What Would "Ultimate" Elemental Items Be Like?

Those kinds of items crafted in ages long past by gods or the like, with power beyond the comprehension of current item crafters, yet conveniently built with Hermetic guidelines because that's the easiest way to rationalize effects... Err, that last bit isn't actually a requirement.

I imagine they'd probably have the unique ability to give attunement bonuses despite not being talismans, in order to support their "element," as well as a number of individually powerful effects that may or may not follow all Hermetic limits. I don't know if I'd go for the traditional eight elements, or rather the ten Hermetic forms, or maybe some other combination of things.

I was thinking they'd take the form of orbs, simply for the sake of being thematic, but constructed of materials that give appropriate attunement effects. Maybe put a curse on them that lets the orb effectively control anybody who can't willpower through it. Or maybe just CrMe on all of them to create and enforce incredibly strong feelings of wrath, or maybe item-dependent feelings that nonetheless cause problems. Turns a kid who accidentally picked it up into a fair threat, a magus of any age into a monster, and a master magus (who can likely control it) into a titan.

So... Aside from that... What kinds of effects would be on these sorts of items? What kinds of powers would be invested in such an item? How strong would they have to be in all their facets to earn recognition as the most powerful items, not replicable by current elemental masters? Given what a Hermetic master can accomplish with a focus, fully developed magic (TeFo 129 thanks to focus and Puissance + 24 MT (Affinity + Puissant) + 3 Inventive Genius + 5 Int + 10 Aura + 13 Familiar + 6 Apprentice + 24 (best possible Shape/Material bonus) = 202, plus as much as 12 if experiments are done to 112 with a high Leadership and several other Magic Theory masters willing to put time into the success of the project, so 302 or 314ish... Scary!) it's hard to imagine meaningfully outdoing what that Lab Total does with even Lesser Enchanted items, much less a full-on invested effect with a year or so put into it, as beyond that point it's sort of just a bigger version of the same effect with more Penetration rather than really reaching into the territory of un-doable effects. The exception would be if it broke important Hermetic limits, but then it's just a flashy version of some other integration-ripe non-Hermetic item rather than the strongest item to have graced the Order with its appearance.

Now, of course, perhaps this works simply with a change of standards. Even without actually outdoing those highest-tier-possible effects, the elemental items could match them at least, be invested with multiple of those uber-level effects each, and of course there are multiple items. Even if the orbs don't theoretically surpass what Hermetic magic is capable of at its greatest aside from pushing or breaking a lesser limit or two, an item with so much power as to require the Order to bring together several of its mightiest Archimagi and spend literally several queens of vis on just to reproduce would certainly be an ultimate item by most standards.

My last idea, since the option of abusing non-Hermetic principles exists, would be to make the items base their power off of their weilder. So a random peasant becomes threatening to soldiers and newly-gauntleted magi, but a magus with a few years under his belt could quench the situation; but if that magus of a few years, specializing in the orb's element, got ahold of it, it would provide a much bigger boost, making him a concern for magi far beyond him in years; and if a major specialist in the element, at the peak of his magical ability, grabbed it and could control it, he might face the Archangels single-handedly. I'm not really sure how you'd regulate the growth curve of something like this, though, so it's the least reliable option I can see. Better to just make the item totally brokenly powerful for everyone.

What do you guys think? What kinds of elements should be used for these items? Might they contain Parmulae-esque enchantments, boosting ME by 30 (even if you started from none at all)? What kinds of effects should such items have, and how powerful should they be? Any other commentary on what might bring a magic item to the status of being considered "the ultimate" and superior to any modern peer?

First: Ars Magica doesn't usually do "beyond the comprehension of modern item crafters." It doesn't even do "older is better" that often, but to the extent that the latter trope exists, it's because there's ancient magics involved that Hermetic magi haven't discovered or integrated yet.

More to the point, never make an item in the game that your players could not, if they put the effort in, make themselves. In a game about magi who make it their business to push the limits of magic, that's just deprotagonizing.

I'd suggest going sideways rather than up. Break Lesser Limits and have effects outside of Hermetic guidelines. No Parma unless it's Divine-realm (diminishes Bonisagus' breakthrough and makes the Order look like pikers), no ridiculously overleveled effects or unlimited supplies of vis. But possibly true creation of the element in question: Odin's ring drops nine rings of lesser gold (Creo Terram) that contain vis, but Odin's ring does not itself require Vis to do this. Maybe it supplies Fatigue for elemental casting (Limit of Energy).

If you want an effect that depends on the wielder, then making eg 'The Orb of Fire' double the wielder's ignem/fire magic skill when casting fire spells through it would be very handy. Effectively you can get higher penetration, or be able to cast more powerful spells easier, etc. But without granting any new spells/effects, and not being able to use it in Lab Totals.

Additionally, I'd put in a curse or payment that each wielder would need to pay in order to use it - eg The Ring of the Nibelungs required the wielder to forswear Love in order to use it (or something similar, depending on which version of the legend you read).

Don't forget that 'magic items' could well be a faerie or magical being that just happens to be a sword/ring/whatever. Faeries would be especially prone to this, given the whole "you need this enchanted blade to vanquish creature X" thing they like doing.

This is an... Interesting conundrum you've got here. An "ultimate item" is easy enough, and could even be fluffed easily enough as a gigantic Hermetic project from a few hundred years ago with the help of some non-Hermetic associates (while the Order was weaker, so other forces could've resisted the "Join or Die" and tried to become useful associates for a while before retreating into the shadows to avoid assimilation when the strengthening Order decided not to accept simple association) to avoid "older is better" mentality. It's not even necessarily outside of the scope of the player characters, if they "put in the effort" in the form of mastering multiple Arts, integrating the non-Hermetic effects, and go through a few stories to garner support within the Order for the vis to complete the item as well as perhaps some laboratory assistance. However, acquiring such an item is much more... Efficient... Than re-making it. To the point where, without an active powerful threat to the existence of the order, it would be hard to convince the Order to divert such resources from whatever else its members might be involved in at the time, while the Order would likely be EXTREMELY interested in such a powerful item's re-acquisition should it already exist, likely with multiple covenants competing to be the ones to find it, in order to accrue prestige for the possession of such a powerful item, and for the potential to experiment on it and study its non-Hermetic aspects (given that the Order likely missed out on those aspects previously if their associates managed to not be assimilated).

However, from what I've seen you posting about lately, it's very possible that the Order is under threat of destruction. I assume this is for use in your war game? In which case, if such items can't be acquired, making them may very well be worth it, though they'd be entirely Hermetic by necessity. As for player involvement... Well, for one thing, involving the players barely matters, because you have nobody to satisfy but yourself. In the interest of ingraining your player-equivalents in the story, however, if your magi are older, you could have one of them be the center of the new Hermetic project, or part of the group regulating how much vis goes into it and deciding on what effects are necessary. Or, better yet, to get that non-Hermetic kick, you could have the players attempt to find the old "associates" or even commune with pagan gods or their descendants at the most extreme end.

If this isn't for that, though, you'll need to not be outstripping the players, which is especially hard if their magi are on the younger side. Then again, if they're young, let the rest of the Order be doing the "ultimate" stuff and let your players deal with stuff that's more on their level. Really, they shouldn't even be associating with things that bring current production value into question until they're at least 80 or so years out of apprenticeship. If they are old enough to relevantly contribute to things involving an "ultimate" item, I recommend a mixture of the above ideas, both of which you somewhat mentioned. Perhaps it gives bonuses to your existing magical skills, like attunement bonuses, and then those combined with whatever you already had are collectively doubled. A few custom shape/material options later, and some magic-less person is treated as having Creo 8 and Ignem 16. Combine that with perhaps it granting spell knowledge to its wielder based on their magical scores, and you've got that situation you want, where it's dangerous to the "little guys" if grabbed by a mundane (who could, perhaps, protect himself with spontaneous fast-casting, to make up for not giving him MR) and useful for more advanced magi, not just because of its boosts when utilized in combat, but because that "spell knowledge" could be utilized in the lab and count as a Lab Text for the newly-known spells... Or maybe integration-fuel if the invested effects are non-Hermetic. Importantly, those effects can be integrated, and if a Hermetic equivalent were made by an elder magus sans the curse it would probably be more powerful and a lot more useful in general, meaning it's relevant to update the magics within the item to a more potent, modern form. Because really, science (and thus this scientific magic) doesn't usually work in an "older is better" fashion. There are certainly exceptions, but it's not common.

If you think about it, such an item most certainly would be "ultimate" amongst Hedge Wizards, and pretty freaking powerful in the hands of a Hermetic magus, with room for awakening greater powers.

That's my two cents. Or rather, my cent, combined with half cents from previous posters.

If I were designing an "Ultimate" elemental item, I'd at least start from some of the Muspelli nature manipulation(on the scale of making volcanoes erupt, or generating hurricanes). And then I'd either give it massive penetration or rule that however it was done, the item's effects bypass wards and resistance.