Considering the potential epic deeds magi can do, their impact on Europe seems very minor. I accept part of the game design is Bonisagus and the founders wanted to keep in the shadows. The hatred the gift engenders makes caution and a low profile logical.
I'm not talking about setting up Magi kingdoms, magi outreach programs to cure leprosy, etc, I'm talking about side effects of Magi actions.
One example of actions with potential side effects. Travel and exploration. A magi with commitment could upgrade 7 league stride to take a cart or wagon, and be Marco Polo. A Verditus could craft a ridiculous boat making the Santa Maria look like a raft in comparison.
It seems peculiar this hasn't happened, and certain consequences of such exploration and discovery haven't happened. Bok Choy being a staple vegetable, access to fireworks, silks, etc.
My thoughts are, the AM writers chose to keep magi side effects minimal, as bok choy as a common vegetable, fireworks, silks, etc, break the Mythic Europe theme somewhat.
Like with any AM, the RAW are a starting point. The books and especially this forum suggest go wild, and change whatever you want. I'm curious for those who have kept the setting close to the RAW timeline, what tweaks you've added to Mythic Europe based on not direct magi action, but side effects of their actions?
The basic idea of Mythic Europe, before PC magi start to mess with it, is: both magi policing themselves to not meddle with mundanes, and mundanes having a lot of staying power in their set ways.
This makes sure, that a SG does not need to invent centuries of altered history and its consequences before the saga even starts.
Once PCs have been mixed in, a lot can happen. Some more extreme things are listed in TME (Transforming Mythic Europe, 2013) and DI (Dies Irae, 2016).
When designing adventures, I like to put strange but conveyed historical stuff into them, both as triggers and as consequences of the actions of PC magi. David Chart put the - now rather discredited (see here) - 'Paul Harvey inflation' into the background of the Stonehenge Tribunal (Heirs to Merlin p.116 The Peripheral Code) as the result of silver created by magi.
In order to allow people to pick up a history book and use that as the start point for any saga you run, the Order can't have had any obvious effect on history. There may have been all kinds of behind the scenes things happening, but on the surface they can't have had an effect.
As for travelling and exploration - yes, magi could have done that. However, they could have:
kept what they found to themselves
liked it so much they stayed there
made a voyage, come back, written about it and then the record is left upon the shelf.
(This isn't so far-fetched - why didn't more vikings sail in search of Vinland? Why did Marco Polo's journey take so long to be known about, and why did his voyage east attract so much more attention than other peoples? History is full of might-have-beens).
You can change things as much as you like, but each change you put in means more work for you. The writers deliberately kept things so you can mix and match real history and real-world myths and add things of your own imagination.
I assume the main reason might be a game-concept thing, but there is an in-universe rational explanation too.
Ars Magica has history with the World of Darkness, which is famous for superhuman factions hiding in the shadows because whatever. This was always part of the concept of magi in Ars Magica to some extent, and without handling things that way - as others have pointed this out - the world of Ars Magica would simply be a Mythic-Europe-based high-fantasy setting, and not Mythic Europe. Reclusive magi are simply essential for the setting premises to work.
But there is a rational in-universe explanation too. Firstly, the founders of the order were mostly misfits who lived on the fringes of society. For much of their lives, they were shunned, feared, and often hated. It's obvious they were very alarmed by the possibility of mundanes banding together to lynch magi, and they designed the Code to protect magi from that.
Secondly, the Code is over half a century old, it comes from an age when Europe had 20 million fewer inhabitants, vast swathes of land fell to disuse after the fall of the Empire, and large cities were few and far between. In that age, you could probably find a nice cozy ruin with reasonable effort, probably an Aura too, and set up camp. 500+ years ago magi who were living in the in densely populated areas were probably looking for trouble.
The Code is like the UN Moon Treaty in some ways: it's nice and broad and vague on issues its creators simply did not consider pressing, which makes it a blurry, confusing, severely limiting excuse for a regulation in the light of more recent developments.
The Order's impact is always going to be smothered by the influences of the other three supernatural realms, who are far more interested in the affairs of mankind than the Magic Realm. This is why the part of the Code about not meddling in the affairs of mundanes is such a smart policy, because the faeries, divine and demons are already doing the meddling and they don't take kindly to magi poking their noses in where they aren't wanted.
Marco Polo's epic journey wasn't exactly the first European in China. The Silk Road had been established since the 1st century! His father and uncle had previously visited the court of the Kublai Khan. Marco is remembered because he stayed in China for so long and that he eventually wrote everything down (highlighting the importance of publishing and self-promotion) and that he inspired later explorers (like Columbus).
Oh, and the Byzantines had been cultivating silk since the 6th century. And gunpowder in mythic europe is probably a product of experimental philosophy (like greek fire).
I read all the explanations above, and they all make sense, but still I feel something doesn't make sense: how could the war against Davnalleous not only be mostly unnoticed, but pass without leaving any change in the mundane world? We are talking about undead armies and warrior giants battling magi for years, and a false sun at the end of it all. How could the Schism War be so catastrophic but still don't tear Europe to pieces? Were these hundreds of magi fighting to death but still concerned about not breaking the code and keep it all under the carpet? How can the Order of Hermes have no match across Europe, a non stopping supply of new Apprentices, and yet be stalled in growth since short after the Schism War?
Contradictions can work in two ways. On one, you can look at them, roll your eyes and throw the rulebook away yelling that nothing makes sense and that the paradigm is broken. On the other, you can just solve them: what if they are not contradictions? Why something that didn't make sense happened? Who, how and why is pushing things back into track? Answer these questions and you will get not just a Story Hook, but a Campaign Hook.
The problem is that if you do answer all these questions, you have
not just a Campaign Hook, but a score of them, and
used up all the time you had for gaming in the preparation.
Therefore I accept that the world is mysterious. There are some unknown elements which has curbed the most blatant excesses of magic. At least until the players run wild. We play within that unexplored territory, because playing is more interesting than mapping it out beforehand.
To each one with his own, but for me these two points doesn’t cover all the possible spectrum of consequences, so the conclusion doesn’t need to be to write a novel about that and then read it aloud to your players.
Anyway let me take a couple of steps back: don’t answer the questions, play them. Do your players fear and desire the Diedne to strike back? Then it’s them. Do they desire the return of Davnalleous to fight him again? Then he never left, and runs the business. Do they watt to replay Milton’s Paradise Lost? Then it’s God himself who they have to deal with.
Accepting that the world is mysterious seems fine, but for the players’ perspective I have the feeling that to tear down the curtain and to be right about what was hiding in there might also be nice.
When you want to play the questions, we are on the same page. Mythic Europe is full of mysteries. Some of the mysteries will be unravelled (and sometimes the players will be right, and be satisfied with being right).
My point was merely that there are too many questions to answer (play) them all. Therefore we do not worry with the ones we do not have time to play.
I would ask the question the other way around: In which chronicles would these events have appeared? Assume that we have battling dragons, giants and magi for a few years in Mythic Europe: which changes these would have left in history?
Untimely killing historical persons, burning down towns, meddling with battle results would change history. But magi and monsters battling it out in the wilderness or getting their abodes destroyed might leave as little traces in history as the eruption of the Samalas.
A few hundred wizards running around killing each other across all of Europe isn't a noteworthy event. Especially when both sides have Parma, so low level spells with lots of Penetration is better than huge flashy spells that level forests.
So this is basically the scale of a few hundred people with firearms skirmishing across the entirety of Europe. It's a gang war taking place mostly far from civilization. Armies of the dead might be horrifying, but how much more horrifying is that than an army of Norsemen going around raping, looting and pillaging (or just the neighboring kingdom trying to conquer your region)?
Well, not armies, just parties of Norsemen got enough attention to become source of legends and myths that had lasted a thousand years, but hundreds of magi battling to death, including a hundred flambeau with all their fireworks, went unnoticed?
The use of low level spells to come across Parma is something we deduce for the way the rules work, after doing some math. That's something we players know, not something characters have to know. I tend to think that the low level spell strategy is quite a modern strategy in hermetic terms. Otherwise how could House Flambeau not have an Intangible Tunnel fighting school yet?
These 'parties' had their skalds praising, of the embittered monks deploring, their deeds. While accounts of the deeds during the war against Davanallus or the schism war are locked up in covenants, and not even shown to all sodales.
Consider that the historical record has plenty of magical events being reported and believed by the church and nobles in the real history of our world. In Mythic Europe these events actually happen, but that will not change the world much as mundanes already believed that these mythic events were happening.
There was an interesting series called the Medieval mind on BBC4 earlier this year, which is probably avialble on the BBC Iplayer depending where you live which looked at the medieval world view by examining chronicles and records of the time.
Worth a look to see how the real world viewed demonic, faerie and angelic events