I think that magical focus, if weaker, wouldn't do what it does. A magical focus gives the character leave to nearly everything through their focus. If it were weaker then the sparrow magus would move their party across a river by building a bridge with creo herbam rather than a cloud of small brown birds, the oak tree focused character would send in a sparrow to spy on the rough looking sailors rather than an oak tree and so on. It would be just a bonus to be used when appropriate, not a license to use a specific theme for nearly everything.
Personally, I like the Tremere magical focus in certamen. I really like it.
A more standard magical focus (e.g. in birds of prey, or in metals) is a great tool to create a very flavourful, idiosyncratic magus, and it heavily rewards creative thinking, but it's not a must-have Virtue. In my sagas, if we exclude characters who get it as a side effect (e.g. by being a Tremere, by having Mythic Blood, or by belonging to some particular mystery cult/magical lineage etc.), about one magus out of three has it. That's roughly on par with Affinities.
Without a magical focus outside of certamen, Tremere are not really weaker as a House. That's because a unique magical focus is much more useful to a lone magus than to one operating as a member of a well-coordinated organization. For example, if you are the only Tremere with a magical focus in birds of prey, lab texts of others will be mostly useless to you if you want to take advantage of the focus. Similarly, it's much harder to use standardized tactics, equipment etc. when every magus is a unique snowflake. Tremere are militarized and, like all good armies, they are standardized.
At the same time, a focus in certamen can be a great boon in dominating the hermetic landscape, both at the local level (disputes within the same covenant) and the global one. And it's as much a boon for the House as for the individual magus. So, magical focus in certamen certainly does not cripple Tremere, quite the opposite: it strengthens them at what they are supposed to be good at, and nicely matches the organization and philosophy of the House.
Of course, it does mean that Tremere are more suited for certain roles than for others. But that's true for most Houses. And ultimately, if you want a Tremere character who has a different magical focus, for the sake of playing a "rebel" (like a pacifist Flambeau, or a Bjornaer who specializes in taking many different animal shapes) it's very easy: let him join a mystery cult where he sacrifices his certamen focus as an initiation ordeal for some other focus.
Absolutely, I agree. Magical Focus seems the right level of power. Also, I don't have any problem with the Tremere having Certamen as their only and compulsory magical focus. A Tremere character is still perfectly capable of casting spells. The fact that his focus is Certamen just means that he is pushed into solving his problems /achieving things with Certamen. Much like a sparrow focused magi is pushed into solving his problems / achieving things with sparrows.
Which means that stories about Tremere characters tend to push towards Order focused stories that involve interaction between the PCs and other magi (even if the point of the interaction is to solve some Order external problem). The only reason I can see that this seems to be problematic in play, for some troupes, is that in such Order focused stories there is less of a role for magi who like to roam the countryside blasting things as they ramble with Pilum of Fire / Demon's Eternal Oblivion, which is a problem if that is the expected story role of the other PCs.
My problem with the Tremere Magical Focus: Certamen is that it breaks all of the rules for a magical focus and then on top of it breaks the ability of anyone in the House to have a useful magical focus (potency is close but not quite as good). It's a huge inconsistency, and that's why there is a lot of discussion about how the Magical Focus: Certamen hurts the Tremere player.
A problem that I have with it, is that it makes certamen not fair in a way that the rest of the order wouldn't be OK with (as opposed to just working to the benefit of the older more well studied magi).
So, there are issues with the focus from a story and mechanics perspective. Time for a replacement...
I don't see how the Tremere focus "breaks all of the rules for a magical focus" or is "a huge inconsistency". It doubles a magus's weaker Art, like any other magical focus. It just applies to certamen.
It certainly does not hurt the Tremere player. Every House has strengths and weaknesses. Usually, players design characters who focus on the strengths, like a Flambeau specializing in Ignem or a Bonisagus pushing the limits of magic theory. Sometimes, it's fun to play "against the odds", and play a Flambeau who wants to become the undefeated certamen champion of the Order, or a Bonisagus who wants to become the greatest crafter of magical items in the Order's history.
If you want to play a Tremere who does not want to leverage his certamen focus, it's like playing a Bonisagus who wants to focus on magical item creation. He'll be at a disadvantage against his Verditius bethren. But it's not a good reason to say "It hurts the Bonisagus player that his character can't have Verditius magic". If you want to play a character who's good at magical item creation, play a Verditius!
I think this is a better point, and I used to share this view. Certamen is supposed to be a non-violent alternative to Wizard's War. So, to be accepted by the Order at large as a "fair simulation" of a Wizard's War it should allow contestants a chance at winning proportional to the chance of winning a Wizard's War. That's why, for example, Certamen is "fairer" than a coin toss: it privileges the character with stronger magical powers, in terms of Arts, Penetration, Parma, and even vis availability. But it also seems to give an unfair advantage to the Tremere magus, giving him a higher chance of winning than what his sheer magical puissance would entail. So why does the Order accept it?
One of the reasons is that certamen does work well when neither or both of the contestants are Tremere. Another is that it's so much better than Wizard's War for all parties involved that a small level of unfairness may be a reasonable tradeoff. But there's another, more fundamental reason. A Wizard War against a Tremere is much nastier than a Wizard War against another magus of similar individual magical puissance, because the Tremere has a militaristic, united House to support him. The advantage that a Tremere gains in certamen accurately reflects the advantage he'd gain in Wizard's War against a magus of comparable individual puissance thanks to the organization of his House.
This is a very valid point, but it applies to virtually every type of character who specializes in a certain task, or simply has some story flaws. If you are the only member of the troupe who wants stories of type A, and the rest of the troupe wants stories of type B, there could be a problem.
Certamen is used to bully people in A LOT more cases than only Wizard Wars, so I do not buy that argument. it might be a good alternative to WW, but it is also used in civil cases (OoH version of civil cases, at least) to discuss stuff like property rights or anything that does not deal with breaks of the code, so it should be regarded as fair according to your power level.
It is fair according to power level. But one House has decided to lessen their personal power to give them a better shot at winning these arguments. And it could be said that the implied threat of Certamen by a Tremere could allow compromise rather than winner take all. It is up to the SG to decided how they want to deal with it. IMHO, a Tremere who was using it to bully for personal gain might find that he loses House support if a WW is declared. The Tremere are very conscious of how people perceive them. I think they would go out of their way to not look like megalomaniacs.
Firstly, certamen isn't a field of magic. Secondly, it is overly broad, in that it applies to all Arts, not just a few, but all Arts, when engaged in Certamen. Finally, it adds nothing to labwork or spell casting unlike other foci do. And, just from a politics perspective, while it isn't impossible for a Tremere to lose at Certamen, the deck is certainly stacked in their favor, and so responding to Tremere challenges for Certamen, or challenging a Tremere to Certamen doesn't happen all that often, in fact, how often do troupes really engage in Certamen? At least other Houses have an alternate House Virtue, some several. House Tremere has none, and the one it does have, IME, doesn't add something that players will build on, generally.
Sure, but that's a different discussion.
Most Tremere are then disadvantaged, IMO.
There are examples of foci that apply to all Arts (e.g. a focus in damage). It is true that unlike any other magical focus the Tremere one applies to just one endeavor; a parallel would be a focus in Spontaneous Magic or in Ritual magic. So, it's slightly different, but it certainly doesn't "break all of the rules" or cause a "huge inconsistency".
In my sagas it happens all the time! Remember, an advantage in certamen does not depend on the other characters being willing to face you. Is there a slight doubt about who has the right to a vis source? To an apprentice? To the services of a certain craftsman? If one of the two parties offers certamen and the other declines, the declining party is giving up on the contested issue.
And while it's true that the Tremere have a sizable advantage, it's nothing insurmountable. Greater age, availability of (and willingness to spend) vis, powerful Faith, or simply manipulation of your adversary into a suitable choice of Arts can all make up for it.
The majority of other Houses only has one House Virtue.
And I've seen every Tremere player in my sagas squeeze the Certamen focus for all it's worth -- in true Tremere fashion. Perhaps your players aren't interested in playing most aspects of being a Tremere? I have the same problem with Jerbiton magi. Our troupe rarely plays them, and when they do they rarely focus on the "essential qualities" of being a Jerbiton.
It seems to me it's the same. You were suggesting that the Tremere focus hurts the Tremere player because it denies to his character some power available to others. I'm saying that according to the same argument, the unavailability of Verditius magic to Bonisagus magi should hurt Bonisagus players, because it denies to those characters some power available to others. I believe both arguments are fallacies. If a player wants to play the magic item crafter with all odds stacked in his favour, he should play a Verditius. If he wants to play a magic item crafter "against the odds", it can be nice to play a character from some other house. The player is free to make his choice.
From my experience, as I said, most Tremere PC take great advantage of their focus.
I'm not sure I follow you, Xavi. Certamen is meant as a non-violent way to settle disputes that otherwise would turn violent.
By the Code's provisions on Wizard's War, violence is always an option (now, that sounds Orlanthi!), and it's sufficient that only one side chooses violence for violence to take place. So any alternative to violence should provide both parties involved an expected resolution better than that achievable through violence; in particular, it should give both parties a chance of winning that is roughly proportional to that achievable with violence.
In a saga I played a few years back, my Tytalus managed to have a Flambeau champion him in Certamen against another Flambeau. The best part is, the Flambeau that challenged him was doing so to try and help the Flambeau that my Tytalus got as his champion. So in the end, the two Flambeau had to decide which was more important, their need to be "right" and beat the Tytalus forcing him to submit his claims against the one maga, or their "honor" in fighting a good and true contest in certamen.
Not every challenge to certamen is an assured victory or loss... when you can find a champion who is willing or even reluctant to help.
It is a way to end disputes. No need for those disputes to otherwise scale to WW. There are quite a few cases when you will NOT rely in WW to solve the problem. The result of Certamen is a binding result (and IIRC you auto.-lose if you refuse to enter into it, peasant's parma), so I would be quite wary to use it as a conflict resolution system if I have a legal case to bring forward.
WW is like the death penalty: something that should be a last recourse, not the usual way to solve small crimes. WW does not provide a really valid solution as a substitute in quite a lot of cases, tribunal does (even if tribunal has its own perks as well, like the crap of 1 mage 1 vote thing; rhine is more sensible here). if you abuse the system it falls apart. And to me both common WW and certamen can break the system easily.
The big problem really is that tribunals are every 7 years instead of every 2 seasons, but that is another issue.
Yes. Exactly. The problem just seems to be around the management of the troupe's expectations about what sorts of stories will feature in the saga. Which, as you say, is no different to integrating any other specialisation or Story Flaw.
This is partly true, but partly only.
Say, you want to make a fire magus. Do you really need to be a Flambeau? Nope. Likewise, you can be a necromancer in about any house. Even if you want to play a shapeshifter, the heartbeast is not that great an incentive (since it works only with one shape).
The fact that there are a very few "house specialties" that make a given house better at something (Mostly, mystery cults) doesn't change the fact that, aside from that, you can have 2 magi of any 2 houses with mostly the same specialties and focus. Bonisagi have no inherent advantage to be a lab rat, you can be just as efficient in any other house.
So, sure, the verditius are better at item crafting. But a given verditius can be just as good at fireballing than any flambeau. A tremere may be better at pushing around other magi, he'll never be able to be anything else.
=> Most house actually can support a variety of classic characters quite efficiently, and you won't see the differences between them. But going that way? The tremere can only support one type of character, the one that is focused on the order.
In a way, this also runs a little against the house philosophy: I'd have thought that they would have liked to have specialists in obscure fields of magic. Yet, they can't.
Tremere make great necromancers. HoHTL says that. They have House Virtues like Katadeismos magic in this sense. They have knowledge, as a House, of a great many places where undead armies could be summoned. And so on. Can they take a Major Magical Focus in Necromancy at character creation? No, but a Mercurian magus can't either. Does a Tremere player want his character have a magical focus in something other than Certamen so desperately? Let him find an Initiation script that sacrifices the previous focus for the new one.
Right ... so what stops a Tremere from revolutionizing Magic Theory as well as any Bonisagus? What stops him from being a subtle manipulator with a web of Intrigue as fine as that of any Tytalus? Etc. etc.
Oh, come on. That's preposterous and you know it.
I agree with your argument, but intereestingly come to the opposite conclusion: House Tremere has (potentially) the same diversity as the rest of the Order put together! Why? Because they are not tied to their "ancestral advantages"*
I think the problem perhaps comes back to defining a specialist as "someone with a magical focus in this field", but with the powerlevels afforded by 5th edition**, this isn't really an issue for a dedicated magus. There might be some issues with penetration at the high end, but essentially you do not need a magical focus to be good at some specialized field of magic. Especially if you have good friends. Lab-help and/or Wizard's Communion fixes a lot of issues there.
But really, do you need a focus in eg. creating stone to learn and cast Conjuring the Mystic Tower? No, just focus and a bit of hard work. The one character I've had in this edition who knew that spell, had it right out of Gauntlet, with an unrelated magical focus.
Ball of Abysmal Flame? Can likewise be done without a focus, though penetration is likely to suffer.
So what do the Tremere loose by having a fixed focus?
- Early access to certain effects.
In recent years I've been moving away from magical foci, for exactly that reason. I have a very nice necromancer, who practicaly gave up necromancy around the age of 40. He'd by then done all of the obvious necromantic "things to do" except raise someone from the dead - and he'd kinda done that as well, in a way***. His magical focus had simply made his life as a specialist too easy. A tremere necromancer would've probably been a more interesting character, because he'd have goals to strive for for a longer time, and because he'd have to balance the demands of his research and the demands of his house.
Besides, if the Tremere can get a little help in the lab - perhaps the apprentice of his master - lab totals soar as dicussed elsewhere.
Get Potent Magic instead. At the very high levels, a magical focus is better, and it is certainly better for spontaneous magic, but if what you want is penetration for powerful spells, Potent Magic can be surprisingly useful, adding +3 to casting total and then allowing the addition of S&M bonii to a max of you MT score. Besides, we all know that the big penetration elements doesn't come from Arts, right? They come from penetration multipliers, which the Tremere can utilize as well as anyone. Perhaps better if we have a look at the lead worker virtue.
- Strong spontanous magic wthin the area of the focus.
True. Learn to pick and use your spells wisely.
- Research abilities like the Bonisaus.
False. Int+Magic Theory+Inventive Genius pretty much covers all you need to do Hermetic Integration or Original Research. With around MT 10, Original Research become almost ridiculously easy. And The Tremere can stack affinity+puissant MT as well as any house if they like.
So what do they loose?
- You shouldn't be anyway, but that's another matter.
** See all the threads about reducing powerlevels.
*** Boy meets girl. Girl dies. Boy calls up girl's ghost and binds it as a spirit familiar, then grants her the ability to create a physical body via the familiar bond. Surprisingly easy.
You do realize that about half your arguments, being dependant on factors external to the character, are saga-dependant, in that, while a focus in necromancy will always help you be a better necromancer, not every SG/Saga will give you easier access to cemetaries*, or access at all to Initiation scripts that change your focus, just like, in some saga, certamen will almost never happen (we got some testimony on this very thread)?
- And how does that help you animate your dead shield grog, or achieve the Hermetic Necromancer effects is beyond me, especially in a saga where the GM rules that no one has ever developped that project, so that your player is the first to blaze this new trail.
Please... A mundane can have a web of intrigue. We're talking about magical abilities, are we?
As for MT, wonderful, you've found a little bit of magic-related stuff in which a Tremere can hope to be as good as any other magus. This does not invalidate the crux of my argument, that is, that most magi from any house can be equal to most magi from any other house, whatever their strengths, save the Tremere.
It gets comical when one looks that I was the one to bring the bonisagi as having no special advantage over other houses... as a reply to your argument that "Every House has strengths and weaknesses. Usually, players design characters who focus on the strengths, like a Flambeau specializing in Ignem or a Bonisagus pushing the limits of magic theory". So, where are we now?
Interesting take. Saga-dependant in that you need a saga that's fast enough so that your magus will raise his arts more than a comparable focused magus, but interesting.
It misses the point, brought previously, that the focus is first and foremost a way to color your magus, his perceptions and style. Since these spells are easier to develop, you are incited to develop a focus-related grimoire, which gives color to your character
You're not the ReMe magus, you're the Hate Magus. You're not the Aquam mage, you're the Ice mage, the Saltwater Maga, the Lakes maga, the Acid Magus, or the Blood Maga. You're not the CrAn magus, you're the Eagle Maga, the Wolf Magus. It also implies that, while your necromancer could, at 40, turn away from necromancy, a Tremere will only be able to do that at, say, 50.
So, sure, one can take Potent Magic. And it is a fine, and flavorful virtue. Yet it is often forgotten, IMO for 2 reasons: It isn't a Core virtue, and if you want a real specialist (which is all the point of being focused), it ain't as good as a magical focus.
Ofcourse it's saga dependant, but so's largely every other argument in this thread.
Arguments that "That's saga dependant, you cannot assume your SG gives you access to (whatever)" makes the implicit assumption that one does not, for the sake of the argument.
As well I should openly admit that the necromancer in question probably had more than his fair share of uninterrupted seasons, because I was alpha story guide. This doesn't change the fact that around age 40 I could pretty much throw his concept out of the window because he'd "been there done that" and bout all that was left was to make bigger versions of already completed spells. As well as making longevity rituals for anyone who'd asked really, and become a healer largely because someone had to.
I thought that was rather my point actually.
You pick a focus, and you're likely to make that a central characteristic of your character.
But you empty out that niche far too fast.
...and while Ice is useful in many situations, there's only so much you can do with hate, surely?
Or slightly later if his house makes heavy demands on him, yes.
Interstingly, I find that the Minor Focus of Self-Transformation may hold more potential.
It is too often forgotten, that is true.
And I suspect your "real specialist" would want both - I do know that my Tytalian Titanoi theurgist would love to expand his Focus: Spirits with Potent Magic: Spirits, or just Potent Magic: Invoking Daimons.
However, we still lost a bit of information in there:
Do you necessarily want that? For every character?
I don't - I know my fellow SGs are cunning bastards* who will find a way to challenge my character no matter how specialised I am - and who realise that if my abilities have no width, I'll be out of my depth far too fast.
- high praise and you know it.