Rethinking Parma

Some random thoughts about Parma Magica...

Parma Magica seems weak. Certainly in the face of a specialized caster, even out of gauntlet, you can have the fire slinger and his PoFs coming out at +25 penetration with little effort. The history of the Order talks about Parma being a game changer, not only for blocking the social effects of the Gift, but also because it was so darn effective. What would Bonisagus's score have been since he'd just invented it and spent so much time inventing Magic Theory and doing a lot of politicking. I doubt that Bonisagus's score would be as high as Philippus Niger's is in GoTF when he took on Trianoma and her sister , who is my guinea pig here.

So, should Parma be an Accelerated Ability?

I don't like books on Parma, I never really have as both a player and an SG, but as a player books are the only way to progress Parma with any serious effort to make it meaningful. The secret to Parma, has always been unlocking the way for you to realize that, to borrow a phrase from Raymond E. Feist, "There is no magic." You can't learn how to do that from a book, you can only learn it through practice and experience. Practice XP from this would be 5 per season. What it comes down to when in practice, and two magi are slinging spells at each other, one is believing his magic will overcome his foe's defenses, while the other guy is believing really hard for a short time that there is no magic, in order to resist.

Without books on Parma, and putting an effective gain limit on it to 5xp per season, it will take 11 seasons (discounting any virtues here) even as an Accelerated Ability of dedicated effort to raise Parma to a score of 10.

Should Parma be rolled? I know the game is Ars Magica, but Magic Resistance is either yes or no. I like an element of chance, a saving throw (don't stone me, bro!) to avoid the magic. Yes, I know it's possible on damage to soak the damage, or for the damage to botch, but what about magic that doesn't inflict damage?

Then there's the issue of scale. I mean, what do you think a magus that is old, an an Archmagus, should they have MRs that hover in the 40-50 range? Take, for example, Philippus Niger from GoTF. He has a parma of 7, specialty of Corpus, his MR are as follows. And yes, I know he's a Rego specialist so his forms are going to be lower and his MR will generally be lower, but the guy is an Archmagus and 104 in Hermetic Years.


It's pretty easy to design a magus even a few years post gauntlet that can penetrate those scores in the 40s, granted with some effort.

Scaling him up, based on the XP spent to get to Ability score of 7 gives him an Accelerated Ability score of 16, which makes MR look like:

I think, with the exception of some die hard combat magi, and the paranoid, most scores will hover about 10, which means it costs 55xp, 11 seasons of effort to improve defenses over a lifetime. Philippus Niger with a score of 16 will have spent 28 seasons getting his score that high. 28 seasons out of a total of 416, or 6% of his career focused exclusively on improving his defensive capabilities.

Parma isn't the problem here, it's Magical Foci that are the problem. When you can double your weakest art, that 30 often becomes a 45 and you go from +10 Penetration to +25 Penetration. That's not to say that Magic Resistance in general doesn't need an overhaul (it does), but I think that Magical Focus should return to 4th edition mechanics (it's an Ability you improve).

It's very easy to raise Parma, though, via Exposure. Any season where you would normally take Exposure you could drop it into Parma rather than (as is commonly done) Magic Theory.

Keep in mind, most of the abilities that came together to form the unified theory of magic were probably based on Difficult Arts, and unless high-Might creatures were common enough to jump out of corners at you randomly, high Penetration wouldn't have held much meaning back then either. Just a 4 in Parma would stop most forms of attacks from most people, I reckon. We only have such an easy time (10-15 years if you try hard enough) coming up with Penetration 40+ on Level 40 spells in 1220 because the Order of Hermes has integrated, researched, developed, etc. great boosts to powers like Magical Foci, Potent Magic, non-Difficult Arts... Back then, an MR of 42 was likely nigh impenetrable.

Remember, most Magi nowadays also have better things to do than specifically try to Penetrate the Parma of people whose deaths will bring the entire OoH down on their heads and who could kill or disable them just by noticing their presence and acting first. The point of Parma isn't "resist every spell ever," it's "resist spells that could kill me or cause serious physical, financial, powerful, or social harm" such as fireballs, scrying spells, or mind control spells, all of which are generally going to be fairly high level. The response to noticing a weaker caster has hit you with a spell or had their stronger spell resisted is to get the hell out of there if you can't discern their location, or fry them through their weaker Parma in self-defense if you can locate them.

Granted, full-on Archimagi maybe ought to have MR of around 80, but only if the Order you want to depict is one where said oldest Magi are above even the strongest of creatures with Magic Might and, at maximum skill, have comparable resistance to the Archangels themselves. I personally want to keep power of that level limited to perhaps a single Magus every several generations at most, rare in potential to a degree comparable to Bonisagus himself. Not "multiple Archimagi able to stand alongside God's greatest agents alive at any given time." YSMV.

@John Prins, can you cite that ability, because the only thing I remember about foci in 4th Edition is mention of spell foci generally. Admittedly, I didn't play 4th edition, and a quick scan of the PDF doesn't show anything like you suggest.

@Akriloth, The point of Parma is to resist most magic, generally, so that you don't have to focus a lot of effort into learning about a specific Form to gain magic resistance to that form.
I have no problem with Archmargi being powerful enough to resist the direct attacks of the most powerful creatures, even "gods." Let's not forget about the recent discussion in Ceremony and being able to wipe out the Order, rather easily.
As to Difficult Arts, I'm not sure that's the case, at least for not all of the Arts, maybe the Techniques were like that, which meant they'd focus more on the forms and have higher resistance because of the forms.

Edit:typos and rephrasing

Oh, and if we presume that there were Difficult Arts, all or some of them, there's little reason that someone hasn't put research into Parma Magica and made it an accelerated ability. It's much the same concept to make Difficult Arts a normally progressing Art as to turn a normally progressing Ability into an Accelerated Ability...

Perhaps not in this case. Bear in mind that the Parma Magica's invention was equally difficult a task as unifying twelve full magical traditions and pieces of many others into one succinct system. It's not RAW, but considering that the mechanics of Parma and MR in general aren't fully integrated into Hermetic theory (evidenced by Aegis of the Hearth needing Hermetic breakthroughs to change its R/D/T) I'd houserule that making Parma an Accelerated Ability would require a similar Hermetic breakthrough. Not impossible for a dedicated Magus, but tough enough that it's realistic for nobody to have done it before the players in your saga. Or it could just be the thing in your saga, I suppose. But I don't think Parma as Accelerated is a very good default, personally. That would have had huge repercussions on every combat-related decision the Order's ever made, as any question of the Order being able to handle an enemy's power (even, in this case, the Church's and their Divine backing) pretty much goes out the window. The Schism War likely would've stalemated as only the most single-focused Magi (the ones who had "some effort" put into them) on either side would have the Casting Totals to affect the opposing side, for example... And Certamen would be a dud for most equally skilled Magi.

Honestly, this isn't a bad idea if you want to change the tone of the game to make anything combating Magi even more implausible. But unless you want this discovery to have been made rather recently in respect to your players becoming Apprentices, you really should look over the Order's history and see just how events may have played out differently with every Magi having nearly double the Parma (for most Magi 10-20+ years out of apprenticeship, that'll be, oh, 20 more points of MR, at least). It makes the Founding more realistic, but everything after that a lot harder to justify sans handwaving it. You may have a different view of what would happen or be okay with making these historical changes, but that would be hard for me to get with.

Personally, I don't think Parma is weak, particularly if combined with Form bonus. Parma 10 (275xp) + Form 20 (210xp) gives Magic Resistance 70. Very little stuff outside a) Hermetic magic and b) Ceremony (of which a lot has been said, so I'll leave it out) can produce that sort of penetration. Note that I'm not saying "nothing". But very little stuff, at least in my sagas.

As for Hermetic magic... I think the problem is that a determined magus can produce really scary penetration totals. Tech 20 + Form 20, two rooks of vis, Penetration 7 with a +3 Arcane connection and another +2 sympathetic modifiers get even a level 40 spell punch through a lot (or just get that arcane connection, and cast a mastered spell at R:Arc for a whole afternoon, until you roll 1,1,1,8).

So the question is not "is parma too weak", but "is Hermetic magic too penetrating"? Should Parma (or the magic resistance of titans, old faerie gods, or princes of hell) be able to block even a determined hermetic attacker (with the same "experience" as the defender) who has lots of preparation? Should it be able to block an attacker with no preparation, but tons of vis to spare? I've often asked myself that.

Incidentally, even if you houserule that books on Parma do not exist, Teaching by a competent teacher can yield impressive xp totals to a large number of people at once: a Hermetic Teacher with Communication +3 (or Good Teacher), Teaching 6 (magic), in a lab with a +2 specialization for teaching, can teach to 7 magi at once with a source quality of 15.

Well, of course you can use the vis once... :smiley:

Magic resistance does need some tweaking, especially against titans, gods and princes of hell, I don't deny that. It's a challenge, though, because the same saga can have magi with devastating penetration totals and other magi who can't penetrate a paper bag. Don't forget, should magi who work together be able to penetrate? I love the idea of three or four magi communing to lower penetration totals, sadly I don't see it done often.

It wasn't just books, and though I didn't say it explicitly exclude teaching, it was strongly implied that after being taught the secret of Parma, you can't actually be taught anymore about Parma...

Teaching is noticeably absent from "only practice and experience." But even if we allowed Parma to be taught, the gain rate on it might very well be high for each season it is taught, but that season of teaching may have a high price, certainly a season, if not more than one. The gain rate would be probably still approach 5 on a per season basis when you factor in the time that has to be repaid for each season of teaching.

It was called Magical Affinity, it's a variable Hermetic Virtue (pg34, ArsM 4th). It was an Ability (Arcane Talent, specifically) that added to spell rolls and lab totals. It was VASTLY underpowered compared to even Minor Magical Focus in 5th - most magi wouldn't have it much higher than 3-5, though it could apply to an entire Form for +3 or Technique as a +4 Virtue.

OTOH, 4th added +5 to Spell Rolls per pawn of vis, and that was the usual method of blasting past Magic Resistance, but it was a limiter.

And Penetration=Casting Total +Penetration Ability.

Again, I haven't played 4th, but IIRC, getting Arts above 25 was easier than in 5th Edition, too...

Stat inflation seldom helps (see Rifts). Hermetic Magi could stand to be dialed back quite a bit. They outpace every other tradition in terms of power progression and magic resistance to the point of absurdity (with the notable exception of Ceremony, which is odd considering the Order's Mercurian, big rite origins). And power progression outstrips magic resistance pretty easily.

What would the Order look like if it was all Difficult Arts?

Imagine a system where Te+Fo+Sta+Aura+Penetration+roll was cast against Parma+Fo+Aura. Even when you manage the spell, the excess would have to beat the MR total. Stamina and Penetration become more relevant. Spells are harder to learn and invent, so every spell invented is a 'big deal' and lab texts are much more valuable (a Bonisagus can make a meaningful contribution to magic just by inventing normal spells). Starting magi could still cast level 15 (maybe 20!) spells, but Penetration would be very low and not climb quickly at all. By the same token, Parma would climb slowly and most magi would have Magic Resistance in the 5-20 range. Inventing a level 30 spell would be an epic feat rather than the 2 seasons of effort it normally takes. Learning a level 30 would be significant all on its own. Re-adopt the 4th edition Magical Affinity to replace Magic Focus and that Affinity is good without being overwhelming.

While I agree...

I also find it interesting that I've managed to do better than Parma Magica with Hermetic magic by using Becoming. I know of other similar routes. But the best magic resistance of all doesn't come from Parma Magica nor any Hermetic Mystery. I can build a starting magus who can pull off magic resistance around 100 by the end of the first season without interfering with study that season. The same magus would have a really good Soak, too.

+10000. Full support on this. We tried it but were not fully satisfied with it ourselves, since it has so many derivatives that it does require rewriting the game from scratch, basically. But yes, this kind of overhaul would be a good thing. It might make Mythic Europe mythic again instead of a plane of the Elric universe. At least for us. When you have to justify why the OoH has not destroyed the world so far in the books of your line you have a problem of rules and setting missmatch.

At last. :slight_smile:


Parma is supposed to be a foundation of the Order and is unique to the Order.

Different Parma rules: Parma Magica 0 can be taught upon swearing the Hermetic Oath and being properly inducted into the Order, similar to an initiation. A magus with Parma Magica 0 has Magic Resistance 0, and is immune to any supernatural effect generated by a being that does not have either Parma or Might. Every experience point gained in any Hermetic Art (even after Affinities and similar bonii) provides a free xp in Parma Magica, which advances as an Ability. There is no other way to improve Parma. Puissant Parma Magica is permitted, but not an Affinity. Parma Magica also adds to the Casting Score of any fast cast defense (see below.)

With these rules, any Founder-to-be would be facing a real problem if he doesn't swear the Oath: he cannot be taught Parma, and becomes extremely vulnerable to any rival who does join the Order. Founders have increased incentive to favor Hermetic Arts over their eclectic traditions, to boost their defenses.

And while we're at it, some of the issues with Fast Casting go away if we revert to the old version: Fast Casting is only possible as a defense against supernatural effects, and aside from cosmetic (but possibly showy) side effects, does nothing other than defend, unless there is a botch. In a sense, it is more of an active use of PM than spell. A magus can always reflexively do this, and does not need to roll initiative or quickness or even perception. The Fast Cast spell mastery option goes away, because the associated Casting Totals are too high and risks are too low.

So a magus who finishes Gauntlet with 15Te, 15Fo, Puissant both and a Focus is likely to muster a 60 or better Casting Total. His friend has the same number of xps distributed across Arts in whatever fashion, and has a base MR of 55 plus Form. That's... pretty reasonable. Sure, the offensive magus might Penetrate, but the defender always has the option to fast cast a spontaneous defense against low level spells, which are the most likely to Penetrate. A magus dedicated to defense (Puissant Parma) has another +10MR.

As for supernatural beings being pushovers: Any being with Might can reflexively spend (not burn) points of Might to boost its MR by +5 per point spent against a single supernatural effect that would otherwise penetrate.

There. Folks with Might are now mightier, maybe too mighty. Hedge wizards are relegated back to their hedges. Magi do not have to be nearly so paranoid about losing the secret of Parma, which remains pretty secret since there is nothing to write down and no books from which it can be learned.



I admit that I always envisioned the Schism War as something so dramatic that everyone noticed. Wizards waging war to the death for years across western Europe is not easy to hide.

An easy way to keep power in line is to rule that tractatuseses cannot be written about Arts, that summae can only be written to half of the author's score, and that Arts can only be taught to half of the teacher's score. Any xps beyond that come from vis, experimentation, Twilight, adventure, exposure, and helpful demonic tutors.

I'm assuming you mean summa quality is half the author's score, because it is already the case that summa level is half the author's score.

A score of 15 in two Arts is a total of 240 xp, which translates into an Ability score of 9 in Parma Magica. And someone with an affinity gets there pretty fast. Considering I've seen some magi with. This really breaks down or makes arch magi utterly immune to magic if they are old and have put a bit into Arts. Philippus Niger has ~1600 experience points in Arts. That translates to a Parma Magica score of 24. 24x5=120+Form MR. I don't object to the score of 24, I object to getting to that score for essentially free.

I generally don't compare the effectiveness of Parma Magica against the Penetration totals of a determined and committed specialist Hermetic Magus; even a non-specialist can throw a bunch of Vis into the casting and hit some high Penetration numbers - now... Let Vis be used to bolster Parma Magica in response to an incoming attack? I think that's symmetric*.

I tend to view Parma Magica and Hermetic MR levels as compared to the kind of spirits, faeries, and beasts that they normally come across and are challenged by. Even a Might 40 magical beast with some kind of malicious effect costing 5 Might Points, tends only to have a reasonable Penetration at best unless the SG has optimised the use of that power. Once you're down to the Might 10s or even 15s, there's very little threat there.

Once you're into the various arcane connection and sympathetic modifiers, truly large Penetration totals are possible anyway. I'm not sure Parma Magica is necessarily a problem in that respect.

  • I would certainly allow the use of Vis to to increase MR. I don't remember seeing this before, or at least I've never used it before, but it seems like another reasonable use for Vis.

Impenetrability isn't my goal, although it can be if a character is really focused on it. I just wanted to allow for lower level magi to have greater levels of general MR at lower levels of Parma Knowledge. I also get rid of Parma books (which is a personal thing, I recognize) and only allow advancement for Practice and Adventure, with the exception of the first experience point coming from their parens at gauntlet

This also presumes Hermetic foes, and that presumes something about the nature of the Order in your game. I've said it before (albeit a long time ago), but your Order might be one of reclusive covenants who don't interact unless they must or need something, and even then begrudgingly, or it could be one where covenants regularly correspond on a fairly friendly basis, exchanging aid whenever asked. Those two things make for very different games.

And at the time of ArM5, yes, Hermetic magi are the top dogs in the human magical practicioner scene-- that's by design.

I'm not sure why the Parma is underpowered, based on what's being shown here. Out of Gauntlet, the recommended ceiling for a specialist is 12 (10 with Puissant)...

So is the issue that the Parma doesn't provide enough protection against the magic that's not really supposed to be used against it? (Yes, I know it can be, but the idea is that Hermetic conflict should be handled via Certamen, or via the Code, because they're a civilized Order of peers. Wizards' War is an option one doesn't undertake lightly, given the month of preparation associated with it.)

The Parma's meant to be a defense against faeries and magic creatures and demons and non-Hermetics. In that light, I think it works pretty well. If you're seeing it breached too easily, then perhaps you're putting your magi against enemies who are too powerful? Or are your players advancing their Arts at the expense of everything else? We have some magi in our saga who don't know the Code, who can't find their way around the countryside, who can't tell you anything about supernatural creatures, who speak Latin and their birth language and that's it. They suffer for it when they're on adventures.

There is plenty to keep magi busy, plenty to learn, and quite a bit to spend seasons studying. Saying that the Parma doesn't hold up against a hypothetical Hermetic magus who disregards everything to just pour himself into his Arts seems like there's whole aspects of the game being ignored-- or (and more likely) a very different playstyle from what I'm accustomed to seeing. It also depends on the number of magi on adventure. I've found it's tough to keep challenging a group of four or more magi with direct confrontation every time, unless you ramp up the power level of foes. We tend to limit later adventures to 1 or 2 magi, and then make sure the companions and grogs are seeing direct play-- and I wonder if that's a less common style, too.

I do like the idea of being able to use Vim vis to juice the Parma as a fast casting ReVi option, that might be a worthy minor breakthrough

Who are the antagonists in these stories where the Parma is worthless?