Mythic Russia, or Where Have All The Towers Gone?

Salve y'all,

Having long been obsessed with Medieval Russia, and Novgorod in particular, with the prospect of a forthcoming ArM saga I am seriously eyeing a spot near the great city for the setting.

So there are a billion questions I could propose, but let me start with a relatively simple one: where are all the towers?

I should mention that while I'm all about some fantasy, I'm one of those compulsive types who enjoys riffing off real history and does a fair bit of historical research before starting play. I prefer to find actual sites and retcon a covenant into one, use real events, etc. etc. where possible. (See, for example, our Rabenstein and Corona Montis sagas.) Then the fun begins (the Mongols obviously turned back here because of what the covenant did, right?).

So Medieval Russia poses something of a problem. With Conjuring the Mystic Tower fairly common to Hermetic grimoires, and (apparently) vis in abundance, where are all the towers?

Stone towers were extremely rare in Russia. Most fortifications were wooden - it's only towards the west, where they were battling the Livonian Order, that you see many stone fortifications. And those are all pretty much important strategic holdings - no backwater burgs from history that you can as easily postulate might have once been home to wizards. The major exception would be churches.

So I'd love to hear what others' takes on this are. I can imagine several possibilities:

  1. Hermetic wizards in the Novgorod Tribunal don't build stone towers (or build them only in secluded locales) because this would definitely draw the attention of the nobles squatting in their poor wooden forts.
  2. Hermetic wizards in the Tribunal build stone towers, but then hide them behind wood. Or make them look like wood. Or enchant wood to be like stone. Or have a special version of Conjuring the Mystic Tower which is the same in all respects to the usual spell [Base Target being the same for stone Terram and Herbam] but CrHe with a Terram requisite.
  3. Dude, just relax, who cares whether there are any stone towers?
  4. Appropriate one of the few stone towers, such as the White Tower on the south end of Novgorod (which actually wasn't built until about a hundred years later).
  5. Make CtMT somehow expire - so that these towers, unless maintained, simply vanish. Unpalatable given this is not how other such rituals work, but it would certainly explain where all those "standard issue Order of Hermes towers" are today.
  6. One or more Russian covenants look like (or pose as) churches. Calling the Quaesitors...
  7. As dumb luck would have it, no one has formed a covenant yet in the Tribunal which had/used any such spell.

Etc. etc.

Anyway, I think I'm leaning towards #2 (particularly the custom spell, which I'd appreciate input on as well) but I'd love to hear what you would do if you were in this OCDer's shoes!


My take?

Of course, some towers may have been build anyway. And are still hidden behind artifact-generated mentem/imaginem magics :wink: Or, more simply, in a regio.


I'd personally go with #1, with perhaps #2 as a close second. I would also consider making the towers be in regios or strong auras, that don't exist in our 'mundane' history.

Justifying the tradition of not building towers may be tied to the tradition of not getting tied to the russian princes, or to a few powerful miracles related to the destruction of one or two past covenants by the Divine.

I really like the Novgorod tribunal, even though it's been a while since I read/played in it. The Rabenstein saga also looked very impressive. Have fun :slight_smile:

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Few magi would want to draw attention to themselves. A medieval tower is a military structure - plain and simple, no other excuse. (Even if there were, it would not be "seen" that way.) So, having the best/highest/most/largest tower around is askin' for a stompin'. Having the only one around is making sure ~everyone~ in the area knows that's what you're askin' for.

~Why~ there are no mundane stone towers, I don't know, and would be hesitant to guess. Several ideas suggest themselves, but I won't pull one or three at random out of my deep well of ignorance on medieval Russia. 8)

Or the fact that there just aren't the terram specialists that have arts totals there to successfully cast such a high level spell and if there are, do they want to waste the vis on that vs something else?

I think these four are the best answers, though I favor #3 the most.

A little bit of #1 and a little bit of #2, I would say. Without having any real experience of medieval Russia, it sounds like a simple question of style. If Russian noble families are not interested in stone towers, why would Russian magi be? Not a very spectacular explanation, but I think it's still rather nice as an example of cultural differences within the order.

Thanks for the feedback, guys. I really appreciate it. The answer could of course be a combination of all 7 (8 counting ladyphoenix's sensible answer).

I agree, but I do think it's less that nobles are interested in it, and more that they can't get their hands on it. If it became common knowledge that the magi could easily produce stone fortifications, they would definitely draw attention...which could lead to interesting stories, but I assume the magi would not see it that way!

Best regards,

Does anyone have an explanation for this? Churches were stone, and rivaled the architecture of many in Europe - so why not military fortifications?

That question may share an answer with the one for this topic.

Indeed. I had assumed that this was due to a scarcity of stone and an overabundance of wood. Interestingly, however:

"Up until the mid 13th century most fortresses had wooden walls. In the Novgorod lands, stone fortresses first appeared as early as the 11th and 12th centuries, although these were exceptions. Stone castles could also be found in this period in Bogolyubovo (built about 1165 in the Suzdal lands) and in Kholm (1237-38, in west Volhynia). Some urban estates and large monasteries also had stone or brick walls - a choice, however, dictated by artistic and ideological considerations above all, as opposed to military necessity. Wooden walls were considered to be perfectly adequate for military purposes, and were built in most fortresses." (Medieval Russian Fortresses AD 862-1480, Osprey Publishing)

So it seems my modern assumptions got the best of me. I assume this means they burned a lot less well than I thought...

Anyway, something else I didn't think of earlier: given that Hermetic covenants are often made up of foreigners, might not a newly-formed covenant expect to build with stone? ("That's the way we do it back home...")


I think so too. It would probably become something of a running joke (or theme) how every visitor that comes around is amazed by their strange stone towers. Either that, or disdained by their utter lack of taste. Perhaps both.

Interesting. (Good work!)

I would assume it's a bit like having a stone door (or a metal one) - inarguably stronger than any oak, yet how often do magi employ them?

("A stone door, sodales? A bit overdone, isn't it?...") 8)

So I'd think that any stone towers would stick out like sore thumbs, and be the source of much rumour and gossip.

And your saga would never enjoy the differences that unexpected cultural quirks can provide. Generic is fine, but it is what it is.

I would say you can use just about any except #7 which seems very unlikely. It would mean that Novgorod tribunal is somehow cut off almost completely from the rest of the order.

Extremely unlikely. Its not very hard to achieve even the standard version of the spell, and in an area where vis is stated as plenty, why not choose what is simply the BEST option?

I have a mage in a Novgorod tribunal and her lab is single story building made of stone because stone holds the heat in better and she hates being cold. Plus it is more durable against lab explosions. Still I expect that her single story stone building is unusual.

I'd say ctmt will not be used very often to make a new covenant, new covenants are often built by either a group of new wizards to lay a claim on land without sacrificing valuable members or a split-off by one or very few wizards because they want to explore or just move out.
When you move somewhere, you do not want to attract the kind of attention that humongous tower does, and new wizards simply do not have the means. So, you first build a building sufficient for your needs, and then expand slowly when membership and funds become availabe.
Ctmt is a bit of a one-use spell, either you use it when you can and want to make a covenant in a single sitting (te specialist, remote location and funds), or you use it to replace a large part of the covenant (after disaster or just shoddy building). Hereafter, you need to reinstall all labs, taking 2 seasons apiece

We’ve about 15 years into a Novgorod saga and the same question has been in the back of my mind. So far the wizards haven’t had the focus to start casting such spells but I’ve seeded the library with a more flavourful version of ‘The Shrouded Glen’ expressly for the purpose of hiding such towers if they start to appear.

No that anyone’s spotted this, and I don’t really see the covenant starting work on such projects until they’ve survived the Mongol onslaught.

That is if they survive the Mongol onslaught, what with the Russian civil war, the German invasions, the Swedish invasions, the wizard’s marches, the destruction of faerie, the infernalist threat and the Rhine Tribunal annexing the Baltic areas and Poland (tbd).

Not a good time to be Russian.

P.S Mad Irishman you very kindly emailed me a bundle of Novgorod stuff back in 2005 when we were starting up. I was going to return the favour but lost your details. If you’d like access to a random set of resources we’ve used / got round to typing up drop me an email off list.

Well, I'd start by disputing the idea that Conjuring the Mystic Tower is actually a common thing to do. Durenmar used the spell several times. Mistridge used a customized version of the spell to make an even bigger tower. I don't recall if Verdi's towers came about that way. Otherwise, few if any of the example covenants in the game have utilized that spell in a major way.

Beyond that, I'd say that wizards want to be inconspicuous generally so avoiding a massive stone fortress is probably wise. Even weak wizards can create indirect or disguised defenses that work just as well without making all the boyars drool with envy.

I thought it was the Russian winter .. everyone knows wood is warmer than stone :laughing: