Studying Magic Theory and Discoveries

After many years of involvement with Ars Magica, I have only just now ventured into 5th Edition. My reticence has been due to the rumours I've heard about the many, many changes it makes to both the system and the setting--and after going through the 5th Ed. main book, I can barely begin to reconcile a number of them with the established canon. Revising XP progression and adjusting spell design levels are all very well and good. Some of the other changes make one wonder just what Chart et al. were thinking when they produced the 5th Edition.

Most of those things are subjects for another thread. For this one, I have two related questions.

  1. How is a Magus or non-Magus supposed to perform independent study of Magic Theory? I.e. without relying on Summae or Tractati or a teacher to instruct them in existing knowledge. This is essential if one is going to advance beyond the most basic levels of Magic Theory. The new "exposure" rules for Magic Theory allow one to learn at a meagre two-fifths the rate in all previous editions I have in my collection, granting only two of the "new" XP per season of lab work. If anyone is going to Practice Magic Theory, are they able to do anything with it, or is it akin to abstract theoretical mathematical physics? Can Magi still learn Magic Theory from studying Vis? What about non-Magi who know Magic Theory?

  2. Are there any changes to the rules for Original Research and the search for a Discovery (Major, Extraordinary, or Breakthrough) as presented in "The Revised Wizard's Grimoire" (4th Ed.)? Under the new rules for advancement, it would be EXTREMELY difficult for anyone to get anywhere NEAR the level of Magic Theory needed to carry out this type of research. Presumably, Bonisagus managed it, somehow, which means that, eventually, so should others. Notatus also did original research, meaning that it extends beyond the Founders. Are there any rules for this? If so, Where?

I'd start by saying that, in my opinion, while Ars Magica 5th edition is certainly not perfect, in terms of good, robust rule design it is one of the best examples on the market (at least among the rules-heavy games; it's much easier to make something like Risus robust).

Why? Remember, by studying a tractatus you can advance beyond the writer's ability. So it's not that difficult to advance very far in Magic Theory on books alone.

Practice, in general, is a full time activity, unlike exposure (p.164). But in most cases, studying from books is much more productive in terms of experience gain. This is true for math and theoretical physics too!

No. Only the Arts.

You do not need the Gift to learn Magic Theory. In fact, since a good teacher can generally teach more quickly than a good book, a somewhat munchkinish approach that I've seen at least one covenant take is the following:

  1. get a young mundane who has the potential of being a good teacher (high communication, perhaps the good teacher virtue etc.).
  2. make sure he learns the teaching ability well.
  3. feed him tractati on Magic Theory (or any other ability that a mundane can learn!).
    4 have him regurgitate his knowledge in the form of teaching (so that the magi can learn faster).

The rules for this are in the Bonisagus chapter from Houses of Hermes:True Lineages. It's much easier under 5th Edition than under 4th: any magus fresh from gauntlet can try it, and I've even seen a Bonisagus apprentice pull off a Minor Breakthrough. Essentially, you experiment with lab work (inventing spells, creating magical items etc.), aiming for a "Discovery" result. After some more time and experimentation "stabilizing" your result (you are aiming for any experimentation result that is not a failure), you get a number of breakthrough points equal to the magnitude of the effect. After 30 (for a minor breakthrough to 60+ (for a "hermetic" one) points, you have achieved your goal! There's a catch though: each season spent experimenting has the potential to give you warping points (equal to the magnitude of effect minus a simple die).

This is for completely original research. Ancient Magic gives rules to modify these guidelines if, instead of redesigning Hermetic theory from scratch, you "only" want to integrate other magical traditions.

Welcome, Arawn!

For some insight into what he was thinking, you might want to read his design notes on the main ArM5 page on Atlas' site.

Ezzelino already answered your questions, I just wanted to chime in in support (of ArM5 too - I too consider it excellent, even if not in terms of rules robustness in comparison with other systems).

Looking forward to it. :slight_smile: We're missing some nice flame-war around here.

I'd add that your should not underestimate the potential of a community of magi teaching each other through sharing tractatus. This can accumulate XP so fast, in fact, that it's considered "broken". :smiley:

I'd add that I, personally, consider the OR rules to be rather poorly worded and in some respects ill-considered. Definitely not an example of one of ArM5's greatest moments, IMHO. The rules in Ancient Magic are FAR superior (but don't precisely cover the same process).

Thank you for the information ezzelino. I was wondering if the Discovery rules had been cut entirely from 5th Edition. The details may be enough incentive to acquire "Houses of Hermes: True Lineages". Though it will still be hard to face the "reenvisioning" of House Tremere (of which, to be fair, there have been at least two other versions).

Regarding the study of Magic Theory, there are some points I'd like to make. The first is that I was considering, among other things, how far an independent Magus could advance. Whereas it may be possible for an independent Magus with access to a decent Vis source to study and study and study until he reaches a sufficient level to write a Summa which he can then trade for another, including the "mundane" Arcane Knowledge of Magic Theory, the amount of time and effort required to copy Tractati combined with the limited study for each would make them much lower on the list. In some Tribunals, independent Magi are fairly common. How far the "lone researcher" can progress is an issue which affects the shape of the Order.

The second is that under the new rules, spell researchers and those who do extensive labwork like House Verditius find their progress in Magic Theory inhibited. Under the system which existed previously, a Verditius Maga who spent, say, forty years on labwork and design would accumulate enough XP to bring her Magic Theory well up toward about 18. What this means is that the practical applications of Magic Theory used to yield a genuine return. Now, it doesn't. Those same decades of research combined with basic grounding from her Apprenticeship would give her a Magic Theory of merely 11. Thus, using Magic Theory doesn't really allow one to develop Magic Theory.

Extending the early analogy with mathematical physics, experiments are curcial toward confirming theories and toward gathering the information to forge new and better theories. Those who exist purely in a theoretical framework can often veer wildly from practical ontology. Or, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, any interpretation of reality is correct if you pick the right postulates. Without experimentation to provide the feedback, theory drifts farther and farther into the purely abstract and untested, allowing errors to creep in. The practical application of Magic Theory should weigh much more heaviy in its development.

Of course, under the 4th Ed. rules, relying on a high-quality copy of Bonisagus' original Authority on Magic Theory was a good way to learn it, too. Magi would examine and reexamine his genius for more on the secrets of Magic. It's interesting that under the analogy we've been using, Tractati can be thought of as major scientific/thaumaturgical "papers" on different aspects of Magic Theory.

The effect that this would have on the game setting is profound. House Bonisagus should be THE most powerful in the Order. Why? Because its sheer proliferation of specialists and researchers combined with the seldom-observed provision of their Oath requiring them to SHARE their knowledge would result in a massive collection and proliferation of these "papers". The number of Tractati discourses at Durenmar would run into the thousands. The writing of Tractati and Summae would be deemed an indispensible and, indeed, required part of Bonisagi life. Jerbiton, with its own emphasis on scholarship, would be nearly as prolific and effective, only diverted by its mundane studies.

The idea of having multiple "mundane" scholars studying Magic Theory makes a limited amount of sense. It's a difficult and abstract concept. One would think that it should require a connection to some type of Supernatural Ability in most cases. Truly exceptional minds could, of course, still grasp it and even excel. The difficulty caused by questions regarding Magic Theory actually served to inspire my first 5th Ed. Companion, a dedicated scholar and Alchemist determined to take the fields as far as possible.

I have more ideas to bring up, but thank you for the input.

I suggest that you look at the three house books. Each of the houses has been given a new and more varied perspective than I am used to from previous editions and I for one (for the most part) like the changes. Flambeau in particular has benefited and is far more interesting than in previous editions.

Also, yes magic theory is not likely to get a huge as it would have done under 4th ed, but the revised research rules mean that that is not important. As a Jerbiton 15 years out of apprenticeship with a Magic Theory score of 6 I am about to start on my first original research project with realistic expectation of progress (if not success). My magic theory will improve over time and my research will be more productive, however it will still (to my characters mind) justify the effort starting now

Note: in RL research is carried out by people with a range of theoretical abilities and Isaac Newtons statement of "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" has a significant ring of truth to it.

A random tuppence - or some such value

I switched my current campaign over from 4th ed to 5th ed and it took a little while to convince my players, we haven't regretted the change over though.

Aside from the rules being tighter and faster, it also revamps the canon IMHO for the better. Flambeau and Tremere turned from houses you'd just plain avoid into houses that you can see non flambeau and Tremere actually liking.

"Sure the flambeau may be a bit, but when push comes to shove, you know they've got your back"
"Tremere may watch out for Tremere first, but by god if they don't keep things running smoothly"

As for the high magic theory, we noticed this too, our original magi all have magic theory above 10, while the junior magi in our covenant don't have it over 6. Since the change over, magic theory barely goes up.

However, this does mean that magi tend more to stick to their specialities since lab total is now more dependant upon the arts. And specialist magi are IMHO more fun and interesting than others.

Original research isn't easy, even after the changes, it takes a lot of leg work for not much output, but if its what your character wants to do, at least you can start when an apprentice and have it as a long term project. You don't need to be a hoary old archmage to begin. I fully agree however that its not that well worded in True lineages and my group had a bit of a head scratch over it at first.