Reguarding the cherry picking of initiations

A few months back there was a discussion regarding initiation to any of the immortality virtues without first initiating inscription on the soul. Wanderer expressed views in this thread that Mystery initiations were likely to be sought out and created as hey fitted the needs and desires of the magi. The view that I have is that mystery initiation is controlled by the cults, that secrecy is the order of the day and that not all virtues are appropriate for all cults. These three factors taken together preclude the situation where a magus selects which virtues they wish to acquire from a huge list of available virtues from the setting in all but the most unusual of situations. (Your game may vary of course)

Here's a link to the original discussion

At the time I didn't have any references to support my position. I went searching for some this morning.

Here's some of what I found in mysteries revised.


p.19 under inventing your own cult

(descriptions of the virtues edited for space, emphasis added)

P. 23 under Progression in a Mystery Cult

Way to go, Erick!

Cheers Erik. Quotes quite on the mark.

To be honest I think this discussion can be traced all the way back to the release of the Mysteries Revised, then also with Wanderer as one of the active participants.

I then and still support the idea that the creative free licence in terms of cults is the right, as well as tool, of the players and SG to enhance their story and to make them better able to tell the stories they might prefer to tell.

This is a tool on a meta-level and it is definately not the same as offering the same choices as a rationale to an "in-game" character.

So long as the player gets to choose from the list I don't mind whether the magus does or not.

What does that mean? Well, there's no point telling the player that he can't do such and such because the cult doesn't have such and such a virtue. You have to find a middle ground that rings true to the setting and the Mystery concepts, gives the player what he wants, and is challenging enough to support a character arc through a saga.

This is where separation of player and character knowledge comes in. An example...

I want my Verditius to rediscover the ancient Heronic automaton magic. Now, he can't up and leave and just decide that's what he wants to do without first knowing about it. So my helpful storyguide wrote in a plot beat that put the magus, quite logically, on the right path. After that, from knowing nothing at all about automata he suddenly had a reason for wanting to know all there was and a way to introduce the idea that he would want the Heronic version in particular.

And that doesn't mean that the player gets to dictate the strict order and extent of the cult's teachings. After all, the storyguide is the cult and if they offer the next step in their teachings the character is going to think twice before turning it down. The character should probably react with awe and gratitude. The player should probably see each step as a further step to the big prize already worked out with the storyguide.

Ahh yes - that is the wretched duty of any SG; to provide his players with bread and circuses (panem et circenses)!

The point is that the moderation should be between the player and the SG. And I have the fullest of confidences that to my players, and they in me, that the story will be valued (in the end that is why we play together and not with others). And to add to that, that we also often find that the best stories comes from the not so clear cut or tailorfitted unfolding of events in the character(s)'s path(s).

But then again I also left a possible loophole the size of the nave of a gothic cathedral in my last post, saing that it's about making the troupe "better able to tell the stories they might prefer to tell"... In that regard the troupe might actually prefer the stories where the characters (as not the players alone) can have cherry pickings! In terms of YMMV, that's every ones given right, but the critics might state that this is in contradiction with the spirit of the RAW (hence the quotes from the RAW). And I suspect the reaction is promted from it touching upon a cornerstone of roleplaying - namely how do you divide between in-game choice and meta-game choices of the story and what does this do to the integrity of the setting (in terms of suspension of disbelief)?

Now [b]personally/b I wouldn't feel at home in a saga of character cherry pickings. I'd feel that it killed the mystery of the game (or litteraly the mysteries). That it gave to much of a feel of a Codex Necronomimysteries with an alphabetical index of secret "clubs" available to the aspiring magus (almost as pamflets from a meeting with a RL student/youth counselor). Whenever i feel that the "stats" become paramount to the story I flinch a tiny bit (and wonder why I didn't play a D20 game)... :wink:

If you took this to the logical conclusion, you would have a very strict You don't choose anything. The SG would choose all your V&F, set up all your other variables etc. I would think that except for a certain 'change of pace' game, this would tend to be boring after a few sessions...

Erik's point, I think, is weather allowing the players to choose ANYTHING they wish...That can get excessive. Perhaps as a SG, you should take a few minutes, (when the player shows interest) to outline the Mystery cult. Get an idea of what that player wants and see if you can figure out the entire path. While doing this, you can also outline the FLAWS that character will pick up...Maybe the cost of getting the flaws will convince the player to look elsewhere...

I was really just putting out some quotes to contest the ideas expressed in the linked thread. Ideas that I interpreted as, "if a character wants to gain any given virtue, he or she can create or find an appropriate initiation script for it without too much difficulty".

In the Ars world, any character can eventually get any virtue - not that it's an "open menu", but there should be few barriers to fate.

The problem is when the same virtues appear again and again, and that's a Player problem. The obvious and painful solution is to choose your Troupe more carefully. Not always politik, not always possible, but if/when you achieve a group who all put Story Telling over power plays, you've got something valuable.

I learned that playing Bushido, where "The way of the Samurai is the way of death", and so forth. Sometimes, good RP demands a tragic and early end, and that makes the best story. It's still a personal joy (if also somewhat of a phyrric victory) when I RP a character who walks blithely to their doom, because the only way they would do anything else is OOC knowledge. Really boggles some players. 8)

That still doesn't really address the problem of characters that are part of existing Mystery Cults creating new scripts that are appropriate to those Cults.

For example, House Verditius is a Mystery Cult. You've passed through the initial gate and are now in the house, initiated in its initial Mystery. Now what? Well, I'm of the opinion that Puissant Crafting is pretty useful, and to cook it up from nothing requires a Presence + (Mystery Cult) Lore + Script Bonus of 18.

Now, this is the type of character that wants to go Mystery shopping, indeed, specifically cherry-picking all the Minor Virtues they want. The Major ones are too difficult to self-achieve and we'll leave them alone.

So, lets assume a Presence of +3 (this is what he's all about, right) and a Cult Lore of 9 (figuring for the long term, he started with Affinity and Puissance in Cult Lore - he can get the rest of his appropriate Virtues later), and you're left with requiring a Script Bonus of 6.

To create that script requires...

Simple Die + Risk Modifier + Intelligence + (Mystery Cult) Lore
Ease Factor of (9 + Proposed Bonus) = 15

Intelligence +3, Cult Lore of 9 and Risk of +2 imply a Simple Die roll of 1 or more is required.

Now, experimenting to create the Script is tricky and dangerous but its only a season or two, as opposed to the years required for Hermetic Breakthroughs. It wouldn't take long to come up with your shopping list of desired Mysteries, so long as they correspond to the character and the Cult. After all, where do those Confraternities and their wonderful Scripts come from, after all? Except in this case there's nothing really stopping the character (other than SG fiat) from continuously creating new Virtues, so long as their appropriateness can be demonstrated.

Those Ability and Attribute requirements can be reached by a relatively fresh starting character; the only real requirement is an effective Cult Lore of 9 (so, say Cult Lore 6+2, specializing in self-created scripts or another appropriate specialization).

I see the relative high stakes gamble of experimental script design as being a much bigger issue than limiting access to Mystical Groups. It's one thing to prevent a character from having access to secret and unknown knowledge - it's something else entirely to prevent them from using the mechanics they're already exposed to as a Mystery Cult member.


I think that a careful balance is needed.

At one extreme, there is no mystery. Everything is chosen in advance and the players get to optimize.

At the other extreme, there is entirely too much mystery, and the players find themselves investing energy in characters who spend xp to be saddled with virtues they don't want. "Surprise! You're now an Infernally-tainted Diedne Magus (but I repeat myself :>) whose longevity ritual is suddenly difficult. But at least you also get a Major Magical Focus with mammals. Too bad that you took a deficiency with Animal and Chaotic Magic among your starting Flaws..."

I think that some kind of compromise might work best. Players choose many of the virtues and flaws they get. This represents the fact that magi can usually see something of the senior members of their cult and have an idea of what they might look forward to, but probably don't see the full picture.

As for the same virtues appearing again and again, some are simply better than others. I expect to see Major Magical Focus, (awesome) a lot more often than Secondary Insight (yuck) ....



Your point on the workings within a cult are fine, but the questions are not that different even so. As a purist I'd start by pointing out that the characters are never using mechanics. Mechanics do not exist in the realm of the character. They exist in the realm of the player of said character and the troupe as a whole. The character do not necessarily get to pick and choose among the secrets of a mystery, the player might get to do that, but that doesnt necessarily hold true either. And that dichotomy is at the heart of this debate.

The choices to be made when within a cult then before entering one are of a lesser scope, but the approach to those choices are bound by the same trends: to what degree the troupe distinguishes between player choices and character choices and what options are available in both contexts, and also to what degree the SG leaves such choices up to the players.

ROFL! :laughing:

Ken I certainly agree! Personally I'm never afraid to leave to many choices up to my players - I have endless trust that they'll all (well... we all have one exception don't we? hehe) do what is best for the story - or actually for the plentitude of (micro-)stories. If we have a dialogue it's never for me to act as a valve or to put a foot down, but only to spar and mutually inspire. Then again other players intentionally leave some things blank or up to me, so as to be surprised (positively) later on.

All in all, you could say that the balance you speak of hinges on a mutual confidence and that the troupe also has somewhat a shared idea about what stories they want to tell.

I think this is a point worth expanding on.

Would you make a character perform a Magic Lore check to determine if they had properly estimated their Script Bonus? Would they know that their target is 18, and how powerful their script would have to be to achieve it, or would you have the character toil for a season on an experimental script that was ultimately inadequate?

I come from the point of view that the mechanics of the game are the actual "rules" of the universe at large, and are discernible as such. For example, effect totals are usually discussed between player and SG prior to a character spending a season inventing a spell or enchanting an item, rather than revealed by the SG after the expended season. However, in a world where the mechanics are hidden, a Magic Theory test would probably be required beforehand to discern the actual effect's level - how many researchers have taken on a project only to realize that its scope or complexity are beyond them (or their funding, err... vis) to accomplish.

I've talked myself full circle then: in a Saga, the characters can do whatever the Story (and SG) can handle. Its a fine resolution.

Hmm, moving a bit from the clear divide between characters and players I think this delves into the degree of how much your focus is on the mechanics vs. the story.

The term Roleplaying Games doesnt in my native tongue encompass both "role", "playing" and "game", which luckily makes this point much easier to make than discussing it with my local peers. I believe we all have somewhat a preference in terms of how "gamist" vs. "role"/"playing" we want our sessions to be.

Personally I prefer a middle way, using the mechanics but not letting the story being slave to it (mind you - the mechanics do themselves create scenes and stories!).

And it's an important point that to me good stories shouldn't be slaves to "realism" either, in the sense that I dont feel a need to have the players roll for estimating Script Bonuses or do pre-season Magic Theory tests. On one hand you might say that even though the system might include rolls or specific bonuses to succeed these things are known to the magi albeit in other terms/measurements/calculations. On the other you can easily still tell stories of toiling with a project without needing to waste seasons in terms of seasons. If for instance an inbetween session-time spans several seasons, just as with companions etc., the things done in that meantime doesnt have to be forced into mutual exclusive chronological boxes (thought the book-keeping has to).

To give a practical example:
Sarcorion Scholae Jerbitonis, a young magus a few years out of his Gauntlet is being updated by his player on his downtime for 1½ year (6 seasons). He has developed quite an interest (taste? :open_mouth: ) for using ReCo spells for various sinister purposes and he's decided to add a few spells to the "repertoire"... As he comes along with the plans he realises that his reproduction/invention of the spells from his former master's lab notes would benefit from furthering his studies in Corpus thus he aquires "The Human Form and the Four Bodily Fluids" a summa (also written by his former master - will Sarcorion ever rid himself of his place in his master Ulisterius' shadow?) from the libary and spends his nights perusing the book feverishly to catch up with his limitations in inventing Strings of the Unwilling Marionette...

Thus both story, realism and mechanics are catered to. This of course is only one example - but you could probably make many similar fusions of the three.

Finally I have to add that most my players arent that much into the downtime system and they therefore do their downtime with me before sessions. I'm their best friend in advicing them in terms on what they can do and in how much time, and how they can get more out of their time, and not the other way around. This is probably due to two causes. One being that they started out as young apprentices and that I eased them into the game and setting one session at a time and that I did their downtime (since they were at the mercy of their various masters anyway) and another being that we started out before 5th edition was out and that the shift of the spheres/elements, as we've called gradually crossing over to 5th, made things further messy.

In short I've pampered my players and they've grown up to become spoiled Ars players, not even doing their downtime themselves! SOB I'm a horrible fath... SG! :blush: Is there an AA for the pampering SGs the likes of me? :cry:

I'm creating a Guernicus magus for the saga I'm in and I'm interested in the Terra-Magus 'cult'. However True Lineages specifically doesn't cover details so I'm going to have to make stuff up myself.

The character is based of the Guernicus template in the main book with Hermetic Divination & Augury (from TRME) and Affinity with Terram added. He is also nine years past gauntlet so he's already be an initiate into the cult (I decided on Terra Magus Lore 3). So I'm trying to create his initiations as part of his background.

Now it strikes me that a good minor flaw for the cult would be Reckless but I'm at a loss for a major flaw to get the whole concept rolling. It has to be something that fits in with the whole tendency to become a Hoplite that the cult has. I'm also trying to avoid the obvious, such as Wrathful.

Any thoughts?

Something like a restriction - must touch the earth?

That would be worded, "while not touching the earth directly" and would only be valid if the character is intended to normally go barefoot (such that "not touching directly" would be an uncommon circumstance for that character.

Another possible Restriction for a terra-magus (in keeping with the whole "entombed in the cave" motif, might be "Whilst imprisoned". Leaves the SG some wicked card up his sleeve to exploit or not as he sees fit whilst being an "uncommon circumstance" (especially for a fighting magus - "you'll never take ME alive!")

Nice flavour though, wonder where you got the idea from :wink:

Oh it's a couple of paragraphs on page 68 of HoH:TL. The author seems to have run out of space for the chapter otherwise I'm sure he'd expanded upon the idea. :slight_smile:

I like tying the cult in with the history of the house. Perhaps one of the initiation scripts has the initiate journey to a particular cave site, which they are told is the cave wherein Guernicus imprisoned the thief, and survive the night there in the company of the vengeful ghost without recourse to magic. Of course it's a different cave and 'ghost' is actually the Mystagogue.

The sympathy bonus would be high, say +3, giving a script bonus of +15 for a major ordeal and +9 for a minor ordeal.

Hmm, the ideas do flow.

Hehe, thanks for the fuller explanation of your thought process, which is indeed flavourful, however my last comment was actually directed at Fixer's suggestion (to which I added my own embellishment), not to your concept in general. :wink:

Sorry for any confusion. :slight_smile:

Ah :blush:

Well you'll love this then. :slight_smile:

[size=150]Initiation Scripts of the Terrae Magus[/size]
Initiation into the First Degree

Initiate must have Terrae Magus Lore 1+

*Script Bonus: +15 (Travel far to a special place at a special time +3, Suffer a Major Ordeal +9, Sympathetic bonus +3)
The initiate travels to a secret cavern complex which he is told is where Guernicus imprisoned the last thief. Here, entering the caverns before sunrise on midsummer solstice, the initiate must spend three days meditating upon the mysterae while sealed within the cavern without food and water, or recourse to magic. Meanwhile they are tormented by the 'vengeful ghost of the dead thief'. Their only source of light is a single candle which will hold off the phantom only while it is lit. The threat is there that if they fail the test then they will be sealed in with the ghost, their bones and spirit joining his. At dawn of the third day the new member is released from the cavern reborn (or sealed within for a further three days, if they fail the initiation or are found to have ulterior motives in seeking membership of the cult).

Evidently a mystagogue is not required for the initiation; the script is so well practiced that the initiate can all but initiate them self. However the phantom thief is not what it appears to be, being played by the mystagogue and other Terrae Magi. Because of the efficiency of the script after surviving three days within the cavern they will automatically receive both related flaw and virtue. However this just renders them powerless to escape if they are to be sealed in further. It is noted that without food and water it is unlikely that the magus will survive a fourth day sealed within the cavern. Any who die are carried to holy ground and given a good Christian, if anonymous, burial.

*Flaw: Restriction: Not While Imprisoned (major, hermetic).
*Virtue: Affinity with Terram (minor, hermetic).

Initiation into the Second Degree
Initiate must have Terrae Magus Lore 3+

*Script Bonus: +9 (Travel far to a special place at a special time +3, Suffer a Minor Ordeal +3, Sympathetic bonus +3)
The Initiate returns to the secret caverns, arriving just after dawn of the summer solstice. There with the Mystagogue, whom must be an initiate of the second degree or greater themselves, they play the role of the thief's phantom to a new initiate to the first degree. However they must navigate the lightless caverns clothed only in Imaginem spells and using only Intellego Terram spells to guide them. Between periods of tormenting the first degree initiate the initiate to the second discusses their experiences with the mystagogue or their fellow initiates and other members who might be attending. Upon the release of the new first degree member from the cavern the second degree initiate has an epiphany at which point they begin to comprehend Geomantia. Before they are dismissed the new second degree member is shown a striated agate which has been turned into the shape of an egg, an Orborous carved around it. This is an early sigil of Guernicus. This, the initiates are told, will lead them to the mystagogue who will initiate them to the third degree. Then the agate egg is taken from them.

No the mystagogue does not teach the initiate the Geomantia ability; the initiate's understanding of the mysterae must be sufficient to enable them to develop it by themselves. Due to the ordeal of the first degree the difficulty of initiating to the second degree is only 12. The lead mystagogue must have a Communications + Terrae Magus Lore of +3

*Flaw: Reckless (minor, personality).
*Virtue: Hermetic Divination & Augury - Geomantia (major, hermetic).

Initiation into the Third Degree
Initiate must have Terrae Magus Lore 6+

*Script Bonus: +6 (Quest +3, The Mystagogue must sacrifice their time +3)
From the spring equinox following their initiation into the second degree the initiate is free to engage in the egg hunt. The agate egg is in the possession of a member of the third degree. Using geomantia the initiate must seek out the egg (not the magi carrying it; that would violate the code). They must travel to the egg and seek initiation from the bearer, aiding the bearer freely in any tasks they might need undertaking. The bearer will in turn teach the initiate in the summoning and control of Earth Elementals. Once they have done so the egg is passed onto the new third degree member who becomes the mystagogue for the next initiate. However the egg must be presented at the secret cavern at each solstice gathering, but these only take place when there are initiations to do.

Due to prior ordeals the difficulty of initiating Spell Binding is only 9. The mystagogue must have a Communications + Terrae Magus Lore of +3.

*Flaw: none.
*Virtue: Spell Binding (minor, hermetic). The initiate is also taught a number of ReTe spells designed to summon and control earth elementals.

Initiation into the Fourth Degree
Initiate must have Terrae Magus Lore 9+

The initate is led to the actual cave of the thief on the winter solstice but does not enter. The initiate and the mystagogue stand a night long vigil over the site.