Of power and other things in a magus' life

One thing that has always struck me in my games is that magus PCs almost invariably spend a lot of effort ammassing magical power - studying the Arts and other arcane abilities, pursuing mysteries, crafting or chasing magical artifacts, vis and books... On the other hand, there's very little time spent carousing, tending one's garden, courting one's lady love, reading or composing poetry, helping the poor and the sick etc. In other words, it seems to me that the "average" person today, given the amount of power and freedom from need that even a newly gauntleted magus has, would not be nearly as driven on ammassing power as most PCs I see. If you won 100 million euros at the lottery, would you spend most of your life studying finance and trying to aggressively invest them and increase your capital, or would you just "enjoy" them?

Is it just my troupe? I suspect not; indeed, even the Ars magica guidelines for older character creation seem to assume that a magus will spend most of his free time ammassing power.

From a player's perspective, it may seem reasonable: you are playing a game about magic, why would you want your character to focus on gardening? On the other hand, one can equally easily tell stories involving a magus that has little more magical experience than after his gauntlet - and who would just live a quiet and happy life - and is pulled into the story against his will, or perhaps willingly but for a very mundane goal.

Also, the players can really depict their characters as power-crazed as they want - that's their choice. But the NPCs are another story altogether. Do you think it makes sense that most NPC magi would have the same attitude? Sure, Tremere are ambitious, and with their pecking order established by Certamen, it may make sense for most of them to pursue magic avidly. The same goes for Criamon, though for different reasons, and perhaps the crusading flambeau. But Jerbiton? Ex-miscellanea? Magical Mercere? Guernici? Even among Tytali, how many would focus on magic as the terrain for conflict - in fact how many would choose a life of conflict after 15 years of hell? Bonisagi may be avid researchers, but raw power has relatively little to do with it - you can make breakthroughs or integrate foreign magic even with relatively low raw power, and in any case I envision many a Bonisagus trying e.g. to compile all available knowledge on vis-producing plants. And so on.

So, how much of their time do characters - PCs and NPCs - spend ammassing magical power in your games?

EDIT: It looks like I did not make myself clear. The issue at hand is one about demographics, not about individuals. Sure, wizards spending the majority of the life ammassing magical power exist (driven individuals exist in all ways of life), and they may well comprise the majority/totality of PC magi, who are "special" by definition. But how common should they be in the rest of the Order? Should they be the norm or the exception? Are they the norm or the exception in your games?

I tend to think of magi as something between mystics and scholars. Scientists can devote their lives to grand projects and attempts to understand the universe, and I see many magi following a similar pattern. Not just Bonisagus researchers, but rather magi from every House and vocation. They are driven by a combination of mystic semi-religious zeal to become one with magic in some sense and political/historical purposes such as attempting to understand how vis distillation works or what plants are or so on.

That said, there would certainly be magi who focus less on magical or Hermetic aspects. Tytalus magi specializing in Intrigue, Jerbiton magi focusing on mundane arts or scholarship, and Criamon and Bjornaer mystics focusing on The Enigma or Heartbeast are all canonical examples. I can see many magi doing very little to advance magically after apprenticeship in the normal sense, devoting much time to other pursuits.

As you say, though, in some Houses magical competence is built into the "career path" and won't be avoidable for the most part. Verditius will tend to fall into vanity and advance their arts our of sheer competitiveness. Tremere would be expected to invest time and effort to become formidable warriors. And so on.

So, in total - I think there is a lot of room for less-obsessive magi. How much room is a matter of personal preference. I prefer to have relatively little room, seeing most magi as highly driven towards some goal or another, that requires magical development of some sort.

Does that apply to NPC magi as well? If so, doesn't it feel a bit "unrealistic" - or perhaps you say that the Gift does tend to make characters driven?

It doesn't seem "unrealistic" to me at all... when you consider the "reality" of wizards. Wizards are almost universally protrayed as extremely focused on being wizards. They live apart from the world, focused almost entirely on a craft no one else truely understands, isolated by their Gift. The Gift further makes their social opportunies are extremely limited and always have been. They are very unlikely to go out carousing or couting one's lady love or even helping the poor and sick, since in all cases the Gift interfers with all such activities.

Also, I think it's wrong to apply modern standards to medeaval characters. You and I have a lot more freedom of choice when it comes to our lives. If we lived in the 13th century, we would be much more focused on "what we do" (likely plowing, tendings and harvesting fields).

All of that said, in my sagas, I have see several magi who spent a moderate amount of time carousing, courting, tending gardens and otherwise having a life outside of the lab... two of them classic Bonisagus lab rats. In fact, I've seen two magi find time to marry mundanes, and I've seen three magi who had children (several of whom became the "next generation" of covenant magi). However, generally those activies occured in the 10 or so "free days" they had during any given season.

Uh, are they? Of the tales I know, only a relatively small fraction has wizards actively pursuing magical power. They usually have power, and use it, but that would certainly fit the bill of any magus who, after the gauntlet, decided to just enjoy the fruits of his apprenticeship.

Well, many do not, and in any case that's not a sign that they are actively pursuing magical power rather than, say, gardening or playing music.

Hmm, from the perspective of my own "cultural background" I'd have to disagree. I mean, that may be your experience, but it's certainly not mine.

Well... that the Gift hinders casual social interaction is true. However, that does not mean a wizard would not try to woo his lady love. Think of Cirano de Bergerac and his big nose. And the negative effects of the Gift may be overcome with familiarity. It also does not prevent someone who wants to do charitable work - including tending and healing - from doing it, even though it may make things a little more difficult (though I'd say it does not increase difficulty more than magic decreases it). A little Mentem can certainly make carousing easy. And the Gift certainly does not hinder gardening or writing poetry.

But that's because the poor had little choice. A magus has a world of choices open to him - "what he does" can be poetry, gardening, or charity.

Once again, I think it's perfectly understandable for PCs. What I am asking if this should be considered a somewhat exceptional behaviour, and when depicting NPCs one should assume relatively few are so focused on magic.

Both sorts certainly exist in literature. "Wizards" like Faust, and the Hermetic-alchemist-churchman character in the Hunchback of Notre Damn, are certainly all about the acquisition of power. Whereas "wizards" like Merlin are more about the exercise of power.

Both are possible, and I believe are encouraged in ArM5. Of course, the most powerful magi of the Order, are likely the ones that are the most focused on acquiring power.

Personally, I like magi characters who have something to do, some sort of purpose --- it doesn't have to be some Worthy King Making endeavour --- it can be small scale and personal, similar to the sorts of goals that ordinary people have. Which is exactly, what Story Flaws and so forth are meant to aid the players in creating. Story Flaws (and some of the other Flaws too) are not meant to be seen (I think) as things that interfere with what the character wants to do. They are reasons for the character to want to do things.

I think the OP has a point in that the motivation for some magi to gain power is little weak.

So, ask the player why this person would spend so much time studying magic. As for NPCs, I'm sure that there is plenty of motivation for some to acheive vast power. Others do it out of self-defense. Others because of peer pressure. The rest of them do what it takes to enable thier interest but not a whole lot more.

If you can't think of a motivation, then the character needs to have other interests or is just focussed on living a comfortable life.

If the Gift makes a magus driven to study magic, that sounds a lot like a monor version of Magic Addiction to me, but YMMV.

My two cents.

Perhaps it is something along the line of thinking that those who have the ability to work the Art seem obsessed, because they had to be obsessed to learn the Art, which makes them seem obsessed. It may just be a matter of determining why they have the Gift, who chose to open their Arts, why they decided to spend decades of their life learning to change the very fabric of reality with their will. Those who have the ability are pre-disposed to using that ability.

Sort of like how a painter or sculpture focus on this and become absorbed by trying to perfect their technique and perspective.
Or a runner who really enjoys it seems to start doing it more and more often until it seems obsessive.
Even gamers who must read every book and play as often as possible, always loving the thrill of telling that new story that is inside them.

Maybe it is the actual need and love of learning the Arts, that becomes a feed back loop for magi. And I wonder if it is for power or rather for the understanding of power that they strive to learn more and more. This would not stop them from living a life outside of magic (can you imagine the awesome character story of a magus that walks out of his lab, burned out and incapable of finding a new direction or learning more or creating more magic, having sorta "lost" the creation needed, looks around at the world outside her lab and begins to want something else. Sounds amusing) but like any good artist, athlete, hobbiest, or Tao alchemist-yoga-botany collecting-motorcyle riding-tattoo artist, they got to eat, sleep, and occasionally ask someone for directions to the closest Redcap.

For my money, it seems like the majority of magi should not be endlessly driven to seek magical power. Most magi should probably have some thing that they want to do, and then amass enough magical power to enable them to do that. If a magus is a Guardian of the Forest for example, he would probably amass enough power to do the foresty things that he needs to do, but then there isn't much point amassing more power. If a magus wants to resurrect his dead wife, then he will try to amass the power required for that. Some goals, will never be met, others like say "become a great artist" might require relatively little magical power. And so the magus spends most of this time being a great artist, or guarding the forest, or slaying dragons, etc, rather than learning (Hermetic) Arts.

The magi who are the most powerful wizards in the Order are probably disproportionately the ones obsessed about gaining wizardly power, however. Of course, such magi probably have underlying "daddy issues" or something, which has turned them into a monomaniacal sociopath. Of course, politically powerful magi don't necessarily have to be magically powerful magi.

I have to disagree on this point: I think it is an important part of the setting that religious people believe they have a place in the "Greater Order of Things" (not sure it is correct in English) and even if they could try to stay at their place, be they clerks, nobles or peasants. Not to say everyone abide by the rules (merchants or mercenaries anyone?), but I use it as a strong part of the religious ideology of that time.

The fact is magi views of religion depend heavily on the magus, religion itself not having a defined view of them. This point leads to the interesting existential question "where is my place in this universe???" that each house answered in a different manner.

...other than seek and amass magical power???!!!

The problem is multi-fold, but it mainly centers on the fact that "wizards" are, as a class, not people - they are a trope drawn from countless fictions that we've heard or read or watched. "Wizards" have certain things they do, and those are not very often in step with the goals of RL common folk. So, we only have characters to model them after - or try to shoehorn them into atypical "guy next door" motivations (which some authors/writers can do and have done quite successfully, but usually only as comedy or as a foil to some more typically eccentric wizard type.)

Assuming we're telling a story of a character who starts with an impressive amount of magical power, then amassing more magical power is something that players can identify with for a wizard - building a 1/8 scale model of Stonehenge from toothpicks, or learning the lute, or becoming an expert on all the wines of France - not so much. Maybe, sometimes, for some few - but not as a rule.

And so they set their sights higher - and even if the goal itself is some higher mundane target, that often requires a bigger magical lever to achieve - and we're back to square one. :wink:

It depends on what magic means to your character.

If your character is a Jerbiton and magic is just a tool you aqre using to do what you consider beautiful, then sure, you will reach a point where you have the chisel fo the task you have in mind. This is called "sufficency". (HoH:S p 45).

If, though, magic is itself endlessly fascinating, like say, pure mathematics is to its practictioners, or if it is religiously illuminating, then no, there's no sufficency point. THe problem there is giving players the tools to show that for their Bonisagus, the magic is important and his rising art scores are just a consequence, not his goal.

Actually, as I pointed out, I have no problem with PCs.

My main dilemma is, if you wish, of a simulationist nature. I'd like to figure out what types of magi the order would "realistically" be made of. Or, in your terms, at what stage does the "average" magus reach sufficiency? Yet another way to phrase it: for what fraction of the Order's population magic is a vocation - something that they will pursue as their main goal in life?

The fact that they have been taught magic as youngsters is not, in my mind, any more likely to turn it into the main pursuit of their lives than being taught how to write in school will make writing the main pursuit of one of us. Sure, some of us are writers, but how many?

I totally agree with the original poster. Thank you for starting the discussion on this topic!

In the campaign that I put a lot of effort into creating, I made numerous cross-referenced assumptions about NPC magi.

Two related sets of assumptions:

  • How driven is this person to accumulate Experience Points toward personal development?
  • In what ratio are these XPs generally accumulated - Abilities vs Arts?

To let you in on some top-secret campaign knowledge, my assumptions indicated that "average" NPC magi accumulate 20 XPs per year, and put about 70% of those points into Arts. However, a small percentage of NPC magi are assumed to accumulate over 40 XP per year. And, a few are "lazy", earning maybe only 10 XP per year. There is a general bell curve distribution, as you might expect (especially if you remember some of my other posts on assumptions about the world of Mythic Europe).

This compares to the player Magi, who are assumed to accumulate 30 XP per year. I specifically wanted PCs to have the ability to grow faster, and thus become the "major players" in the tribunal, if they so desired.

The PCs don't know how driven any one particular magus is unless they want to put some kind of effort into learning about that person (spies, social skills, etc). This would potentially involve a Story.

So yes, please put me down as one who definitely believes that Not All Magi Are Created Equal (in their desire to accumulate magical knowledge). I absolutely believe that some will say "Hey, I've got it good. I'm gonna live to be over 100 years old, so why hurry? What's the point of having all this magical power if I don't enjoy life?..."


Individual magi are people.

Inane goals are not realistic goals.

Realistic goals for magi are things like "marrying Gretchen", or "raising a family", or "engineering it so that your nephew becomes pope", or "healing sick people", or "finding a Temple of Mercury", or "smiting Demons", or "glorifying God", or "becoming a Faerie", or "hedonism".

Most magi are likely to have one (or probably more) motivations like this. Sure, some motivations require the acquisition of a lot of magical power, others may only require a bit. Either way, there comes a point where a magus has sufficient power to do what it is that he wants to do. So, acquiring further magical power after this point is redundant. Unless, of course, his motivation changes, or he finds out that doing whatever he wanted to do was more complicated than he thought, or he becomes addicted to studying, or whatever.

It's the collision of the various goals of the characters both PC and NPC that creates an interesting saga/story. "Studying lots" doesn't seem to create a lot of interesting story potential (sure, there is some story potential, but not a lot).

Of course, some magi might have the goal "learn the Hermetic Arts", or "amass as much magical power as possible" --- but honestly that goal seems a bit insipid and inane as a long term goal for most characters; it's a bit empty as a motivation.

You call common RL goals inane and unrealistic? How absolutely judgemental of you.

If a person or character has a non-world-shattering, non-life-changing goal, it's still a goal. If that goal is to raise a pig and sell it at fair, or to raise a son and have them become king, both are "goals", and both may be equally challenging to the character involved.

Self-improvement can be a goal, as can becoming an expert at that "something", one that that improvement facilitates.

No, half of those are not "goals" in any sense - they are lifestyles (hedonism) or abstract pursuits (healing sick people). A goal is something that, in theory, you could attain (even if there is no hard-defined endpoint). "Praise God!" - there, I've glorified God, my goal is complete... (nah, not so much).

"Motivations"? That's different. But motivations are not the goal, they are what pushes you toward that goal, and often are surprisingly unrelated in any direct sense. Arguably, Napoleon's goal was world domination - his "motivation" might have been to compensate for being short.

That's one possible force for creating stories, nothing more. There are many others.

Glad you're being "honest". Sad you're being so judgemental and dismissive.

And again, a goal hardly synonymous with a motivation, nor is expected to be.

Those goals may be stereotyped and perhaps shallow from a story-telling sense, but for the character - well, we've all seen parallel goals in RL, so we know they happen, and are hardly "empty" for the person involved. They might not be ultimately attainable, or not as fulfilling as that person might expect - and we might have the wisdom to say "Told ya!" - but that doesn't negate them as a valid goal for that person, that character. And some of the most exaggerated goals have provided some of the highest RL drama world-history has ever seen.

Cuch, I like your ideas, but for you to call someone else judgmental and dismissive is a bit pot-and-kettle, given the insulting way your responses are often framed.

I'm guessing Richard is labeling as inane the example "building a 1/8 scale model of Stonehenge from toothpicks", despite the presence of two reasonable goals (lute, wines) right afterwards. Assuming the worst about someone and then disparaging their character because of it doesn't seem like an optimal way to go about things.

Isn't that a very modern thing? Didn't most children of farmers become farmers? Didn't most apprentices pursue the thing in which they did their apprenticeship?

I guess I find the analogy odd because we're taught reading, writing, math, other languages, etc. in school... There are so many things. And then we discover that so many of the jobs out there are only tangentially related to the earlier training anyway. However, I don't think that's the same case with an apprenticeship type system.


Do we have an icon for slight exasperation?

Right...so, It depends on what magic means to each magus...actuallty, no, I can't be bothered retyping it. Just assume that where I use PC above they are merely an example for all of magidom. Then once again I'd like to point out that Jerbitons are already written as doing this deliberately, as are some Tremeres (no, they don't all
just study magic all the time so thery can challenge to be primus. Ambassadors in particular have Abilities the House finds useful, rather than Arts.)

Well, that depends on what magic -means- to people. Is it an end in itself, or is it a process?

That's because, for you, magic is interpreted as mechanichal. If, howsever, magic is an endless fascinating thing like pure mathematics, or like sport, or lik crack cocaine, then the purely mechanistic metaphors break down.

This is a good point; however, I still think that was caused by necessity. Knowing a trade (and being part of its social structure) was a huge asset in those times where the "baseline quality-of-life" was so low. There is very strong evidence that whenever people were given the chance to jump boats - onto a better one - they almost invariably did so. In other words, people generally stuck to their training because it was a very precious tool, not because it had become part of their "essential nature".