Letter Beads

Salve sodalis,

I am in need of some technical spell design help, if you would be so kind.

My Merinita character wants to specialize in traveling trods to various Faerie regiones, with the ultimate pursuit of reaching Tír na nÓg. For this, according to HoH:MC 92 and 88, she'll have to learn to make charms, which include a permanent physical object. But since she's quite the klutz, it'd be easier if that part would be taken care of by a spell.

Note that I'm not trying to cheat on ease factor or design time. The charm itself will be crafting a story about the place to visit, and she's quite adept at that. It's only the crafting of the object I'm trying to simplify.

So I was thinking of a spell that would transform some raw materials into cubic beads to be strung on a small leather thong and worn as a bracelet. Each of the beads would be made of a different material and mark a letter on each free side. (Actually, the same letter in four different character sets: Latin for west, Greek for east, Runic for north and Hebrew for south). In sequence the beads would spell the name of the destination.

  • Typical materials would be ivory, amber, mother-of-pearl, bone, obsidian, etc. A mixture of terram, herbam en animal substances. So I suppose for each of these materials either a different spell needs to be designed, or the spell should be flexible enough to allow different prerequisites if at all possible.

  • The materials would be provided in rough form and in enough quantities, so there shouldn't be a need to create anything from thin air. However the final shapes are unnatural (pierced cubes with engraved characters). So I'm thinking either Muto or Rego?

  • The four characters could either be provided on vellum cards, or could be spoken during the casting of the spell, as a parameter of sorts. Either solution would be fine.

  • The beads need to remain permanent, so if Vim is necessary, I'd rather find the most economical way to craft the entire necessary set. If I'd have to cast a spell for each individual bead, that would be fine too, but preferably not at the cost of a pawn per bead.

  • For some charms, it'd be great to enclose a sliver of material from the destination within each bead, to be able to craft an Arcane Connection. But since this material will not always be available, the spell(s) should also work without.

My hope is that she can learn or design all the necessary spells in one season. Since these are small, simple objects maybe the spell(s) could be as low as level 5? But if a single spell can make all the beads at once, a level as high as 20 spell would be acceptable.

My character has basic knowledge of Creo, Muto and Rego at level 5 but no levels in Animal, Herbam nor Terram. She resides in a covenant with aura 5 with a standard laboratory at her disposal. She has Magic Theory only at 3, Stamina and Intelligence both at +2 and no crafting skill to speak of.

Is there hope for her? Thank you very much in advance for any suggestions you may have.

Hmm, I delved a bit deeper. It looks like it's definitely going to be a Rego effect:

And it would not require any Vis:

But it would more than likely require a Finesse roll:

Which defeats the entire purpose. :-7 And how would I determine the ease factor for that?

The base levels seem quite low.

Sooooooo... what if instead my heroine has a complete set of brass letter beads made by an accomplished metal worker, and designs a spell to mimic the provided material to one of the beads as the example? How would that work?

Or maybe something like a The Unseen Porter, but with more fingerspitzengefühl. The Unseen Jeweler perhaps, that can only make a very limited set of trinkets? Are there precedents for that where the caster does not need to test for Finesse?

Variants of the MuTe core book spell Rock of Viscid Clay (I think there's already a bone one in Hermetic Projects?)? Make the material pliable, press it into a mold and remove, poke a hole, etch the characters like you would a wax tablet, then end the spell?

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As Jason said, Muto can cause changes to remain after it expires. Muto effects also don't generally require finesse but often do require a Craft skill (though that can easily be someone other than the Magus). If you change something that is a solid into a semi-solid, liquid, or gas with Muto then when the effect expires and it reverts back to a solid it can be in a totally different shape. What consistency you change it into depends on how you plan to work it.

  • Changing to a semi-solid (Rock of Viscid Clay type effects) let solids be easily and quickly molded or manipulated by tools. This is often best for manipulating some portion of a larger mass (Part), which lets you do things like repair damage and remove seams. All the buildings in my Covenant look to be made of one solid piece even if they are made of different materials due to the craftsman having a collection of tools which have this effect on varies materials for building and repair work. While often not the best transformation for using "molds" it can let you modify a molded item further easily. The person doing the work uses Craft.

  • Changing to a liquid (Ink of Noblest Metal type effects) is best for being able to pour into molds, "plating", or painting. If you have one of your craftsmen make molds (they roll Craft for quality), then you cast it on that material in a container and pour it in to mold to shape. For plating you can ether dip something into it or pour a very small amount over a large flat object (with temp borders). Painting it on you just use a brush. Note that you can make it have a slightly thicker consistency to make some options easier.

  • Changing to a gas is a very niche case. Going with something like steam could be used for "plating" especially for the inside of a container. However it will generally be more wasteful.

Using these changes on multiple materials can result in more complex final products. For example changing two things to a liquid and mixing them will produce an alloy. This can actually happen by accident if the effect/spell is too broad in the materials it affects and you use the same container.

For an example, let us create high quality mirrors. Glass mirrors were becoming a thing during the Middle Ages, normally made by a process of blowing a bubble of molten glass and processing it to create a flat sheet. This caused bubbles, inconsistencies, and inoculations. It was backed by speculum metal (a "high tin" bronze) and later mercury. They were also fragile. Can we do better?

  • Rather than glass we use clear quartz. Many types of "glass" we use today are actually a crystal (phones use artificial sapphire), with far better clarity and strength than Middle Ages glass. So we add a bunch of clear quartz to a flat mold, change it to liquid so it makes a nice flat sheet, and we have the "glass" for our mirror.

  • Rather than speculum metal we will use silver. Silver is the most reflective element with a reflectivity of 98%, while speculum metal is 65%. The issue with silver is that it is hard to get a smooth even coating which is why it took so long to enter mass use (while today it is price). Add a piece of silver to the now solid quartz in the mold, change it to liquid, and gently swirl to fully coat.

After you pop it out of the mold, you have a mirror that is far stronger, clearer, and more reflective than any mirror that will be around for centuries. You can also make them in massive and/or complex designs.


You can get the Finesse ease factors for Rego crafting from HoH Societates p60-61. Basically, +3 to the ease factor you would have used doing the same thing slower using a Craft ability.

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Those are great ideas!

Would organic matter revert to its original composition after the magical phase change? If used on bone, ivory or mother-of-pearl for instance, would that not ruin the structure?

Forging the Bone Cover, p103. You're right. Thx!

She could press it into a little cube, pierce it and press four character stamps into the sides. If she'd use animal bones she could make it a MuAn spell. But would that same spell work with ivory, bone and mother-of-pearl? Those are all technically animal products, but with probably slightly different properties.

Thanks for the reference. Good to know.

I don't think this is feasible though for my character. With -2 Dexterity and already too many Abilities to disseminate my precious xp over, learning an extra craft just for a bit of side-quest roleplaying is not reasonable. I should go with Muto.

On if it would mess up the structure that is partly YSMV but should be fine. You have to remember that ME does not have real world physics. People of the time did not know that Nacre gets its effects from its scaled structure and would consider it a property of the material. I expect most groups would be fine with it. For ivory and bone you shouldn't have any worries at all.

Side Note: Muto spells/effects can have "snap back" or not when designed, if they are for working on non-living material. Things without it keep their new shape, as shown in several published spells. Things with it return to their original shape when the spell expires. Which used should fit the intended outcome of the spell. With something living it always has "snap back" and so reverts back to its original shape when the spell expires.

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Craft-magic is one of my favorite topic, so I spent more time on this topic than other topics.

Crafting beads is a simple process, done manually, it would take less than a day. Thus the final EF for a Finesse Rego-craft would be the base difficulty (4 to 6, carving a bead is quite simple, unless it is really elaborated, using Craft: Woodcarving, Blacksmith, Jewelry, etc.) plus 3 for the use of Finesse, so 7 to 9, not additional modifier for lengthy process. The characteristic to use is either Intelligence or Perception (you can find examples for both in the various books, so the jury is still out).
Since most mage have a Int of +2, a Finesse of 3 is quite easy to achieve (30 XP, 2-3 seasons of study depending the tractatus/summae quality), so it will start at 5 + die. If the material used to manufacture the bead is not rare/expensive, a few trials would allow to achieve a quality of 9 within 3-4 attempts at most (non-stress die, unless done in the emergency, under duress, etc...). Finesse having so many other uses, it is not a real waste of XP to invest a few seasons in Finesse.

If the mage has a Crafting skill, it can be substituted to Finesse.
That's the straight forward use of Rego craft magic.

Regarding spell level...
The mage might not even need to invent a spell for that: Animal Rego base guideline is around 2-3, Herbam is 4, Terram is 3-4, adding +1 for Range: touch, duration: inst (0), Target: ind (0), so most spell level will be magnitude 1, at most 2, so quite easy to spont', either with a short break for the mage to catch is breath between two attempts if he needs to use Fatigue.

Use of Muto can turn the base material into something more malleable, making the crafting easier. A use that would not require any skill check would be to have a craftman, like a blacksmith or a woodcarver to prepare some moulds. A Muto spell would turn the base material into a dough-like sustance (Conc duration, +1), letting the mage cast the material into the mould, let go of the spell, the material will keep it's new shape. A little bit of touch up (filling the edge, trimming the side) and beads will be ready).
Muto Terram guideline is base 1 to change property of dirt, +2 for metal or gemstone, +1 for range: touch, +1 duration: conc, target: ind, so level 5 to make silver/gold or gemstone malleable. Animal or Herbam variant will be within the same difficulty level, again easy to spont'.

So I hope I covered most options.


This is interesting. I never quite understood when Finesse is required. But here you say that a Craft test can be substituted by a Finesse test, but at an increase of 3 to the base EF? And that's for any Craft?

I agree. My character has Finesse at 2, and both Intelligence and Perception at +2.

Sure, but is there no advantage to design a trio of cantrips like these? Since making beads will never be stressful, she can make as many as she needs using Formulaic Magic. While if she needs to use Spontaneous Magic, with let's say 30% chance of screwing one up, and requiring a dozen or so per bracelet, the likelihood of botching one for each bracelet is almost assured. At that rate she has a higher chance entering Twilight before seeing the shores of Tír na nÓg.

The problem is whether she can design three level 5 spells in one season. She has a lab score of 15 in Rego (no levels in Animal, Herbam nor Terram). So if each of these three spells is level 5, she could learn two in one season, right? What if she finds a lab text to make simple trinkets? Would that be enough to leverage a third level 5 spell?

I find it frustrating that making beads out of bone or amber or obsidian require three different spells. The craft is literally the same: shaving off and carving out bits from a solid. It's not like she's cutting diamonds or casting alloys.

What if instead of manipulating the material, the spell manipulates basic tools like files, sandpaper and threading needles? That's still Rego, right?

When you use magic to craft something through a Rego Form spell, Finesse is the default skill to assess the quality of the work. But if the mage has a relevant Craft skill, he can use it instead of Finesse. The EF remains the same as for Finesse, eg: penalty of +3, plus a modifier for the duration of the crafting through normal means (p60-61 HoH: Societas).

Finesse cannot be used to replace Craft skill for normal crafting through mundane means.

If you use non-Fatigue spontaneous casting, there is no stress roll, so no issue. Sure, a beginner mage won't reach 25 casting score easily, but with a bit of work (reaching 10/10 in Technique and Form is not too difficult). And in some case, it can be even lower.
For example, ReHe with prepared wood (dry, clean wood) is base 1, +1 for touch. So a level of 2, so casting score of 10... Bone is ReAn base 3, +1 for touch to 4, so casting score of 20, with Stamina of 2, aura of 3, that Re+An of 15, quite reasonable.

If you need to invent one spell, that would be for metal and gemstone: Base is 4, add +1 for flexibility with material (so you can equally handle iron, stone, glass, obsidian, amber*, gold, silver), +1 touch for a final spell level of 10. Easy to invent within one season. Herbam, as demonstrated, is easy to spont' as long as the mage works with "prepared wood". The only one that could be tricky to spont' without fatigue is animal bone.
*Just to clarify, amber is technically fossilized sap (Herbam), but within Mythic paradigm, it is handle like a semi-precious stone, Terram.

Only if it using the same labtot, eg same Technique and Form can a mage invent several spells in one season (p 102, core rule Multiple Laboratory Activities).
However, if the mage is learning from another magus, then the teaching mage can teach him several spell of different TeFo in one season (p 95 core rule).

Considering that you pitched the idea that this Merinita mage wants to reach Tír na nÓg by mastering faerie trodes, he might have to put some effort in it :wink: and inventing three low level spells is hardly a challenge, it is just time, with guaranteed success. Compare that to Original Research work, that's piece of cake, no ?

This will be higher level spell to invent: duration will need to be Concentration (+1) since basically the mage is using magic to control tools, the crafting won't be instantaneous like with Rego-craft magic, Target will be Group (+2), Touch (+1) because several tools are affected at the same time, Base will be 1 +2 for metal, since the spell is affecting tools, very likely they are made of wood and metal, so Herbam requisit will likely be needed (+1) - Things like object are affected by Terram with appropriate requisit (p152 core rule). So the final level will ReTe(He) 20: The Phantom Hands of the Craftsman, Group, Conc, Touch.
And the mage will have to succeed both at Concentration and Finesse to achieve the expected results. Pick up your poison.

At this stage, and considering what the mage wants to do, he might be better learning Craft: carving to level 3-4 and I am sure SG will allow the same skill to carve wood, stone and bone - precious gemstone might be trickier.

Alternatively, if the mage has virtus to spare, he can commission a mage to do a lesser enchanted device for the spell he cannot/does want to invent and work a season for the other spell.

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All this is great information. It clears up quite a few confusions I had with some of the rules. Thank you. (A big thanks to all of you by the way).

No, indeed. This is not practical.

I think that will be the one. I'll let go the Animal and Herbam versions.

Sure. And point taken. But you have to see this from a game technical perspective. In my game group we play different games. Mostly Call of Cthulhu. How many Ars Magica campaigns will my character still be participating in? How many free seasons does she have left before our group moves on to other worlds? She has other obligations, like learning a decent Aegis of the Heart in our new founded covenant, for which she needs to improve her knowledge in Vim first. Plus she needs to spend at least another season for her Wayfarers Initiation. Also, for each permanent Arcane Connection yet another season is spent. If I want her to make even the slightest progress towards her goal, then each season is terribly precious.

But I have my solution, and I've learned a lot.

Gratias magnas tibi ago