I spent some time developing rules for mental labs as a new Arcane Ability, a hermetic breakthrough. They turned out to be really good for inventing spells and possibly for teaching, but not good for much else. I still think it’s a useful idea and I mostly stalled on it because I couldn’t think of a good Latin name for the new arcane ability. What would Hermetic magi call it?
Jason, could you post your rules for Mental Constructs as an Arcane Ability, please? I'd be very curious to see them.
For sure! You’re very kind to ask. After some development, this is my current draft.
Museum (New Arcane Ability)
You have learned how to create a sophisticated imaginary place in your own mind where you can perform certain lab activities, known in the order as a “museum”. Your museum exists solely in your own imagination and you must concentrate to access it. You decide the physical appearance of your museum, and every time you improve your score in this Ability, you can change your museum’s appearance.
Ordinarily, only you can enter your museum. However, you can grant access to your museum to a number of individuals equal to your Museum score. These individuals must be willing, they must concentrate, and you must touch them to grant them entry; their minds remain in your museum for as long as they and you concentrate and are willing. While other individuals are inside your museum, treat your Museum score as 3 less (minimum 0). Other individuals might enter your museum through supernatural means, but they must overcome your magic resistance to do so, and can only be in it when you are concentrating on it.
When you use your museum for a laboratory activity, add 5 times your Museum score to your lab total. Other laboratory modifiers do not apply, but you can be assisted by anyone who is also present in your museum (such as an apprentice or familiar), and aura modifiers still apply.
When you perform laboratory activities in your museum, you produce imaginary lab texts which those within your museum can use. By concentrating, you can access these lab texts from the physical world.
You can use your museum to invent spells or teach. You can use your museum to enchant items or enchant the familiar bond, with some important caveats. Enchantment in a museum does not require real vis, because you create imaginary vis as necessary, but the result of your enchantment exists only in your museum, not the physical world. You do, however, produce an imaginary lab text for the enchantment and can later repeat the enchantment in the real world or copy your lab texts for others to use.
You can experiment in your museum, but the consequences of a failed experiment in your own mind should not be taken lightly.
Museum can only be learned by Gifted characters with a Magic Theory of 3 or higher. Specialties: any single Art (Arcane)
Contrary to the general topic of this thread, my intent was not to make a mental lab where I could do everything a regular lab can do. Labs are fun locations and part of our genre, and getting rid of them would be a net loss. Instead, I “leaned in” to what mental constructs can do, to make a specialized tool.
A mental construct lab can be highly specialized. Even at Size 0, it can grant a +15 bonus to inventing spells. I spent a long time figuring out the bonus it could grant at various Sizes, and ultimately decided a “+5 for every 1 score of the new Ability” was actually not unreasonable and might even be undervaluing it. This made it feel similar to Parma, and it was while writing it up in official language that I got the idea of stealing the way Parma can be loaned to others.
Museum was invented by a maga who suffered trauma before entering the Order and who subconsciously “blanked out” or rewrote her childhood memories as a defense mechanism. She learned the Art of Memory as part of her House Guernicus training, to better remember crime scenes, investigation, and the Code. When she eventually realized her own memories were false, she became interested in integrating the Art of Memory into Hermetic society in a more generally and useful way, and latched onto the idea of combining the mundane “memory palace” with a Hermetic “mental construct” to create an imaginary laboratory. The real breakthrough was integrating aspects of the Parma Magica into these imaginary laboratories, allowing others to join the maga in the laboratory and assist them.
Museum is a straight-forward “power up” for Hermetic magi. It makes spells easier to learn, teaching more effective, and enchantments easier to replicate. As a result, magi have more spells and invent spells of higher magnitude. Apprentices who are taught season-by-season, instead of gaining 30 XP per year, will be even better than they already were. Magi with advanced museums rent their services to clients, creating lab texts for very powerful effects and enchantments. The museum is interesting roleplay space. Despite these advantages, museums cannot do all the things laboratories do, and so remain a supplement to traditional labs.
I do rather like the idea of it. My first instinct is that +5 per level of the ability is really powerful, though upon second viewing, I realized that I rarely actually use the presented lab rules in Covenants, so my expected numbers are deeply skewed. I really don't know what you can expect in lab bonuses for a size +2 lab, or size +0 lab, once you start modifying it. But here's some other numbers I thought of:
- If you Museum score is 3 or less, it does nothing if you get help (apprentice, other magi, familiar).
- If you have a familiar, and your familiar bonus is more than +15, its better to not have him help.
- If using the Lab customization rules, Museum is effectively a lab specialized in every art, every form, every activity. It cannot produce final products, such as distilled vis or enchanted items.
- If you see a saga where magi regularly help each other out in the lab for huge bonuses, this is a hell of a tradeoff; If you are in sagas where magi rarely help each other out in the lab, then this ability becomes better. Every Bjornaer wants it; a few seasons of practice is basically a +10 to all lab totals.
Now that my biased numerical opinion is done, here's my thematic issues:
- The ability to pull willing people into your lab with a touch and a thought seems weird to me. This ability seems to roll in 'telepathic communion' with the ability to build memory palaces. I would argue this isn't a proper theme for an Arcane ability, feels more like a Supernatural. Doing it with spells is probably more appropriate, but that's just an opinion on what I like Mythic Europe to feel like.
- Since labs are fun and mental labs are meant to be labs, I would suggest that you just have the lab's size be based on the level of the ability. Build their own mental lab, and they can put in anything they've studied sufficiently as part of it. That also gives a reason for them to go around and adventure and study things. They can include enchanted items in their lab by studying the lab texts for those items (or experiencing them sufficiently).
Thanks for reading and for your feedback
Having the lab’s Size equal to your score in Museum is, in fact, how I began. And a Size 0 mental construct lab can grant a +15 bonus to inventing spells. It gets even higher from there. I simplified it down to “+5 lab total per point of Museum” so that a player did not have to learn the lab customization rules to use this ability.
Allowing people into your museum by touching and concentrating is, indeed, a bit weird. But I did it because it’s similar to extending your Parma over someone, and quite frankly it’s easier to run a game when everyone can go into your mental lab, than when only one person can. It’s a playability decision.
I kind of agree with you here, but then I look at what Parma magica can do, and using the logic of your above point Parma magica should definitely be a supernatural ability too. Maybe it is arcane because it is a supernatural ability that has been integrated into hermetic magic and thus is exempt from the normal penalty on learning supernatural abilities?
I can't argue about your playability decisions, or the numbers when you build your own lab - I've admitted I don't know the latter numbers at all. Sharing your lab could easily be a spell, though - Creo Mentem base base 4 (put a thought into another's mind) or base 5 (create a memory), with an intellego requisite to get their input on the process. Let's be honest, if I could drag people into my lab with such ease, I'd just use that ability to have private conversations all the time.
I certainly got the impression that it's because Parma was integrated into hermetic magic, in fact Parma Magica came before Hermetic Magic. And other Supernatural abilities stop getting the penalties once they've been initially learned.