Certamen makes no real sense in the Ars setting (to me anyway)

Certamen – the method in Ars magica that two wizards decide an argument over an issue – makes about as much sense as two skilled swordsmen strongly disagreeing about who owns some spoils of battle, and deciding to play cards to see who is better (ahem)..at playing cards. In setting characters who are gamblers might decide to play cards to decide, however that is very character dependant. 

Essentially Certamen is a magical contest which is favours the powerful wizards. Higher art scores and basic skills will defeat many opponents. 

It might be legitimate as a tool to use in a story, but does it make sense in the setting’s wider themes and context, and is it plausible? I’m doubting that it does.

If I disagree with another person and I know they are “more powerful” or stand a much better chance of winning, that does not invalidate the discussion or issue at hand. Saying that a wizard would defer their logic and rights to a magical competition does not make sense, especially so if they are not likely to win. Even in contract negotiations where one side has basically all the leverage (say a buyer in an over supplied commodities market) there are negotiating tricks and player to be found. 

Basically the stakes of the issue need to be low enough that the result of a Certamen will be honored by the magi who looses, and high enough to bother with a formal duel. Which is to say not very often. Certamen comes back to character ego, a sporting activity, and a strange game mechanic, not a method for resolving disputes. Sure, edge cases are available, however I don’t see Certamen regularly used in games and certainly don’t see characters prioritizing their advancement to account for it.

So what’s the solution? Well that depends on what the players want from Certamen. The current model does use a range of skills which has a higher skill point cost, but conversely it is difficult to be great at everything. The current mechanics have done well. 

harry potter magical battle isnt certamen

450 spells

Aside

The blog has now 450 spells for Ars Magica by year’s end, which means working in between work and family it’s possible to write roughly 50 new spells a season. Not sustainable, but possible.  Many are variations on a similar themes, so perhaps an inflated figure; still I think that’s a good result for 2016.

It’ll slow down in 2017. I’m drafting and writing far less than earlier in the year probably due to the Ars Magica games going on hold and work/life demands. Next year I’m also hoping to pickup another game to focus on, and still keep the Ars Magica rpg blog posts ticking over too. There is a Deathwatch module I’ve half written, and initial thoughts for a more streamlined fantasy rpg mechanics based upon some of Ars and some of d100.

Happy holidays folks, see you next year.

Herbam spells for vaults in trees

Here are a few Herbam spells which are more odds & ends rather than game changing effects. Very darn near useless for a magus living away from large trees, but useful for those in and around forests.

Bolthole in the Heart of the Oak

Muto Herbam 20, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Individual

This spell opens a large chamber within a targeted tree, reshaping the tree unnaturally if necessary. The chamber may be up to 10 cubic paces in size.

The contents of the chamber are ejected from the tree when the duration expires.

(Base 3, +1 Touch, +2 Sun, +1 Part, +1 size)

Vault in the Heart of the Oak

Muto Herbam 20, R: Touch, D: Moon, T: Part

This spell creates a small chamber up to a pace to a side within a tree within which items can be stored. The shape of the chamber may be adjusted to suit the tree and likewise the tree will reshape itself to accommodate the chamber, as long as it could do so. The contents of the chamber are ejected from the tree when the duration expires.

(Base 3, +1 Touch, +3 Moon, +1 Part)

Shape Wood as Clay

Muto Herbam / Terram 15, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Part

This spell changes the consistency of any Herbam based material to that of clay, up to a pace to a side in size. The inclusion of the Target:Part allows for modifying smaller parts of much larger plant based objects.

(Base 4, +1 Touch, +1 Conc, +1 Part, Terram free)

Device: A Secret in the Weirwood

This small carved wooden disc is enchanted as a simple magical device to create a cache within a large tree. When applied to the tree it causes a small receptacle to be formed in the tree allowing the storage of objects. The disc is left within the cache as well, providing the ongoing magical effect sustaining the cache. A command word is spoken aloud to open and close the cache, and the cache may be moved by moving the disc to a different tree.

Effect as per Vault in the Heart of the Oak (above) modified to be a constant effect (see Ars p 99), which becomes a level 22 Muto Herbam effect.

Find over 400 new spells for Ars Magica in my Grimoire.

Animal Communications spells

An odd scenario I read in another pbp rpg game gave me the idea to write up these animal based spells for Ars Magica. Sometimes making a beast understand that you mean no harm, understanding it’s mood might be valuable.

There are two styles of spell effect, and two versions of each. The first intended for use with an Intangible Tunnel and the second with the arcane connection factored into the spell. I also chose to create the lower versions with a range of Voice, as touching animals might still be very difficult for a magus due to the negative effects of the gift. The difference in level really highlights why Intangible Tunnels are so darn powerful.

Speak to the Beast at Hand

Creo Animal 10, R: Voice, D: Concentration, T: Individual

Allows the caster to speak directly inside an animal’s mind.

(Base 3 (see Mentem), +2 Voice, +1 Conc)

Speak to the Distant Beast

Creo Animal 20, R: Arcane Connection, D: Concentration, T: Individual

Allows the caster to speak directly inside an animal’s mind.

(Base 3 (see Mentem), +4 Arcane Connection, +1 Conc)

Intent of the Beast at Hand

Intellego Animal 25, R: Voice, D: Concentration, T: Individual

Allows a magus to read the surface thoughts of an animal they have an arcane connection to.

(Base 10, +2 Voice, +1 Conc)

Intent of the Distant Beast

Intellego Animal 35, R: Arcane Connection, D: Concentration, T: Individual

Allows a magus to read the surface thoughts of an animal they have an arcane connection to.

(Base 10, +4 Arc Connection, +1 Conc)

For many more new Ars Magica spells see the quickly growing grimoire.

Spells to strengthen the mind and resist other Mentem spells?

Can a spell make a mind more resistant to coercion? Or more resistant to magical manipulation? I’d say yes, so this post is a discussion of the points to why, and a few spells to demonstrate potential approaches.

A Perdo Mentem spell can dramatically increase the chance of manipulating somebody, then a Rego effect could allow them to not change their mind, or perhaps a Creo effect could make the mind more resilient or logical. A spell can probably artificially strengthen a target’s resolve and willpower.

This might come into play mechanically by altering the target’s personality traits, or describing a change in behaviour in a more abstract manner just like the cannon spell from the Ars Magica main rulebook Trust of the Childlike Faith (a PeMe spell where the target will believe almost any passable lie).

The Dogged Will

Rego Mentem 25, R: Voice, D: Sun, T: Individual

The target finds it impossible to change their opinions and beliefs for the duration of the spell. Only the intervention of a more powerful supernatural effect will allow the target’s views to be changed.

(Base 5, +2 Voice, +2 Sun)

But will that add more defence against another spell when the second effect is active at the same time as the first, and is lower level, and also has a similar effect? Yes, but it wouldn’t protect against manipulation of memories or state of mind, potentially leading to a person understanding an alternative point of view but unable to change their specific opinions or core beliefs.

It is perhaps similar to when two similar spells wish to perform directly contradictory actions, such as to change a targets shape. Assuming equal penetration; transforming a human into a cat at level 25 or a bird at level 30. The level 30 effect will be dominant, but the cat effect is still there underneath. If the bird effect is prematurely ended then the target becomes a cat. What fun!

I think there is also a difference between improving the mind’s capacity for reasoning, enhancing the mind’s capability to resist being changed, and forcing the mind to stay the same; Creo vs Rego in terms of Arts. That presents an alternate Creo spell.

Enhancement of Logic and Reason

Creo Mentem 25, R: Voice, D: Sun, T: Individual

The target’s mind is better able to operate logically, reason more soundly, and ignore some of its emotional preconceived notions. This may grant bonuses to ability rolls, willpower checks, or alter personality traits favourably in those circumstances.

(Base 5, +2 Voice, +2 Sun)

And aversion for a council chamber or meeting hall, because that is where logic is needed.

Solar of Enhanced Logic and Reason

Creo Mentem 35, R: Voice, D: Sun, T: Individual

All targets in the affected room are better able to operate logically, reason more soundly, and ignore some of their emotional preconceived notions. This may grant bonuses to ability rolls, willpower checks, or alter personality traits favourably in those circumstances.

(Base 5, +2 Voice, +2 Sun, +2 Room)

Perhaps these effects haven’t been considered all that useful for magi due to Parma Magica resisting the effects, andthe laws of casting upon others? Perhaps useful as an invested device for a mundane sheriff or knight. There are Rego Vim spells to prohibit teleportation spells, scrying spells, or intangible tunnel spells, so it’s just as plausible to ward against mental spells. The effect being resisted will need to be specific.

Impede the Dominating Will

Perdo Mentem Gen, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Individual

The target’s mind is protected against Mentem spells or supernatural effects seeking to issue instructions and commands, or directly alter the target’s behaviour; requiring any opposing spell to exceed (level of this spell +5 + stress dice (no botch)). It has no effect on other spells, or similar Mentem spells which alter memories in the target.

(Base Gen, +1 Touch, +2 Sun)

This could be useful for a Magus and/or Familiar if enchanted into a familiar link, to allow for constant protection with no ongoing warping. Then for others, as:

Impede the Dominating Will, Encircled

Perdo Mentem Gen, R: Touch, D: Ring, T: Circle

The target’s mind is protected against Mentem spells or supernatural effects seeking to issue instructions and commands, or directly alter the target’s behaviour; requiring any opposing spell to exceed (level of this spell +5 + stress dice (no botch)). It has no effect on other spells, or similar Mentem spells which alter memories in the target.

(Base Gen, +1 Touch, +2 Ring)

The PeVi baseline is from Ars Magica core rules, as demonstrated in the anti-teleportation spells from TME p109. These and many more new spells for Ars Magica in my grimoire of spells.

A preference for House Mercere

Thinking about the Recaps and their relationship to House Mercere and magi of other houses today. I’m torn.

On the one hand I really like the mixed politics that come from having non-gifted redcaps as equals to magi. It adds a turbulence to the lives of wizards, which is a good potential hook. It also enables players to have a more options in the setting for companions (which is mostly how non-gifted redcaps are played).

On the other hand I dislike that what is essentially a mundane being treated as a magus. They’re not, everyone knows this, and it’s only an old in-setting tradition that keeps it so. Given the other social castes of the era I think most magi would attempt to treat them as equals in name only. A redcap is not even close to a gifted magus.

My preference is to remove the Magus status from redcap character. Sure, they can be messengers protected by House Mercere and still have all the boons, but remove the pretense. This would be an upset to the Ars Magica setting, but one which I think would streamline the setting.

The Crucible of Wonder, an enchanted device

Magi in Ars Magica have the potential to create wondrous magical items all around them, to better enhance their magic. Initially a player’s mind might go to items like a Wand of Fire, however the real power in Ars is the long game, and the lab is where the long game shines for a character. With that as a basis – here is the Crucible of Wonder, an enhancement to a lab which is also nominally a forge and workshop.

The Crucible of Wonder is a massive stone bowl, with a matching cap roughly over three paces in diameter and height. It is held in an insulated frame of stone and metal, to allow the materials to be poured, and the crucible to be moved safely.

Within the crucible are many enchantments detailed below (there are not specifically designed as lab enchanted devices from the Covenants source-book, but may be useful as such). A magical crucible does not need to do much more than heat something efficiently and well, so this item has three effects – to heat, to be unbreakable, and to be moved safely. None of these effects are terrifically high level, meaning that crafting a similar device is probably viable for a player-character wizard.


Firstly, the crucible is enchanted to resist damage and breakage, based upon the Hardness of Adamantine (MuTe25, HoH:S p.37) spell reworked with reduced power to protect stone instead of metal.

Unbreakable Vessel of Stone (MuTe 24)

Muto Terram 20, R: Personal, D: Sun, T: Individual

A stone object is instilled with supernatural strength and hardness, becoming essentially unbreakable.

(Base 4, +1 affect stone, +2 Sun, +1 size)

(Enchantment effect: Muto Terram 24 (Enchantment mods: Constant +3 Env trigger sunrise/set, +1 for 2 uses/day))

Written as a stand alone spell for use on other large stone objects this would be:

Hardness of Bedrock

Muto Terram 25, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Individual

A stone object of up to ten cubic paces is instilled with supernatural strength and hardness, becoming essentially unbreakable for the duration.

(Base 4, +1 Touch, +1 affect stone, +2 Sun, +1 size)

Then, to ensure it can operate as intended in the lab efficiently, a heating enchantment is invested (CrIg/Re 30) on the inside of the crucible so it can be set to a temperature desired by the user, beyond the temperature to melt any metal.

Heat of the Conflagrant Forge (CrIg/Re 35)

Creo Ignem / Rego 25, R: Personal, D: Concentration, T: Individual

An area of the target up to three paces in each dimension can be set to a temperature chosen by the user, up to hot enough to melt any metal. Rego requisite is required to optionally keep the outside of the object cool while the inside is heated.

(Base 10 to melt lead, +1 increase heat to include melting any metals, +1 Conc, +1 size)

(+5 Device maintains concentration, +5 for 24 uses per day)

Lastly an effect to facilitate movement of the crucible. A buoyant bowl of molten metal isn’t a wise idea in a lab, so care is still needed (final effect as ReTe 19).

Pleasant Alleviation of the Weighty Burden

Rego Terram 10, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Individual

This spell allows a large primarily stone object to be moved easily. It will not move or float by itself but can be moved more easily, as if almost weightless due to the spell assisting the manual effort. The object can only be lifted a few paces of the ground and may only move at walking speed; exceeding these limitations ends the effect.

(Base 2, +1 Touch, +1 affect stone, +1 Concentration, +1 size)

(As constant effect +9 as: +1 mag for D:Sun, and +4 for two uses per day and an environmental trigger)

Happy smelting – see the other magical items and spells created for Ars Magica.