Mystery cults can't be too tyrannical

I've found a post on the Berklist that it seemed to me as worthy of an adequate response, if nothing else because it continues a discussion the OP and me have had on the issue, but for whatever reason (no doubt linked to recurring bad troubles with sending posts at the address I unwisely and absentmindedly :frowning: chose for subscribing, or my poor understanding of the technical facts of posting at a mailing list), my message can't seem to get uploaded . So I'm forced to bring it to the forum instead and stay a list lurker. Profuse apologies to the poster (Caribet) and all the list subscribers and forumites (which however, it is my impression generally are one and the same). :blush: Can one change the e-mail address used to subscribe to the Berklist ??

Message: 4
Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2006 08:32:31 +0100
From: Saxum Caribetum
Subject: Re: [ARS] Re: A New Mystery Cult

One of the bits I hoped to get across in TMRE, and which has either
failed to get across, or hit jangling crossed-nerves on the AG Forum, is
precise the non-Bargaining aspect.

Neil, your point has gotten across clearly and nicely. It's the interpretation that you advocate that is contentious and disliked, because it comes across as harmful to some playing styles, and contradictory to a reasonable interpretation of the Hermetic setting. It's the same kind of reaction that the changes to House Criamon has caused. The book is very good in so many aspects, up and including its heavily customizable "toolkit" approach (or so it comes across). Wouldn't it better to leave each individual group to decide how to deal with this aspect in individual sagas and not to press the issue ?

I never saw (most) Cults as susceptible to "negotiation" as to the
Virtues you get, nor the Flaws/Ordeals. They aren't for the convenience
of the Initiate, but for the Path of the Cult.

Besides the fact this heavily conflicts with some playing styles, there's the fact that this doesn't really makes sense, given the mindset of the typical Hermetic magus. It makes no sense for the average magus, proud, jealous of independence, and caring his own magical power as the only thing above life itself, to meekly go into Initiation unless having being an accurate and detailed account of the process, including Virtues, Quests, sacrifices, and Ordeals and giving full and free assent. It would make far less sense than for a modern person to submit to a surgical operation in the blind, without being given adequate information. And a careless mystagogue that would cripple an adept's magical power without complete, informed assent, risks far worse consequences than a suit for malpractice: it would be a very good case for seriously "depriving a mage of magical power", and the mystagogue would seriously risk being Marched !

A mage would want to know how the process would affect his gift and magical practice first and foremost, and in the case the price is seen as too high, would likely walk away. The adept is a full hermetic magus in most cases, not a lowly apprentice, so it sees the mystagogue eye-to-eye. if the deal does not convince him, he's free to walk away and renounce membership in the cult. So it is in the Mystagogue's interest, too being reasonable and seeking a sensible compromise with the initiate. This doesn't mean catering to the spoiled tantrums of sniveling initiates that want to "cheat" the process and dodge making a real sacrifice (which would invalidate the process), but being open to sensible and reasonable requests for picking an alternate script or trying an impromptu variation when the specific ordeal would cripple the initiate without any reasonable proportion to the benefit gained and it is not indispensable and insostituible to fulfill the ideals of the cult in a meaningful way.
In some cases (e.g. swearing a Vow or accepting a Prohibition or Dutybound or a personality Flaw that would fulfill the cult's ideals) is clearly indispensable and not open to negotiations and if the initiate does not want it, the only recourse is a different cult, self-initiation, or experimentation.
In many cases, the specific Ordeal may look like it's only peripherally related to the cult's ideals and was picked because it was the first thing that the mystagogue that experimented it came up with a decent sympathy to the initiation and can be in all likelihood substituted with equally sympathetic variant flaws of equal value. E.g. in all likelihood, a specific Deficiency to Fire is only peripherally related to the Initiation in a cult that focuses on Nature, and could likely be substituted with several other ordeals without making the process devoid of value (e.g. a Deleterious Circumstances of being in a City, a Social Handicap, a Deficiency with Mentem, and so many others). What irks in your standing is that you sound like you expect the average Mystagogue to be absolutely unwilling and uncaring even in the latter case, and rigidly willing to go along with the specific procedure no matter the consequences, just for the sake of sadistic conformity. It does not seem IC reasonable for the mystagogue to act so, nor for the adept to accept being treated this way.

Frankly, if your aims contradict the sacrifices established in a cult, you're in the wrong cult.

This is plain and good. It would be a case of mistaken expectations, and then the likely outcome would be of the initiate balking away at the Initiation, and respectfully decline admittance and walking away.

I you are in a Water oriented Cult, and are a Fire Wizard, you
personally may resent the suggestion of giving up your Fire powers -
indeed it may "cripple" your magic - but it's what the Cult sees as

well, in a clear-cut and extreme situation like this, and the group's magical focus is directly and radically antithetic to the adept's magical specialization, it would be the case above (misunderstanding about the cult's nature) and the would-be adept would realize the error and walk away well before initiation. The mage approached the wrong cult. The contention is not about this. It is when the group's focus and ideals would be compatible with the adept's specialization, and it's only that specific Ordeal that would cripple him, out of reason and proportion, and it could be substituted with another of equal sympathetic value. Apart from the fact that a Water cult is likely not a fitting place for a Fire specialist, why is the Cult asking for crippling the power of Fire ? Is is why it is a central tenet of the cult that they see Fire as dangerous and unbalance and in need of being restricted ? then it's indispensable. Or is it why the Ordeal must be about improving "water-ness" in a general sympathetic sense, and reducing fire, because it's the opposite element, fits ? If so, there's so many different possible variants that might be used to uphold the "water" ideal, from a deficiency in Terram to a prohibition to use Perdo Water to a Vow to always live in a day's travel from a body of water you can't jump across or whatever. The body of contention is that you seem to suggest that even in the latter case, the Mystagogue should be expected to stonewall and refuse any substitution, no matter how reasonable, and insist to go with the letter of the script, for no reason except mindless conformity. Given that a Mystagogue and the adept are Hermetic magi, ie. magical scholar/scientists that typically value freedom and magic above life itself and have sworn an oath under penalty of death to do the same in their fellows, it does not appear why the mystagogue should be expected to behave so, or the adept to go along with it.

On the other hand, if the Cult sees the sacrifice as "accept a
deficiency in a Form to gain a XXX", they may not be fussed about the
Form. By 1220 they probably have a box of scripts for this Ordeal, and
are prepared to Vary the script if they don't have the "right" one for

Exactly here, it is the core of the dissension. You sound like this should be seen as the absolute, almost unheard of, exception, and pleads to do this should be expected to be stubbornly refused by the Mystagogue, for no good reason except to enforce absolute dogmatic conformity among the group. When "bargaining" and "pre-initiation counsel sessions" are advocated, it's just about the initiate being explained the nature and features of the initiation beforehand, and the mystagogue being open-minded to sensible substitution requests like this. You seem to have in mind the case of the weak-willed, submissive, ignorant, or naive loser victims of historical cults that sheepishly accepted whatever arbitrary, bizarre, and abusive practice from cult leaders just because of leader's charisma, or a desperate need to belong, or in the hope of being given any flimsy chance at empowerment or a better life. An hermetic magus is nowhere like this. Quite the opposite. A mystagogue that wanted to pull a Jim Jones or David Koresh would be seen like a dangerous madman, the equivalent a modern surgeon asking the patient to blindly trust him without informed consent and go along with specific procedure just because "it's the book", or "it's always been done this way" regardless of the patient's wishes or the actual harm-benefit ratio, and the average magus would have an even more hostile reaction than a litigation-happy patient.

The average magus is exceedingly unlikely to have the victim mentality of the "cult adept" in the pejorative sense, quite the opposite, and no real reasons to develop one, except for personal psychological fragility (which would make quite unlikely to survive apprenticeship). They go into a cult because it seems like a nice and interesting place to meet like-minded peers, develop one's magic capabilities, and follow an appealing cause or ideal. They bring and keep their common sense and self-interest with them. They are pragmatic, proud, fiercely independent, driven, massively empowered persons. They do not need leaders or feel like they belong. The vast majority of the Children of Hermes go and stay because the cult leader seems like a good chance at Bonisagus II, not because of his charisma. They sometimes go diabolist because infernal magi gain proven massive power and it seems a good bargain, not because they need Satan to give meaning or hope to their lives. They have overabundance already. No amount of an author's sympathy with historical cults can change these basic facts of the setting.

The initiate (character) is not in a strong position - the Cult,
represented by the Mystagogue should be the one to dictate terms.

Untrue. The magus is not under any obligation to join or remain in the group, unless they are willing to go all the way to Wizard's War to silence the magus, and it is quite unlikely that the Order would tolerate this except in the case of a rogue that blatantly sells the cult's secrets to the highest bidder. A cult that routinely targets simple dissidents would be quickly seen as too dangerous to exist and exterminated. The Bjornaer try to pull this stunt, having the huge clout of a whole House, and are putting themselves in the position of the Diedne because of their paranoid secretiveness. Go figure how a single cult would fare. So the Mystagogue has no real bargaining chip except to withhold the benefits of the initiation, which puts initiate and mystagogue on a level field. Initiate loses the boon, and has to seek another cult, unearth a script, and self-initiate a variant, or experiment. The mystagogue loses an adept, ie manpower, influence, membership dues, and a fresh perspective. The Orders numbers are not huge, and so the ranks of the average cults, so any mage counts. Be too extreme at this, and the cult dies out. So the likely outcome is a reasonable reciprocal compromise. The average Mystagogue likely won’t be Mother Theresa, but isn’t in the position to be Charles Manson, either.

Some of the Forum discussions do, I think, confuse the player choice and
character choice here...

Not true. This post is all about explaining because in this case, the OOC concerns of the player closely mirror the IC ones of the typical Hermetic magus.

Come on, this is a beautiful book, can't you see it can work quite fine even without the Masonic trappings and the fascist Mystagogues ? Mysteries can stand and thrive even if they don't use hoods and leaders can't go tyrannical.

What I see as the disconnect between you and Neil is the nature of that toolkit.

Characters can adjust and invent scripts but I don't think that it was the intention that any imaginable “rules legal” script should be possible in the setting.

Deciding upon what components should make up a script for a given virtue was apparently intended to be a matter of discussion for the players, not necessarily the characters. The characters are researching like crazy to find even one way to accomplish their goal. The players know that it is their game and that anything they want to have work can work.

Your discussion speaks from the position that the character believes that all legal options are open to him in the same way that they are open to him when designing a spell.

If the rules are only providing a set criteria that all initiations have to meet rather than describing a set of criteria that, if met, will guarantee an initiation; then scripts become things of greater value within the setting and the power of the Mystagogue might be enough to give him a position of strength.

(Not that it’s important to the discussion but my feeling is that a setting where the universe is sufficiently flexible to allow characters to gain a virtue in any way that satisfies the requirements of the Mysteries rules is a setting where mysteries are not really mysterious and it is a setting with a bit less awe and wonder. My opinion may be influencing my reaction to Wanderer’s posts.)

On a different subject - To say that Neil's conception clashes with established play styles is, I believe, a bit off the mark. Were you really having people creating whatever initiations the characters would have wanted before you got your hands on the book? Perhaps you were, but if so I would guess your group to be a rare exception rather than representative of a significant proportion of the game's players. Mystery cult creation rules are something new to the published material and I don't see how they're in contradiction with anyone's established play style unless that play has already involved mystery cult creation.

It is a basic assumption of the setting that, apart from the Greater Limits (maybe), any other possible feat of magic that makes sense in the cosmology can be developed by an Hermetic magus, given enough time, effort, and talent. Initiation Scripts are nothing but a specialized form of hermetic research, not radically different in nature by developing spell or going for a breakthrough (actually, researching for a breakthrough and researching for an Initation Script are different methods of doing the same thing). And if the Realms of Magic and Faerie can spontaneously grant a Virtue, it is a logical assumption that an hermetic magus can replicate it... eventually. This includes coming to the same result from several different ways, if they all make sense in the magical sympathetic-symbolic way.

My assumptions come from reasoning about the nature of Hermetic magic. The fact that they vibe with my playing preferences and my sensibilities (my secular scientific (trans-)humanist mindset makes me in tune to the stand of the Hermetic magus as magical scholar/scientist, and the open-ended, inclusive nature of Bonisagus' system) only makes me more keen to them, I believe.

What you say makes absolute sense from the player's POV. From the character's POV, they know that if they put enough talent, time, resources, and effort, they can churn out 3, 4, or 6 possible ways. It's just a matter of whether they find the first possible result acceptable, and whether they'd prefer to go for the alternative. And it's a bsic fact of hermetic magic that you can always build on and find insights and shortcuts from previous research. Modifying a spell, item, ritual or script isn't so hard as doing it from scratch.

What OOC are "legal" options IC means options/methods that make sense, and hence are theoretically possible, allowed by the cosmology of the setting and the physics of the magic system, and only in need of being developed. The "physics" of ME allow it. What's a magus need to do is to actualize it, find the method, develop the technology, to follow the analogy. The whole mindset of Hermetic training assures a mage that if something looks like it can be done, a magus can do it, if he cares to put the necessary research effort in it. Moreover, the whole history of the order proves that this assumption is basically right. Researching a spell, a ritual, an item, a breakthrough, an Initiation Script, they all hearken to the same basic process, it's the details that differ.

Again this appears to me obvious consequences of the hermetic mindset.

I skip from commeting on this bit since I don't get what your point is here.

Well, we are talking about the most subjective and elusive thing here, feelings, here, but my sensibilities tell me that a setting that allows the maximum possible broadth of potential for growth, freedom, complexity, flexibility, and vastness gives the greatest sense of awe, wonder, and respect. Again, probably it is the case of my RL secular (trans-)humanist scientific sensibilities influencing me, but I see awe and wonder in seemingly-infinite potential for discovery, growth, development, and understanding. Arbitrary limitations, prohibitions and unknowns give me nothing but uneasiness, annoyance, contempt, and the strong desire to overcome and break them.

Well, HoH:MC has been out for some months, and it brings skeleton Initiation rules and scripts examples for those Mysteries, so tentative ideas have been thrown out, yes, about initations and scripts and customized cults and subgroups, using HoH:MC and corebook V/Fs as well. It was all mostly speculative, since we all eventually acknowledged that it was best to wait for TMRE to come out as well, and then fully integrate both books, but my ideas about mysteries seem to get an open ear. Especially when I fed my DVD copy of Kung Fu Cult Master in the player and said "That's the way we ought to do Mysteries !!"

It's an interesting discussion I must admit, and I seem to agree the most with Wanderer. A Player might say that "OK, i really don't like Auram magics so i can take a Deficiency in that, or maybe a minor Curse... yeah, that sounds good!" The Character would then be going through the motions of discussing his initiation with his Mystagogue or trying to research a Script himself. Say one sect demands that you gauge out an eye to get to join (yes Ferretz, I have a thing for eye gouging) well, what if that character started out with one eye? Is he then really expected to blind himself totally (a Major Flaw) or can he get away with taking a deficiency in Imaginem? Or getting disfigured as he no longer is allowed to hide his black gaping eye socket? Being blind (expecially if it's caused by superantural things covered by the Essential Nature rule) is a LOT worse than a simple Missing Eye. Also, if the character was attempting to discover this Script for himself, he'd probably use a metaphysical way of interperating words, gestures and actions. Say the Sacrifice demanded that the Magus were to "give up part of your sight", and the common interpretation of this would be to poke out an eye with a red-hot cinder. Wll, reading it alone, the Magus (being of Strong Faery Blood) obviously fin it refers either to his ability to see in the dark, or to hi Second Sight Virtue, so he sacrifices that instead. Entirely rational, yes? Aside from these examples (as close to semantics as they were) the rules of the game are very open. So everything SHOULD be possible.

Course, the Mystagogue probably wouldn't accept just any sacrifice, he is after all the guardian of an ancient and powerful magical secret... But if the Initiate decides to try and Initiate himself, then anything should be allowed really. (long as it fits... taking Ability Block - Logic while trying to teach yourself Sacret Architecture or Numerology would be ... dumb)

Ob.Disclaimer - your saga mileage may vary - each to his own.

This long ramble is not to criticise Wanderer's position, nor even to argue against it - indeed at the end you will find some arguments in favour - but instead to try to lay out why TMRE is how it is and why/how it fits other marts of ME (a I see the other books.)

What we wrote reflects the general projection of the game - of a Mythic Europe not too dissimilar to our own history, but with myths made real. As such, Mythic Europe is layered around power structures - the Church and its hierarchies, the Nobility and the hierarchy of landed and military power, and in our game, a similar strucutre: the Order of Hermes and some hierarchy of power based on magical prowess and age. (Not jsut literal age, but the ties, influence and privileges acquired over years.)

The Houses of the Order, the relations within and between Houses; and the Tirbunals made up of Covenants; and Covenants with their Charters - all speak of power and ties. Even the parens and filius reflect power and obligations, and the very Oath lists some of these.

Into this we inject Mysteries Cults - groups of magi with hidden secrets and powers. We describe a range of views on how these might fit, both into a saga and into ME, but our assumption is that largely they continue to reflect the structure arount them. So we describe them as built around a hierarchy of power: the senior members are powerful, and there are mid-power and low-power members. There may (or not) be a hierarchy made explicit, with ranks or names or degrees. Either way, the power differences are real.

So the world of the game seems to us to have all these features - and above all it is not a world of freedom (of choice or person) nor of democracy. It is different to our own - which is part of what makes it interesting to explore.

Then we come to look at the Saga and Troupe - here the natural relationship is inverted - Ars Magica encourages democracy and equality, and to blur and rub-out thehierarchy. The story-guide "guides" stories with the approval of the Troupe - an in many troupes, the players take turns to perform these roles for the advancement of the game.
The players also often have multiple characters - perhaps simply magus, companion & grogs, but perhaps also they may play additional game characters outside the covenant. (Sometimes as Beta-Sg and their NPCs, sometimes as additional PCs).

It is natural for the troupe to share out and discuss goals and opportunities for players and for their characters - but it has always seemed to me that the important part of role-playing it to play out roles - to note that the various characters portrayed are at different stages in their lives, and in different positions and powers within Mythic Europe.

This is why I see the Mystery Cults as projecting a path set out by the senior magi, where they induct lesser magi as probationers and junior initiates - it is a natural way of thinking in ME. In that writers' vision, the cult sets out options and draws in those it chooses to reveal itself to; they in turn often know little of what is ahead of them. (Good thing too, as some cults have a lot to hide!)

Erik Tyrell makes a point which I must agree with, too - the "toolkit" of TMRE is definitely aimed at players - those outside the game, who can see a broader pattern than those inside it. It enables their characters to make changes, to grow and develop cults, but it was indeed never our intention that a "normal" saga would offer each and every possible Virtue - but that there would be holes and gaps. Even the listed sample cults we say "don't use all of these!".

Now we return to the "Your Mileage May Vary" - Wanderer and some others have a vision of a very different world, one that is fun to play in, but which appears to differ from the core in a some ways. The biggest difference would seem to be the primacy of player characters... The question as to whether there is anything special about "player characters" or whether they are just like all others. There's nothing "wrong" about a "PC Glow" campaign, but most of the ArM writing assumes that there is no "PC glow" -- and there can be a special "kick" from playing such a game. (Most competing games seem at be designed around PC Glow, so it's obviously popular!)
Here you would expect the sorts of interactions Wanderer suggests - a PC magus would expect a smooth Initiation path, which best suits that character; sacrifices are real, but chosen to help the character develop and grow. The cult will eventually benefit, as there will be powerful PC magi running it, and it will rise supreme over all other cults.
(I susspect that both the PC First and the "standard" Cult share the view that their Cult will inevitably rise to be the best and most powerful - nothing different there.)

It's an interesting discussion I must admit, and I seem to agree the most with Erik ( :smiley: - sorry my fellow northerner, guess it's a standard of our two countries classic rivalry..).

I concur the important watershed between player and character options and choices - and there might be plenty reasons of a player not being interested in certain flaw combos or the players (primarily the SG)constructing Cults to fit their saga, but when it comes to the characters themselves my preference is clerly in favor of having the existing Cults, whether created by the players/SG or not, being tyrranical practicing sadistic conformity.

I recognise that the tool-kit allows you any Cult construction you prefer and I recognise the "basic assumption of the setting that, apart from the Greater Limits (maybe), any other possible feat of magic that makes sense in the cosmology can be developed by an Hermetic magus, given enough time, effort, and talent"(Wanderer) - but I do dislike the notion of aliking this in any way to science as in your "stand of the Hermetic magus as magical scholar/scientist"(Wanderer). I grant that the magus surely do "research" but my objection is in making magic scientific in the sense of the inherent assumptions of laws of causality - because even though there are laws and limits within Hermetic magic and even if Bonisagus system is generelisable, which besides the Parma has been a basic of its succes, magic still isn't subject to laws in a scientific sense - to me that would entail a completely different and wonderless approach to the magic of Mythic Europe. Simply put I find that it undermines the mystery... Magic needs to stay unpredictable and elusive - especially when the focus moves from the creations in the lab to the initiation into mysteries. That's in essence what makes them mysterious.

And in making this argument I'll state that this goes for the mysteries themselves. Yes, the tool-kit enables any possible build - but this is for the players and SGs of ars - or for the wannabe mystagogue of his own newly created cult, with all the prepatory work that such creation needs. I don't see it as a possible arena of negotiation upon the eve of the initiation into established cults - if that, the mechanics of desireable virtues/flaws, is all that cults are about I wouldn't have much use for them as it wouldn't provide much story potential.

I prefer the cults I'll use to stay absolutes, a notion that I guess would provoke especially Wanderer, and the initiated with a strong involatile conviction in the ideals, story or goals of their cult. I prefer to stress, as also seen in the intro to TMRE, that the initiated might not be able themselves to truly put the mystery into word since it might very well be beyond wording. These things I find underlines the mystery of the mysteries - that is what makes room for interesting roleplaying both in terms of theme, mood and plotlines. To achieve having the mysteries being more than minimaxing mechanics absolutes are a must.

They are all that... but I beg to differ that it is not the whole story either. You're characterisation of the magi as the enlightened and independent scholar requires quite a leap of faith to make them paragons of a modernlike relativism and individualism. Because isn't that actually what you're saying? - That their enlightenment is anathema to absolutism or "sadistical conformity"? But I say, whether endearing or not, that history is teeming with bright enligthened people whos committed themselves to blind absolutism. And on a similar notion even today, at a time where modern enlightenment ought to have better terms than ever, absolutism is more rampant than few decades ago - most strongly in terms of fundamentalism (and here I'm definitely not aiming at the sadly overstretched Islamic stereotype - this goes for many Creeds and ideas). In short: I do not think you can so readily dismiss magi as nedless of the unquestionable truths a mystert might provide.

I can't help it, so please take this in the most kind regard that it is meant. I've seen such real life reality and sentiments shine through in many posts and I think that it is marvellous - it makes apparent how fond we all are of the setting, and it is also evidence to the different people we are in spite of all the supposed similarities we share. This isn't only a wonderfull strenght of the forum, it is also something worthwhile to remember in our deliberations. I certainly share you secular humanist scientific point of reference, but I have the impression, and this is where you might have to excuse or correct me, that you have a bit of secualr scientific humanist siege mentality in you aswell... I believe it shone through in an earlier threads discussion of medieval religion, or am I wayward? Just to clarify - I argue in favor of the absolutism of cults to strenghten the mystery and to present what in my preferences makes interesting plotline vehicles. I do not argue thusly because I dislike individual relativism - a mather of factly I just like exploring themes in roleplay that might be far from my real life sentiments.



PS.: I've also given up trying to take part in the Berklist - doesn't even read the mails to often anymore - It is simply so much easier with the forum.

Interesting thread.

I haven't read TMRE, but I'm gonna agree with the writers on this one for the most part. As I see them, mystery cults teach pretty well-established mysteries and paths. They might experiment with new scripts, especially with new cults, but not in the "serve the initiate's desires" kind of way.

I think there is room for compromise in especially problematic cases, but generally it would be better for the character to agree to sub-optimal choices. And to respect the wisdom and power of those more enlightened then he is, more wise in the secret ways of magic that they are slowly revealing to him.


Hey, your ramble is nowhere long as mine ! I claim to be the baddest long-winded rambler in the forum :stuck_out_tongue: :wink:

Here's where our basic difference in the vision of the setting arises: you envision the Order of Hermes as nothing else than another hierarchy, focusing on elements like the apprenticeship, the Primi, the archmages, etc. I see it as the glaring exception in the ME power structure, built around different premises, with strong whiff of equality, independence and democracy, because I focus on elements like the Tribunal, the strong rights magi get from the Code, and the general widespread respect fro the freedom of the mage in the Order's mentality. Of course, it nothing nowhere like democracy and equality in the modern sense, just a case of "parallel development" caused by the factors in the mage's nature and life. BTW, it's the same thing for the "humanist scientist" thing: I do not mean that hermetic mages care for human rights or the periodic Table of the Elements in a modern sense: just that their life pursuits bring them to develop a mentality that in soome, maybe many, ways resembles science (or better: they are a likely way science would develop given a cosmology like ME). And their strong notion of individual rights includes a notion of individual that emabraces, well, themselves.

Couldn't be that we are both right, because we just focus our attention on different, but interwined, aspects of the setting ? You see the power of mages, and think of hierarchy among them. I instead see individual empowerment.

Yep. But mages can change House, Tribunal, and Covenant. And Charters and the Oath also speak about the mage's rights. Both elements are there. The Order isn't the ONU or Amnesty International by any stretch of the way, but isn't tyranny, either. Tremere tried and failed. It's an easy power structure, veering between oligarchy and direct democracy in the classic Greek city state sense -only mages count-, with elements of both.

I think our dissense lies in that you proably see hierarchy as the dominant influence, while I perceive it to be at best in uneasy equilibrium with, how to term it, mage individualism.

And here's where our differences of vision unfold further: since you see hierarchy as dominant in hermetic life, you see it mostly unchecked in cults, too. Since I perceive it as checked by hermetic individualism, I expect it to be checked and balanced in cults, too.

It is, in the biggest picture. But mages are the partial exception, since the have buit for them a little enclave, where elements of freedom and democracy exist. In a rather alien way, of course (a mage would heartily laugh the Declaration of Human Rights off) but they are recognizably there. They are a natural evolution of what mages are. Maybe remotely inspired by those egualitarian and democratic elements that ancient history had, such as Greek city-states and Northern Things, or maybe entirely homebrew.

Again, it's an interesting discussion, and probably we are looking to a mottled pattern, claiming it's monochrome. We just emphasize the elements we liked best, and no way the other can be proven wrong, because the sertting allows both interpretations.

A possible interpretation of the Children of Hermes is them being the ones that have made this realization in the setting, and are thriving on it. I think may be agreed, my model of cult is in the long run more efficient than your model, and once it appears is bound to eventually rise to dominate the cult social landscape. Hierarchical cults would obviously survive, but they would be residual niches. Probably our difference in vision, is just that, I see this kind of evolution as being in the past of the order, you see it in the future.

Another way to look at it is that the majority of the independent minded, anarchy mages would be considered too wild to be approached by a cult other than a house cult. The cult selects its potential members, not the mages decide which cult to approach.

I see cults as strictly mysterious, you hear rumours about their powers but should not be aware of their initiations, powers or membership. They will approach with an offer to join only those who they think would make good members. Ie will obey the strictures, have common interests and will not bring the society into disrepute.

It might not be fair to players but I would not have any character with a criminal reputation approached, or one who has a reputation for independance. The vast majority of magi should not be members of a society or even have been approached by one, especially if their house has its own mystery. Divided loyalties not welcome. No society would risk having its secrets revealed to another society.

Actually i agree with how the Initiation into a Cult would have to be strict, but not absolutely strict.

Take this sample Initiation Script:

The Initiate must be near Yggdrasil at the time of the harvest (time/place +3) and there cut off his right hand and present it to the tree (Minor Flaw +3), finally the Initiate must take a woodshaving from Yggdrasil and carry it back to his Mystagogue (Quest +3)

Ok, this Script gives enough to do to make it last a season (I'm asuming yggdrasil is somewhere in the Magic Realm (as the tree is one of the original, or Titanic, icons of Norse lore)) and it also forces the Initiate to remove a hand. But what does that mean? Gamemechanik-wise? Well, the Initiate gain one Minor Flaw or removes a Minor Virtue. So the logical Flaw to gain would be Missing Hand. Obvious really... Except if the Magus decides to grow a new one. (you could claim that the lost hand would be then lost to his Essential Nature, but bear with me here) So maybe he loses the Light Touch Virtue? (the regrown hand just isn't as good as the old one) He might gain Fear of personal injury (it's really, REALLY traumatic having to chop your own hand off), or perchance lose the Strong-Willed Virtue (same reason)...

My point is this; the Script as it stands is fixed and there is no real room for deviation. But the mechaniks of said Script need not be fixed (please stress the words "need not"), so that the players together can decide upon what sort of ramification this entails. Also; if we use the same look at the aforementioned Script, the lopping off of a hand could just as well be a Quest, if it was adequately played thorugh in-game. The Script is still performed as per the instructions, but the Mechaniks are hadnled slightly differently (This last part is especially true if the initiate is trying to do it himself)

So let the Mystagogues be as set in their ways as you want, but allow discussion between the players on the actual mechaniks. Then you can have happy players (who didn't have to sacrifice things they feel is against their character), you get the possibilities of a good story and you have happy Mystagogues with a new Initiate... Everyone's happy! 'cept for Yggdrasil who's getting really tired of all these withered Mage hands. (they're not as crunchy as you'd think)


PS: Furion/Jeppe; if we're to use our two nations as proxies in this discussion, then Wanderer will win automatically.... smiles all innocent-like at you 8) :laughing:

Fine, then independent-minded anarchist mages from mystery houses that are sated with house secrets go out, experiment, dig out or "repossess" scripts, and found their own cults... And in due time, you have cults that welcome and cherish indipendent, innovative, self-reliant members from mystery houses and societates alike and shun the hidebound, unimaginative ones looking for a master telling them how to bind their shoes. They welcome and encourage research, creativity, and innovation in adepts, so their Lore thrives and expands, quickly accumulating a wide range of script variants for a large set of Virtues. They value fitting the Initiation to the adept, not the adept to the ceremony, so their members grow in power more than other cults. They welcome all mages that care for their ideals, and don't bother with secrecy, so their ranks swell. In due time magical innovation becomes their focus and ideal, they take historical and mythic examples of liberators, creators and innovators (Hermes, Bonisagus, Imhotep, Prometheus...) as patrons, so their lore grows to encompass most of the mystic secrets of the other cults, and they have more numbers, and a more amicable, if fiercely competitive, approach. They become the dominant form of cult, marginalizing the others. It is bound to happen. The call to freedom and innovation can't be denied. All Hail Hermes the News-Bringer !!

Wanderer I'm just going to have to disagree with you about human nature here. History has untold number of examples of reformers going out to form new free organizations that over time become staid and restrictive. The older you get the more you value stability, especially when that stability and structure benefits you as you near the top. The order would have that effect even more considering the average age of its members, a longevity ritual would only keep the body young, not the soul or the mind.

I can fully agree that new cults spring up with good intentions to be new and vigorous, but after even 30 years of having the same boss they would be stuck in their ways to. I cannot see a founder of a cult saying I made this cult using the secrets I spent half my life researching, now I don't want the cult to stagnate so I will hand power over to a young recruit while I am still in my middle age.

Another point you made is that a new cult would be most attractive if it brought secrets over from another cult. You could see open bloodshed if that happened without permission from the other cult.

I'm catching up on posts and lack the new books, but I'm pretty sure I agree with thrakhath on this last part.

'Founders' by their nature, for a brief moment, thought 'out side the box'. But as soon as they start teaching a single student they are saying, 'it ought to be like this.' That is the inherit nature of teaching and it binds founders, who had an original idea, to a static postion on some level.

I agree with Wanderer that some brave magus may want to combine Cult A and Cult Z, he enters both, find the mysteries they saught, and then leave because neither suits them for they always wanted "AZ".

They can go so far as starting a new Cult AZ as Wanderer proposes, but the the first student the magus now Mystagoge of AZ initiates, he'll be saying "You do AZ. Not A. Not Z." Because this is the Cult of AZ! And in that moment the cult takes on a static element.

Another point to consider in our higher education system. I studied Sociology and Psychology in College. There are numerous schools in general. Medicine, Astronomy, "Computer's". But I sought out these two schools. As I earned my undergraduate degree I was free to study medicine or astronomy, or computers and learned 'outer' mysteries of Sociology and Psychology. But as I neared Graduation I simply lacked the time to pursue medicine, astronomy, ect.

I am still a independant free spirit, a student who wants to be enlightened scholar. But as my tastes narrow, my pursuits narrow. Furthermore, while I could study sociology on my own, it's much easier to learn it via those who know it. I willinging to go through the initiation process to earn my undergraduate, then my graduate degree, then ultimately my doctorate. It's much easier to learn what I want to learn from those who already possess specialized knowledge than to try to obtain the knowlege on my own.

I mean any of us can go to the libary and read text on law or medicine. We could in theory learn more than some experts. But I can't imagine this process being easier than going through the system. Furthermore, I don't see 'the system' being in conflict with the individuality of wizards. Such a position suggests that only self taught hermits are the only people capable of being independant individuals. I have a hard time accepting that.

Not had time to read this in detail, but both readings of how Mystery Cults work strike me as legitimate.

To cite TMRE, Chapter 14

YSMV. Do as thou wilt. :slight_smile:

cj x

This argument has run like this. The book says that we can't deviate from the scripts. There's an objection: magi are more open-minded than that, and would allow deviation from the scripts. There's a reply: no, magi are narrow-minded, so they wouldn't allow deviation from the scripts. But why does deviation from the scripts have anything to do with whether magi are open- or narrow-minded? Why can't the scripts be set in stone because of the nature of magic? – so that it's extraordinarily difficult to generate a new script.

Some spells you can cast in an instant. Some spells are rituals that take hours. But some spells, mystery initiations, are scripts that take months. The content of the spell is determined by arcane and otherworldly forces that aren't flexible. I liked d41m0z's suggestion, that the script is fixed but its game-mechanical meaning is subject to intra-troupe negotiation. That maintains the arcane, mysterious nature of the script, while allowing for player freedom.

This much leeway is all what I was advocating for. :smiley:

I'm not sure I agree on the characterisation of the discussion as being about open-/narrowmindedness, that's only been a small side-argument, the main question being more alike what are the ramifications for the setting of having all-open negotiations between the Probationer and the Mystagogue. In this sense I agree with cj.23 on the "do as thou wilt" approach and that everything goes (no matter the wording of the rules anyway) but the interest is discussing what we consequently see as very different takes on the setting because of these choices. Interesting preferences are laid bare.

I completely agree with that - the toolbox is at its best when used in that way - and I also see potential initiation into some cults where the initiated character might have more freedom than in others, my personal objection is against making this a general trend of characters experiencing "open negotiations night". I prefer closed rather absolute mysteries - to keep the mysteries of the mystery mysterious. But that doesn't necessitate a closed circuit between the players and SG when constructing cults and initiation scripts in the first place.

And on a completely different note:

Be carefull my Norwegian Sodalis... More of those words and it might constitute a genuine casus belli - and you should know that my country is becoming quite a dangerous little aggressive country, few years back going to war for the first time in 150 years (sending a ferocious submarine to the desert invasion of Iraq :open_mouth: ) - and their might be able reason (Norwegian oil reserves) for Denmark to reclaim its ancient rightful Norwegian territories... :smiley:

[quote="Bryan Register"]
Why can't the scripts be set in stone because of the nature of magic? – so that it's extraordinarily difficult to generate a new script.


This is my basic point: you can't haggle with the underlying powers of the Universe.

This entirely depends on how the Universe IS. There is ample evidence that with the realms of Magic and Faerie, you can haggle, strong-arm, and be creative. And with the Infernal, you can definitely strong-harm and haggle, too. Boy, if you believe Abraham, you can haggle with the Divine, too (cfr. Sodom and Gomorrah) :wink:

In the end, YMMV. If one likes to turn his play in a morality story about humbleness and self-contentness, be my guest. I just consider creativity, freedom, and self-improvement more fitting virtues. :stuck_out_tongue:

I find a setting based only upon the mystery rules where the characters know that any virtue can be gained using any legal collection of ordeals, sacrifices, etc. to have too "weak" of a reality to have any resonance with myth or history for me.

To take the opinion that there has to be a way to learn hermetic theurgy by taking incompatible arts in intellego ignem and traveling to the pyramids if the character makes his experimentation roll strikes me as jarring.

Is this really what you want Wanderer?