wizard wars,killing or experimenting on your apprentice being legal, join or die(though admittedly rarely enforced), plus the fact that they are not really united. it seems like every group is in this whole thing to take as much as it can and share as little as possible(or none with mystery cults). in fact the bonisagi had to be bribed with a better oath to share their research.
aren't most of them descended for roman mystery cults? and going further back greek and egyptian ones.
just saying that the hermetic oath does not look like roman civil law.
And very few outside of House Jerbiton would suggest that the Order is an even remotely Roman institution.
By original definition, yes, the Order of Hermes would be composed of barbarians, given that the original meaning of barbarian was "anybody who isn't Roman."
But whether their barbaric in the modern sense of the word is a matter left to the individual portrayal by the SG. Although the books do try to keep it vague so that all playstyles are workable, as far as it's been defined, the canon Order is very civil, and the laws are decently well-regulated and enforced, but you have to remember that in all iterations, the point of the Order is not to be a unified society or anything of the sort. The purpose of the Code and Tribunals and all that is not to unify magi, though that's part of the end goal; the purpose of all of that is to provide a relatively safe environment for magi to do mostly as they please without getting one another killed or oppressed for it. Now, many people see this as "once everybody can work together safely, teamwork and cooperation will bloom naturally," and individual magi (and even entire Houses) might want something else for the Order, but that's the Code's main intended function.
Some people portray the Order as the highest form of civility and cooperation that can plausibly exist in 1220's Europe. Others portray it as a loosely-knit group of selfish, power-hungry megalomaniacs who do whatever the hell they want with no regard for the consequences and never get punished for it unless they've made enemies out of literally everyone else. Most games are set somewhere between these two extremes.
But even at that "extreme," it's not like it's much worse that the mundane side of Mythic Europe...
not suggesting that europe(mythic or not) was any better back then. i just expected the order to be a little more enlightened and sophisticated.
for instance infighting will always exist but it could be more like"a masterfully planned and executed assasination attempt combing with using political capital to make the judges look the other way or killing a politically expedient target while you yourself are just to useful to be sacrificed for justice. even then subtlety would be paramount in any civilised(even if evil) group. the way the current order is structured... i just can't see how it would work in real life except in a barbarian(in the modern sense) primitive tribe.
i know it's a different game and only a partially good comparison but consider the drow in dnd. they are far more evil.sadistic,murderous,hypocritic and unconcerned about justice than almost any order mage could possibly be. yet even they would admit that society would imemdiately colapse if people could send a letter to a rival telling him
"ill fucking kill younext month! you and your apprentice and your dog and cat and anyone who gets in the way. good evening .
I would point out two things in regards to Wizard's War.
First, throughout Europe all the way up to the 20th century, you could basically tell someone of your social rank "Let's meet tomorrow at dawn, I'll try to kill you and you can do the same." One could refuse, but it would be considered so dishonourable that relatively few people did, even if going up against a stronger adversary. Evariste Galois, one of the founders of modern algebra, died in this way in 1832 -- going up against an opponent he knew was stronger than himself, so that he spent the whole night before the duel writing down crucial math stuff he did not want to get lost with his death.
So, no, this custom does not make society collapse. In fact, some have argued that it keeps society healthier.
Second, it is crucial to note that Wizard's War is instrumental to keeping the Order together. Many magi would not have joined otherwise. In this sense, it should be noted that an individual wizard is much more powerful than an individual mundane. The strongest warrior can be killed by a dozen opponents. But a powerful wizard can destroy armies single-handedly. So in some sense, you should not compare Wizard War to conflicts between individuals, but between nations. Even today, a nation can tell another "I'm going to attack you, and gobble you up", and it's considered a perfectly lawful behaviour -- of course, the victim can call upon powerful friends, and some formalities must be observed, just as in Wizard's War.
The Romans were right bastards, though...I mean, you seem to be claiming them as peerless models of civility, but these were the people who had great death factories in the middle of their cities to do what we now do with TV. They were terrible people to each other. Compared to the Year of Four Emperors, the Order's a tea duelling society.
Also, re your thing with the drow: remember that in the real world, deadly duels only ceased being popular in the 19th Century. Britain was an outlier in that Elizabeth I did ban them in the 1500s, but it wasn't enforced properly at any point. Similarly, duels petered out in the early 20th Century in France.
In 1220, people are grappling with the idea that God Himself is not in favour of judicial duelling, because in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council said that this was stupid, theologically speaking. That was a surprise to a heck of a lot of people: five years ago, in Mythic Europe, some quite bright people really and truly did think that Trial By Combat worked not on a political, but on a spiritual level.
I wouldn't call Wizard's War a duel. Certamen is a duel-to-first-blood, Wizard's War is a declaration of the intent to assassinate somebody.
Anyway, I think I agree that Mythic Europe as a whole is pretty "barbaric" in the sense Adrian was talking about. Rulership is just starting to transition away from "I've got the biggest sword in the local area" being the sole qualification for kingship, and violence is an endemic fact of life.
The Order tries to restrain wanton violence among its own members, and the institution of Wizard's War is one way to manage that and allow magi who have a dispute to settle it without driving the whole Order to anarchy. And yeah, I'll agree that by and large the Order are not nice people - they're often-insane individuals with far more power than anyone in the setting, and the Order was designed the way it was in full knowledge of the fact that it meant that the strongest wizards would have more say in decisions, and where struggles over everything from "who owns a vis source" to "whose tractatus will be included in the folio" can get people killed. Heck, it's perfectly legal to stop a prosecution by Wizard's Warring the prosecutor. And, of course, apprentices are neither mundanes nor magi, so they have no protection from their masters.
If you object to all of this, then House Guernicus has a place for you! Someone has to keep all of these overpowered psychopaths under control, fight for justice for magi who can't fight for themselves, and defend the Order from its own members.
The Tremere don't have disputes within the House. Certamen with another Tremere is tantamount to Wizard's War, IIRC.
If you, as a Tremere, declare Wizard's War against another Tremere, you won't be Tremere for much longer.
The House is setup so that the Primus can execute his will. I like to think of it as something akin to Heinlein's Starship Troopers (not the fun, but totally different Verhoeven movie). Tremere are well trained, smart and disciplined, if they go so far as to declare Wizard's War against a superior it's as if they are declaring it against the Primus.
Consider the rights of the Paterfamilias; nearly dictatorial control over the family and household; the obligation to put deformed children to death; the right to sell his children into slavery. The Romans were hard, and magi of the Order have (or claim) rights and powers descended from them.
The thing about the Order is that there are no authorities. There's no king, no pope...it's the United Nations, not the United States. And since there are no authorities, there's nobody who can legitimately claim a monopoly on violence.
In Rome, and in most modern nations, we are prevented from murdering each other by a higher power. The Order doesn't have such a higher power, because of the way it came together historically. So each citizen retains the right to kill.
You recall both correctly and wrongly on Certamen and internal disputes - in fact, certamen is how Tremere are supposed to handle internal disputes. Challenging your parens every decade for your sigil is expected, of course, but if your exarch is being a moron, then it is permissible to challenge the exarch and claim the Dragon Banner for yourself (unless there's an active emergency going on), and likewise there's a procedure to take the Primus position. That said, if you challenge the exarch, you'd better hope that either the primus ratifies your coup, or that you can rack up a hat trick of defeating exarch, secutor, and Primus in a row.
Essentially, the Tremere do have internal squabbles, but they're much better at settling them quickly (if you can beat the exarch in certamen, I imagine that most Primi will assume that you've at least earned the right to explain yourself) and much better at putting them aside when rivals from the outside get involved.
I think that understanding is reasonable if Houses of Hermes: True Lineages is your only source. However, I'm basing my understanding on Against the Dark, too.
Certamen, to settle a legal dispute, within the Trannsylvania Tribunal is tantamount to a Wizard's War. I'd say that this attitude extends to all Tremere, but as my version of Against the Dark is a dead tree version, I can't find anything that easily supports my understanding, except all Teremre are encouraged to come back to Transylvania periodically, this presumes that there is some level of the Tribunal being considered home for all magi, despite a legal residency in another Tribunal.
HoH:TL details challenging an exarch is always fraught with risk, it's a direct message to the Primus that you think that the exarch is wrong, and possibly by extension that the Primus is wrong. Winning against the exarch, and claiming the dragon banner is not a sure thing, and may result in the loser being reinstalled as exarch, while the winner is reassigned to a more suitable location, like Novgorod, or something. Or worse, recall him to Coeris, only to declare him Orbus...
Challenges for certamen to be declared a magus and to claim your own sigil are expected and done "for love" and to demonstrate competence. Tremere won't tolerate shirkers. To challenge for exarch is completely different.
The Order of Hermes is far more liberal and enlightened than any mundane society around them. (They are a democracy, give women and religious minorities the vote, and accept members of both groups as leaders.)
And, yes, they are barbaric by modern standards. That makes for better gaming, in my opinion. It might not be entirely sensible to allow people to declare murder, but it's certainly an exciting plot line to use in your saga. Were I designing a real-world society, I would not model it on the OoH...
Depends on who you were, and on who they were. A lot of foul stuff went on in Rome. If I am a son of a aristocratic family (my daddy is a senetor), and my neighboor is a plebe and I whack him without warning, people are gonna cover up for me.
What makes the Order not as barbaric as you claim is that I actually have to warn my opponent and give him proper notice. Rather than just killing them and saying "What you gonna do about it punk?" to the other magi.