The "vanilla" magus: house and other traits

In the sagas I've played in, major characters are typically made with the idea of exploring a niche of play, and its relevant mechanics. How does one design and play a hermetic cuisine expert, an infernally tainted artist, a faerie-trained incomparable spear maiden, or the abbess who wants to become pope? I think this is actually quite common, as folks write about "blasto-mage" or "rego crafter".

One concept that has recently surfaced in our troupe (initially as a joke, but we found the idea interesting and challenging) was that of the "vanilla magus": the plainest, least unique magus possible - unique in fact, only in his utter lack of any characteristic trait. A character without any particularly unique virtues or flaws, who will be moderately ambitious but not too ambitious, who will have a staff as his talisman, a cat as his familiar, and an apprentice who'll pass her gauntlet with exactly the same number of xps, spell levels etc. as a character created with the "standard" character creation rules.

It's actually less trivial than it sounds.

For example, what would the "right" characteristics be? Should one take the flaw weak characteristics twice, and have a character with +1 intelligence and all other characteristics at 0?

A particularly tricky question is: what would be the best hermetic house for such a character? I understand that in some sense one could make a vanilla magus from any house. But the fact is that some houses are more idiosyncratic than others, and a magus from such a house cannot be both average for the house and average for the order at large. In fact, all houses have, to some extent, some unique traits, so the "vanilla magus" is not perfectly attainable. But it's easier, I believe, to make an "anonymous" Guernicus or Jerbiton than an "anonymous" Bjornaer or Verditius. Any opinions?

Another tricky question is: how should such a character focus on the Arts? One possible view is that he should be a generalist, privileging no Art over any other. But that is itself a remarkably unique choice: virtually all magi specialize. What would be the plainest possible curriculum for the vanilla magus? One third of all xp in one form, one third in one technique (avoiding particularly remarkable combinations like Intellego Aquam or Perdo Herbam) and one third evenly distributed among the remaining Arts?

I first thought a Bonisagus, but the problem with a humble lab rat is that he's going to come up with something interesting in his specialty because that's what lab rats do.

Perhaps a Flambeau in a very peaceful Tribunal.

Honestly, the ten sample magi in the main rule book are as generic as I ever need. The Merinita illusionist, the Bjornaer wolf-magus, the Flambeau with Immunity to Flames... it really doesn't get much more vanilla than that.

I realize that's not your project, but they work for me.


I'm curious about how one settles on a vanilla House.

Can't be one of the four MCs, because each of them has a unique Mystery that normal magi cannot have. Special snowflakes all.

Guernicus? Special judicial powers and obligations, so not them. Bonisagi can uniquely take other magi's apprentices and are weird lab rats. So not them either. Tremere have an utterly alien House structure and discipline. Mercere magi are mostly not even magi. Nope and nope.

Tytalus magi are completely bonkers. Jerbiton magi try not to be magi at all. Ex Misc magi have weird traditions, and are generally agreed to be out of the mainstream. So maybe that leaves Flambeau magi as normal, except for two problems: 1) Flambeau magi are not normal and 2) If only one House is vanilla, that makes it quite special, so it's not vanilla after all.



Indeed! As I said, there's no "perfectly vanilla" house. But there are houses that are more vanilla than others.

Agreed! My very first thought.

Hmmm. Not really.
Quaesitors (on active duty) have special judicial powers and obligations. Not all quaesitors on active duty are of house Guernicus. Not all members of house Guernicus are (at any given time) quaesitors on active duty. So I guess that a Guernicus who does occasionally serve as a quaesitor, but without his heart in it and without ever taking on stuff of great responsibility, would be a reasonable vanilla candidate. A bit less quaesitor than the average Guernicus, a bit more quaesitor than the average hermetic magus.

Agreed. Sort of. Not all members of house Bonisagus are lab rats -- there are also descendants of Trianoma. But I'd agree that they are less vanilla than members of house Guernicus.

Agreed. Mostly. I would not say "utterly alien", but they are different, including their unique focus on certamen.

Well. A Mercere magus, on the other hand ... other than being a Mercere magus, is a reasonable candidate for a vanilla magus, I think.

I think this is an overstatement. A Tytalus who is a bit more ... dynamic than the average member of the order, and a bit more laid back than the average member of the house, would be a fair vanilla mage (though probably a worse candidate than a Jerbiton). I can picture his other house members conjecturing what he might be hiding behind that plain, utterly unremarkable facade ...

This is not true. They just think that there is life outside magic, but they themselves have their own share of magic-obsessed members. I think that a Jerbiton would be one of the best candidates for a "vanilla" magus; the house would not really find anything "wrong" in him.

I agree. There might be an exception in the occassional orbus from another house, but that makes him no more vanilla than a member of that house (and in fact less vanilla, since he is also an orbus).

Well, I did posit that being unexceptional is the only trait in which the character in question can be exceptional. So 2) is not really valid. 1) may be more valid though, because I have the impression that magi of house Flambeau have a very strong martial bent. I think they could make fair vanilla magi though, albeit probably less so than the Jerbiton.

Hmmm. So.
It seems to me that the most vanilla house would be Jerbiton (Grimgroth's!).
Guernicus would probably come second, with Flambeau, Mercere and possibly Tytalus also being reasonable candidates.

I agree in principle... but the vanilla Tribunal is without any doubt the Provencal, and it's equally without doubt not very peaceful!

I think talking about vanilla mage is an oximoron: how can a magus be plain, he is by definition a freak of nature of some sort. So the question is who is the least freaky in the freakshow that is the Order.

It was already mentioned, it is easier to design a Vanilla magus per House than a Vanilla Order's magus.

Somehow, I would be tempted to consider either Ex Miscellanea or Verditius.
Ex Miscellanea because although they often have some unique ability, it is usually nothing that cannot be duplicated by some spells. If the maga has his skill at +3, without Puissant or Affinity, he will be pretty limited in its usage and won't stand out particularly. Add a necessary condition: always dress in robe with a pointy hat ("Wizzard" sign is not a requirement :smiley: ), so he will always look like a mage and nothing else.

For a Verditius, I think we can push a little bit the envelope:
He can have book learner, because after all, most mages spend their time in books, so it could be considered a rather common virtue. Then a major virtue like Secondary Insight, so it is really a generalist who won't stand out with very high Arts. Add Slow caster and possibly Weak Spontaneous magic, so he won't go around throwing quickly improvised spell to solve an issue.

Then spread his Arts level between 4 and 7 so he has no spell above level 20. So he can only build utilitarian lesser enchanted device. The kind of devices that every Covenant needs, but nobody want to waste time building because it does not allow to display great mastery. Sure, in a certain way, it is a specialty, but not the one you boast about.

Aside the intellectual challenge, why are you trying to design a vanilla mage ?

I'd like to point out Tytalus are very vanilla - they love conflict and struggle, much like the players of roleplaying games, so most players create characters who like to interfere with the world around them (like Calliclean Tytali) or can survive whatever the world throws at them (Hippian Tytali). I find Tytalus very vanilla - as what makes them "special" in Hermetic terms makes them normal for Player Characters in an RPG.

The problem with that is that PCs, and Tytali, like to be special snowflakes. So pretty soon they'll have developed non-vanilla powers.

Actually, not in this case, since the object (as specified in the OP) is explicitly to create a PC magus who's as "plain" as possible - something quite new to us, since no PC magus in our games is ever even remotely "plain".