On the limits of Circle Wards

I am opening a new thread for discussing an issue that popped up in the "Protecting a Creature from PeVi" thread, and that I think somewhat tangential to that thread. Richard Love pointed out that, according to ArM5 p.114:

What constitutes "damaging the circle indirectly"? This seems to encompass a pretty broad palette of actions. Which seems fair: if we allow a being imprisoned in a circle to destroy it by using a stick to poke at it, the Ward loses a lot of its value and of "archetypal flavour" (think of a Circular Ward against demons). However, if we disallow damaging the circle by poking it with stuff, it seems very reasonable to disallow damaging the circle by throwing stuff at it. What about throwing spells? And what about asking someone else to destroy the circle -- does that constitute "damaging the circle indirectly"?

And what constitutes "acting across the circle"? While one may be tempted to allow a warded being to swing a sword across the circle (on the basis of how Magic Resistance works), it would seem very strange to me that a warded being could swing the sword across the circle, but not at the circle. In fact, it would seem very strange to me that a warded being could do anything across the circle that it could not do at the circle. But inability to act across the circle could encompass much more -- could an imprisoned being even communicate across the circle?

Personally, since magical offense tends to be so much stronger than defense mechanically -- in fact, a bit too strong for my tastes -- I'd be inclined to give the widest possible interpretation to Wards. But then (precisely because of that perceived offense/defense imbalance) Wards haven't seen much use in my games, so I might be disregarding some crucial point...

The interpretation I use for this is that if the action of the warded creature will result in the ring's destruction without the agency of another being that is not warded, the action is not permitted.

Thus: if a demon and a mouse are both inside the circular ward against demons, then the demon can attempt to convince the mouse to break the ward. However, if the demon uses its powers to control / possess the mouse, then at that point it is usurping the mouse's agency and while it can indeed possess the mouse just fine, it cannot then use the mouse to break the ward.

The demon can attempt to bribe or cajole the mouse, though. That's allowed.

That's my interpretation. YS probably will V.

I'm not sure of the answer, but I'm pretty sure I know one of the experiments the Order would use to find out.

Take one Tytalus apprentice, preferably with a decent Creo score, place him/her inside a Circle ward against people, along with a bunch of objects. Observe what kind of Rube Goldberg-esque solution allows the apprentice to escape. Repeat with different apprentices and/or objects, as necessary. Soft masters will occasionally toss in some food/water.

I struggled a lot with this question, because it basically allows Ring/Circle wards to break the Hermetic Limit of Arcane Connection. Granted, it's not an absolute limit (Intellego magics), but it does control things the caster cannot sense outside the area the spell is affecting. A faerie could not fire an arrow to fell a tree to spoil a Ring if the Ward beats its Magic Resistance. This can even effect beings that are UNAWARE that their actions could potentially damage the Ring. Even more, it doesn't offer Magic Resistance but can stop powers by Penetrating a creature's Might at infinite distance; a creature using an Arcane Connection range power would still have to resist the Ward's Penetration.

Wards in my saga offer Magic Resistance (vs powers of creatures with Might of one Realm) instead for this reason. Creatures trying to enter a warded area must resist the Ward's Penetration, but their powers are resisted by the Ward. This keeps wards from having to be intelligent or operating at infinite distance. This doesn't prevent indirect attempts to damage Rings AT ALL. An Ogre can use a natural stick to erase a Ring in the sand. In my saga, magi don't draw Ring wards in sand, they use solid stone or metal for important Rings, or they use a different Target like Room or Structure to keep stuff in/out.

Note that many faeries, angels, spirits and demons have weapons or tools that are basically part of them, so wards are often still effective, but Ring wards are supposed to be fragile things without good preparation. You can still trap a demon in a chalk circle if you leave them without tools.

Loose, not fire. You do not fire arrows

Otherwise, I find myself in agreement. Ward should be fragile unless you've taken great care to prepare them. That said, merely crossing a ward should not break it, the act of breaking it should either be intentional, or a natural result of the surrounding world, not the result of purely random chance where someone's foot lands.

The main issue I have with fragile wards is that there's almost always something inside the ward that the target can use - a half-hemisphere of dirt, rock, or whatever the surface you drew the ward on. Assuming the target is stronger than the average human, (pretty common), it's trivially easy for a summoned entity to fling dirt or a spear of rock to damage the circle. Or alternately - the summoned entity simply punches the floor. He hasn't broken the circle, but instead he's broken the floor that the circle is drawn on...which then breaks the circle.

As this is not the general description of how wards operate, I usually take a slightly more hard-line (as it were) approach.

Then main issue I have is that there's always somehing outside the ward that the target can use -- for wards whose purpose (as per their name) is to keep critters out (rather than imprison them in). Such wards become essentially worthless against tool-using beings, even with a lot of preparation.

I think keep-them-out wards are the most problematic wards to deal with: if one assumes wards are "fragile", they are the most fragile, and if not, they're the ones with the most egregious cases of "spooly action at a distance" that john prins mentioned.

I've always thought of wards as keeping things within them as their default, like a summoned creature or demon.
And would cast my preference to have wards as fragile.

Actually, at least in previous editions, the default (whatever that may mean) use of wards seemed to be the opposite -- keep stuff out.

Re: the whole action-at-a-distance thing:

I usually interpreted it as wards have the ability to detect a sort of Aristotillean "by whose will alone were you set in motion?" And if an object is mindless (ie, it has no will), then the ward looks at a property of the motion itself to determine what originally moved it; in a sort of object-oriented pointer sense. So you may have to backtrack through the object history to find the Parent of the motion, but it's all encoded on the instance itself.

As such, no action-at-a-distance is required: anything that hits the ward has its history examined to determine who ultimately is responsible for throwing it.

EDIT - or, in a more modern legal sense, "intent follows the bullet" - it doesn't matter if you intended to do something: ultimately, if you're the last willful actor involved, then your name is encoded on the causality thread from there on out.

Sounds like it needs an Intellego effect. This is more easily accomplished by the ward just acting on the individual to prevent them from drawing the bow or some other activity that would break the boundary of the circle or damage it. This also needs something of an intellego effect, but it is less obvious than what you propose.

Inside or out, it's not that difficult to prepare a ring/circle that can't be casually broken. Create a ring of stone or metal and breaking it is not easy for any amount of strength. A CrTe spell to make a ring of stone (base3, +1M Touch, +2M Sun = 10) is within the means of almost any magi with Formulaic magic, and within the reach of many with Spontaneous magic. Make it Moon Duration for CrTe15. If you plan on making a Ring indefinite duration, make some planning. Wooden or dirt floors are not good surfaces for this. Spells like Rock of Viscid Clay can be used to make a thick, uniform stone surface that is almost unbreakable by plain strength - and it might be worth arguing that the floor of the warded area is one of its boundaries, so unless you trap it with a tool, it has no means to damage the floor. If you're intent on making it invincible, a MuTe Ring/Circle spell BEFORE you put up the ward can make the material unbreakable.

If you plan to use Ring/Ward spells, these spells aren't stupid investments. Round one, draw a ring in the dirt with a MuTe Ring spell to turn dirt to incredibly hard stone. Round two, put the ward spell over the same Ring. Done.

These are the types of things I like to avoid:

  1. You make a circular ward against animals with Might, and then your familiar tells everyone (humans, demons, etc.) nearby to break it so no one can break it. But they could have broken it had your familiar not said something. Why should that matter if it's still their own choice?

  2. You make a circular ward in the dirt against animals. Miles away a careless beaver drops a tree that accidentally fractures its dam, letting loose a lot of water. The resulting flood causes a small river to divert and hit the circle. How would the circle know the cycle of events came from an animal?

I also feel like it is fitting for demon to try to trick the person who made a circle into breaking the circle.

So I tend to go the way Kid Gloves does, though I extend it to things, not just beings.

Yes, "last wilful actor" is the way that I interpret it too. So, the demon can't do anything to the ward itself, the demon can't possess anyone to break the ward, the demon can't throw stuff at the ward, but the demon can ask/fool somebody else to break the ward of their own free will.

Hmm, it seems to me that, if convincing others to break the circle constitutes indirect breaking of the circle, the ward wouldn't stop the humans, demons etc. It would prevent the familiar from telling them to break the circle. "Hey folks! Could you please b-b-b-b... Hmm. Hey folks! I feel, like, constrained in here, can you see that c-c-c-c... Umpf!"

In my opinion, the ward would simply subtly influence the careless beaver from dropping the tree in exactly that way. Yes, that means that a ward has "far reaching" effects, but it's either that or the warded being can simply destroy the circle by acting from sufficiently far away ... and, as the rules are written, any indirect action is blocked, not just those originating close by. I guess it's a bit strange if we think "newtonian physics", but not inappropriate or too hard to adjudicate if we think "magic".

I agree that it's well-represented in folklore. Wards that prevent you from discussing them are also well-represented, though. I guess Kid Gloves' solution seems the best to me.

The problem being that it seems to break the rules of magic, or at least the limits of Hermetic magic. Wards very much affect things that are not sensed and their effects happen well outside their Target area. I would be fine with the idea if this happened once the creature contacted the ward - at that point it's definitely being affected and is under the sway of its power.

Spooky action at a distance!

Late to the party...

I've always played (and intend to continue playing) circular wards as follows.

There's an inside and an outside. A thing being warded against cannot cross or otherwise act across the ward, whether that thing was initially present, intends to act, or pretends it's doing something accidentally in order to outsmart the storyguide... I mean, the magic... The ward isn't a forcefield. It's not an invisible shield that makes things stop what they're doing when they hit it. It stops the thing being warded against from doing that thing it wanted to do to the ward or the warded target in the first place.

Is that a bit odd? Well, yes, of course it is. It's magic. It's not science, no matter how formulaic we make the in-game magic system. So a demon inside the ward can't poke at the ward with a stick until the circle of salt breaks. Why? It's warded. It cannot act against the ward. It also can't throw the stick out of the ward to knock the book off the wooden shelf onto the desk to dislodge the jug of water to make the water cascade down and wash the salt away. The demon could plead with an outside force, perhaps an unwary apprentice, to let it free, claiming to be the sorry remains of the cruel master's previous apprentice. That would work. It's not the demon's work. Another (weaker) demon couldn't possess the apprentice and use the apprentice's form to break the ward from the outside, of course, as the demon is still likely a thing being warded against. That demon could entice the apprentice with riches and the promise of power over his master. Again, it's persuasion. Coercion might also work for some storyguides, but I'd be inclined to give the apprentice fortitude enough to resist the final breaking of the ward - the demon's actions are warded against after all and the apprentice, through coercion, has become a tool every bit as much as the stick was.

Of course complex chains of events concocted with the intention of outsmarting the magic don't work. Magical chance works against them even if the initial impetus could be sneaked past the storyguide.

Let me just point out that pleading with something on the other side of the ward is acting across the ward. Based on the broad rule about acting across the boundary, this would seem to be forbidden by RAW.

I get that. I do. However, I prefer to accept that channel as it opens stories rather than closes them. A stricter interpretation may well say that even asking or bargaining for help would be prohibited. As would hinting. Or making any perceivable gesture that might incline another to believe the warded thing to be in distress or otherwise uncomfortable with their situation.