Is Original Research too easy?

Salvete Sodales!

While working on an experienced lab rat magus I was wondering whether the rules for original research do not make the process too easy for the background scenario to be realistic.

  • A researcher probably has Puissant Magic Theory or an affinity in MT, so he won't have problems in achieving MT 11 and use a risk modifier of 3. Statistically this will lead to a discovery in about 1 of three seasons of research (rolls of 7,8,9, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6, 1-1-2, 1-1-3).
  • Such a risk modifier sounds dangerous, but with a MT of 11 a researcher has a lab-refinement of 8, resulting in a security 8 lab even without having any virtues improving the security further. Experimentation results in 1 botch die on the experimentation chart, another three come from the risk modifier, so even in a magic aura of 4 there is no botch die left - and neither does the magus need a high aura nor is it difficult to gain further levels of lab security (e.g. an intelligent mundane lab assistent, a familiar with a strong golden cord).
  • As you can continue to try to stabilize a discovery until you have succeded and you have about a chance of 2 in 3 for success in each attempt nearly every discovery finally yields breaktrough points.
  • The only real problem is the danger of Twilight Points and Twilight. But even if you experiment with moderately high-level (6th magnitude) effects the cost is bearable (on average 1.5 Twilight points per attempt). If you put up your lab in a mundane aura, have a good stamina and are perhaps proficient with the 'Concentration'-ability you won't go into Twilight more than twice. Still in the end of the process you will probably have accumulated 30 to 35 Twilight points. You get much less if you work with low-level effects, but this costs time and the by-products of your research (spells and items) are much more likely to be of little use.
  • I assume that a research specialist is quite competent in the arts he uses for his research projects and can (at least with the help of his high quality lab his familiar etc.) finish a 6th magnitude lab project in one season.
  • So to achieve the cannon 60 breakthrough points for a hermetic breakthrough he needs 20 seasons (lab-projects without discoveries) + 10 seasons (lab-projects resulting in discoveries) + 15 seasons (stabilization attempts) +5 seasons (for unplanned events, interfering story guides...) = 50 seasons or12 and a half years. And these years are hardly a waste. Beyond the discovery you have gained 90 XP for exposure and have 25-30 usable spells or items (being able to decide how you use your risk modifier after rolling the dice results in very few failed researches).

This is in itself not a problem. It just means that the SG in a fast saga should be prepared for dramatic changes in magic in the course of this saga. If it even is a multi-generation story he (or she) will have to deal with 2nd generation magi much more powerful than their predecessors.

But this is completely incompatible with the history of the Order of Hermes:

  • The order has got roughly 1200 members. If an average magus lives for 100 years after his gauntlet, this means that (if the numbers are stable) 1% or 12 magi are gauntleted each year throughout Mythic Europe.
  • Magi tend to be intelligent and ambitious; a certain way to prestige among their peers is the discovery of some new aspects of magic; the infrastructure of the order and especially some covenants and houses provides many magi with an oppotunity to live for their art without having to care for more mundane problems (like the source of food or a shelter from rain). Considering all this it sounds reasonable that at least one in hundred magi should combine the skill, the opportunity and the motivation to get into some serious original research over the time of his live – probably this figure is far too low!
  • This means that the order gains 16 high level researcher every century. So in the last 4 centuries there should have been about 64 hermetic breakthroughs. I'd halve that figure, because the order was smaller and had to deal with more trouble in the past, and perhaps halve of the remaining breakthroughs have been lost due to political machinations, uncooperative magi, divine and infernal intervention... Still there should be a history of about sixteen hermetic breakthroughs – every single one closer to the Parma than the Aegis in its relevance - left – but in the official version the last Hermetic Breakthrough was the Parma itself.

Well, what to do with this contradiction, here some ideas:

  • Prove me wrong: Show me that there is a serious miscalculation in one of my assumptions, perhaps I didn't spot an important rule on OR, and then the whole system crumbles.
  • Make OR harder: If you needed considerably more breakthrough points to acchieve breakthroughs (e.g. 75/150/300) less people would try – because it would mean a devoted life of research, a serious ammount of warping and no guarante of success. - There should still have been some breakthroughs as results of multi generation and team researches.
  • Rewrite the labortary chapter in conveants or the rule on using the risk modifier in OR: If you use the laboratory rules from conveants it is fairly easy to make your high risk research completely safe, and it is also very simple to gain high boni on your lab totals. My gut feeling is that if I want to tinker with the rules I should do it here, but then there must be something for the lab rats who don't get to slay the dragons and harvest their vis. Alternatively one could just limit the flexibility the researcher has in using the risk modifier.
  • Rewrite the history of the order: Bonisagus was still the founder and invented a crude form of magical resistance, but this was much more limited than the modern Parma, and the incorporation of all the Forms and Technics into his rump theory took centuries. Basically the Hermetic Magic of the rules is the state of the art at the moment of the saga, but even halve a century ago it was much weaker. Given such a historical background, most hedge magician traditions are probably still not as affraid of the hermetics as they should be, much would be different in politics.
  • Accept the contradiction: (Either it's just like in many other roleplay-systems: PCs live in another universe than NPCs and are so much more likely to acchieve anything – a concept that doesn't seem to fit with AM - or) something has changed recently; suddenly magical breakthroughs occur more frequently, perhaps due to the Magical Theory reaching a treshold, or to changes in the nature of things. But does this affect other magical traditions as well? Other realms? What is behind such a subtle but far reaching change? This could be a good starting point to bring the lab rat into a really highend epic saga.

I have finished my thoughts on this topic for now.

Alexios ex Miscellanea

Hello there,

I'm not sure if I agree on your numbers of the magi who are interested in the Original Research. My gut feeling tells me that only the magi from House Bonisagus would be eager enough to start a project of that magnitude, other houses being too busy with their mysteries, arts, items, spells, politics and personal power.

Even if the House Bonisagus would be the only people to do original research, there are only 81 of them in 1220 AD; 29 or them are magi Trianomae, who usually have a lot of other action than lab work going on. We need to subtract the number of Bonisagus magi who have other duties as well, the Praeco, the Inner Circle, Colentes Arcanorum etc. We're left with less than 50 magi who might be willing to do research on things not inside the Magic Theory.

While there might be some incentive to start a original research of his own, a magus will have a lot of other things he needs to deal with as well. I wouldn't think a magus would start a project of his own until he is well learned in the Arts and Magic Theory and has established a place in covenant first. That would leave us with even less magi capable or willing to concentrate only on one goal.

Well.. first off, yeah, not many mages are that interested in original research.

Plus, most of them are happy with half measures.. remember, the first part of original research just tends to get you a hermetic virtue. And there are a -lot- of hermetic virtues in the main book for probably that exact reason, so yes, there have been breakthroughs which give the virtues, which are passed from parens to apprentices, but very few of them are probably willing to get the 60 breakthrough points to get the one they want, then spend another 60 to integrate fully into hermetic magic.

But yes, what you -will- get, is lots of magi all with their own special tricks, which they are -very- secretive about.

I would also add that I think you are grossly overestimating the MT score of the average character. Insofar as MT scores fall within the "Ability" progression range and not that of "Arts", you are suggesting that character would have an unadjusted base score of 9. Not only is this completely out of range for any starting character, it would also require that an experienced magus has spent essentially all his saga xp over the course of a number of years on nothing other than his MT.

Even with Affinity, he would need to spend 150 xp to achieve the 225 necessary for level 9 at which point his Puissance would carry him to your suggested level of 11. Moreover, let us remember that Summae levels begin at 50% of the level of the writer and Qualities of said summae are restricted to Comm+6+virtue (to a base maximum of 14 for the precious elite few with top characteristic scores and the Good Teacher Virtue) before any level reductions were calculated for quality increase.

This means essentially that any MT study sources (aside from direct teaching, which itself would be a costly and generous boon to expect from a senior magus or archmagus by any player magus) would likely be capped around level 6 or 7, with anything higher being deemed EXTREMELY rare and exorbitantly costly to obtain if even obtainable.

All in all your lab rat would be exceeding the Order average if, with his/her Puissance, he/she had an MT of 7 or 8 (discounting the extra point implied by specialisation). 11 would be astronomically high save for those who spent their entire careers plowing xp into MT and had perhaps achieved Arch Lab Rat status.

I agree that the costs of developing a Breakthrough are rather low. My own analysisshowed that an Hermetic Brekthrough can be most efficiently achieved in 28 Warping Points [but 95 Seasons, the researcher is going slowly], on average.

The issue is one of playability and fun. What is the role of Original Research in the game?

I think there really are two roles. One is to establish the character as a theoretical genius and to allow for political machinations around the fruits of his work. This role is served well by Minor Breakthrouhs, which do not unduly upset the game and allow the magus to develop House Acclaim. In order to serve this role Minor Breakthroughs need to be relatively common, so that it would be reasonable for the PC to develop one. Even a relatively young but talented one. This implies, to me, a cost of a few years of dedicated research, and I think the costs for the specific breakthrough sought should simply be set accordingly - set the number of stabilized magnitudes to be whatever is needed for the PC to achieve this in a few years of dedicated research. In principle, there should be a store-house of such minor, easily-integrated virtues available to the Order; presumably most of them quickly get integrated into the general Hermetic theory, so that indeed the modern Hermetic theory isn't quite what it was a few centuries ago.

There is a natural tendencay to desire more, to desire to achieve great fame and break the limits of magic. In other words, to achieve a Major or even Hermetic Breakthrough. As much as I like lab-work and number-crunching, I think this works best not as Original Research, however, but rather mainly as Ancient Magic. Particularly large and impressive breakthroughs should be discovered mainly using about two or three sources of Insight - even Bonisagus improved his magic theory with the aid of the other Founders! Stories are just a vital part of Ars Magica, and I don't think they should be abandoned. By keeping the sources of insight insufficient in number, theorists retain their usefulness and role as even after all the insight has been gleaned long years of research are still needed, allowing for political machinations in light of the looming breakthroguh. Again, the costs should be set accordingly, but this means the basic cost of a Major or Hermetic Breakthrough should be astronomically high but would be cut down by a few potent sources of Insight to such a level that a few decades of original research would suffice; perhaps a single decade or two of original research, plus sources of Ancient-Magic Insight, then.

The second role of the original research mecahnics is to provide a means to obtain a character goal - e.g. discover the secrets of creating regios, or so on. I think this role is served well by my reasoning above regarding Major Breakthroguhs, and should be treated as such.

I see no real distinction between Hermetic and Major Breakthroughs in that regard. Both are essentially there for the end-game.

In terms of setting realism, under this structure there would be very few Major/Hermetic Breakthroughs as a) the costs are per-breakthrough so really it's a matter of SG-fiat, and b) the costs are very very high so the discoveries can only be achieved by the SG deciding Ancient Magic has been found to speed up the process (SG-fiat again) or by multigenerational, probably House-coordinated projects.

A third role, acquiring virtues and power, isn't worth discussing. You're better off chasing mystery cults or forest paths anyways.

I would, BTW, not adopt the Original Research rules as they are. I'd suggest adapting the Ancient Magic rules; I've presented my own suggestion on how to do that here.

There's a significant problem with this kind of "spreadsheeting" exercise. Yes, the numbers could all be plausible but they don't mean what you think they mean.

You saga is the only saga. What does that mean? It means that in your saga, you're playing the heroes. You're playing the characters that are going to save the world, rediscover a form of ancient magic, rise to the top of a mystery cult, and make a major breakthrough that changes the nature of magic forever.

And the great thing is, there are a thousand other sagas in which they are the only saga and they are the only ones doing that very same thing.

So, a hero character with puissant MT and an affinity and a virtue that helps make his experiments safer? Guess what... he's the only one.

From a player's perspective I really wouldn't want it made any harder than it is now. I'm looking to follow an ancient magic path and integrate Heron's automata and that's a horrendously long process. Make it any more difficult and the whole thing just becomes an interesting bit of text and a house rule allowing Verditii to initiate the virtue through their House.

@ Alexios

I would not base my Original Research on simple statistics because whichever unexpected can happen (ie: to have a bad dice roll as a result). Moreover there are few Magi willing to use OR because the wasted time without results could potentially be very high and time consuming.

My initial thought was ..

[size=150]Refinement increases Safety!!?! [/size]
:imp: :imp: flip flip ... darn it's true. That screws everything up!!!

IIRC, however, the lab's safety cannot reduce the number of botch dice to below one. Still, having a safety-maxed lab is critical for OR, and is certainly possible - which is why safety isn't really an issue for it. :slight_smile:

Very true. However, there is a certain amount of emjoyment to be derived from knowing the PCs play by the same rules as the NPCs, and that the world is sort-of consistent. At least there is for me, and I'm playing too, right?

I agree that no one previously had the wonderful assortment of virtues the PCs do. No one also had the wonderful opportunities they had, through their adventures. But some people did have decent scores and virtues, and tried to do Original Research and so on - and it would be nice if the rules and related background could reflect that without creating inconsistencies with the setting.

How much effort would it take you to integrate Heron's automata? Assume there are no rules for it - how much do you think it ought to take?

I've never played through ancient magic integration, or even seriously considered one. Off-the-cuff, I would [again] say about three adventures interposed between two to three decades of research by a taleneted theoretician (which I assume your character is) gives the proper feel. In a relatively slow-paced saga, however, I'd lower the research time to a decade or even less, or else the character would never be able to reach the discovery by the time the campaign is over...

Well, there are several catastrophic events in the Order's history that makes the dissemination of breakthroughs, even assuming that there were about 64, rare or limited.

There may be many massive or significant breakthroughs that have not been accepted as useful to magi (not all breakthroughs are as useful as the Parma or Aegis - some may have been relatively niche and thus were not brought into wide use).

Perhaps there are aspects of current Hermetic magic that were not possible in the past - earlier editions had Arts capped at level 20; perhaps a breakthrough allowed magi to have Arts higher than 20.

Many of those magi who fit the criteria of lab-rats may have gone down the Mysteries path, and made their breakthrough in a specialised area, such as theurgy or Heart Beasts.



  • Alex -

I'd agree with Alex: the Criamons, for example, who made Hermetic level breakthroughs are the guys who started the House's Paths. We know there are 9 of them, plus Criamon himself who did some very flaky magic at the end of his life. I'm not sure that the Tremere have ever done the reasearch themselves: I think they would prefer to pay a magus to do it for them. The Jerbitons, well, sure, they -might-, but basically the rest of the House would think you were pitable.

IMS we have only used original research once and that was not by any of the players.

OR should be special and discoveries should really mean something.

The one time it cropped up in our saga was the magi discovering the dead body of a slain magus, murdered for his research. Turns out he'd made a few alchemy discoveries and seriously annoyed an alchemical mystery cult. They then, to maintain their monopoly on alchemy, had him murdered by a hermetic renegade. The players found all this out and of course saved the day. To date, none of them are interested in investigating the lab notes they recovered, and why would they be? They've all got their own pet projects and aims. War is brewing in Scotland and there is a tribunal just around the corner in which its likely they'll be charged with something (they usually are) so why would they want to spend years in the lab trying to sort out some dead fellas lab notes. Maybe when things calm down a bit (which they of course, never do).

OR should be driven by story, rather than by numbers. If you want explanations for the apparent discrepancy then there are lots you could use. Maybe a researcher here or there died in a lab accident, given the terribly tiny numbers of researchers around that'd really put a crimp on the numbers. Maybe they got sucked into politics, got into wizard wars or such like.

Remember that most magi have more than enough to occupy their time thats got better pay offs than OR. OR is extremely time consuming, especially for mere prestige. There are far quicker and better ways to get that.

I'm sure many magi might start OR and then give it up due to real world interferences, or just getting bored with it. Folios of research notes could be an interesting plot hook for lab rat players.

Make OR the story, and make it rare. Then when the players do it, its something amazing.

Well, our Bonisagus has like a 11 MT...
but I guess I'll have to trade in my 15 for an 8 and a 7 in something else...

Seriously, the way to go isn't Summa, but Tractatus....Write two, trade them and get two those etc...repeat and rinse....
Add to that any time you spend doing anything else in the lab, and after about 40 years you can have a 15...Of course your arts suffer, but we weren't talking about that...
If you haven't seen this in your game I would imaging a couple of things:

  1. You don't have specialists...
  2. You haven't played very long...
    Even our Fairy maga has like an 8-9 MT...poor enchanting, but a good MT...
    Its just too important when you need to make a spell...
  1. I have a Verditius which is in itself an implied specialist and yes MT is very important to me as a player, however not at the expense of improved Arts. To focus only on MT at that expense (discounting all the lab time spent creating devices or occasionally spells, adventuring (whether I like it or not), and other sundry interruptions imposed by any decent SG) simply isn't efficient expenditure of what xp one CAN get per year.

  2. Been playing for more than 5 years, thanks all the same.

If your magi have scores so far exceeding the standard Order average, I would suggest you have rather lopsided too highly focused characters who, pound for pound would be somewhat behind their peers in magical ability outside a very narrow band of activities and/or Arts.

To each their own though, I suppose :wink:

I'd argue the opposite really, MT is incredibly important for item creation, every point of MT you have basically lets you increase your lab total by 2 (1 for the MT, 1 for the extra S&M bonus). That's practically equivalent to getting +2 in every form ^^

Nevermind letting you use more vis in a season and such.

Nowhere above did I suggest that MT isn't vitally important for item creation. Thats as obvious as the nose on one's face.

What I said was that characters who brandish MT scores beyond 10 have likely done so at the sacrifice of the greater part of their Arts and/or other equally important lab-related abilities (especially to a Verditius) like Philosophiae and Craft.

Pardon me but I simply think it should be very difficult for a magus to progress beyond an already elite MT level of say 10 (11). That kind of level is already the domain of very senior magi if not Archmagi within the Order and only after maaaaaaaannnny decades unless:

  1. One is solely focussed on pouring xp into MT (a complete and exclusive Lab Rat) or

  2. One has a far too lenient and generous SG.

To each their own, however.

I'm giving this a shot. I've no books here so don't be too harsh.

researching a sixth magnitude effect gives you a twilight experience on a die roll of 1,2,3,or 4 - 40% of the time. (it is a simple roll isn't it?).

A character with a magic theory of 11 is going to be at least 60 let's make them age 80 when they really get their research rolling.

twilight experience for an age 80 character will be as follows (back of the envelope calculations)

*about 30 botched spells for around 35 xp (A little bit more than one botch every two years, about one in six botches is a double botch)
*about 15 points of warping xp from someone else's powerful magic (a little bit more than one spell every four years)
*45 points from an ageing ritual taken at age 35
*an average of 16 twilight points from his research (the median of 1 and 32)

That gives us a warping score of 6. Sadly I'm posting this before having an opportunity to check the books.

Our researcher has a twilight episode one time every 2.5 discoveries (40% chance) he needs to make 10 discoveries to get his 60 breakthrough points.

Does a twilight score of (on average) 6 give our researcher a better than even chance of hitting final twilight during one of his four twilight episodes ? Could someone check this for me? (I won't be home to check my books tonight.)

Of course. You can do it anyway you want...

  1. Thats up to you. Being a Verdi myself, I don't see any skill or art thats more important "."
  2. Same character? Cool. I guess my take on that is that YOU can specialize in anything you want. For myself, I have a character that MAKES magical devices....if my arts lag a little behind at the expense of my ability to make items, so be it. (Driven)
  1. Possibly. (Phil:7 craft:5) Craft is overrated (in higher Vis games). Craft is a specialization beyond what you might want. Magic Theory is not.. It covers all enchantments.
    You should also look at the characters Flaws...if a character is driven (or some such), then they will specialize. Obviously, there is always a 'Rob Peter to pay Paul' thing going on here, but in this case I look at what the character IS, and what he can do. Verdi make items. (IMO of course). They aren't Fire-ballers or combative pains in the neck...the most important thing for him is making items.

The pertinent part to this thread is that with the high MT research is easy. I agree with the original point that over the coarse of the Orders history, the over all Discoveries seem a little weak...
I suppose though if you wanted to include more of them, you could very easily include the Parma folds...

Well, they do all play by the same rules. That's why villains, foes, allies, and helpers are all generated by much the same process and can choose from much the same virtues and flaws. And could, if the storyguide wants, follow the same path as the heroes and strive for a breakthrough.

But you're playing the heroes. You don't want to go and see Die Hard 5 only to find out that while Bruce Willis is leaping around the top floor of the building, gun in hand, laying low terrorists left right and centre, and avoiding death by the narrowest of margins your neighbour Bob is doing the same thing on the third floor and your uncle Jim is somewhat occupied with putting an end to an international crime syndicate on the fourth.

I personally make sure that the sagas I run allow are consistent within the rules of the game. And if I need a famous prominent researcher I have the tools there to work out what minor breakthrough he could have achieved. But I'd be careful to support my players and ensure that they are able to do the wondrous things that perhaps other magi only strive for.


The game is designed to help you tell stories, not simulate the order with mathica. You're intentionally looking to corner the system in a flaw--fine--(there are plenty of qiurks in the game) but what's the context? What are the stories around the saga that are enabled by this kind of character?

My point is that the game is not "sim magica"--the math is designed for troupe play--not for large scale simulations. You gotta let that kinda thing go. The rules of the game are designed to resolve issues within a troupe--and the rules do this fine in most cases. The rules are not designed to create a history, culture, and backstory for hundreds of years and thousands of wizards. The rules are designed to reflect the backstory, (and sometimes, maybe, they fall short of that mark).

Further, I am not suprised that a fairly obscure section of the rules in a supplement interacts with another supplement other somewhat oddly. I think you gotta finesse that. If your saga is oriented around origional research, maybe the numbers do need to be tweaked in light of Covenants. In many games--I don't think so. In most games, I think origional research is far too much of a time sink for players to really invest in (and I say this as someone who has Matt Ryan as a SG).