Pricing of Theriacs & Reagents

I’ve been looking at what reasonable prices would be for applied philosophy Theriacs and Reagents (A&A p74-78) for… Reasons. I wanted to get a reality check on my numbers.

Assuming a would-be theriacist wants to make a living making formulae, he’d spend 2 seasons a year for a Trivial income of 10 Mythic Pounds (equivalent to a journeyman). Let’s say he’s got Intelligence +1 and a Medicine of 5; his Lab Total including philosophic bonuses would be 11. That’s enough for up to Level 10 formulae, and he makes 3 doses for a season of work.

A level 5 formula × 3 doses also requires 3 Labor Points per season from an apothecary whom we can assume produces 36 in a year for his own 10 Mythic Pounds. Level 10 × 3 doses would be 6 Labor Points.

So, to break even on his 6 doses per year the theriacist needs to charge 1.94 Mythic Pounds per dose for a level 5 formula, and 2.22 Mythic Pounds per dose for a level 10.

It’s slightly better with reagents, since an equivalent alchemist can increase the Magnitude of the level 5 formula to level 10, yielding 3 × 10 doses in a season (at a cost of 30 Labor Points from the apothecary). He can sell 60 level 5 reagent doses in a year at 0.44 Mythic Pounds per dose.

… There don’t seem to be a lot of level 5 theriacs worth ~2 Mythic Pounds per dose. Maybe cataplasm of mandrake if you’re getting something amputated, but seems a bit much for a mustard plaster which I'd assume we would expect to be something that's not-uncommon in Mythic Europe. Even if you allow the theriacist to get a bonus from assistants, that’s probably only yielding him an extra dose per season; doesn’t change the math much.

I’m thinking that theriacs should be allowed to add Magnitude like reagents do. And maybe count Laboratory Bonus separately from other Philosophic Bonuses. Also, if I’m ever stuck in Mythic Europe I’ll set up shop as an astrologer instead.

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I agree. There is probably no meaningful price at all. Too few people can afford to pay the actual cost, so if somebody can afford to make it, they have other reasons.

In my mind, the experimental philosopher would be either,

  1. an amateur, with a business as apothecary or physician, and doing experimental stuff in his spare time, or
  2. very poor, selling theriacs for maybe four shillings when he is lucky to find a buyer, or
  3. sponsored by an above average wealthy lord who keeps him as a pet, with or without the fringe benefit of getting just the cure he needs in a crisis ten years down the line.
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I concur that experimental philosophers are likely to be kept as courtly retainer of wealthy nobles, although it's possible some may make a decent living independently in some rich cities. In particular cities with universities or centers of trade.

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Universities is a good point; I forgot teaching as a main business alongside apothecary and physician. Teaching has always been the bread and butter for the learned, while research has been the privilege of leisure.

The problem with assuming that Theriacs are only formulated by experimentalists is that many of the examples we have are definitely not experimental; they're probably relatively commonplace. Hippocrates used mustard poultices, and emetics like troche of colocynth would also have been commonplace treatments. These are things we should expect medical practitioners in Mythic Europe to use regularly; not something they have to spend half their working year to make 3 doses.

The higher-level formulae like the soporific sponge are examples of things that would not be in common use... and, indeed, it's unlikely most physicians actually capable of a 15+ Lab Total would spend an entire season on doing so; they're more valuable as instructors.

This is unfortunate because experimental philosophy is an excellent focus for a Companion character, and would be a great basis for a covenant's Income source.

... I know we're stuck with Seasonal Activities in Ars, but honestly these aren't things that seem like they should take up an entire season to make 3 of. I can make a tincture of parsely in any concentration you'd like in a day or so, and mustard plasters were used for so long because they're so easy to make up. Being able to make a few doses quickly (as with Mythic Herbalism) or a lot in a season would make experimental philosophy actually sensible.

Yes, to some degree. Note that while mustard plasters are a formulae, they're also explicitly part of first aid treatment. You should see the experimental philosophy as semi-mythical versions of the mundane thing. You can apply a regular mustard plaster - that's just first aid. On the other hand, the mythical version stacks with bonuses to recovery provided by your medicine skill, and it can be used to provide a bonus by any mundane without any skill whatsoever. So I think you need to see beyond the name, much like with reagents. Yes, regular salt can be dropped on ice to slowly help melt it, but a reagent can turn ice to water instantly on a vast scale. Same concept.

Yeah... I'm a chemical engineer in the real world. And I work with quicklime. I absolutely have calorific stones lying around in the lab (although, usually powder). It would take me a short while to make enough to boil a bathtub of water if I had to use a lab kiln... but not a season. And I can easily make chromatic flames and vitriol (in much less than a season). Those Reagent formulae aren't semi-mythical at all. Formulae like refrigerant salt and cement as their effects are described are different, but again that's a mix just as with Theriacs where some are clearly experimental and others are clearly mundane.

If you think the theriacs and reagents should be more commonplace, to the point that a philosopher could sell more than a handful in a year, you are up for quite heavy houseruling. I don't know if they should be. Their being known historically, needn't mean more than a few individuals used it on a very few clients who could afford to pay £10. It is hard to prove that something was commonplace 800 years ago.

You have a point. Having tried to play an experimental philosopher, I have realised that such a character has very little to do in a saga. Their life is holing up in the lab at every opportunity, getting a few effects with narrow application. All advancement goes into the academic speciality, and they are useless in a story. It is hard to design a character that is more than a downtime support character, making effects for others to use, and that's not a companion. If it is fun, it is the mechanical bookkeeping of business and lab work that attracts, not the story.

So I agree, if the ruleset is to have a use, it should be changed to be more productive and time efficient. Now, I do not think that Ars Magica needs more power and more rulesets, so I would prefer to see the ruleset go, but YSMV. When it is made as it is made, I reckon it is a compromise, to avoid having modern science compete with wizardry, but it is neither fowl nor fish.

I designed an experimental philosopher/flamethrowing fanatic for a PbP game here (I think if you search for Alexios the naffatun you'll find the game) - by min-maxing to get a lab total of 15 and knowing the formula to mass-produce the greek fire used in fire siphons (as mentioned in The Sundered Eagle) I could just about churn out the fiery liquid needed to keep my weapon going. A far bigger problem was living in a covenant set in a small Greek valley and having to try and get into narrow caves with all my adventuring gear.

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I've had engineers at my gaming table. I'm not singling you out, because I don't know you that well, but "this thing is mundane" is a very common engineer thinking that is imho problematic in ars magicka, because we're dealing with a 13th century world where physics don't work the way we think it does. We take many things for granted IRL physics-wise: the speed of light, gravity, thermodynamics, the atomic table, etc. That don't really fit well with aristotelian physics. Ask yourself - was vitriol in the 13th century a commonly known and widely substance, or was it more likely to be something people never heard of, unless they read the right book? Acccording to Wikipedia, vitriol would have been known to alchemists, and in Europe, was actually introduced in the 13th century in a single summae: Vitriol - Wikipedia

I'm sure making vitriol is trivial to modern chemists to make. Don't take for granted how easy it was in the 13th century. Chances are, the average non-arab alchemists barely heard of the substance. Chances are those who know it were using very inefficient and experimental methods of producing it too. Science isn't yet really a thing. Remember atoms don't exist, or more appropriately, they exist and there are only four kind - air, earth, fire and water. Try and get in that mindset, and I think you'll find much of your specialized knowledge inapplicable :slight_smile:

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I think it's a really poor assumption to make that someone playing Ars Magica hasn't done their homework. I'm a chemical engineer -- I have a fairly good grasp of alchemy that doesn't rely on wikipedia, thanks.

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The critical point here, though, is not how many individuals were able to make it, but how much time it took them once they had mastered the formula.

Your point that modern day mundane engineering might be medieval magic is good, and makes IMHO a case to scrap experimental philosophy entirely and leave all the effects to learned magicians.

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First lets acknowledge that having a five in medicine is essentially a beginner as a professional medic. While I expect doctors are going to have an int of 2 or higher, this makes little difference in the analysis. I will however also note that the breakdown problem is common through AM- a weaponsmith making swords all season will not make enough to support their income either.
Additionally anyone working 2 seasons/year has the wealthy virtue, which a beginning medical compounder is unlikely to be. as such the standard price should probably be based on 3 seasons of work rather than 2, or 12 labor points per season. If they are making 3 per season this would be 9 per year at 10 MP per year, or just over 1 MP before the cost of supplies, so probably closer to 1.5 MP per dose than 2.
Yes it is expensive- doctors don't typically visit the poor in medieval Europe, and medicine is expensive, which is why it tends to be nobles who hire physicians.

If we want to find reasons why making theriacs and other formula are rare, when we - with our modern understanding - consider it trivial, lets consider that one of the most fundamental tool in any chemistry or alchemical endeavor was not invented yet: a reliable thermometer. So any basic steps like purification relies on estimate, guesswork and expertise of the alchemist. No wonder why it would take time, because there was a lot of trial and errors, even for "well-known" formula.

And if you consider that high yield and reliable reaction depends heavily on the quality of the base materials, it is easy to see why as soon as you have several successive operations to produce a finished product (theriac or other), the lower the yield.

That's if we want a plausible reason why it is so ineffective.

Now, within Mythic Europe and Ars scope, I am willing to cut a lot of slack to Ars' authors when trying to make if financially sustainable to be an alchemist. Considering the game is about Mage and not companions, although there is a lot of information in City and Guild, Ars & Academe, it would not surprise me that if I would try to aggregate all the info, sustainable business might collapse.

At least we don't run in D&D non-sense where a magical item could be worth a small kingdom...

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Any game runs into that kind of problem when it runs long enough, but you are right that D&D may be one of the quicker ones to collapse. Ars Magica on the other hand, has such long-running sagas as its ideal, so in an ideal world, Ars Magica should collapse as thoroughly as D&D.

I believe that Poor = 3 seasons of work per year, Wealthy = 1 season of work per year, and standard = 2 seasons of work per year. Certainly the way the math works out it would be prudent to work three seasons per year to sell 9 doses instead of 6.

Since I was doing my back-of-envelope numbers assuming journeyman-level, C&G say's that's Trivial Income (10 mythic pounds/year income) and so I went with an Ability score of 5. I'd assume that anyone more competent probably has a degree/license to practice medicine and would do that instead (probably as a Minor Income).

More generally comparing Ars Magica to other games, you can expect play to extend for decades to centuries (maybe!). So it's not inconceivable that games starting in the 13th century will want a framework to model technological improvements into the 14th & 15th century. Experimental philosophy could provide that framework -- or the basis of something like that -- but... it doesn't quite work.

You are right, 2 is average wealth. I think part of the problem is that in order to make sure that magic trumps everything else they have to make sure every other approach sucks.

I don't think you would get to 5 without a degree either. Medicine is the academic study. And you forget one point. With 11 in lab total, it takes ten seasons to concoct a L10 formula. How do you make a living during that time?

I think you have it upside down. Medical practice is the normal living for those trained in medicine. Experimental philosophy is for the truly exceptionally skilled.

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I had a non-canon idea to try to fit formula manufacturing with work & maintaining a decent lifestyle without being funded my a wealthy merchant/noble: it takes a season of work to manufacture such item, while working as an alchemist/doctor.

The alchemist is doing his job, seeing patient and whatnot, but in parallel, he has enough time to check out what is happening in his lab. Similarly to the digestion process describe in philosophic alchemy (major virtue), the alchemist must monitor on a daily basis the on-going reaction, but it leaves him enough time to have a regular activity, like teaching several seasons year or visiting patient.

Such approach would have a few advantages:

  • the cost of a formula does not need to be tied up to a seasonal income
  • it keeps the availability of such product rare because the production rate remains the same - at most twice the output under the current rule since the alchemist does not need to divide his time between getting an income and producing a formula
  • going on adventure would still spoil the season of work - brewing a formula still count for a 7 days distraction vs any on-going activity and longer absence will incure penalty on the alchemist labtot, eventually spoiling the result.

I don't think it will break the system - at least not too fast - and the changes are small enough that no additional computing and minute tracking are required.

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