OK, I guess I'm in the contrarian's seat again.
Actually, I like automata a lot. To be sure, the investment is high and I've been fiddling with some house rules to make them more appealing to the PC magus, but on the balance I think that a good place can be found for them -- particularly for the Verditius as was intended. My thinking goes like this:
- What would it take to make this into a Great Work?
No, I've not run the numbers according to the canonical rules yet, but it seems to me that this would make a fantastic alternative to the summa/tractatus written by other magi. And particularly to as a means of Verditius-to-Verditius knowledge exchange. The vis cost IS high. But play with level limits and quality levels a bit and you have yet another Hermetic income source for the magus/covenant. Consider: "Johann, you simply MUST take the time to study our brother Marcus' automaton at <>. He has successfully integrated perdo ignem and creo auram effects with mechanisms for circulating air around the entire covenant keeping it ALL at a VERY comfortable temperature without violating anyone's sanctum, the grogs never complain about day or early morning duty due to temperature leaving the council to deal with more important matters. And there is so much more. I've studied his contrapation for a year (and paid him and his covenant a pretty pawn, I don't mind telling you), but what I gained was so much more fascinating than what I got out of those prigs at Durenmar back in '03. Go, I say. Our House is better served this way." Hey, I don't think an automaton really has to be anthropomorphic, jst wonderfully complex.
- I don't know about you guys, but I would let a Verditius who has House-trained (pardon the expression) in the Mystery make a minor breakthrough to be able to cast a ritual for transferring (or "copying", we should be nice occasionally) an Ability into the automoton. Vis cost of the ritual and prep to be, say, twice the Ability score in pawns of vis. Maybe more, maybe less. Play with it. Note that I would make this a major breakthrough for a magus from any other House.
I may just wave my hands and say that an NPC Verditi did it for a recent Master-grade contest and is willing to sell copies of the lab texts and summary commentaries to other Verditi (only) accompanied by dire threats including a hint of his next project casually mentioning his observations: "... the similarities between anthropomorphic automata and ... what was that term Jacob (a Jewish magus with a reputation for swordsmanship) used?? <<snap, snap, snap>> Oh yes, 'golem' was the word he used. I'm told they can be implacable..."
Allow the artistry of, say, a dragonfly. Fly him over the castle wall of the local Lord. Record conversations and mapping until condition X. Use info to keep him out of your back yard, so to speak. Code violation, maybe -- and I do mean maybe. But with subtle handling and the right palms greased, worth the risk and investment if you would otehrwise get mixed up in a covenant-destroying war.
- I agree that the "mechanical" reliability rules may need adjustment. So adjust them to suit your campaign.
Or allow specialized ReTe/ReHe/ReAn effects with a group target and constant effect. Might add some interesting "aging" effects to the assembly. For example, if you have an effect that, say buffs out scratches (yes I know some would scream CREO Herbam, here), the magus may find that those subtle details in the "cheeks" of the automaton's face are getting smoother and smoother. Or maybe that the effect that monitors the strain in the cords of the lifting mechanism seems to shut things down at lighter and lighter weights. Just a thought.
Figure out a way to use this to reduce mundane expenditures of the covenant -- fields plowed, potatoes harvested with less waste, horses exercised. I imagine with a bit of focussed creativity everyone on this list can figure out a way to cut staff levels and efficiency and damage losses, let alone real and soft costs associated with managing the footprint of said covenant. The sentence "There is a large town on the other side of that hill and they're getting bigger and We Don't Trust Them," might poke a covenant into investing in an automaton AND might tempt the Verditi to (gasp!) Reveal Secrets due to the need for help with some enchantments.
The issue of skills and effects requiring concentration is real but managable. Or maybe I should use the term "mangle-able"
If the skill doesn't require creative thought, like, say, grading and bagging milled grain for trade, let it be. Or "Aquire target. Point at target. Activate flamethower effect. Roast until done." InCo, ReTe, Trigger CrIg (concentrate), InCo Trigger (drop concentration). Let it be.
Debate creative tasks with the troupe. Cooking, for example: "Make porridge and unleavened bread" -- no problem. "Make slow-roasted pig with 40 gallons of potato soup" -- eh, OK, but the soup might be a bit bland. "Make cider-braised pork loin finished with lightly toasted saurkraut and white potato bread with a savory herb butter, served on our best plates, and make sure the plates shine like a clear morning" -- em, perhaps we need to hire a real kitchen staff.
I have to be reminded time-to-time of the First Rule of Gamemastering (and I'm sure the other folks on this list can state it better): Cut The Players Enough Slack On The Rules To Have Fun.
Bragging rights. OH yeah! There is a LOT of ego in ME to be stroked and that translates into security (read income, safety, solitude, focus, privacy, privilege, what have you). I'm loosely modelling a Verditius Archmagus off of Terry Pratchet's Leonard of Quirm. He's going to be fun. He's going to make a number of automata along with "standard" enchantments. My players are going to love this guy.
Picture this: Swarm of magical rats + plenty of exercise wheels + lots of pulleys and gears and chases + Bind Magical Creature Mystery + Automata Mystery + Re/In/Cr Animal effects == I'm sitting here at my keyboard trying to keep my maniacal chuckle down so as not to wake the neighbors.
Well, I've rambled on long enough. Let me finally say this, however.
To the author of the section in question and Mr. Chart, thank you very much for the inspiration. We may have some minor differences of opinion on some of the details, but you crafted a really great foundation to build upon and the guy in my saga who is playing a Verditius and I are going to have a blast with this (and other stuff) by your good efforts. Well done, well done, well done!!