Saga Background

This thread is reserved for GM posts about the background for this saga.

Some rules information will probably be embedded here.

When reading the following, please remember that these are generalizations. Your character might be different in one or more ways. Other people in the world will also not conform to these stereotypes and purported social norms. Indeed, by the very nature of stereotypes, most people will not, cannot, should not.

This information serves as a point of reference. It is not a template for any specific character.

About Mythic Europe

Medieval Europe is a vast place, and Mythic Europe is still larger, even for a magus. Between ordinary realms and wildernesses lie other places that range from fantastic kingdoms and hidden valleys to simple villages that often go overlooked for decades. When the boundaries of such places are obviously supernatural, magi call these places regiones. Ordinary people prefer to journey in groups, for even when a lone traveler does not succumb to the perils of the way, he can easily lose track of where he is and find himself very much elsewhere with little hope of return. A map that seems geographically accurate cannot convey the fullness of what is really out there.

Medieval Europe is a religious place, and Mythic Europe is no less religious. No one can really understand God, yet few people disbelieve. Belief in a single, divine Creator is a hallmark of knowledge and education, not ignorance. People disagree about specific details of religious practice and belief, and many consider these details important enough to fight for, kill for and die for. Despite a virtually universal belief in God, sin and sinners are no less universal, for the temptations and tribulations of the world are obvious, and the grace of God either occluded or overlooked. A very few people even believe that the world and its Creator are evil. Magi are no less likely to believe than any other educated person in Mythic Europe, though their belief is less likely to represent the mainstream. Yet magi, through their understanding of correspondence, are more likely to understand that error attracts more error and evil attracts more evil. Discerning this kind of error is beyond the power of their magic; knowing good and evil too.

Medieval Europe is a stratified society, and Mythic Europe is even more stratified. The power and significance of blood is real in Mythic Europe. As the lion begets the lion and the vulture begets the vulture, so does nobility beget nobility and the base beget the base. The son of a blacksmith is likely to be big and strong, like his father. There are exceptions in all walks of life, yet these prove the rule for they are likely to be changelings, illegitimate, or subject to some other influence that is poorly understood. One reason magi call their natural talent “The Gift” is that it does not appear to follow the usual rule. The Gift can appear anywhere without respect to parentage, and attempts to breed for the Gift have proved futile.

Medieval Europe values family, and Mythic Europe is no different. Friends come and go, but family matters. Few can completely ignore the ties and obligations of blood, even when kinsman vies with kinsman; those who manage are often accursed. Balancing this, it is often understood that a man's teacher or master can be at least as important as his father, for where the former provided a past, the latter provides a future. Thus, a magus from an important family is hardly likely to forsake his heritage, and his kin are not likely to forget him. Even a magus who has left humble beginnings behind him might well look into their affairs and provide discreet assistance.

Medieval Europe values status, and Mythic Europe takes perhaps an even keener interest. A man's status represents more than what other people think of him, but who he is. People increasingly understand this as Europe continues to emerge from the chaos following the fall of Rome. A king is more than a war leader; a knight is more than a soldier on a horse; a magus is more than someone who casts spells. The things a man does must correspond to his estate. When a peasant or merchant presumes to ape his betters, he is rightly condemned as the boastful ape he most likely is and always shall be, yet it is known that sometimes a man can rise above his station. But when a man of great station acts unfittingly, he degrades himself and becomes less of what he is supposed to be; perhaps he was always less. Falling is easier than rising. Magi are hardly exempt from such beliefs. Through their understanding of correspondence, similarity, contagion and other natural laws, magi are perhaps more insistent about people acting as they should. Thus, many magi consider Verditius inferior not because they are less powerful—few magi disdain the awesome power of their enchantments—but because they are mere craftsmen in a world that rightly holds saints, scholars and warriors in the highest regard. Thus, although a practical and powerful magus can easily use his Art to ensure bountiful harvests and amass great wealth, he thereby makes himself into a peasant, dragging himself and the teachings of the great Bonisagus into the muck of the earth. It is a rare magus who never uses his abilities in this way, yet a magus who overdoes it will surely earn himself a reputation that is less than salubrious, the rightful contempt of his fellows, and perhaps incur more subtle penalties as he becomes less of a true magus. It is no accident that Richard the Lionhearted is remembered as a great king; whatever his failings, he was most kingly.

Medieval Europe harbors ignorance, folklore and superstition. Some of these beliefs are true in Mythic Europe, but not all. Mythic Europe has myths of its own. Its ignorant folk are ignorant. Its storytellers weave compelling fabrications about faeries, about saints, about their neighbors. Be warned. Even scholars make mistakes.

The Realms

The division of the supernatural into Faerie, Divine, Infernal and Magic is an unproven Hermetic theory. Most supernatural traditions in Mythic Europe do not see the supernatural in this way. Even Hermetic Magic cannot distinguish one realm from another; the realms are deduced from four extremely common patterns of magical power found using InVi.

Any Hermetic spell that works on one realm works on all of them. Demon's Eternal Oblivion also harms angels, a spell that sees into an Infernal regio will also see into a Magic regio, and so on.

Merinita magi claim that their magic can distinguish Faerie from other supernatural realms, and can cast spells that successfully use this distinction—they believe. Other magi are not so sure, concerned that demons and angels can easily pretend to be faeries.

Other traditions view the world in different ways. Opposing Divine traditions usually perceive each other's places and artifacts as unholy. A Cathar-aligned Supernatural Ability will pick up different distinctions than a Jewish or a Hermetic one. Well-meaning, God-fearing folk oppose each other not because they don't know better, but because they (think they) do.

There is a single Supernatural Lore Ability that covers all four canonical (Realm) Lores, with a required qualifier that represents a perspective on the supernatural. Supernatural Lore: Order of Hermes represents the perspective of most magi, which is different from Supernatural Lore: House Merinita and Supernatural Lore: Kabbalism. It is possible to learn more than one of these, representing knowledge of multiple perspectives.

Finally, from a Hermetic perspective, the distinction among realms is at least as much about the spiritual state of the person as it is about what he is perceiving:

Most people experience the entire supernatural world as Faerie. Their God acts just like a Faerie, propitiated by the proper gifts, angered when certain taboos are broken, interested in certain kinds of stories, and so on. Similarly, demons act like faeries interested in other kinds of stories! This does not make God any less Divine or demons less Infernal! Most people simply are not able to able to understand the Divine for what it is, or the Infernal for what it is. Indeed, full understanding of neither is possible to mortals.

A very people come close, understanding the vastness of the world through a perspective of Magic. Many mystics are like this, including Criamon and even Kabbalists, whose magic is holy, but still magic for all that it involves angels and meditation on the Divine. The two hallmark distinctions between the Divine and Magic are simplicity and the exaltation of the human soul. Embracing the Divine is simple in theory, involving no secret arcana. The most ignorant of peasants can do it with sufficient faith. This involves awe-inspiring kindness, compassion and belief. A man is not tiny but awesome, for his soul makes him one with God. Magic, even at its most mystical, is about this world in all its vast truth and majesty, and is about occult knowledge of how things really are. Magic explores the great Mystery of Creation, next to which a man is but a speck. That can never be Divine, for God is beyond all knowledge, beyond Creation.

Conversely, the Infernal is also beyond all knowledge! The evil that we know is just a shadow of the greater darkness. The Infernal masks itself in many guises, and is best known by its works. A very few people believe that there is no Infernal at all.

The great consequence of all this is that a magus cannot use a spell to solve a moral dilemma. If a supernatural creature is demanding that a murderer be sacrificed to it, the magus cannot cast a spell to decide “it's a faerie rather than a demon, so maybe it's ok, and besides, this guy's a murderer.” Choose, magus! If a man descends from the skies amidst a glowing nimbus, and commands obedience in the name of God, a magus will have to make his own choices rather than let InVi tell him, “yup, it's an angel.” In a similar way, Sense Holiness and Unholiness is limited by human understanding.

About the Order of Hermes

You know it. You love it. You've read all about it. These few clarifications, elaborations and alterations do not change the essentials.

The Order of Hermes represents the premier wizards of Mythic Europe and seeks to encompass all wizards, everywhere. No one knows how many wizards have sworn the Oath. Some Redcaps believe
that there are far, far more magi Ex Miscellanea than all other magi, who mostly keep to themselves in remote places, or otherwise keep a low profile. One maga Trianoma calls this “the unseen Order,” and sees the silent spread of Code and Parma a positive development. Oaths have a way of creating values, even in the breach, and a wizard whose Parma Magica can challenge a magus must invest time developing the Hermetic Arts at the expense of lesser magics. A few Criamon have suggested that more than one Grand Tribunal occur at the same time, in different versions of the same place but with different magi attending, but this perspective of time and the universe is odd even by Criamon standards.

Most magi consider the magic of Bonisagus to be natural magic. Only Gifted people can learn or use it, yet who is to say that the Gift is not simply a rarefied intelligence and awareness? It is natural because it works within the physical world, reflecting and adhering to the truths of natural philosophy. Indeed, many magi consider Bonisagus the authority for natural philosophy; many of his ideas are demonstrable and practical, which is hardly true of Aristotle's.

By contrast, non-Hermetic magic is almost always sorcery, foul magics of dubious provenance that disrupt the natural order of things through trafficking with and even worshiping diverse spirits. The Scriptures and most people of wisdom throughout history have rightfully condemned these practices. Sorcery can offer useful powers and bizarre spell parameters that seem to transcend the bland but clear categories of Hermetic Magic, but is ultimately limited by comparison and usually calamitous. Most sorcerers claim that their magic is different, are allowed entrance into the Order as Magi Ex Miscellanea and fare poorly if they call too much attention to themselves. Some magi partake of mysteries that brings their magic closer to sorcery, and their reputations suffer accordingly. Other magi partake of mysteries that grant some of the benefits of sorcery without trafficking with spirits, and this is a wiser path. Uniquely, the Order has recognized that Cabala is not sorcery, even though it involves trafficking with angels and demons (whom the Cabalists weirdly claim are not demons at all), and for some unknown reason have apparently not even forced them to join the Order.

A few magi believe that all magic involves diverting spirits to serve one's will, because the entire 'natural' world exists only through spirits that mediate between the mundane and the First Cause. But even these magi distinguish between Hermetic Magic, which involves these spirits indirectly, and sorcery.

Some Magi, mostly Merinita, believe that Hermetic Magic is a kind of glamour, inferior to 'real' glamour in that it can be resisted.

The Order of Hermes encompasses many different styles of magic, because Bonisagus' theory is flexible, adaptable, and though not perfect, is probably a major development toward a single understanding of magic and the universe. Even within a House, different lineages have been influenced by non-Hermetic traditions and perspectives.

Many magi blend mysticism and reason, because they are in a unique position to understand the relevance of both.

One important aspect of this is correspondence. A mundane might explain why the blacksmiths of a city generally live in the same area, and talk about property values, a desire to collobarate or compete with their peers, the convenience to townspeople of being able to more easily judge whose wares are best, the importance of access to water and resources. A magus would not disagree with any of this, yet his understanding would incorporate the fundamental laws of the universe, how like attracts like, how a blacksmith gains certain elemental affinities through his work, and so on. A mundane might not understand how it is that a university of competent masters is fertile ground for the emergence of bold new ideas and thinkers, yet it is obvious to a magus, and it may be that magi were behind the development of these institutions, since magi live in covenants for similar reasons.

Another aspect of this is initiation. Where a mundane might talk about practice and learning, a magus understands the deeper truths of why practice works. An apprentice blacksmith might not understand why he has to sweep the floor, and even the blacksmith only grasp the superficial utility of having an apprentice do scutwork where he can absorb the rudiments of smithing from those around him while he builds strength. But the magus understands that sweeping the floor of the smithy might represent clearing away the detritus of his past life to make room for what is to come, that simply being around experienced smiths and working in a smithy brings laws of similarity and contagion into play, that the time he spends is a sacrifice, and even that the apprentice needs to devlop physical strength that corresponds to the strength of the metal he will one day master.

In the same way, Hermetic apprenticeship is more than simply learning from a magus; it too is a kind of initiation. It occurs at a fixed time, for a fixed duration, with prescribed rules and sacrifices, and can offer extra-ordinary benefits.

Magi ascribe significance even to normal learning and their other habits. Different lineages relate to the mystical world in different ways, yet all magi know that the mythic and mystical are very, very real, perhaps more real than the mundane. When a two degree miscalculation of the position of Jupiter combined with a fleeting thought about a girl can mean the difference between an abundant harvest for Sicily and fifteen years in the Twilight Void, magi are likely to yoke mystic and rational thinking together, and call it reason.

House Bonisagus has a unique place in the Order. Its members are responsible for holding and disseminating greater magical lore to those worthy of it. In terms of game mechanics, Bonisagi seek and collect initiation scripts and have sworn a Hermetic Oath to initiate magi who are ready for greater knowledge, thereby sharing their knowledge with the Order. Many lineages have their own mysteries, with the four major Mystery Cults being the most prominent, but House Bonisagus has a unique obligation and can initiate many virtues, Hermetic, supernatural and mundane. Each Bonisagus has his own criteria to decide who is ready, based on his personal idiosyncrasies and the mysteries he knows. One Bonisagus might decide a magus is unworthy simply because he has already studied from a rival Bonisagus, or because the magus has a virtue or flaw the Bonisagus considers unsuitable. It is not only the Bonisagus who chooses the magus; a magus who wants to learn from a Bonisagus needs to find one who knows what he wishes to learn, including ancillary knowledge and perspectives that are consistent with the magus' intentions. A magus traditionally offers a partially-trained apprentice to a Bonisagus who agrees to teach him. This is beneficial for the Bonisagus, and is generally part of the first initiation script, representing a sacrifice of time and potential, and corresponding to the relationship of teacher and student.

Although House Bonisagus considers itself a True Lineage, every now and then a magus from outside the House discovers or creates sufficiently interesting initiation scripts, is otherwise considered worthy and is invited to join the House. This itself is an initiation in which the aspirant somehow becomes part of the blood and lineage of Bonisagus himself.

In game terms, players should not start off as Bonisagi. These magi spend too much time doing boring things, for which they earn great prestige and resources. They are usually less powerful than other magi.

Quaesitors remain the legal experts and detectives of the Order. Theirs is a frustrating position. It is virtually impossible to adhere to the Code, and few magi bother. A magus who is unpopular, acts egregiously or has a rival might find himself charged, but magi vote their interests. Gross violations of the Code are punished, because most magi recognize an interest in having some law. Unpopular magi get what they deserve. Magi with rivals enrich their sodali with bribes, enliven Tribunals and provide cover for other activities and factional allegiances. Bribery is, of course, illegal, but it happens all the time. Some Quasitors bemoan this state of affairs, yet one Traditionalist memorably waxed eloquent about how the Order continues to uphold the great legal traditions of Rome herself, where Law was tempered by human wisdom, experience and perspective.

Fewer Quaesitors are enthusiastic about trial by combat, a right demanded by Flambeau, Tytalus and eventually Tremere after he developed and promoted Certamen as the standard means of resolving Hermetic conflicts, short of Wizard's War or March. Trials are rarely resolved by combat, however, because most Tribunals have a Tremere elder at hand who is usually glad to champion a case that is obviously just (and if that magus is not willing to champion a cause, it is usually obvious how the Tremere magi will vote should it come to that.)

Quaesitors have immense prestige as renowned arbiters, investigators and legalists. A contract witnessed and approved of by a Quaesitor is almost always upheld at Tribunal. More importantly, such disputes rarely reach Tribunal, because the side ruled against is usually fined for wasting the Tribunal's time, since the Quaesitori represent what the contract means and are extremely consistent about such legalisms. They are considered to be especially honest, and the word of a Quaesitor is almost always considered good. Player characters just past Gauntlet lack sufficient prestige and experience for other magi to trust them to this extent, so do not begin play as Quaesitori, and must earn the privilege, unless they have more important things to do. Most Guernicus magi do become Quaesitors, but not immediately.

House Mercere deliver the mail, when magi are not willing to do this for themselves.

A magus is usually expected to speak or fight for himself. This is not required, but failing to do so usually results in a loss of reputation. A magus never loses reputation for allowing his parens to champion him in any endeavor; this permission is transitive, allowing the parens of one's parens to champion him. A magus never loses reputation for allowing a Tremere magus to champion him in Certamen. A magus never loses reputation for allowing a Quaesitor to champion him in legal matters. A magus never loses reputation for allowing a magus from his covenant to champion him in any endeavor, unless that magus is Ex Miscellanea, has the Hedge Wizard flaw or otherwise lacks respect.

The official histories of the Order and its various Houses tend to root Hermetic traditions in the classical world, and many magi believe this because Rome rightly has greater prestige than motley barbarian practices. This may be one of the many myths of Mythic Europe. Rome was not known for its magics, and while classical works hint about diverse mysteries throughout civilization, from the alchemy of Alexandrian Jews, to the Pythagorean Mysteries, to the Mithraic initations, there is no evidence that the Cult of Mercury ever existed. Of course, this lack of documentation might stand as mute testimony to the power of the Cult of Mercury and their ability to keep their traditions secret....

Magi generally expect other magi not merely to learn magic but to use it. This prejudice might be a remnant of a distant classical past. It might instead be tied to the importance of initiation, the idea that great power, great deeds and great sacrifice go hand in hand. This is an Order of Hermes where breakthroughs occur as much in the field as in the lab. Though magi of diverse traditions have equally diverse and even opposing ideas about how to use their magic and how to live, magi generally recognize when other magi live fully and by their own truths.

Just as Hermetic Magic is usually tied to cycles of time, so are other Hermetic activities.

These changes to canon make it easier for me to keep track of everything and to explain why so many magi have the same Hermetic age. I also like the feel of things having to occur in their proper time. The greater frequency of (Grand) Tribunals reflects the ability of magi to travel.

The Hermetic Year begins during the summer, even though the Aegis is cast during the winter.

Local Tribunals are held every year during the summer at the covenant of the Praeco. These Tribunals are more like fairs or festivals than very serious proceedings, although Hermetic Court is held. Magi often do not attend Tribunal, but it is a great opportunity for intrigue, trade and easy stories. It has become customary to bring suitable gifts to the Praeco, whose covenant often profits greatly from the proceedings in the same way as do the sponsors of mundane fairs.

Grand Tribunal is held every seventh year, at a location announced by the Primus of House Bonisagus at the previous Grand Tribunal, and starts on the second day of summer. Attending Grand Tribunal is often a difficult undertaking, because the Primus does not always choose an accessible location. Not all magi who want to attend manage it. A Grand Tribunal begins with acknowledging new magi (every third Grand Tribunal,) followed by local gatherings which eventually promote the most serious issues to the larger group. Aside from gathering magi from all across Europe, a Grand Tribunal can offer unexpected opportunities and dangers.

There are larger cycles too, that govern a magus' career. It is well known in the Order that only one year in 21 is auspicious for finding apprentices and opening their Arts. Other years are hopeless, at best. This 21-year cycle is known throughout the Order but not understood.

The hunt for apprentices occurs in the year before Grand Tribunal. Some magi introduce their new apprentices at Grand Tribunal, especially if they hope to trade the apprentice or offer him to a Bonisagus. Many of the more social magi bring their apprentices to Grand Tribunal in their 8th year, and most magi of the major houses bring their one-time apprentices to begin their first season as a magus at Grand Tribunal.

All apprentices who become magi do so during the season of Grand Tribunal. A parens who is not pleased with his apprentice has the right to kill or dismiss him. Magi, like most real people, usually prefer not to kill other people. A dismissed apprentice can be sponsored by another magus. This happens especially often in House Tytalus; an apprentice does well on his Gauntlet yet is gleefully dismissed by his parens as unworthy, is sponsored by another Tytalus magus, and is beginning his career as a magus as he should, enmeshed in a delicious web of rivalry and intrigue of the kind the House loves so much. Virtually all apprentices who are found in the proper year become magi, which is one of the reasons magi only seek apprentices at that time.

A new magus can theoretically seek an apprentice during his seventh year as a magus and open his Arts, but magi who do so are considered overly proud, unless they relinquish or trade the apprentice to someone else rather than train the apprentices themselves. Some magi are happy to make a name for themselves by showing off, and some are Ex Miscellanea magi who are beneath notice and cannot be expected to behave properly. Tremere magi are likely to find apprentices for their parens, and giving a magus to a Bonisagus who accepts him begins a relationship that may take a long time to bear fruit, but that demonstrates faith and an early commitment, components that can further enhance an initiation script.

Magi in their 28th year are especially likely often seek apprentices. It is a way of announcing their maturity to the Order. Seeking and training an apprentice at this time adds to a magus' Reputation as being in good standing within the Order.

A magus in his 49th year may find an apprentice and give him to a Bonisagus. This is considered an auspicious year to commence delving into the greater mysteries. Even Ex Miscellanea magi recognize the wisdom of postponing initiations until a magus has spent sufficient time with the vast power he already has. No magus is elevated to the rank of Quaesitor before his 49th year. No magus is permitted entrance into House Bonisagus before his 49th year.

A magus often begins his 50th year by challenging an archmagus for the title at Great Tribunal, even though he is expected to lose. Offering challenge increases a reputation as a magus in good standing. Winning is rare, but a magus who does so earns great prestige. A magus who eventually defeats the archmagus he challenged in his 50th year, rather than some other archmagus, is especially lauded.

A magus who does not become an archmagus by his 100th year is not allowed to become one. Though theoretically legal, these attempts always fail, sometimes mysteriously, and sometimes through the obvious actions of magi appalled by this breach of Hermetic etiquette.