NPC Magi and Plot Power

Hello, new sagameister and first time on the forums!

I'm wanting to introduce some NPC Magi into my saga for purposes of furthering the plot, for example a Quaesitor sent to deal with them after they blew up a mundane castle...

Would you use the Core CGen rules or allow the NPC to be powered by plot? I was looking at spells that might be useful for them, and I was thinking a ReCo50 effect that transports them and the group to another Covenant (not sure if I got that right, though!), though that might be more something Mercere would do than Guernicus?

Thanks, just a new storyteller floundering around!

You absolutely must give this guy stats, because the players may at some point decide to kill him. He may be older (with some time past gauntlet) but he needs either basic or full stats.

As for a ReCo 50 transport spell, nothing wrong with that - any magus might find that kind of spell useful. The only magics that Mercere has a monopoly on are Mercere's Portals and Mutantum Magic.

Every table has its own expectations on this, and it's really your player expectations that matter. If they are comfortable with NPCs having whatever spells plot requires them to have, then you're fine. Ars is sort of an old fashioned simulationist game in this regard, and most campaigns probably expect that important NPCs like this have stats.

I found the guideline in the core book (a 10 in his best Art, + 1/4 years of life, not counting Virtues like Affinity or Puissant) to be invaluable when assigning a baseline for NPC magi. You may find Magi of Hermes useful, as it has many magi at different stages in their life, so you can see how they advance. I might also recommend the list of all magi NPCs with stats in any 5th edition book: ... XdWWjBGT3c

There are some Quaesitores in there, though none of the power level you're looking for.

There is no surer method of learning Ars Magica's intricacies than to make up many experienced magi NPCs. Each one is different. You learn talismans, familiars, unique spells and enchanted items. You learn how mystery cult initiations work and you learn the unique advantages and rules of each house. It's very educational. It's also a lot of work.

I have a lot of experienced magi written up on my site, including one old and powerful Quaesitor, Athena Alpina. She is here: ... ena-alpina

One thing to keep in mind (little detail): ReCo 50 is a ritual. Any magnitude 10 & above is a ritual as per rule. Which means it takes time to cast and consume virtus.

The first one implies 2 hours and an half of casting, so no instant teleport and the whole group sit tight until the magus finish casting.
The second will matter depending on how virtus-rich or poor do you want to make your saga. You won't find a concensus in these forum on that point, in fact, it is pointless to try to define what is the right level of virtus abundance in a Saga. It is as much as it suits you. However, what matters it that there is some consistency accross your Saga. If Quaesitor A is able to cast frequently this spells, it means that you are:

a) either in a Saga where virtus is relatively abundant. So make sure that your PCs have access to similar resources. Then no big deal.
b) your Saga is more limited in virtus, but this Quaesitor has access to large stock. Which you should point out to your players: it means he is well connected with a high position, or his mission is really important, thus no expense will be spared. Either way, it should send a strong message to your PCs: beware, I am a big gun with friends or beware, you did a big booboo and should have a good defense.

And finally, a word on high power NPCs (I don't know if you are a seasoned ST or not, so I am just sharing my experience).
First, a caveat: for me casting level 50 spells is a sign of a powerful magus in my Sagas (on top of my head, there is not many level 50 spells discovered by magus in Magi of Hermes). This is highly variable and Saga dependent interpretation.

Make sure that the NPC does not steal the spotlight. After all, if this guys is quite powerful, why can he cast a spell to see the past, read the minds and save us the troubles of a lengthy investigation - make sure to have answers for these questions (Deficiency, expert in one single thing, demons at work, rules or hermetic laws, interfering with mundane, etc...). Also be aware that once PCs knows about a powerful NPC, they might be tempted to contact or use him at a later stage, so be ready for this alternative.

Second, once you show such spells, expect one PC to be interested in getting access to it. Or a variation of it. And sooner or later, he will get access to it. So be ready to handle it. Don't forbid it, there is nothing more frustrating to see NPC have powers and deny them to PCs. Especially with a system like Ars magica where researching spell would allow any magus with enough time to discover anything he wants. Again be ready to handle it.

Unless, this NPC is the most powerful mage of the Order, by introducing him, you are telling the players: this is how look a powerful mage and what he can do, and by the way, there are several more like him. It can be inspiring for players to consider that this is how their characters can look like in many years, or it can be belittling: next time there is a big threat, leave it to those powerful howitzer-on-virtus to do the job, when us, little magi-wanna-be, struggle to make ends meet.

Core book page 114 - "Formulaic and spontaneous spells may not have a level greater than 50."

It is, of course, saga-dependent, but it's worth remembering that Ars Magica is an extremely different game from most RPGs. The things that necessarily differentiate player characters from NPCs in most systems don't exist in Ars Magica, so in turn, it's usually best to let players do things that would be reserved for NPCs in other systems. The most pertinent thing to keep in mind for this specific example is that player magi are meant to have the type of setting influence you'd normally restrict to NPC wizards in other games.

If there's a dangerous artifact, or a mighty Faerie that wakes up every hundred years, or some ancient magical scripts that might have value if integrated into modern magical theory, standard practice in other games is that some wizard with more free time has or will devise spells to seal the artifact, the cultists have rituals exclusive to themselves to control the mighty Faerie, or aforementioned wizard is running an excavation for those scripts that you can help him acquire and, at best, maybe get a couple of new spells out of it. In Ars Magica, both the decision of how to deal with those things and actually making them happen is left to the players - do you spend your own free time to come up with spells to seal the artifact, pawn it off for favors, or see if you can make it useful to yourself through either its native effects or in initiating a Breakthrough? Do you study the history Faerie's emergence and try to design your own Ritual spells to control the thing, just kill it for vis, try to befriend it (perhaps still aided by magic), or even search for ways to break the cycle so it will never wake up... Or never go back to sleep? And of course, don't forget hiring your own party of adventurers to go get those scrolls for you, perhaps sending your own apprentice along to make sure the scrolls are kept in pristine condition, and then using them to start a years-long process of integrating incredible secrets into Magic Theory and deciding how and if you want to distribute them.

What all of this adds up to is that no, I don't believe "NPC plot power" should ever be a thing. Can your NPCs do things that none of the current PCs can yet do under their available power? Sure - but make them work within the rules so that players intrigued by the abilities can pursue them for themselves. And keep the consequences realistic. If your Quaesitor has powerful, widely-useful abilities not available to the rest of the House and displays them openly, have him be under constant pressure by both his own House and Bonisagus magi to divulge his secrets. If he only uses things that are meant to represent standard Order of Hermes magic, let the players learn the spell it they can steal, bargain for, or otherwise acquire his Lab Text and have high enough Arts. If his powers come from a Magic creature bloodline, keep in mind the possibility that your players will seek out the parent to see if they can't either nab that ability through bestowment of some kind (willing or unwilling) or, better yet, try to breed a good apprentice for themselves. (The general act of "convince this supernatural being to breed me a new meatbag with some special abilities" has happened several times in my own sagas, in fact, but maybe that's an unusual trait.)

The ultimate point is, if you give your NPCs something one or more of your player magi might be strongly motivated to gain for themselves, use that as an opportunity to create stories with that character, and do whatever you can to avoid outright rejecting a magus the ability to gain what they're after - it might be so costly, difficult, and time-consuming that they'll choose not to, but the potential should generally be available unless it's either strangely overpowered in some way you can't mitigate, or it would be outright impossible to gain within the rules of the setting... And you should have a very good reason it's possible for that specific NPC and not the specific PC - after all, even if the NPC's powers come from, say, his secretly having angelic blood, there are ways non-divinely-blooded magi could emulate those Divine elements in their magic if they're willing to go through the substantial study and effort (and perhaps change in lifestyle). Magi, player or otherwise, should be able to do almost anything they set their minds to if they dedicate enough time, effort, and resources to it, and don't die in the process.

EDIT: And of course there's also the variety of non-magus PCs who might have supernatural backgrounds giving them things magi can't have, and then the rules carry over to the NPC versions of those things in terms of what players can and can't do, but it's best not to include too much of that in your first saga so I won't bore you with the details.

Couple of other thoughts:

  • Whilst a spell of exactly level 50 can indeed be cast as a formulaic, it will still give a warping point to everyone that's not the caster or the person the spell was specifically designed for. Doing it without consent could therefore be argued to be a (probably pretty minor) attack on its targets.
  • ReCo50 is certainly possible for a quaesitor, but it's outside what I'd expect their expertise to be (Intellego, Mentem, Vim, a bit of Corpus). I'd suggest you have an idea of why this particular maga has chosen to invest heavily in this direction.

One possibility if you want the spell but don't want to give it to the quaesitor is to give it to an accompanying hoplite, as they're much more likely to have high Rego and/or Corpus arts.