Insight from Twilight as Variant Original Research

The rules for Original Research described in TMRE were very nice, for their time. I’ve discussed their ramifications before, and analyzed them. Since then Ancient Magic has been released, and in it a more streamlined and revised version of related rules, whose phrasing and structure clearly benefited from the experience gained in the interim. The ancient magic integration rules are so good, in fact, that I think they should be used for Original Research too. So I suggest using them, introducing just one single change – a change in how to gain Insight. Here is the suggestion, an add-on intended to be placed “at the end” of the Ancient Magic rules.

Original Research
It is possible to obtain Insight independently, without relying on an existing source. Such insight may contribute towards a breakthrough that is totally new, that has never been seen before – or to one the researcher simply lacks other sources of Insight for. It is easier, and safer, to gain Insight from an existing source – but if no such source is available, magi may turn to original research, whether because they fail to find more sources for Insight into an ongoing project or because they feel no such sources exist.

Since there is no existing source of Insight, the researcher must attempt to create one. He must attempt to create some related effect, such as a spell that mirrors the desired breakthrough in some way or probes the underlying conditions. The troupe and player should come to agreement on a worthy effect. The effect must be entirely Hermetic, since at this point the researcher has not achieved the breakthrough. The invention must be made using the Arcane Experiments rules and with Exceptional Risk (ArM5 p. 107-109). This period of intensive research cannot be extended over several seasons, it must be completed (or fail) within a single season.

This research may lead to Insight. If the effect is not successfully invented, e.g. due to Complete Failure on the Extraordinary Results Chart, there is no chance of obtaining Insight. If it succeeded, the magus may be able to convert exceptional results into a source of Insight. The degree he can do that to depends on the specific exceptional result, on his theoretical brilliance, and on the risks he is willing to take. You may attempt to reinvent the effect until you succeed.

If you have obtained a Discovery through your experimentation, you may always attempt to pry Insight from it. If you have taken a +2 Risk Modifier, you may also attempt to gain Insight from a Modified Effect. If you used a +3 Risk Modifier, you might even pry Insight from a Side Effect. Make an Intelligence + Magic Theory stress roll against an Ease Factor of 21; add +3 for Inventive Genius. If you succeed, you have emerged with Insight. The SG is encouraged to apply side effects or modified effects that are reminiscent of, perhaps partly incorporating, the desired breakthrough. If you have failed to obtain Insight from inventing the effect, it is useless for your research. You must seek out another source of Insight (inventing a new effect, or perhaps locating some existing source).

Once you have obtained the Insight, you may use it to create a new effect as usual. This follows all the rules for utilizing an Insight from an existing source, including the possibility of incorporating non-Hermetic elements and the process of troupe decision on the exact effect (Ancient Magic, p. 8-9).

Variant: Insight Through Twilight
Merely inventing the effect doesn’t provide Insight; instead, the researcher attempts to carefully induce a Wizard’s Twilight from which he can emerge with Insight. Conduct the season of original research as above, but if the magus succeeds in inventing the effect he also enters Wizard’s Twilight at the end of the season of original research. Note that zero Warping Points induce the Twilight, so it is easier to avoid (if, e.g., no Extraordinary Result is obtained this is desirable) and slightly less dangerous. Only if the magus comprehends the Twilight may he make the Magic Theory roll to determine whether he obtains Insight from an extraordinary result; if he does, he gains Insight instead of the usual beneficial effect accompanying the Twilight Scar.

Under this variant, if the researcher entered Wizard’s Twilight as a result of a Disaster a kind SG may permit him to attempt to emerge with Insight even though he normally couldn’t, allowing him to make the Magic Theory roll. This allows him to salvage success from disaster.

This rule replaces the time and danger of adventure with the time and danger of experimentation. Since there is far less story potential here, the task is harder (higher Ease Factor to obtain the Insight). The process is time consuming, but with a safe laboratory the risks can be managed and the probability to obtain Insight can be fairly high (around 40%); given a cooperative troupe and careful player - and a magus with extremely high Magic Theory, Inventive Genius, and Intelligence - Insight could be gained at the rate of about one per two to three seasons.

The rule encourages breakthrough theorists to be highly intelligent and inventive people, with an extremely high understanding of Magic Theory, and to conduct dangerous experiments and develop intriguing effects in the course of their research. They would be fairly capable in the relevant Hermetic Arts – so that they could develop relevant spells and effects for original research.

The limitation of only a single season of original research is meant both to simplify the math and to lower the magnitude of the resulting effects, encouraging competence in the relevant fields and leaving an assortment of small inventions rather than bombastic grandiose spells. If relaxed, the chances for a desired extraordinary result are probably such that two-season long projects would be desirable, not really changing the rate.

High auras don’t contribute to original research, except for the minor benefit of aiding the invention. This is unfortunate, but I was not able to fit the highly-variable aura factor in a good way.

Since the original research only leads to Insight, the troupe still gets to dictate the more esoteric effects that Insight gives rise to and throw curve-balls in the PC’s way, forcing him to learn new Arts, obtain raw vis, or so on in order to invent the effect. This is a very small effect, however, and the player conducting original research generally has a lot of control over the process, especially since he is the one suggesting the various effects of the original research seasons. The troupe can stretch the process of achieving the breakthrough to some extent by granting distracting and small effects, but not more (well, assuming everyone is on the same page).

The variant introduces Twilight as a source of insight, which I find thematically very fitting. It also introduces a deterrent to engage in all of this, beyond the small risk for painful disasters – warping, a single die of Warping Points on each attempt, which limits the possibilities of invention – probably a desired effect too. The problem is that it also discourages old, warped magi from developing breakthroughs, which doesn’t at all fit with my image of the idealized researcher. It also, strangely, encourages knowledge of Enigmatic Wisdom, which isn’t something I’d associate with brilliant theorists per se. It extends the difficulty and hence the time required to obtain Insight, which I think isn’t too bad since the above system is a bit too swift, but does so in a way that very severely punishes warped magi and sends researchers into early twilight. For these reasons I don’t recommend it. It is possible to have this particular twilight not accrue further Warping Points, which will make original research a little more appealing for warped magi, but this is a relatively minor concern. The bigger concern is that warped magi will simply be unable to progress, accruing bad Twilights instead of comprehending them, again conflicting with the image of the old wise theorist. It is possible to meddle with the rules for Twilight further, e.g. changing the ease factor of the comprehension roll, but this will really not be worthy of being called Twilight at that point. I therefore suggest either adopting the variant and understanding that a magus would only be able to achieve a few breakthroughs, and only while he isn’t warped, or rejecting it and realizing that the magus may create a fair number of inventions and could eventually do so fairly regularly and without undue costs.

In comparison with the TL rules, I believe my rules encourage high Intelligence, Inventive Genius, and are not discrete in the desired Magic Theory. They do not discourage high auras, and provide a clearer probability for success. They are better integrated with the Ancient Magic rules. I hope they are clearer. They lack any real deterrent to engage in original research, unless the variant is used; if it is, both rules discourage warped researchers and high auras.

A few words on working with these rules. Firstly, be prepared for many Special or Story Event results; I suggest treating these lightly, weaving minor background details in determining what happened in the season rather than letting them disrupt the gameplay and set-out adventure plans. Exploit them for stories or truly exceptional events only when it serves the saga.

Although the rules recommend a certain number of breakthrough points for certain results, don’t be bound by them. Consider instead the capabilities of the researcher and the needs of the saga to determine the costs, setting it so that the research will culminate and progress by the story’s needs. Do clarify to the player in advance about how difficult things will be, and try not to punish him for succeeding to make progress faster than you thought; players interested in original research are probably somewhat of gearheads, and enjoy coming up with the labyrantine rule twists that allow them to “break” the system – don’t spoil their fun [but do keep them in check...].

Finally, consider how to treat rerolls on the Extraordinary Results Chart. With a +3 Risk Modifier and many rolls, you’ll come across cases of needing to roll twice twice or so on. I recommend just rolling again and again if needed, including botch dice, but this will sooner or later lead to a massive disaster and to some highly-modified effects. Decide how to treat conflicting results, e.g. Complete Failure and a Side Effect.


This is a very interesting idea. I like your system.

Replacing the “stabilization” season with the creation of a new (slightly non-Hermetic) effect is a worthwhile improvement. It’s nice to get something out of that extra season – especially a unique effect – rather than waste a season hoping you simply don’t blow the stabilization roll.

I also appreciate that you’ve removed the large breakpoint that occurs at every five levels of magic theory. Under the old system, the marginal utility of increasing magic theory beyond 11 is minimal. (Practically speaking, eleven means eight for a magus with puissant magic theory and a specialization in experimentation.)

I agree that the Twilight variant, though perhaps interesting, is probably more trouble than it is worth. I think the accrual of warping points during stabilization is my least favorite part of the original rule set. I'd rather the rules encourage big projects than small ones, and the chief end of this feature seems to be to serve as a deterrent. Given the opportunity cost in terms of time and XP devoted to magic theory, this strikes me as unnecessary. With the possibility of mystery initiation, there are much easier ways to acquire cool powers after character creation.

Now, all this having been said, I would certainly consider a house rule allowing a theory-oriented magus to make an Insight roll following a Twilight episode. (Whether good or bad. Failure is often more instructive than success.)

I also note that you’ve revised which results on the Extraordinary Results Chart result in “success.” Since there are still four rolls that yield success on a +3 risk modifier, the probability shouldn’t change too much.

A few suggestions:

I’d reconsider requiring two rolls to derive Insight from experimentation. (i.e. One roll on the extraordinary results chart to get a discovery and a magic theory roll to derive insight from that discovery.) In general, the fewer rolls the better, especially when you’ve got multiple rolls “gating” a single outcome. I propose raising the target for the Insight roll while assigning modifiers to that roll based on the outcome of the extraordinary results chart. (i.e. -3 for “no extraordinary effects,” +3 for a “discovery” or a “disaster,” etc. The outcome of the extraordinary results roll effectively sets the quality of the Insight source.)

Also, you mentioned that you would like to somehow incorporate the aura strength into the discovery process. Have you considered simply adding the aura to the player’s insight roll? If you raise the target of the insight roll by three, it should average out. (In theory, at least. In practice, I’ve noticed that players often somehow wind up in covenants with stronger-than-normal auras.)

Thanks. :slight_smile:

You raise excellent points yourself. I agree with your analysis, and the idea of adding an option to emerge with Insight from Twilight is a good one.

Yes. Note that I encourage taking the +3 modifier, it adds two desired rolls instead of one. I want original research to involve risky experimentation.

Multiple rolls are problematic. But I like the idea of basing things on the extraordinary results, and the way they are arranged on the Extraordinary Results Chart would mean that no smooth progression is possible (i.e. +0 for a Side Effect, +1 for a Modified Effect...). And I'm not sure having two rolls here is too bad - it is more consistent with the way the rules normally work, which is IMO a major design goal as well, and the gating effect it creates is superior to the discrete one of the previous rules.

Ah, the difference between theory and practice.... I'm worried about players finding those places with a magic aura of 8 to conduct their original research in...

It would mean a journeyman magus, with say +15 to the roll [Intelligence 5, Inventive Genius, Magic Theory 5, Puissant Magic Theory], would be able to achieve Insight about 50% of the time in a standard covenant, 80% of the time if he lives in a highly-magical covenant (+6 aura, which would be relatively common for PC covenants methinks), nearly always if he manages to set up shop in a really magical place (aura 8). This discourages specializing in Magic Theory. I think it's excessive, which is why I didn't include it in the forumla...

Note that Bonisagus conducted much of his original research and integration in the Black Forest, which actually is hinted to have had a low magical aura prior to Trianoma's suicide; so perhaps the effect that there isn't much of a need for a high magical aura is a feature, not a bug :smiley:

Well, IMO, the aura shouldn't apply. If the theory is good, the insight is good, and if it's flawed, then it's flawed too. The aura has nothing to do with this: This could potentially imply that a given idea could be wrong somewhere (no insight) and right elsewhre... I don't like this.

Absolutely. You might even work the risk modifier into the insight roll, in order to penalizing magi for playing it safe.

Well, if we're going to house rule, let's house rule boldly. :wink:

Given that entries on the extraordinary results chart aren't in much of an order now, the lack of a smooth progression doesn't bother me so much. (YMMV, of course.) Nonetheless, if you'd prefer a smooth progression on the ERC, why not just edit it?

Philosophically speaking, one of the reasons I like having the ERC influence (rather than gate) the Insight roll is so that we can allow for the possibility of Insight from entries like, "no benefit" or "complete failure." "Why didn't that work?" can be a very fruitful question, and it also allows players to recoup some benefit from what would (otherwise) be a wasted season.

True. Of course, the possibility for blowing yourself up gets to be rather forbidding at that point. That's why one of my PC's long term goals is to have a lab with a safety rating of about 10 or so. You could also nerf the effect by providing a +1 for every two points of aura or something. The difference between an average aura (+2, rounding up) and a great aura (+4) is then meaningful without becoming overly powerful.

Perhaps Bonisagus worked in a low aura because Hermetic theory was too primitive at that time to meaningfully improve a lab’s safety? He certainly didn’t have a familiar and a gold cord to help bail him out.

That's fair, but I think the idea was more that the aura (by definition) amplifies magic, making it easier to notice the kind of odd and puzzling effects that lead to Insight. Mechanically speaking, aura strength adds to botch dice, so the present rules actually encourage you to experiment in a weak aura.

A correction:

Reading Hermes Portal 6 (Kevin Sours, "A New Look at Experimentation"), I see that the arrangement of entries on the ERC was not so haphazard as I supposed in my previous post. My thanks to everyone involved in making back issues of HP available.

Hermes Portal 7. But yes, you're right, rereading it was enlightning. ArM5 is definitely better for Kevin's work.

Same for me!

I like to read about new ways to improve the rules of the game, but at first I was reluctant to check this one.
This is because of it's very nature: Original Research. This mean going further away than the rules: and no rule should be made for what is beyond the rules. This is because of the very nature of the idea.

But then I know will come a time when a player will want to make Original Research, and so arise the question about how to proceed...
I like your system very much! It's simple and from what I can tell game balanced.
I wouldn't tell the player i'm using it, but would inform him of what his character need to be good at OR. I wouldn't inform him of the Ease Factor, for exemple, but only if he gained Insight of not, and if not, what his character thinks he lacked.

I like the Ancient Magic Rules about integrating insight from ancient knowledge, and I wonder why the RAW does not go along Yairs' idea, i.e. along Ancient M. rules ?

Anyway, I think you don't need to discard the Twiligh Insight idea. It could co-exist with the previous one. The problem is not to make young mages better at OR than old ones.

You just have to rule that Insight gained from Twilight are only usefull for a limited range of effect. I could see Insight from Twilight being usefull for immortality, affecting the soul, maybe travelling into dreams or regio..
But for all other projects, a magus would need to search Insight from other sources than Twilight experiences.
Another idea, you could rule that a Twilight Insight can be the start of a research, but you need more disciplined researching from that point on...