Vis Study (House rule)

I am thinking of applying the following changes in my next saga, concerning study from Vis:

  1. First rule. Add your INT (& penalty if negative) score to the study totals.
    One could make the argument that MT is perhaps a good substitute for that & I agree, but MT is already being used in so many other situations that this would probably be an overload of that ability. The next most logical thing to me was INT (understanding), so I opted for that instead.

  2. Second rule. The cost of studying from Vis is reduced to 1 Pawn for every 10 levels of the Art (instead of 5), round up all fractions. Botch Dice is analogous to the Pawns used for the study.
    That addresses the exorbitant (in my opinion) cost of studying from Vis in the Core rules, making a bit more accessible to Magi in general. If however, your covenant "swims" in raw Vis, you can safely ignore that rule.

What do you think of this, does it seems reasonable enough?

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If you want to make vis study a thing you are on the right track in aiming to change the current rules.

I agree that Magic Theory is not the way to go. However Intelligence explicitly does not include the ability to learn so I dont think intelligence is the way to go either. Perhaps have it based off of Magic Lore? Although admittedly that solution just shifts the problem away to a new ability that does not obviously cover the situation well either. Perhaps just boost the amount of experience gained outright. add a +3 flat bonus? or make vis more available so that its use in studying is less punitive. The main problem I encounter with studying from vis in when I play is stinginess, or that I would rahter save the vis for use in casting rituals or enchanting items.

Another option is to allow people to use the rules for studying vis even under certain other specific circumstances. Say that studying natural phenomena like the rules for significations are much more common in your saga. Maybe magi can study Auram from going out into a thunderstorm that occurs once per year or they can study Imaginem from watching the Northern lights. Covenants even suggests that studying two arts from the same event is possible.

I love that. It seems like a good reason to push magi into learning Magic Lore. Magi I'd seen always have a pretty low score there, even when it's the lore of their realm.

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Your question is ripped out of context. First we need to ask, what power level do we want?

Canon rules say that raising your art towards 40 is going to be slow and expensive. There is nothing unreasonable in that, but you may prefer a higher power level; I don't.

If you halve the vis cost, I don't think the cost is going to be an issue in most sagas. By the time vis studies surpass books, most magi are going to be quite wealthy. The current rules make vis studies something one thinks twice about.

The source quality averages between 8½ and 9, which is decent. Better than practice, and better than most adventures. However, magi who want to study from vis on a regular basis will surely find above average auras, 5 at least, and the average source quality is suddenly approximately level with a typical sound tractatus of Q11. With a good aura it vis is already superior to books for fairly young magi (once they get past a score of 15).

Maybe your main concern is that vis studies is irrelevant because it is inferior to books. I tend to agree, both that it is a fact and that it is a concern, but then you need to review the availability of books first and foremost. Many troupes play books in a way which will make them remain vastly superior even with your changes.


I played a lot of 4th ed, and the study formulas back then added Int for both reading books and studying from vis.
Over the course of the two sagas I played, which ran for 20-25 game years each, there was a huge difference between the scores of the magi with Int +3 and those with lower scores.
Back them it was almost unthinkable to not have +3 Int for a magus. Some players did prioritize otherwise, and it made a difference.
Also, when reading back then, you added your Concentration to study totals, and again we saw a huge difference between those with high scores and those with low.

When I switched to 5th ed, the removal of Int and Concentration from study totals was IMHO a huge improvement. Of course, a magus should be bright, but Int +3 is not a must anymore. Many other magus concepts work well with lower Int and those points spent in other characteristics.
Vis study is not very efficient, and I'm ok with that. Magic is a bookish art, so you should read books when available. Even highly skilled specialists can gain something from tractatus written by others, even rookies. While that may seem odd, I imagine that either the rookie focuses on some very specific of obscure point which even an expert statistically can gain some insight from. If nothing else, then to think: "No, that won't work, but if I do this instead..".
Anyway, the need for books does help with avoiding isolated magi, and instead further the fact that there is an order of wizards, and require magi to interact with others.

When studying vis, you should seek out areas with high aura. It can be a story seed to find places aspected with a certain Art, where Aura counts double? Or to find Sigificatos, to you can study without spending vis.
Or you could house rule, that when studying from vis, you can use your lab and add General Quality, plus any applicaple Form boni, and perhaps allow 'vis study' as an activity specialization. However this may add way up and cause huge imbalance.


Vis Study is (generally) inferior to book study. Yes, there is the possibility of being very lucky but in general, book study is preferable. This is realistic. It's much faster and more efficient to learn from what others have done than to do the basic research yourself. This is in fact one of the greatest strengths of Hermetic practices over certain minor rival traditions - the distribution of information is fairly efficient.

If anything, Vis study is too efficient as written.

However, it must be, because the rule should still be there. Partly to explain how early Hermetics learned/improved their Arts and partly because they are a legacy from the first 3 editions, where Art-advancement worked differently.

Originally, Arts were not based on XPs. This was by intent and design.
In general, early years were spent studying books (think of them as summae, though the mechanics were slightly different). When you could no longer learn from books, you started studying Vis. It was never meant to be competitive, because it makes no sense that it would be.

You can house rule whatever you like - or at least whatever you can talk your troupe into agreeing with. But I can't really support this. Even aside from @Christian_Andersen's bad experiences mentioned above.

No, not «generally», but in most sagas.

It is inferior when good books are widespread.

If you you have read all the sound tractatus when your score reaches 21, vis studies is superior. Nothing else will bring you all the way to 40, and at 21 you have only invested 231xp. You have 589xp to go if my arithmetics is healthy today. This is consistent with RAW, even if you can make books widespread enough to go all the way to 40 and remain consistent with RAW.

If you want to study from vis, most magi are probably able to make a cottage in aura 7+ for a SQ of 12½+ on average. That is a very good book. Or maybe stay as a guest at one of the covenants with even better aura. It is easy. You do not need your lab.

There is no «generally» here. It is all about how you interpret Mythic Europe. Canon justifies whatever you want.

Again, this is more than anything a question of whether your troupe wants it to be easy or hard to raise your arts above 30. While I much agree that the apprentice's should find a good primer more efficient than discovery learning, I find it rather strange if you can capture all the expert knowledge of a 40-art in writing.

I struggle a bit with the fact that xp are doubly penalised at high scores. The pyramid scale penalise it once, which is fair, but the decreasing book qualities penalise it a second time which I find rather unfairly promoting the generalist. But anyway, in this case this is fair, because it means vis studies is bad at low scores and good at high scores, which makes a lot of sense.

Find an aura that is tinted towards an art, as in RoP:Magic. I managed to spend a few seasons in a certain spot in the abandoned Val Negra and left the covenant expert in Perdo (although I might have disappeared into Twilight had I botched, as we applied one botch die per level of effective aura)

Vis study works if you are very isolated or find yourself travelling a lot (you don't need a lab to study from vis, so you can park your ship or wagon in any magic aura you come across and study).

A couple of points:
first I can agree with adding INT- it may not reflect an ability to learn but it can reflect an ability to understand what is being studied. Investigating vis is not like reading a book where you are passively absorbing knowledge. Alternately perception could also make sense.

Second, changing the vis cost will have the greatest impact on the upper limits of learning- assuming that the 2x magic theory limit still applies for studying vis (which by my reading it would, though it is not explicitly stated) this raises what a basic (MT:3) mage can study from vis from level 30 to level 60, and for what I consider a more typical mage (MT:5) from level 50 to level 100. Assuming advanced mages (bonisagus researchers, etc...) have a MT of around 10, they would go from level 100 as a theoretical maximum to level 200. In terms of background covenant puts the limit of an exceptional book at level 25, which would be a 50 in the art, which would be the theoretical maximum of a magus with MT:5. Changing the rules for learning from vis could then ultimately transform the production of books as well, though obviously true maximum values are rarely achieved- this would require a dedicated researcher both into a particular art and someone who is a fairly decent writer, but it is an impact to be considered...

Huh, I hadn't thought of that. Vis study does not come up that much in my sagas, we rarely play so long that we exhaust the supply of books.
But I agree, the normal limit to 'max vis in a season' should apply.

Previous discussions have counted a score about 40 as an all-time master of the art. Magic Theory 5, which is not particularly high, already allows you to study to a score of 50. Why bother?

To go from 50-60 is 555xp. If you find aura 10 (ignoring taint for now) you have less than 16xp/season on average. That's 35 seasons, almost nine years doing nothing else. The next decade is 100xp more, or six seasons extra, for a total of more than ten years. OK. It is possible to go quite far beyond 40, if that's all you want to do with your life, but having to raise MT to 10 is probably not going to be your show stopper if you are this dedicated to start with.

It is a stress die. 1 time in 10 it should explode. Over 10 years that would mean exploding 4 times, if that was all you did.
Of course, 1 time in 10 is also a potential botch, so from that side reducing the pawns of vis also reduces the botch dice, which allows a higher level of progression as well: getting to level 50 would mean 5 botch dice instead of 10, which would be a near certain botch...

The explosions do not mean that much on the average.

The 80% of rolls which do not start 0 or 1 average 5½.
Then you have 10% 0 and 10% explosions.
Out of the explosions 90% roll only the one 1, and the average of these rolls are 12 (range 4 to 20).
Of the remaining 10% (1% of all rolls) 90% has two 1s and average 24.
This continues as a geometric series, i.e. I think as follows (I have not double checked the calculation)

10%*0 + 80%*5½ + (0.09*12 + 0.009*24 + 0.0009*48+...) =
10%*0 + 80%*5½ + 12*0.09*(1 + 0.2 + 0.2**2 + 0.2**3 + ...) = 
0  + 0.8*5.5 + 1.08*1.25 = 4.4 + 1.35 = 5.75

The average of a stress die is thus 5.75 - between 5½-6 as I have used as the estimate.

The botch dice is a concern of course. Does lab safety help prevent botches on vis studies, even if the lab is not necessary for the studies? Clearly, you had better have a very golden familiar before you start.

This is true on average, but the pinnacle is not defined by the average.
I've had a player who routinely rolled 8 1's in a row (thankfully not studying vis!). If that were to happen when studying you'd be around 55 if you started at 50.

Tangential question (hope it's relevant, if not, will move elsewhere):

What Virtues/powers, besides Free Study, if any, do you allow to affect the Vis Study roll:

•Ways of the (place) where study is taking place
•Perth Rune effect (think of it as similar to Luck Virtue)
•Others (I haven't thought off)

As for the rules proposed:

  1. Why not give a flat bonus here, like Study Bonus, and that's that? Int is already the default high attribute for most Magi.
  1. Ok, I do not mind this, why not allow a bonus to point 1) based on extra pawns of vis spent?

The average roll for exploding 10s' is 6.11. I know that from L5R.

That doesn't mean that Vis study becomes better in any way though, not even with stacking virtues for +5. It just becomes viable then & nothing more. Books, be it Summae or Tractati, are always better because they can be recycled, lend or sold & they don't endanger the Magi (botch die from studying & warping from higher auras).

My House rule isn't intended to replace them with Vis & go back the old ways, rather they seek to reinforce them so they become a viable option & as a secondary result to bring back some attention to INT, which I consider to be the most important ability of a proper Magus.

@loke, some context then. My preferred power level is slightly lower than what the Core rules allow, more in line with the major published NPC's, but with the acceptance, of course, that player characters will typically be the exceptions, those that go the extra mile in order to obtain the means to finish the story arcs.

I do enjoy higher power levels though, I remember reading the covenat_150 submission (a decade ago) & drool all over it but I have the ability to just ignore the power player inside me when I play or GM & go for more organic, more "realistic" & interesting concepts.

As for Vis supply, I pretty much halve the ArM5 suggestions, like it was used to be in previous editions. Even then, the PCs typically, still have decent quantities (relatively speaking) after a few years of play.

@Christian_Andersen, thanks for the insight & differences between the editions. I agree, adding concentration was a bit too much. INT, however, doesn't take that big values, probably a +3 unless the Magus in question burns a few virtues or when he becomes an Archmagus with sufficient access to the stat increasing rituals. I still think that books are the way to go in general & I have no problem with that, in the contrary, I think this is appropriate for the setting. I just helped equal the ground a bit. My changes tend to be low-key in general & I try for them to make sense whenever that's possible.

I was going to say not Luck, because learning is about skill, and not really that random, but when I see the rest of your list, they all feel abusive. Stack up a couple of these, and - if allowed - you can get source qualities of 20+ on average.

OK. That was my gut speaking.

Maybe luck should give +1, definitely not +3, as I said. Maybe ways of the place applies if you collect the vis from said place and also study it in its natural environment. This one is a major virtue after all.

But my guts still believe rolls in these virtue texts were meant to mean skill checks.

Because that feels like the old White Wolf days, and nobody likes White Wolf :crazy_face:

Rather than Int / Magic Lore improving the result, why not just apply it to reduce the score/5 penalty?

This way, Magic Lore 3 negates the penalty up to Art 15. And it's just as good as score/10 for Art 30. By which time you'd want a better Magic Lore.

Yeah. You get a higher average if the tens explode, than you get when the 10s count as 0 and the ones explode.

High quality books are obviously better, and you make a good case that even mediocre books are better. Q3 books are not better. Hence books are not always better.

Cutting the vis cost may be the right thing to do if vis is scarce and you think vis studies is needed.

However, unless you seriously make books hard to get, you have to play a pretty long saga to let your proposal have any impact whatsoever. That is not an argument against it as such, but an argument against wasting any time on such changes.

It also means that the downsides that @Christian_Andersen address do not matter much. It only applies to the few magi who specialise and only far into the saga.

There is not much risk, I think, that Int receives insufficient attention, though. Quite the contrary. It is alreadythe case that most player magi start with +3 Int, and the extra Int virtue is rather common.

I have 5.75 on my sheet. It'd be 6.75 if the first 0 was a 10.