Rules Question: "seeing" divine, infernal, fairie, and magic

In last night's session, two grogs were watching a bishop perform a mass. One of the grogs wanted to "see" the nature and strength of the aura surrounding the eucharist and filling the cathedral, which was being transubstantiated out of their sight. He wanted to know if the aura was divine or infernal (or even fairie or something), and how strong it was. This would have allowed him to quickly size up the situation.

His assuption was that, since auras are not visible to normal senses, they are invisible. As such, he assumed that his Second Sight minor supernatural virtue and corresponding Second Sight ability would allow him a roll to see the nature and strength of the aura - after all, it allows you to "see naturally invisible things such as spirits and the boundaries between regio layers."

My assumption as storyguide was that although auras are not visible per se, that doesn't mean they are invisible, like a being in spirit form. And unlike regiones, auras are not a hidden space, just a part of the environment. Particularly in a high-strength aura, there will usually be physical manifestations that can provide clues to the presence, nature, and strength of auras. But these will just be descriptive, not something that can provide a difinitive answer.

I further assumed that to "see" magic auras, the correct virtue/ability would be magic sense, for divine/infernal auras it would be Sense Holiness and Unholiness, and for Fairie, there is no "seeing" ability that I could find.

Is either of us correct? Without magic, are there supernatural virtues+abilities that allow you to determine presence, type, and strength of auras? Alternately, are their non-supernatural abilities that would allow a chance to "detect" the presence of auras? For example, Per+Fairie Lore?

We use the following rules:

  1. the player and SG should decide on the realm source for each power, with the default for Second Sight being Magic. (Sense Holy/Unholy is Divine. Alternatives are possible; sometimes you might want all of a character's abilities to derive from only one realm.) This gives the correct aura interaction bonus/penalty - so a Second Sight ability roll would be penalised as if casting magic within the Divine Aura.

  2. We allow Second Sight to generally see the edges of regios and into the next layer, as written in the core rulebook p67, but not to detect the strength or presence of an aura. Magic Sensitivity and Comprehend Magic (from HoH: Soc) do allow auras to be seen, but are also penalised by Divine auras unless the user is outside the aura. Second Sight also cannot determine which realm a regio is associated with, although most players will notice a difference in their success rate due to the bonus/penalty.

  3. A character using a magical ability during the divine miracle of the Eucharist could expect all sorts of repercussions, from being temporarily struck blind to having an angel chastise him in person, to suddenly deciding to become a infernal fake miracle should also be unpleasant for him/her, but in a different style.

Now, that is clever.

The offficial answer, so far as I can see, is that the interpretation of the finer points of virtues happens at your table inyuor group to suit your story. So, he;s right if your group agrees he's right. IMOC, regio boundaries are visible to Second Sight, but auras aren't. Basically I limit it so that Sense Holiness / Unholiness has something to do.

IMC, the aura is invisible in the sense that a character's bravery is invisible, or the smell of a lilac is invisible. The aura is not a thing, its an attribute of a thing, and the thing itself is hidden in this case. IMC that means that if there's an invisible demon nearby you can see him, but you can't see the spiritual stench of him, with Second Sight.

As others have said, this is a "your saga may vary" situation.

In my saga, areas with high auras can be percieved by Second Sight in that they have a higher presence of "awake" objects and spirits... the spirits of the trees in a faerie forest or magical grove are more aware than thus visibly to second sight. Similarly a holy place would raidate with the presence of the local patron saint, angel or simply God while an Inferal site would abound with minor demons.

As for non-supernatural abilities, I would rule that someone with appropriate Realm Lore would be able to identify places likely to have an appropriate aura... ie, someone with Magic Lore might be able to spot certain natural features that might serve as tethers for a Magic aura. Almost anyone would know that a church has a Divine aura... they wouldn't necessarily call it a "Divine aura", probably just holy ground, but they would know what it is. Similarly, almost anyone would know that evil lingers at places where horrible sins happened (Infernal auras).

Edit: Sorry for the spasm of posts. Just switched from viewing on my phone's browser to a dedicated forum viewer, and, well, mistakes were made.

The SG (myself) and player were in accord on this point. His Second Sight has a magic source, a remnant of his lost gift as a failed apprentice.

This was what I thought was canon and what I think I will be going with, although (I'm not sure if this is your meaning) Magic Sensitivity will only see magic auras. It has enough other uses! Sense holy/unholy will sense those auras. I'll add a "Fairie Sensitivity" minor virtue+ability to cover those auras, creatures, objects, etc. Like MS, FS will also make you more susceptible to magical effects.

In some cases, it might be obvious due to the environment, inhabitants, etc. But fairie are tricky, infernal deceives, etc, so it won't always be clear. This is where I would bring in relevant realm lore ability rolls. I would also allow a person who could sense an aura via the above-mentioned methods to study it and determine strength using the lore abilities.

During the table discussion, I didn't even bring up the penalties for using a magic ability in a divine aura 5 cathedral, as that would have conceded that the attempt was possible using Second Sight and would have revealed the nature and strength of the aura.

This is the one thing I don't like about the otherwise splendid realm interraction system. If the players are unsure if they are dealing with an magical or fey threat, or unsure if they are dealing with a devout priest or an infernal heretic, and they attempt to do something realm-aligned, then, presto, they know what they are dealing with.

My players are generally good about seperating player and character knowledge, but I hate to put them in that situation; it makes for awkward role-playing. There are solutions of course, from hiding die rolls to fooling them with red herrings, but they are all inelegant.

I can understand this sentiment, but... in this case, the players were on a mission for the Knights Templar after a rousing speech about how this task was vital to the reconquest of Iberia, which in turn was vital for the crusade in the holy land, the defeat of Islam, etc. He wasn't just being nosy; he wanted to know if the bishop was a man to be trusted as a possible ally or an agent of the infernal that seemed to be lurking in the shadows of the story.

So the player could have made a good case that his use of magic was not sinful, at least as I've defined God and the church's position on magic in this campaign.

And for my purposes as storyteller, St. Ubaldesca herself was scheduled to make an impressive appearance at the climax of the session, during which manifestation of the divine she would perform several miracles, the first miracles the PC's have personally witnessed. So it would have really stolen her thunder if another saint, angel, etc had popped in just hours before. Particularly since the bishop himself was a red herring. He was not particularly saintly, but no infernalist.

I refer to Sir Pterry and Neil Gaiman's book "Good Omens".
In it a witch tries to see the aura of the AntiChrist, and is puzzled when she can't. The explanation was, to paraphrase, she could no more see his aura than a man in London can see England.

Or try saying a Fish can't taste water while it is immersed in it, but can percieve the water boundary. Then replace "water" with "Aura".

I've snipped lots of good stuff, with which I am in full agreement.

Magic Sensitivity's description only mentions 'magic', so inventing Faerie Sensitivity is a good idea, but shouldn't that make you more susceptible to faerie effects rather than magic?

Magic Lore, Divine Lore, Infernal Lore and Faerie Lore have seemed to me to be becoming more and more useful as the Ars Magica game has gained more and more rulebooks. Magic Lore can be used instead of Folk Ken when dealing with magical beings (added bit in RoP:Magic); I seem to remember (I don't have my other books with me) the same applying with Faerie Lore; if that is true, it would then be reasonable to allow Infernal and Divine/Dominion Lores to do the same.

Anyway, it sounds like a fun adventure which you've thought through well.

Yes, I am blessed/cursed by a very creative group. You won't believe what they did to get back their stuff from the Hospitallers.

I like the "character's bravery" example; the lilac is trickier because it relies on an existing sense. The second sentence is pure gold for what I was trying to convey to the player. I tried to explain it via "science." Humans have 5 senses that absorb specie given off by objects, if my understanding of natural philosopie is correct - I'm still reading my latest purchase, the awesome Arts & Academe. Put simply, invisibility masks specie. Second sight allows you to penetrate this mask. It also allows you to see spirits, which have no specie, so Second sight is granting a new sense as well. Aura have no species that the 5 senses can perceive. The sense/sensitivity virtues grant you a new sense that can perceive their specie and/or allows your existing senses to do so.

I'm hesitant to criticize anything about ArM as I'm super excited about the game - it does everything I've found wanting in other fantasy rpg's. But this attitude in the rules of "its your game, you decide how the virtues (and other things) work" drives me crazy.

I've got 20+ years experience gaming, I understand that that I can change the rules to suit the group's needs. Even the most casual of gamer eventually develops house rules for Monopoly. But at this stage, as the entire troupe, including SG, is still learning the rules, I'd prefer a firm core from which we could deviate later.

I guess I just find it odd that a game about magi, fairie, demons, and angels has published extensively detailed rules about the development of an artist's reputation and the operation of dog kennels, but when it comes to auras of the 4 realms, even after a book published for each realm, everyone throws up their hands and says "Its your game, you decide!" This isn't exactly a criticism of the realms books; their chock full of good, useful material and are next on my purchase list.

Oh, yes, that's what I meant; poor editing.

Thanks. It wasn't "my" adventure though, just adapting Hospitaller's Due from ToME to suit local circumstances. To the degree it was a success, the praise goes to Alexander White, who wrote the adventure, and the fine folks on this board, who gave me a lot of good advice on my "First Time SG" thread.

Thanks. I'm going to go with a different interpretation, but I appreciate your perspective. The players asked for "high fantasy," I anticipate a lot of realm interraction, so I think second sight will be useful enough without percieving auras and the realm sensing powers should be useful in their own rights. If I was running a more historical game, where the supernatural was only rarely encountered, I'd probably be more inclined to go with your troupe's interpretation.

This is where I'll be using the realm lores.

Sensitivity will give more definitive answers, but I imagine lores being used to analyze more subtle clues when the sanctity of an environment is questionable, as, in this case, if they suspect that the priest is subtly tainting a religious rite.

Thanks again everyone for all the great advice!

Based on the feedback and some reflection, my "final" word for this saga is (final until I find a problem that needs fixing that is):
There will be 4 minor virtues+abilities - Divine, Infernal, Fairie, and Magic Sensitivity - that will all work mechanically like magic sensitivity, substituting the appropriate term, and applying the need to beat a demon's magic resistance, same for an angel, should it choose to hide its nature. This will be useful for detecting auras, effects, items (is that a relic or a magic item?) and creatures that can otherwise be perceived with normal senses.

There will also be 4 corresponding major virtues ("Greater X Sensitivity"), that will have the ability to perceive, but not the corresponding suceptibility to effects.

In most cases, the granting realm would = the sensitivity type (Divine Sensitivity would have a Divine source, etc) but exceptions would be with SG allowance for plausible stories.

Second Sight will have a different, but related use, making them a potent combination. Since it allows the perception of invisible things, you could use Second Sight to perceive a spirit (or regio) and then Infernal Sensitivity to tell you if the spirit is a demon or not. Determining that it is not a demon would not tell you if its fairie, but logical deductions could be made by the player.

An alternative could be to set difficulty levels that you roll against with the skill bonus to let Second Sight do things beyond the basics. So, someone with great skill in the Ability Second sight might be able to see auras reliably all the time, while someone with a low score might be able to do it if they´re lucky.

I´ve used it in a way roughly like that, as i preferred having Second Sight be very useful if someone spent a lot of XP on it.

Sounds like an interesting alternative.

An option could be to make the Ability Score rise like an Art when taken through the Major Virtues, that would raise the chance to penetrate the might of something hiding its nature and make it much easier to get a high bonus overall.

I like this idea. I'm still getting used to the mechanics and hadn't really thought about the penetration problem.

My reasoning for my initial version of the major sense virtues I suggested was more story - if the source of your infernal sense is itself infernal, sure, it might suit the devil's plans to grant you the minor version, thus making you more suceptible to infernal influences, but if the source is divine, how would it suit God's plans to make his inquisitors susceptible to demons? It wouldn't, so they'd tend towards the major version, with no handicaps.

Does granting both my idea and yours make it too powerful?

Maybe. But OTOH, it´s not a skill that is used all the time and a Major Virtue should be valuable so it might be fine anyway.

Well. Said player stands corrected. All very reasonable arguements! I do like the addition of the major virtues and minor virtues!


My interpretation of such phenomena in my game is that there are two broad effects here:

  1. Abilities that allow you to sense things that do not ordinarily generate species. Sense Holiness & Unholiness allows you to detect emanations of the Divine or Infernal, Magic Sensitivity allows you to do the same for Magic and (in my saga) Faerie. This covers detecting spells, auras, regio boundaries, enchantments, vis, Might, and so on.

  2. Abilities that allow you to sense the true species of something whose species are currently disguised or hidden. So Second Sight allows you to discover illusions and invisible things. I have played with (and am currently happy with) allowing Second Sight to overlay Forms -- or rather, the species that would be normally generated by a Form -- onto what you are normally seeing. So a Creo Imaginem illusion shows the fake species (as normal) but with the absense of a Form, revealing it to be a fake. A Muto Imaginem allows the viewer to see both the species of the original Form and the changed species. A Perdo Imaginem shows the true species but normal sight reveals nothing. This explains how Second Sight can detect shapeshifters but not Bjornaer (who have a dual nature).

Under this view, the grog would need Sense Holiness & Unholiness to detect the mystery of the Eucharist, and the divine aura. Second Sight would not be enough.

I admit this interpretation has no official grounds, but it works for us.