Mood of Hermetic politics and dealings

Hi all

I'm in the earliest stages of prepping for a new game and I'm pondering how I run hermetic politics. I've usually seen it done very amicably, with the occassional disagreement. Real schemers tend to be obvious baddies. Most Magi get along, share their spells and books in exchange for vis or other spells and books.

But is this the only way to do it? I've long considered the idea that hermetic politics is deadly and that the order is the only thing stopping magi from gunning each other dead in the street like they used to. In this sense politics and tribunals will be thinly veiled threats of violence, merciless politicing to deny enemies vis sources and other resources and scheming to isolate vulnerable magi from the protection of the code so that they can be attacked and robbed of their books/vis/stuff. Older more powerful magi would be arch enemies with each other but enforce a kind of mutually understood "keep the young mages away from power" attitude.

This would make it harder to advance since there would be less trading in books and vis, but would force players to be more active about getting what they need which means the plots virtually write themselves.

What is the mood of hermetic politics and cultures in your game?

Removing the willing open exchange of resources and massively ramping the hostility is actually counter to why the Order was founded and takes things back most of the way to before the Order existed. The Order would not have made it even half as long as it has if that was the way things actually worked.

While politics and and should be dangerous, most of the Magi have little to no interest in taking part in it. They are not nobles playing the game of houses or warriors seeking to crush their enemies on the battlefield. They are scholars and philosophers, seeking to expand and improve their knowledge. Granted that knowledge directly correlates to power for Magi, but without a willingness and open sharing of knowledge actually gaining more personal power becomes exponentially harder.

Why would any Magi bother even writing a book? Doing so is worthless to increasing their personal knowledge/power and having the book makes them a target for other Magi. Massively decreased availability of books means the only reliable way to increase your Arts is to study from vis. So all the areas with poor vis availability would mostly become deserted.

So you would have to rewrite much of the Orders history and several of the Houses. Bonisagas in particular as written basically makes your vision impossible. Can't have a house which requires sharing all of their knowledge and research if you want to play things with a "mean and dirty" edge across the board.

Personally I see both of these things existing side by side, realistically.

There are two things I think would have a big impact on the social structure of the order: First, the master-apprentice model and the increasing power of magi (and covenants) as they age would, imo, inevitably lead to a lot of patron-client type relationships. Very Roman, which some magi probably quite like. This is not only a likely social order as I see it, it's actually the legal reality in some tribunals like Normandy.

Older magi, or more powerful groups of magi, might "help" a weaker magus/group quite freely - but the expectation is that they follow the lead of the patron and support their positions. "Help" and "collaboration" are more likely to happen when there is a power imbalance, with the more powerful party using their generosity to shape younger magi to their way of thinking.

Second Hermetic society is very splintered. You have houses, mystery cults, lineages, covenants - all with sometimes overlapping, sometimes opposed goals and different views on the sharing of knowledge and resources. For me this means society in the order would inevitably have a strongly cliquey nature. You have in groups and out groups. The in groups cooperate to varying degrees internally, but much less with those outside the group.

However individual magi may be members of more than one group and have complex conflicting loyalties - a Magus might be a member of house Flambeau, but also a member of the neo-Mercurian mystery cult. What happens when another Flambeau is in opposition to the neo-Mercurians? Hard decisions have to be made, and bridges burned. The older magi get the smaller their in-group gets and the more enemies they accumulate (or at least the more friends they lose).

So to answer the initial question the vibe of politics and society varies a lot depending on what group and how high level. To give some (non-comprehensive) examples. These are just based on some groups that have featured in the political side of my most recent saga:

House Bonisagus internally - Very collegiate. A lot of genuine sharing and collaboration. Until someone thinks they are on to a big breakthrough and then suddenly things become a lot more tense. But even then violence between Bonisagi is rare.

House Verditius internally - Complete opposite. Secrecy, pride, and envy are the name of the game. Vendettas are common. Most Verditii are involved in a complex web of enemies and "an enemy of my enemy..." relationships. Everything short of open violence is not only common but approved of. The exception is that within confraternities and certain lineages there is more of a cooperative culture towards initiating members into the mysteries. Stouritus the new Primus has caused the house to split into two factions who might end up in open conflict.

House Jerbiton internally - Very friendly and cooperative. Even more so than Bonisagi. Good relationships with other houses too. The rise of the Antigones is causing a rift within the house however, and they are drifting towards a more aggressive culture.

House Flambeau internally - There is a culture of camaraderie and spirited competition, but Flambeau are one of the houses most willing to engage in actual combat or even wizard's war. There are several sub-cultures within the house who have complex relations with each other. Despite being generally far more friendly with each other it's more common for a Flambeau to kill another Flambeau than for a Verditius to kill a Verditius they have a Vendetta with.

Neo-Mercurian mystery cult - Has members in every house (some more than others) and cooperates closely internally. Mercurian magic and theurgy leads this cult to often have more in common with mercurians from other houses than with magi of their own house. Bitterly opposed to divine influence in the order, and has enemies across many houses because of this.

The Stonehenge Tribunal - Pretty calm in terms of violence. Wizard's Wars are rare. Split into several bitterly opposed political factions with Blackthorn and Voluntas as the two most prominent covenants. A great deal of intrigue and vicious politics (power plays, blackmail, lawsuits, and a lot of slander), but stopping just short of violence.

The Hibernian Tribunal - On the verge of open war between the native Hibernian and the "English" factions. Some magi are literally ignoring the code and killing each other with impunity. The Tremere exarch (Goliard of Blackthorn IMS) is trying to prevent a war breaking out and initiate peaceful legal reforms, but another Tremere faction is undermining her from Coeris and assisting the Tytali in sparking open conflict. Total powder keg.

I think that it's best for these disputes and cut-throat politics to not be 100% the norm order-wide so as to not accidently restrict yourself by invalidating the canon content written about a particular area or group. But within (or between) individual tribunals, or between specific groups, it can work very well.

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I've always thought if anything the order are too fractured as written. The gift is horrible for social interactions. A -3 to everything, and the descriptions given on page 76 are brutal.

Before they start their apprenticeships, many magi would have been shunned, attempts to burn, drown, whatever them because they are an abomination, their family kicked out of a village, the parents dumping them on another family member because they had to think of their other children.

A magi's early years would be terrifying. They know they are an unwanted burden dragging down everyone around them, and unless the magi's mother was a saint, she'd be mean to her own child.

An adult magi while living a privileged position would still remember some of those formative years, not to mention being reminded of the hatred the normals have every time they go amongst mundanes. While magi are powerful, they know it can come crashing down.

I'm surprised they don't do more to shore up the order's power as the collapse of the order is a train wreck for any magi. They should make stronger apprentices by having well trained mundane teachers to do the boring teaching latin, and other mundane skills. More mundanes copying the best books. All it takes is a few people to be more willing to be generous in sharing books on the deal the other party is generous as well, and once a tipping point is reached, anyone who doesn't join in the book sharing falls behind. A strong order is better for all magi.

I did do a thread months ago where I posited a much more collegiate approach to making young post apprenticeship magi much stronger, and a more friendly order.

from my perspective, you need to start with multiple objectives for multiple people which cannot be simultaneously satisfied. Most of these should be a matter of opinion as to what is best for the order. Now add plotting and scheming for each to try and bend things their own way in the long run. Ideally over multiple tribunals the players will start scheming themselves.

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short answer: Certainly not.

I think this sounds like an interesting idea, and you can certainly do things that way.

If I were to design things like what you want to, I would start by answering the following questions:

  1. What prevents this hypothetical setting from exploding into open and uncontrolled violence?
  2. How do young/weak/lonesome magi stay alive in this setting?
  3. What role does the code of hermes play in all this?

Regarding question 1, answers could include something like a doctrine similar to the cold war Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine or it could be a complex web of interconnected alliances, feuds, debts etc. Maybe there are sufficiently many powerful magi that if one of them attacks another, then a third will always try to exploit the weakness of the attacker and so the peace is kept.

Regarding 2: Again numerous interesting options. Perhaps the one I find most interesting is that in this setting it is attractive for a weak magus to become indebted to a powerful one because the holder of the debt will want to keep the indebted magus alive to ensure that the debt can be paid. Another obvious solution proposed by others is a system of patronage where weaker magi must subordinate themselves to a more powerful one for protection.

regarding 3. You will have to figure out what role the law plays in all this. Is it a facade or a joke only there because no one has bothered to get rid of it yet? Is it an uneasy pact made and kept by those in power to ensure that they can meet on neutral ground without blowing each other up?

there are many ways to answer these questions, and each combination of answers will give rise to interesting plots.

What you describe is far from how I like to imagine the order, but if you, as a GM proposed the setting to me as a player I would be interested in playing it.

As a curious side effect I think the setting you describe would more naturally tend towards the rates of XP gain proposed in the core book. As opposed to the more generous advancement that seems to be the natural consequence of an order composed of cooperative magi. But take this with a huge grain of salt since I have not done any math to back up my claim.

Amicable? Open sharing of resources? No way!

Never even for a second have seen the Order played in that way. In most of the games I have played or run the Order was either a reflection of the feudal order or of current day academia. The two main scenarios would run always like this:

  • The Order as a feudal polity : the main argument is that magi for all their hermetic work have not developed any political thought of their own and therefore the way they understand power and relations would closely monitor what they have seen in the mundane world. Also the nature of the magical studies, where age almost always equals power, would reinforce a tiered structure where the personal relations with the wielders of power determine ones values. And as a consequence where the break of those relations might generate constant but low intensity outbursts of localized private violence.
  • The Order as academia : this might be due to the type of players and storytellers I have come across but many modelled the Order workings to the way that superior education works in Europe and the USA. For sure there will be no open violence but plenty of groveling, forcing people’s hands through the abuse of rules and backroom deals. You need access to a vis source for your desired enchantment item? For sure someone will be willing to do so if you first accept to spend some seasons commenting their tractati.
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I'm sorry, but after reading your Herbam summa, I found no reference to my summa or my tractatii on the topic, I do not feel like you are giving the important contributors to the field sufficient credit. I believe that the Rose of Fontebloie vis source could be used by someone more respectful of the Order's traditions.

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Usually it'll be less obvious than this, but yeah.