Magic Theory in 940

New SG here again, with another new topic for discussion. This time I was hoping to get some input on the progression of Hermetic Magic Theory. I am currently running a Saga set in 940ad, Gotaland (southern Sweden). As the game was well received by my players, I decided to invest in a few more books. I have since read Hedge Magic and started in on RoP:M and Art & Academie. One of the really intriguing and unexpected things I discovered in HM and on these forums was the topic of Hermetic Integration and Original Research. I understand the base rules are in HoH:TL which I don't own, but I think I've got a pretty good idea of what it entails. But this got me to thinking...

If the Core ArM5 book represents the state of Hermetic Magic Theory in 1220, and Magi, especially of House Bonisagus have been focused on expanding Hermetic Theory for some 400+ years... What advances have been made that are already included in Hermetic Theory in 1220 that would not yet have been discovered in 940. That's almost 300 years worth of research projects. The only specific example of something invented after the foundation of the Order that I can recall is the Aegis of the Hearth spell, which was a breakthrough of his successor, as I recall (although clearly already invented by 940). I'm curious if anyone has any other examples, thoughts or ideas about what techniques and breakthroughs might remain as yet undiscovered in 940. I kind of like the idea of creating a rough "Order of Battle" as it were, delineating expected advances in Hermetic theory over the next 100 years, and introducing them in game as contemporary events as the Saga progresses. I also like the idea of reinforcing both the concept that Magic Theory is a moving, ever expanding body in the Order, and that the Saga is truly set in an earlier time, when Magic Theory and the Order itself were not so well established.

In my saga (which is set in 1098), Vis Extraction from Auras was/will be something integrated into Hermetic theory with the rediscovery of alchemy in the early 12th century.

The first idea that spring to my mind is to (again) borrow from Hedge Magic, and have some arts be difficult arts, with subsequent breakthrough "liberating" them.
When you art goes from 5 (45) to 9 (45), you sure feel as though a breakthrough was accomplished.

Have some Hermetic Virtues unavailable from the start, and reach the order through integration. A good exemple would be Elemental Magic.
Have some traditions join the order, with their own magic being adapted to the Order (see the Ex Misc section of HoH: S and the specific virtues of these groups)

Have Penetration be less efficient. For exemple, it could be unable to benefit from Sympathetic Connections and Horoscopes.

Make some guidelines or lab activities unavailable. For exemple, Conciatta's works being very recent, the Order might still lack guidelines for Might Strippers. Or indirect rego spells might still be unknown. Or one might be unable to invest powers in the familiar bond.
Have some guidelines be less efficient. CrIg might do 05 less damage, although a breakthrough allows the creation of purer flame.

I think of the earlier days of the Order as less limited by theory than by training and integration of old traditions. I see lots of Magi with one or more Deficient Form or Technique flaws. I also imagine that it was common for lineages of Magi, passed on to their apprentices, to have other hermetic flaws in common. Over the centuries as the order standardizes these gradually fade out.

Naturally there will be less books around, so development will be slower in the Arts. Similarly, there should be far fewer lab texts, incidentally giving Diedne and other spont users an advantage.

Pretty much any virtue outside of the core book should be unavailable except through mystery cults, including the common virtues from TMRE. Mystery cults themselves should be mysterious and not something you go to to sign up for classes in alchemy or astrology. In general there's more ideology in magical traditions and less of the value neutral proto-scientific approrach of the canonical 1220 order.

Of course, the counter-thought is that the magi of the early Order were actually more powerful then their 1220 hiers. Of course, these two ideas aren't incompatable. I can see early magi being more powerful in their particular House traditions, while weaker in areas outside of their traditions. Mercurian Magic could be an almost ubquitious virtue among the "Latin" Houses for instance.

Mechanically, I could see every House having a bonus Major Hermetic Virtue (after all, House Diedne which is alive and well in 940, already does) instead of, or in addition to, their current bonus Minor Virtue but also a required Hermetic flaw or flaws reflecting the strengths and weaknesses of their House tradition.

You could certainly do it like that. I'm not a fan of the "early Magi were great" school of thought myself, for several reasons.

First, everything in the game rules makes it clear that Hermetic Magic works like science, with development leading to development, better books leading to better educated Magi who then write a better second round of books, and who get their Arts well enough rounded that they don't give deficiencies to their apprentices.

Second, if earlier Magi were even more powerful than "modern" ones, why have they had so little visible impact on the course of events in Europe? The more powerful the Order, the more suspension of disbelief is required for the background.

Third, Magi are plenty powerful enough for me already, thank you.

Depending on which early magi we're talking about here, when it comes to things like the founders, etc. I have always thought that they were more powerful for their age. Not that their tradition was more powerful, but they were just stacked with an unfair number virtues mixed and matched from various places making them much more powerful then their age would otherwise imply.

Which brings me back to more on topic. Perhaps Longevity Rituals were not as effective back then? I had been thinking about taking certain guidelines out as integrations not yet achieved, but the guidelines seem sparse enough already that I'm not sure which I might remove. The Rego Craft and Rego Animal creation guidelines seem like good possible targets. Maybe a reduction in effectiveness in targeting Divine or Infernal realms (+1 magnitude or something). I'm not particularly targeting, or looking to reduce or adjust the balance of any particular set of forms, techniques or interchange between realms, per se, I just think it would be cool to present a more "primitive" image of Hermetic Magic.

Techniques as difficult arts seems problematic as an advance. The jump from 5 to 1 makes the designer in me want to introduce a difficulty factor so I can step it down 1 multiplier at a time. That might be a bridge too far for my players :slight_smile:. I could increase the magic theory requirements to take advantage of form & material bonuses. I thought about singling out certain spells which break the guidelines and labeling them "not yet invented" (or not yet in wide circulation), but again, the spell list is sparse enough, I'm not sure which ones I would target.

The idea of reducing the efficacy of magnitude scaling on spell effect seems like it might work well. Some sort of diminishing returns representing compounded mistakes and inaccuracies in contemporary working theory. That has some promise too, I think :slight_smile:.

I meant to say before, I love this idea. My own deep background for the 9th-10th century game I always want to work up (and never actually do) includes traditions in the East practicing Hermeticism independant of the Bonisagus tradition, with alchemists in Egypt and astrologers in Harran, Syria. I intend to steal your idea for this.

Having tried out my own version of the Founding of the Order, I recommend going with 'Hermetically weak Founders, but very good at their own supernatural ability' - so I agree with Jabir, mostly.

To address the original question from Shin:
Magic Theory itself being less effective makes the most sense to me (rather than the Arts being harder) - maybe make it need form & effect bonuses for lab projects just to be able to add your magic theory score to the lab total (rather than get them on top of the MT score); possibly needing this for spell research as well as enchanting devices; possibly make everyone have the flaw of wasting vis, until someone works out how to use vis 'properly'; maybe all spells to affect a large area of magic need to have the target inside a circle first (eg spirits, elementals, etc); maybe many of the higher level guidelines need ritual spells instead (perhaps anything over 25th level, or moon duration, and/or structure); maybe there are a few of the 'standard' parameters unknown eg group. A simple yet severe change could be that all casting and lab totals are halved - this gets you the 'harder arts' without making them as hard as abilities, and avoids the 'put all xp and learning into magic theory' problem that you'd have if you did make all Arts difficult (do a search for that discussion, if you want).

Since your saga is in Gotaland, I'd recommend acquiring Rival Magic - it's very useful for any saga set where Muspelli might be active.


Maybe I should clarify. I'm not opposed to individual magi being exceptional. Certainly at least some of the Founder were, particularly Bonisagus. There's no reason everyone in the world needs a matching number of virtues and flaws.

My objection is to the concept that previous generations of Hermetic magi were on the whole, or at least commonly, better than succeeding ones. I think the idea came from early White Wolf products that emphasized the degeneration of everyone and everything. I don't think it fits the setting, for the reasons I gave in my earlier post.

Which, if I may be frank, is exactly what I think is wrong with the 5th edition of Ars Magica. Note that name please - Ars Magica, the Art of Magic. Not the science of magic, the art of magic.

In earlier editions is was axiomatic that great strength of hermetic magic was that it gave everyone a common framework in which to do magic... and the great weakness of hermetic magic was that it gave everyone a common framework in which to do magic. Magic was always expressed as being highly individualized. Every magus had hermetic virtues and flaws which expressed the ways in which their personal magic did not fit into hermetic theory. Hermetic magic was "paint by numbers" magic and every great magus had to "paint outside the lines" in order to be great.

5th edition, in creating a very neat, well defined and codified game rules for magic has IMO lost the some that "in character" spirit that magic isn't and never can be a science. It is always the Ars Magica.

(Naturally, this is simply my opinion and your milage may vary.)

In what ways do you see things being different in earlier editions? Hermetic magic has always been a body of knowledge defined by texts of knowledge of the arts and other texts with recipies for spells and enchantments. Characters always had to ability to improve this body of knowledge.

There is certainly more emphasis on original research to expand Hermetic Magic in 5th edition, but this is one of the fun parts of the game for me, especially when it involves rediscovering Ancient Magics or other secrets. Just rolling the dice and going through the experimentation rules is certainly a snooze.

I do agree with you that virtues and flaws should remain personalized. I really dislike the way the mystery rules are now being used to grant virtues from the core book. To me, virtues like Flawless Magic or Focus are the unique facets of each character. Mysteries should be restricted to mystery virtues that pass on secret knowledges, like the alchemy virtues from TMRE.

It's a matter of tone. I don't "feel" the mystery and the strangeness of magic in this edition. Yes, magic has a body of knowledge and texts and characters can always write new texts to add to it... but in the past there was the idea that Bonisagus and the Founders created the Authorities of magic. Any text you write, any spell you design falls short of those Authorities. You don't improve on Aristotle or Plato. You can't write a better Bible. You can only refine and clarify what has already been written in the Authorities by the great minds of the past. To suggest anything else is too post-Descartes.

Ars Magica is a great game of high medieval fantasy and has the best magic system of any roleplaying game I have ever seen. It's a pity those two things are in conflict. :slight_smile:

You've obviously never had an apprentice nearly destroy the covenant while experimenting to create her first spell. :slight_smile:

That's not actually medieval though, it's rather the popular way the middle ages are thought of. Scholars were constantly improving on Aristotle and Plato, either to try to harmonize them to Christianity or based on new observations in the natural sciences. If they didn't, I wouldn't keep harping on Aristotle's species theory being centuries out of date by 1220.

We're in agreement on the lack of strangeness and mystery to magic. I miss the old 3ed edition rules that had mystical material components to spells. I dislike the way Mysteries are becoming value-neutral, rather than imparting mystical points of view. I dislike that the mysteries of the universe, the afterlife, and God are being laid out as objective fact in rulebooks rather than kept unknowable or left open to be discovered through play. I dislike the way the rules on sensation are turning into a physics laboratory. In general I dislike number crunching and designing packages of traits for advantage. I'd play Hero and not Ars Magica if this was what I wanted in a game. Most of this is less intrinsic to 5th edition than to the way people play their individual games.

Oh, THAT can be fun. I meant the endless die rolling and point tallying of the original research rules for "breakthroughs". Thank goodness Ancient Magic introduced a better way to expand on hermetic knowledge.

There was a section in Legends of the Order on a maga who, earlier in the life of the Order, was the one who integrated the four Realms under Vim... before her, the predominant thinking was that news arts would have to be created for each realm.

On the side topic of the power of the founders, I tend to go with the notion that they were powerful characters in terms of characteristics, and maybe even virtues and flaws and total ability points, but not in terms of Hermetic power. Bonisagus was almost certainly the best magical researcher the world has ever known and, if alive today, would likely do miraculous things, but, if faced in Certamen by a modern mage a few years out of apprenticeship, would more likely than not get creamed.

The analogy I would turn to here is the sporting world. If you go back a couple of hundred years and look at the best people in their sport (whether you're talking about a pitcher's fastball, the speed at which a mile is run, the distance a golf ball is struck, whatever) and compare with modern capabilities, the difference tends to be vast, with many modern practitioners managing the feats that seemed marvelous centuries ago. This is often a function of equipment and nutrition which, in this analogy, is like the great books that new magi have to read from that their ancestors did not.

EDIT: Just to head this off, I don't mean for this to cause a derailing into a conversation about my premise re: differences in athletic ability in different eras... it was just the first analogy that popped into my head.