The Order in the 20th Century

Hi Folks

I've been pondering an Ars Modernity type setup, not really to play but just as a mental exercise and for my own pleasure.

Assuming the order survives into the 20th century, what changes would you imagine to the system of magic it practices, the environment it practices them in and so on.

My thoughts so far

  1. Magic auras are very much harder to find due to the expansion of homo sapiens
  2. Faeries are still plentiful but very different, changing as humanities stories change
  3. Certain mystery virtues will have become integrated into vanilla hermetic magic, maybe the earlier virtues are quite common now
  4. there would have to be some changes in the forms, either expanding them to include scientific discoveries or new forms created to handle things like electricity (NOT lightning), radiation, quantum mechanics, etc. Its entirely possible that the magic to effect these things comes centuries after the scientific discover, or even not at all
  5. Vis might be much rarer with the scarcity of magic auras and magical beasties
  6. alternatives to convential vis harvesting, such as the magic garden in legends of hermes, high magic auras in well guarded regios or even breakthroughs to reduce the vis required to make magic items (e.g. celestial magic, philosophic alchemy, etc)
  7. Reduce seasonal activities to monthly, to enable play that does not rapidly end up in the far future. This could also be reflective of the order streamlining and improving their processes over 800 years.
  8. not sure what to do about divine and infernal stuff since i've not used them greatly in my games any way. I like the idea of rationalism/humanism making BOTH much weaker. But not in a competing aura kind of way, more just like generally higher levels of a-religiousity tends to weaken both realms locally.
  9. If the lunar limit has been breached, its possible magi are already off world, but using extensive imaginem to stop their sanctums being found by NASA.
  10. On breaching limits, maybe some have been breached. Breaching a lesser limit or two doesn't seem impossible with 800 years of bonisagus going at it. How about a major limit and if so, which one?

I dont know if youve ever read the Dresden Files, but I always liked to think that universe is the eventual future. I just explain away the inconsistencies as new discoveries, lost secrets, different world views, and fundamental misunderstandings.

I concur with the Dresden Files theme.
I like the idea that magi can't use modern technology, easily. The more mechanical or electronic an item is, the more likely it is a nearby magus makes it go haywire. Guns have a tendency to jam, for instance, so Harry carries a revolver because it's a very simple machine. Dresden doesn't carry a cell phone, has a land line, and even that has a tendency to go on the fritz if he's really wound up. His car is a VW Beetle, because it's easy to repair, and probably the most reliable one he can have given that he's a Wizard; never mind the fact that it gets beat up a whole lot by all the supernatural beasties he confronts.

Magi would have a tendency to be modern day junkers. Go out and find old stuff, but not to resell it for profit, but to use it. There is a governing body of magi, and the entire organization is the White Council. It's not too dissimilar to the Order of Hermes, and one can well imagine an Order of Hermes turning into something like the White Council.

Were I to do something like this, I would also use an Aura as a Magnitude guideline which I discussed here. Harry lives in dank basement under an old boarding house. I'd give his basement a +1 aura for the living quarters and a +2 for his lab. This gives him an overall +5 to +10 bonus when in his place of power. Places of power will be very valuable. In the Dresden universe, the owner or resident of a place has more power in their own abode. Might even bump up, like a specialty for an ability, so that whomever lives in the aura can better utilize it.

I just really like the idea of places of power, the idea that magi are secure in their towers, nigh unassailable, but that all changes when they go out into the real world. And then, if anything really bad does come to the tower, it's gotta be real bad.

Auras going with a +1/-1 scale could work. Then the owner counts the bonuses as +5 increments. So a +2 aura (cathedral) would +10 to the resident deacon, but -2 (or +2) to other supernaturals. This works better with supernatural powers that do not have accelerated abilities.


It's an enormous topic, and one many people have written about elsewhere. See, for example, White Wolf's Mage, which in its original edition even had a modern day Order of Hermes descended from ours. I have the 2nd edition on my shelf somewhere but I don't remember much about it.

I'm as fond of Dresden Files as anyone, but there are other ways to go. That series is pretty good for playing fallible magi in a setting where magic is hidden. I'm not convinced that, if the Order were to survive eight centuries, magic would remain hidden. This is up to the Saga of course and the stories you want to tell, but I'd favor a "Go Big Or Go Home" philosophy. An Order which tries to remain isolated from the world will perish; if the Order wants to survive, it has to integrate with society. See the next book for the line.

As far as the Forms and new technology/discoveries go, I think you are probably looking at consolidating Forms into a "Matter" Form and an "Energy" Form, with more imperceptible and subtle forms of energy (radiation) requiring higher guidelines to cast and manipulate. Fire, for example, might be relatively easy, electricity harder, and so on. The understanding that human beings are just evolved animals allows us to consolidate Animal and Corpus into a single "Life" Form. Imaginem may go away, absorbed by Energy (for illusions based on light) and Mentem (to change how we perceive things). More testing would reveal if you actually need to retain an Image Form.

The cosmology of Mythic Europe is wildly different from our current understanding of the solar system. So, what do you want to do with that? I mean, the trick here, is that in 1200 AD, when people say the world is surrounded by spheres and all the planets move around us, they're right. Someone could theoretically go to the Moon, but he'd fall off and back to earth! (see Art & Academy) So, either everyone was wrong then (and the Earth was always moving), everyone is wrong now (and we still live in a Ptolemaic universe in 2013), or somehow the entire universe changed sometime before Copernicus. That seems like a very promising story. I think we would have to cite God for that, but figuring out what happened would be really, really interesting. Who else could change the entire universe? You can blame Science for it, but at that point you really ought to dig out Mage, because that's exactly what they did and they put a lot of man hours into that setting.

Here's an old thread on the possible futures of Ars Magica that has several ideas worthy of theft in it. ... hic-Europe

Some random ideas:

Blatant Theft from the Mage Line: Reality isn't quite whatever the masses believe it to be, but at this point that difference is academic. A long time ago this belief in "rationality" began to spread. It was anything but. It was a rejection of the four realms, an utterly absurd delusion. But the powers of Arcadia make delusions real. As rationality spread so did the Faerie auras, auras tinted with that insane belief. The rules of reality got rewritten. The auras of magic, the infernal and the divine faded away; nothing but small remnants are left. Those powers still exist in humans, rare humans. But of the creatures of those realms nothing is left except what we summon back into the world.

Now what does this have to do with your apprenticeship in the Order? Well you need to understand, the world doesn't want us anymore. We don't fit with the "story". We need to hide. The blatant our spells, the more impossible they seem the more the world will reject us. You think you can walk down to the local skeptics association and show them all up? Not happening. Even casting in a group of other magi, unless you are in one of these lacuna you better come up with some believable excuse. You take over a computer, its best to plug in a flash drive, or press a button on your smart phone. Or you could go out to some backward country where they still believe in "magic". You'll need to figure out the local rules, and not do anything that makes world news, but at least the new religion of "rationalism" doesn't hold as much sway.

And whatever you do, don't draw the attention of the Merinita. Traitors to the Order them. They keep us around, because we do magical research and they like it, but if we make waves well... they are the ones behind this aura of "rationality". They get to decide what works and what doesn't. They rule the whole damn world. They'll kill you dead. Or worse.

Mechanics: All spells get a penalty for believability. Hacking a computer when no one is looking too closely, might not have any. Trying to prove everything to the skeptics association, is flat out impossible. Failing spells doesn't cause fatigue loss. Botches are subtle effects, or at least non-obvious to observers. The men in black might come to take you away, or you could lose access to an art. Twilight is replaced with Faerie Calling (Breaks from reality) except instead of disappearing at -/+10 sympathy you go permanently insane.

Everything went well and we made a lot of breakthroughs, also we use the modern paradigm:This is what happens if the Order gets its collective act together and uses stuff like research teams and expands its numbers. It stands to get a lot better.
Okay, so the forms have been consolidated into energy, matter, and life. (Theoretically they could be combined further, but it seems to make casting prohibitively hard.) The only two techniques are Concrete and Discrete.
Energy: Fire, Imaginum, Vim
Matter: Terram, Aurum, Aquam
Life: Herbam, Corpus, Mentum, and Animal
Concrete: Perdo, Creo, Rego, and Muto
Discrete: Intellego, and any sort of effect that changes stuff like luck or acts like divination. In addition most mentum effects go here unless they are creating ghosts or similar.
Other Breakthroughs: Longevity Rituals stop aging completely, immunity to warping (or favourable warping response), vis-less rituals and enchanting, unlimited enchanting in items, integration of most all effects from other sorts of magic including the Malefica and Faerie Wizardry, momentary and permanent Muto effects, and anything else the GM wants.

I'm out of ideas, I feel like typing up...

One issue when doing this is that Integration effects will likely make Hermetic Magic MUCH more powerful as time goes on - and unless there is some sort of social upheaval or change, the Renaissance (with its sharing of knowledge and printing presses and the like) makes Magic Theory and Insights all that more prevalent and easy to distribute.

One way to control that is to say that Magic is a finite resource - the more people there are, the more its spread out. So even if there's a population explosion, there won't be more people with the Gift. As such, the Order really can't be larger than a few thousand people at best (current numbers are 1,000 people, with a few hundred(?) more in hedge traditions in Europe. Assuming there's an equivalent spread in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas, that's...really not all that many people.)

Also, you can go with the RoP:M idea, and say that Magic is at its most powerful when its ancient and hidden - so the more people that know about it, the less useful it becomes. Which justifies the Order's current habit of standing off from society. This also plays into the Dresden idea of "if you want to make a ritual useless, give it to as many people as possible."

Moving that forward, you could have a modern ars campaign with roughly the same type of societal integration: Supernatural gifts are no more or less common in the absolute sense: there are only, say, 5,000,000 people in the world who have any sort of Supernatural gift, and only 5,000 truly Gifted. So while the lesser stuff may be understood by society at large (and about as useful to the government), the real magi are off by themselves, making sure that no one finds out about them.

Ditto. It always struck me how similar the historical White Council and the Order seemed. Given that Butcher is a known player of TTRPGs, I can't help but wonder if he ever borrowed from Ars Magica.

Also I've just finished reading The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, which is clearly an Ars Magica Campaign.

I love the Charles Stross series 'The Laundry Files' and the setup of that series would be great for the basis of an ars magica game if you removed the Cthulu elements.

The premise being all sorcerors and magicians got Nationalized during WWII, for the British this is the government department known as the 'Laundry' and they would stay in the system afterwards, forcibly recruiting all those Gifted into an office job whether they like it or not, as well as all those mundanes who find out enough about magic not to be able mind wiped or geased into silence, providing a steady supply of any type of grog or companion you care to play.

Government funding replaces the need to secure your own resources, and the department archives provide you with a library, with the texts being assigned to you by your departmental manager depending on what project or mission you are on. There are treasuries of seized magical items, armouries providing weapons, wards and wands, specialists from other offices to call in, even the SAS if the emergency warrants it. You just have to justify what you need, fill out the correct forms in triplicate and write out the correct after action reports, or else you get a visit from the dreaded auditors. Oh and remember to leave the office on time or the 'Residual human resources', the zombie cleaning crew and night security, might confuse you for lunch.

For those who don't know the series, there are some free to read short stories here:

I much prefer The Rivers Of London for the Ars Magica feel.

That said, on and off I've been working on a conversion of AM5 to AM5 Modern. It's about 20% done, but I'd be happy to chat to other people about ideas for it. CJ's given me a few interesting twists as minor ideas before now.

Needless to say, Magi are not more powerful. They get the same advantage in AM5 base they do for learning stuff. There's MORE to learn, though.

What bothers me whith all those talks of "Modern Ars Magica" is that it is not Ars Magica 8 centuries later, or rather, not 5th Ed Ars.

Mythic Europe, in 5th Ed, doesn't operate under our physical laws. It operates upon entirely different principles.
Yet, all these talks start with the assumption that such a world would be "our world, with hidden magic", and that all the modern discoveries of science would work, as well as guns, and that Magic would adapt to handle quantum physics and nuclear forces.

If you want to to that, take a cue from Mage, or Dresden files. These are great, and I loved Mage very much. Mage also explains very much why the physical laws changed.

But for 5th Ed Ars? 20th century Ars, given what we learned in Art and Academe, would be quite different from our world, as a lot of things we know are false, like species, are true there. An entire uchronia. Given the number of similar "modern fantasy" settings out there, I find this much more interesting and unique.

Very good book, and I agree, it seriously looks as Ars Magica in places :smiley:

Great read, as are all things Stross :smiley:
I don't see it much for Ars, though.

Not the feel of the setting, or the magic system, that is not what I meant, but how the magi respond to the modern information age by effectively taking over the establishment by pretending to serve it. Mahogany row in the setting is the name given to the old powerful wizards who rule the ministry and give the orders, and under the guise of dealing with a national threat have convinced all other sections of the government to give them autonomy and assistance whenever requested.

It works for me better as a way of having a society of magi with covenants (local offices of the ministry) with access to labs and libraries and a functioning structure than the mentor/single apprentice version of Rivers of London. The Mage rpg while fine in itself relies on the White Wolf general disbelief system that doesn't fit a modernized Ars Magica, and Dresden files is again a system I like but it's so easy to break the laws of magic in it, I have sworn off ever playing a wizard in it again, I end up with too many lawbreaker powers. :smiling_imp:

Well, I think the suggestion was for using the settings, not the rules of those other RPG systems. I mean, the question was asked on the Ars Magica forum... :smiley:


Mythic Europe is not our past. It is an opportunity to see what crazy world they believed in. It doesn't stop you from house-ruling that they were as batshit crazy as a Criamon, but... it is a different reality.