violence in Mythic Europe

I was thinking of a scenario where two Magi agree to have their Apprentices have a contest between them as their Gauntlet.

Something like capture the flag, each side has an apprentice and a turb of grogs, whichever apprentice carries the flag to the goal area passes the Gauntlet, the other fails.

Then I wondered how likely, or possibly how long before one apprentice tries lethal force against the other team.

Is violence the first resort in ME? Would the parens think to add a condition "don't kill the other team"? Would they care?
Would the apprentices act like polite gentlemen by default, or violent thugs used to getting their own way?

It is almost certainly a troupe by troupe decision, but is there any guidelines ?

While the competition would fit several houses, I believe the peripheral code in at least in the Theban tribunal would prohibit killing as abuse of the apprentice.

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It is also worth noting that if your apprentice kills another mage's apprentice - then you are responsible for depriving that mage of magical power, which is a hermetic crime.

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I think there's a lot of cultural variability here. But in general, my impression (e,g, from reading the icelandic sagas) is that even in the most violent cultures people tended to refrain from potentially lethal violence (e,g. blades rather than fistcuffs), unless
a) something of literally vital importance was at stake or
b) they were utterly confident of having overwhelmingly superior force or
c) they were mad, intoxicated etc.

It's just that when lethal violence starts to erupt a) stuff becomes much more unpredictable and b) potential losses tend to outweigh potential gains. In this particular setting, I doubt one party would try violence, unless it was a well-calculated trap designed to safely kill the others with almost complete certainty of success. Because if the trap is sprung and fails, then you know the other party is going to fight for its life, meaning that you have a 50% chance of losing yours. That is far, far worse than spending another year as an apprentice.

That said, if one party were sure of being able to kill the other, would they try? I think many would not anyway. In part, it's an issue of personal character. In part, it's an issue of House and Tribunal: nobody would dream of doing it in Thebes, for example, or in Transylvania. Two Tytalus apprentices in Normandy on the other hand ...

As for the parentes, again with the possble exception of magi of Tytalus (and those of a handful of dark cults), I think that if they suspected an even remote chance of lethal violence, they'd warn their apprentice (and the other parens) against it: spending 15 years to train a filius only to see him butchered in a stupid game you designed is a sure recipe for a bad Tribunal-wide reputation - of dangerous idiocy at the very least. Of course, some parens might not realize what a filius might try, despite having spent 15 years in close contact.


I have been thinking about this specific edge case lately.

If your apprentice is on his Gauntlet, then they’re actually not going to be assisting you in the lab any further unless they fail, and you’ve gotten everything out of them (15 years of lab work) that you should expect under the code. I think killing an apprentice on their Gauntlet doesn’t deprive their parens of a reasonable expectation of magical power, which is how the Hibernian tradition of macgnimartha—in which apprentices raid covenants, and during which tragic accidents must occasionally occur—squeaks by as not being a High Crime.


I don't have my books in front of me, but I think it is in HoH:TL Guernicus chapter.
IIRC, and paraphrasing, once an apprentice is in Gauntlet, they are technically released from the service to their parens, and success means the successful former-apprentice has demonstrated that they are worthy enough to be offered the "Join or Die" option to join the Order of Hermes. Failure in the Gauntlet means their manumission from their parens is revoked. But during the Gauntlet, an apprentice is a free agent not sworn to the OoH.

Apparently some Magi tried to game this technicality, to set Gauntlets that would harm their enemies. So much so, that an Order wide Peripheral Code ruling saying that magi cannot set Gauntlets that would be Oath breaking (if the parens were to perform the Gauntlet).

In my scenario, both apprentices are in their Gauntlet, hence outside the constraints of the Order of Hermes.

I can't find anything in HoH:TL or anywhere else that says apprentices are under other rules than normal during their Gauntlet.
If you can find where you read that, I would be interested in hearing it.

Hibernia has a formal exception where magi are given a chance to 'run wild' for a year before swearing the Oath. It's called macgnimartha and they're basically outside the boundaries of hermetic law for a year.

But yeah, in general, the pater can be charged for stuff his apprentice does.

You might want to look up Wizard's Melee - HoH:S p. 21-22 which could be easily adapted to a steal the flag challenge with grogs and apprentices where spells are legal.

It is, and one that I feel is often neglected in RPG's. Not many people are capable of killing another person in cold blood. It is one thing to plan a murder or, as is the case here, violent assault but another entirely to face someone and kill them.

As for the OP:

I dont think that we should consider violence to be the first resort in ME. In the real world violence has never been a common first resort, not for humans and not for any of our animal relatives either. Which suggests that violence as a first resort is literally not in our genes, and also not advantageous.

Even violent thugs used to getting their own way will usually stop short of violent assault as a first resort, often preferring intimidation as a first resort.

More generally speaking there is a sort of rule to how such confrontations go. I know of this rule as an escalation stair, but it might go by other names. The idea is that there are a series of steps (hence the stair metaphor) that a confrontation goes through before it ends in a lethal fight. There might be any number of steps, once a meeting with the potential to escalate happens. Usually it start out with a confrontation with an implied conflict, e.g. we cannot both win this gauntlet, or you want my flag, and I want to keep my flag.

If they play capture the flag like we did in my elementary school then the confrontation happens something like a meeting between members of opposing teams with the "attacking" team trying to bypass the "defending" team. The initial confrontation usually starts with both sides trying to gauge each other. The first escalation is an attempt by the attackers to bypass the defenders, usually by trying to run by them, if that fails the second escalation is an attempt to push the defenders aside in direct physical contact. In school this is pretty much as far as it went. Of course theres nothing to prevent it from escalating to an attempt to push someone over, this time both parties have the potential to escalate, whereas before only the attackers could escalate. The fourth escalation is fisticuffs and the fifth is drawing a (lethal) weapon (assuming that anyone present even has a weapon).

It is important to stress that in real life it is not easy to bypass such an escalation stair, as there is something inside the head of most people that tells them not to. Usually when people skip several steps in the escalation stair we consider them to be unhinged (for good reason).

I try my hardest both as a player and GM to keep the escalation stair in mind as escalating wildly is much easier in an rpg than it would be in real life.

As for how individual people would react, there is considerable variation. Some will be gentlemanly others will be down to business. Some will try to escalate some will be more cautious. Some rare few people might be willing to commit murder over an exam most will not.

Ars magica canon is unlikely to provide you with any definitive answers as the question you pose goes beyond what is ars magica canon and into the underlying assumptions you make about human nature (in your game, but likely also outside it), and what expectations you and your players have for how the game is supposed to go.


I OTOH is pretty sure that I have seen a case ruling where the parens was held accountable for the apprentice's actions in gauntlet, when mundane or faerie enmity was provoked. If memory serves me right, it was traditional Flambeau gauntlet passing through a faerie forest. This might not be 5ed though.

The best advice for gauging acceptable levels of violence, I think, is to compare to the Flambeau games, as was suggested. Flambeau are pushing the limits in that respect, and if you push them further, you will have to find a very liberal corner of Mythic Europe to get away with it.

And if it is not a subconscious voice, the rational deliberation would say the same thing. Even if you win, you are likely to sustain injuries, and the medical science of the time still leaves a lot to be wanted. Warriors die of wounds and infections following the battle, and then it may not matter much if they were victorious at the time.

On top of that, there is the moral issue. Killing is just wrong, even if slaying is right in certain situations.


Weird. It was a vivid eye-opener when I first read it years ago.

Please don't tell me that I am recalling something 4th Ed.

I think you are. The Wizard's Grimoire p.29 has a ruling regarding a Flambeau apprentice's gauntlet in Iberia causing much disturbance and destruction. Neither the parens nor the apprentice were punished.


That must be the ruling that I misremembered too. So the master was not held accountable after all.

But to me it does not matter if it is 4ed or 5ed. The peripheral code seems to be rather consistent across editions, and we need the rulings there are to get the feeling for it.

In Iberia he was not. But there is a later ruling in Loch Leglean where a maga was blamed for purposefully setting her apprentice a gauntlet in which several of her mundane enemies were conveniently murdered.

So it depends on the Tribunal and the specific situation.