On Original Research

I am trying to understand the Original Research rules (in True Lineages), and what is the optimal strategy for a magus using them: what strategy will deliver the most progress towards the Breakthrough. It's giving me a headache, the rules are very confused, so I want your advice.

In this I am following the errated version, the one that says the risk modifier affects the results of the Extraordinary Result Chart as normal, but in addition may now be added or subtracted from this result to achieve a Discovery. The example is rolling an 8 on the dice, which with a +3 risk modifier translates to 11 (Modified Effect), which affects the spell but in addition a -1 is applied to it for an added result of 10 – Discovery.
I believe this is very quirky. The change in the rules also makes the paragraphs below it strange and inexplicable. What does “Having deciding how you will use your risk modifier in a previous season, you must continue to use it in the same manner for consecutive seasons” mean now? At any rate the example on page 28 no longer agrees with the rules on page 27, and should be errated as well.

Seeking the Unknown

The first stage of Original Research is Seeking the Unknown: inventing a new spell or enchanting a new item. Great. When does it fail?
The rules (TL p. 27) say “You may accrue odd and weird results as your research progresses, but may continue to experiment provided you don't receive a Complete Failure or Disaster result”. This is not how experimentation usually works, in Complete Failure “your season is wasted”, and even in Disaster you may still have a project left if for example you roll 0 or less (“Your season is still wasted; see Complete Failure”). Of course both Complete Failure and Disaster can bring to failing the entire project, wasting all prior investment and seasons in it.
By the rules as written, it seems TL implies that both Complete Failure and Disaster always bring experimentation in the course of Original Research to a grinding halt on this stage, leaving the maga to begin the project anew (or abandon it). If any of those occur, you may no longer experiment and hence no longer pursue the current experiment/project.

Really, I think the whole thing is just not well written, but the (post-errata) rules as written seem to be this: you must successfully invent a spell or enchant an item using the normal experimentation rules, but with the Risk Modifier subject to a limit of Magic Theory/5 (up to +3), and furthermore on at least one season gain a result of Discovery or at most Risk Modifier removed from it, and if you get a Complete Failure or Disaster even once the entire attempt fails. Fine.

I think a better, more consistent rule, would have been that you simply invent the spell or enchant the item as usual under the usual experimentation rules, and not mentioning a stop in case of a Complete Failure or Disaster unless this is already implied by said rules. I also like the way the original TL rules worked with the Discovery entry, allowing you some leeway in controlling the results of the experimentation, rather than providing an “in addition” process on top of normal experimentation. And I really thing the whole thing could be written much clearer. But lets move on.

Stabilizing the Unknown

The second stage of Original Research is stabilizing the discovery. I find this section even more confusing.
I think the intention is that you attempt to stabilize your experiment by repeating it season by season, using the exact Lab Total and Risk Modifier as in the original experiment. As soon as one season yields a non harmful result (anything except Disaster, No Benefit, or Complete Failure) you stabilized your discovery, and need proceed no further with this stage. This interpretation is supported by “As long as you do not roll a harmful effect, you stabilize your discovery” and “If your stabilization attempt fails, you may spend another season and try it again. You may continue to stabilize your discovery until you succeed...”. It is contradicted by “You must repeat the experimentation, continuing for the same number of seasons...”
(Again, the part about adding the risk modifier in the same way you did before is very unclear post-errata.)
Again, none of these results imply loss of a project under normal experimentation rules, but TL says “you have lost the chance to stabilize that Discovery”. Yet it also goes on to say “You may continue to stabilize your discovery until you succeed...”. Given the core ArM5 rules on experimentation and the supportive quote, I am inclined to say that you lost your chance to stabilize that Discovery this season. Yeesh.

Again, I'd recommend rewording the entire section so it doesn't contradict itself.

Optimal Risk Modifier

All that out of the way, let us turn to optimization.
Let us assume that the maga has a Magic Theory score of 11 (or 8+2 with a fitting specialty), allowing her up to a +3 Risk Modifier. For simplicity, let us assume that through a combination of low aura, Careful Sorcerer, a strong familiar golden cord, and perhaps a specialized lab (I don't have Covenants yet) the maga has zero botch dice even with a +3 Risk Modifier. What Risk Modifier should she choose?

A Discovery result is a 10.
With a +0 risk modifier, a stress die a roll of 1,5 will result in10 - a 0.01 probability.
With a +1 risk modifier a roll of 8 or 1,4 will result it 9 hence 10; a roll of 9 will result in 10 directly; a 1,5 will result in 11 hence 10; in total, a 0.22 probability.
With a +2 risk modifier a roll of 6 will result in 8 hence a Complete Failure; a roll of 7 will result in 9 hence 10; a roll of 8 or 1,4 will result in 10; a roll of 9 will result 11 hence 10; in total, a 0.31 probability.
With a +3 risk modifier a roll of 4 or 1,4 will result in 7 hence 10; a roll of 5 will result in 8 a Complete Failure; a roll of 6 or 1,3 will result in 9 hence 10; a roll of 7 will result in 10; a roll of 8 or 1,4 will result in 11 hence 10; a roll of 9 will result in 12 hence 10 plus a 0.2 chance of Complete Failure; in total a probability of 0.53 plus a probability of 0.12 for Complete Failure.
(Edit: forgot a 0.01 from 1,5; I won't correct the math for it.)

It seems most lucrative to take the +3 Risk Modifier, as is to be expected as its main downside is the extra botch dice which are not considering.

When attempting to stabilize the effect of the Risk Modifier is null: on a Complete Failure or No Benefit it fails, and that's roughly a 0.2 probability regardless of Risk Modifier. So the above conclusion holds.

Optimal Project Length

The key choice is the project length – should one pursue a one-season project? two seasons? Intuitively, it seems dividing things into many seasons just asks for trouble as the chance that at least one will get Complete Failure and fail rise up while the increase in benefit (magnitudes of stabilized discovery) crawls to a standstill as it approaches the full Lab Total – clearly, immensely long projects are not worthwhile but it isn't clear whether one season is the optimum.
It is, when all is said and done. See below.
It's also simplest – many of the above problems just don't come into play.

Let us consider a one-season long project, say inventing a spell of 0.5 Lab Total.
The probability for a Discovery with a +3 Risk Modifier is 0.53, so on average one would need 1.89 seasons to achieve one.
The probability for Stabilizing the discovery is 0.8 each season, so on average one would need 1.25 seasons to stabilize the discovery.
In total, we gained 0.5 Lab Total in 3.14 seasons, for a rate of 0.16 Lab Totals per season.

Let us consider a two-seasons long project, gaining 2/3 Lab Total.
The probability for a Discovery in at least one season of two is 0.78, requiring 1.28 attempts i.e. 2.56 seasons on average. This neglects the 0.12 chance for a Complete Failure on each season causing the addition of one or two seasons; I'll take this into account by adding 0.12*(1+2) to the total implying it takes 2.92 seasons to complete the 2-season project with a Discovery. I'll neglect rarer complications.
Stabilization is still 0.8 likely per season, requiring 1.25 seasons to stabilize the discovery.
In total, we gained 2/3 Lab Total in 4.17 seasons, for a rate of 0.16 Lab Total.

Let us now consider a three-seasons long project, gaining 3/4 Lab Total.
The probability for a Discovery in at least one season of three is 0.9, requiring 1.11 attempts or 3.33 seasons on average. I'll add to that 0.12*(1+2+3), or 0.72, for 4.05 seasons on average.
Stabilization still requires but 1.25 seasons on average.
In total we gained 3/4 Lab Total in 5.3 seasons, for a rate of 0.14 Lab Total.

I won't go into more seasons; the addition of ever-increasing chances for Complete Failure on at least one season plus ever diminishing returns from fraction of Lab Total stabilized will tend, I think, to diminish the rate from here on end.

The result of all of this is that one should pick one- or two-season length projects for Original Research.

And If We Botch
All this assumed we don't botch, having enough tricks to offset the botch dice. If this is not the case, we have a small chance to botch on each season – no more than 0.065 probability per season, really. Since it's per season, and can ruin multi-season projects much like Complete Failure on the invention stage, it would tend to favor shorter projects.
Even with such a huge chance to botch, I believe the cost benefit analysis will be in favor of taking the +3 Risk Modifier, except perhaps in the case of having very few botch dice (like 0 or possibly 1) without it; this is because each additional botch dice increases the chance for a botch by less than the one before it. Then there is the chances for Twilight to consider, but that is such a rare occurance (less than 0.1x 0.1 x 0.2 = 0.002, or 0.2 %) that it's all but negligible, as ironic as that sounds.
I think this tips the scale in favor of one-season long projects.
I won't do the math for this. Way too complicated.

In Conclusion
The optimal strategy seems to be taking the +3 Risk Modifier and conducting research into small (one-season long) projects of as close to 1/2 Lab Total as you can get.

The rules are also quite a mess.

Comments?

Small question:

Let us take a level 5 spell that you are trying to make a breakthru with. It is a slow yet safe from warping assention.

The mage has a lab total of 50.

Is it possible for him to have 5 instances of the same spell in research in the same season hence augmenting his chances of making a discovery by the same factor?

W

if I follow the rules correctly, I believe so...though you must apply the same risk modifier to ALL the spells done in that season

Hmm, it is unclear.

ArM5 p. 102: "If you perform arcane experimentation, you add a single simple die + risk modifier to your Lab Total, but any results rolled on the Extraordinary Results Chart apply to all activities performed in the season."

The fact that the chart results apply to all the activities seems to imply that it is the same result that applies to all - but one roll on the ERC, which applies to all the instances.
The fact that the chart results apply to all the activities, however, seems to imply that you roll seperately for each - otherwise, why the plural?

I think the RAW (Rules As Written) support your interpretation, although you'll also augment his chances for Complete Failure or Disaster as all instances receieve all the results. Very strange.

Supposdely this could be done with stabilization too. But the high chances of successful stabilization with each instance and the higher chance of warping making it less worthwhile.

Is this, in fact, the case? The errata'd rules are rather confusing on this point. I'd interpreted rolls of 12+ as "not counting" since they weren't really a result, per se. They merely require you to roll twice more to generate additional results.

Trying to parse the original research errata leads me to another question: If the Extraordinary Results roll is exactly 10, should one now roll on the Discovery table? I realize the rules in TL explicitly say not to, but those were the rules that let you modify the Extraordinary Results roll by your experimentation modifier. The gist of the errata seems to be "roll on the Extraordinary Results chart, do what it says, and then check and see if you get an 'Original Research discovery' as well."

Nathan

Sigh. It's a mess. The whole lot of it. A terrible, unclear, mess.

I was curious - does anyone else have problems with the Original Research rules? i'm about to start using them for the first time as a SG for my player's Bonisagus. Was errata errataed? Or is it ok as is?

Hi,

I have a fundamental problem with the Original Research rules.

Original Research, the stuff that changes the way Hermetic Magic works, is and ought to be a story event. Mere game mechanics do not represent what ought to be happening in the world.

I would scrap the whole thing in favor of a different approach: For any possible breakthrough, the SG should decide what requisite events and qualifications are needed. Perhaps the breakthrough requires a magus who has Free Expression, Enduring Magic, a Magic Theory score of 9, Enfeebled, Latin 5, and a dog familiar to undergo three specific trials, craft and destroy three Talismans, learning from the experience, invent four healing spells and test them on four different kings, and successfully train an apprentice with Strong Faerie Blood from the Sidhe. Your magus is not qualified? Oops. Just like not everyone in the real world has the qualities, experience and opportunity to effect the next breakthrough in physics, even not every physicist, so too not every magus has a real shot at achieving any possible Hermetic Breakthrough. Indeed, not every Hermetic Breakthrough ought to be possible.

(I consider a fundamental principle of rpg design to be that dice should not be rolled at all in any situation where the GM is not content to allow any result to stand without punishing the player for achieving an unexpected success or mitigating an unexpected catastrophe.)

This exposes a larger issue I have with AM rules: Given sufficient time, anyone can learn anything. There is no game mechanic that distinguishes Thomas Aquinas from some other medieval scholar deservedly forgotten by history despite the many books he wrote; artistic genius (or ability of any kind) comes with age and experience points, rather than youthful genius and unique ability. Mozart died at 34, having written some of the greatest music ever; a millenium of study will not allow Homer Simpson to match him.

How, then, to represent capabilities and potential in Ars Magica that transcend mere study? (Rolling stress dice is not the answer; it is not satisfying to model a genius by saying "he's an ordinary character whose player rolled well!)

Anyway,

Ken

Wow, that brings back memories.

I only actually played with OR once, and it worked well-enough in the saga, although it was geared for that sort of thing. At any rate, I have come to think that lab rats might be a fun character concept, but don't make for a very fun game. I much prefer to use the rules from Ancient Magic instead. I've thought up integrating them, but really I think it's best to just use Ancient Magic. Even Bonisagus integrated old magic, rather than inventing Hermetic magic whole-cloth! Having the researcher hop around Mythic Europe following clues and sources of Insight has great story potential; having him spend decades cooped up in his lab does not.

However, if you're gonna use the rules I'd suggest considering how fast it would take. I run the statistics in the link above, I believe someone else also had some on these forum. I think you'd be surprised how easy/fast it is, your PC would develop brakthroughs fairly soon, in a matter of years or a few decades, if you follow the rules. I therefore recommend increasing the number of breakthought points needed, at least - unless you think your saga won't last lots of in-game years (and I guess most don't), and want to see the breakthrough story through.

Ovarwa: I'd start with the No PC Death Rule - whenever a Magus or Companion is brought to below Incapacitated, he is left for dead but is later revealed to remain alive - but with a new Flaw (the one about being brought back from the dead by the Divine is appropriate....). Likewise, whenever the PC suffers Twilight that removes him from the game for more than the SG feels is appropriate, lower the duration - and in this I include Final Twilight.

If you replace Original Research with Ancient Magic, the specific problem of plot-control evaporates. The SG controls which sources of Insight are available, and what breakthroughs they lead to.

I agree with you completely here. Whenever players in our sagas express a desire to research "breakthrough" ideas it is always with the understanding that their actual goal may be unattainable, or at the very least it will be the culmination of a long time spent in research, study, experimentation, and (hopefully) many interesting stories. My troupe came up with the mere bones of a concept for tracking progress that vaguely resemble the OR rules you're discussing, but we specifically made the benchmarks and results non-specific to allow the SG full leeway to control the accumulation of knowledge (and power) inherent in such pursuits. The main purpose of tracking "accumulated research points" was to give the SG and players an idea of how much effort and success a maga had achieved, as well as a means of the player advocating for his mage. So after 15 game-years I might pipe up with: "Hey, I've spent 20 seasons of my life and accumulated XXX research points, have I learned anything new yet?" This gives the SG a clear, tangible picture of your actual effort and justifies tossing you the occasional bone, e.g., "Your quest to discover how to affect the Lunar sphere might be enhanced if you had something to study from the Lunar sphere, or above it...say, some angel tears, or a feather from its wing, or some such...." Segue to story (or series of stories) to find an angel, or whatever.

The point is I think the magic and wonder of the game is dampened by reducing these Great Mysteries to a mere set of game mechanics, no matter how well thought out and constructed. I am not disparaging the excellent work of the authors or publisher, who poured their creative soul into devising these systems (probably in answer to players who wanted these rules spelled out for them), but I disagree with the philosophy that an RPG system must include a set of written rules for virtually every possible endeavor in that game universe. This is a major reason why my troupe ignored most of the 4th edition revisions, as it appeared to break from the ArM tradition of creating "guidelines" and leaving them loose, open and malleable.

Agreed. The solution I (always) suggest is if the RAW strike a chord of disharmony in you/your troupe then change them; ignore the ones you don't like; create new ones you think need creating. SG's bear the burden of this, insofar as vetoing rules that conflict with their saga. One suggestion from my own troupe concerns this very topic. Whenever a character makes a roll on a skill/talent/knowledge we do not rely solely on the number generated by the die. The SG asks for (if he doesn't know offhand) the character's base skill score, as well as any Virtues/Flaws or characteristics that may augment the activity in question, and bases the result on his intuitive amalgamation of the two. So a grog with a Play Instrument of 2, Com +1 who rolls a stress and gets a 35 die roll doesn't suddenly produce Mozart-quality music. In this case he probably belts out a really, really kickass song, and everyone loves it, but that's the end of it. Now if a companion has Entrancing Music 7, Play Instrument 8, Com +3, and the Virtue Free Expression (y'all still have this one?) then sure, you are the pre-Mozart genius of your field.

Agreed. Only the player magi have a shot at achieving any possible Hermetic breakthrough.

Agreed. On the ones the players want to break through ought to be possible.

The activities of all the other magi across the Order are merely tools to be used by the storyguide to ensure that the players get the most enjoyment out of the stories they want to play through. That's why you can have a centuries old specialist Bonisagus research magus never actually make that final breakthrough, when the law of averages coupled with game mechanics suggests he should have made that breakthrough ten times over. He didn't do it because he doesn't turn up and eat chips with you each week.

I sort of see where you're coming form, but I have a real problem with the means you try to correct it, which basically means player characters cannot undertake research that they do not qualify for, or made their character to attain in conference with you as SG. It seems to be a personal SG axe you're grinding with regard who can do great things, to the detriment of possible player enjoyment. "Sorry, you should have taken Faerie Blooded."

Admittedly, I think SGs should be cautious when considering breakthroughs and discuss which ones are bad for the game with players, and they should also include some manner of story impetus, ala Insight from Ancient Magic. However, rules for research are not inherently a bad thing, especially when the games talks about Bonisagus in that light ALL THE TIME. No rules at all, for those that want them, on research and the expansion of magic seems to say "Yes. Those Founders? You'll never be half the wizard they were." - despite the fact that the magic we use 'today' is a much evolved form of what they were creating from scratch. That said, not all rules will be satisfying to all people. I'm glad Ars 5th has some option for people that do want to look at the prospect of advancing magic, however.

As noted, breakthroughs need to be looked at in terms of if the troupe wants to deal with them going forwards. In my saga, some ideas were shot down, but one regarding the arts used for longevity potions had a nice rationale behind it, and though it would change the Order somewhat, would not make it unrecognizable and something the troupe would not want to play in. It would allow the players to have an impact on the setting, and that's always good if the setting is still fun for all. I often try to approach RPGs with the idea, taken from a GM friend, that the players are among the most important people in the game either by skill, luck, or being in the right place at the right time. Not quite the Exalted RPG, but why play a schmuck in your escapist entertainment?

I'd say you model this with Puissant Abilities, Inventive Genius, Affinities, Great/Mythic Intelligence (or other stat) and so on. Virtues make a man who is a cut above others with the same degree of aptitude. Also, being a player character helps.

Vrylakos

Indeed, I think one problem that some folks might have is looking at the combined rules for Ars 5 as some sort of program that if run creates an Order of Hermes or Mythic Europe simulation. in truth, they're tools for entertainment with a nod towards some sort of vague "mythic realism".

V

Hi,

Why? If Hermetic Breakthroughs are possible, shouldn't it be possible to have a story in which an NPC magus verges on a breakthrough that can cause problems? Or achieves a breakthrough that causes problems? If a PC Bonisagus has a rival or an enemy, shouldn't that NPC have a real chance to beat the PC magus to the breakthrough both have been striving for these past 50 years?

Agreed. On the ones the players want to break through ought to be possible.
[/quote]
What if the SG disagrees?

shudder I very much prefer rules that loosely models what is going on in the world, so that character actions make sense.

I acknowledge that you describe a reasonable gaming style which many people enjoy. D&D4 works very much this way, with completely different mechanics for creating PCs and NPCs. I'm not sure it works as well in a game where troupe play blurs the distinction between PC and NPC.

Anyway,

Ken

Hi,

No personal axe to grind here! It just makes no sense to me, insofar as I perceive the world, that experience and study trumps all. No matter how much I run and xp I accumulate, I will never beat a Kenyan runner with natural talent. Never. I am not going to revolutionize mathematics, or gain the mathematical intuition that a very few people already have at 9 years of age. I reached a level of competence at piano beyond which I might achieve only incremental improvement, regardless of effort.

When we speak of breakthroughs, we speak of effort beyond the ordinary, which ought to be represented somehow.

Sure, but what rules? Do you really like rules that imply that any schmuck--to borrow your choice of words--can achieve works of genius if he plods along long enough?

There's a big difference between playing a schmuck and playing a character who has a right to reinvent Hermetic Magic.

There's a big difference between rules that let me create a Flambeau combat monster (which is what rules should do, since the Flambeau themselves train themselves thusly) and rules that also give this guy a natural ability to achieve magical breakthroughs.

There are things that any magus can do, and the basic AM rules do a good job representing the ability of some magi to be better at some of these activities and worse at others. But it should take an exceptional character to forge exceptions.

That's my own bias, naturally.

This is exactly the approach that troubles me. The benefits of these virtues can be represented by experience points, since they all just add to a generic total. Distinguishing PCs from NPCs--then who really needs rules?

Anyway,

Ken

Hi,

Yes.

On the other hand, AM5 has one of the heaviest game systems around, right up there with Hero and GURPS. We are in a galaxy far, far away from Over the Edge or even Cinematic Unisystem or BRP. An AM character doesn't fit on an index card or even a character sheet; magi need dossiers or databases.

A rule system this complex is going to be simulating something, if only in the way the designers of D&D3 acknowledged that their rules simulate D&D.

Anyway,

Ken

Yes and no.

If someone has attribute 3, affinity, skill 1, and puissant skill, he has an effective skill of 6, which you can emulate with enough study despite your attribute of 0.
But if he studies a little, gets to skill 4 (rather easy for him), you'll have to emulate skill 9. Which'll require a LOT more study.
And it gets worse.

Now, if you also have inventive genius and mythic intelligence and affinity and puissant skill, and gets to, say, skill 6. Imagine the difficulties that magus with intelligence 0 will have to compete with you?

Actually, in the vast nature vs nurture debate, I like this: Some people are more gifted than others, but you need to train your skill. If you don't, someone who trains hard may surpass you.
Genius, in Ars, = talent + training. IMO, just as in real life.
I think this is more democratic, less elitist, gives less of a "superior person" feeling, and doesn't bar players from achieving goals they didn't plan, if they invest enough time and efforts in it, although this'll be hard: So emulate mozart skill 6+puissant+free expression+attribute score of 11+, your companion with no special talent will have to devote an awful lot of time in it, and still, won't have the special perks of free expression. IMO, he deserves to become a great musician.

I like rules that make the PCs explicitly special, but also allow for some world-simulation, and of course they need to provide a solid framework for the players to choose their character's actions against. I think ArM does this pretty well, but I would like a more gamist/less simulationist feel to some rules and procedures.

The key tool ArM uses to set PCs and NPCs apart is the balancing of virtues and flaws. ArM is not clear on this, but as far as I'm concerned NPCs generally have far less Virtues than PCs, but their V&F are unbalanced and subject only to SG considerations. This is not emphasized enough in ArM. [It is for "creatures", and for Magical NPCs, but not for normal NPCs IIRC.]

I think that another key rule should be the No Random Death rule, wherein wounds beyond Incapacitated (i.e. death) for a Magus or Companion character can be traded for a Flaw. In this respect, Final Twilight is a bad mechanic - and I don't like the way Temporary Twilight can whisk magi from the game for years, either. These mechanics take the very core of the game - the composition of the characters taking part in the saga - away from the players of the game, entrusting them to the luck of the dice. I think this should be a key difference between PCs and NPCs - NPCs die or disappear from the tale when the rules call for it, PCs (and perhaps some "villain" NPCs) are there until the plot (or players) decide otherwise.

I agree ArM strikes a nice balance between allowing character uniqueness and allowing open-ended character development. Being suited to the task (Affinity, Puissant, etc.) helps, but any character can succeed at anything if he puts his mind to it and has enough good training. I think that's fine from a simulationist perspective - in real life, learning/training curves generally reach a ceiling rather than rising ever-more-slowly, but that's a reasonable approximation. A normal person will suffer deterioration from old age and die before his effective Ability (given reasonable training and practice) will increase enough to match the starting score of a guy with Puissant and Affinity in Athletics and 2xGreater Stamina, so it works fine. On the other hand, ArM offers plenty of ways for PCs to do anything they set their minds to, which I think is important. You have an Ability Block in martial skills and abysmal physical characteristics and you want to be the best fencer in the world? If you're an NPC - tough. If you're a PC - a trip to hell and bonding with a strange half-demonic sword called Stormblade would give you a workaround, and provide fun and games for all. I do not believe in saying "no" - if a player wants to reach the prize, you as an SG should say "well, you need to jump through this hoop first...".

If you dismiss the True Lineages rules in favor of Ancient Magic, and dismiss the possibility of initiating yourself into a Mystery you don't know (excepting perhaps some specific cases, e.g. following the top initiation script of the Huntress in the Wood), there is no problem with a PC not being "special" and still breaking Hermetic theory. A character cannot just sit in his lab and reinvent magic. He must uncover the lost emerald tablets in Egypt, or follow the initiation script that is founded on the cult's magical understanding, or so on - all appropriately Mythic, and all due to opportunities that were just not available to the NPC magi. Again, a good balance between simulationsim (allowing NPCs to generally follow the same rules as PCs), and gamism (allowing PCs to do special, grand things).

Whereas I hate rules that make PCs special as compared to their NPC equivalents. Having the PCs belonging to a special group, or indeed being the only members of the special group, is fine, but having PCs just being different completely destroys any interest I have in the game. "You're the secret cabal that rules the world" is fine, but "You're an ordinary office worker in a world gone mad. And when you fire a weapon, it has far less chance of jamming because the dice mechanic says so." is not.

Whilst my NPCs are definitely not Virtue and Flaw balanced, that's because the whole balance issue exists solely so that players don't feel that another player has a mechanically just plain better in ever way character. Actual characters, be they PC or NPC, after a period of time don't have balanced Virtues and Flaws either. Story Flaws, Twilight Scars and the like all readily accrue and these add and remove Virtues. After 10 years in-game time, the numbers should be different and reflect their actions and decisions.

The problem here is that there's a difference between a random death of the form, "Roll d10 every year. On a 0, one PC drops dead" and one of, "You put yourself into a dangerous situation, accidentally fried your shield grog and ran out of Vis. And then three people fired arrows at you and you botched your dodge roll against one of them." That's not a random death at all. Final Twilight is the same. You can see it coming and you can take many, many steps to minimise it or slow it down. What you can't do is stop it or control it, and that's where the random element comes into play. To my mind, a player taking a magus into a situation where he knows that death is possible has already decided to risk death. If that's not the case then there's no real risk at all.

Ars Magica already has a system in place whereby death is one-removed from the Magi. It's called "Troupe Play" and that's explicitly why grogs exist. Jonathon Tweet has a nice essay about it - http://www.jonathantweet.com/jotgamesgrogs.html.

Whilst I agree that the Ancient Magic rules for research add a great deal to the game, I think dismissing the True Lineages rules is a poor idea. From reading this thread, it seems that people have a rather odd view of research for a start and are also ignoring the distinction between player and character. Magi of Hermes presents a beautiful example of Original Research in the Jerbiton who wants to retain his fertility whilst under his longevity ritual. He invents spells, often variations of a theme, in order to use them to study childbirth and fertility and thus allow him to identify which parts of the longevity ritual need to be changed and how. Yes, finding some older magic which did something similar would have been faster, but its no more valid an approach.

The covenant dedicated to research into new durations in a recent Sub Rosa is another beautiful example of the rules in action, especially as they apply to characters, not players. Many breakthroughs and non-standard hermetic effects have been achieved, but they're not the ones which were originally sought. Research cannot be used to learn things which are impossible to learn. Likewise, Original Research cannot be used to invent something impossible. The eventual result of the research is decided by storyguide and player. If this is something comparitively minor, this may even be what the character is aiming for, but that is not necessarily the case. Research is the process of setting out to examine something, saying, "Hmm. That's strange." and following the tangent towards something related because other paths didn't look as promising.

The big difference between PC and NPC is that the PC is controlled by a player who knows that the research will be successful in the way the player wants and thus the PC will accept and eventually covet. An NPC is governed by a personality with far less foreknowledge and must make decisions based only on his results. Original Research is slow, dangerous and generally fruitless. Most NPCs will start projects and get far enough along to realise that it won't work and stop. Their notes may be useful for other projects, but they probably won't share them. Some research projects will produce flawed results which, being less generally useful, aren''t shared as fast, and instead spawn related research projects. Most realworld research occurs over generations, with notes and papers being passed from one supervisor to another, and many tiny side-avenues explored. This is in great part because most academics don't research what is economically or politically desirable (though they lie through their teeth that it is to acquire funding) but what interests them. Actually useful results are a side-product of most research. Directed research tends to produce more, but it also has many, many failures and side-results. Even then, most people with scientific training don't do research, or at least don't do original research but instead explore within previously established boundaries.

Basicly, magi who do real, original research (as opposed to inventing an unusual example of Pilum of Fire which has an hotter flame, or a new spell to turn into a newt) are rare. Most magi just invent new spells and items and don't experiment outside the Hermetic paradigm. Of those who do do Original Research, many will pick impossible projects but, without setting forth on them, they cannot know that they're impossible. Negative research results are the most common but get very little press. Of those who pick a sensible target, many will be discouraged by the long time and the massive warping. Of those which succeed, few actually get the results they were looking for. And of those who succeed and get the useful things they wanted, few will share them when they could keep them to themselves and form a new lineage with new abilities. In short, in this case the PCs are special not because of the rules but because, being controlled by a player, they're often irrational and have a priviledged position in a story.

My real problem with the Original Research rules is that you cannot generate sources of insight without inventing a spell or item by the rules as written. This is easily rectified - just pick a suitable experiment (say, a five generation breeding project of feeding Mice grain infused with Terram vis) and then study that for insight determined by the Storyguide. As for Ancient Magic's rules, my issue there is that they essentially make any research pointless from the point of advancing Hermetic Theory because it turns it from integration into Hermetic Magic to partial, weak integration into one magus' magic. If you can't share your results, the whole system breaks since that's what Hermetic Theory is for.

As for self-initiation, that's sort of what Original Research is - discovering new magic and how to attune yourself to it. The things Mystery Cults initiate are things that are nonHermetic and so cannot be taught in any other way. The rules for teaching Virtues are very vague, as are the rules of Opening the Gift. The fact that each stage is spelled out in the Initiation rules is not necessarily the rule. If you find instructions, you should be able to follow them. As is, Mystery Cults are an impossiblity anyway, because unlike any other form of research, there's no positive feedback of partial results and developing a cult lore from scratch is essentially a fool's game.

Finally, I really don't like the idea that all research must be into ancient magic. Firstly, it implies that nothing new is possible which grates somewhat. Secondly, it implies that magi are incapable of independent thought. If one magus in antiquity can determine how to link a spell to a storm to sustain it as long as the storm does, another can do the same even if he doesn't have access to an example spell. The example will just help him do it faster.

Fhtagn: Some great points, but we just disagree on what we look for in a game. I want an ArM game to be about Mythic characters doing Mythic things, about taking part in a legend - not about playing members of secret cabal that rules the world, more like playing the Five Secret Masters. Less roleplaying a simulated group, more roleplaying a role in a myth. And legendary figures don't just die, that's just not a good story.