The Order, Standardized Curriculum, and Technology

Okay, let's face it. A large part of The Order is basically a bunch of academics, scientists, and engineers sitting around making things. So my question is, Why are they not more technologically advanced and why don't Magi (I'm looking at you House Bonsagius) have a standardized curriculum for apprentices? Or even standardized magic items (Looking at you House Verditius).

IMO House Bonsagius should have textbooks and standardized spells that they at least circulated amongst themselves. More likely they would be trying to push something like this on the Order as a whole in the 100s of years it has been around. It's basically their mission statement XD. If Universities can have a standard across much of Europe, why doesn't the Order at least have a suggested set of textbooks, spells, and basic enchantments that are easy to obtain for training new magi?

This brings me to my next issue. Technology. I think the order would, with all it's super intelligent magi, have a higher technology level. With so many people working in labs all the time I find it hard to believe a hot air balloon hasn't been invented. Or flying ships (because what apprentice in their right mind wouldn't think "When I become a magus I am going to make a flying ship"). Pompeii had indoor plumbing, why not the Order? Or even a printing press, seems like it would be magically simple to make a few magical devices that work together to print books faster. Then wouldn't someone think, hey, I can do this cheaper without magic and make non magical devices. Reverse engineering the idea of putting a fire under a giant sack isn't so hard to make once you have the basic concept in magical terms.

You'd think the order would be swimming in some magical tools. How many times does the order have to invent a new light bulb before a standard text is circulated? Or they have so many that they are basically party favors. You'd think that magical light sources would be everywhere in the order. Cheap, easy to make and everyone would want them. I would think there would be circulating a text of enchantments like this. Magic brooms for cleaning, magic light sources, self cleaning latrines, etc.

What do you all think?

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  1. I don't think there's much of a standard curriculum in universities in 1220, even within a given class at a given university, let alone across Europe. There are some acknowledged authorities (Plato, Aristotle) but that's rather different!
  2. Yes, House Bonisagus has standardised texts. These are the Roots of the Arts and many of the core book's spells. I think there's a clear implication that other standard texts are out there.
  3. There are only around 1000 magi in the Order. That's a rather small population to sustain a technological civilization with. Most magi aren't very practically minded, either - they have grand arcane research projects or controversial political schemes to occupy their time. Some magi go to the trouble of enchanting flying ships, or flying castles (see Legends of Hermes), but these are major endeavours. And magi are quite isolated from each other - it's not a university of scholars living together, but a scattered network of individuals and clusters of magi.
  4. What self-respecting magus is going to spend the time and vis to invent a self-cleaning latrine? And if a magus were mad enough to do so, what self-respecting magus would admit to having done so? (OK, OK, probably the one I'm playing right now. But he's not typical!) Practical enchanted items definitely exist (see Covenants), but aren't produced in enough volume to be standardised.
  5. Remember, it takes a deliberate effort to write up your lab notes to be intelligible. Most magi are selfish and secretive so they don't do this, as much as Bonisagi wish they would.
  6. Ultimately, yes, it's remarkable that magi haven't influenced history more... but that's part of the core conceit of the game, and you can invent your own answer
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I think the order is still developing and growing. In my game, we’re focusing on long term play; every few decades I like to add some new minor breakthrough to the orders knowledge.

Technological breakthroughs aren’t really aligned well with magic- being good at magic doesn’t make you good at building things, or science. Magic works on such different principles that the two bases of knowledge don’t often interact. Most wizards are too busy inventing spells and doing research into occult mysteries to do research into mundane methods of solving problems- in Arts and Academe, it’s mentioned that many wizards find the various experimental formulas within to be not worth their time.

But things like that are the foundations of advanced chemistry and medicine.

But! Having a saga about a bunch of wizards trying to get a more standardized curriculum together and propagating useful utility magical item lab texts throughout the order? That sounds really fun!

I’m sure a standard curriculum would face some political opposition in the order, as different wizards will have different desires for their apprentices. Some might find a standard stifling!

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Itmay be the "technology" you are thinking of is simply not possible in the Mythic setting. The laws of physics and science as we know them simply do not apply there. Just as in our world, the laws of magic as they know them are meaningless here.

On the other hand, I might suggest "Transforming Mythic Europe". It is full of ideas on how magic, if it really existed, could utterly change the world as we/they know it. That is where you will find flying ships, international banking, magical technology, and so forth. I was thinking that, with craft magic and Rego magic providing work energy, the printing press may have been invented a hundred years sooner.

A different take on the idea is that the level of advancement in 1220 is the result of magical augmentation. That is sorta taking the White Wolf approach, but it is a legit idea.

Then there is the "Big History" picture. The Order has one major advantage, in that they can network and exchange information at high speed. However, magi are also suffer from pride, and maybe some greed, and the most brilliant may tend to be reclusive. Because of that, they lack the second essential ingredient besides communication. That is cooperation. Magi rarely work together, and they almost never share their efforts with society at large. No Synergy.

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Thank you all for you input. Food for thought for my next saga :slight_smile:

Copying texts is time-consuming. Those skilled enough to do it are often more interested in pursuing new research rather than laboriously churning out textbooks for other people.

Non-magical technology tensd not to emerge from the Order because the Order is focused on magic: When they want to fly some place, they don't think to themselves, "Let's invent a non-magical flying machine." They think to themselves, "Let's invent a flying spell."

Magic in ArM isn't technological. Basically everything needs to be customized to the individual wizard. And the stuff individual wizards create that could go out into the wider world is heavily limited by the availability of vis.

Plus, pre-Order wizards were incredibly vulnerable and, perforce, generally hermits. The Order itself encodes DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE MUNDANES pretty deep into its DNA. Longevity rituals make the Order inherently conservative and slow to change.

As a matter of fact, my players are trying not to create a self cleaning latrine, but a self cleaning sewer for an entire town

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Justin, I don't know about this. I think even in medieval time if you make an observation, try and replicate it, then think about the best way to streamline it you might end up with magi moving things that can be done without magic to mundane means, (why cut butter with a broadsword?) just for the very reason of saving vis. For instance, a magus is throwing papers into a fire. One of the papers is caught by the rising heat and hovers there. He then thinks, can I use heat to make something float? Soon enough he is doing trial and error with magic and finds the rudimentary idea of a hot air balloon. Create heated air in a bag and you can lift a basket. But magi are inventors, don't you think they might try making something that does the same thing without magic to save vis?

Just for clarification, I'm using hot air balloons because the floating lantern existed in 200 AD so some cultures already knew heat could make things float.

TME p.92ff Magic as Technology, and especially p.136ff Prerequisites for Change, investigates conditions to turn the Order of Hermes into the provider of magical technology in Mythic Europe and thereby change it from the ground up. The resulting changes in society would indeed likely lead to some of your non-magical tech progress then.

Without such changes in the organisation of the Order, I don't see a reason, why many magi would bother with balloons or in-door plumbing.

TME p.101ff The Superb Scrinium is vastly superior to a 15th century printing press for use within the Order in 1220.
Have a look at Ibrahim Muteferrika and his ultimate failure to establish printing of Arabic texts with moveable letters for muslims in the Ottoman Empire in the 2nd quarter of the 18th century: it wasn't technology, but society that made him fail.

That's a waterslide.

The hot air balloon is a great example: Why did the Chinese have lanterns, but never developed manned hot air balloons?

In Europe, the first major experiments with the technology took place in 1709. But the project was then abandoned for 7 decades before being picked up by the Montgolfiers. Why was that?

Well, it turns out hot air balloons aren't actually a simple technology. You need large amounts of cheap fabric that's impermeable to air: The Montgolfiers' early experiments used taffeta, which is unavailable in Europe in the 12th century and extremely expensive in Persia (where it has just been invented). Their first full-scale prototypes used layers of sackcloth with layers of paper sandwiched inbetween -- something which couldn't be done with 12th century technology. In order to get a balloon large enough to carry a man, they teamed up with a wallpaper manufacturer and used cutting edge technology to create the alum-varnished envelope. (The wallpaper industry whose technology they were piggybacking on here doesn't even get started in Europe until the 15th century.)

It's not impossible to imagine the Order somehow causing that technology to all precipitate out at an accelerated pace, but it's not as easy as just seeing something floating above a fire and then making an intuitive leap. After all, people have been watching stuff float out of fires for hundreds of thousands of years.


Another point worth mentioning, the order probably could have a large amount of low-level lab texts for common useful magic items. Permanent lamps, Self-sweeping brooms, eternal furnaces for forges..... But when you get right down to it, the really common low-level ones are... really easy to do. Why bother spending time, energy, and money to put out low level vis-lamps when any competent Flambeaux can pump two out in a season? Or you could just have your apprentice do it during a slow season you're reading a book. There's no market to make the lab texts, because it's not worth buying them. For the more complex things, people aren't going to offer their years-long work project to the order for free, so if you want that Verditius's eternal forge with infinite coal, full oil-quenching and water-quenching troth, and a MuCo spell that stops you from having to pee while you work, then you'll have to negotiate with him directly. By nature, by habit, and by tradition, Magi in the order of Hermes are selfish and prideful - and Gifted individuals outside the order are worse, in setting.

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Because the competent Magus who can do two devices in a season might be able to do 4, with the aid of a lab text?

I think that you’re confusing Magi as being prideful with their outward perception based on the negative effects of the Gift. Don’t get me wrong magi can also be prideful, but it doesn’t have to be the rule. And magi can be sharing, convivial, and gregarious with other magi, easily enough. There are only so many others who are their peers after all.


The other side of this issue is that when the order began, at the fall of Rome, the non-interference with mundanes was simple and obvious- find an unclaimed bit of wilderness or abandoned town and claim it. By 1220 most of that empty space has been taken up, and vis sources are dwindling. Mages would not want to help non-magical society expand even faster and crush the order that much sooner. Dominion is spreading quickly enough without technological assistance.

Your latter point is very fair. I may be going a bit too far into the stereotype because I like playing off of expectations.

I also think that it's worth mentioning that most covenants I've seen have some level of collective library, which is probably going to be very, very full of low level lab texts from when apprentices were training and similar things.