A LOST OLD ORDER
In the Carolingian period, there was a magical conclave of wizards in the Black Forest that founded what was to be called the Order of Hermes. This Order spread far and wide, and came to dominate the magical landscape of Europe in before the turn of the millennium. But Hubris is strong, and the magi started to fight among themselves. What they had achieved was undone and their voices grew silent.
Or so say the spirits of the forest that have talked about this. There are no human records of this Order. Or more accurately, there are no records that do not read as gibberish. There are quite a few books and documents concerning this Order. They is readily identifiable by the seals that cover them. However, the texts are utter nonsense, with an awful grammar in several languages combined and even several alphabets and signs that are not even a language. No meaning can be extracted from such texts. It is either a very intricate code or it is not an understandable language. Other books are just blank. Most of these books are old, but some have been written as recently as the middle of the 10th century.
After a while it seems that the Order of Hermes ceased to be. Some current nobility has their origin in this mythical Order, but nobody pays them much attention, like the kings that use Arthur or Siegfried as their foundational mythos. The counts of Fengheld, descended from really powerful magicians? Yes, of course milord, whatever you say.
Over the years the places where these magi inhabited have been explored by some valiant (others would call them foolish) Casters and tomb raiders. Most did not return, but those that did tell of wanton destruction, as if these abodes had been the place of mighty supernatural battles.
Some remnants of this Old Order of Hermes are still around, especially magic items, but there aren’t many of them and the ones that are around have many claimants. More than a coven has been destroyed when fighting other magicians for the control of a ring of invisibility.
THE ORDER OF HERMES REBORN
And then, around 1150, some caches of initiation scripts were discovered. The first was in a cave of Pomerania. Another in the Pyrenees. A third in Thebes, another near Stonehenge… these scripts told in clear Latin how to perform a rite called the Parma Magica to protect yourself from magical attacks and how to summon an Aegis of the Hearth to protect a location in the same terms. There were requisites to earn these mighty magical defences: the swearing of a code of conduct called the Code of Hermes, and the training of apprentices for more powerful levels of initiation.
As more initiation script caches were discovered, the Parma rite spread, and soon a new Order of Hermes emerged. Some of the tenets of the Code of Hermes were weird and seemed to correspond to the old Oder of Hermes, with references to Bonisagus and others, but magicians swore it anyway since Parma Magica had great effects in protecting them and suppressing the negative effects of the Gift among magicians, allowing for better collaboration. Even from disparate traditions, that saw synergies in combining their areas of power. Covens and Covenants started to spring up, and local tribunals started to be held.
TRIBUNALS; ARBITRATORS AND REDCAPS
Tribunals are gatherings of magicians and supernatural casters that happen from time to time in a region to discuss matters concerning magicians, the supernatural and mystical resources and where disputes are settled by the mystical community.
Tribunals tend to be local gatherings, covering a few days’ travel; most of them cover a pair of duchies at most. The frontiers of tribunals are not clearly set, and a single coven can assist to several tribunals in a number of years if it has issues with people indifferent directions.
Some tribunals are more successful than others, and some are more organized than others. In places where powerful Covens (or covenants, they go by both names) exist, they tend to be better organized, and in places where there are less magicians or there is more warfare, they are less frequent and resolutive.
THE CODE OF HERMES.
The swearing of the code is part of the initiation script of Parma Magica. The script predates the current membership of the Order, but due to mystical reasons everybody that undergoes the initiation understands what they are swearing. So, if you have Parma you have sworn the Code and take it seriously. Not all casters undergo initiation though. Membership in the Order of Hermes is voluntary: it has its advantages (Parma) and disadvantages (swearing the code).
Enforcement of the code is strict. In flagrant cases there are direct mystical consequences. In more border cases, tribunals are generally asked to make a ruling. Unless the case becomes flagrant when exposed at tribunal, magi tend to have a lot of latitude in their interpretation of the code.
Since the Code is read strictly, if you do not bring ruin to your sodales you can interfere with mundanes as much as you want. However, it is likely that heavy involvement gets denounced and you get a slap in the head by the tribunal. Tread with caution. A lot of covenants have deals with nobles like healing houses, minor enchantments to improve their castles and fields or a minor magical sword every 50 years.
Wizard wars and conflict between covens is quite common, even if Parma and Aegis tends to prevent a high death rate among magicians. In this sense, the Order of Hermes is not very different from the nobility.
The figure of the itinerant Arbitrator or judge has also emerged. These individuals or small groups try to hear cases of conflict between magicians and search for compromises. One Arbitrator is always present in a Tribunal gathering (when at least 3 covens gather to settle disputes), and he will act as mediator and head judge.they tend to have records of past deals and solutions to conflicts (both local and happening to other areas of the New Order) and use it to try to broker new deals between opposed parties. Arbitrators also try to supervise that magicians adhere to the agreements they have made at previous Tribunals.
Abitrators are also tasked with uncovering malfeasance happening under the Code, but this role is less relevant since the Code seems to be self-enforcing: if magicians flout it willingly and with bad intent their Parma tends to develop quirks and bad
Abitrators tend to belong to traditions that are able to gather mystical and mundane evidence, but this is not always the case. Inceptions and divination skills are common among them, as are either a prodigious memory or scrolls compiling past agreements at tribunals. It is more a position of honor and respect that one that has special privileges. One is expected to collaborate with an Arbitrator, though. Failing to do that is seen as a sign of malfeasance.
The other element holding the Order together is redcaps. Nobody knows why they have that name or why they carry a red cap, but they do. These messengers have sworn the Code and are treated as trusted Custos, protected under the Code, basically because they carry a lot of sensible information and being a secretive bunch, casters tend to agree that these secrets they carry need to be protected. When a redcap is messed with, the nearby covenants and covens tend to intervene to discover what happened and bring the culprit to tribunal. Redcaps tend to have established routes and appointments between covens and covenants, and sometimes they are the only link of an isolated coven to the wider Order.
Redcaps tend to belong to one or more Covens in the area where they operate. Some Redcap families are developing organizations in the guise of the Medicci or the Templar banking system, but redcaps are commonly just celebrated messengers.
Book trade in the Order of Hermes is in Lores more than Arts, since the disparate traditions makes Art trade complicated and not very sought after. Initiation scripts into supernatural abilities are traded, specially between similar traditions, but whole summae or tractatus on more concrete mystical abilities tends to be few and far.
The existence of more than 3 realms is debated. Infernal, divine and Legendary realms are clearly different. The difference between magic and faerie not so much.
Covenants are sometimes.multi-tradition, but more often than not they have one (or a predominant) tradition. That makes them more self-contained elements than in the Old Order.