The Roman Tribunal

I was looking at that old book, and did some digging online. I see there was an attempt to rewrite it on the forum about 5 years back. The book is over 20 years old, 2 prior editions, and a White Wolf book. And does it show.

When you use the Roman Tribunal, what do you do with it? Basically recreate it? Or use it with the Internal all over the place. Somewhere in the middle?

Thanks for your consideration. Curious how it is used.

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So because my current saga is set on Malta, the Roman Tribunal is the nearest; this is giving me a chance to slowly explore the Roman Tribunal a bit at a time. Here’s my take on it:

The Tribunal is vis-poor. So how do they get their vis? Well, the domus magna of Mercere, Verditius, and Guernicus are all located here, and all those houses generate huge sums of wealth, measured in vis—Guernicus from the legal services it provides, Verditius in the form of vis paid to individual magi for their enchanted items, and Mercere makes vis by serving as a vis exchange. So it seems to me that the Roman Tribunal is a service economy; in contrast to Normandy, which solves its vis shortage by organized fighting, the Roman Tribunal provides services for magi throughout the Order. This also fits with the tribunal’s history of selling lesser enchanted items to mundanes.

If you’re a magus or a covenant looking to buy or commission an enchanted item, have a book copied, or a spell invented—if you’re looking to buy a familiar or even an apprentice—or even if you’re looking to do something naughty like assassinate someone, break into a sanctum, or scry, there’s probably a magus in the Roman Tribunal willing to do what you need, for a fee. Similarly, it’s not unusual for wealthy aristocrats in Italy to have a lesser enchanted or charged item, because magi regularly sell to all buyers, including creating demand for their wares by selling to both sides of a conflict.

In other notes, I reconciled the small number of covenants by assuming a fair number of additional unofficial covenants which haven’t been recognized as official because, to be recognized, a covenant must pass a unanimous vote of all other Roman covenants. This hasn’t happened in centuries. House Tremere is trying to reform this rule to make it easier for new covenants to form, with no luck.

I also use Timothy Ferguson’s in-progress work on Venice, with its leprous dogaressa, a Diana cult among the Venetian noblewomen, and a Faerie that thinks it’s Tytalus accelerating progress in Venice to bring the Renaissance early, in order for faeries to get new and more interesting stories.

I’ve thrown out most or all of the Infernal stuff, not necessarily because “there’s too many demons,” but because the demon stories are incompatible with both history and the Order in 5th edition.


I don't really use it. Well, okay, I use maps and the parts that represent pure Hermetic elements that seem useful but other than that its discarded. Especially anything related to vis scarcity and the Infernal being under every rock and tree in the area.

So yeah, its mostly ignored.

When it comes to the Roman Tribunal itself I found myself in a situation where I needed to recreate it, leading me to simply put the covenant site in a regio and thus have it be independent from what is going on around. Though I do have the whole meeting in Venice element as a location for internal Hermetic politics.

The place is ancient. It has ruins and sites of powers and underground and on the ground and also over the ground and temples and cemeteries and all that. Meaning magical Vis. But also Divine and Faerie.

Basically this is a place that should have things as a patchwork. Heck, I could see a potential where a site might have Divine, Magical, and Faerie auras and regios everywhere.

But this is a quick posting, not one developed and nuanced. hehe

But yeah, the book itself is mostly out of touch and useless as I do not see the fun in the infernal everywhere.


I'm currently starting a new saga there, so I had to take a stance regarding the old material. I've mostly kept the covenants in the book, the concept of it being a vis-poor Tribunal and the fact that there are a lot of "minor" magi living illegally in there. But I changed most of the rest. I also did a quick scan of the 5th edition material that referenced the Tribunal to avoid contradicting canon, which you can find in its page over at Project Redcap.

The main thing I made up was create several local legal concepts based around the scarcity of vis and the desire of roman magi to keep a class system similar to the roman patricians.

One of those is the concept of the ager vis, which basically means that the Tribunal is divided into "harvest" areas belonging to stablished covenants. So any source of vis is automatically claimed by the covenant that "owns" the area where it is found.

Another one is the concept of the magi crassatores, a legal status in the Tribunal for magi that do not belong to an "approved" covenant. In my saga, the Tribunal of Rome assumes that any magus crassator has used vis in his area and, thus, has commited a minor crime against the covenant that "owns" the area. Thus, any magi that do not belong to a covenant are effectively indentured servants, if they get caught, until they pay back their "debt". It fitted our vision for a Tribunal with a lot of social upheaval and on the verge of social change.

I did specifically remove mostly all of the infernal themed stuff, which I found ludicrous and totally wrong tonally. I also cut the supposedly cut-throat politics in favor of a more "old privileged people protecting an unfair status quo" theme. Specially concerning Magvillus, which is depicted in the original book as scheming and fully involved in Tribunal politics, which clashes heads-on with the canon depiction of Magvillus in all 5th edition books.

Edited to add that the Roman Tribunal having lost most of its magic and faerie sites is cannon in 5th edition, since it's mentioned in Guardians of the Forests, page 17 ("Protecting the Wildernesses" section), and in the inset "The Guardians of the Forests" in page 18 of the same book. It does not specifically mention it being vis poor, though it feels somewhat implied to me.


That is exactly how I painted the Rhine in my campaign, I think that it works well for the older core Tribunals as it gives the player a system to fight against, as opposed to the fringe tribunals where they are exposed to the "outer" threats.


What I really like about the 5ed tribunal books is that they have managed to make every tribunal unique, with their own cultural and political quirks. (Even the 4ed tribunals are close to achieving this, with the main problem being that the 4ed books spends fewer pages on such customs and politics.)

Now that you point out the similarity between Rome and Rhine, I have to ask:
What makes Rome unique, compared to the Rhine?


Good thinking, and very good question.

I would say, in my case, the main differences would be the (virtual) enslaving of magi under the crassatores law and the oppressive way in which half the population can't obey the law of the Peripheral Code even if they want to. That gives those on charge the excuse to arbitrarily punish lesser magi under the pretense of just upholding the law. So, in brief, my answer would be that Rome, being under a harsher vis shortage, is a more oppresive Tribunal for the destitute, but being that Magvillus is there it's also full of social upheaval and movements for and against reform.

TL;DR : Rhine would statically be entrenched in tradition, while Rome would be on the brink of revolution.

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I have never read the Roman Tribunal book, since it is from 3rd Ed. But as I envision it:
-The system of Governance: the Rhine is completely held by the multi-voting archmages. Making it less democratic than Rome.
-The Roman Tribunal is most likely much closer to mundanes, with house Veriditius and Mercere pushing towards more mundane contacts, leading to more mundane wealth. On the whole, I see the Occulus being more like Roman Covenants than Rhine ones.
-Both suffer from chronic Vis shortage as the Dominion has encroached in Faerie/Magic, though in Rome maybe even more so. The Rhine still has big forests (which the old covenants/mages would jealously guard from upstarts who might come Vis poaching).
-Because of the ease of travel by ship around Italy, the Roman Covenants are probably closer to each other than the Rhine ones.

I would see it the other way around. Rome is more modern and silver rich, which allows for a panem et circensem approach, where younger magi can at least be offered confortable financial compensation for their work. Also, I imagine Rome being a more efficient service based economy, who focussed on importing Vis from the other Mediterranean Tribunals, especially through the export of spell scrolls/tractatii (Esp. for people in the good graces of House Mercere who'd take a cut for their transfer, much like the iStore) as well as charged items. Whereas I see the Rhine as more inwardly looking and more stuck in it's Gilds/Covenant divisions.


That is an interesting setting, well worth a new 5ed supplement :stuck_out_tongue:

It raises the questions, why do not young magi leave the tribunal, as they do in the Greater Alps? There is plenty of space in Novgorod, and other frontier covenants might accept them as well.

It would have been interesting to see, and this is something I miss in both Hibernia and Rhine, good exemplars of young magi with no covenant affiliation. What do they do? How do they study? Or how do they get vis? (Particularly in Rhine where rents as paying guests are payable in vis.) Why do they stay? I find it very hard to tell a story, because in my mind a peregrinatore would just be a beggar. Sure, he can use his magic to earn silver, but in Hermetic terms he would be broke.

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This was my thought as well. Why would a young Magus stay somewhere that they are a virtual slave when they could easily travel a short distance into one of the moderate or frontier Covenants. Provençal would be my first choice to move to from Rome, since it is both shares a border and has everything that Rome lacks. Plenty of unclaimed space, easy creation of a Covenant, vis, freedom...

I always viewed the Rome Covenants as acting much like the cities of ancient Rome. While they were part of a larger whole (the Roman Republic/Empire), they were their own individual city-states. Within each Covenants area of control, there are the patricians (members of the Covenant) and the plebians (other Magi living in their area).

Only the patricians are allowed to collect vis. The plebians must work for it, ether for the Covenant or selling services to other Magi. The plebians have no local voting rights, though they technically have then at the Tribunal level. Only technically though, since many of the Covenants will require that any plebians in their area grant the Covenant a proxy vote for them (in exchange for residence and a pawn or two of vis per year). Of course that pawn or two of vis a plebian receives for their vote would need to be spent on rents, then you have cost like library access.

How far the Covenants could force things on their local plebian Magi is restricted by what other Roman Covenants are doing. You charge to much for rents/access or don't pay more than the absolute minimum for their voting rights, then you will find that your plebians are moving to the area controlled by (rival) Covenants, resulting in you losing their votes and labor. Striking a balance that gets your Covenant to be able to get the most plebians possible is critical for politics. You have to charge enough to stay in the black, while being cheap enough for the local plebians to survive.

Of course, there would be competition to attract the more skilled plebians. While they are only worth one vote in the Tribunal, skilled Magi will be able to perform more for their services. They will also be able to generate more individual income from the sale of their services to those outside the Tribunal, meaning they will have more vis to spend on access to things like books from the Covenant. Then there is the prestige that your Covenant gains from having things like "Master Enchanters" in their plebians.

As for the Aura and Infernal situation, much of Rome would be dominated by the Divine. While there are Faerie and Magic Auras peppered all over the Tribunal, many of them are found in regios. This raises the value of the ability to find/enter regios, both in individual abilities (second sight) and spells/enchanted devices. As for the Infernal, almost all of it from 3rd edition is dumped since it does not fit in with 5th edition at all.

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I prefer a different take on the vis-poor tribunal.

In my head it makes absolutely no sense that the roman tribunal would be poor in vis, on its face. Before the looting of the italian countryside by northern european states italy was full of ancient ruins, in fact even after, it still is. All of these would generate tether scores and presumably have auras. A significant number of ruins are located in places that are no longer settled or would have auras strong enough to locally suppress the divine aura. The roman tribunal would also be absolutely full to bursting of regiones that have arisen from old auras magic and faerie that were pushed away by the divine. The problem is finding these regiones of course.

I much prefer that the roman tribunal be poor in vis, not because there isnt any vis but because the population is so big that the vis-to-magus ratio is too low even though the tribunal is on paper swimming in vis. This changes the problem from one of lack to one of overpopulation.


I really, really like this idea. I will be stealing it for my Roman saga, if you don't mind. :slight_smile:

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See, my assumption is that they do. Not only does Italy have a large urban population (making the detection of potential apprentices easier) but it is also well connected to (the slave) trade through Venice as well as being a quick hop to modern day Tunisia where one could find more potentially Gifted children. Overall, I rather assume that the Roman Tribunal is a net exporter of younger mages, with only "chosen heirs" being able to take over the official positions in the well established Covenants. The remained young mages would then flow either into Vis-rich Thebes, which is just across the Adriatic, or would then go and top up the numbers in the outer British Tribunals (Hibernia/Loch Leghan) where the local population is low (and therefore limiting the number of homegrown magi).

Novgorod is another prime target for migration, except of course the locals don't want to be swamped with Norman/Roman/Rhine fresh graduates and require approval to set up a new shop.

For the Rhine: the Tribunal rules explicitly want to discourage this lack of affiliation, since you can't just have free electrons going around doing unauthorised things in your calcified Tribunal. I think that the peregrinator system is a pretty good idea in game, as it is a test for whether the mage and the Covenant are a good match for each other. It's also a lot like the current post-doctoral researcher position, which allows old well established professors to milk fresh doctors for all their worth...

They stay to have access to good libraries, such as in Triamore. They study from books rather than from Vis, and while the rent can be paid in rent, it can also explicitly be paid in seasons of service. So it makes a lot of sense to try to get a peregrinator position somewhere where you can spend 1 season/yr doing base labwork (extracting Vis, collecting vis for older mages etc) if you can safely spend the other 3 reading the roots of the arts or binging the tractatii in your specialties.

Essentially, yes it leaves the young mage on the edge of society, but it is a sacrifice to make before taking the plunge.


Sure, I was addressing @Yirkash's proposal, where Rome maintains a plebeian population, large enough to threaten with a revolt. I like that idea, and I would like to see a consistent set of assumptions to make it believable. If we go with your assumption, the plebeian leakage would make this underclass too insignificant to be a threat, and thus lose the story potential.

I was not objecting to the Rhine system. You are of course right that the season of work may solve the problem of how to make a living. Your post-doc analogy does not fit very well, as that would require negotiating terms with individual magi, to work on their pet projects, and canon has it that the terms have to be the same for all current visitors at the covenant. Canon also suggests great variation in terms and it would be nice to see more concrete examples to illustrate this.

BTW, similar mechanisms can be arranged in other tribunals too. There is nothing to prevent covenants from operating with tiers of memberships, and in particular probationary membership. That would be more tenure-track than post-doc, but the point is that it allows the covenant to weed out poor matches.

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