The eagle-men of the Alps

There is an alpine legend involving a kingdom of eagles who could turn into men (or viceversa). In human form, they had only one arm, "so they could not use a shield, but they were so brave they did not need it".

These eagle-men, and in particular their ancestors, seem to match how ArM5 depicts faeries. They can sire children with normal humans, though, and at least some of these children are also eagle-men. Finally, when they shift shapes it seems that their accoutrements change with them -- including weapons: they arrive at a battle in eagle form, change into humans, and immediately start fighting.

I am tempted to mechanically represent being an eagle-man as a type of faerie blood:

Minor Virtue, Supernatural
Blood of the Eagles

You are one of the fabled eagle-men of the Alps. This is a variant of the Faerie Blood Virtue, but you gain no bonus to Aging rolls.

Instead, you can freely switch between the form of a very large eagle, and that of a human. When changing into an eagle any accoutrements of your human form, including weapons, that are truly yours change with you. Your eagle form is just as natural as your human one, so once assumed it cannot be dispelled, it is not blocked by magic resistance, and does not cause warping even over extended periods of time.

In human form you only have one arn. This affects you as if you had the Missing Hand Flaw. You receive no compensation for it, but you do not incur the usual -3 penalty in combat, and instead add your Brave personality trait to all defense rolls. You can freely spend starting experience on martial skills.

I think the Virtue is balanced, but I'm looking for feedback. The way I see it is this.
Being able to take the eagle form is slightly better than the "classic" skinchanger Virtue; I'd rank it as worth maybe 1.5 Virtue Points. One-Handed is a -1 Flaw, that is particularly serious for warriors -- so much that it is only partially offset by the bravery bonus (overall, I'd rank the two together as worth maybe -0.5 points). Sanity check: in combat, a Brave+3 character gets +3 to Def rolls, but using e.g. a longsword vs. a longsword-plus-heather shield costs +3 Def, while using a longsword vs. a greatsword costs +1 Atk, +1 Def and +3 Dam. And of course, a one-handed character incurs -3 penalty to other tasks, can't use a bow etc. Being able to take martial skills is a sufficiently small perk that it's included for free in Virtues such as Almogavar.

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My only complaint here is that by your own admission the ability to shapeshift included in your virtue is a better than the ability offered by the shapeshifter virtue, which is a major virtue.

Your virtue also does a number of other smaller things that IMO mostly balance out. This still leaves you with a virtue that grants something better than what you can get from a major supernatural virtue but for only the cost of a minor supernatural virtue.

I dont think that this difference is offset by the negative value imposed by the missing hand flaw.

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If you want the Eagle Men to be a faerie blooded, then you just need to design a version of Faerie Blood that gives some bravery bonus, and insist that those truly descended of Eagle Blood should also acquire Skinchanger, One Handed and Warrior and maybe Puissant Single Weapon. There is no real reason to lump a bunch of 1-point flaws and virtues in there to fit a perfect package in a single point, unless your goal is to make it so that every a grog can exceed the 3-pt V/F max. The 'so brave they did not need a shield' is easily puissant single weapon with flavor text (since we all mechanically love the heater shield, but don't forget the round shield is an easier to acquire item)


There are really two goals.

The first is that it would be nice to have eagle-men grogs... and leave some room for personalization. Hence, "the packaging". I would also add that most versions of Faerie Blood and Magical blood typically provide two perks, each on the scale a Minor Virtue or a little less: for example, +1 to aging rolls and 1 Minor Sympathy trait. In this sense Blood of the Eagles more or less follows suit, providing a positive perk (somewhere between a Minor and Major Virtue, though I'd argue closer to Minor) and a negative one (somewhat less than a Minor Flaw).

The second reason for writing and ad-hoc Virtue is that the existing V&Fs do not faithfully match the description of eagle-men. For example, the eagle men age just like other men. Also, if you give them Skinchanger as written they can't transform with their accoutrements, while in the stories they can (sure, you can change Skinchanger, but that defeats the purpose of doing everything with stock V&F). And One Handed and Warrior and Puissant Single Weapon together don't quite replicate the stuff about "one-armed, but so brave they did not need the shield", at least not as well as the mechanic "just like one-handed, but no penalty in combat and +Brave to defense". Well, not as I see it :slight_smile:

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I actually wrote Skinchanger, not Shapeshifter. I think the fundamental difference between Skinchanger and Shapeshifter is that the former provides only one shape, the lattter many.

There are other differences, of course. Skinchanger's magical effect is ongoing (a bad design choice, in my opinion, since combined with the warping rules it makes it impossible to have characters who spend most of their lifetime in animal forn). Skinchanger provides a +3 bonus to Soak. Shapeshifter requires an Ability and a roll. And Shapeshifter and Skinchanger may interact differently with hostile shapechanging magic. But I think these differences are less important than the one-form-vs.-many one.

And of course, eagle-form allows you to change with your accoutrements. It's hard to price that. But between eagle-form as written, and the Major Virtue Shapeshifter as written, I'd consider Shapeshifter definitely the stronger one. So, as I see it eagle-form might be worth... +2 at most? I would not consider it worth more than twice the standard Minor Skinchanger Virtue.

I see. Well, thanks for the feedback.

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Another way to look at the balance of the Blood of the Eagles vs. the Minor Virtue Skinchanger (Eagle):

  • Skinchanger allows you to take the form of an eagle, with some limitations: the magic is ongoing, you rely on your enchanted garment, and your other accoutrements don't change with you. On the plus side, you gain +3 to your eagle Soak.
  • Blood of the Eagles allows you to take the form of an eagle with the sole limitation that you must start in human form. On the other hand, in human form you incur the penalties of Missing Hand, save for some forms of combat.

From this perspective, they look more or less balanced to me.

I stand corrected, my bad.

I also retract my previous statement about the lack of offset, since you are now balancing a minor virtue by a minor flaw + compensation.

I.e. I think that skinchanger and missing hand but you get to add Brave to combat rolls is a fair trade. Assuming that the Brave characteristic is in the range of +0 to +3 rather than in the +3 to +6 range.

I also think it makes good sense to want to create a virtue for the Eagle men in the context of a saga where the majority of your combat grogs, perhaps the majority of the turb is recruited as eagle-men.

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That was my intention. I believe grogs have no "cheap" way to boost Personality Traits beyond +3, right?
Arguably, a companion (or magus) could have Brave (and the corresponding Defense bonus) all the way up to +5 or +6, but I think that's still ok -- very Brave companions and magi can use a little extra protection, as you don't want them to die off too easily.

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Do you know what the Eagle men are called in Italian, German or French? They sound like something I'd like to include in a game, but I like to use local terminology when I can.
And if you know which canton the folklore is from, that'd be really cool!

A Group version of Heart of the Lion (HoH:S, page 37) would be CrMe 25. Probably not what you meant by a "cheap" way for grogs to boost their Personality Traits, but a lesser enchanted device is probably manageable.

Maybe instead of tweaking the rules to fit the legend you could tweak the legend to fit in the rules.

I also dislike very much the approach of making this a version of Faerie Blood, because it doesn't look like any other of the Faerie Blood versions. To me this doesn't smell fairy at all, but plainly magical.

What I would do would be just to use a variant of Skinchanger that turns you into an eagle and, ok, transforms your equipment as well. Sure, the Skinchanger version doesn't allow it, but first it isn't such a big deal in this game where equipment isn't, well, that, a big deal, and second it just turns you into an eagle, not any other animal as Skinchanger allows. A pack of grogs all with the Skinchanger virtue are worthy enough as they are out of the box.

Regarding the missing arm, if the penalty bothers you then just don't take the flaw and leave it either as a cosmetic thing or a minor flaw: you just can wield one single handed item.

As for Bravery traits as combat bonus, given that Puissant Ability only gives you a +2, I don't like it at all.

Not me! I deeply hate heater shields. When my players get them, all action moves to narrow corridors where heater shields can't even fit. Anyone not using a round shield can expect from me a bunch of extra botch dices just by walking around carrying that ugly, huge monstrosity :grin:

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Hmm. The Virtue ArM5 p.48f Skinchanger gives a character the capability to change into a single, specific animal form represented by that character's skin item.

Like these: ?

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Exactly. With that spiteful pointy bottom!

What I meant is that even while Skinchanger makes the character transform into one animal, the player is free to choose what animal it is. A Skinchanger may transform into an eagle, but another may transform into a wolf, another into a ferret, or a rat, or whatever, while an Eagle Dude can turn into an eagle and that’s it.

It feels to me like there is an easy solution here. Like you I dont like how much this proposed virtue diverges from faerie blood. I also thinks that the eagle-men sound more magical than faerie. To me there is an obvious conclusion to draw from this:

Make the eagle-man (eagle-person?, bird-person?) virtue affiliated with magic instead. I feel like there is a magical blood virtue somewhere (nobles parma) and it would be incredibly easy to relabel the eagle-man virtue as a magical virtue instead of a faerie one.

They are just called the eagle men, or eagles, or he-eagles (variol in Ladin).

It's (a small) part of the myth of the Kingdom of the Fanes (Fah-nes), the national epic of the Ladin people - who live in a mountain region between the Venice area and South Tyrol, in northeastern Italy, and speak their own language, Ladin, which is unsurprisingly related to Latin :slight_smile: Wikipedia provides a very, very short summary of it, but it's a pretty large body of legends -- no smaller than the Arthurian cycle whether you only count the main storyline or you also count all the "side stories" too (like those on the stealing of the dawn, or the iron-handed harper).

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That's certainly a possibility I had considered. There are two problems with it though.

  1. Magical blood is very similar to Faerie Blood in mechanics. You get +1 to aging rolls, and an extra supernatural "bonus" which is roughly on par with a Minor Virtue, usually with a little "defect" that makes it a tad weaker. So any criticism in terms of sheer mechanics that applies to one should apply to the other.
  2. The important issue is that Magical Blood and Faerie Blood are not just the mechanics described in the Virtue. They are also a realm affiliation, with all that it entails. That's why I said that in the myth I was talking about the eagles are very "faerie", in that they seek out a human ruler, they make a pact by trading babies etc. When recreating the whole "tapestry" behind this one Virtue one has to decide whether the corresponding regios, creatures etc. are faerie or magical. The decision of whether Blood of the Eagles should be magical or faerie follows more or less automatically.

I'd very much follow the legend, and make up a new Virtue within the rules as most Tribunal books do (note that I'd not quite call that "tweaking the rules"), rather than change the legend. To each his own :slight_smile:

Note that:
a) this is just a bonus to defense, while Puissant provides a bonus to both attack and defense rolls (and other totals, e.g. ones to earn a living as a Knight), and
b) this is not a bonus to be taken in isolation. It's meant to be used only in conjunction with the "one armed" effect, so as to offset its penalties in combat if you are brave enough: fighting one-handed with Single Weapon you can't carry a shield (i.e. you lose +1 to +3 defense) but if you are Brave (+1 to +3) you gain the corresponding defense bonus (+1 to +3 defense as per lost shield).

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Thanks so much!
I love national myth cycles and I try to work those into my Ars Magica games where ever possible. I've got a fun one with a group of Fairy Giants who run a dragon nursery called The Eggs of Ruot'ze. But I don't speak Ladin, so I never would have found "Variol" on my own.

Oh my goodness! It has Marmots in it, too! Hot damn! This is going to be a good one!

Okay, that was a lot of fun. I'm adding the Dolasilla character to a future game for sure!