Order of Hermes, a History of Malthusian Trap

Good news, everyone!
tl;dr I wanted to see, how Order of Hermes (Order) developed during history: what was its power during different ages, how many mages were there, how much vis did they use. To do so I’ve made a simple demographic model of mage population (based on a very simplified version of my demographic models for several countries), made a projection of past and future populations until ~2100AD. And then it all clicked together and I’ve wrote several ideas for the games about development of the Order of Hermes up to modern times.

Demographic model has following parameters.

  1. It models changes in population of Hermetic mages with 50 years increments.
    It’s stated that Order is founded in 767, conquers Europe in about 40 years, has Diedne Schism and Tytalus March about 1000 AD and the game takes place in 1220. If I add 50 years 767 onwards I can get data on these periods with satisfying accuracy (i.e. Europe conquered in 817, Schism is 1017, data for “today” is for 1217).
    Moreover, we have estimations of population of Europe for each century that can be plausibly expanded for 50 year intervals.
    This model can be expanded for 10 year periods, but it’s unnecessary, because external variables are pretty shitty. I’ve spent about 8 hours on these model and text; I’m not paid enough to spend more.
  2. There’re 5 age groups (age cohorts) of Hermetic mages: 0, 50, etc. ages from Opening the Arts. These are full age categories, i.e. group “0” includes apprentices that just have their arts opened up to 49 full hermetic years. The max group is 200 hermetic years – there’re very few mages of this age, in accordance to rules as written (RAW).
  3. Every 50 years age cohort of mages gets older and diminishes due to variety of reasons: natural (accidents, adventuring, etc.), conflicts and other events. Natural mortality begins 5% for young mages and grows to 80% for elders. Meaning that from all the mages whose arts were opened 95% survive through their apprenticeships, 86% survive until 50 hermetic years, 68% until 100, 41% until 150 and 8% until 200. This progression looks natural enough for me.
  4. Every 50 years all Hermetic population gets new mages due to apprenticeships, background conversions (absorption of existing mages into the Order, like Trianoma did) and other events (right now it includes only absorption of 20 Ex Miscellanea mages in 817). Only mages aged 50-150 do convert other mages (5-20% of hermetic mages did 1 conversion every 50 years). All mages older than 50 train new apprentices (about 1.25 apprentices per mage in 50 years on average).
    There’re modifiers of survivability for each age group (what % of mages survives to the next age cohort), conversion modifiers (% of mages that converted neutral mage into order) and apprenticeship rate (how many apprentices average mage trains in 50 years).
    There’re also ad hoc modifiers of population: inclusion of 20 ex misc mages in 800, and additional mortality due to Diedne and Tytalus of 48 mages (population of 3 Hermetic Houses at the time).
    Population model begins in 767 with 13 mages aged 50 (Bonisagus, Trianoma and 11 other founders) with 20 apprentices and new converts aged less than 50. Then it constantly grows until 1217, despite mortality spike in 1017 due to Tytalus and Diedne – number of new apprenticeships allows to absorb increased mortality.

Conclusions on historical population, you might not immediately realize

  1. According to this model in 1220 the Order is the most populous (and therefore powerful) than ever. In 967 hermetic population was 207 mages (about 16 per House), in 1117 – 526 mages (44 per House), in 1167 – 745 mages (62 per House). There’re about 1056 mages in 1117 (1220) according to my model. There’re 1090 gifted mages in 1220 according to House books (plus about 140 ungifted Mercere, but they don’t count) – the model is precise enough for me.
  2. In 50 years before 1220 order expanded by about 311 mages – more than ever. It has 487 young mages with Hermetic age below 50, 73 mages older than 150 and about 10 elders aged 200+ - about 1 per house.
  3. If we assume that average mage uses 10 pawns of vis per year, Order used more than 450 thousand of vis during 1167-1217 (4500 queens of vis btw). They used about 115 thousand vis in 1000 AD, because less mages were present at the time.
  4. The Schism was stressful enough for the Order at the time, but should conflict arise in 1220 or later it would be several times more deadly. All the deaths from Diedne Schism and Tytalus war (and I supposed that there were enough of them to destroy about 25% of Order’s population at the time) equal to about half of population of an average Hermetic House in 1220.
  5. Order converted about 28 mages in first hundred years of its existence and kept converting 10-15 more every 50 years (0.25 conversions per magus life, 0.4 in early years, 0.1 in 1220 as there were less independent magicians left). It’s significantly less than natural growth due to apprenticeships, with average mage training 2.4 apprentices during his life (accounting for mage mortality).

- This’s bad wrong model.

  • My model assumes gradual rate of growth that is similar to other models of population growth. One can argue that population of the Order grew significantly faster in about 767-1000 due to massed conversions of hedge mages. It’s possible, though, imo, less likely due to smaller population of Order and weakness of its power base during first centuries – therefore it likely was less convincing than in later years, when it really dominated Europe.
    - Your model is still bad wrong.
  • Listen, you. I have two data points: about 15-30 mages in 767 and 1090 in 1220. I drew a line between them according to my assumptions. Go connect them yourself any way you like.

Population projection
Should I project this model into future, population of the Order would grow above 6 million mages at 1950-2000. This’s definitely wrong. So some limits on growth on population are needed.
The most obvious limit is availability of raw magic. Should there be less vis available, mages surely would reproduce much slower. It’s also stated in RAW that growth of mundane population leads to destruction of magic sources. As a first and rude approximation I took population density in Europe as an indicator of this process.
According to general feel from the books, Order discovered most of available vis un Europe in 1220. I supposed that there’re still about 25% of vis sources undiscovered. So there’s about 560 thousand of pawns of vis available in 50 years in 1220, of which Order used about 450 thousands.
In 1267 there would be about ~1370 mages, a third more, and should they like to use 10 pawns of vis per year, they would already face vis shortage. In 1317 there would be ~1740 and the shortage will become harsher.
I’ve added apprenticeship activity modifier as follows ((average vis usage per year)/10)*average apprenticeship activity per period, with apprenticeship activity being 1.25 (per 50 years). Meaning that if mage used 8 pawns of vis per year on average (instead of “normal” 10), he would train 1.9 apprentices instead of 2.4 during his life.
So the basic premise is this: as European population grows magic dwindles, as magic dwindles hermetics train less apprentices. Hermetics should discover this process in about 1250-1300 and begin adjusting to it by training less and shifting their research to ways of overcoming this shortage. Due to generational inertia, however, would keep growing until 1350AD. Then it will than stagnate at the level of about 2000 mages until 1500AD with mages using 4.5-5 vis per year on average. Then generational inertia would catch up and hermetic population starts to decline while mages keep surviving on 4-5 pawns of vis per year. The crisis begins in 1800-1900 with mages living on 3-3.5 pawns per year, despite their numbers declining to 600. And 20th century becomes a true test for 400-500 mages living on less than 3 vis per year.

-But I don’t want for Hermetics to die! I think there should be several times more vis available than you say!
Okay, I’ve made additional calculations scenarios with more vis reserves in 1220. They’re in my file. In all of them vis per mage begins to decline in the middle of XV and falls to about 5 pawns around 1600 AD – population growth in Europe is just too big to leave any chance for poor defenseless magic to survive this zerg rush.
You can argue all you want. I don’t care. If you like it, use it. If you don’t like it, go away, make your own.

Ideas for games in renaissance and modern times
Projection of hermetic population and availability of vis would change should a large conflict over scarce resources occur in XIV-XIX centuries, resulting in more vis available for fewer survivors. See any oil-related conflict for ideas.
This projection will change should mage institute hard limits on number of apprenticeships during mage life. See Chinese one child policy and all that surrounds it for ideas.
While magic in the world disappears, there would be less gifted individuals and, possibly, the gift itself would change, lessening social stigma associated with it (by 1 point per century, for example) while making psychical disorders in gifted individuals more common. Learning arts might become harder (xp needed for advancement in arts would slowly reach xp needed for abilities; for example add 1 xp in 100 years, so in 1301-1400 xp cost would rise to 2 for 1 point in art, in 1401-1500 to 3 for 1, 1600 – 4 for 1, and finally from 1601 onwards learning arts would become as hard as abilities).
Mages might become more diversified, elders tightly controlling their sources of vis and keeping really important books away from young mages. Order might turn into secret society based on masonic model.
After Westphalia mages might try to reorganize themselves based on nations. This idea might fail. Or not.
Mages might want to retreat to regios or other realms where magic could still be abundant. Mages might want to descent underground or move to wild regions, like Africa, Siberia or Mongolia, where people still haven’t managed to stomp out vis sources.
Discovery of the New World might result in a “gold rush”-like behavior. It would likely turn into disappointment when mages discover that natives didn’t have strong mages that could be able to stop european colonists – and for a good reason!
Mages would still be able to extract vis from environment, though only vim vis is available this way. It’s fine for opening enchantments, aegis and longevity rituals, but other kinds of vis would become much more valuable.
Possible avenues for hermetic breakthroughs:

  • more efficient vis usage,
  • more efficient vis extraction,
  • ability to extract different kinds of vis from atmosphere,
  • changing vis from one kind to another (with discount),
  • ability to “breed” vis (for example see Legends of Hermes, The Magical Garden of Herisson – the guy learned to breed magical beasts and herbs to get vis from them; alternatively see nuclear breeder reactors for ideas).
    Many mages might become “vis scientists” learning about vis and its wonders, but using it mainly in longevity rituals. They would make charged items and mainly use non-ritual magic while hoarding precious vis.
    Information revolution would allow for easier expansion of knowledge, partly compensating for scarcity of magic and harder advancement in arts. Books that seemed impossible to write would become commodity.
    Mages would surely try to industrialize vis extraction and manipulation to compensate for its labor intensity.
    As hermetic population decreases to less than a thousand mages, more trips around Europe would become necessary to gather vis. Mages would become neo-nomads, reading books while traveling by ship and rail and later by plane and car. Rules wise it might become necessary to measure laboratory seasons in hermetic workdays (or workhours!) to account for interruptions of a fast modern world.
    Covenants might loose their importance with development of telegraph, telephone and finally radio and internet. At the same time getting money would become easier for mages with at least token mentem spells - after all, there will be much more wealth around to get.
    As science advances, mages would surely try to adjust Hermetic theory to modern knowledge. Schools of Animal, Corpus and Herbam would likely unite forming school that tries to manipulate living organisms (Vitum). Aquam, Auram and Terram would begin to affect liquids, gases and solids in general. Ignem art would expand to include all the energy related things, including electricity (Potentia).
    As arts converge new arts might appear: some concerning information, geometry of space, large societies or barriers between worlds that Hermetic Theory couldn’t affect before.
    Mages would become more dependent on abilities - to create microprocessor out of thin air its creator should know its architecture!

So, do you want to play with my model all by yourself?
Ahem... It’s almost here... Silly forum rules...
I will link it in my second message.


It is, of course, difficult to discuss an analysis where the analyzer has declared all potential criticism invalid.

Nice post! There's a lot to talk about (but i'm going to bed now ^^).
One thing comes to mind, though: today there are still vast portions of the world with scarce population, like Siberia, the rain forest and Patagonia in South America, New Guinea, Australia, Central Asia, some Africa, Antartide. Those regions wouldn't be full o vis sources? Magi might want to live there, or import that vis from there.

Yes, but you may be surprised by how few 0s off you are. Gifted individuals tend to represent one ten thousandth of the population, and we'd hit our second billion people by 1927, with the third billion only nine years away from the earliest date you provided. With three hundred thousand Gifted folks and the Order's continuing dominance over their numbers, the Order may well number above 200,000 by 1950 and half a million by 2000 - again, of course, all of this falls apart of the Order wanes in strength or, heaven forbid, disappears completely within 800 years.

Good news, everyone!
I can post links now. So here it goes.
It's an excel spreadsheet. It's simple.
Use it. Like it. Bring me your daughters.

More than that. It's completely unnecessary. I've made a very simple model that is based on a complete lack of information concerning generatonal history of the Order. Anyone can argue anything he wants. There're no verifyable sources to support or refute anyone's arguments (to my knowledge). And then there's a definitive argument for a fantasy setting: "it's magic, I'm not gonna explain shit".
Anyone can take my spreadsheet and change it any way he likes (or even make his own for that matter). I've put there independent mortality and generational variables I thought realistic based on my professional experience and (a pretty superficial) knowledge of Ars Magica's setting. But I'm not going to stand over your shoulder and tell you that your fun is bad and wrong.
On the other hand, if you make your own future setting of the Order and share it, it will be interesting to see.

Or the Order falls because of resource limitation, as I guess it will, and will slowly decline and transform for centuries. Yes, there won't be any flying castles in my variant of future. I think it still would be interesting to play. Less is more and all that.

tl;dr yet. But have a look at Mark Shirley's Demography of the Order of Hermes in subrosa #14 p.24ff.


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There have been previous discussions on the board about the growth of the Order of Hermes. The general conclusion is that for the setting to make sense the Schism War had to nearly wipe out the Order.

Three days have passed. There're 24 downloads of my spreadsheet. And 5 replies besides my own. Now that's fame.

Also, I've finished skimming through HoH books for hints on magi population and got frustrated. So I'm going to share my pain.

But first, the boring part. I've made several alterations to modifiers in the spreadsheet that seem to be more plausible according to setting background. For those who're interested, they're...

  1. Starting population is 13+24 - just playing with numbers here.
  2. "Conversions per mage@age, period" modifier goes up to +0.03 from +0.02. I guess it's implied that more hedge mages were absorbed into the Order during first centuries of its existence than I've supposed before.
  3. HoH:S, p.101 mentions that addition of Ex Miscellanea doubles the size of the Order. So "events growth@age, period" for 817 goes up to approx. 50.
  4. "wars, convertions & events deaths" multiplier for 1017 is 4.3 instead of 3. The argument is pretty vague, but... Before Schism House of Diedne was one of the largest - supposing about 1.5 average houses in population - and it was completely wiped out. Tremere, Flambeau, Quaesitores and Ex miscellanea were the most active combatants and lost many mages - let's say 0.5 of average house population. Losses of other 8 houses are much more limited but still significant - let's say 0.1 per house. It means that total losses of population from Schism are about 1.5+40.5+80.1=4.3 average houses (or 92 mages in my estimation). About third of all mages of the Order at the time. I guess it's a large enough number to be seen as threatening the existence of the Order itself, just like it's presented in the setting. For comparison, as far a I know, modern estimates place losses of SPQR during Second Punic war in the range of 25-45% of adult male population (a holy war that defined a national mythology). USSR has lost about a third of its adult male population during WW2 (still a holy patriotic war until this day). So it kinda fits.
  5. "apprenticeships per mage, period" go down from 1.25 to 1.1 to offset increased absorption of non-hermetic mages into the Order. "No time to teach when you've got to preach." It might also better suit the implied amount of apprentices per mage, I'm not sure.
    After these adjustments model again gives about 1090 mages in 1217, though historical population changes slightly.

Now, the frustration bit.
I'm a bit concerned about implied distribution of population in the Order. It seems too small to be believable.
For example, Ex Misc chapter in HoH:S states that there're about 180 mages divided to 8 "big" traditions (Columbiae, Donatores, Orpheuses, etc.), several smaller ones (Koldun, Corrguineach, etc.) and, of course, random mages who had nowhere else to go. Average tradition has "somewhere between 5 and 25 members". These populations are too small to a) call these groups "traditions" from a sociological/antropological point of view, and b) should be very vulnerable from intergenerational reproduction point of view, because loss of each adult/experienced magus would mean losing 5-50% of population of experienced magi within that group. In the real world it's hard to imagine such small social groups that would reproduce for many generations. Especially if they are hindered by Gift-induced quarrels. I have no idea how Order is planning on advancing a magical tradition when one random calamity (say, a lab multibotch with mega-explosion) can wipe significant portion of its population, if not some small tradition in its entirety.
Moreover, when HoH books mentions subgroups of mages from different Houses that have their own culture, historical traditions and whatnot... It's all well and good until one realises that these "traditions" are maintained by groups of no more than 50 people. It's not "culture". It's secret handshake in a local hobby club. It's stated, for example, that Tremere have 14 styles for Certamen. With a population of 92 it's less than 7 people for each "style". When I went on karate practice, our club had about 40 people. And no one tried to say that we had 6 different styles within it. And we didn't even had 50 TeFo combinations, dragons, churches and longevity rituals to occupy our attention with.
Basically, most of the stuff in HoH books is too narrow and specialized to be believable, even within the setting. In a setting with tens of thousands of mages it would seem okay, I guess. But not in Mythic Europe, RAW. A thousand people doesn't even need its own juridical code (not mentioning 13 smaller sub-codes). It's excessive!
Oh, yes. "It's magic, I'm not gonna explain shit."


Of course the terms "culture" and "tradition" have different meaning than in sociology books. Here it's more like a family or clan that teaches to its sons. Probably many of them went extinct indeed (and they aren't probably even mentioned in the books) and those that survived got a good share of luck.

It's a "custom" then.

And I've botched example with certamen - 14 styles are practiced in the Order as a whole, not only by Tremere. So it's about 75 practitioners per style on average in 1220, not 7. The point still stands, I guess.

I think it is a very interesting exercise.

The population growth does need a cap, as you say, when it reaches the carrying capacity. You explore the vis supplies, another could be simply the availability of gifted individuals in the population. This, however, would complexify the model a lot, I think, needing information on historic / semi-historic human populations, as well as the ratio of gifted individuals. Allso, as the population of the Order goes up, the amount of good potential appremtices decreases, presentimg the dilemma of a suboptimal apprentice.

So far, the factoid I have taken away from this is the idea that there were only about 300 magi during the Schism War, and about 100 of those died.

Those numbers fit Demographer's estimates. Interesting.

I that's actually the key to understand, or at least to re-interpret, the setting: most "traditions" are, indeed, very small affairs. It's kinda of like the Sith Lords, where "there are always two" - often the tradition indeed has only two, or a very few, practitioners per generation. Until the rise of the modern Order, magic was rare, and even with the new explosion in magi's population the traditions are still small. This also means that there are a lot of "failed" traditions, so-called "Ancient Magic" that no one practices anymore.

at 10°/°° gifted children, only in France you would get around 160.000 (Provence and Normandy tribunal with 16 000000 people around 1220)... I don't see how you can get only a thousand mages in an Order who pretend to be very strong in Europe.
Actually we decided my husband and I to multiply all number by 10 : with 10.000 the Order can start to be fearful. And also, when you see all schools and secrets within Houses... there are much to few mages on a so big territory (10 000 000 sqkm).
Even using 1°/°° having the gift, we get a much bigger number than the one given in the book.
I should use demographic indicator to calculate, I will do some day when I'll have time.

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I think you are overestimating the population of Europe at the time. You probably just misread the number, because the population of France at the time was 16 millions, not 16 billions.

Wikipedia (not the most reliable of source, but still) mentions an estimated population of Europe peaking at 100 million in the 10th-13th century.

With 1 Gifted for every 10,000 person, that would leave only a Gifted population of 10,000.

Many of those Gifted would still be unsuitable to become Hermetic apprentices for various reasons -- like having been recruited by a lesser tradition, or being killed due to a mundane's reaction to the Gift.

I corrected my mistake, sorry, but I was confused between billion and million... as I am Frenchspeaking, I guess you forgive me
Even with 1 gifted for 10.000, that would give 1600 only in France as you said...
On let's say 100.000.000 as you said, it would be 10000 gifted children... so as mages live around 150years and have around 2 apprentices, you can count without problem around 10.000 mages of the Order, which would be 1 mage on 1000 people in Europe... and would make of the Order a really major Order.

1000 people is less than Royal families in Europe...

In sundered eagle 7 years in the Theban tribunal, there is around 13 to 20 new apprentices (it is 1 on 10.000 have the gift and 1 on 100 has something magic)
So it is 2 a years, only in the theban tribunal... I don't see how you arrive only a 1000 thousands mages after 500-600 years
Counting on 100 hermetic age, there is more than 200 magicians in Theban Tribunal
if you just take 200 (which is very few) by tribunal it would give 2600, already more than the number given.

Three datapoints that might be of interest.

  1. Ars Magica explicitly states that you should expect something around 120 years of life after gauntlet for the typical magus before death/twilight/whatever. Granted, there are magi who live longer, but canonically "very few" do, and there are also a few who don't make it to that mark due to early deaths etc. So, just assume a lifespan of 120 years after gauntlet for every magus; meaning that if a population is stable, and has e.g. 2 new magi who are "born" each year (and thus 2 old magi who die), there are 240 magi in that population.

  2. House Guernicus in HoH:TL is reported as having about 1 apprentice every 8 magi. With apprenticeship lasting 15 years=120 years/8, that means that the population of house Guernicus is currently stable: every 15 years 1/8th of the House dies off, and is replaced by former apprentices.

  3. The thebes tribunal assigns some 12-20 apprentices every 7 years. Let's say 14, meaning an average of 2 new magi per year. Then, if this "recruitment rate" stays at that level (and the tribunal is neither a net importer or a net exporter of magi), the tribunal's hermetic population tends to some 240 magi. I'd say it's probably half of that, and growing, which is not that unreasonable - some big conflict can easily wipe out a century of slow growth. Plus, I'd say that Thebes probably exports a smallish fraction of its magi towards the fringes of Mythic Europe like the Novgorod, the Levant etc.

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In terms of the growth curve there are 2 issues:1) how many Gifted people are in Europe, and 2) what percentage of them are Hermetic.

The Hermetic magi grew quickly early on because they had a small percentage of the Gifted practitioners and were able to recruit relatively quickly. As the percentage they represent grows, there is also less room for growth, and the growth curve starts to flatten out a bit.