Is Flawless Magic really so good?

A lot of people state that Flawless Magic is "overpowered". Some don't go so far, but consider it as the "strongest" Major Hermetic Virtue (including David Chart). In my experience it's a good Major Hermetic Virtue, but not really that exceptional. Sure, it's stronger than Secondary Insight. But it's also weaker than a Major Magical Focus, in my opinion. This thread is to help me understand what I am missing.

Flawless Magic should be relatively easy to "analyze" because it does not allow you to do stuff that normal magi can't do (spend half as much vis on rituals, for example) -- it just gives you bonus experience in a restricted field. Thus, its effectiveness can be roughly measured by a) "oomph": how much extra experience it gives you per season and b) "breadth": how wide is the area of magic it boosts. The two are interwined, in that something that gives you many xp/season in a very narrow area is limited by how much time your are going to put into that area before you hit diminishing returns.

Flawless Magic provides 5 extra xp whenever you invent a new formulaic spell, and doubles the amount of xp you put into mastering spells. This appears a lot, prima facie. But it's balanced about how much time you spend inventing and mastering spells. I think that 1 season/year spent inventing and/or mastering formulaic spells is probably more than even a specialized magus will spend. I mean, you probably don't want to spend more time on that than on studying the Arts, or on learning every other ability (from arcane to mundane ones), or on doing everything else (training apprentices, non-spell labwork etc.). So that puts the gain at about 5xp/year, possibly a little more (say, 7-8) if you can get many good books on spell mastery -- but then, how many are there, on the spells you care about? Even if we go by the 30xp/year guidelines, and assume 1/4th of that is spent on masteries, that's 7.5xp of bonus. So, we are talking about some 900 xp for a focused magus 120 years after gauntlet. (Note that if you plan to play a newly gauntleted magus in a one-shot or for a very brief saga, Flawless magic is just not worth it except for the most one-dimensional characters - pick Mastered spells and/or other xp-granting Virtues instead).

Let's look, instead, at an Art specialist. Ars Magica suggests that, 120 years after gauntlet, such a magus might have a score of 40 - i.e. 820 xp in that Art (note that this is a little less than 1/4 of the magus' time, at 30xp/year). An affinity is worth at least 1/3 of that, possibly a little more, because of rounding effects. So ... 300xp? Spend 1 season/year learning from books with Book Learner, and that's 360xp. Remember those are Minor Virtues!

Let's look at a magus with a Major Focus, again at 120 years of age. Again, this requires a little fudging, but I think it's fair to say that on the average activity within his focus he might have 30 in his strongest Art, 20 in his weaker (that's a bare 675xp, or 22.5 years at 30xp/year). The focus provides him with a +20 bonus -- the equivalent of a score of 35 in each. Sure, it's not quite the same, because you can't use as much vis, for example, or right high level books -- but then, 35+35 would be the cheapest combination. 30+20 costs 840 xp less than 35+35.

Note that, in my opinion, hundreds of xp spent in boosting your focus Te-Fo total from 50 to 70 is more broadly useful than the same xp spent on masterying your formulaic spells. This is a very subjective judgement, but I've seen far more PCs doing the former than the latter.

Summarizing, Flawless Magic seems a strong, solid Virtue for a niche magus -- one who specializes in Formulaic spells -- but really no better than similar power-but-not-breadth-boosting Virtues, some of which (e.g. Major Magical Focus, or Life-Linked Spontaneous Magic) are probably a slightly better buy, infofar one can compare apples to oranges. I would say that the crux lies not in Flawless Magic itself, but in the fact that spending a lot of xp on spell mastery is not really that useful (a few here and there can be, though).

Disclaimer: Am pretty new to the game, and haven't played any long campaign, so my experience is low.

I have made various Magi, and I think only one had Flawless Magic, but then he also has Mastered Spells. It's a strong virtue, but I don't think it's overpowered, and is definitely not my first choice when looking at Major Hermetic Virtues. But that depends a lot on the concept I have.

Can I see Magi spending a few seasons mastering a few spells? sure. But not every Magi would, and there may be better options for most Magi.

So, why did I make a Magi with it? Because I wanted to see it's effect. And I want him to be a master of Ignem spells. it is also for that reason that he spent all the XP from Mastered Spells into Pilum of Fire, to get Mastery 6. It's a signature spell for him, and has been used twice to devastating effect. Will it be effective against all opponents? of course not, and I don't expect it to. But it helps to showcase his focus.

I think you're a little too focused on parts of the experience without considering other parts. For example, let's say you spend 1 season a year inventing exactly 1 spell each time. For another magus to do the same, they would need 2 seasons, 1 to invent the spell and 1 to master it. So you could analyze this as getting an extra season every year compared to a magus who wants to master a lot of spells. How good is 5 seasons/year? That is admittedly pushing things hard in the opposite direction, but it helps show some of what is overlooked. And, even though it does push things hard in the opposite direction, it can be very important to master Ritual spells, so for a magus focusing in Rituals this may not be so extreme a comparison.

This seasonal bit shows up in other ways, too, though, and ways that must be considered if you want to compare experience. Qualities will be lower for mastering spells, commonly 5 for practice, more if you get to adventure. Count the seasons saved to get to the same mastery with Flawless Magic that you would have wanted to get to without it. Now put those seasons saved into study from books or similar to see how Arts and the like compare. That's the actual gain Flawless Magic has now provided for the character.

Hopefully you can see that if you don't include seasons saved in your analysis you're missing a lot of the analysis.

(As an aside, I think you've overlooked creating multiple spells in a season versus needing multiple seasons to create spells. But we can probably hand-wave that away with an average of 5 points per season.)

Separately, I think you're drastically off on Major Magical Focus. As a general rule, it's worse on a point-for-point scale than is Minor Magical Focus. The reason for this is that people will build around their Focus. It's like the saying, "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Yes, Major Magical Focus is clearly better, but you would be very, very hard-pressed to get three times the value of Minor Magical Focus out of it. If Major Magical Focus were the only option for a Focus, it would be great, but since it pales next to Minor Magical Focus, it's nothing special.

Edit: I should say I don't think Flawless Magic is hands-down the best Major Hermetic Virtue, nor even close really. I don't think it's overpowered, either. Those distinctions go to Twilight Mastery, even if it isn't the greatest for many characters. After Twilight Mastery I would rank Life-Linked Spontaneous Magic as the strongest Major Hermetic Virtue. So I agree that it's a good Major Hermetic Virtue but not really exceptional.

But that's the catch. How many seasons do you save?
You claim, if I understand correctly, that you save a lot of seasons, because mastery sources are generally low quality. That's a good point, but only part of the equation. I claim that you save few seasons, because it's not worth putting so many xp into spell mastery anyway.

This is an interesting thought experiment. How many xp (beyond the first automatic 5) do the PCs you have seen have in mastery abilities, even with Flawless Magic? How many per year after gauntlet? I don't think it's that many, but I may be wrong.

(As for the first 5, I don't think that's so many either, and in many cases they are a bit "wasted" anyways. I mean, do you really want to master Eye of the Sage?)

I had considered that, too, but came to the same conclusion.

Well, this is a very separate issue. I am comparing other Virtues to Flawless Magic, not to each other.
Now, you might say "Flawless Magic has the advantage over Major Magical Focus that it synergizes reasonably well with Minor Focus". That's true. Still, I'd say a Major Focus is probably better than Flawless Magic, and certainly no worse. :slight_smile:

In fact, I'd say that Major Focus + a handful of appropriate xp-granting Virtues (Affinities, Book Learner and/or Independent Study) beats Flawless Magic + Minor Focus + one fewer xp-granting Minor Virtue.

Incidentally, from my experience, one major problem of a Minor Focus is that, sure, you can squeeze most stuff into it... but appropriate Lab texts will be scarce (I mean, how many Mighty Torrents of Beer are out there?) and texts on spell mastery even more so. How much this is an issue depends on the average availability of such texts in your saga.

Then we are in agreement :slight_smile: I would rank Life-Linked Spontaneous magic as stronger than Flawless Magic, and one of the strongest Hermetic Virtues out there, too.

Exactly. That's why I said what you want to do is to compare to what you would buy without having Flawless Magic. There will be a bunch of spells you never would have thrown 5 xp into for Mastery 1. Those bonus experience are mostly waste, only incredibly negligibly increasing the value of Flawless Magic. Meanwhile, though, the seasons you do save will be of higher Quality than you would expect with mastery because they're seasons the other person spends in mastery that you get to spend on better stuff.

Figuring it out is certainly nontrivial. I tend to look through a character and look at where I'm headed to determine what is more likely to be better. That's why I never end up with Elemental Magic. I can always get where I'm headed more efficiently without it.

Honestly, I think that issue exists nearly universally, unless you want to pretty much copy a magus from MoH. Consider what you could do with a Minor Magical Focus in canines: make an army of buffed wolves, get a wolf Familiar, shape-shift into a wolf, use your Focus on everything you now put on yourself because you are a wolf and subject to the same wolf-affecting spells you use to buff your Familiar. You could probably even get it to apply to your Talisman if you wanted. Could you do much better than that with any similar Major Magical Focus?

Yup. But check out Twilight Mastery now.

That has a few issues. The first is that it's a Virtue from a Forest Path. That is, it canonically extends Hermetic theory beyond what's considered standard. You have to walk an appropriate path to take it, with all it entails.

Second, sure, it can give you a good number of "free" Virtues in little time. But you pay a heavy price for them, in terms of Warping (among other things, because you become Twilight Prone, which is one of the worst Hermetic Flaws). I would just point out that you need a Warping score of 4 before even being able to obtain the first fruit of the path. By the time it's 6, unless you do really well on your comprehension roll, each twilight will cost you a season, and by the time it's 7 it's a year... so really, it's not such a huge advantage compared to other Virtue-gaining strategies.

Personally, I'm very happy with my current maga, who has Flawless Magic specifically because I wanted to see it in action. I consider the fact that she's getting mastery abilities that she wouldn't otherwise get due to the opportunity cost of lost seasons to be an appreciable benefit. And, since she's mostly a Rego craft wizard, getting a level of precision on every appropriate spell is essentially an extra level of Finesse for no effort (not to mention the 1/2 cost and 1/2 time to raise that further for select spells). The same goes for things like ritual spells and Concentration. And, every defensive spell is fast-cast-able immediately.

Yeah, it's not a game-breaking win button, but it's pretty darn good IMO.

Edited for clarity.

It seems to me the best use of flawless magic, if you consider it outside of an objective of preparing for adventures, is economic. Someone publishes a spell, you get a copy, learn the spell, spend a season mastering it (to mastery level 2) then you are able to write a tractatus on the mastery of that spell. Give the tractatus to the covenant scribe to make copies and you have a pretty decent vis income for a while from that.


To add to what silveroak said, along the same lines you can write casting tablets more easily, too.

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If I recall correctly, you can only fast cast spont spells or mastered spells with the right mastery.

When your wizard is surprised by an archer, that level 3 mastered pilum of fire sending 3 blasts of fire at him before the arrow comes, is pretty nice. Two level 7 tractatus has the magi at level 3 mastery and I would suspect pilum mastery would be one of the few spells, along with Aegis, with some books on mastery.

Same with defensive spells. Image of the Wizard torn is it? First shot misses, -9 after. The arrow deflecting spell. Being able to fast cast them is amazing.

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Sure. But the issue is: how much experience do you need to put into your favourite spells to be able to fast cast them all? There may be cheaper ways to achieve that than taking Flawless Magic.

I don't think you've missed anything ezzelino, you just don't consider the things Flawless Magic gives you to be that strong.

I think Flawless Magic is very, very strong, but not for every wizard or concept. I think it might be my favourite Hermetic virtue, but Ars Magica being Ars Magica I wouldn't say it is Absolute Best. Some spells don't really benefit from any of the Mastery options so if your concept revolves around those sorts of spells then obviously its not great, but for some concepts its amazing.

I think LLSM, Flawless Magic, Gentle Gift are all contenders for best Major Hermetic virtue (not counting Twilight Mastery because you have to go through a lot to get it and if you don't then it's no contest the best virtue), but they aren't all the best choice for every character or concept. I think LLSM is the strongest generally, most mages want to be able to spont stuff and if you can reliably spont a suite of spells then you don't waste seasons inventing them.

Flawless Magic on the other hand takes a little bit of effort to get the most out of it, its definitely stronger in the hands of someone with more experience than someone who just picks it because they've heard its strong, which is true for most virtues, but its easier to not get the most out of FM compared to LLSM or Gentle Gift. Not many spells are tipped over the edge by a single level of Mastery, but FM makes getting 3 or 5 levels much much cheaper and faster and that definitely tips a lot of spells over into "oh boy" level. It's strongest on combat mages imo, with Multicast and Penetration at level 3 or 4 being very strong and FM gets you those 3 or 4 levels much cheaper.

Gentle Gift is obviously far and away the best virtue if you want to interact with mundanes at all, a Mentem guy with Gentle Gift and Deft Mentem can just walk around casting spells on mundanes with none the wiser, meanwhile it's not very good on a Bjornaer that spends all their time in bear form because people are still going to be scared of the damn bear.

Perfect example of theme and mechanics combining. Of course the craft wizard wants their magic to be flawless!

If you're a Mercurian you can add Stalwart casting too so you can fast cast in a TeFo you're not great at and not lose fatigue too! Flawless Magic definitely shines on combat guys.

I don’t think this discussion can really exist outside of speaking to particular character concepts. For instance the utility of Flawless Magic goes way up for magi who do a lot of Pe/ReVi anti-magic spells, first off it allows you to fast cast, second both Unraveling and rebuttal, third penetration, fourth, if you have access to it, Adaptive casting lets utilize a high level mastery for quite a few spells within those guidelines as they are all general (I am here assuming no changes to adaptive casting as detailed in the other thread). For those spells getting to level 1 mastery is almost essential so they can be used to counter magic in combat. Getting to two is really helpful and getting to three vastly increases the utility, particularly of the ReVi “you can’t cast spells of a particular type while this is in effect.” There are other specialties/builds where mastery is great, even if non-essential. Mastery utility goes way up when you have access to the Mercurian Masteries which shouldn’t be hard to learn if you can find books written on spell mastery (no idea how those stayed behind the Cult of Mercury “paywall” with the rules for learning new mastery special abilities as written).

Regarding the utility of M/mMFs: it’s highly dependent on the art and what you want to do with the magus. Many mMFs are great but all the sample ones for Imaginem are terrible to the point of approaching uselessness so for that art you really need to go with a major magical focus.

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Agreed, but experience isn't a constant. To get a level 1 mastery, I'm not spending 5 XP, I'm spending a season.
One can argue use story XP, however, I assume most people put their story XP in things hard to study effectively, like an art at level 15+, because the 21 XP, get a skill from 0 - 6 in a season is finished after a while.
It's also one of the things you'll get around to some season, and then you get an arrow in the neck because you couldn't fast cast.

Uhm, right ..
But ... how many such spells does a combat magus know/use? From my experience, they tend to focus on 1-3. Mastery 4 in 3 spells is 150 xp, which Flawless magic reduces to ... 60. So, 90 "free" xp. Not a lot for a Hermetic Major Virtue.

Again, my point is: for a vanilla magus some mastery xp here and there can be extremely effective. But you don't need that many. So FM does not help you that much, because it saves a lot, on a little stuff :slight_smile: It's like having a SuperAffinity with a Living Language, that doubles the number of xp you put into that language. Awesome? Well, ok if you want to get that Language to 7 -- it saves you 70xp. For most languages, that you want to get to 5 at most, it's not worth Well-Travelled.

In addition FM gives many nice free perks here and there. They are many, but they are very minor. It's nice for a Rego craft mage. But ... Puissant Finesse, Affinity with Finesse etc. are significantly better value.

Note that this 'restricted field' lets you do stuff with spells normal magi can't do, if we define 'normal' as a 'magi who does not master spells'. Being able to Fast-Cast and/or Multi-Cast spells is VERY strong, and there are other options that are quite strong for other spells.

Also, if a magus is willing to actually use lab texts, getting 2 or even 3 spells a season is entirely possible, and then you're getting 5 free XP per spell. Unravelling the Fabric of (Form) spells are a popular choice for this tactic.

But that's not the definition of a normal magus. A normal magus can master spells. I agree, if one could only master spells via Flawless magic, it would be a really strong Virtue. But that's not the case. Any magus can master spells. It takes a lot of time relative to a magus with Flawless magic, but it does not take a lot of absolute time for those concepts I can think of.

Again, that's not a huge amount of experience saved, total. It's like a Virtue that allowed you to bind a familiar in one season instead of four. Wow, you do in ONE season the work of FOUR! Right.

And as callen pointed out, it kind of balances with spells that you have to spend 2+ seasons to learn.

Again, for all those of you who have a magus with Flawless magic, or have seen one you have deemed quite effective. Could you please list the following?

  1. Concept of magus (e.g. PeVi demon Hunter, Rego craft specialist etc.)
  2. Years after gauntlet of the magus.
  3. Total number of formulaic/ritual spells.
  4. Total xp in mastery.
  5. Any other info you deem relevant.

This would help me a lot understand if FM, for those concepts, is good, great, or so so.

My maga currently has 23 known formulaic spells, of which all but 2 are benefited by mastery. That's 105 XP and 21 seasons worth of benefit for my maga. Add in the extra 2 levels of precision (so far) that she put into her most-used craft spell, and that adds up to 110 XP and 24 seasons.

Yes, she would have lived without those levels of mastery, but she's undeniably better off with them. The point here is that she gets breadth with no adverse impact on depth.

Per @ezzelino's request:
0 - Rego craft wizard
1 - 10.5 years past gauntlet
2 and 3 - answered above
4 - The benefits she gets from FM stack with the benefits she gets from Puissant Finesse and Affinity(Finesse), allowing her to essentially have two pools of XP (one at x1.5 XP and one at x2 XP) that improve her ability to use her main craft spell (The Phantom Blacksmith), and she'll have the same benefit when she moves on to spells for stone-, wood-, and leather-working.

Also, she is definitely going to use mastery tractatus to earn vis for the covenant. Thank you, @silveroak, for the idea.

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