[Sub Rosa] Issue #20 is here!

Out of the depths of our sanctums and the shadows of the nearby forests, Sub Rosa reemerges to bring you issue #20, chock full of "secrets & lies."

We take a moment to talk about events from Gencon before diving into articles on secret codes, spontaneous magic, and urban merchant companies, an adventure set in Palermo, and no less than three mystery cults to engage or oppose your magi with their magics and hidden plots. Forum regular Pelle Kofod brings you a Divine beast and its regio, and former line author Christian Andersen details the Cult of Shape-stealers. Other authors include returning contributors Gerald Wylie, Robin Bland, Berengar Drexel, and Benoît Léoutre. This is 94 pages of brand new material to craft conspiracies and shadowy machinations for months to come!

Jeff Menges graces our cover and internal art is brought to you by Jeff, Elizabeth Porter, Angela Taylor, Jason Tseng, Patrick Demo, and Troy Taylor-- Troy's map of Palermo is pretty fantastic and worth the price of entry alone, in my humble opinion. They all do outstanding art, though, and we can't thank them enough.

If you'd like to purchase an issue of Sub Rosa, send $4.50(US) for single issues, $13(US) for a troupe issue via paypal to subrosa@distantlandspublishing.com send and we'll shoot you a link to download your copy. We offer a bundle of four issues for $16(US), which can be any four issues, they don't need to be sequential.

Our policy of providing a free copy of issue #20 the first three reviewers of issue #20 still stands-- if you've got #20 and want #21 for free, let us know what you thought of this issue. Post your review and send us an email to subrosa@distantlandspublishing.com. We'll hook you up. We ended up leaving one review issue on the table this time. You'll want to move fast if you want to buy Number 20 and potentially not buy again for as long as you're willing to let us know your opinions on the current issue.



Issue #20 is the new one, yes, not #21?

You're very right, and I'm so thinking about the next issue, I didn't even realize!

Fixed. :slight_smile:

Oh yeah.

It has been a long time but now it is here. One full year since issue 19. It may have been the longest period ever. I just checked, it wasn't according my chart because issue 6 was in december 2010 and 5 in june 9. Second. Not that bad so anyway.

A general note, this issue has a new system for the margins on the right/left side of the page, where is marked the "type" of article you are reading: scenario, bestiary, fiction, setting, rules, character or editorial. It is probably meant to help. Since I'm mostly reading the pdf version on a screen I find it harder to always have visible, but on paper it is more useful (I read some articles in the subway coming back from work).

I have read it and I just wanted to share my review, in case it may help someone to decide to buy it.

So[size=150] Subrosa #20 [/size]here we go.

I liked a lot the introduction - Under the rose - because it introduced the theme with appeal.

My first intrigued eyebrow was while reading the second page, Tales from gencon, a novelty - replacing the now extinct Direct from atlas which was about new books, but since there aren't new books,... Ben did speak about a bigger surprise, and I'm really wondering what it may be. I think it may be bigger than an actual sub rosa future issue, and I hope it will be related to the real atlas game books. Maybe a new book, or tribunal books everyone always wanted to have converted in 5th edition ("crowd funded book"). That's my hope, but still I don't know. Remember, secrets and lies? I hope this is more about secrets and less about lies because Ben's words got me excited. Anyway, direct message towards Ben: when that project will be about, please, do not only advertize on those social media I dislike. Advertize here too, and why not, by mail to every subrosa buyer. I wouldn't mind to support it (expecting the crowdfunding to be available not only from the states... because we European like Ars magica too, but do not like heavy shipping fees :stuck_out_tongue:).

After this, my enthousiasm was raising, since I was already enthousiast from the beggining, when we heard the next issue was about secrets and lies. I would just quote myself from one year ago (february 2017 when I reviewed the subrosa #19): "There is no mappa mundi this time and we will certainly have a difficult time the next time, to decipher the lies and secrets which will lie in the next issue... hoping that it will not be in one year, because one year is (too) long!"

I'm a psychic. A futur psychic like Elan would say in the Order of the stick!

So next piece is from Gerald Wylie, the "academician" of the subrosa if I may say. He analyzes spontaneous magic, and gives tips about how you could improve your character about it, and how to consider spontaneous magic in a roleplay fashion, such as that spontaneous/5 without gestures and voices may well be called "gestures magic", etc. It comes with a tool (html page). I tried it, but perhaps I'm not understanding it well, but when I roll a die in the tool, and choose to simulate "ceremonial casting" it gives me a "2" from casting score without that I change anything. I undertood after that it was "loud voice" and "exagerated gestures", but I'm not sure if that choice is a convenience of Gerald (why not use those since you are already spending so much time casting a spell so do not really worry about unwanted attention from the sound) or if that is mandatory - which I may well have missed from the first day I played ars magica.

For new players, it may well be a very useful guide since, IMO spontaneous magic is the most useful tool of any magus. (And that's why any tradition/package which comes with a weak spontaneous (or in a lesser fashion, difficult spontaneous) magic is bad IMO.)

Next is the Midsummer cult. It is not magical by nature, their attention is turned to the faeries.
The mystery is well introduced, and scripts are provided. There are story seeds and ideas of how to use the cult.
The scope of the cult is a village, so they may well be never of use, or once during a local scenario. I don't expect to have it used in more than one adventure because the cult has nothing to fight against hermetic magi who would want to unravel their secret. Secret which lies with their rites and faeries, something which may not be worth the time and investment of any magus but you may think otherwise.

The beast that is not a beast is about a regio where animals have heard the holy word from a real man (Francis of Assisi). It can provide a place for adventure, a mythic place or a story seed, if you like the Divine.

The cult of shape-stealers is a setting which loosely serves to complete the background loosely open of the pomeranian witches (foes of Bjornaer). It is clearly intented for the Rhine Tribunal, and while it could be transposed to another location, it may lose what makes his interest. All start from new supernatural abilities, which I think are build from the rules in HOHS. 3 magi are provided as NPC should you want them to appear and introduced the cult in your saga.

Set piece: an urban merchant company like a previous set piece I clearly remember (wasn't it the inn? yes it was, issue 17 and the mill, issue 19), this bit is about a setting description of what it says right on the title: urban merchant company. For a city companion oriented adventure, it gives wonderful setting, characters ideas, roleplay opportunities. I think for beginning saga, or breaks for the magi who wish to stay studying in the covenant while the player want still to play those years, companions may take a leading role while investigating such a place. It may also provide the background required for other adventures, such as some of the Tales of mythic europa, or even Thrice told tales (the story of Summer is icumen in, for example).

Franciscan doubts is more a saga seed than a story seed. It is designed for years 1229-1230 (due to historical accuracy I believe) and revolve around Frederic II holy emperor. I'm not myself fond of such "historical figures"/divine-themed philosophical adventure, but I know my alphastory guide and another player who has started a new saga group with other players may find interest. It involves a lot of philosophical discussion, and may prove very interesting for troupes with players interested in those matters. The bibliography provided by the author is quite huge.

From my point of view, it may be the most "intellectual" adventure I have ever seen for Ars magica. From a simple reading, I think the RP is clearly the proeminent factor, because it involves question one should/could have if Mythic Europe was a real place. It is not only about good and bad or wanting something, but it is also about philosophy and the bible.

Another secret society: Legio lupii, from the now dead roman empire, but they still lives and continue to worship the pagan gods. Again, the cult, his setting, ideas, are provided. You have the organization of the cult fully developped with cool latin names which bring more credibility to the thing. You need to have the need for them (either as background for PC or NPC or as story target/saga seedn, etc.) but if you have, you have a full explained package ready to use.

(Oh a commercial for peripheral code. Sweet. It's not often we see magazine A advertize for magazine B in the non-fandom. Or maybe I know nothing, Ygrid.)

Hidden words and codes! Okay that article was the most anticipated because I used a lot of real code in props I provided to the players, during my years as SG. Sometimes the player catch the code quickly (Cesar code) sometimes not (vigenere method). Some players are good at it, most are not, and this is not easy to balance because:

  • if I want to avoid a pure dice roll (which is what I refer as a group roll meaning failure is rarely an option since ONE player can suceed and everyone succeeds), I need to roleplay it.
  • but if I want to roleplay it, I need to have props, which are then given to players, which may have NO insight on how to analyze a text.

I had the luck to have a player who was clearly adept of those cryptographs (is that even an english correct word? sorry if not!) and he worked well. Now I haven't him, so codes are almost cheap... but they still require a lot of preparation.
So this is about dice rolls, and in fact, why not.

I now have some guidelines to use, so that the decyphering/coding is not anymore a random thing which I invent in my head at the time a player ask. Which is good.

And last, but not least, Mappa mundi which provides not places, but ideas and "mysteries" of the real history. Each of those may be a storyseed.

Additional note because I realize it is never obvious: in this issue, I found the illustrations beautiful. Notably pages 11 and 12 (for spontaneous magic) and the cover page. (The cover page is not my favorite, I would vote for #13 but it has quite good colors.

So that was it. Next issue will be heaven and hell.
While I personaly think some very old issues already touched the Divine (or at least the templars) I'm quite curious to see what will arise from that. Should I say "see you next year" again? Naa I won't o it. See you again this year!


Review of Issue #20:

Tales from GenCon got me, well, excited to try attending GenCon at some point in the future, which is a more monumental task than it might otherwise appear - I've always had a lot of trouble justifying travel for gaming purposes when I could be doing more 'exotic' travelling with the same amount of time off, and Ben's hints of crowd-funded projects to come have got me all hot and bothered now.

Wizards and their Everyday Magics by Gerald Wylie is very slightly misnomered. The vast majority of the article is focused on excellence as a spontaneous caster, and in this he does exceptionally well - his notes on hermetic virtue recommendations in particular are excellent, as are a variety of <1 magnitude 'quality of life' spells, and an example of the applications of ceremonial magic. The example character is also extremely well-made, as are the provided potential story and personal aims for the PC. My sole issue with the limited length able to be devoted to 'the rest of it' - and there was just a little blank space in this section! I would have greatly appreciated a little bit of strategic input here, if there are any 'types' of spells essential to keep as generally formulaic, or the particular synergies of ceremonial casters with other types of character.

The Midsummer Cult is quite easy to insert into a campaign - it's location in a single, isolated rural village means it can be easily incorporated into any of the Normany, Rhine, Stonehenge, Loch Leglan or Hiberian tribunals fairly easily. While I believe it's intended to really fit into any Tribunal, it thematically feels to fit a little bit better with the 'themes' of those tribunals in my mind. The initiations are just a little strange - one of them is for Wilderness Sense, yet the section makes pretty clear the emphasis of the faeries is their relation to the village, so it feels a little out of place, though I like the other two initiations. I think this section would benefit by expanding a bit more on the nature and motivations of the faeries themselves, even if the cult rather than the fae is intended as the primary focus. All in a all, it's a strong 'skeleton' for a one or two-session insert, but could use a little more depth and some more 'faerie' story hooks.

The Beast That Is Not A Beast is a simple, enjoyable, well-illustrated, plug-and-play Divine regio. It's particular theme revolves around a singular Fox, who once was the recipient of instruction from St. Francis of Assisi. While few hooks are provided outright, there are a myriad of potential Divine plot hooks here for an interested player, and this particular regio is fairly easy to insert in most of Mythic Europe. Perhaps most interestingly, one provided plot hook sets the Divine potentially against local (non-Infernal or otherwise inherently nasty) mundane interests, which can be a nice departure for magi whose involvement with the Divine often goes hand-in-hand with the Church's influence in mundane society.

The Cult of Shape-Stealers is fantastic, and my favorite part of this issue. A non-Bjornaer Shapechanging Mystery Cult, possessing both thematically and mechanically excellent initiations, including somewhat-repeatable initiations that create a very pagan-religious atmosphere. While many of the other written-up Mystery Cults tend to include initiation paths that make for spiritual progression, I personally find in reading them, initiation tasks can be epic, but as they are one-off, specific adventures, the emphasis for the player can often be on the destination rather than journey. Here, as much or more as the canon mystery cults, I get an extreme sense of religion, with a closer-than-ever link between the process and results of initiation. From a campaign perspective, they're a particularly amazing addition to a Rhine Tribunal game and the Crintera Schism theme, as the author mentions. I'd also note that this particular cult can potentially up a major game theme of the approach of the Order (and the players) to non-Hermetic Gifted characters. Honestly, this is one of the most interesting Mystery Cults cults to me generally. I could also see some of the mechanics being used for certain approaches to House Diedne, if you don't want to include them in your game.

Set Piece: An Urban Merchant Company I personally have a great love of urban settings in Ars Magicka. That said, to me the use case for this particular piece is more covenant resource than set piece. For a covenant located near a more urban area, looking to secure a source of income or network of agents, this could represent an acquisition target, or for a newly-created covenant, this could be their initial income source - along with several handily made grogs.

Franciscan Doubts is this issue's adventure, focusing on the beliefs of members of the Franciscan sect that Frederick II might be the Antichrist. It's heavily researched and makes a compelling story for magi particularly interested in this fact, but, with my dearest respects to the author, I personally did not deeply care one way or another if Frederick was the Antichrist, which made the scenario a little less compelling. It took me to thinking of the potential consequences for mundane politics if a major branch of the faith strongly condemned him as the Antichrist and the consequences for upheaval across Medieval Europe and potential exacerbation of demon problems to start to care quite deeply about the results of the story. Also, for these sorts of adventures, while an admirable number of NPCs were given statistics, the PCs that completed/playtested the adventure were not - I'd strongly encourage including the PCs as well especially when so many other game stats are conveniently provided.

Legio Lupii represents a second shape-changing related cult, centered around Lycanthropy and Roman Influences (and considering the foundation myth of rome, it fits). While the flavor is certainly interesting, as are the Wolves' relation to Mars, on the whole, I'd personally want to be very careful about using it in a game. To me they seem written nearly entirely as antagonists - notably, no Mystery Cult initiations are provided - and the goals of the cult are extremely large (the downfall of the Church and Restoration of the Roman empire). Baring very specific PC concepts I don't see a lot of room for them for players, but I do see some room to use them to 'stir a pot' - they're a good piece for a storyguide to juxtapose ancient and current Rome in a game, and they might be suitable as 'people to deal with in the pursuit of lost/forbidden lore in Ancient Rome'.

Hidden Words is a nice, short, informative section on the use of codes and ciphers. This is a fairly simple, mechanically-oriented section with cleanly written rules. Intelligence + Artes Liberales ends up being the key pool - I personally think Intrigue should be a viable option as well. But it's cleanly written and well-executed for characters who wish to explore this part of the game world in detail. I know some Tytalian schemers...

Mappa Mundi goes into detail on Flaws, giving a couple of example Story Flaws based on historical events, and the ways they could get Magi involved. Several of the examples involve mundane politics, and are quite interesting, but I don't want to spoil too much.

Congratulations guys!

Thank you, and thank you to wampa for the review, and to Exar Kun for the review-- we greatly appreciate it and have it documented to get you folks copies of Sub Rosa #21 when it's ready!


Greetings all, my impressions on Sub Rosa #20,

Liked the cover, by Jeff Menges, certainly evokes the cultist ambiance within (even if we have been spoiled by LOTR, and it also evokes Weathertop, but I digress)

Under the Rose simply explained what the issue's articles were about and what we can expect in the next one, so no need to repeat it.

Tales from GenCon: ahh, makes me realize how I miss that trip, only went once! The Ars community is pretty small but Mr. McFarland manages to meet up with more than two dozen players/authors, reminisce with some on interesting facts about Ars Magica origins, and even play a scenario. Color me green +3, congratulations on the Ennie! And even a hint about a new project!

Wizards and their Everyday Magics, by Gerard Wylie, is all about Spontaneous Magic, which I confess I was getting wrong in some details (so it's good to revisit)! Good idea with the props being themselves of Excellent Quality, to add even more bonuses, had not thought of that, don't know if my troupe would allow that, though!
Which also begets the idea of enchanting them as well, in some way, to get even more pluses, or to easily transport them (even "too big to move" ones).
In the interest of completeness, I would like to add "Faerie Raised Magic" and "Spell Improvisation" (which is itself included in FRM) from HoH:MC as germane virtues that may increase Spont Casting totals for similar spells, though I have not seen them in action, and can't judge their actual usefulness. Maybe for fast cast counters.

Hidden Powers: The Midsummer Cult by Robin Bland covers a pagan, faerie-friendly cult for mundane folk with appropriate low-level virtues. I thought it was well-done, though a writeup of a Faerie wizard or two, as foes or as protectors, would have been fantastic as well! One can only dream...

The Beast that is not a Beast by Pelle Kofod describes a Divine Beast (not what'd you'd expect! with the moniker "Beast"!) and the regio it inhabits. It's pretty short, and perhaps could have used some more fleshing out (it has stats included, but the Hooks did not strike a chord with me); I also have to confess in struggling with how to fit such Divine beings in a regular campaign. Still, it fits thematically with other writeups in the magazine (Francis of Assisi!).

The Cult of Shape-Stealers by Christian Andersen. Very complete, with Hooks from Hermetic politics to specific Houses, new Virtues, Flaws, 3 Magi, some variations on regular spells. Sinister murderous bastards! Sacrifices! Many good ideas.
I did have questions on the mechanics of it all, as this new Cult has as its Mystagogue someone with 3 in the relevant lore skill (specialized in Initiations), 3 Pre. and +1 Int, which seems quite low to invent new Initiations, or to be a Mystagogue. Note that the Script bonus for Shape-Stealing is +16, somebody had to roll a simple die + 0-3 Risk Modifier + Int + Mystery Cult Lore vs 25 difficulty, yikes!
Yes, they all have to start somewhere, but still, they all are almost just right out of Gauntlet! And they don't start out with a minor Virtue, but a major one. Also, experimenting with scripts, uff, such a new cult would have Initiations riddled with side effects, right? The Tytalus maga, in particular, has no Cult lore.
And the Mystagogue has to roll to be successful with the Initiation? (perhaps that's one of the side effects of experimentation?)
Also, how does Independent Study interact with the Quick Advancement rules for these writeups? The Mystagogue practiced for a year (Q4/season + 2 independent study= 6/season, x4 <30 you get for just a regular year).
And what does Steliana's Major Essential Flaw Pre: Face of a Criminal entail, exactly?
Sorry for all the questions! Many great ideas in the article, just trying to order them in my head.

Christian Andersen also pens Set Piece: An Urban Merchant Company. 4 different grogs ready to use + 1 Companion level, with Hooks, these set pieces are always very useful. Would have liked a map, though!

Franciscan Doubts by Berengar Drexel is a Divine-based scenario best set a few years after the typical 1220 Ars Magica base date. The characters are meant to help a Franciscan monk determine whether there is evidence in Emperor Frederick II's childhood that he is the AntiChrist. From my perspective, this is a rather weird and absurd fear, but it makes all the sense in the world from a medieval multi-sect Church-dominated mindset; also if you are into conspiracy theories! The adventure's ok, better be Gentle-Gifted, though; the historical facts surrounding this are fascinating as well, and a bibliography at the end, bonus! And a Learned Magician writeup to boot! 13 characters in total, grogs, Companion-level, and a Hedgie. Ans a map of Palermo! Cool all around!

Legio Lupii by Benoît Léoutre is about another secret cult, this time of Roman Empire Loyalist Mars-worshipping werewolves, whew! Couldn't quite wrap my head around this one, I had running images of B-movie Nazi Werewolves. The article goes into great detail about their history, goals and organization, but I thought it too pulpy for my Ars Magica preferences. As far as I know the Lycanthropy Flaw is a serious one, not really something controllable like in Werewolf the Apocalypse, so a very well-organized, cultured, secretive, widely spread organization such as this (with plenty of perfectly preserved ancient heirlooms), whose leaders and a number of followers collectively go mad/transform into wild animals a few days of every month does not gel for me. Of note, some of them possess a type of dagger that provides minor Magic Resistance, something that would be of unquenchable interest to the Order of Hermes!

Hidden Words: Codes and Ciphers in Mundane Manuscripts, by Guy Leopold is short and to the point, covering what rolls might be involved in creating and breaking ciphers, all based on Artes Liberales, including Intellego, which at a base 5 provides a +5 bonus. So most such codes easily fall to magi, who have studied AL, often have high Intelligence, and can probably Spont a 5 Base Intellego spell easily. If it adds something to your game, then sure, go for it!

Mappa Mundi closes the deal with an offering of a number of Hooks that deal with mundane political mysteries.

Salve sodales!

A big thank you to everyone who's provided reviews. I'm a bit under the weather, but I'll get this over to the proper thread later this week.