[New Character Help] The Pretender Bonisagus

A good friend and fine roleplayer came up with a character concept. His first time playing Ars Magica, so his character needed to be redone as his totals and so on were off.

So, he just described the concept, and told me to make it work based on the framework he had put together.

SO...Basically, for some reason or another, he's a failed apprentice. Or perhaps an apprentice who was dismissed due to what seemed to be a weak magical talent or doubts as to whether he had the gift. (I'm actually secretly going to also throw in there the possibility that another apprentice with unique supernatural talents came along for which the Master, Abelard, had a more pressing need - Send Unholiness)

SO... this character is believed untrainable as a wizard. He is allowed to hang about, clean up the lab, and basically be the 'cabin boy' for the mage and his lab.

In truth, he is a prodigal student, though this only makes itself known when he begins to secretly train himself. Grabbing a look at a book, watching the mage teach the new apprentice, and so on.

The sagas begins near the end of apprenticeship. The master mage has died/disappeared in a laboratory accident. His apprentice and household servants are invited to come to the Saga's convenant to finish apprenticeship. On the way there, disaster strikes, and the apprentice is killed - or goes missing.

The Player Character, a poorly taught apprentice with great potential (a high midichlorian count, to use an abused pop culture parallel), takes the identity of the missing and presumed dead apprentice.

That's his Dark Secret.

SO, given that... how best to represent via virtues and flaws a character who is a good self-learner, has potent magical power, but is somewhat off due to a poorly shaped Gift?

Give me your virtue and flaw suggestions if you please, sodales...


This is a very interesting concept, but I'm not sure that, as presented, it isn't a character doomed to a very short future.

It does bring up questions of how one identifies a Gift, or a flawed Gift, and other magical aptitudes in a prospective apprentice.

Here are some of the challenges:

(For now, let's set aside all the people who know one or both of them by sight, which could create endless headaches IF he pulls this off. Perhaps they looked "not unsimilar", or something. But that's at least one Flaw he could take.)

Once his master dies, he has no offical status, so he'd have to get "picked up" by a new Parens, (tho' with a good Rep, this shouldn't be hard.) But that new Parens could and would examine him thoroughly to determine his aptitudes- if this includes a check for "secrets", it could be awkward. (Or not- some just wouldn't care! Or even enjoy the idea- Diff parens would react differently, depending on many factors- what they thought of the others involved, of the Code, etc etc.)

Also, (if still apprenticed) there is the question of his original Parens, who still has claim and probably arcane connections to his now-MIA student. (Unless they, too, were killed in the same incident, which could work better.) If failed, then what's to stop him from failing again in the same way? A name or reputation changes nothing there.

Otoh, if his original Parens were killed, there would be nothing wrong with re-apprenticing. In fact, some magi might jump at the chance (tho' maybe not the type he'd want to have as Parens). Also, most any Bonisagus might feel it a small and minor duty to finish his schooling.

But since the new Parens would want to know as much as possible about the magical aptitudes of this new apprentice-to-be, what is the advantage of pretending to be something you're not (here, a "better" student)??? Any Flaw that ruined his first apprenticeship should ruin his second, done deal, unless it was a fluke (lab mistake, huge ettiquette faux pas, etc- see below). Unless he was mis-judged by his previous Parens, and he IN FACT does have an adequate Gift, this charade gets him nowhere he hasn't been before.

So, the "dark secret" returns to simply the new identity- and the question of whether that would be discovered by the new Parens, and whether that mage cared or not.

The ONLY advantage in such a new identity would be if he had suffered from a bad reputation, bad master, bad lineage or some other non-arcane albatross around his neck, that is tied to mundane identity and not arcane ability. (Or, alternately, if the new assumed identity had some benefit, such as being an heir or of a respected lineage, etc.) The new ID must change something changeable, or the second chance will turn out as the first did.

Otherwise, unless he was lucky or manipulative enough to get an incompetant or naively trusting parens who'd work with a badly(?) flawed apprentice, he'd be right back where he was, toot sweet!

The apprentice is thought to be a quite apt student with Sense Unholy.

He's actually a diamond in the rough.

I'm thinking the end of the Dark Secret will be perhaps some sort of Hermetic Courtroom Drama - my precedent for him staying in the order is the Larta Magi story from Jerbiton in Houses of Hermes.

Mainly, it's a way of representing a strong wizard who is self-taught to an extent.


If he's self-taught, then he's a hedge wizard.

If he's an apprentice who's "stealing" self-study, then he's in a lot of trouble.

If he's not an apprentice and he's "stealing" hermetic knowledge then he's in even bigger trouble.

If he's a failed apprentice, then he's not got the juice to become a mage, not even Ex Misc. (Failed implies "can't cut it").

If he's a diamond in the rough, he'd either be apprenticed or be given the usual hedge-mage ultimatum.

If he's got "some" powers but not enough to be invited to join, then he either keeps a low profile or gets a different ultimatum.

Larta magi are adopted only(?) by House Jerbiton, altho' recognized by the Order. Jerbiton usually (always?) includes some exceptionally redeeming quality of The Arts or such as part of the invitation to become a Larta. (That is, not every bard with Enchanting Music would be considered, much less actually deemed fit.)

If you want to create a plotline of a different house using Jerbiton's Larta as precedent for some other "honorary" magehood, feel free. It's your game, but what you're talking about is not in AM canon afaik.

The apprentice is going to pass Gauntlet under someone else's name. He will prove himself capable of hermetic magic. His old master is not around to explain why he did not fully train him. The (secret) reason for this may well be he thought he needed to train an apprentice with different talents to root out a threat to the order, but did not want these reasons known lest this threat become aware that it was being acted against. His master may well claim he is a failed apprentice.

Another option the player discussed was that though his character was Gifted, he has the Gentle Gift, and his 'Master' didn't catch on to it.

Being around hermetic magic, being brilliant, and stealing time with books for self-teaching allow him to become a barely competant mage with strong natural talent, a Hermetic Mozart, if you will.

What the Order does with him when this dark secret comes out will depend largely on politics and who he has managed to impress.

As for Ars Magica canon, well... since there has been no mention of this situation in Ars Magica, well, that what Sagas are for. To make up stories. They can't all have a canon answer to them, and if the player finds it interesting to play this potentially tragic figure, who am I to spoil his fun?

That said... I was mainly looking for virtues and flaws to represent the 'inadequate training with strong natural talent' aspect.


Glancing at an online list of 4th ed. virtues and flaws:


Book Learner and perhaps latent magical ability spring to mind.
I think your dark secret is perfectly sound.

Gentle gift seems plausible. I could also see some snobby Bonisagus magi reacting poorly towards him because of this. ("How can he call himself a member of our House, if one can't even feel his presense! The nerve!")

Cautious Sorceror, since he had to steal away to learn magic, and had no supervision... so he'd practice REALLY carefully before attempting anything.

He might also practice silent magic, quiet magic, or subtle magic, due to the fact that he had to learn all his magic on the sly.

He might be a method caster, because he learned all of his spells in one specific way, with little time to practice and and/or experiment.


Cyclic Magic -- he practiced at night, and his magic works better (virtue) or worse (flaw) during the night / day, respectively.


Deliterious circumstances -- again, he only practiced under certain conditions, and his magic got warped to it.

Twighlight points, due to inexperience while learning.

Magical Deficiency, Poor formulaic magic, flawed parma, incompatible arts, Incomprehsible, warped magic, weird magic, clumsy magic -- Self explanatory.

Necessary Condition -- Perhaps he studied in an old, cramped cellar. He needs to crouch down in order to cast magic.

Poor student (if he learned everything from books, he doesn't know how to learn from others.)

Blatant gift -- he never learned how to be subtle with his innate ability. Kind of like a teenage boy in puberty -- all raging hormones and no subtlety. This is stretching it, but I can see making an argument for it.

Vis obligation -- his new parens only took him on if he agreed to pay him vis.

I could go on, but I must get back to work.

Finally, if you are starting the campaign before his apprenticeship ends, you can reduce his starting spells and (almost certainly) magic theory. These could be learned from his new parens, and pretty easily explained away... most apprentices learn the finer points in the latter years of their apprenticeships, anyway.

Thanks for the distraction! Good luck!


A few deficiencies, incompatible arts or the stingy master flaw would reflect inadequate teaching. Flawed Parma is a must if he's been discarded partway through apprenticeship. All this should pay for some supernatural virtues, or maybe Mythic Blood -- he's halfway through being a hedge wizard at this point; Ex-Misc material.

Since your thread title indicates a would-be Bonisagus, you can look into their apprentice fostering practices: the magus he'd be fostered to wouldn't know he received the real "goods", and if his own apprentice had too died along the way, he'd probably be more than willing to take him up as compensation.

That starts to add up to a lot of missing people but even if the character were ruthless enough (personality flaw) to have taken an active part in getting what "was rightfully his", since he hadn't sworn the Oath at the time, he'd be relatively safe from lethal consequences. Though ennemies, discredited lineage, tormenting master and a bad reputation would probably be appropriate. That kind of things.

Story possibilities:

Apprentice returns. Possibly amnesiac due to the attack on the caravan that was to deliver him to the Covenant.

Master Returns: By this time, the player mage may have some fame of his own. Will the master be torn as to whether he should acknowledge the hermetic prodigy as his own, or refute him? How will the player try to sway him?

Master returns, is not the Master: The Master seems to not react to the pretender's existence, and acts like he's the real deal. Is the Master also a pretender, perhaps part of the hermetic cabal that the real Master was trying to root out and destroy? An evil Mystery Cult, perhaps? A new demonic attack on the Order?

More if they come to me...


Yes, but the question is, with the supposed Parens dead, who will administer it?

Who will step up and take responsibility to formally sign off on this wonderful apprentice's tutelage, and will they administer any tests that will reveal him?

Even if a kindly Bonisagus wanted to just "sign off", I'm sure there'd be a Tytalus who would challenge him on his rubber stamp.

I can see several ways it could successfully happen, but it's more important that you, as GM, do as well.

I think the character needs The Gift; without it, he will fail his Gauntlet, as his inability to use Hermetic Magic will become obvious.

The obvious Virtues are Affinities (Magic Theory? an Art?), and the study virtues, particularly Book Learner, to cover sneaking a look at books.

I'd say that a Restriction would be a good Flaw, or a Necessary Condition. Or both. Pick ones that would generally have been triggered in the old covenant, but won't be in the new. (If you still have the freedom to design the old covenant, this should be fairly easy.) That way, he could certainly look as though his Gift was severely damaged.

As to the legalities, if he passes the Gauntlet and swears the Oath, he's a member of the Order, no matter who he was claiming to be at the time, and he is protected by the Code. Other magi can't just kill him. However, there is a lot of potential for courtroom drama if the secret comes out, because a lot of magi certainly won't like it.

This is a nice character concept. You should discuss, out of game, how much the player expects the Dark Secret to blow up, and tweak things so that level of impact makes sense to you.

Why did he fail previously?

My choice is the flaw deleterious circumstances, when being watched by a magus

I think that book learer would be especially appropriate as a virtue

Hmm. The oath goes "I, [name], hereby swear..." If the magus lies in his oath, misrepresenting himself, how can his Oath be trusted? I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the legalities, and even if he wins wizard wars are not out of the question.

I don't have anything else to contribute beyond what was said already, though. I'd make sure to place the original covenant far from the current one, in another tribunal (and have a visitor from said tribunal as a story later on). I also like the Restriction (say, "can't work magic when it's cloudy" in an English covenant) which is mostly lifted at the new one (say, one in North Africa). Stingy masters, deficincies, and similar flaws all make sense.

I don't think that the legalities could be dismissed quickly; the important point is that he isn't obviously a target for a March. If he were, the storyline would get very one-track and boring very quickly. Given that condition, the potential arguments over his status are what creates the potential.

The name a magus uses in his oath is typically his magus name, not his birth name, yes? It's my understanding that a magus' parens chooses that name when the apprentice becomes a magus, not during apprenticeship. So if that name is bestowed on the imposter, it's the imposter's hermetic name, even if he's not who he said he was.

I like the idea for this character a lot. The various magical flaws above would work well, and Incomprehensible would also be appropriate, since he's almost entirely self-taught and has no experience with discussing magic with anyone else. Most scholarly books assume that the reader has a grounding in basic principles, techniques, and terminology, and discuss the advanced implications without discussing the assumed basics, which this character may lack.

Heh, like "Invisible Boy" in Mystery Men?

"Sure, I can do magic... but not if you're watching..."

I like this premise too, but it's not as simple as "Once he assumes the ID and passes the gauntlet..."

There are a LOT of complications, both in how it works, and how he would then survive/thrive in the Hermetic Order that need to be carefully considered. He doesn't want to be a promising French entrepreneur and landowner in 1950's Vietnam/Indochina, (not unless you want to rewrite history, which you're welcome to as GM.)

If his previous Parens was unjust or overly rash in discharging him from apprenticeship, if he had been wronged or merely unlucky, if he indeed was Wizard potential and merely had been misjudged (any of which could inspire Flaws), then he has a leg to stand on in a Tribunal.

If he's simply a hedgemage sneaking in the back door where he wasn't invited and isn't wanted, then he's just so much stercus.