Looking for Reviews of HoH:MC and HoH:S

Does anyone know where I could find some in depth reviews of Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults and Houses of Hermes: Societates? I'm contemplating picking them up in PDF at some point but I don't want to spend my limited gaming budget on products I won't use. So, I'm trying to find out a little more about what's inside and what others have thought of them. Thanks

Read the ToC, ask questions on what looks interesting.

If you have no interest in those Houses, there's still mundane beast in the Bjornaer section and fooling the senses in the Jerbiton. Maybe you can find other interesting tidbits in the ToC.

They're both pretty good. I was a little disappointed with the strong focus placed on Mysteries in HoH: MC, but you can't go wrong with Societates - even if no one in your group belongs to a societate house you'll find lots of great stuff.

Feel free to ask any specific questions you'd like answered!

The trhee HoH books are my first recommendations to buy (after the core). Not only because they are really good (as other books are too) but they add a lot of possible flavour to the houses and thus to PCs and NPCs. And all are more or less vanialla Ars Magica without any "strange" or "completely new" concepts. So go for them, especially if you have PCs playing one of these houses.

Next book I would recommend is the tibunal book your convent is located ...

But as so often, this is only my view of things.

Salvete
Widewitt

Actually the HOH:MC is full of inner mysteries gained through initiation, so it is full of strange and totally new concepts not even discussed in the core book. For what I have read, HOH:MC looks like a powergamer's wet dream, but I have not had time to read it, only skim through it, so I cannot offer a more knowledgeable analysis than what I have seen around the forums so far.

I found HOH:S better than the TL one, learning from previous experience with other 5th edition books. I think it is useful to have a vision on how the authors see the houses in this edition. It is unnecessary to play the game using one of these houses (as opposed, apparently, to HOH:MC), but it adds depth to it, specially for flambeaus and exmiscellaneas.

I liked the revamp of the flambeaus from crazed laughing firebreathing maniacs into a more "classical arthurian knight" concept (without refusing the "smoking killer machine" concept of old), even if I did not like the rewriting of the legend of flambeau himself. he looks like a sissy now. Still, the house gained a lot of depth with this revamp and I like flambeaus even more than I did before.

The tytalians are too much "rebels without a cause" in a teenage style for my liking. if they limited their antics to their own house members and external challenges it would be OK, but as per the RAW I think the house would have been whipped out by the other houses a long tiome ago for being a bunch of jerks. If you limit them to a hyppian philosopjhy, they are perfectly kosher. IMS this is how they are played: they target BIG stuff to overcome, either a fellow tytalian or something like a dragon or a fae queen. They keep searching for bigger challenges as they overcome previous ones. They are one of the houses with the least old mages. All that last part is house ruled, mind. As written they are just a bunch of teenage bully jerks. If you make this change they fit much better there.

Jerbiton is somehow weird. Not bad, just weird. They changed A LOT from "the dude that deals with mundanes because he is gentle gifted" to artists. Now they are obsessed with beauty, they arec not politicians anymore. It has a lot of stuff on Imaginem,. including killer spells that make people effectively explode (Yep, with imaginem) and info on living in cities. I did not like the change, since they look like Toreadors from Vampire the Masquerade, and cowardly ones to boot, but hey. I might have missed some stuff on them that casts them on a better light since I found some stuff on the chapter that made me read with less attention as I progressed deeper.

ExMiscellanea. here we have the second jewel of the book. After the flambeaus, these guys are just plain cool. Lots of interesting traditions and hints. The traditions presented are still mostly hermetic, and I would have appreciated some weaker traditions that have a really tangential grasp of hermetic magic if they know about it at all, but I can understand that this is beyond the scope if this book that it is about the Order, after all. Overall it is an excellent chapter on a very disorganized house. Irt presents a dozen diverse tradition of magicians or so with very different approaches to magic and abilities.

If you are into extra rules, on the useful side there are combat rules for invisible characters (for and against), expanded imaginem (and I think mentem) mechanics, debate rules and a bunch of new virtues and flaws as well as some weird mechanicws used by flambeaus in their tournaments.

Cheers,
Xavi

Xavi, thanks for the useful review of HoH: S.

My totally subjective impressions, probably distorted by faulty memory, and on the spur of the moment:

HoHMC:

  • House Bjornaer (by Mark Shirley) presents the house as an ancestor-worship cult, which does not fit at all IMO (your ancestor was... a wolf? Really?!), and as divided into Clans and which are divided into Septs (which doesn't work with such a small house IMO). Despite this, it presents a good feel for the House, excellent support for Heartbeasts and beasts in general, and some nice Mysteries (including spending Final Twilight as a Great Beast). So I don't really like the House as presented, but I think the chapter still has a lot to offer and with slight changes the material can be adapted to a better vision of the House.

  • House Criamon (by Timothy Ferguson) presents a particular vision of the Enigma as being concerned with escaping Samsara (the eternal cycle of suffering), although it couches it in Western terms. It also presents several paths of inner-mysteries that are colorful but, for the most part, unbalanced (either too strong or too weak, or both, depending on circumstances). I really like this chapter as its version of the Enigma presents a blueprint for Criamon magi that is crazy and yet makes inner-sense, and for providing colorful ideas around it. Many others find that defining the Enigma empties it of its oomph, however.

  • House Merinita (by Erik Dahl) I consider to be the best in the book, for its many wonderful Mysteries. Not only do you get lots of Mysteries of a few different initiation paths, but you also get the wonderful Nature Mysteries of the Old Merinita. That said, I find may of the Mysteries too powerful or weak, and that they "need work". Especially infamous is the ability to become immortal at low, low cost, through partial Becoming, and the waste-of-a-season collecting raw vis through Wilding is. I also found the rules on Faerie Familiars extremely annoying. But the stories in these Mysteries are just great - from folks trying to bring forth a Pagan Messiah to magi wielding "Story" mysteries to insert plot-elements into the game (drastically changing how the game is played - the SG is no longer the sole creator of the story events...), this is just Good Stuff (TM).

  • House Verditius (by Matt Ryan) I hate with the burning passion of a thousand suns. OK, not, but still - I don't particularly like this chapter. It presents Versditius as all succumbing to Hubris, a prideful-personality mechanic, which I think makes them all far too much alike and to also not make sense for a magical tradition. Its mechanics for Automata is complicates and makes them not useful for anything, while the mechanics for Elder Runes are far too useful for anything (though still complicated). I also found the idea that Verditius succumbed to a mundane vandetta demeaning. That said, I did find the background on the Cult of Haephestus, Wayland Smith, and so on appealing, and I'm sure tinkerers would be thrilled with the new toys this chapter offers.

and for HoHS:

  • I can't say I really like the new Flambeau (by Andrew Gronosky). It's basically like a club of monster-truckers, sitting around telling tall tales of their awesomeness while occasionally stepping off to crush a car or two - only with combat-magic instead of giant cars. Some of these boorish goons are just fools poisoned by the noxious gases of exhaust pipes - or is it romanticism? - while others are religious fanatics of gods of "bravery" or just violent sociopaths. Yeah, there is variety there, but it's still basically just a popularity contest amongst boors, a kind of Beauty Pageant for the temperamentally challenged.

Don't get me wrong - I like me some sociopathic, violent magi as much as the next guy. I just think that having them form a beer-club and throw raves isn't the best vision of the House.

Oh and, yeah, the House also offers a sickeningly-Christianized Flambeau that died of old age as a monk (what?!). See, it's nuanced... :confused:

Along the way the chapter does offer nice ideas about the Cult of Mercury, a and some advice and rules on combat magic (its treatment of invisibility sounds reasonable, but too complex to implement). I came down hard on the House here, but really it could be really fun to play in, for the right players, if the House is played right - so it's not such a bad chapter at all, objectively. I just find it, personally, asinine.

  • House Jerbiton is all about how the East is Civilized and Constantinople is Great. Except that it has Fallen, which is a Great Shock. I actually liked this a lot, and it got me itching to play a Jerbiton seeking to return the Empire to the days of old. But it's rather limited in scope. The chapter presents some intriguing developments in Imaginem and Mentem magic, and in Finesse Craft-Magic and Spontaneous Magic. I'm not sure if I'd adopt all of them, but they are at the least interesting.

  • House Tytalus I really liked - I really liked its philosophy, that almost made-sense to me. It got me to think about a Tyralus apprenticeship as something that made sense to build self-esteem. While I can see the point of those bitching about the hosue being a bunch of punks, this was not my impression and I liked the House as presented - which surprised me. It is really focused around Intrigue and Debate, mechanically, which I found interesting too.

  • House Ex Misc I didn't really like. It has some solid rules on creating new traditions, but I didn't much care for the traditions it does have as all seemed to make sense as small traditions but not large ones. But perhaps this is my problem - I see lots of "Cunnig Folk" in the House, with a few more distinct lineages, whereas the Ex Misc depiction is perhaps of lots of small traditions. At any rate I found the traditions too non-Hermetic and too idiosyncratic to be "representative" of the Ex Misc House as I saw it.

HoH: MC

Bjornaer: This chapter does a great job fleshing out house Bjornaer, introducing the six tribes as well as the Harmonist and Wilderist factions. We also get clarification of the rules for magical shapechanging and some handy rules for designing animals.

Criamon: Controversial, but I liked Timothy's approach in defining the enigma (crazy for the sake of crazy worked to a certain extent in previous editions, but 40 pages of it would've been like dental surgery with a blowtorch). Apt conduct does mean that some older Criamon concepts are no longer feasible, but I'm OK with that. Enigmatic Wisdom ability is now useful!

Merinita: Erik Dahl seems to have taken a rather conservative approach to Merinita, it's not bad material in any way and provides some nice bits of background fluff, but nothing here really changes the house from how it was presented in the Core book.

Verditius: Never really played these guys as PCs so I'm not sure what to say. While objectively the Verditius mysteries are as narrowly focused as any other Mystery House, the object of that focus (enchanted items) would seem to make them more desirable to the run-of-the-mill Verditius-magi though this is purely conjectural on my part.

My main complaint with this books was the amount of emphasis placed upon the mysteries themselves, but if that doesn't sound like a problem for you, HoH: MC could be just the book you're looking for!

Thank you everyone for the reviews. You've been very helpful and it's interesting to see different views of the products.

If I may take the next ticket.

I like HOHS:

  • Flambeau is a section full with interesting ideas. Since I started the game in 5th, I'm not disturbed by the background.
  • Jerbiton is the part I like the least. All the Imaginem stuff turns that art into something which is not easy to grasp, and when you grasp it, you realize Imaginem is now able to destroy anything. I don't like that part of their section, but I do like the part related to art and the house background.
  • Tytalus is very interesting. Their debate magic, spying magic and background are excellent.
  • Ex Miscellanea is cool. I do not like every traditions (I think most of their hermetic flaws are often too bothering for their advantage) but they give you a nice understanding of many things. Some traditions are really interesting (Sahirs, Columbae [even if their flaw sucks], Pralix lineage, Pharmacopeans). I did enjoy the background information.

I'm more mitigated about HOHMC.

  • I do like the background stuff (except for Criamon, I CAN'T read it, too indigest).
  • Bjornaer are fun and their mystery is pretty balanced. once you start playing with it, you experience joy. Besides, the part about "how to build a mundane beast" should have been in the core rule book since it's really useful. I use it OFTEN.
  • Criamon mysteries are just weird. From gameplay POV they are a bunch of MAJOR advantages, and the most weakening flaw is a major Pious... I house rule their script each time I run a saga.
  • Merinita mysteries ally weirdness (not so much flaws in fact) and advantages. Some advantages are normal (nature mystery, for example), others (becoming!) are just munchkin. Like previously said, Wilding (a major virtue in the nature mystery) seems weak. It's, in fact, the only virtue in this book which seem underrated compared to all the others!
  • Verditius. It's hard to understand, but once you do, the mysteries are just FUN. I designed many scripts for a saga online (they are on the saga wiki so that any player can use it) and they are useful. Automatas could be seen as bad, but once you have understood their weakness and powers, thy can be useful. I didn't want them to be so weak, so my automata verditius did 2 breakthrough to improve them :slight_smile:. Verditius rune can seem unbalanced, but they are not. They only bring a very good advantage to specializing magi, which is the case of any well used virtue. Attuned items and item of quality are 2 uber mysteries that I think too many people underrate. The only mystery which seem hard to play but may be useful is "enchanted casting tool".

Between them, I would start with HOHS because of the tytalus, ex miscellanea and Flambeau parts, but my second buy would be HOHMC because of bjornaer, merinita and verditius.

Third would come HOHTL which is only good because it's obvious it was the first book : the layout is different, and it seems like it was a layout "in progress", which was finalised in the next books. But Bonisagus part about original experimentation, Guernicus part about the Code, and all the sections' part about gameplay and background.

I add my voice to the comment "HOH books are of upmost important" :slight_smile:.

You know what I would really like to see... a new Mythic Beastiary with the "how to build a mundane beast" rules plus various critters and beasts of virtue.

Seconded

Thirded. :smiley:

I'm down for that as well. Though most of this stuff has been written up in other places it would be nice to find a way to bring it under one roof so to speak without just reprinting the rules again. I don't necessarily want to see an Ars Magica Monsters Manual either. Maybe something like Magi or Legends of Hermes with several different in depth write-ups on some specific Mythic Creatures with story hooks and mini adventures. As well as some general play advice on running Mythic flavored encounters with spirits, beasts and other various critters.

I don't know if you've seen the old 4th ed book The Medieval Beastiary Revised Edition, but it is basically writeups for a lot of mundane and mythic critters, with folklore and story hooks. It's written partly from the PoV of Caprea, follower of Bjornaer, in the style of medieval bestiaries... equal parts encycolpedia and morality play. There are a lot of sidebars and hooks detailing how different animals can be used to symbolically highlight other parts of the story.

Along with the Wizard's Grimoire, the Beastiary is one of the old books I most want to see redone in 5th edition.

There is the PDF Bestiary... and you can design creatures fairly effectively with the material in HoH:MC (The Bjornaer Section) and RoP:M.

There have been a few "Beasts of the Realm" articles in Sub Rosa, covering a Basilisk, Griffin, Siren (#2), and a Centaur, Harpy, Manticore (#4), but they were designed prior to those books. I think they've aged decently. :slight_smile:

-Ben.

Yes but I don't want to have to buy two more books, neither of which I have any real interest in otherwise, just to get some rules for designing creatures. I might pick up RoP:M someday, but after reading the reviews on this thread, I really have no intrest in HoH:MC apart from the creature rules... and those aren't enough to make it worth buying the whole book, even as a PDF.

In the end, I can design my own creatures just fine without them, if I put the time and effort into it. What I want to buy is a book that has a collection of pre-designed creatures in it already, to save me that time and effort when I don't feel like putting it in... and also to inspire me when I do feel like putting in the time to creating my own critter.

I find designing creatures well to be quite challenging, actually, mostly because there doesn't seem to be many mechanical ways to ensure balance (like there are with Virtues and Flaws). It seems with creatures that you can just take, for example, Improved Attack/Defense/Soak as many times as "feels right". How am I supposed to know what stats are appropriate for the creature, without extensive simulation that I can't be bothered to do? I'd prefer some indication of how much to buff the creature to get a "grog-level creature", "challenge for a companion", etc.

Hmm. ArM is not a balanced game system. I don't think such guidelines could be applicable to a generic saga, as the PCs stats (especially after some decades) will vary too widely. I'm not sure if such "balance" is even meaningful, as their special abilities will often be "trump cards" that either work or don't (which makes establishing a challenging but defeatable enemy a very difficult balancing act; e.g. too much MR and the creature can barely be affected, too little and it's dead in a single round).

However, this sounds like an interesting fan-community project actually - to set up the "Standard" statistics (for PCs and challenges) at various power levels. I suppose Magi of Hermes could be considered as setting up some standard. For the PCs - but by extension, for NPCs and monsters.

I agree, YR7, about the difficulty of calibrating such things very accurately; I also agree about the "trump card" problem.

Still, note that in other sources:

  • RoP: Faerie says how many Flaws and Virtues (hence Powers) PC characters can have (p45), as well as Pretense points (xp for Faeria abilities); they also have a Scale of Typical Might Scores sidebar (p47) for designing NPCs.
  • RoP: Magic has a table (p34) with Magic Might scores corresponding to Grogs/Companions/Magi in low/medium/high/legendary power sagas, as well as the usual rules for balancing Flaws and Virtues and for Abilities.
    In Mundane Beasts, there is the suggestion that one Flaw should be taken for every three Virtues. But there's not an attempt to calibrate how tough a creature would need to be to, say, challenge/overwhelm a standard grog (or a trained group of such) in one-to-one combat. It's not even explicitly mentioned that Size is the major quantity (outside Virtues) that controls the creature's power level, much less how changes to Size affect its relative nastiness.

Anyway, I know that there's only so much authors can put into the source books. But these are a couple of the reasons why I find designing animals' stats so uncertain. (And then don't even try to get me to design a magical animal....)