Is original research feasible?

I've been interested recently in Original Research, and whether it is possible to actually achieve. I therefore created an individual-based model (written in the programming language C) that simulates a large number of magi pursuing breakthroughs, and reports on their individual (and more interestingly, median) behaviour. Since this is the sort of thing debated here in the past, I thought you might be interested in the results.

[At the moment I am unable to share the code; it employs various libraries which are IP-protected within our workgroup (in real life I use these sorts of models to predict marmoset populations, wildlife diseases, and human epidemics, amongst others). However, if I have the time I will strip out such dependences and post it.]


* The rules from HoH:TL are followed to the letter (no house rules)
* The magus works on his original research on average 2 seasons per year, spending the other two seasons increasing applicable Arts.

* Lab total has a power relationship with age, rising steeply from 45 and levelling off to about 100 over a 60-year span. This is a simplification, but probably reasonable.

* The magus creates spells at half his lab total. The actual magnitude is drawn from a right-skewed triangular distribution (min=1, peak=LT/10, max=LT/10), thus is more likely to generate the higher magnitude effects. He is more concerned with speed rather than warping

* The magus lives through all botches, and does not die or enter Final Twilight during his research. He does not need to spend any time recovering from disaster-inflicted wounds, rebuilding his lab, playing out story events, or in Temporary Twilight. Just add a few seasons or years for these things.

The model keeps track of the number of seasons resulting in discoveries, botches, or useless research (from a breakthrough point of view). It also simulates the number of seasons spent stabilising discoveries, and the warping points acquired during this process.

I looked at all three breakthrough types and Risk Factors. I've presented a full range of stats because the median result isn’t always the most meaningful (50% of magi take this long or longer to complete their research). Sometimes it is useful to look at the lucky or unlucky  magus. In the tables below, all figures are for number of seasons taken in total. Q1 is the lower quartile, 75% of magi take this long or longer (i.e. this might be the time taken by a lucky magus). Q3 is the upper quartile, 25% or magi take this long or longer (i.e. an unlucky magus)

[sorry about the tables in the Code field, allows me to get them to line up better]

A. Minor Breakthrough, 30 breakthrough points
The number of separate discoveries is independent of Risk; it works out at about 12 unique spells, and about 5 warping points.

(all numbers are seasons taken)
[code]Risk	Median Min	Q1	Q3	Max
+1	92	33	75	116	257
+2	55	25	46	64	111
+3	43	21	36	49	89

So, at Risk +2, the median magus takes 55 seasons to achieve a breakthrough, but a lucky magus might do it in only 46 seasons (and a very lucky magus might be done in 25). Note that the overall time should be doubled, to allow for my initial assumption of 2 seasons work on the discovery each year. Thus the median magus using a Risk +3 might take 21-22 years to complete his minor breakthrough

B. Major Breakthrough, 45 breakthrough points
The number of separate discoveries is independent of Risk; it works out at about 15 unique spells, and about 10 warping points.

(all numbers are seasons taken)
[code]Risk	Median Min	Q1	Q3	Max
+1	134	56	112	158	323
+2	78	35	65	89	171
+3	60	32	52	67	106

C. Hermetic Breakthrough, 60 breakthrough points
The number of separate discoveries is independent of Risk; it works out at about 20 unique spells, and about 14 warping points.

(all numbers are seasons taken)
[code]Risk	Median Min	Q1	Q3	Max
+1	167	74	142	201	363
+2	96	51	83	110	174
+3	75	43	66	85	144
So, a Hermetic discovery using a +3  risk modifier takes on average 37-38 years (allowing for study in between). However, it should be noted that the maximum number of warping points gained was 29 (which surely included several Twilights), and the maximum number of laboratory botches was 9 during this research (2 botches over the course of the experimentation is more common, however).

However, I would have thought that some Bonisagi would have succeeded in a Hermetic breakthrough since Notatus. Perhaps my algorithm for determining Art score increases is optimistic, and I should take into account time taken to repair a lab after a botch, time spent in Twilight, and story events resulting from experimentation. It may also be the fact that I deliberately went for a fast development with the right-triangle distribution, which biases things towards big spells. A more cautious magus might go for lower magnitude effects (when I go for a more symmetrical distribution, a magus takes a median of 98 seasons to complete a Hermetic Breakthrough at Risk +3, invents 26 unique spells on average, and takes only 9 warping points)

The overall outcome is that Original Research is very much possible, but as expected, it takes a long time. One cannot necessarily count on a PC completing it in a hurry, since most sagas are shorter than the time needed to complete these events.

Food for thought: who is preventing magi from completing those Hermetic Breakthroughs? Perhaps an extremist cadre of The Lycaeum (see Art & Academe) is preventing anyone from spoiling the purity of Bonisagus's theory? Or perhaps it is just humility which prevents magi from embarking on such an audacious scheme as to rewrite Bonisagus*?

* Yeah, right.

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All this assumes there is no teamworking. HoH:TL seems to give the Bonisagi some cooperation.

It's simply too easy.

Its pretty clear that Original Research is a PC specific rule... in other words, it was designed so that a PC interested in it could actually achieve something in a reasonable length saga. Presumably on the general principle that its not fun to build your magus around something doomed to failure. If OR was impractical, no PC would bother.

But that principle is inapplicable to the NPCs. No one should care if they are having fun :stuck_out_tongue: So using these rules as a 'how the rest of the Order does' formula results in serious problems. Either Hermetic Theory needs to be evolving constantly like modern science, with new insights and revisions in most Folios or the OR rules need to be made much harder for the NPCs.

Heh, i suspect the npc's don't do it because it's too confusing. I could never decide if during a multpile season reseach you get 2 or more possible breakthoughs, this allows 2 or more stabilizing attempts. Never came up, never had to decide.

Seems I have been outwitted by a child of a marmoset :open_mouth:

Why say that there are not ongoing research breakthroughs - I seem to recall a thread a while back about a saga set back in the beginnings of the order that discussed this, and particularly the possibility of some areas of magic being significantly weaker.

Ok hermetic breakthroughs are not permitted in Cannon since Parma magica, but the various mystery cults have presumably made breakthroughs to find their secret virtues.

Also many of the virtues in the core book and supplements probably were breakthroughs at one time.

Assuming that most mages are fairly secretive and paranoid (is it paranoia if it is justified?) it is possible that breakthroughs have been made, then lost on the death of the mage/covenant responsible. Also it takes a certain type of person to pursue a project through decades, even if you expect to live for a century or more and there are other types of research available too (spell/item development etc)

The Schism War would have provided ample opportunity for certain breakthroughs to have been quashed if they were not widely distributed.

Obviously YMMV, but I proffer this as an alternative take.


(my 2 oere)

Most magi aren't going to even try to break hermetic limits - at least not through OR (they may use mysteries instead, or other non-hermetic ways). Those who do try are usually Bonisagi, and many are young (that's where you'll find the entusiasm required for this kind of undertaking) - so we're looking at someone with a low MT score (and only a +1 risk factor). Odds are that there will be no discoveries in the first few years, and they will lose heart and find something else to do. Those who keep going risk getting killed by their botches...

As for co-operation, it was mentioned that a lab-text with a discovery didn't hold much glory for the magus, but a breakthrough did. So most magi would much rather hog their discoveries until they were done... (Which isn't that likely to happen). It was also noted that wizard's wars were occationally declared just to be able to steal such notes - so brilliant young minds might easiliy be extinguised before they could finish their theories...

(This is offcourse the REAL reason behind the schim war, the Diene were hoarding good lab-notes;) )

I've always disliked the notion that there are PC-specific rules. As is, we have confidence points to make PCs "cooler" than grogs. I freely admit it comes down to the play style you like; to me, the notion that, by virtues of being PCs, characters will be better at any cool endeavor they choose to undertake, whether making their own mystery cult or trying to score Hermetic Breakthroughs takes away from the satisfaction of the game world, because it feels like PC achievements have to be viewed in terms of them being "born" special. Thankfully, I have not noticed any explicit "but only PCs can do this" guidelines in the 5th ed AM line.

As for the in-game rationalization... well, for one, don't forget that the canon sizes of the houses are pretty small. (Though they're up from 4th ed, when house Bonisagus had less than three dozen, I think.) And half the house is political.

Beside that, I would say that for an average magus, 2 seasons a year in research plus 2 in arts increase is... so optimal as to be funny. Tribunals, adventures, House Bonisagus meetings, writing, teaching an apprentice... all of these are activities a Bonisagus can conceivably get roped into. All are avoidable, I suppose, but a magus who manages to dedicate himself so completely to nothing but work is an exceptional one, I think, even within a house of researchers.

And, as rightly pointed out, Original Research does tend to occasionally cause problematic chaos in one's lab.

Finally, while you stipulated using the rules as written, I must admit that I was completely moved by Matt Ryan and co in the below thread about the OR rules, and consider Matt's modifications to the OR rules as written near-mandatory when OR comes up in my saga.

I experiemented with breakthrough rules, having an NPC working on a Minor project for twenty years. I came to the conclusion that you can waste a lot of time for little results, and even if successful, all your peers have far eclipsed you in normal studies.

Yes, original research does truncate your Arts development. I think it is almost entirely the province of House Bonisagus and a few obsessive individuals in other houses.

I don't like PC specific rules (other than those associated with character creation), but its pretty clear that OR is too easy to do relative the image of the Order given in the books.

There is no problem with assuming OR is as good as it is in the saga's background... You can easily say various aspects of the rules were developed over time since the days of the Founders. Its how it applies during the saga that is problematic.

Example: My last saga ran for 4 real years and spanned 80 game years. Let's say there's a dozen Bonisagi doing Original research at any given time (it is the coolest thing for Bonisagi, after all). Let's further assume that none of the Felix Necromius sorts actually make any Hermetic Breakthroughs and we are just looking at the minor and majors. To keep the nature of the Order true to the rules, I'd need to have 0-4 breakthroughs in each Bonisagus House Folio, usually 1-2. There's a couple examples in True Lineages I could use. And some I could make pretty bizarre, like the example in the Mythic Perspectives article on Tribunals of Quattrus inventing a Homonculuos spell that requires 2 rooks of vis per moon to keep alive.... But it is still a lot of "new" that I need to think up.

I think it would be pretty cool.. far better than the old WW era "the Order is stagnant and decaying" theme. But say I used up 20 ideas in that last saga. Now I need new ideas for this new saga, because running the same 'breakthroughs' out would just feel kind of lame...

I also wonder how Faerie Magic has never been incorporated. Isn't there text to the effect that there is almost always a Bonisagus working on that specifically? Presumably they don't burn the notes of the previous guy each time he dies, so points should have accumulated over all this time. Bjornaer and Verditius don't cooperate, but the Merinita generally seem to....

Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting with my original post that original research was broken. I think if anything the rules hold up well to this sort of scrutiny, and show that it is possible for a magus to complete such a project in his lifetime. Maybe twice :wink:

I was merely surprised on average how quick it was. WRT to the optimisation of "two seasons study, two seasons experiment" - of course this is not always possible, but for a Bonisagus lab rat it could be almost realistic. The purpose of my analysis was to calculate how long the research itself took, not how long it would actually take to complete an original research project. To estimate how long an NPC might have taken, simply add a few years on the end for miscellaneous distractions.

Overall I am satisfied with the results, and the rules. One of the things I really like about the 5e OR rules is that they can be done by anyone, not just Int +5 magi with Inventive Genius. Furthermore, each attempt at making a discovery actually has some output in the form of a spell or enchantment (I imagine the latter are rare, however). This means that a magus performing such research is likely to have a whole host of formulaic spells clustered around a specific theme, some more useful than others. This is another Good Thing, in my opinion.



Yes, they are pretty well thought out in that sense and should work just fine for a PC Bonisagus. I just think that a direct extrapolation to the Order in general has issues.

I don't think the OR rules, as they stand in TL, are that good. They were excellent for their time, but I think they are in need of a makeover.

I'll personally recommend using the Ancient Magic rules instead. While not allowing pure-lab OR, considerable time and theoretical effort is still needed to conduct the OR. The researcher still ends up with weird theme-related spells, some of them perhaps somewhat non-Hermetic. It is still doable in a life-time.

But the rules work better in that they don't have sharp cut-offs for how high your Magic Theory is, don't encourage the development of low-level effects, and don't penalize highly Warped (old) magi. They also encourage even lab-rts to participate in stories, chasing down living or dead sources of Insight - even Bonisagus relied on such sources for his advances, why not the PCs? They also leave the sources of insight much more under the SG's control, making it easier to excuse-away the low level of theoretical breakthroughs apparently achieved by the Order - the other magi just never had the opportunities, conicidences, and fate that the PCs have.

The Ancient Magic rules can be augmented with rules for pure OR, without needing and Insight sources. But the more I think of these matters, the more I become convinced that simply using the AM rules as-is would be for the best.

YR7: The rules as given in TL also give a Bonisagus Lab rat a good reason to go out there and partake in stories - after all that is how you track down the lab-texts of others making such discoveries...

Yes, but this option is still available in AM, AND is supplanted by much more interesting options (such as non-Hermetic texts, ancient relics, talking to the spirits of long-dead non-Hermetic wizards, working together with a living non-Hermetic wizard, receiving insight from an angel or god or demon, and so on). The range of stories to tell is greatly expanded, and I think that's for the better.

I think there's something in the new Magic book, too, about converting relevant experience gained in the Magic Realm into Insights. Exciting!

This thread is kind of confusing. What I got from Mark's initial post is that original research is difficult, that for a character that isn't doing anything else it takes decades. Yet others seem to be saying that it's too easy. My instinct is that it's hard, as I've got a Bonisagus character who is involved in a research project between other things, and so far it's very slow going.

That matches my experience. You can waste decades while your peers soar past you in study and accomplishment. However, if it pays off, the gain in prestige should make it worth while.

The bold part is the key element. PCs are, of course, very likely to be doing their OR 'between other things'... like the rest of the saga, for instance. NPCs do not necessarily have that same impetus to fritter their lives away on trivial adventures. :stuck_out_tongue:

The too easy part also depends alot on how your saga plays out. My sagas have generally lasted quite a long time... several years of steady game play spanning decades. So it wasn't a problem for the Bonisagus maga (and the Criamon magus) to spend that substantial amount of time. While it may take a year or two of real life, past experience gives us the confidence that the game will still be running in that amount of time. Other friends of mine tend not to have campaigns (not necessarily Ars) that last more than 6 to 9 months, so in that environment no one would likely bother with OR..

Anyway, the real feature with "too easy" is that its pretty hard to fail to make your discovery eventually. Ergo, the Order should be in a fairly constant state of evolution. Which beats the WW era of stagnating into a death spiral.. But it does put the onus on the SG to make these new discoveries on a fairly regular basis, given that that is exactly what one (admittedly small) House of the Order is largely dedicated to.

I'm not sure that is true. That seems to suggest that NPCs have different goals and so forth to PCs.

I think that is much more realistic if NPCs have lots of different goals too. Most NPCs will be busy studying Arts, inventing mainstream spells and items, mucking about with Mystery Cults, trying to cover up the fact that they have been interfering in the mundane, finding and exploiting vis sources, molesting faeries etc. In other words behaving just like PCs.

The fact that most NPCs and PCs are busy doing this sort of stuff is, I think, enough to explain why there could be few breakthroughs during a saga.

Also, it is possible that some breakthroughs are made but not disseminated to the wider Order. Perhaps, the magus either doesn't tell anyone, or sets up a Mystery Cult around it.

If the breakthrough is possible, yes, but this is not necessarially the case. Just because there are rules for breakthroughs and there are published example breakthroughs doesn't mean that these breakthroughs are actually possible in a particular saga. Even if the players can think of an Original Research idea it doesn't have to be possible. Of course, the characters won't know this, so some proportion of Hermetic researchers will waste their time trying to create breakthroughs that are not actually possible.

So, I think these three factors:
NPCs are busy,
some breakthroughs are made but kept secret, and
some (maybe many) Hermetic researchers waste their time attempting breakthroughs that are not possible,
are sufficient to explain why a saga is not overwhelmed with Hermetic research results. You don't need to have different rules for PCs and NPCs to explain it.

Of course most NPCs are also doing other stuff. In fact, most NPCs are not doing original research at all. But you really think that you don't have a dozen Bonisagi out of the 50 odd in the House who are fanatic researchers into topics that actually succeed? A dozen magi succeeding in projects every 40 years is two dozen breakthroughs in an 80 year saga. That's an average of two per Folio...

And that value assumes 80% of the House and 100% of the rest of the Order is failing to produce original research, that those who are producing OR are well slower than the model suggests.

Given the huge acclaim that one gets from OR (the many original spells, the stabilized breakthroughs, the actual success), I think that having only 1/5 of the Bonisagi at any given time actually working on such is hardly being generous.

Yes, you could say most of House Bonisagus is a waste of space and off being like Felix Necromius (researching a guaranteed failure) or Ricardus Caespuus (succeeds, but can't explain his success). But if they /aren't/ producing new insights and cool stuff for the rest of the Order, you start to wonder why they still get the prestige and the apprentice thieving priviledges after centuries of such futility.

Yes, a dozen Bonisagi researching topics that succeed every 40 years is way too many, I think.

Of course, what you do in your saga is up to you, but the kinds of numbers that I would think would be more reasonable would be something like:

  • There are two-three dozen Bonisagi doing research.
  • There are about a dozen magi in other Houses doing research.
  • It takes about 40 years for a project to reach culmination.
  • About half the projects are abandoned before completion.
  • Probably at least a quarter are duplicates. Several characters independently working on the same general idea.
  • About 90% of the projects are unworkable. This doesn't mean that the character can't produce useful lab results and things on the way, just that the final result doesn't work.

This leaves us with somewhere between two and three breakthroughs made every 40 years. With a possibility that the same (or very similar)breakthroughs may be made. The breakthroughs are probably made by Bonisagi.

Given that the Breakthrough can be really important for the entire Order, this seems more than enough to justify the importance that Bonisagi place on research.

PC researchers are probably much more likely to be one of the two or three that succeed, merely because they are controlled by the players who negotiate amongst themselves. So that, if the players want him to be, a PC character is working on a breakthrough that can work.