Why agree to Certamen terms

Hi there.

We had one of the first uses of certamen between to PC's in a session last week.

Since we don't use certamen that often we all consulted the rules and found thatif you refuse certamen you are considered to have lost (forfeited).

Fair enough. However, it then goes on to say that the two magi must agree terms on what happens when when of them loses/wins.

It strikes me that this allows a get out.

Lets say Magi A has found a staff that belonged to the parens of Magi B. Magus B wants it for himself and challenges Magus A for it via Certamen.
"You cad, that staff was the talisman of my parens, my dear old master, he promised it to me when he died, I challenge you to certamen for it".

Now if Magus A refuses, he loses by default. So thats a bad idea. However he doesn't fancy his chances in certamen against the stronger magus B so he says

"Alright, since the staff is already mine i propose the following. If i win i get your staff, and if you win, you get mine".

Magus B, now faced with the prospect of losing his own talisman, rethinks his hasty challenge and withdraws.

This is similar to the situation we had, one PC had a vial of another PC's blood. Her parens (also a PC) challenge the magus for the vial. Now as far the the first magus was concerned, the blood was already in his possession, he wins nothing is he wins, and loses the vial if he loses. Not a good deal. In the end he got the other magus to stump up some vim vis as his part of the "kitty". But if he had REALLY wanted to not lose the blood he could have said
"If you win, i give you the blood, if i win, i get to take your talisman, your familiar and tower."
Obviously the protective parens would be crazy to accept these terms (especially since as it turned out the parens lost the certamen).

Has anyone else encountered this loophole in the certamen rules and if so, how did you get around it. As it stands it seems to me that a weak magus could avoid certamen challenges but accepting the challenge then insisting upon outrageous terms.

Have you read the topic on that vial of blood?

It's called "a question about certamen" and this very same discussion took place there about a week ago.

It had some differing outcomes by the way. But I still favour not accepting the certamen means you have to settle things in court (read tribunal) or with a quesitor.

If you have to accept certamen or auto-lose it, you apparently have to accept all challenges. This would put way too much power into the challengers hands. What if I say to you: "That talisman you got there is mine, since it looks nice => certamen!" You could then react with:

  1. "By Mary, this is my talisman, I wont fight you over it." and I get your talisman, following your rules
  2. "By Baal, if you such a challenge, then you have to put your talisman, Vis stocks and 4 years of service in the bet." I would then restate my first challenge and fight you over that first, you can then fight me over your challenge.

Actually your example was already addressed in a previous thread. A number of points should be made clear:

  1. One magus alone does not set the terms, these (given two thinking magi) must be negotiated , not simply declared by one and accepted/refused by the other.

  2. In the case of the blood issue, the magus with the blood (as previously well addressed) stood to gain the blood which at that point was not rightfully "his" (being a powerful AC to another magus), not "nothing". In making his counter offer, he was way out of line and wholly unreasonable and that alone should have prompted the challenging magus to continue the negotiations of terms or call for an intervention by a Guernicus arbiter. If he had, the presumptuous magus would have undoubtedly been severely chided for excessive and unjust demands and/or might have faced more serious official proceedings.

Sadly, he played a game of brinkmanship and the other let him get away with it.

  1. In this case of the staff, I would say that this is a much more ambiguous situation. Unless magus B has some legal testament bequeathing the staff to him/her upon his/her master's demise/final twilight, it is merely an sentimental argument that a tribunal most likely would consider petty. In this case, it would IMO come down to the shrewdness of the two magi to hammer out fair terms. One could argue that any object (blood or staff/talisman) whose legitimate ownership is contested, is prize enough in itself (with the loser forced to forfeit all further claim) for the winner.

That is however a subjective call and greed is a fairly intrinsic quality for most magi, thus one had better be ready to engage in a number of rounds of bargaining before considering the terms of any potential certamen to be "fixed".

As already mentioned, Magus B would need strong grounds to claim the talisman, to prevent "I want that, it's shiny." So a tribunal should have the power to overturn the result of a certamen it deems flippant.
So, magus A refuses, stating that magus B has no claim to it. Magus B takes this to mean that Magus A concedes defeat, and takes the talisman. Next tribunal, Magus A presents his case, if the tribunal decides that Magus B had no real claim to it, he must return the talisman. Then Magus A brings up that Magus B had his item for several years, and refused to return it, thereby depriving him of magical power........

Indeed, and IMO the Tribunal would be correct in slapping magus B with a serious penalty for breaking the Code.

Thats why if you stand to inherit something, GET IT IN WRITING!!!

It is precedent in the peripheral Code that being a "certamen bully" is a low crime.

However, the rules are weak on what, exactly, prevents unwilling challengees from not agreeing to "the terms", and/or counter-suggesting unrealistic ones. Or, for that matter, how the challenger would prove that in a later Tribunal. What is "equal" in vis or power may not be equal in value, if one mage "needs" that item, or thinks they do for a specific purpose.

Possessions cannot always be weighed in terms of vis and seasons spent- familiars, for instance. How much more difficult to put a value on a Tribunal vote, or other long-reaching agreement? Or the sentimental value, on top of mere measurable power, for the staff of a Parens? ("I accept, but if I win I get all your worldly possessions - which still don't mean as much to me as the staff of my Parens...")

This is not exactly a loophole, but could be a stalling tactic, or a legitimate refusal. If a certamen challenge is avoided in such a matter, it could then be taken to Tribunal. Where the loser of the issue could be fined for a combination of 1) the value of the terms, as assessed by the Tribunal, 2) an additional penalty for intervening time (deprivation of magical power over those seasons/years), and 3) penalty for making the Tribunal spend time on what should have been settled by Certamen.

So, it delays the inevitable at the risk of possibly much greater cost.

Which is why I think it is a fairly safe rule of thumb to seek certamen for legitimate claims rather than seeking out grievances over which to claim legitimacy of certamen challenges. Sooner or later, the bully will invariably challenge him/herself into a quagmire of their own making.

Or the dodger-of-certamen, likewise. Tho' those intervening years until Tribunal can be a bitch, and then there's the uncertainty of the formal vote... :cry:

True, a prolific dodger will suffer the ill effects more immediately and perhaps more frequently than the bully, but in the long run the come-uppance for the bully stands to be more profound, methinks.

Or perhaps I give too much weight to Karma :wink:

There is a thread about this on the berklist, but essentially I argue certamen sucks. No, I have no way around loophole. The alternative would be a suit or a wizard's war, both of which are more structured and binding.

This just illustrates my longstanding belief that just because something is written firmly into Ars Magica canon does not mean it was well thought out or a good idea in the first place. There are many well-established, long-standing legal rules in the setting that a first-year law student could blow holes in.

You need a house rule, or more accurately, a non-canonical body of Peripheral Code rulings for your game. Mine is that when a magus issues a certamen challenge he has to clearly identify a single point of contention - "this staff is mine not yours" or "you are trespassing" or "your pact with the Duke violates the Code and must be dissolved." Certamen then determines whether the challenger is right. Counter-claims are permitted, e.g., "no the staff is rightfully mine and you misappropriated it, you blackguard" "Agreement" is then a matter of getting all the claims and counter-claims on the table before the duel begins.

I agree, if certamen is just a matter of compelling other magi to enter ridiculous wagers, it does not make sense. That is why IMS it is restricted to deciding a single point of "fact."

Your trump card is the principle, written in True Lineages IIRC (Serf's Parma) that certamen cannot be used to strip a magus of his legal rights, including his right to possess "magical power" (which in 5th ed. has muted into "any and all property," grumble). This implies that outrageous certamen terms could not be enforced.

Note to self, search for topics before posting about them.

Some nice points to think about here (and on the other thread). I think the way we'll do certamen from now on is as an arbitration. i.e. if both mages have an issue, they can arrange terms and settle it via certamen, while this reduces the ability to bully with certamen and hence reduces the power of the Tremere (since everyone knows they are good at certamen, it'd make sense to find another way to arbitrate a disagreement with a Tremere), it means that magi would have reason not to stall or proposes silly terms.

Also, the ability to flatly refuse certamen with no lose (save that of prestige and face) makes it more important for any challenge to be properly countered with an equal wager.

I think that in the original case the magus who had the vial of blood would have been well within his rights to refuse certamen unless the other magus put a wager up too. After all the vial of blood was not, as far as he was concerned, in debatable ownership. Its was his. Thus if he won, he would have gained nothing that he did not already have. Refusing certamen would be the sensible choice, even with the lose of face in front of his sodalis.

The wager that the other magus provided (the 2 pawns of vis) was an incentive to get him to agree to certamen in the first place. This way both magi had something to lose if they lost and both had something to win if they won. Thats a fair deal.

Where this would get tricky is if both magi thought they owned something. In such a situation one could have the item as the only reward for winning as both would feel they have lost something if they lose, or won something if they win.

Where i do see certamen as useful is in tribunal. Its one thing to turn down a challenge in your own covenant with only your closest sodalis watching, another thing entirely to turn down a challenge in front of a hall full of magi.

Indeed, i can see certamen contests as a form of entertainment for magi. Put up a pawn of vis to enter and then its a knockout contest until one mage eventually wins the kitty. Such a mage could be quite a champion and widely respected. Tribunals could even send their local champions to duel each other. A more elegant duel for a more magical age.

The possibility that comes to my mind is something like this: The winner gets to keep the item; the loser formally acknowledges the winner's lawful ownership, say with a public statement (Recaps circulate it?). Even if the one who currently possesses the item wins, he gains legitimacy.

One key bit that seems to be overlooked is the fourth paragraph under Certamen on pg 89 of the main book.

"Both participants specify in advance what the other magus will do, or refrain from doing if he loses. The two requirements are expected to be symmetrical, and Tribunals do over-ride the results on asymmetric certamens." Emphasis is mine.

As to both of the OP's situations, the blood and the staff, just because one has posession of something doesn't mean one has legitimate ownership. In both cases, one magus aquired something and another magus disputed their ownership. IMHO, that makes an symmetrical certamen challenge. What the challenged gains out of a victory is the legitimization of their possession of the item in question.

To deal with the "loophole" of the challenged refusing to agree to symmetrical terms or responding with asymmetrical terms, the challenger can seek out a Quaesitore to adjudicate the terms of the certamen or appeal to his Covenant's governing body for judgement. With the staff, it was mentioned that the challenged tried to get out of the certamen because he felt the challenger was stronger. Especially in this case, the challenged should beware the challenger deciding to escalate the conflict. "Very well, if you refuse to deal with me honorably and settle this matter via certamen then you will have my declatration of Wizard's War come the full moon!"

At the very least, a magus who keeps trying to exploit that "loophole" should gain a negative Reputation within the Tribunal. Other possibilities are that his fellow covenant members decide he's a perpetual trouble-maker and expell him from the covenant or the matter gets brought before the Tribunal. Then Quaesitores get involved and the challenged and challenger present their cases to the Tribunal. If the challenged loses, not only will he be ordered to hand over the item in question but he'll also have to pay damages to the challenger and often the Tribunal as well. Not to mention any number of other complications that can arrise from enemies of the Covenant at such a time.

So sure, one might be able to whedle out of a certamen challenge but that opens the door to other possible repercussions that might be worse, including the possibillity of gaining an enemy inside your own covenant. It's up to the Storyguide and the rest of the Troupe to make sure that reasonable repercussions follow any action.

Sorry, double post.

Yes, you have an excellent idea there. I even seem to recall something in HoH: Societates similar to that. :laughing:

(Explanation of my joke: I wrote the Flambeau chapter of Societates)

I have used certamen as a form of sport in 'the big old Tremere covenant' in our tribunal. (our saga has Crintera, in the rhine tribunal, as an almost complete Tremere covenant)

There are frequent certamen duels, and occationaly the covenant elders put in a pawn of Vis for the winner. (and then there are the bets of course)

I used it for a maga who wanted to have an artefact belonging to her mystic bloodline. To the elder Tremere is was just a nice piece of ancient metal he dug up in a strange well some time ago.
But since his oldest fillius was bested in certamen by another of our covenant mates when we were just out of gaunlet, this Tremere parens was interested in Certamen. He pushed our maga so far that she challenged the Tremere (giving him a slight advantage).
The final stakes were: the artefact from his side versus assistance with a lab project from our maga's side (she though that would be only 1 season :smiling_imp: ).
The Tremere then selected a champion to duel in his place -> his second fillius. Who he instructed that he'd better win this one if he wanted to ever get any credit from his master.

In the end, our maga walked away with the artefact. Our covenant now has to wrathfull young Tremere trying to get back at us and one elder Tremere who just enjoys our fighting spirit (and is actually quite pleased with most magi in our covenant).

Choosing a champion to fight in your stead was quite common with fights among nobles. Is it justified to do something like this with certamen?
My example pushes forth a lesser opponent, so little harm done here.
I can also image that the preaco of a tribunal will step in to take the place of a young defender, when he is clearly being bullied by another young (Tremere) magus who just doesn't know his place.

Nice escene Paris :slight_smile: I love the tremere parens playing with his minions to see if they are worthy soldiers of the house. I would think that the attitude would correspond more to a tytalus IMS, but each saga ios different. having crintera as a tremere covenant would drive some people into an apopleptic frenzy for sure!! :stuck_out_tongue: :smiling_imp:

Certamen champions were common at least under 4th. We still use them IMS when certamen enters the equation.

I liked your idea of older magi frowning on certamen bullies as a matter of fact, and giving them a rough handling if they feel the challengers are overstepping their territory. Nice idea of why certamen might be used as a civil way of resolving stuff.

In general, this thread seems to be showing certamen as an agreed way of solving a conflict, not as a bully mechanism of "I like your shoes, give them to me". this solution might be tempiorary or definitive, but it is a way of settling something to a more or less agreed conclusion without bloodshed. Sounds fair to me.



Hmm, personally I would consider the parties to the contest to be as important as the terms of of victory/defeat and the conditions of the contest itself, insofar as pre-certamen negotiations are concerned.

IF a challenge is made and accepted without any prior discussion of proxies then I would say summary introduction of a "champion" would be out of line and could be ruled as tantamount to a personal rejection of the challenge. It strikes me as an abusable way of saying "you want to fight me?, fine, wait a minute while I go get my big brother". If this is considered honorable, then I would likely rule that the challenger could also likewise run off and get a more powerful ally as his/her champion without incurring shame.

If, however, the challenged magus declares up front "I will accept your challenge provided that the conditions permit the use of champions" then it remains a valid option for one or both should the challenger agree.

This also allows another means for much weaker, but perhaps more shrewd, magi to give the challenger pause before pressing his/her challenge.

I think that the possible shame involved in bringing in champions will limit it:
you either bring in a weaker champion -> no shame on you (though more likely to lose).
bring in a stronger champion -> shame on you!
a stronger champion offers his services -> shame on him, unless he is clearly defending a good cause (like that preaco I mentioned).

I can so image an elder magus approaching the bullied magus saying, "I would be greatly honoured if you would trust me enough to allow me to 'plead' your case in certamen." (how could anyone refuse to honour a senior magus...) It might even get to the point that another archmage steps in to take the challenging side, if he thinks it was not bullying. (political power grows out of the barrel of a talisman :smiley: )
It would be a totally different story is your parens comes showing up, nobody likes kids who run to their daddies when in trouble.

What can you say: I see certamen as a great theatrical event at tribunal meetings. (we've also used a simple form of certamen outdoors, when there was an ownership conflict over some ancient books)