Tremere Certamen alternates

Some in my group don't like the free Tremere virtue of the minor focus in Certamen. I've reaad it here as well (so this post might be a re-hash), and I'm trying to come up with an alternate free virtue that still gives the Tremere an advantage.

If the focus is dropped, then the Tremere can get other foci instead, including from Mythic Blood. I suggest we replace it with a Supernatural Ability: Certamen, all Tremere would get it for free and have appropriate Specialties (typically an Art or perhaps a School). The Ability can then be raised (or not) to the Tremere's content. This makes Certamen somewhat like a Mystery ability for them, and it allows them the ability to truly focus on it for decent benefits. It's not that they couldn't focus on it before (they could for example raise all the Abilities involved in Certamen and take the specialty 'In Certamen' for them) but this may narrow the focus and perhaps add gamesmanship. While all magi know how to engage in Certamen, the comparison between a magus and a Tremere in Certamen is that of a hobbyist perhaps vs. a professional.

Some ideas for how the Ability can work and benefit the user.

  1. It can replace any one of the Abilities that are used in Certamen, such as Penetration for offense.
  2. It can be added directly to an Attack or Defense total each round (essentially it can be added twice if used to replace one of the other scores and then added here, but in some cases the user might not use it to replace the other scores; the other scores are actually better, but they'd still get to add it one of the attack or defense totals)

Using both of these might be enough. If it is not, here are some additional (a focus can add a decent amount if there is a high disparity in the Arts involved)

  1. It can increase the amount of Vis that can be used in a Certamen by 1 pawn per point, above the normal maximum of your Arts.
  2. If you spend a Confidence point to aid a Certamen roll you add +3 and your Certamen score, even if it was already added.
  3. For every 5 full points in the Ability you get an extra 0 Fatigue level which are removed first, before real Fatigue is lost.
  4. It adds to your Concentration to avoid being distracted and losing the bout.

With these additional bonuses, it might be more appropriate if they were learned separately, almost like Mysteries, but a bit more minor, with slightly easier scripts (often service to the House and the Order as directed by the ranking Tremere). A Tremere out of Apprenticeship would know Certamen at 1 and gain the first two benefits, then when raising it to 2 seeks out his old Master or another Tremere and provides some service in return for learning the 2nd option (extra benefits from Confidence). This qualifies as a Mystery Initiation lasting 1-2 seasons, and would logically involve certamen displays as well as loyal service.

By incorporating it as an Ability with varying applications it seems a bit more dynamic perhaps than a mere Minor Focus (which can't be studied or improved as readily). And it allows Tremere to improve in different ways and at different rates in their Certamen skill. Plus this eliminates the unexplainable reason why only Tremere can have a minor Focus in Certamen. With the Ability they have to actually police it, as it is a secret they must maintain.

Finally, regarding the Schools, keep them as is (they might take some modification, I'd have to check them again) but say that you can only learn a new School after receiving X level in the Ability, such as on every odd level of the Ability (1, 3, 5 etc).

How does this sound?

Our saga changed it to a fairly simple:

Puissant Certamen
+3 to any rolls calculated as part of Certamen.

Thus it applies to initiative, attack totals, defense totals and concentration rolls. Which is pretty much everything.
We still allow the minor magical focus for anyone who wants it, but they just have to buy it with their regular allotment of virtues.

This stops the average Tremere magus from being quite so shockingly scary in Certamen, while still giving them a noticeable edge.

One reason for not going the ability route is that Certamen is already hinged off abilities that can be developed with xp: finesse, penetration, parma and arts. Tremere magi don't need the extra xp sink just to make their house virtue work. It's nowhere near as potent as something like Faerie Magic, Heartbeast or Enigmatic Wisdom and Tremere magi lose seasons to house service anyway.

Minor Magical Focus doubles the weaker Art, that means at least +5 bonus to certamen offense/defense at no extra xp cost.

IIRC Certamen was an Ability in 4th, and giving Puissant Certamen to Tremere would result in a +2 bonus. If the Certamen Ability was added to both the offense and defense they'd get a +4, still short but close.

EDIT - Kid's idea solves this nicely.

Those are both decent, I like how succint they are as well. The point of not having to spend xp to make use of their Virtue makes sense, but many Houses already do something like that, but they do not have to, there is an inherent bonus in it that they can use (Verditius magic requires extra xp in Philosophaie for example to get some extra bonuses, but they still have other benefits).

In the end I designed it more like a Mystery ability which by itself provides bonuses, and then from there, if a Tremere really wanted to achieve dominance he could focus on it. Similar to any of the Mystery Houses ignoring the mainline Hermetic Arts and spells to instead dig deeper into their House Mysteries.

But perhaps having the flat Puissant bonus and the ability to learn the Schools (which no other house has any access to) would be enough.

Flat bonuses are nice. They keep things simple.

A Tremere magus can still focus on Certamen by building his tines, focusing his certamen-related abilities, studying a school, etc.

The sagas I'm involved in both have Tremere magi present who do have the minor magical focus as well. They're rare, but they do exist and they really are scary Certamen monsters. This means that while the average Tremere magus doesn't auto-win practically every Certamen they're involved in, the House still has the ability to field a truly ridiculous duelist if required.

It also makes the politics more interesting, because having only one or two super-amazing duelists means they become political targets, and thus a source of stories.

With out my Mysteries Revised book in front of me...

I can remember if they have a Potent Ability that pairs with Potent Magic. If so that could be given to Tremere magus as Potent Certamen. Then they could still have a magical focus.

Paul Briscoe's De Domo Tremeris suggests that it be renamed Certamen Focus, and it doesn't count as a Magical Focus. It behaves the same as a focus, and it only applies for Certamen.

This mMF(Certamen) is the one aspect of Tremere from the Fifth Edition that I absolutely do not like. Were I starting with Tremere in a fresh saga, I'd be inclined to let the House virtue be selected based on the role they expect to play in HoH:TL or pick Certamen Focus from Briscoe's work mentioned previously.

I agree with this. When i was developing a Tremere for a game I had to negotiate a "Mystery Cult" within the House to get the direction I wanted to go. It was to add the Potent Magic so a different focus could be used.

Actually, I do like the current way Tremere's Certamen is handled. I think that before discussing alternatives, it might be worthwhile analyzing what are the perceived problems with current system. From what I've seen in the past, they are basically two. The first is that it robs the Tremere of the ability to take another Magical Focus. The second is that it makes Tremere too strong in certamen.

Personally, I think the first (no other Magical Focus) is a feature, not a bug. Tremere himself was the junior Founder, and thus, with the exception of Bonisagus, probably the most "Hermetically standard". Tremere magi have never been known to be exceptional in magical specialties other than certamen. The House's "soul" is discipline, conformism, and military standardization. If you want to play the greatest master of ... say, darkness magics who's ever lived, you should probably not play a Tremere -- just like you should not play a Bjornaer if you really want to focus on the relationship between a magus and his familiar. If you want to play a Tremere master of darkness, you should probably play a character who becomes a great master of darkness the Tremere way: through sheer willpower and perseverance despite not having such a natural talent for it. Hunt down the best teachers and texts (or make sure your House hunts them down for you). Initiate Potent Magic or affinities in Perdo and/or Ignem. Try to go for a Breakthrough (or making sure your House gets someone to do it). And so on.

The second complaint (too strong in Certamen) is one I also had, initially. Then one of our troupe decided to play a Tremere certamen specialist. And, basically, the Tremere focus does give a strong edge against other magi (obviously) but it's not insormountable at all.
First of all, it can be turned by a fair age difference. Remember that the focus allows you to add your lowest Art a second time. But since one of the Arts is chosen by your opponent, there are good chances that the bonus is not that high. From my experience, a Tremere is generally matched to a non-Tremere opponent about 1.5 times his age.
Second, if your opponent is determined to burn vis (and possibly confidence), and you aren't, you are toast even if you are a Tremere against a non-Tremere of equal, or even slightly lower, experience.
Third, if your opponent has the right Art score combination, it can defeat you a fair fraction of the time, even if you are a Tremere and he is not, and your total xp are the same. That's because xp allocation for certamen is a little like a rock-paper-scissors effect, so that it can happen that Alice usually defeats Bob who usually defeats Carol who usually defeats Alice.

Could you elaborate a little on this please? Our local game has featured very limited use of certamen, so I'm rather shaky on how it actually works to tell the truth.

There's a fair amount of gamesmanship potential in Certamen, if you think about it.
Getting your opponent to challenge you, or you peremptorily challenge your opponent. Knowing your opponent's preferred Arts (probably an OoH Lore check) and him knowing yours, or preferably, not knowing yours.
Then you try and outfox each other and select your Arts... So maybe your opponent is strong in Rego and you're Deficient in it, so you decide to challenge him before he challenges you. Your strongest Technique is Creo, but you're pretty good in Muto. Which one do you pick, because he might veto that pick? Same goes for the decisions on the Form.

It's a chess game even before the first phantasm has been flung!

...or you let him choose the Technique and veto it if he chooses you weakness, which gives you a wider choice of Forms to pick something he might be weak in that you are strong at.

But yes, it all comes down to knowing ywho you are fighting. And the better you become, the more your weaknesses and strength are known, which works against you. Strategy indeed.

Let me try the simplest example I can think of. Alice, Bob and Carol are three newly gauntleted Jerbiton magi (to avoid the complications of the Tremere focus). Sole members of a newly founded spring covenant, the quarrelsome three fight certamens almost daily -- so by now they know exactly each other's strengths and weaknesses. They have no relevant Virtues or Flaws, and have exactly the same characteristics and abilities. They do differ in their Arts, though each has two Arts at 10, two at 5, and all others at 0; in particular:

Alice has Creo 10, Muto 5, Animal 10, Corpus 5, and all remaining Arts 0.
Bob has Creo 5, Perdo 10, Animal 5, Mentem 10, and all remaining Arts 0.
Carol has Muto 10, Perdo 5, Corpus 10, Mentem 5, and all remaining Arts 0.

Alice has 2 Techniques with a 5 point advantage over Bob, and 1 with a 10 point disadvantage. So, when challenging Bob, she can always force a 5 point advantage in the Technique; and when challenged, she can always force the same score in the Technique (by vetoing Bob's strongest Technique). But the situation is the same with the Forms: Alice has 2 Forms with a 5 point advantage, and 1 with a 10 point disadvantage. So, when challenged, she can always force a 5 point advantage in the Form; and when challenging, she can always force the same score in the Form (by vetoing Bob's strongest Form).

Then, when Alice fights Bob (whether challenger of challenged) her score in one of the Arts chosen is 5 higher than Bob's, and her score in the other Art is the same as Bob's. So, she usually defeats Bob in Certamen. But exactly the same argument shows that Bob usually defeats Carol in Certamen -- and that Carol usually defeats Alice!

Thank you!

As mentioned, we haven't used certamen much, so I've had almost no hands-on experience with it (in this edition).


Not "at least +5", some magi have a whopping score of 0 in some arts, then the focus gives you nothing!
Of course once you are a mature magus who has or wants to take an apprentice you may very well have 5+ in all arts.

In actual play in all my sagas I've only ever participated in Certamen twice. Once in 4th ed where my Criamon maga challenged a Tremere, it was Perdo Mentem and she won. The othe time I played a Tremere who offended a Mercere who has stolen vis, and he challenged...and lost. And I think I've seen a maximum a handfull more Certamens during 14 years of playing Ara Magica.
Primarily because there are some troubles with the mechanics where the odds seem terribly loaded for the Tremere. And also because we fail to do much Hermetic plotting and politics and don't infight enough in the sagas.
While the idea mentioned at the start of this thread - where Certamen is an Ability which the duellant can substitute for any of the others used - sounds good initialy, I have some doubts. It makes sense that the Tremere have a "shortcut" to become good duellists, instead of having to spread out over many Abilities. However because they RAW have to spread out they become more universally skilled magi, which IMHO fits the martial and practical philisophy of the House as it is in 5th ed.

I have no solutions. But I wish Certamen played a bigger part in my sagas. Somehow.

We have a small amount of Certamen in our saga. It certainly doesn't happen in every session, but it occurs occasionally.

Personally, I don't have any problems with the mechanics, it is loaded in favour of Tremere, but as ezzelino explains above, it really only means that a Tremere acts like an older magus. A Tremere can still easily get defeated either by fighting a more experienced magus, or if a specific duel involves a bad combination of Arts for the Tremere.

In some ways it is obvious, but the key to having Certamen in your saga is to have disagreements between characters (whether NPCs or PCs) who are Hermetic magi. If your saga is all about a bunch of PC magi who get along well with each other and spend most of their time hunting demons, then Certamen is just not going to be a feature of the saga.

I think the other key is to make sure that the disagreements between magi are important, so that the magi won't just concede/negotiate. But on the other hand, the dispute can't be so important that the magi cannot risk losing. Access to minor resources is a good source of Certamen matches (resources like vis, apprentices, lab spaces, lab texts, books). Then it is just up to the storyguide and players to engineer circumstances where two or more magi want the same resource at the same time.

Another good way to encourage Certamen is to write it into the covenant charter. The covenant probably has some resources, offices, rights or responsibilities that are periodically disbursed amongst the covenant magi. Just write it into the covenant charter that Certamen is used to distribute some of these. Then you are guarranteed to have a few Certamen matches every covenant council (or whenever such things are distributed).

My personal issue with the minor magical focus is that it features a multiplication.

For younger magi (which, from what I can tell, is the majority of PCs in most sagas) the focus is fine. Magi less than 30 years out of Gauntlet tend to have 0s in arts, and even their strong arts aren't that high unless they're specialists.

As magi mature, though, the multiplier gives progressively bigger bonuses. Turning a 5 into a 10 is one thing, turning a 10 into a 20 is quite different. The amount of 'free xp' the focus applies is huge. Thus, when you see senior magi duel and one has a magical focus in Certamen, the differences go from being 5-point to being 10-15-point. Which means you start seeing more one-shot wins and more domination. It exacerbates the arts differences the older the magi get.

For this reason, I much prefer a flat bonus rather than a scaling bonus. It keeps the Tremere magus' edge, it actually helps out the younger Tremere magi more (an effective +3 or +5 to each art is potentially more potent than the minor focus when you're young) and it curbs the elder Tremere magi from being so frighteningly effective as to make other magi not bother with Certamen and go straight to other solutions (e.g. Wizards War).

The other nice thing about a flat bonus is it still scales to more free xp for senior magi, just not as much. The xp difference between 5 and 8 is less than the difference between 15 and 18 by a significant margin, so even with a flat bonus the senior Tremere magi get to enjoy a nice and not insignificant edge.

Flawless Certamen

Certamen is not a stressful experience for Tremere magi. For any roll associated with Certamen, you always roll a simple die rather than a stress die.

Even if their Arts are better than yours, they can always botch! Especially if they use Vis.

Which sucks when the Tremere rolls that 1...

If it's going to be Flawless, treat it like a Mastered Spell, always a stress die, but can't botch (i.e. Quality Die).

Even so, I'm not sure it is a really big deal.

a) It doesn't really matter if Tremere usually win minor squabbles over pawns of vis, rights to a Lab Text, or who gets to speak first at a covenant council. What matters for senior magi, which is potentially affected by Certamen, is politics, and at worst if Tremere dominate Certamen amongst older magi they therefore can dominate political decision making. But the Tremere have to be careful that they don't push too heavily on this dominance; as if they piss off other senior magi too much, the other senior magi will rely on Wizard War instead to deal with Tremere, and before you know it there's another Schism War. This actually seems broadly consistent with how senior magi politics is portrayed in the Order: politics is dominated by "organised Houses" (of which Tremere is the archetype), but there is a certain balance of terror that prevents the "organised Houses" from oppressing the others too much.

b) Even if a senior Tremere is counting a 10 point Art as a 20 point Art for the Certamen duel, his senior magus opponent could very plausibly have a 15-30 point Score in that Art, anyway. So doubling a 10 might not even give the Tremere the advantage. The advantage in the duel still comes down to picking dueling Arts where you are at an advantage and your opponent is not. All other things being equal, a Tremere certainly has a better chance of not being disadvantaged too badly by a poor pick, or a better chance of really capitalising on what would otherwise be only small advantage (or a small disadvantage). However, equally the Tremere can still sometimes end up fighting a duel at a disadvantage. Picking the "right" duelling Arts can still swing a duel.