Parma Civile, an idea for a major breakthrough

After reading about the potential breakthroughs in the True Lineages sourcebook I was pondering how the Gift makes everyone uncomfortable, except for magi who have their Parma Magica (PM) to provide a pseudo-shield from the negative social effects from the Gift of others. In RAW Magi using Parma Magica (basically all hermetic wizards) do not suffer that effect because of a special side effect of PM, and it seems to me to be an interesting area to investigate for why. I came to the idea that perhaps there is a way for a wizard to re-fold their PM in the same way as the other folds so that it suppresses their magical nature.

During the forum discussion the idea was not taken well. Strongly stated views spoke to the effect of devaluing the Gentle Gift Major virtue, and of the fact that the social penalty is a keystone concept in the setting. Removing it, or even suppressing that in-game (meaning a focus on in-story to be specific) effect seems very distasteful to many members of the community. I respect that view. The game is only as valuable and powerful as the stories that we tell, and the view that a particular game’s paradigms would be too greatly altered is inarguable.

That said, I still think the idea has merit in the setting too. So instead of offering a finished solution to the concept, I’ll offer my impressions and recommend anyone who is interested to also read the through the one page of forum feedback. The basic idea holds that Parma has a benefit to Magi for tolerating the Gift. If it is applied in an Ars Magica game the you’ll need to consider the flow on effects.

The Parma Civile fold modifies Parma Magica so that it suppresses the negative social effects of the Gift (typically the -3 reaction modifier). When used in this manner it provides no additional protection, and the Magi’s MR is effectively only based upon their arts.

Further the use of the fold applies a significant penalty to all non-personal spell casting, as the Magi must work through their own Parma Magica. All non-personal spell casting Casting Totals suffer a -5 penalty.

Like the other Parma Magica Folds in the HoH:TL source book (p31), this is a major breakthrough, and requires two minutes to perform.

Some considerations:

  • The effort in discovery is large. As a major breakthrough it might take a wizard ten years or so of work to create this fold, after which time they can perform it. Ten years work to gain the equivalent of a major virtue is far less generous than the initiation rites of some of the secret societies.
  • If this fold is already available, the Gentle Gift may need to be lowered to a +1 virtue, not a +3.
  • Some folks just won’t like it, in which case don’t use it. It is no more game breaking than many other virtues and powers, and there is no accounting for opinion.
  • When I initially wrote it the fold still allowed some level of MR. Based upon acknowledging the fact that a Gentle Gift magi are seriously devalued by this, I think a zero Parma score is a better result, including the casting penalty. This leave the Gentle Gifted wizard with a significant advantage in social interaction, as they retain both their Parma Magica and the ability to interact, but also do not suffer the casting penalty.

Conjure the Humble Skiff

One of my characters had a need to get across a moderate sized area of water with his companions, and it proved to be a little bit of an ungainly problem. Initially I wanted to create a boat and row across using Creo. It would have almost worked, except that we needed a longer boat ride than either Concentration would reliably allow, or that Diameter could provide. In the end our arts were stronger when each person was slowly moved with Rego magic across the surface of the water. It was a solution, and I’d like something more elegant.

It got me thinking of the ways to create a boat on demand. Conceptually this could be:

  • Create using Creo Herbam, or some other Form to suit the caster. A boat might be made from any substance which has enough strength and buoyancy. Herbam is unsurprisingly the best substance.
  • Muto something into a boat, using an abundantly available material.

So here are the effects, using a range of Forms.

Conjure the Humble Skiff

Creo Herbam 25, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Ind

This spell conjures a moderate sized wooden boat, single sail, and running gear suitable for six travelers and their gear. The spell requires a finesse check to determine the quality of the boat*.

(Base 3, R: Touch +1, D: Sun +2, increased target size for a modest boat +1, complexity in the design and finished form +2)

* note: the degree of difficulty in that Finesse check is debatable. Set it wherever your troupe likes; I don’t want a can of worms based around a target number of 9 vs 12; but 12 seems about right.

CharmingSkiff

This could be a bit creepy and use something like Creo Animal as the basis, or anything really which will get a boat and sail, and the effect will stay around level 25.

The complexity paid for with “complexity in the design and finished form +2” allows for the different components to be created and also the range of materials provided to be variable. The spell complexity was always going to be a +1 ro a +2 depending on how generous your story guide is. +2 is conservative, you might see +1 being very reasonable.

But what about when You’re gonna need a bigger boat. A large boat, say a boat which is large enough to comfortably cruise the open ocean would be another size increase of +1 mag, resulting in a CrHe level 30 effect – perhaps called the Conjure the Dawn Treader or Conjure the Merchant’s Dream. At that size the skiff becomes something with multiple sails, needing a full crew, and capable of hauling many hundreds of tons of cargo. Continue reading

Rolling your Vis stores

A typical wizard or covenant should have a store of Vis. This might be a few pawns, or may be substantial depending on the character age or covenant season. Allowing PCs to assign their vis is a good thing, but if it cannot be agreed, or if a random solution is desirable, try this.

While pondering the problem looked for (a) way to roll random numbers, (b) way to associate them to each art, (c) allowance for special types of Vis, and (d) allowance to alter how common each type is in the setting by applying a weighting or scarcity value.

As a starting place this could be a scratch pad with 1-20 written down, arts assigned a number, and a d20 in your hand. Pretty simple for one off needs. I decided to use a spreadsheet to do it, because it is a small task I’ve had to do many times and it keeps being a pain. This gave the flexibility to muck about with the weighting and determine a large amount of vis in one go.

Perhaps one of the days I’ll make one for spells and books too.

Steps:

  1. Setup the spreadsheet to show each type of vis you want. By default the 15 types are present in mine, and there are 5 additional slots for other types should they be desired. My suss is realm aligned types, saga specific types, or perhaps hybrid types are there, they should be rare compared to the norm.
  2. Update the scarcity of each type. Some sagas make particular types rare and other common. e.g. If the magus goes gathering amongst the mountains an Aquam find should be unlikely, and Terram more common.
  3. Confirm the amount you want, but adding or deleting rows in the Random area. The sheet generates up to 40 without too much hassle; and adding more is easy as sliding the rows down.
  4. Copy & paste the result text into your summary, covenant, sheet.

random-vis-sheet

Its as rough a spreadsheet as you’d expect, but it works. It’s also easy to tweak for generating huge volumes of vis, say a covenant wants hundreds of pawns, and it makes sense for that covenant to have a broad selection of vis.

I know of a quirk in the RNG and math applied to determine the Art, but it is small enough to be inconsequential.

 

Conjure the Watchman’s Tower

A few spells to transform the air into a sturdy dwelling or a temporary tent, using Muto, for the Ars Magica rpg.

Shape the Watchman’s Tower from Air

battlementMuto Auram / Terram 40, R: Touch, D: Moon, T: Ind

This spell transforms the surrounding air into a sturdy two room tower formed from a single piece of stone.

The complexity in the spell allows for solid study construction, a heavily weighted base, doors and doorways, internal stairs, a battlement on top, a hearth and chimney, arrow slits in the walls, and benches and blocks to act as furniture throughout.

While it is not luxurious, the dwelling is far superior to sleeping in the elements. In the original design the tower’s lower room was larger than the upper, as the tower smoothly plinthed upward. A Finesse check is required when the spell is cast to determine the degree of success in the transformation.

(Base 4 to transform into another element with requisite Terram, +2 for larger result size, +1 for stone, +1 moderate complexity in components and shape, R: Touch +1, D: Moon +3)

When I first thought about creating the effect I incorrectly assumed that it would be easy, and was looking for a final level around 15 or 20. Once the variations for the complexity and stone were incorporated it didn’t seem too much of an extension to create it as a level 35 effect, and allow the watchtowers to stand for Moon duration.

Scaling for size with stone Terram effects really only starts to get powerful at the upper end of spell levels. This spell isn’t suitable for redesign as a permanent spell with vis due to the higher base it must start with. As such it demonstrates well how Muto is useful but certainly no substitute for Creo spells.

A simple version isn’t really viable once the stone is needed, as almost any side building cannot be created without an increase in size magnitudes as well. As an alternative a different spell might be used by traveling wizards who wish to have a less ostentatious overnight dwelling, and by using materials better suited to hiding in natural environments.

Shape the Leafy Tent

Muto Auram / Herbam 15, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Ind

This spell transforms the surrounding air into a simple tent made from natural plants. The space is well protected from wind and rain, and features a raised floor to keep equipment dry. The tent is large enough to sleep four travelers and gear. From casual inspection the outside of the tent appears much like a large bush.

(Base 5, R: Touch +1, D: Sun, +1 for larger result size)

bg-trees

The explanation for Shape the Watchman’s Tower from Air, difficulty calculation is:

  • Base effect for Auram is a single phenomenon, up to 100 paces across. Would appear to be plenty. My reasoning is that a mtuo spell which converted a stone tower to air would create a fair volume of air, but not a huge storm worth. So that same about of air is needed transforming the other way.
  • R:Touch is enough as a spell can effect an entire Target as long as a part of it is touched. i.e. you don’t need to touch all of a man to affect them.
  • Base effect for Terram is 10 cubic paces of dirt, which is not enough so a +1 mag grants up to 100 cubic paces of earth. Then a further +1 mag to have a similar amount of stone.
  • Convert the dirt base to stone, which is a +1 mag modifier.
  • This is enough earth for a two rectangular rooms with walls 4 paces wide by 3 paces high, and half a pace thick (6 c.p each surface x 6 surfaces for the first room + 5 surfaces for the second = 66 c.p). Then add some reenforcing to the walls, a small battlement on top, and miscellaneous internal features.
  • More complex than a bridge or wall (which do not have complexity modifiers in the rulebook) but not ornate or as expansive as a wizard’s tower.

For Shape the Leafy Tent the main difference was:

  • A smaller increase in material needed, and no herbam special increase for a finished product.
  • However I did not feel that the Base 4 MuHe guideline would apply, as it mentioned the elements specifically, and I think Herbam is slightly more complex that the elements, as it is a living substance.

This and other custom spells for Ars Magica can be found on the new spells page.

 

Transformation into Gargantuan Creatures, Part Four. The Dragon

Continuing from Part One, Two and Three.

Part Four – The Dragon, the supreme lord of the air.

Transforming into a Dragon was one of the primary forms which started my investigation into this set of blog posts. It is a favorite of mine. In older Ars Magica editions I’ve seen dragon forms in play through expensive Bjornaer Heartbeasts, and there has also been a few lengthy posts on the ArM forums about these style transformations.

In terms of physical shape a dragon might be viewed abstractly as giant lizard with wings and an extended tail. Certainly the European style dragons are meant to be monstrous, and come with a variety of limbs, claws, scales, and horns on their bodies.

(a) Winged Flight – the form can launch itself into the air and fly. For a very large form the wings will need to be large in comparison to the overall shape.

Aside – consider your troupe’s approach to fantasy vs realism, or at least how cool really massive wings look when you as a Dragon swoop down to eat peasants, guards, and sheep. Some troupes might say that the wings need to be enormous, or that the dragon-form also has bird-like bones and muscles.

There is the option to say that along with the wings the dragon adds almost any sort of feint for explaining how they stay airborne, from bladders of lighter than air stuff, bird like bone density, etc.

Key in this ability is also to resolve the speed of the flight; 40-60 mph seems likely with dive speeds over 100-120 mph.

(b) Spiked Hide – as a further defensive feature the skin or hide of the form is covered in a variety of spikes, blades, and/or fins. When placed upon the limbs or tail they also form a natural weapon, which should strike as a large limb.

(c) Corrosive Blood – the form’s blood is naturally corrosive. The blood inflicts +6 damage for each round of exposure.

(d) Tolerance for thin air and hostile conditions – the form has been designed so that it can breathe at very high altitude and also ignore the effects of long term exposure to the freezing winds, storms, and resistant to other environmental hazards such as desert conditions.

(e) Theatrical Flair – like the finishing touches in the Steed of Vengeance spell (MuAn in core rules), a swish of smoke, slightly glowing eyes, or other cosmetic touches add depth to the presentation of a form; and dragons are the right style beastie to have wonderful flourishes.

(f) Retractable Claws – subject to your tastes, the claws might be retractable. This means they should inflict less damage, but also add more utility to the “hands and fingers”.

(g) Smell gold and other valuables – the form is attuned to smell noble metals and gems over a vast distance. This adds a creature Ability such as Hunt (Precious metals and gems).

(h) Venomous Bite or Stinger – the bite, claw, or tail contains a poison, akin to an asp. Ease Factor 9 and inflicting a Incapacitating wound.

The design of the transformation effect must increased to allow for the reference of many powers being both animalistic and aquatic in nature, which uses the Muto Corpus level 20 guideline.

Form of the Barbed Dragon

Muto Corpus / Animal 45, R: Personal, D: Sun, T: Ind

The caster is transformed into a large (up to size 7) dragon.

A crimson and gold thickly scaled serpentine body, covered in razor sharp barbs and tines. The barbs are much larger and thicker along it’s back and spine, but small barbs cover the entire body except where joints fold. The form has two arms, a long neck, two legs, a set of broad wings, and a long spiked tail.

The  physical form as the following aspects: Flying and tolerance for flying conditions, a spiked hide, corrosive blood, a venomous tail spike, and human-like speech.

(Base 20 size change into an aquatic for flying animal of max size +1, +2 D: Sun, +2 for an additional 6 size ranks, +1 for a limited set of physical abilities)

At size 7 this form is within the size range for other dragons and drakes in the the other books. With increasing spell magnitude other aspects of the previous monster forms could be added, or an increase in size. Even a much lower size variation would be a formidable foe and useful form for travel.

Can a Muto effect make something two dimensional?

Carrying capacity for roleplaying characters is either something that a table cares about, or ignores. In Ars Magica carrying capacity also affects spells which teleport and transform, and for characters who are melee combat based – every point of encumbrance counts. An object can be shrunk down to a tiny fraction of its size with magic (see this related post), but what about making something two dimensional, or perhaps even a smaller image of itself on a page?

I was not sure if the concept was allowed as the RAW is absent anything specific, and it is certainly not disallowed, but lets see what the related effects might be, and what the ramifications would be. In the Hermetic magic we already have highly unnatural effects like:

  • A spell in cannon to turn flames into stones.
  • A spell in cannon which transforms gold into iconic species, so it is then moved by light (Scattering Like Light, MuTe/Im 30, HoH:S p63).
  • Muto and Perdo can remove the weight from an object with high degrees of effectiveness.

Once again the fine folks in on the official forums gave me advice on the effect, and assisted to simplify the approach. My initial suss was to make the effect Muto Terram, with Imagonem, because I was thinking about the effect as an image, but as pointed out – the Imagonem is just a peripheral aspect. It is not needed.

So a basic effect to change an object to be like a picture on a page…hmm. The quality of the image does not actually matter, as long as the intent of the spell is not to alter the object when the effect expires. Better that the spell effect is maintained by a magical device with constant effect, rather than a typical spell duration; although Circles are effective if they remain unbroken. You don’t want a greatsword to change back to normal size when it is folder in your pocket.

Here is what I am intending the basic use to be a an example:

A wizard wishes to transport an ornamental dagger across a long distance as a gift for another. The wizard draws a magic circle onto a page, then casts the transformation effect, and the dagger is altered to be an image of itself on the page, contained within the magic circle. The magic circle sustains the effect, and when the letter arrives at the other end, the receiver just breaks the circle and the object returns to normal. The illustration need not even be of the dagger, just be within a circle. It will make the object very susceptible to damage, depending on the medium where the circle is held.

As an effect it is clearly unnatural, but I think plausible.

Flatten Miscellanea to Art

Muto Terram 20, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Ind

The object touched is converted into a small two dimensional image of itself for the duration of the spell. Casting requisites are required for the object when cast, and the effect can only affect non-living objects of standard size.

(Base 4 to change dirt so that it’s highly unnatural as “two dimensional”, Touch +1, Sun +2, secondary sub-effect to shrink +1)

Spell is designed in a similar manner to many Terram effects for non-living things, to provide a general guideline for all affected materials when cast. There could be many variations of this, for Rings, for Chests, or the contents of Rooms, or even to affect larger than standard size things; and so on.

Lastly an image leads to an elegant solution – each circle is a ring holding an item, shrunk down with a spell working using the Duration: Ring guideline.

16th_century_French_cypher_machine_in_the_shape_of_a_book_with_arms_of_Henri_II

 

A quirk of spell name styles

This post is an aside from my normal fare, being that it is just a random thought. Not a smackering of new rpg material is here to be found. Apologies. Please join me in a little navel gazing on what and how I like spell names to be.

An aspect of spell design I enjoy is the bit where I sit and ponder its name. Leaning back in the chair, partially stumped, looking for the right words. Right from the start an interesting spell name might lead to an unusual effect, outside optimal, but within the theme of the game. From the fist read of the Ars magica rules which to me renamed Lightning Bolt to the The Incantation of Lightning made me sit and take notice.
Some spells have names which reference history, others strange devices, and the really quirky require either a sense of humour, or a dark touch. As much as I love it, the folks doing the main writing for the Ars Magica line seem to have mastered the art. Clever bloody chaps.

Over the range of spells I’ve written there are a tendencies.

I tend to seek a naming convention for related similar spells. For example I like all the transformation into beast or monster spells to be like the core examples; Form of the Swishy Something. The recent post about Dragon transformation is still in draft, and that’s because I can’t suss a snappy name. I’ve got a second rate version, but it’s not right.

I tend to like and be slightly jealous of names which capture the essence if the effect, but also leave your mind to wander.

Thematically the essence of the creating wizard might be a factor, but more so the name should stand apart from the creator.

Which leads to a dislike of the creators name in spells. Mordenkainen was a groovy and opulent name for a Wizard, but his spells could have been so much more. Bigby was just kind of lazy. Viliano’s Sling might be a cool effect, but it strikes a little bluntly as a name.

So we get names like,

  • Object of Increased Size, Enlarged, or Gift of the Bear’s Fortitude to Beasts – which are plain paper dull, but will sort very well in a character sheet.
  • The Unobtrusive Observer’s Sight in Stone, and The Unobtrusive Observer’s Voice in Stone – which tells the reader that these effects are linked, and allows for variation for different senses and different forms later, with no change in the naming convention.
  • Withhold the Drunkard’s Muse, Taint the Drunkard’s Desire, Call for the Drunkard’s Demise – all of which share the theme of a spell to exploit those who cannot resist alcohol.
  • And The Harpies Screech or Blessing of Eternal Joy which should indicate clearly what it does.

Anyway, just random thoughts; happy gaming.