Magi - Petulant man-babies. Why?

I think the most stand out example of the weird childish behaviour of magi is on page 103 of the core rules "However, the assistant is announcing to the Order that he considers the primary researcher to be his superior." Seriously. Why?

What kind of adult does not understand a simple quid-pro-quo? Or what is the problem of the order, which has 50 different technique/form combos to accept that yes, in a certain magi's specialty they are superior?

A simple scenario. You have two magi with different specialties working on a signature spell to cap their career. Say a level 60 ritual. They've both got their lab totals to 65, so it's 12 seasons to compete the spell research. If they assist each other, it's 4 season each (Assuming +10 Magic Theory + Int for older magi is on the low side, however, it's the bonus I went with). 4 seasons for their spell, 4 seasons assisting, they both have 4 extra seasons.

Please don't argue the numbers. If this is easy in your sage, make the example a level 80 spell, or whatever it needs to take a lot of seasons. The concept, not the numbers, is the point.

A magi committing to giving up a season to help a magi, and that magi agrees to help later, seems sensible, and the mature thing to do.

Would the average magi give up a season to get a higher cord level on a familiar? I'd think so. Two magi agreeing to assist each other with a familiar binding seems logical.

A magi who can just make the charged item so it has one charge, however with assistance the charged item has 3. Tripling a seasons effort at the sacrifice of a season seems worth it.

Same with a magical weapon needing high penetration. Every point of penetration matters, and sacrificing a season for those extra points seems sensible.

I'm sure others can think of examples where they'd easily give up a season, or more, for the lab bonus a magi can give.

That's a starting point regarding the man-baby behaviour of magi. The reluctance to copy books, with the "But that's mine", again seems a bit petulant and childish, and also against Bonisagus's vision.

I know, humans are flawed. Many of us are selfish, however, there's also a bunch of altruists, and even self-absorbed pragmatists would see the virtue of assisting magi regularly. Why are the order mostly man-babies?

Apologies to the females in the order. Man-babies is a common term, however, I'm also happy to include the women-babies in my sweeping disdain of the Order's general attitudes to sharing.


No magus is forced to actually behave like your "man-baby".

They just have learned sooner or later, that elder magi - especially elder ones - might consider such behaviour "proper".
Rational younger magi trusting each other may just help each other and keep mum about that. Problem solved. And if they don't trust each other they won't share a lab for a season, or would they?
Maybe the elder magi have just learned to never trust any sodalis any more?

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Because it's a different era. Remember how the values of the middle ages makes so little sense to our modern mind. Although there are aspects of the Order which are reminiscent of craft guilds (the ranks and the voting) or monasteries (communist covenant charters), there are also aspects of the Order which are socially closer to how the aristocracy operates - etiquette, certamen, and so on. Much of that actually makes no sense for a modern mind. And yet the era was very much grounded on perceived hierarchy. Consider how important reputation was and would often translate in things as simple as where you got seated arround the table. Are there magi who cooperate? Sure. And there are cases where it carries less stigma - working with a renowned longevity specialist, for example.

But even if hierarchies is not uniformly important between tribunals, houses and covenants, it's a major part of the social side of the Order. There is no stigma for a recently gauntleted magi to receive the help of a Master. Everyone knows he's weaker than the other one. But for a master to sollicit another master, there is an acknowledgment of implicit seniority. And the more senior you are, the more your voice carries influence. You're more likely to know the Praeco, your house Primus and the Chief Quaesitor on a first name basis. People are less likely to dare you to certamen or war. When you've signaled others are your superior repeatedly, you have less clout. Clout might not be equally important to all magi - but you're also in a world where one of the highest principles of legal order is based on might. A tribunal is a room full of people trying to determine who they need to listen to, who they can ignore and who they can step on. Some of them care more about your arguments and how well you follow the code. Others are trying to guess who they can bully and who can bully them back. When you assist another magi, you tell observers - rightly or wrongly - that you're weaker. You might think you aren't. What you think of yourself typically doesn't deter bullies. Your reputation might.


I appreciate this concept, however, I think it's overplayed a little.

Kings had advisors. They were not inferior if they took the advice.

If anything the middle ages were more about leaving a legacy. Considering magi tend not to have children, having the best apprentice ever, leaving a library to assist the next generation, pressing the boundaries of spell and artifact creation, that is always further with an assistant, seems the more likely option.

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Kings were not rated on their wisdom either, except perhaps by the clergy, they were rated by their relative power - how much land they controlled, how many pounds of silver in their vault, how many men they could call to war, and whether they had powerful allies or enemies. They had vassals, whose duty was to advise. To be adviced was therefore a sign of their status.

On the other hand, magi are rated in importance not by their status obtained from birth and relative resources but status obtained through their perceived relative power in hermetic society. For the typical magi that doesn't have political power over others - that's essentially limited to their personal might. Someone leading a lab project for you is not serving you. If he was serving you, he'd be your lab assistant. The person leading your personal lab project for you is instead demonstrating his arts and magic theory are higher than yours. If he was serving you, you'd just buy a lab text from him. Nobody is able to guess you're weaker because you bought a labtext to save you time. But people are easily able to guess that if you are a lab assistant.


I too have found tthis odd, and failed to come up with a satisfactory answer. I chose to treat these hints of an extremely hostile social environment in the OoH to be mere "suggestions" for how some magi might behave rather than as being a description of how magi behave in general.

in my professional life I come from academia, which is in many ways have similar social and formal rules to how the OoH works, and even academia is only sometimes as bad as the OoH is often made out to be. (e.g. researchers in real life do actually cooperate sometimes simply because it gives more clout (the technical term is "impact"), simply because the opportunity cost of not cooperating is too high).


Real world academics can't achieve anything on their own, yes, if they want to be cutting edge because you need to keep up with your peers. This is close to pretty much opposite of how the OoH works, beyond the necessity of reading the right books (etc.) which are easier to pool in a common library. The default in the Order is working alone for your own enchantments, and unless you're always aiming for high level custom effects, it works well enough.

Mind you, this is a default mindset. In any society, there are extremes, and individual behaviors will map out on a wide spectrum. I have seen some some cooperation happen in games, and yes, there are incentives for it. It just bucks the cultural norms, that's all.

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Real world academics today need to cooperate a lot, yes - depending a bit on the exact field they work in.

Academics a century or two ago did not do nearly as much teamwork and could be very competetive.
Look up the "Bone Wars" to see what can happen when academics compete rather than cooperate.

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That is true. Specifically I know that in mathematics cooperation on papers (and to a lesser extent research) is somewhat unusual. This is situation is probably not helped by the fact that mathematicians have a terrible system for sharing credit via publication.

I have been told from friends in the humanities that cooperation there is quite rare, because they dont really need to cooperate.

On the other hand, in biology, where I am educated, cooperation is an absolute necessity. The reason is that modern biology (perhaps with the exception of classical taxonomy, where people some still run solo for entire careers), is that there is a large number of laboratory skills necessary in order to conduct modern biological research, so many skills in fact that it is not practical for a single person to master them all. Likewise the costs to acquire and maintain all of the equipment needed for the experiments is also not feasible for one person to have access to, without some cooperation.
My friends in physics tell me that the situation is even worse there (i.e. requires more cooperation by more people).

I feel like the parallels to experimental natural sciences is the strongest here, since ArM also has lots of possible combinations of forms and techniques, that are not feasible for one person to master.

I am not saying that there are no single TeFo combinations where you can have an entire field of people ruthlessly competing against each other in single-person races (CrCo and CrIg comes to mind). But I am saying that I think there is plenty of reason to believe that in other less common specializations cooperation required to achieve good results.

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Don't forget several very important factors -- paranoia, power and ego.

The Order has roots in a time when wizards killed each other to steal their knowledge and power. It also has a legal system which promotes individualism and secrecy. So a bit of institutional paranoia is to be expected. In your saga, that may have diminished more than in others, but it should probably still be there at least a little.

Magi are powerful, and they often raise themselves above others. With power comes a larger ego -- why should I share what I know, or spend time for another's purposes when my time is valuable. Sharing that power diminishes it, and helping another gather power makes mine less.

But I agree that the assisting someone else in the lab makes me look weaker stigma can vary from saga to saga.


I’ll begin by noting that, in my campaigns, player character magi have always been far happier to cooperate on projects than the book describes as common in the Order. I don’t discourage this; I figure player characters are the exception, and if they want to behave in a way that the setting describes as unusual, well, that’s what PCs do.

But to answer the original question, it may be helpful to remember just how elite a magus is. There are only about a thousand magi in all of Mythic Europe. That’s smaller than the entire population of my high school. They are an incredibly rarified class of people, possessing incredible personal powers. An individual magus, especially a mature or elder one, wields power that could—were it not for their self-imposed Code—destroy or transform the lives of countless people. And the only reason they don’t do whatever they want—in violation of the Church, nobility, and every other custom and law—is because they have, as a collective, chosen not to.

I find it fairly plausible that all this has gone to their heads and made the typical magus… I would not call them a petulant man-baby so much as a massive egotist.

And compare a magus’s status to their former status, as an apprentice: when their legal status was property! An apprentice is, according to the Code, just another magical asset. I find it pretty plausible that assisting another magus—which we like to imagine as cooperation but which the rules make clear is one magus calling the shots and another as lab assistant—could feel like a flashback to apprenticeship, and that’s a time few magi would care to repeat. In the eyes of other magi, its degrading.


I appreciate that thought, and I acknowledge I was deliberately going over the top with the man-baby comment initially, however, an offer of reciprical assistance seems different. I give you a season, you give me a season, seems a trade amongst equal Magi.


Even in modern society there are many taboos that make little rational sense.

Take dress code. When I talk to my lawyer or financial advisor, I want him to be as comfortable as possible, to maximize his focus on the problems at hand - my problems. Yet, at least where I live and in much of the Western world, I have never found one who's not dressing very formally when on the job, even at the cost of being quite noticeably uncomfortable (e.g. due to heat).

Or take pornography, particularly female pornography. A woman who engages in pornography will suffer serious social discrimination. "But she's not harming anyone" you might argue "and she's providing much needed entertainment". It won't fly. "She's selling her body, isn't that terrible?" you'll be told. You might point out that it shouldn't be worse than selling one's mind, as most professionals do - and that in any case being a fashion model, or a professional in many sports, is essentially selling one's body too. It still won't fly.

Being a lab assistant to another magus (with the noted exceptions) is a little like engaging in pornography. No matter how much it might make sense, rationally, to do so for all parties involved ... it's still a social taboo. Most magi will feel terribly uncomfortable at the prospect of doing it. And even those who don't will seriously consider avoiding it (or at the very minimum keeping quiet about it) due to how it may damage their social standing.

Of course, in the real world there are people who engage in pornography; nothing stops your PCs from being the porn stars of the Order! Good luck becoming a Master in the Rhine, being invited to be a Quaesitor, or being elected to any position of prestige and responsibility. At Tribunals magi will snicker behind your back, and a Verditius might accost you, a shifty look in his eyes, and whisper: "I heard you do... labwork, if you know what I mean. Half a queen of Aquam for a year?"


I’ll also note that the canonical solution to your magus’s capstone project—be it a high level ritual, a powerful familiar bond, or something else—is to get an apprentice. Indeed, this is exactly what an apprentice is for.

Yes, the magus will have to spend 15 seasons teaching. And an apprentice typically begins at an age that leaves them with a lower-than-optimal Intelligence (per the rules for age in APPRENTICES). But, once the child has grown to 14 and our magus has taught them some Magic Theory, the magus can work the apprentice three seasons every year. It’s not unreasonable to expect to get 30 seasons of lab assistant work out of an apprentice, twice your investment! (This also grants the apprentice 60 exposure XP, probably raising their Magic Theory even higher,)

When a magus needs someone to add their Int + Magic Theory to a lab project, especially when the magus is mature or senior, the traditional solution is an apprentice, and that solution is very effective.


Other people have posted lots of good in-world explanations.

Two meta-reasons.

  1. It's a holdover from AD&D. Remember the 1st edition DMG on magic-users sharing spells? This made it into early editions of ArM, and thus became part of the accepted background. No-one felt strongly enough about it at the right moments to get it changed.

  2. As you note, cooperation offers a substantial boost in power for magi. Not something ArM is desperately in need of. To be completely serious, it's hard enough to sustain suspension of disbelief in Mythic Europe with an Order full of woman-babies. If they all start working together rationally, it becomes basically impossible. Note that two of the three options in Transforming Mythic Europe can basically be interpreted as "magi grow up".


First of all Ars Magica is set in a far more hierarchical society, and at the same time the order itself is significantly less hierarchical than the rest of society. In some ways it seems more like a reactionary reflex than a thought out position.
That being said there are a lot of ways someone can be considered a superior. They may well have something you want to learn and be taking on a teaching role. They may be employing you (probably for vis) or in some other way acting as your boss, They may have a higher position than you in your house (esp. Tremere), your covenant or your tribunal.
The fact is that Magi are generally people who spent their life on bended knee to both secular and religious authorities until one day they were taken as an apprentice and essentially promised that their parens would be the only person who would be seen as their superior ever again (unless, again, Tremere). It likely makes them a bit sensitive to the idea of acknowledging that they have any superiors.

Quite right. Players should remember that the Order of Hermes was conceived as a group of equals (one magus, one vote), it is unseemly to subordinate yourself to another after apprenticeship. Unless you're in House Tremere.

One wonders if House Tytalus promulgated the idea of laboratory help as shameful, both to poke fun at House Tremere as well as to keep magi of other houses from gaining an advantage over House Tytalus (who would be dead set against being laboratory assistants after apprenticeship).

"You helped him in the laboratory? Like a Tremere?"


Nice. What about adding a typical Tytalus caveat:
"You admit to have helped him in the laboratory? Like a Tremere?"

Not nearly as effective as a well-trained and well-read familiar. :wink:
Or a familiar plus an apprentice.

Society sometimes follows utility.

If a line of magi establish that the filii aids the parens, with the parens turning and teaching the filius, and this shows considerable advantage, it may become common. This makes sense, as few are going to argue that a parens is not the superior of their own filius.

Or, a magus may make this their personal vis source and study resource; a magus who aids another in the lab for either vis or a copy of the results (or both) has a living, perhaps a peregrinating life, and if they are indifferent to the social implications may be quite satisfied.

Either case, a socially acceptable set of guidelines might develop: It is acceptable and even encouraged for a filius to aid their parens, or for a journeyman level (Rhine) magus to aid a master for compensation, or for younger covenant members to aid older ones for [reasons]. Perhaps this becomes a feature of the late medieval Order.

I can easily see Houses Tremere, Bonisagus, and Criamon doing this, perhaps Jerbiton, Mercere Magi, Guernicus, or Verditius. Not Tytalus, Merinita, Flambeau, Bjornaer, or Ex Miscellanea, for different reasons.

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