The Probabilities of Experimentation

This quote from another thread got me thinking...

... and I have to say experimentation hardly ever came up in the games I played. To be honest, actually only once in one of our groups, when the Bjornaer who was supposed to design a spell for the covenant so we could do an important quest decided he would experiment on it so he could finish it in one season - he completely blew it in the first AND second season, and then ended up taking the whole year for it. So that was hardly incentive for the other players to try it, though most of those other players are no longer part of the group anyway.

I juggled the numbers around a bit before with a friend, mostly coming to the conclusion that a risk modifier +2 is best if you're hoping for a Discovery. But now I wanted to know all of the probabilities, so I did the (hopefully correct) math and came up with this...

... this obviously assumes that no Vis is used in the lab work, but all that does is up the chances of a Disaster slightly - in the end the probability of that will always stay below 10% and just take off the appropriate percentage of the "no extraordinary effects" event.

So as mentioned the risk modifier of +2 is best if you're aiming for a Discovery, but +1 turns out to probably the best overall choice - while you give up an about 12% chance of basically "nothing unexpected happens, all goes to plan", you in return get an increase of 9% (from 1% to 10%, which in this case is enormous) for the chance of a Discovery, while also slightly reducing the chance of a complete failure.

Side effects basically come down to 40% detrimental, 40% neutral, and 20% beneficial. Modified effects are highly dependent on the effect being designed and your intended use of it, so it's hard to put on an one-dimensional axis.

So I hope this will show some people what to expect from experimenting, and how to best achieve what they're hoping to get from it.

P.S.: I'm wondering if changing the experimentation bonus from "simple die" to "stress die (no botch)" would increase the attractiveness of experimentation - on one hand you might also get nothing from it, on the other hand you have that very small chance of a huge bonus. This also serves to emphasize the gambling character of experimentation.
P.P.S.: If my math is wrong, feel free to correct me. Did this after a night of being sick without getting any sleep, so there might be glaring mistakes in it without me noticing it. :wink:

You should dissolve the "roll twice" results.

I never experimented. Creating a spell with experimentation could have been tempting but after the spell was invented I need my arts even to cast that spell not just for the invention. So the experimentation actually gives no real advantage but a lot of disadvantage.

Experimentation is senseless if I risk a lot of vis or my familiar.

This feature is suitable only for a wild mage who experiments without reason. And being such a wild mage worths a major flaw.

How could experimentation be more attractive? Maybe with +10 or +20% chance to discovery?

Experimentation is fun. Whenever we've done it in my sagas it has been a whole-troupe experience. By that I mean that every player was interested in and invested in the result, whether from a storytelling perspective of wanting to know what happens next, a "hold your breath and roll the dice" perspective, or because they wanted to know just how much the disaster was going to cost the covenant.

Magi should experiment, but I guess when you measure time in seasons then each one is precious and if you want your device to work reliably then experimentation may not be the order of the day.

I did start work on a principle of magical "prototypes" that would make experimentation a little more viable but never got round to finishing it. I guess I ought to do that for Sub Rosa one day. Might keep that for issue 14.

Same here. We have used it as story hooks as well as ways to break hermetic limits both on purpose and by sheer chance.

The "special or story event" can go a long way. I remember my "construction-worker-magus" experimenting on his longevity-potion and accidently awakening the covenants tower to some sort of life when the potion was spilled.
You couldn't play a game of chess in it afterwards, because whenever you took the rook in a game, you were bound to walk the stairs and corridors for hours instead of minutes until you arrived where you wanted.

I played with the table looking what would have happened to my magus inventing his spells and effects via experiments. At first I used a +1 risk modifier.
-From 16 seasons he lost 4 seasons and probably 3 others when experimentation doesn't gave a bonus thus the magus would have need another season to finish the spell. He gained 3 seasons equivalent knowledge from 2 discoveries and 4 seasons with no extraordinary effects.
-On the second try he lost 6 seasons and probably another one which didn't give the bonus. And gained 2 seasons from a discovery from which one might be useless. What abilty should be raised from Leap of homecoming? Athletics? His permanent strenght increasing ritual worths another season of gain because of a major benefit. There was probably 3 seasons of gain from no extra effects.
Anyway the strength improving ritual is quite interesting. I can imagine the ritual gives reserves of strength virtue or large. Do the other readers get this benefit if he writes his version?

I made a third test with +3 modifier. It was catastrophic with 7 lost and 4 no bonus seasons, 1 for an almost useless spell and 2 property destroyed. He gained 1 season from discovery and 2 from beneficial spells which surely worth a season.

When I got a disaster and rolled 7-10 on the table I took the season is not wasted despite the warping or the backfire.
It wasn't clear if I get disaster should I roll botch but I don't get warping for it? Because the disaster table defines on 9-10 I get warping from botch dices. Rules are complicated as usual. :smiley:

Thus my experience is only the +1 modifier is reasonable.
A second discovery result on the table (+10% chance) would have been an advantage or discovery for a price result (1 warping point?).
And that many lost seasons are not cool. I would eliminate the 'complete failure' from the table or change it to 'side effect' or 'modified effect'. Side effect often provides useless but at least fun results and it sounds way better than a lost season. Side effect has many positive outcomes while modified effect not really.

You left off the botch dice for being in a magical aura in your botch calculations. In most locations where magi have labs, the chance of a botch are significantly higher.

My Verditius tried to make a set of charged items, magical silver mass that would help him see which creatures where magical. I decided to use Experimentation in order to have more than one charge. I rolled a 0 and then a 6. If I did not have a negative perception I would have taken 50+simple dice roll of damage. I would have found that a sucky way for my character to leave the game.

Unless you are going for low level effects for completing Original Research, experimentation can cause some very non fun results.

... but hermetic magic are attuned to the magic realm and so (usually) do not get botch dice from magic aurae.*

  • They might specifically for experimentation, Noble's Parma.

Toa, you did get your math wrong. Not far wrong, but wrong. I'm going to summarize the differences.

Assuming an Aura of 5, and no other modifiers to botch dice (Weird Magic, Cautious Sorcerer, Familiar, etc)...
And assuming that only one "Roll Twice" result will appear ...

Risk Modifier                                  0            1             2            3             
Chance of at least 1 Disaster                   5.3%         5.7%       6%             8%
Chance of at least  1 Discovery                 1.1%        11.1%    12.4%        13.1%

(The chances of two Roll Twice results are negligible unless you have a +3 Risk modifier, and even then they're only about 2.5%.)

They do. ArM5 p.108, under "Extraordinary Results", last sentence: "You also get one additional botch die for each point in your magic aura."

This certainly discourage magi from experimenting, particularly if their labs are in a high aura.

This is an excellent table. Thank you!

I tend to be gun-shy, so I almost never use Experimentation. I agree with most posters that the best types of projects are Original Research, Spells, and Charged Items (in roughly that order). I'd be most likely to do it in order to pass a benchmark--say, I'm 3 points shy of being able to finish a project in one season instead of two.
It's likely that the only way I'd do experimentation 'just to see what would happen' would be for a new Spell. That way, I could brook a side effect, and if necessary re-invent it and still have a slightly bigger repertoire.

I've been fascinated by Experimentation since I got my first copy of ArM back in 1990 (2nd ed).
But I've only ever tried it...3 times IIRC, 2 in 4th ed and only once in 5th. In 4th ed (and most likely earlier) the table was different and it was only ever prident to take the +3 Risk since it effectively removed the chance of one of the mean results.
First time Experimenting my ice maga got a story event and managed to call down heavy snow over a huge area, in central Frence, during the summer. it was a story event but she abandoned her project and spent the entire time dodging her sodales who demanded she remedy her disaster and avoiding any mundanes who were mildly put in shock. Because she found a whote fox which she impressed and later bonded with as familiar.
Second time it was the sama maga and her two-season project of inventing a huge level, nasty combat spell went according to plan, except the final spell was bumped up one Range category, from Near (which it was called back in 4th, similar to Voice) up to Sight.
Third time in 5th ed was a wasted season for my Tremere.

I don't think any of my players bother to run the numbers as such. If I don't have someone experimenting at least once per session, it'd be odd - so my players experiment all the time, and only rarely with original research.

We've had a couple of major disasters but the players keep going strong with it - mainly getting side effects. People usually pull out the +3 risk also.

The players always assist me with subsequent changes to spells or odd things that happen, so I think they feel they have ownership over the process to a degree.