Mazed by the Mysteries


Usually the ARM rules are clear & concise & easily understandable by shmoes like me but I've been perousing the Mystery Cults book (detailing the 4 Mystery Houses of Hermes: Merinita, Bjornaer, Verditius, Criamon), & since page one I've been baffled & mazed. Could you please clear up some of my conundrums? Thanks to you!!!

  1. Now I've got both books (the corebook & the Mystery Houses), there seem to be more choices for the starting special Mystery Abilities for H. Mages. For instance, if a player is planning on creating a Merinita, s/he now has access to Faerie Magic & Nature Magic as starting abilities, right?

  2. Are the Merinita Mystery "paths", (once taken) the only path (within that houses's magic-style, of course) that the Mage can "walk"; or can there be a [i]Faerie /i Natural Merinita mage (combining both), for instance?

  3. What exactly are the terms "Outer Mysteries" & "Inner Mysteries" (both fluff-wise & rules-wise)?

  4. How does the Rite of Initiation play out mechanically? I'm totally confused by Scripts, too. This is were I'm really lost.

Thanks again!

You will get a lot of different answers from us on this one, because there are a lot of legitimate takes on how to play it.

We also have to be careful to avoid copying rules outright here : This forum is not a way around buying the books and supporting Ars Magica and its creators.

So, I'll try to be as clear as possible, while not giving away any details.

Remember Rule number 1:

Its a story, and the storytellers make the rules.

Everything should come secondary to creating a compelling and enticing world. As long as you're upfront with the players on how things work, modify things anyway you like.

Now for your questions.

First, most of them are answered directly in the books. You'll just have to read them over again, and get used to them over time as you make characters.

Let's take them in order:

  1. Yes, you can have Nature Lore AND Faerie Magic. Explicitly.

All Merinitae have Faerie Magic. Period. You get it free at character creation.

Nature Lore you can rule either gets taken as a virtue, or can be taken as a "cheap initiation" - basically a free virtue for a set price of time, yielding the ability.

In fact, any magus can theoretically develop Nature Lore, (see the Source book for the Rhine Tribunal : Guardians of the Forests).

2.) Again, explicitly yes. Within Merinita there is a group called the Wayfinders which mixes and matches the various Mysterie in various ways. The Merinita mystery schools are the most common progressions, in that they just plain make sense as progressions.

You'll notice that mysteries folow a theme. That's intentional. Mysteries are more than paths to power - they are the commitment of one's power to a specific... ideal is the wrong word, but its close. Create a compelling "ideal" or "idea" for a path to follow, and the SG should rule that its possible to follow it.

3.) Outer and Inner Mysteries are just what they sound like.

Mystery Cults have "paths" or "progressions" of development and understanding. On a basic level, the outer mysteries allow you to progress "inward" to the deeper mysteries.

The Bjornaer Heartbeast is the clearest example of this.

The Exoteric Outer Mystery is the Heartbeast. This is far more than the ability to turn yourself into an animal; it’s the understanding that you are as essentially your totemic inner “beast” as you are human. This “heartbeast” is the core of your magic and power and, in a real sense, of who you are.

Then there are the Inner Mysteries. These are powers which can be brought forth. As an Animal, you learn to communicate and interact with the world on a more primal level - not merely through intellectualized words, but through the wolf’s howl; through plumage or marking with scent.

Thus Sensory Magic. Without the fundamental understanding of the self-as-beast, this beastial form of magic is impossible, which is why Bonisagus could never integrate it.

Then you get to the Innermost Mystery - the Inner Heartbeast. This is a deeper and more fundamental understanding of the Heartbeast- that it is not merely an Animal, but the ideal of that Animal and what it represents. This opening of the truest self is only possible once you have journeyed long down this path of understanding.

Mechanically, its one thing leads to another.

  1. Woah Boy. The mechanics are the toughie. Again, I'm trying to avoid plagarism.

There are four elements to an Initiation:

The Ease Factor (“Target”)
The Mystagogue
The Script
The “Bonus”

Mechanically, every virtue will have an Ease Factor, or Target, just like any other feat in Ars Magica. There are six possible numbers.

Three for Minor, Moderate or Major Virtues if you have a leader who knows the virtue and script.

Three for the same if you have a script, but are initiating “blind.” You can initiatie yourself, but only blind.

Your Mystagogue + Script Bonus + “Bonus” must add up to the target in order for the Initiation to work.

Any initiation needs a Mystagogue - a leader who leads the ritual. The Mystagogue adds his Presence + (Cult Lore) to the Initiation Total.

Then there’s the Script. This is the ritual component of the initiation.

Basically, in order to get a new Virtue, there’s a lot of different stuff you CAN do to “power” the ritual or initiation.

Each of these things has a value. These values are pretty clearly spelled out in the introductions, and several times in the chapters, for redundancies sake. Taking on a Major Flaws are worth X points, Taking on a Minor Flaw is worth Y points and so on.

The total value of all the stuff you do is called your “Script Bonus” (from the Initiation Script.)

Finally there’s are possible extra bonuses.

The most common is a bonus for previous sacrifices. Taking on Ordeals (which means suffering new Flaws) gives extra bonuses for later initiations.

Then there are “Sympathetic Bonuses” - these are little extras thrown in for flavour from time to time, and are entirely optional and depend on the mystery at hand.

SO Final mechanic is this:

Mystagogue’s Presence + Mystagogue’s Lore + Script Bonus + Bonuses from previous Ordeals and Sympathies = Initiation Total.

Does that help at all?

Kinda. One is 'free' (for being of House Merinita - by RAW this is Faerie Magic. The other should be considered a minor virtue, ala Premonitions.

If you can find the relevant mystagogues and convince them, go ahead. IIRC you don't even have to follow each path as they are (ie. you could initiate Perpetuity without knowing Glamour if you can find a mystagogue (default answer is likely to be "NO!" though).

This is where things get fun.
Outer Mysteries: These are the "secrets" (not really very secret ofcourse) taught to everyone who joins. Often they are the base essentials for understanding the inner secrets.
For Merinita magi, it would be the melding of Faerie and Magic - two seperate Realms - into one useful whole.
For Verditius magi, it would be the whole idea of investing a bit of yourself (rather than just of your magic) into the device.

For a more modern-day image, try to think of someone studying martial arts. You're not taught to fight from day one. Instead you're taught excerices that will be used to teach you how to fight.

Inner Mysteries: These are the deeper secrets - the ones that are actually secret.
Every mystery beyond the inital Outer Mystery (which is the one in the core book) is an Inner Mystery.
It's much harder to explain these, because modern society does not approve of secrets and secret teachings. I recommend reading up a bit on gnosticism to understand the ideas.

To return to my example of the martal artist above, the inner mysteries are the techniques that take a lot of practice. Things like controlling the distance and choosing the proper distance to your opponent. Maintaining complete attention to both your opponent and your surroundings. The 'sticking hands' of Tai Chi* etc. But also all of the meditative elements some styles boast, helping you find inner peace.

These are the things you won't be taught just comming in from the street. Either because they won't, but more likely (today anyway) because they need to teach you the 'language' needed to explain the inner secrets.

"If you can't do integrations and differentiations, how am I supposed to teach you quantum mechanics!" - Physics Professor (name withheld by request).

It's pretty much what it says, really, a script.
The idea is to give the initiate a mystical experience, to jolt them out of their normal enviroment/way of thinking and pushing them into a new way of thinking.
You might want to read this, which is largely the text book example of a mystery.

Often, it is an attempt to copy the result of a past (usually mythological) event by symbolically copying it.
ie. You symbolically descend into the underworld (death) and return with new wisdom (are reborn) - but what you actually did was descend into a dark cave and stay there for a while with no light, then came back up again. Perhaps you were even high at the time.

  • many other styles have this concept as well, but it s usually taught much later.

Vulcano & Tellus have done a good job, but here's my two pawns...

  1. As I understand it the player must choose select either Faerie Magic or Nature Lore as their free House Virtue, but I can't think of any reason why the player shouldn't be allowed to buy the other using her normal complement of virtues (preferably purchased in conjunction with the "Cabal Legacy" flaw).

  2. I'll have to plead serf's parma as to whether it's possible for a character to belong to more than one mystery cult, but as previously noted a suitably designed homebrew cult could certainly include initiation scripts into any mysteries the SG see fit to allow.

  3. Rulewise there really isn't any difference unless the SG decides to rule that a character can't begin play with any inner mysteries (a common house rule). Basically, outer mysteries are those that are well-known outside of the house in question. Ie. everyone knows that Merinitae magi have an affinity for Faerie Magic or that Bjornaer magi possess a Heartbeast.

  4. The Mystagogue calculates his/her Initiation Total and compares it to the Ease Factor for the Script in question. Can you perhaps be more specific about what's giving you trouble?


There is, though it is not very essential: the Outer Mystery s taught to everyone in a given house, and is the free virtue for that house.

NB! Mystery cults that are not houses themselves (see TMRE) generally do not have an Outer Mystery as such.

Not quite. Each Mystery House has their House Mystery (Fairy Magic, etc), then Outer Mysteries, Then Inner Mysteries, requiring (Serf's Parma) 0, 2, and 4 in (Mystery Cult) lore to learn. As to being part of multiple Mystery Cults, it depends. We have two Mystery Houses that are very open, and will pretty much teach all who ask, and two very private Houses that are very private, and will watch you like a hawk. But even the private Houses have their Septs and Confraternities, which work much like "In House" Mystery Cults.

One final clarification.

Gremlin44 is right - you can belong to more than one cult, so long as it makes some sense.

For example, House Bjornaer has many members in the Nature (and anti-Fae) cult Huntresses of the Woods.

A Criamon might join another cult in her quest for greater insight to unraveling the enigma.

A Merinita of the Arcadian Mysteries or Folk Magic might join a Mercurian Cult to better commune with the Gods of Old. Or vice-versa.

No House Mystery is compatible with another House Mystery, with the exception of Enigmatic Wisdom - and that only to level 4. Probably NOT compatible at ALL with Verditius magic.

Remember, Mysteries are empowered by a certain insight; a way of understanding the world, magic or one's self that is somehow outside the norm. At the very least, it offers a driving purpose which become the focus of the cultist's life as he progresses through the Mysteries.

Say WHAT? Why and based on what exactly? There´s a difference between what you can start with and what you can do in play.

Enigmatic Wisdom is not compatible beyond level 4 for the Gorgiastics (Enigmatic Wisdom outside the House). This is the clearest example of the link between Mystery powers and the vision of the Cult. See the virtue Gorgiastic in the Criamon chapter in HoH : MC.

The others its more for political and story excuses, but they make it clear its not going to happen. Folks can change saga to saga (see post 1 about very different approaches to Mysteries).

As a rule, the Houses are jealous and protective of their Mysteries. That's why they're Mystery Cults.

Those who leave to share have a nasty habit of ending up dead. Anyone who leaves Bjornaer for any reason is hunted and killed as a secret duty of the house, no questions asked. Verditius allows them to live, often, but only one ever shared a mystery beyond the House, and ended up very dead when they found out (the magus who shared the secret of Automata.)

Anyone outside the House who seeks the virtue must undergo the ritual mutilating the Gift, or be labled a thief of the House Secrets, i.e. very dead very fast.

Be warned - House Mystery virtues are tied to the vision and mission of each House. Leaving a Mystery House shows a stunting of the vision, and a challenge to the mission.

Neither lend themselved to long-lived magi with House virtues outside the Houses.

Except, again, for Enigmatic Wisdom.

You are right that there are strong social reasons why the Mystery Cult Houses might discourage magi from leaving the Cult House. But it is just a story opportunity (if the troupe wants to use it).

And there are lots of possible stories that it can result, for example:
your ex-House could declare Wizard War on you,your ex-House could decide that your power (or your allies' power) makes it too much bother to do anything,your ex-House could have (anti)-initiation scripts that remove the House Virtues,your ex-House could see you as a friendly contact/resource in your new House.

In RAW there is no game-mechanic reason why you can't leave a Mystery Cult and join another House. There is in fact no game-mechanic reason why you cannot join and resign from any combination of Mystery Cult and Societates Houses. For True Lineages, there is a restriction: your Master must have been a member of the True Lineage. Even that doesn't stop you resigning from a True Lineage and joining a (Mystery or Societates) House. It is the fact that you can switch Houses, but can't switch into a True Lineage that makes a True Lineage different.

As i recalled, that is wrong. (and just for once i actually had MC book to check)
"...The char. EW score cannot exceed 4 without the assistance of Criamon magi or a magical breakthrough..."
Who says there cannot be "assistance of Criamon magi"? That is very much not "not compatible", just difficult to get.

Mmm that´s what i thought.


a) Creating the Script (unless I'm reading wrong, the SG creates each Script, tailoring it to his/her own vision of the Mystery in question, true?)
b) Not making it too difficult for the Initiated. I don't want to unbalance the process, ruleswise.


You mean there is no reason except loyalty and mystery cults going to great (and a lot of times, illegal and/or violent) lengths to ensure that their secrets do not get outside their cult? :slight_smile: Leaving a cult is certainly a major story hook IMS.


Well, yes, since you're essentially writing a story :wink:
Try to imagine something that would work to give a person an experience - something that resonates with the virtue they are trying to initate.

Common elements involve traveling to a specific place - often a 'holy' place for the cult. This could be where the founder of the cult (or the person they wish to emulate) taught. This could be a place sacred to a god/-dess they venerate.

Ritual rebirth are bout the most common element other element I can think of.

Sacrifices are common, either of mundane valuables, magical valuables or your own self (flaws) - a form of symbolically 'buying' enlightenment/power from the world

This is so dependent on your group (characters and players both) that it's hard to help you with directly.
But we can offer suggestions!

  1. Tradition says the Hashashiyyin order had young men travel to a convenient place, were they were drugged and taken to a beautiful garden were they dallied for a bit and were then taken away. Some versions indicate that they were given delicious food and drink, and waited upon by beautiful you women.
    They were told they had visited paradise and that the surest way to return, was to die for their faith => instant martyr material.

  2. A character of mine (of house Tytalus, Titanoi cult) was challengedby his Pater to steal a specific item from another member of the cult "then I will teach you my secrets". This was a symbolic Quest (could have involved a journey as well). The member whose possesion he was to steal had specifically set up a situation to be challenging to a young magus, but not lethal. The idea was to test him, not kill him.
    When my character came out of the covenant building, he was struck by a Call to Slumber spell and buried alive in a hill in a magical aura.
    The challenge now was for him to come out of the grave by hmself/his own power, thus gong through ritual death and rebirth - in a way becomming his own father (thus not having anyone above him - a nice symbolism for that house).
    He did this by commanding the spirit of the hill to releae him/push him to the surface, thus showing his mastery of spirits - plenty of nice imagery here.

  3. (From a novel, taking place well before the fall of Rome) A man travelled to a cult site of one of the ancient mysteries and asked to become an initiate.
    He was then - on the proper day for the Goddes preciding there - taken into a building and given a rich feast.
    The feast was laced with drugs and so he fell asleep soon after eating.
    While asleep, he was given a shallow cut in the skin just above the heart.
    He then woke up in a dark hollow space. He was still addled by the drugs and hallucinating - this included a conversation with the ghost of his father.
    After some time (the lightless cave and the drugs delberately robbing him of all sense of time) he'd been reduced to a sobbing wreck.
    Then a torch was lighted, and 3 priests of the mysteries marched in, and offered him clean white clothes and took him from the cave through twisted passages to the surface.
    He was told he had died and been brought back to life by the virtue of the goddess - proof was presented in the (already scabbing and healing) cut to his heart.
    He then sworn an oath to the goddess, and went back to the other celebrants, for it was the Goddess' feast day.

  4. Warning! some might take offence at this, please don't, it's not the intention.
    Think of your typical western church wedding.
    You make a sacrifice of wealth and take vows before a priest/celebrant/mystagogue.
    The ceremony takes place in a specific place (local church) and has a number of ritual elements not directly involving the main event (eg. the traditions about what the bride should wear, the stag night and several others).
    The idea is to initiate the True Love virtue - but this usually fails because the celebrate doesn't have the required presence+mystery cult lore.

Well, yes, but it is also not exactly the right answer. Or rather, the correct answer to the wrong question?

There is an important difference between leaving a mystery cult (in favour of another) and belonging to more than one mystery cult.

If we see this purely in terms of the mystery cult houses, yes this is not too dissimilar, but in a more general view of mystery cults, there's a huge difference.

Leaving a cult is a major thing - many cults will insist that you cannot (it's said that you can be a good catholic or a bad catholic, but you can't be a former catholic. Praying to another god 5 times a day makes you a bad catholic, but you cannot top being a catholic according to this saying).

But you can be an initate (member) of several cults - assuming they will each accept you.

There´s also the option of giving the character a choice between more than one script, if you want to let the player have more control over what he wants to do to get the initiation.

I am a strong believer in customisation and optimalisation of mystery scripts, to a point.

Otherwise, you encourage players to custom-make their characters to fit the scripts cleanly - and end up with monotonous and unvaried Houses or cults.

For example:

A Bjornaer should, IMO be allowed to take Weak Enchanted and still have a reasonable shot at Sensory Magic.

A Bjornaer who starts with Study Requirement should still have a way to initiate the clan mysteries for Marhaus

Likewise, I loath mechanisms which grant "random" flaws - they can either be inconsequential or permanently crippling for a character, depending - lending to fairly bad imbalance.

After all, its not that difficult to modify a script mechanically, which speaks to it being easy magically as well. A strong mystagogue should be competent to modify scripts as needed to fit the character's needs.