Too Many Magi

Ars Magica has two premises which really work for me. It’s about powerful wizards and it’s set in a mostly historical Medieval Europe. There’s only one thing that grates on me in the setting – the Order of Hermes. I’m not complaining that Hermetic Magic is based more on fantasy than on tradition and on Renaissance tradition more than on Medieval Tradition. This doesn’t bother me because I want to play a game about wizards and real-world medieval folklore doesn’t much match modern expectations for that.

AM is a game where one can play Merlin, Gandalf, Prospero, Pythagoras, or Malygris. Awesome. But few of the great wizards of fiction or legend live in a world with hundreds of similarly powerful counterparts. Harry Potter, maybe, but those books are for children, much as I like them. Ok, not all Order members are anywhere near as powerful as these wizards of legend but Hermetic Magic is intrinsically powerful and flexible enough that every gauntleted Magus is comparable at some level.

Admittedly AM5 has not been explicit in numbers of Magi, but the impression I get from the published work and from the discussions here is that everyone assumes at least as many Magi as were published way back in the original Order of Hermes book, which has been a baseline ever since. I was just looking back at my copy. There’s a table that presents around 800 Magi in the Order, including 100 just in Scotland! I wonder if Jonathan Tweet understood that modern Scotland is geographically smaller than South Carolina and a little over half the size of Illinois. How you fit 100 powerful wizards in there is beyond me.

I do understand the gaming reasons behind such a large order. Back in the early days we didn’t have much in the way of interesting hedge magicians, so pretty much everything was Hermetic. That’s past now. Gaming groups seemed bigger back then too. Maybe in the glory days the developers were playing with a dozen magi at a time. I doubt I’ll ever have more than three or four continuing players now, so I’m comfortable with much smaller covenants. And any desire I had to play dueling secret societies is long gone, so I don’t feel a need to insist on say, x number of Tremere per tribunal to play out their double-top-secret plots.

So that’s my rant. Has anyone out there tried a game with only a few hundred Magi in the entire order? I feel like it would bring us a lot closer to the literature that actually inspires me and also make the players more special.

Heirs to Merlin lists 49 magi (from nine covenants) across all of England and Wales, and that number includes a dozen very green magi at two very new covenants. The politics section of the book mentions that the eastern covenants (which includes the two new ones) are competing for resources so even at 49 magi there is some crowding. If they were more evenly spread out there might be less of a problem (there are no covenants in central or south-western England). Then again covenants can have very wide spheres of influence, being spread out could diminish some of these problems but it probably wouldn't cure them.

It's hard to tell how many of those magi are really powerful but there's probably at least half a dozen who are quite powerful and largely in control of their faculties. That seems like more than you'd like but less than your impression of Scotland.

From my understanding the House books list numbers for several of the houses although I don't know how well those line up with the Tribunal books and I don't know what those numbers are. It does seem that even the more conservative estimates probably make them more populous than you'd like particular if you start to include hedge wizards and what not on top of the more powerful Hermetic ones. I can understand your point of view but I think they've done a fairly good job of keeping the numbers low while still allowing for some variety. If there were only a handful of magi per House those lines would have less impact - while fewer Houses would remove a lot of variety.

I'm at work, so these numbers are rough, but it's my recollection that there were about 19 million people in Europe in the 13th Century. It's my recollection that ArM5 puts the number of magi in the Order of Hermes at around 1,200. Europe is a big place, about 4 million square miles. I think there is enough room for that many magi.

By comparison there are around 800 bishops in Mythic Europe.

So, somewhere around 1,000 doesn't seem out of place for the population of magi in all of Mythic Europe. They are not all Merlin.

As long as there isnt several or MANY thousands of magi, there will almost be plenty of room for everyone, even if some will crowd up anyway due to resources, geography, demographics etc...

1200 spread out over the whole place, thats NOT a dense population. Unless you know where they are at least roughly you will probably not be meeting any of them even if you travel much.

Two questions:

  1. Richard: Does that include the Eastern Church as well?

  2. All: I suppose this does raise the question of "average" level of power. If one assumes an average of 40 years post guantlet, 30xp per year, and that 3/4 of the xp is spent on Arts and/or Arcane Abilities (vs. Academic and others), how would that compare to people's perception of "legendary" power? 900 xp goes pretty fast, I think.

Seems the average Hermetic mage can be scary in his or her specialty by that time, but if they spend too much time generalizing or inventing spells, then I would call them "potent" as opposed to "legendary.

Just my two cents...


No, just the Latin Church.

Although the dioceses of some Latin bishops overlap the dioceses of some Greek bishops --- for example, there are Latin bishops in Acre and Constantinople and there are Greek ones too.

The Magi are certainly not all Merlin and I should have been clearer in my post that I understand that. Nonetheless, they are all pretty darn potent. Looking at what others on this board cite about their player magi confirms the impression I've gotten from my own experiences as to what magi can do under canon rules. Sure, some are right out of gauntlet and still weak, but how many of them? It's not as if a high percentage perish in their first decade. I'd rather have fewer magi than nerf the ones that are out there.

As to the bishops, they are probably not such a good analogy to magi. Bishops probably consume more resources than the average magi. On the other hand, bishops occupy a prominent social position and are well known to everyone. Kings and popes struggle over who should appoint bishops. They fit a designated social role, administering the Church in areas that originally corresponded to cities. Magi on the other hand are outsiders. If the role of the clergy is to care for souls, the role of the nobility is to fight, and the role of the commoners is to work and produce food, what is the role of wizards?

I'm not arguing that you can't make a populous order fit into your game world. Twenty years of Ars Magica players prove that you can. I'm just saying that a world with less hermetics better fits the literature that inspired me to want to play wizardly games in the first place.

Well, my point was more that there are about the same number of bishops, but I'll bet you hardly ever encounter bishops in your saga, certainly you probably don't encounter as many bishops as magi in your saga. You can walk/fly/teleport a long way in Mythic Europe before encountering a bishop.

Yes, there are magi likely all over the place in your saga. But that is because your saga is likely set in places like covenants, regios, mystery cult sites, etc. I.e. places that magi hang out at. You see a lot of magi in your saga, because your saga is set where magi are, and your saga is about magi.

As far as the average person in Mythic Europe is concerned you have to walk a very long way to find a magus, and you might need to walk around a tree three times backwards on a frosty morning to do so (i.e. enter a regio). They are as likely to meet a bishop. Magi are rare. And many/most of them are busy doing wizardly things in remote areas.

If you are in a covenant you meet magi all the time. If you are in a cathedral you meet bishops all the time. If you are in the rest of Mythic Europe you likely never meet either magi or bishops.

As for Magi numbers, I realized that the numbers given by the books are not optimal (at least for me) 100 mages in each tribunal is too much for me as a storyteller. I worked on a campaign in the normandy tribunal in the year 1010, and I could build about 50 magi before lacking inspiration and motivation to create more. I began work on the Great Alps tribunal recently and there are more or less 50 magi described in the book Sanctuary of Ice.

I have the feeling that 50 is the right number for a tribunal, and 1200 magi in the entire europe is then a bit too much. I would say the "best" number is 600 magi for the Order.

This is always useful.

Abrusio: could you share the concepts for those 50 magi? I find this kind of information useful for running tribunals and the like :slight_smile: Thx :slight_smile:


Remember that these numbers should include redcaps, and several hermit magi. And most magi don't really make that much of an appearance in most sagas apart from tribunals.
Last time I ran a tribunal, I had the players come up with several additional magi to fill the scene, and also allowed them to play these magi - often in opposition to their primary characters goals.

Arthurian stories are filled with wise old hermits and other nefarious characters of unknightly virtue (especially temptresses) who in the Ars paradigm could easily be magi. Merlin and co are just the famous ones. In fact, Merlin was a lightweight - his only power seems to have been an extremely exhausting illusion power, and "visions" (or prophecy).

One of the things about Ars is that Hermetic magi often don't appear to be magi. So you have the John Scottus and Albertus Magnus figures - who are erudite sages, alchemists and astrologers, who similarly can act as magi figures.

I think around 900 Hermetic magi is about right. My main problem is the hedge wizard bloat... (but these sell well, and as an author I'm probably as guilty as anyone).

"She's a witch - burn her..."
By the paragrim (where not stepping on a demon/angel when you set down your foot is tricky), there should be a lot of these, some benign (magical/fae), and some infernal...

Jabir, maybe you would enjoy setting your Saga a few hundred years earlier, in say the third or fourth generation of the Order c. 900 A.D. That would give you fewer Hermetic covenants and more hedge wizards, which sounds like the atmosphere you're looking for.

I have always thought that "classic magician" powers match quite OK those of gruagachan. Curse, bless and foretell the future. Not much self transformation, but that is always a nice bonus :slight_smile:

After tinkering with a pair of the dudes, I think that Vitkir can be quite powerhouses if you allow them to rise their arts; their main problem in the current canon seem to be how they can rise their Arts to have acceptably high casting totals.


We're a few centuries from the witch craze period.

There are over 30.000 non-magi per magi, minimum. Thats a lot of towns, villages and hamlets. Or a fair sized city.
(i found this to be of interest: ... iddle_Ages )

There´s less than a single wizard per every 8000 sqkm. Thats an area 80*100km.

And when the magi are clumped together in covenants, it means they´re even less likely to be noticed in general.

Thats NOT a "populous order". You could probably triple the numbers and people in general would still think wizards are just fancy tales because very few will ever see one.

Looked it up and Encyclopedia Britannica gives 38M in y1000 rising to 73M in 1340s (at which point the black death hit and killed somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3s).

Which gives just under 2% population increase per decade on average, yielding about 58M in 1220.
Yes, I more or less have to work such things out. :blush:

I've actually thought about that a lot. If I ever felt that I had the time to do it right I'd set things in around 900AD with the magi concentrated in the decaying remnants of the Carolingian realm. I'd have fewer and weaker magi and a wilder mortal setting. I've always found the early middle ages more interesting than the 13th century.