So we all do it once, revise Certamen from the ground up, and the post below is my take. It includes a simplification of Certamen, which may make it less interesting, but also a re-centering of the Dueling Styles introduced in HOH:TL. It also (like many mods) changes House Tremere's Free House Virtue, but maintains its focus on Certamen, and hopefully gives it some historical and setting context.
As written the Dueling Styles should be learn-able by other Magi with a Season of work, typically through a Tremere ally. The majority of the Styles are not house secrets, except where noted (mainly the Magic Theory centric styles), mainly for cultural reasons.
I always welcome feed back, and some of these ideas were stolen from other forum contributors.
Alternative Certamen and Tremere Rules
The Tremere have learned a number of techniques to exploit Certamen’s rules and ritual nature. After the Sundering and up until the Schism War, it was traditional for them to learn Minor Magical Focus (Certamen) to assure their dominance as well as encourage their magi be if not experts, familiar with all Arts. However, during the Schism War, the short sighted this was as they found that the Diedne were more powerful magically than the Tremere, and they were not inclined to stop for Certamen duels during the great battles there. Worse, and spoken of only in hushed whispers was that the Tremere allies, Flambeau, Gurnecius, and Tytalus, were just as unwilling to accept Certamen as defining in all disputes on the battlefield.
Since the end of the Schism War, the majority of Tremere have stopped teaching their apprentices the Certamen Magic Focus, though a number of traditional or political lineages continue the practice. The House now relies on these traditional magi to resolve intractable problems via Certamen; and somewhat ironically is wary of their ability to dominate House Tremere via Certamen. Coeris maintains secret records of their specialties and weaknesses. However, House Tremere did not fully lose sight of their roots, and has instead utilized additional techniques that were developed during their initial experimentation with both Certamen and understanding the Parma Magical exception developed by Bonisagus within the ritual. The end result is that In the 13th Century, Magi are more likely to have Magical Specialists. The Hermetic Dueling abilities they learn are focused of taking advantage of the core abilities of Hermetic Sorcery, and the House believes this maintains their advantage in Certamen, while developing their magi into the best wizards possible. Only time will tell if they have chosen well.
A third way, the development of Potent Certamen has also been pursued by some Tremere, who maintain the desire to dominate Certamen. Because this ability is associated with the Mysteries, those who practice it are treated with some suspicion from their Sodales.
Tremere magi may therefore select one of the following Minor Virtues as their House Virtue at character creation, this choice should reflect their upbringing and lineage:
Minor Magical Focus (Certamen) (Minor Hermetic Virtue) - Appropriate for conservative lineages, or those focused on political power, represents rules as written for House Tremere.
Hermetic Duelist (Minor Hermetic Virtue) - Appropriate for a majority of the House’s Magi in the 13th Century.
Potent Certamen (Minor Hermetic Mystery Virtue) - A recent innovation, and based on the Potent Magic Mystery Virtue, it removes the ability to develop any other Potent Magic, but indicates the lineage might have interest in the Hermetic Mysteries.
The Revised Certamen System
Presence + Te + Fo + Aura = Certamen Score
Cert Score + [Vis] + Stress Die = Certamen Total
Higher Total - Lower Total = Result
Result/5 = Fatigue Levels Lost, rounded down.
Each round, the duelists confirm their Certamen Score, Spend Vis is they wish, and roll and add a stress die. The totals are compared and the loser is drained of vitality. Both participants go simultaneously, and only one is able to cause fatigue at a time.
This continues until the contest is over, and a Magus passes out, surrenders, or loses a concentration roll. For the majority of Magi, Certamen is an uninteresting contest of Magical skill, though the magus’s panache and presentation in forming the shared illusion does add to the effect and their potency. It is not so much a skill itself, than a non-violent expression of their puissance. To those with more detailed knowledge of Hermetic Duelling it is a crude and limited expression of the Art of Certamen.
Vis adds +2 per pawn of vis, and increases the botch dice by 1 per pawn. Certamen Botches are Magical Botches and cause Warping. Certamen takes place as Voice Range, with significant cultural pressure for this to be at 10 paces. Like the Parma Magica, Certamen does not have a verbal or gesture component. The Aura modifier likely cancels out as the Magi are typically standing in the same Aura, but dueling a Magi with Fairy Magic, Cthuonic Magic, or Holy Magic are obvious examples where this would not be true. Certamen is impacted by a hostile Aegis, some Peripheral Codes require both duelists to be under the same conditions, some do not.
This version of Certamen, in comparison with the rules presented in Ars5th, does not use the Magi’s Parma to defend or resist Certamen attacks. This was Bonisagus’s tweak to Tremere’s initial ritual combat. House Tremere has sought for the understanding of this exception to the Parma Magica for years and spurred their initial research into the Hermetic Duel Arts.
At the end of the duel, the winner may cast a spell upon the loser, with their Parma up if they have surrendered or lost concentration, and with no Parma if they have fallen unconscious. Wounds are considered a breach of the Code, as is Scrying of course. The spell must use the same TeFo.
New Certamen Virtues and Flaws
Hermetic Duelist (Minor Hermetic Virtue): This Virtue opens up the Arcane Ability: Hermetic Duelist at 1. It is teachable as a Hermetic Mystery, but is not treated as a Mystery by the House as they are willing t teach it to their allies. the Initiation Script uses Order of Hermes Lore, with a speciality of House Tremere or Certamen , for initiation, and any Initiation Scripts should consist of time by the Mystagogue and the Magi, and Sacrifice (service to the House or covenant that season).
Potent Certamen (Minor Hermetic Mystery Virtue): This Virtue gains the Magi a variation of Minor Potent Magic virtue for roles related to Certamen. The Magi may add 3 to their Certamen Total. They may also gains +3 from using Vis in Certamen, rather than the normal +2 per pawn. Magi with this Virtue dominate early in their life, often abusing other young magi from outside the House. However, their skills do not translate to abilities outside of Certamen, and unlike the Magical Focus in Certamen, they do not gain significant power later in life. There have not yet been any spells developed for Potent Certamen.
New Certamen Abilities
Hermetic Duelist - An Arcane Ability, appropriate specialties include the four Hermetic Abilities (Magic theory, Finesse, Penetration and Concentrations). Each level of the Hermetic Duelist Ability indicates that the Duelist knows an additional Hermetic Dueling Style. Hermetic Duelist has no use or effect for people without Opened Hermetic Arts, and no use outside of Certamen.
Certamen Styles and Schools
The Certamen Styles and Schools below each focus on one of the core abilities of a Hermetic Magus. Typically a Hermetic Duelist will stay within a single style, develop its central ability, and select it as their Hermetic Duelist Specialty. Hopefully this is represented in their wider understanding of Hermetic Magic as well.
A magus may use multiple styles at once, some of which work well together, while others do not. Note the Schools below are linked by Ability and House culture. They have no specific impact on the rules.
A Magus’s style can be determined by their opponent or an observer with a Per + Magic Theory test EF selected by the SG based on the Magus’s House, Tradition, and experience in Certamen. This should be easier the longer the Certemen Duel has continued, and should be very difficult in the first round.
The following Styles are not claimed by any of the Schools that have developed since the Schism War.
Gladiator - Only informally a style, the Tremere consider all other Magi, or any Magi without Hermetic Duelist, including those with Potent Certament or a Magical Focus Certamen, to be practicing the Gladiator Style. No changes to the revised rules as written. The Gladiator style is the normal style and the duelists avatars appear to be crude humanoids thematically appropriate for the Technique and Form of the duel. The other styles are all variations on this style.
Bestiarius - Developed by Tarandus of Bjornear House, who lived among the Tremere of Transylvania for a while in the 11th century. It uniquely uses the Bjornear Heartbeast within Certamen. The Bestiarius Duelist adds their Heartbeast Score to their Certamen Score, transforming their avatar into a majestic version of their Heartbeast. When this happens the first time, this is so shocking, that anyone who has not dueled a Bestiarius Style Duelist before must make a Concentration Check equal to 3 + Heartbeast + Pre of the Bestiarius. Since this is such an uncommon School, Tarandus died in 1155, it is unlikely that most Hermetic Magi have ever faced this style before. Note that just seeing this as a spectator does not prepare you for the change, as those that have faced a Bestiarius claim there is a shock at facing what is obviously a much more profound mystery than just the Certamen Illusion changing shape. There is something wild and terrifying at facing such a beast.
Pumilius - Developed by a young Tremere in protest to the House's focus on Certamen, this Style injects humorous or shockingly rude images into the shared illusion. While technically part of the Finesse school, the Duelist in that tradition do not wish to claim it. The duelist makes a Per + Finesse Roll at the start of the round, and introduce a humorous, rude, or frightening aspect into the shared illusion. The other magus must Roll Int + Concentration against the result of the Finesse Roll, plus or minus relevant Personality Traits, and other appropriate bonuses according to the Saga conditions. This only works once, per Certamen Duel, and the Pumilius duelist adds +1 per round of dueling that has passed, as this style becomes more shocking as the Certamen continues uninterrupted for a while. This style appears the same as Gladiator style, until the Finesse roll is made, when something unexpected or rude is added. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first use of this style included the introduction of an enlarged male member onto the duelist’s avatar, and the subsequent declaration of wizards war by the offended magi who lost the duel.
Amantium - The Lovers fight with honor and love of Certamen. They seek not a victory, but a well fought contest. The House’s opinions of this Style shift from year to year, primus to primus, and tribunal to tribunal. Winning a Normandy Tribunal’s Certamen Duel with the Amantium style would win the Magus great acclaim. This style rolls a Simple Die for Certamen, unless spending vis, and increases both theirs and their opponents divisor by one (typically from five to six). This is not a style to use in high politics, but has its adherents. The Avatar of the Amantium duelists is a beautiful thing to behold, glorious, it represents what may be best about Hermetic Magic.
Andabatae - The Andabatae Style focuses on aggression, with little defense. The Duelist subtracts three times their Finesse from their Certamen Total at the start of the Round, and then Adds the their Finesse Ability score to the number of Fatigue levels lost, in addition to the number lost normally. This is represented in the Certamen Illusion as their avatar shifting from stillness to sudden movement, hopefully having been missed by their opponent.
Hoplomachus - The companion and complementary style to the Andabatae Style, a Hoplomachus subtracts twice their Finesse to their Certamen Total, but also subtracts their Finess from the number of Fatigue levels suffered. If they lose, but suffer no fatigue, they gain a confidence point for the duration of the Certamen. A defensive style that is infuriating to the younger Duelists. The Hoplomachus illusion is a still avatar before and after the attack, usually combined with a slowly smiling magus.
Retiarius - The first developed of the Duelist Styles, the Retiarius adds twice their Finesse to their Certamen Total, each round they lose one point of this bonus, and it continues until it is a penalty equal to their Finesse. The avatar begins with quick motions, slowing down throughout the duel.
Essedarius - The Charioteer takes time to get up to speed, but is considered a powerful Style. They gain a bonus equal to one the first round of Certamen, and then each round increase the bonus by two more points, the bonus can go up to twice their concentration plus one. The Essedarius illusion moves master and faster the longer the Certeman goes one.
Provocator - Developed by Tremere who felt that the Essedarius school was too slow, these Duelists may make a Concentration check each round, which they chose the Ease Factor for (3, 6, 9, 12, 15…). Success adds a bonus to their Certamen Scores equal to the EF, rolling higer than the EF has no effect. However, each round they must increase the ease factor by at least one. If they fail a Concentration Roll they lose the Certamen Duel as their avatar disintegrates. This school appears as avatars that are sharper than normal, but seem to tremble with vigor, which increases as the duel continues.
Magic Theory School
The Magic Theory Schools is the strange construction of the Tremere researchers and their focus on the interactions between the two Arcane Abilities, Parma Magica and Certamen. The House itself considers these Styles to be somewhat secret as they delve into things than other Houses maybe should not know, or at least not think about too much.
Gorgonae - The Gorgon decorated Athena’s Aegis, and this folds the Parma Magica back in to the Certamen Duel. After the Magus loses a round, and before they lose fatigue, they may make a Magic Theory + Int Roll, EF equal to Fatigue Levels to be lost times three, if successful they subtract their score in the Parma Magica from Fatigue loss, increase this by one if the Parma Magica specialty is correct for the Certamen Duel’s Form. This is the result of a minor Hermetic Breakthrough, and is considered dangerous to use with outsiders, though it is perhaps not as powerful as other Styles. The Gorgonae style looks like Gladiator, but a shimmering or wavy barrier surrounds the duelist’s avatar when it is struck.
Jovian - The Jovian Style is disliked by serious duelists, but it is again the produce of a minor Hermetic insight and represents possible future discoveries. When a Jovian uses Vis in Certamen, they may make an Pre + Magic Theory (Certamen) roll with and EF equal to the Pawns spent times three. Success means that each Pawn adds four to the Certamen Total, rather than two. Failure, means that the vis is wasted, but the Botch Dice remain. When this happens, the Magus’s avatar erupts with power,
Athenian - From the same researches that developed the Jovian Style, the Athenian style is more subtle, esoteric, and dangerous. The Athenian duelist makes a Sta + Magic Theory (Certamen) roll EF the Pawns of Vis spent time three. Success indicates that the additional power given by the Vis lingers and fades after a few rounds. Each round the bonus fades by two. So that four pawns spent in round one, will provide +8 to the Certamen Total in round one, +6 in round two, + 4 in round three. This has no effect if used with one Pawn as it provides +2 then fades to +0 the next round. This of course has profound effects if used in conjunction with the Jovian Style. The extra power is tied directly to the Certamen Ritual, and does not provide any additional power to the final spell that is allowed to be cast. The greatest danger of this style is that it causes Warping if there remains power from the Vis. For each 2 points of bonus remaining, 1 point of warping is gained, the Magus’s opponent gains half, round down, of the warping as well, and risks Twilight if two points are gained. This has not yet occurred outside of House tremere, and might be considered against the Code if it was determined what caused it. This style appears and a light growing from inside of the Magi’s avatar which fades.
Charon - The Ferryman comes and goes across the river of death. This style is strange and has a number of uses both inside and outside of the Certamen Duel. Before rolling to determine Certamen, but after other Styles have been resolved, the Charon Duelist may make a Per + Magic Theory roll, EF of 9. If successful, their magic echoes, and they use the next Certamen Roll for this round and next. If failed they must make a concentration role to continue the duel at an EF of 6. They may spend the Echoed round casting another spell if they wish. This style is most famous for using Concentration to hold the spell until the end and releasing what might be a large number of of spells at their opponent. But it is more often used to cast a spell at a target outside of the Certamin Duel, perhaps to silence a distraction, fetch a glass of wine, strike down a dangerous and deranged grog, or cast a temporary healing spell on themselves to reduce their wound penalties. Their echoed round may win the next round, but can not do fatigue levels and is considered to have a Certamen Margin of zero. This Style may be used multiple times if the Magi chooses to hold a number of spells for use at the end, or needs to cast multiple spells at external targets. This style makes the Magus’s avatar echo and deform while it is repeating the previous round of the duel.
Bone-Biting - Supposedly developed by a Diedne prior to the Schism War, this style has a negative reputation for being a type of sacrificial magic; however it is still taught since it is so effective. Failure to learn from your enemies is an unforgivable sin among the Tremere. The Bone-Biters do a wound, typically a light wound, and then use the power of the blood and pain to reduce their target’s divisor for the Certamen Resistance by one per wound level. The duelist must deal with and penalty the rest of the match of course, and the reduction, no matter high big lasts only one round. No matter how powerful the Certamine strike becomes, it will not do damage to their opponent. The duelist’s avatar is filled with dark bloody streaks for those who know what to watch for. Typically, the duelist is limited to a one or two minor wounds as they bite their tongue, inner cheek, or lips; as these wounds are common, it is not unreasonable they occur naturally. More cunning duelists slip a nail in their shoes, or develop enchanted devices that attack their owner at the right times, however, enchanted devices to help Certamen are illegal in most Tribunals (no matter how strange they may be), though such magi are likely rarely caught .
Cisoria - The existence of the Shears Style, indicates that the Parma Magica is not worked around, but rather worked into the Certamen Ritual. It is a powerful technique against new magi, but against seasoned magi, and hoplites in particular it fails spectacularly. Due to its tendency to seriously injure the other duelist, it has been quietly suppressed by House Tremere. Practitioners of this style may roll Int + Penetration (Certamen) EF of five times their opponent's Parma Magica, increase the EF by 5 if their Parma has the Form specialty of the duel. Success indicates that the results of that round are not divided, but applied directly to fatigue. Unfortunately as Parma has been bypassed, if this makes the target pass out, the extra fatigue does a wound equal to the remaining levels. These physical wounds are reduced by the victims inherent Form magic resistance at a rate of 1 level per 5 levels in the Form Art. If they fail their penetration ability roll, increase their target’s Certamen divisor from 5 to 6, and each time this fails increase it again, as it becomes more and more difficult to penetrate their magic resistance during the duel. This style has no effect until the fateful blow strikes home, and the duelists Avatar rips through their opponent’s avatar and into their opponent. If this does damage, then for all intents and purposes this counts as the one spell after Certamen, and likely the duelist gains a reputation for his actions.
Sagittarius - The Archer surrenders up future advantage for decisive victory. The Archer decides at the beginning of the round if they will Strike. If they have so chosen and win the round, they multiply their advantage by their Penetration (Certamen) Ability Score doing significantly more fatigue, however, the round after they do this, they reduce their Certamen Score by three times their penetration. They may choose to Strike each round. Their avatar tends to lunch when striking, and then appears listless and clumsy the next round until they strike again.
Velitus - The Spear Throwers wear down their opponents. Instead of doing fatigue damage, they may multiple their advantage by their Penetration (Certamen) Ability score and add it to their next round’s Total. They must decide if they will use their Style at the beginning of the round before they roll. Their Certamen avatars leave traces of their opponents, which seem to become staggered and uncoordinated as the duel continues.
EDIT: just some formatting.