Uncoupling Hermetic Magic from Mythic Europe

Who has done it, and how would you rate your success?

I'm contemplating devising my own setting and transplanting the magic system from Ars into it. Looking for some guidance from those who might have done it. Someone on this forum once said (might have been Ken) that the Order of Hermes is probably the most unimmersive thing about Mythic Europe, or something similar.

Sub Rosa #19, focused on New Worlds, shows several example approaches to graft access to - indeed - new worlds into Mythic Europe.

Once you have somehow designed your own setting, you can funnel your Hermetic magi characters plus Hermetic magic directly from Mythic Europe into it by using one of these grafts - with as much or as little baggage from the Order of Hermes as you like, and with or without return ticket to Mythic Europe.

This way you don't need to remove all the many, many, many traces of Mythic Europe from ArM5 Hermetic magic. But you still can inflict your magi PCs upon a fresh world.


EDIT: Such grafts should work best, if derived from the setting you designed. So a fan of Narnia might put the wardrobe into a covenant with several apprentices or just gauntleted magi, have the players play these, and design their companions as beings from Narnia.


It might have been! Some of my opinions have shifted over the decades (decades!) For example, I was originally drawn to AM by the magic system, but I increasingly consider this a bug rather than a feature, state of the art for the late 1980s but no longer keeping up. Correspondingly, I have become more interested in the social interactions among magi. Some opinions have not changed much. Just as Hermetic Magic has a lot more in common with D&D magic than with medieval magic, the OoH feels to me uncomfortably grafted onto medieval Europe, a trial run for tropes soon to be common to the Storyteller game series.

But for what you want to do, none of that matters! If Hermetic Magic is not really closely related to medieval Europe, then it can easily be applied to other settings. Harn? They have orders of secretive wizards too. Your own setting? Sure.

I have been deferring a crossover project for years, grafting aspects of AM onto 20-30 other settings. I have a list, and I really want to do it... sometime.

Not all settings will work so well. If Hermetic Magic is the premier magic of your game world, the workings of this magic says a lot about how your world is going to play. Hermetic Magic as is? Your game will not be suited for D&D-style dungeons, Wheel of Time scale magic (or development), Shadowrun or Harry Potter. Tolkien is great fit, however, with vast timescales and empty lands. Second or Fourth Age? Sure. Combat is dangerous and healing takes a long time? You need the right vis (athelas!) to do something that endures? Sure. Remnants of a great Infernal/Divine conflict, with weird Fae outliers? Sure. A 4th age order of wizards who try to keep some distance from the world in the tradition of the Istari? It kind of drops right in.



I remember back in the 90s seeing a conversion of Ars Magica to WoD's system. It worked with dots as magnitudes, so someone with Creo 4 and Ignem 3 could cast magnitude 7 spells.

1 Like

fundamentally you either have to adapt the AM rules system to another social setting, which could be difficult but not impossible, or you have to find a way to "weld" the AM system onto another game system.
The concept of divine and infernal auras is pretty well ingrained in the medieval social structure, so that is also part of the shift, along with numerous other social virtues and flaws that will have to be reworked or jettisoned and replaced. Also the entire labor system is very rooted in a medieval understanding of economics and of social expectations, such that income is tied to social status and wealth means leisure time, which probably had a lot to do with why feudalism fell to mercantilism and eventually capitalism as an economic model.

There are only three things to fix, I think, to unplug MM and plug the Magic system into any other setting.

First and more tedious is removing Latin. Let’s say you put AM into Middle Earth. Then you probably will be spending some time translating anything magical from Latin to Sindarin or something like that. Or you could just translate them to English, but I think the use of a foreign language make it more authentic.

Second would be the background. Hermetic Magic uses classical philosopher views to build its frame because Bonisagus were familiar with these philosophies and found them handy. So moving them to another setting could be tricky. Elements, platonic forms, Euclidean space, even Vim can be Plato’s discovery. Thinking as I type, maybe some other tradition could work better. Maybe Gruagach Magic would be more fitting for, let’s say, Middle Earth. And you wouldn’t need Latin nor people knowing Artes Liberales.

And third would be the power level of magi. Magi in other settings are not so overpowered against mundanes. Though you could pick the infamous hard arts house rule to power magic down.

Simply refusing to acknowledge #1 and #2 as issues seems perfectly fine...

Wizards speak magic language and magic works in a crazy counterintuitive way. For a lot of us that isn't much different than how it works now.

#3 is basically just preference. But either giving living beings a save vs magic (Grugachan for example always offers a stam check) or using difficult arts or difficult techniques let's you fine tune any saga, not just one outside of Mythic Europe.

Quenya, surely!

It’s already established in Ars canon that the language used doesn’t matter. Theban Tribunal magi use Classical Greek.

With respect to magic resistance, I’ve begun to feel in the last three or four years that there needs some variability here. I’ve become to dislike the fact that it’s a binary choice of resistant or not. I haven’t yet come up with a better alternative, but that’s not necessarily related to moving hermetic magic from the standard setting.

1 Like

Fine tuning and balancing of ArM5 Hermetic magic very often involves some history of the Order of Hermes, its culture and research, and the state of technology, learning and religion in Mythic Europe.

A few random examples are:
Enchantment of the Scrying Pool,
Aegis of the Hearth,
HoH:TL p.71 Acute Search,
HoH:TL p.73 Aura of Inconsequence,
Covenants/HoH:S Craft magic with A&A Experimental Philosophy,
inability of Hermetic magic to understand languages and texts,
HoH:S p.68f inability of Hermetic magic to impart inscribed and procedural memories.

The ArM5 p.79f Limits of Magic also are tied deeply into the setting of Mythic Europe.

Finding all instances of such dependencies, and then adjudicating and rebalancing them for a different setting beforehand, is a lot of work and might easily fail.

Plunging Hermetic magi trained in the standard ArM5 Hermetic magic into a new setting heads first, and having them learn one step at a time (often enough together with their SG :stuck_out_tongue: ) how their magic differs there, looks far more promising to me.


I'm not talking about latin as the language magi are supposed to talk and use in game (except where it overlaps with the following): I'm talking about the language that players use in the game.

I mean, if I am an apprentice of the mighty Saruman the White, I'm not going to know techniques and forms named in latin. I might know a spell named Ball of Abysal Fire, but probably it won't be Creo Ignem level 35 spell, but an Ont-Nar level 35 spell, or a Larg-Ghâsh level 35 spell. And I probably wouldn't name my magic resistance Parma Magica, but something like let's say Ingóle Voronwie or Dush Laazg.

Black Speech have its charm!

If OOC and IC talking about spells in Latin breaks your suspension of disbelief or what ever then that is a you problem not an inherent problem. But changing the arts to Create, Destroy, Control, Change, Learn, Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Body, Mind, Animal, Plant, Senses, and Magic hardly seems like a hurdle to me. Given a thesaurus one could probably do that and not change the two letter abbreviations.

You are easily able to simply ignore all of those inconsistencies.

One of my troupe-mates is running a contemporary game. Issues we ran into were all form and lesser limit based.
Specifically. Where do modern things fall into the existing forms. He ended up ruling that plastics are Terram, Composite materials usually take a requisite, and he wrote up a Fulgarum Form since electricity and computing is so big in a modern setting (I had suggested using Mentem with a Terram Req to affect computers since they are artificial minds on a mineral substrate).

Lesser limit wise the only issue was the Limit of the Lunar Sphere. Can magi use magic on the Moon or Mars? We didn't talk on it much since he was doing a starting game for a bunch of apprentices. But I think we said not on Mars. But the Bonisagus covenant on the Moon is heavily researching how to break that limit.

Any one want to run a game set on the moon now? I sort of do...

Anyway. What you need to do to make things playable is figure out how everything in the setting fits into the forms. If something doesn't either add it as a limit of magic (Limit of Mithril), add it to the guidelines (+4 to affect inherently magic metals), or write a new form (going with my example so far, something exactly like Terram but everything is 2-3 mags higher since it only affects Mithril).

If your game necessitates breaking one of the Limits of Magic you need to do a few things, figure out if this is just going to be an ongoing thing or not (space game where limit of the lunar sphere is still in place), figure out to what magnitude it is going to be an issue (magic comes from celestial bodies so only doesn't work in deep space for example as a more reasonable interpretation on the limit). A valid option is always to just ignore it and chalk up inconsistencies to yet-misunderstood laws of magic.

You also need to figure out how magical society works in your game. Slotting it into an existing one is always convenient. Otherwise, honestly I don't know what you would be trying to do where there isn't an organization to co-opt. But mages are powerful some of that is innate and much of it is limited by access to learning. So Magi would either (probably) group up and stay hidden, or be fairly tightly controlled by their betters. Maybe having just read all the Tremere content is coloring my opinions.

Slotting Magi into Legend of the 5 Rings for example (new saga ideas abound in this post, I might scrap the game I was working on) they sort of already have Magi but the Great Houses would certainly limit access to books on Arts so that Ronin-Magi or magi of rival houses could not challenge their own.

Someone did mention Realm interactions. The ream interaction chart is a simple 4x4 grid. Adding or deleting a category is pretty easy. While not 100% necessary (you could have an aura 0 on the whole world and not really lose much mechanically or simply only have magic auras) you could identify the classes of magical power in the world and generate your own chart. I'm not an expert, but in LORT I think I would have Sauron's influence cause something similar to an infernal arua, or if that is too much simply make it a straight inverted magic aura (Aura*-1 to your totals), In L5R I would probably keep faerie auras, call shadowlands something similar to an infernal aura, and maybe make ancestor aligned aruas that contribute to their Kin's magic but give *-0.5 to other house's magic. Obviously this is a first brush, but you get my meaning.

You could even do a saga in the Pokemon universe and have your magic be aspected (your highest Form? or a choice based on your house?) and just follow the full type interaction chart! (ok, we HAVE to write that conversion!)

If your setting isn't a fantastical one with the world run by magi (as in some D&D magocracies), you need to invoke something separating the mundane from the magical - whether the order of Hermes, some sort of Masquerade/Veil/whatever term Mark Rein Hagen is invoking this week to explain it away, or even a JK Rowling-style Ministry of Magic.

In 1st and 2nd editions of L5R, each magical school writes its spells down in a different way, so you can only read your own clan's magical texts without highly expensive (OOC points value and IC political favours) cross-training. Moving Ars over, you would rule that spell texts and lab texts depend on you having been trained in the same clan as the author. IIRC, Ronin shugenja were huge fun but had an extremely difficult time learning top-tier spells.

3rd edition Ars even included the dreaded REASON, and 5th edition includes numerous mechanics to mitigate the realm effects, there's nothing stopping you adding more realms and interactions.

Totally forgot this, It's like the Theban/Classical Greek thing but if there was a different magic language for every Tribunal. Love this idea even more now!

It is fairly easy to take ArM out of ME and move it forward. I say fairly easy because the sticking point is the move to Newtonian physics. Imaginem is the major hurdle. On my Ars1520 setting I moved sound and smell to Aurum, touch to terram and left Imaginem as light. Then add a major Hermetic virtue for illusionist that is much like Elemetalist in that it makes it cheap to combine the arts to make illusions. It is not perfect but what I have at the moment.

Of course one issue is simply what are you moving it to
Moving it a few centuries into the future is relatively easy. moving it to a polytheistic fantasy universe could be more difficult. Newtonian or later physics? Alternate physics involving aether or orogone energy? much harder.

Going back to the start. In devising your OWN setting, You control the variables. Adjust the variables you want to adjust. Nothing is going to break inherently. You pretty much have nothing to worry about!

Sure. Sure. But I asked for a question for people who had done it. Instead I get a lot of speculative things. I suppose I asked for that, though.

Sure, I also gave that in one of the posts (the contemporary academy game is ongoing and seems to be working well).

But Silveroak's point got me to look back at the OP and since you are making your own setting rather than using an existing one you can loop back and decide what elements you think are fine. There is no new Forms required unless you think there should be. There are no inherently broken limits unless you decide they need to be broken. But I imagine that while you are making those choices you are have the magic system in mind so it makes it a bit easier to import it.

One other thing. For contemporary games. I think he was using +5 as the default living conditions modifier in Europe based on mortal life expectancy stats it may have been a little higher.

The biggest problem is decoupling it from ME since ME frames the magic rules. It is ArM's greatest strength and weakness. As someone else had said, you can easily change the forms to Create, Destroy, Change, Control and See or Learn. The rules for how the Forms work need decoupled from Aristotle physics.