Hi. I'm a newbie, and our group has been coming up with new ways to support themselves. We've agreed to the magical-food-isn't-nutritious thing, but what about making cheap food APPEAR to be gourmet food? Not actually turning it unto. Basically, they've decided to buy flour and become cut-rate spice merchants.
Thoughts? I haven't decided whether or not to allow it, since I'd imagine this is going to skew the game settings local economy and someone will come knocking on their door... Some official investigating smuggling perhaps... But anyway, what are your thoughts?
I think you should go with your gut, but IC, not as an OOC StoryGuide mandate.
First point out that, IC/IG, this is just a spin off of the "Let's make gold/silver and get rich" scheme. Which, their magi should all IC know is HEAVILY FROWNED UPON by the Order, specifically because (as you point out) it could indeed mess with the economy, and also give magi in general a bad name. (Something about "interfering in the affairs of mundanes" and "bringing ruin to my sodales". Victims get on the scheme when the Duration wears off, magic is suspect, legit spice merchants lose bussiness and complain to the local bishop, witch hunts start, innocents die... and who's fault is this, again? )
Also, spice merchants are both uncommon, and also as territorial as they are jealous of their profits - the magi may well discover themselves (or their mundane face, at least) on the receiving end of a trade war, and ~that~ will be the crucible that divides the subtle and wise from the short-sighted and greedy.
Now, not every mage, nor every covenant makes it their life's work to be a poster child for the Hermetic Oath - "everyone" cheats a little. And many (most?) get away with it - some. The more you bend the rules, the less you cover yourself, less likely to get away with it. So, the (immortal) question is... do they feel lucky?
Well, do they? 8)
And then, ~how~ lucky? Because there's "getting caught" (but dodging the bullet, and possibly merely shutting down), and then "getting caught red handed" (and facing an angry baron, or a suspicious bishop, or a Tribunal!).
And another facet that I personally apply in such instances, is that if they're too stupid not to get caught, and get caught easily, then they've shown themselves to be too stupid to be trusted. The Order would rather have an intelligent oathbender who distances themselves (and the Order!) from their crimes, than an overt Oathbreaker who's demonstrated they can't be trusted with a burnt out wand. If, on the other hand, they're careful, and some Quaesitore does stumble upon their little mustard seed empire, then if they can "appear" to be innocent (and cease and desist immediately), it might not be worth the Order's time to further investigate. Or it might be, but they won't make it quite so painful after the fact.
Much depends on politics, and who they piss off, and who in the Order finds out first, and then who their friends/enemies are.
On another note, imo the ~only~ reason one should ever pass the omnipotent StoryGuide hand arbitrarily across the face of Mythic Europe and "not allow it" is if it will detract from some other on-going plotline that is precious to you, and as SG you don't have time for both. Because otherwise, as a SG, this is GOLD. Let them learn that they're in a "real world" the hard way, with reactions from their actions, cause and effect, repercussions and everything. This is not some typical fantasy world where they can do whatever they want, unheeding of what tomorrow brings, because it probably won't. Make the local Baron real, make the local merchants real. Have the little shopkeeper they sell to thrown into a dungeon for witchcraft! And if they piss off more distant merchants, where do they get their lab equipment? Shame if those shipments stopped coming now, wouldn't it?
Let that official show up, let them do a shuck and jive to squirm out of trouble, see if they make it worse or learn their lesson - that is the cause and effect and the social-events that attach the wider world to the otherwise insular one of the Covenant. Go with it.
As for the magic theory I see no problem at all. I've been one of the ardent debater against letting non-ritual food nourish, but to me the only question was that of nourishing. Making food to other food should still nourish - and using Muto magics to enhance the experience of eating something is fine idea and as long as the people eating it are nourished then they shouldn't be worse off.
As CH also points out, there might be repurcusions (spin-off stories) from running such a scheme on a larger scale. I'd say that first of all you'd better stick to material that'll be consumed within a month, because if you make the duration longer (year) it'll cost you vis and that is probably a poor trade to the magi, and if you make it shorter then the time untill consumtion your scheme will be blown - leading to problems with both local mundanes and possibly with your sodales within the Order.
Finally some products are so rare that they become both very precious but also subjected to monopoly - in those cases youo might very well catch the attention of powerful mundane groups (I know Timothy for one has written in various threads about the Venetian's unwavering hold on parts of the spice trade).
Just to chip in my slightly off-topic but definitely related tu'pence wotrh here:
Ingesting magicaly modified food on a routine basis is surely gonna cause some warping.
As for the principle you mentioned though I would be totally inclined to agree. Indeed my Tremere magus was thinking of developing exactly such a spell. To transform 'hard tack' foodstuffs that he might need on campaign into mouthwateringly tasty, nectar of the Gods in terms of what it tastes like, but retaining the nutritional qualities of its essential nature: which is adequate.
Well, IMHO, these aren't reasons not to allow it.
These are consequences of their actions, which in turn bring stories. [homer simpson]stooooriies[/homer simpson]
If wondering whether you should allow it or not, you should just wonder about the game-breaking consequences of the ruling, or if it opposes the laws of hermetic magic, things like that, but story consequences??? Your players are just handing you a whole bunch of play sessions on a silver platter
As per the magical side of things, this seems legit to me.
I would say the answer depends on your Troupe and the kind of stories you want to play.
If you like political sorts of complications with mundanes and/or other magi, this scheme can certainly create them. That's a Good Thing.
If you don't like political sorts of complications, then this scheme doesn't have to cause them. Use a Creo or Muto Imaginem effect of Moon duration, and tell your customers something like "this is a magic spice; it's cheaper than the real thing, but it only has a shelf life of two weeks." This could work fine if your Troupe just wants the covenant to make a living and not worry about political hassles.
My advice would be to throw one complication their way and see how they enjoy that story.
By "allow it" I meant "allow them to get away with it"--they're already doing it! I was just basically unsure of that the ramifications would be. OoH-wise, well, two of them were former ork-chopping-D&D guys, so they're already laying low because of that kind of behavior. When they decided to "settle down and go into business" to pay for lab equipment, it was a step in the right direction, in that it didn't produce a body count.
I hadn't thought of the Order coming down on them (again), heh. I can see that as a long-term complication, though. I've been assuming that local authorities would notice it first, giving them a chance to show if they've learned anything from being spanked by the Order. And I hadn't even considered warping...
Maybe start up a catering company! No duration needed longer than "Sun". "We'll cater your feast for cut rate prices!!!" Easy when they're eating umble pie and drinking water!
It's definitely an option, but I think "surely" is a bit strong for something that's merely "modified", and not permanently. But it could go either way - depends on the SOP's of the Saga in question.
~That~ is a tough shift of gears, no doubt! In that case, I think you're doing right - not "punishing" them (for now!) It's something that might arise years from now, once the Players are a bit more accustomed to the more sophisticated cause-and-effect of ME. And then it might start only with rumours, giving them time for damage control (or for being hit over the head with more urgent rumours if they don't get it the first time!)
Of course, the ~best~ thing a saga can have is a good reoccurring enemy - maybe a completely unscrupulous merchant lord in a far-away city (how far is Venice, anyway? Or the Levant?) He sends some agents to burn down a few wanna-be spice traders, and the players get their body count - until things turn more complicated. Win-win?
Teach them that ~your~ job is to think these things thru to their various logical endings, and they should do the same! "Proactive" is usually more fun for everyone than "reactive" (which seems to be the default for certain other games that will not be mentioned here. At least not twice in one post.)