[In Your Sagas] How do you handle the book & lab text trade?

So, the covenant has a dedicated scribe. A failed apprentice that the rakish Granadan Bonisagus magus dragged to the covenant, after I let players create characters to populate the covenant.

Mr. Scribe (who, admittedly, has a bit of a roguish bent and may end up stealing from his benefactors) can churn out 420 levels of lab texts per season.

Now, many of these texts are hermetic standards, and the Bonisagus in particular is an elementalist, so his lab texts may not be of wide interest to the Order at large - not to mention he's a Bonisagus and by rights should be giving up his magical knowledge for free.

I figure if it's corebook spells the scribe is churning out, they're the standards that most folks know of and have on hand. Custom spells invented by the players are likely of more interest.

So, I'm wondering how other people run scribes and a theoretically constant churning out of lab texts, etc. I imagine there must be some sort of supply/demand limit and it's not just a goose that lays a golden egg. I'm looking at the Durenmar library rules for ideas on how to work out them finding markets for these lab texts, and what might be a likely demand for lab texts and so on.

How have others dealt with this aspect of the covenant and the exchange of lab texts and so on?



It's so tricky. Scribing is easy, as you point out. How much of your secrets are you willing to sell to a potential enemy? The Order seems to have a bit of a Cold War going on, and the cooperation is not what it could be, in my reading of canon. My WAG is that maybe one tenth of the Order is going to be interested in your "original" material, so given about a thousand in the Order, maybe a hundred, with probably fifty buyers. The Order has a strong rule stopping "file sharing", as it were, so you should be covered there. There's a few stories in finding buyers, and a few dealing with payment. All I have for now.

This is all good, but remember that the magi will need to write out their lab texts themselves in plaintext for him to copy. Magi write working lab texts in idiosyncratic notation, that needs to be translated.

The scribe can't translate the lab texts himself (because he can't generate a Lab Total).

Translation will be the big bottleneck in the scribes work.

Oh, worry not. They're fully aware of that. Right now they're mainly dealing with the lab texts the covenant was founded with, and a few small additions such as the entry requirement that each new magus add lab texts of all their spells to the library.

Indeed, the lab note translation is a major bottleneck which they gripe over but do not actually do any work towards alleviating.


Is this 100% supported?

Bonisagus must make their works available - but they don't have to provide the scribing for every mage who shows up begging on their doorstep. So what is scribing worth? A (partial) season of effort for a mage, or for a mundane? One copy to the Order fulfills the requirements, and then it's "Dont bug me, kid!" for all the Order is concerned. :laughing:

Oooh - I, for my part, am never comfortable with that assumption. Some, certainly - but do you really think that a spell that allows a mage to "talk to animals" is rarer than a spell to talk to stone or air? CrCo that gives a shield grog +5 Strength that much less common than an equal magnitude one that creates a zombie? That no one has circulated a cantrip that lights candles across a room or alters a body but one that lets you analyze ashes or change just the face are standard issue? Eyes of the Cat but not Ears of the Fox? A ward against metal weapons that much less popular than one against wooden ones? :confused: The list is endless.

The spells in the book are a shotgun scattering of possible effects, examples and models for how the different Guidelines might be used. There are so many attractive effects in the Guidelines that are just as or more attractive than cannon spells (and no few low-level cannons spells that, imo, can be vastly improved by a simple T/R/D tweak - Sleep with a duration of Diameter, anyone?). Not that they're bad examples - altho' some are fairly obscure - they're clearly just a few approaches out of many, many possible, and some obvious ones are missing exactly because of that - they (or the changes to the ones listed) are obvious, and largely redundant as far as the examples go.

And some Covenants will have very specialized libraries, from members who themselves were specialists and not interested in "general" spells. And, on the other hand, some PC-designed spells, while perfect In Character for that particular mage concept, are far too specialized for general interest, and so not valuable to any who don't share their pursuits.

If you want to run that - hey, you know your saga best. But if you're putting thought into the value of a text, I'd think you'd want to do the same for the intrinsic value of any spell as well.

As has been pointed out, it's hard to stop the copying - it exists, it's going to be used. So the question is of trade, and there are a couple In-Game philosophies that are likely to be encountered.

Many Spring Covenants are desperate, and so copying their texts costs very little - some coin, one pawn of vis, and they're ecstatic. Some larger covenants don't care - and so charge a similarly trivial fee.

The next is "like for like" - you want a spell, give us one we don't have. This is tougher, but a hard-dealing Spring covenant could be like this, or an Autumn that is already large and wants to keep growing, and sees no need for charity.

The price itself is also flexible - some generous and philanthropic covenants might want to see spells shared as much as possible, and only charge the cost of a scribe plus materials. Otoh, highly competitive covenants might realize its' a seller's market, and squeeze every last ducat out of the buyer, charging a mage's wages, and if they don't like it they can go somewhere else! Likewise a Spring Covenant where the magi do their own copying, even if that price is not supportable on the larger market.

In the end, I'd balance all this with 1) whether you want to make any story out of this, or just rubber-stamp it, and b) what makes the best story - both the story of acquiring the texts and the continued story of the covenant (rapid growth or tough survival), and iii) whether you have any players/magi who are excited about horse trading. Don't want to spend an entire session on a text that doesn't excite anyone, but if the group is excited then it can be a sub-plot all its own.

That sounds exactly like most player character covenants!

There's always something better to do in a season than translate lab texts.

I brought up before the idea of training someone in your own lab script. Get them to do the writing up.

Little job for an apprentice.

Remember your scribe does not work 4 seasons per year either.

This is possible I suppose, but there are no rules for it in RAW (I think).

It seems unlikely that a scribe could even be taught a lab script, as learning a lab script requires a Lab Total. Possibly, an apprentice could be taught, but there should still be some limit to what he can translate based on his Lab Total.

Not as a "language" or an ability to learn, but it's there, page 102, under "Translating Lab Texts".

It's a Lab Total that must be acquired, that is targeted vs. the highest magnitude of effect you want to translate. Nothing specific about the mage who's notes are being translated helping, but I'd assume it would be a huge bonus - bigger than "help in a lab" would be for a standard Lab Total bonus.

Once a style of notes has been translated for a given magnitude, no more translation is necessary until something higher magnitude is attempted, and then the Lab Total simply adds on to where you were before.

I'd think this calls out for some SG/Troupe expansion of the rules, if the writer is actively teaching another their style.

I should point out that such a characetr, the failed apprentice here, does generate a lab total, but it is a very poor one. Maybe he got no arts but he still has int+MT+aura+0+0. Now... it is fair to say he doesnt have the ability because his gift is borken and he cannot test the magics himself, but if you need a game mechanic for it you don't need to invent too many extra rules.

I favour house ruling you can spend a season training someone in your own style...

I think it was ken that mentioned that the notation can easily be something like "like the experiment on the newts of summer 1212, just with more arsenic on the left eye and starting when Mars is on the rise". Someone that has no idea of what you did on the newts experiment of 1212 will have no idea on what you are doing here. It is more than shorthand.


And yet a mage 200 years later can translate an individual lab text, without any extant reference to that other experiment.

But I feel that the ability to generate a lab total of sufficient magnitude is needed because it is more than just a recipe, far more than shorthand.

We had a discussion about "alchemy vs chemistry" once upon a time that echoes similarly in my memory...


From that post, there are some helpful diagrams from actual alchemical texts - altho' these are from the 1600's, once everything had been codified and was made clear and orderly:

These diagrams should help clarify things:
Explanatory Figures
Helpful Tab III, outlining the Mysterium Magnum
Helpful Tab IV
A simple Animal spell
Figure 6, a nice summation

If you're still having trouble, I'll include one more diagram:
aka "the Figure conteyning all the secrets of the Treatise both great & small"

The point is that it's not just a list of instructions like it's not just "mixing stuff together", it's not just a recipe that you just translate word for word - it's far more "arcane" than that (literally!), and far more obtuse than learning a simple substitution cypher.

Or at least it certainly can be. ysmv.

Yes, I know there are rules to translate Lab Texts, but there are no rules to train someone in your lab script.

I don't think that is correct. Yes, a failed Apprentice has a Score in Magic Theory and he has an Intelligence characteristic, but I don't think that he can generate a Lab Total. To generate a (Hermetic) Lab Total you need to be a Gifted magus who has had his Arts successfully Opened.

To extract vis from the aura, for example, it is not sufficient to merely have a Laboratory, an Int characteristic and to know something about Magic Theory.

Completely agree they can't perform a lab activity. I suppose I was not clear enough.

I was trying to suggest if you really wanted to force a rule for this rather than generate a bodge it house rule you could use this mechanic and follow the RAW for translating a text using the scribe's stats. Copying lab texts is something they are explicity allowed to do. Of course, the whole 're-inventing a spell' concept might mess with this but in the translating texts rules you don't actually learn the spell when you translate it - simply gain the ability to translate to invent it and others of the same level. You also get the ability to 'write them up as your own'.

Here is another query then... can a player character failed apprentice have maic they can no longer use..? Their gift is broken but their memory is not. Could such a character created as a player take spells. Of cours they could never cast them, but they could perhaps write them up. Now the player in question gets nothing form this apart from the chance to give a freebie to their covenant - but it does make some sense from a story perspective.

I ask this becqause I am considering having an old magus with a damaged guft as a storyline at some point and I am wondering what parts of his magical knowledge he retains. Failed apprentice is one thing... but broken archmage might be able to conceal his damaged gift by simply becoming an author. Such a character might make for an excellent patron, depending on hiw much he actually remembers and is able to make available to other people.

Sure, that is a good idea, if you decide that translating Lab Texts is not actually a Laboratory Activity, but merely something that uses the Lab Total mechanic.

Actually, I don't think that it is explicitly allowed by RAW (or not in the core RAW, at least). The RAW only really talks about magi copying Lab Texts. The fact that the rate of copying (plaintext) Lab Texts is based on the Profession:Scribe Ability sort of implies that scribes can do it, but there is nothing explicitly stating that they can. This is different to, say, copying books about Arts, where the possibility of mundane scribes is explicitly discussed.

Seems like an absolutely fine idea to me.

I am fairly confident there was something about copying lab texts by mundane folk suggesting that if they don't have magic theory and some magic lore it becomes tainted... although it gives no examples of what that might mean.

Actually on looking that up it only lists it in copying books about arts & abilities. I suppose it depends on how you want to play it but probably then Ihave been cheating strictly speaking in allowing ours to do this.

Would an Automaton with Profession : Scribe be able to copy lab texts? I mean, on one side, it doesn't have the Gift, but on the other, the creator of same did, and he can only give the Automaton "his" skills. That would give Automatons a use they have been lacking in so far as well. Hum....

Like I said above, I had allowed the failed apprentices to do so - and they explicity cannot have the gift. However, re-reading the relevant rules section it only mentions mundanes ability to copy magical texts not actual spells... although it doesnt say they cannot do spells it is different thing. It depends how 'inherintly magical' you want spells to be in your game compared with a summa on a magical ability (which they certainly can copy with a point of MT and magic lore)

Lab Texts are a Lab Activity, not a Scribe Activity. I would allow a Failed Apprentice to Copy Lab Texts, but not to Translate them.
Translating a Lab Text requires an understanding of the Arts involved, and I would say a magus with Incompatible Arts could not translate a Text which uses a TeFo combo matching his incompatibility. A Failed Apprentice has his gift broken. It's all incompatible to him.

When you Copy a Lab Text, it is already Written Out. You don't need to play with the Arts in your lab to figure out what the heck the other magus' scribbles mean. But you do need a more intimate understanding of magic that a mundane with a magic theory score can provide. To him, it is just letters and pretty pictures. He may even be able to produce a reasonable copy of what it looked like. But it would still be wrong. Sometimes magi use different "fonts" changing the shape of a letter or character ever so slightly, radically changing it's meaning. Sometimes a character may need to be altered each time it is recopied to account for magical sympathies unfathomable to the mundane mind (and thus I could not myself begin to guess what these changes may be or the reason for them). Therefore, even though it does not require a lab, it is still categorized as a Lab Activity. Since the Failed Apprentice is able to serve as a Lab Assistant, I figure it is okay to allow them this humble task. Their broken Gift is sufficiently intact enough to understand how to conduct themselves in the lab under the instructions of a magus, then it is intact enough to copy a set of instructions and understand the sympathies involved and the need to recopy things in a certain way (maybe certain words have to be written in reverse order from right to left, something a mundane scribe wouldn't be able to perceive).

Because they are not anything like an Ability that can be trained, that was (part of) my point.

"Translation" is not always 1:1 - often it's more abstract, more an art than a science.

There are no rules because the rules never assume it can be done, that it's something that's appropriate to that sort of "this is how it works" breakdown. And I'm not sure I would disagree with that premise.