There seem to be a few different views/norms among different players of this great game as to the general situation/view of the Order in ME. Some view the Order as intensely secretive and others as almost integrated with the regular ME world... or at the very least known. I'm curious as to these discrepencies and what generates them.
Why do so many people talk about the various arrangements that all covenants must make to have the land they need instead of the assumption that lords know better than to mess with the wizard infested castle and it's modest couple of villages in that small valley?
Do you view the Order's existence as a great secret among magi? Or do you think that it's existence is known to others? If so how many others? Hedge Wizards? The Church? Nobles?
If the Order's existence is known, even if only to the powerful of ME, what degree of seperation is kept? What is the perception and relations between the Order and the mundane world?
It is curious that there is so much room for interpetation / variable play in this area... which really is at the heart of the setting.
The standard setting is that the Order is an open secret. "Most nobles are aware of the existence of the Order of Hermes . . ." ArM5, page 15. In fact, they know the basics of the Oath, especially the prohibition on swearing fealty to a noble or becoming a court wizard.
The main reason, in my opinion, is that while a group of battle magi can destroy a normal army, if the attackers are protected by the Divine, the magi are toast. It is up to you on how you run your saga, and if you want the local nobility to just ignore your covenant, that's certainly an acceptable way to handle the relations with the local lord.
However, magi being forced to deal with a nosey lord or one who wants some payment for leaving the magi alone, makes for fodder for stories. If you want to eliminate this as a potential story, that's your business, but the problems that arise from mundane relations is a stock early story for most sagas.
Well, the Order is an open secret in the RAW. In my saga, most educated people know of it and basically anyone with a score of 3+ in Magic Theory.
With Flambeau-magi tossign BOAF about, Bjorenaer-magi shapeshifting in public and a lot of other eyecatching magic, the existance of magi is rather obvious.The Order itself is showing prominently through House Mercere with their [color=red]RED CAPS. The existence of the OoH is clearly obvious in the game.
If your covenant "takes the land" you will have to be known to the local nobles, unless you want to start your saga with war right away.
The tendency for secrecy is borrowed from real-life magicians (and Non-ArM Magic-centered-games, ahem), and suits the non-combat-oriented magi in the game rather well.
Many magi will prefer not to be known as a member of the order to everybody, thus enhancing their privacy. This is specially true for Mentem-specialists. I suppose they wouldn't go round shouting "Hey I'm a mind-reader" all over the place.
And secret societies just make for a couple of good stories.
So IMNSHO the order as a whole is known to a great many people (the clerus, loads of nobles, people with decent education and a good lot of peasants that have dealt with some hedge wizard or magus), while the individual magus need not be.
I have aways seen the situation as comparable to many modern day secret societies such as the masons. We know they exist, and we have some vague insight into what they do; but essentially its a secret society and its rights and practices are largely unknown to all but the well informed or initiated. Similarly, as a society, we are reasonably happy to co-exist so long as their involvement in our way of life is not obvious or intrusive.
Great description. This is what I'm aming for with my saga. The geo-political consequences of an order totally integrated with ME would have me spending 90% of my ArM-time researching and speculating.
I always see it as a careful balance. Those in the mundane realm know about the existence of the order. They know that the magi are fearsome and very powerful but few in number and they know that the rules the magi live by forbid mundane interference. Hence while they might like to do away with the magi, they realise it would at best be a pryhic victory.
As for the magi, they know they can waste any normal army, its only the divine that causes them problems. That said, since they are generally more interested in the realm of magic than the mundanes, it helps make their life easier if they maintain a covert presence. That way the locals won't have anything (beyond the usual rumours) to gripe about, the local lo0rd won't have any reason to get himself killed by attacking the covenant and everyones happy.
So its a secret, the magi keep quiet to avoid having to deal with pesky mundanes (and the possible threat of more-than-pesky churchmen), the nobles keep it amongst themselves and generally try and ignore the wizards.
I wrote the following response and then when back and re-read Gribble's post. It turns out that I more or less completely agree with Gribble. I just took exception to a particular piece of language. So while the post is phrased as a rebuttal, what I actually meant was; "Yeah, what he said".
A fairly large proportion of younger are not equipped to waste mortal armies. In fact skilled warriors can easily kill a magus who isn't prepared to face them. (step 1 win initiative step 2 win attack versus defense by more than 13 and rely on strength and weapon damage to take that magi down to incapacitated). Granted, a mundane army laying siege to a covenant is a loosing proposition for the mundanes (but particularly pleasant for the magi either). But being on the winning side isn't the same as "only the divine that causes them problems" mundanes can still cause problems. In fact, as soon as personalities and passions get involved, Magi, companions, and grogs will cause themselves endless grief even without any effort on the part of the rest of the world.
Of course "only the divine that causes them problems" ignores problems caused by the faerie who really do have their fingers in the rest of the world in fifth edition, and it ignores Hedge magicians integrated into mundane society who may not have magic resistance but are still more than capable of manufacturing problems.
Well in my last game (which I admit was brief) the nobles had a saying "you can't conquer Arcadia". Basically, there are some things in ME: Dragons, Faerie Lords, Magi, that are unlikely to be a major threat to a mundane lord if left alone, but can wipe out armies if roused.
Besides magi tend to settle in places which are to "magical active" for a mundane to set up shop. Better yet they can be used to deal with the other supernatural residents of the world, to a rulers advantage. This doesn't mean that all mundane land holders are happy to see a covenant set up on their lands, but it could be seen as similar to a Dragon moving in. Make some deal and move on.
I really like the idea of comparing the Order with contemprary Masons. I see the Order as a mysterious group that, like modern Masonry, has may legends and theories abounding about what they do, can do and have done in the past. As such, most people don't mess with magi as they just don't know what they are truly capable of and so err on the side of caution.
Exactly - everyone knows the rumours about Area 51, the secrecy and security, but no one knows exactly what's inside. Same with the Order - they're there, that's generally agreed upon and accepted, but what is there, exactly, is a tougher question.
I like to keep my Order a little more "below the Radar" than suggested above, with only "the wise" knowing about them. That means that no upper-echelon noble or clergyman isn't aware, personally or via advisers, but not every knight and village priest is aware of them. This means that my Players can benefit from keeping a lower profile in many situations, and that fewer NPC's handwave at the Gift ("Oy, must be one o' dem magi types...").
And, sure, in a world where knowledge is power, and radios/TV's don't spread knowledge, knowing about the Order isn't something that one feels the urge to boast about all the time. A noble with a Covenant in their back yard has a potential advantage over their neighbors, ~if~ they can figure out how to make use of it. And, otoh, a clergyman in the same situation must decide if reporting it to his superiors will create more headaches for him than not. And so on.