo a soul [6 roll+21 bonus+6 aura =33]. What was once an extraordinary achievement is now his regular performance. Impressed with himself, Minmaxus attempts to repeat this achievement in Hell, but the task proves too much even for Minmaxus. [Let’s say he rolls well, so 9 roll+21 bonus-10 aura+3 Confidence =23; still not close, even disregarding penetration]. His soul burns eternally in the fiery pit.

Notice how powerful Minmaxus is, even with the higher Ease Factors. Imagine how he would be with the official ones. The tasks are just too easy. Inciting a riot? (Supposedly a pretty difficult thing, by the EF 15 - just short of winning over a soul from Satan) - not a problem, he can do it under adverse conditions. Winning someon's love is even easier (EF 12) - even Dabblus could manage that regularly in the wilderness (aura 0). Even my own scale is a bit too low, perhaps, depending on how powerful you want Minmaxus to be in comparison to magi.

Let's scale up those Ease Factors. These are PCs we're talking about, they'll find way to pile up bonuses! The proper scale for Supernatural Abilities isn't 18, or even 24, it's at least 30. And they should start lower, too.

I do have some sympathy with your point. Given that you might expect a roll of 4 and a primary stat of 2 and an ability of 4 in something not particularly specialised, that's a 10 right there. Add confidence, and you're at 13.

Of course, the things to bear in mind are modifiers. If I'm using a Magical Supernatural Ability in a level 2 Dominion. I have to take 6 off my total.

Also add in the possible need to penetrate. ArM5, page 184 gives the penetration rules for supernatural abilities. Anything in excess of the ease factor, plus the Penetration Ability (and bonuses worked out as standard) is the power's penetration.

This makes supernatural abilities actually quite hard to use, especially against those with Resistance.

But yes, on the whole, I do think that Ease Factors can be a little low. But as a storyguide don't be afraid to use the suggested Ease Factor as the "fair following wind" Ease Factor. If there's something about the situation that makes it more difficult (or easier), apply a modifier.

With Enchanting Music, starting a riot in an abbey renowned for its calm and devotion should be almost impossible, but starting a riot in the partisan backstreets of Verona's North Quarter might be nothing but an afternoon's work.

Double post...

I also had this feeling with moderately experienced ArM4 characters. Gliding the scale one or two ranks upward fixed the thing.