Two simple items for covenant defence

Two small charms, invested as lesser enchanted devices for a play-by-post Ars magica forum game. Both small items will be created using a bulb of iron with a small amount of mercury locked away inside it. Marking on each item will help the holder know which bulb has which power.

Each item is an iron bulb sized as a flat skipping pebble, with a small hole in one end. The hole is intended to allow the bulb to be worn as an ornament on a string of leather, or tied to a belt. Sealed inside each bulb is a heart of mercury. The inventing magus intended the commander to wear the bulbs on a belt so they are readily accessible, but unobtrusive.

The power of each bulb is activated simply by touching the target with one hand and rubbing a finger or thumb across the bulb with the other hand, and each device is crafted with multiple uses per day so that the user can cast the spells on all members of the watch or a unit of soldiers.

Gaze of the Perceptive Watchman – the effect grants the target sharp night-vision of a cat, able to see in all but total darkness.

  • Gaze of the Perceptive Watchman – As per Eyes of the Cat (Ars p.131) (MuCo/An 10), (Base 2, +1 Touch, +2 Sun), with +5 for 24 uses per day.

Strength of the Resilient Gambeson – the effect grants the target a +3 soak bonus.

  • Strength of the Resilient Gambeson – As per Doublet of Impenetrable Silk (Ars p.118) (MuAn 20), (Base 4, +1 Touch, +2 Sun), with +5 for 24 uses per day.

Then some guff-guff stats for the Magus’ stats for crafting…

  • Stats = Int 3 + MT 9 + Aura 6 + Mu 21 + An/Co +11, InventiveG +3, Lab-Muto +1, Lab-Items +1, General Quality +1, Similar spells +1 = LT of 57.
  • However to invest both items in a season the Magus needs a Lab Total 60 … (10+20)*2 = 60.
  • The crafting magus also knows the Eyes of the Cat spell, so grants a +1 LT for one spell, and also knows the Doublet of Impenetrable Silk spell for a +3 LT. Takig the minimum bonus of both is another +1.
  • Crafted with a iron bulb inset with mercury +5 bonus, which applies to both items.
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A view on the Forms and the wider world

This blog post is a broad pondering the meta-physics of the forms of magic in the Ars Magica role playing game.

Instead of considering the metaphysical thinking in the medieval period – which is where Hermetic magic is meant to get its roots I started to think of a way to consider and compare the forms. This idea does not at all match to what I understand of the basis of Hermetic magic in the setting or the current guidelines. As I said, this is a pondering.

It came out of thinking about why it is easier to change some things into other things (it’s easier to change a person into an animal). Why?

What if there are a set considerations for all things:

  • Intangible vs Tangible things (eg. the mind vs trees)
  • Living vs Non-living things (animals vs rocks)
  • Changing vs Fixed things (water vs rocks)
  • Sentient vs non-Sentient things (people vs rocks)

…then it might be possible to look for how many steps from each other they are.

  • Animal (Tangible, Living, Fixed, Non-sentient)
  • Aquam (Tangible, Non-living, Changing, Non-sentient)
  • Auram (Tangible, Non-living, Changing, Non-sentient)
  • Corpus (Tangible, Living, Fixed, Sentient)
  • Herbam (Tangible, Living, Fixed, Non-sentient)
  • Ignem (Tangible, Non-Living, Changing, Non-sentient)
  • Imagonem (Intangible, Non-Living, Fixed, Non-sentient)
  • Mentem (Intangible, Living, Changing, Sentient)
  • Terram (Tangible, Non-Living, Fixed, Non-sentient)
  • Vim (Intangible, Living, Changing, Non-sentient)

And each step of difference creates a “hermetic” magnitude of difficulty when changing one to the other, or using one with the other.

Ok fine. To what purpose?

Well if Ars Magica had its time again I think it would make sense to break away from the thinking of the medieval period in the backbone of the magical laws.

Because Hermetic magic should be (and is) flawed just as the representation of the divine in Europe the setting is flawed, and many other parts of the setting use contradictions as levers for stories.

Don’t get me wrong – in the setting the characters would still try to leverage their mindsets, learnered philosophies, and all sorts of esoteric thinking in using magic “in story”, but out of story the magical meta-physical laws would be slightly different. This introduces a deliberate contradiction between the in-story beliefs and the “actual” truths.

Essentially – The magi are watching the shadow play on the wall of Plato’s cave and believe they see the real truth of magic – this demonstrates why some types of magic can do things that Hermetic magic cannot. It adds depth to the already existing contradictions in the setting and sourcebooks.

…just a ponderous post. Happy gaming.

Discussion on Mystery Cults and Virtue Initiation 

The ways that Mystery Cults grant virtues and flaws bugs me. Not because it’s broken, in fact it looks to be designed for consistency and meta-game balance, and in play it might be ok. Recently however I have been designing a number of characters using accelerated advancement as example characters and its highlighted to me that sometimes those characters have a disadvantage or an advantage based on stats and skills (Communication in particular) that are probably otherwise not relevant.

Also the sacrifice of time and resources is the most potent part of a character’s life as it represents the opportunity cost of another activity, and the choice to tell a specific story. Further I’d generally argue that resources equal time.

When the Ability + Skill + Trauma vs Number calculations are all said and done the outcome is frequently a cost which is roughly equivalent to the gains; with flavour to the story and character.

There is also a different process for gaining virtues through the magic realm whilst consuming vis which has a similar outcome with different story drivers. It also requires sacrificing something, be that vis, time, or gaining flaws.

So keep the flavour suggestions of the mystery cult, or training deal, or magical realm journey and also standardise the mechanics. Perhaps the system is better served with a simplified approach?

Putting the numbers as fuzzy as this has no play test, an approach is to make the benefits balance the costs of initiation:

Benefits:

  • Each minor virtue costs 15 points.
  • Each major virtue costs 45 points.

Costs:

  • Each minor or major flaw grants opposite of the above. This is basically allowing a one-to-one match of character advancement to continue.
  • Each pawn of vis grants 1 point, spent or gifted or lost in whatever style suits the themes of the character and story. Perhaps the point value needs to scale to suit the rarity of vis in the saga.
  • Every initiation requires a season. This is in service to a mystic, or sacrifice, or building something, or doing favours; whatever suits the story.
  • Each additional season spent grants 5 points.

So now we have a system which requires sacrifice, places the onus on the game lore for the in-character changes, and makes building the character’s quicker and simpler. That seems like a win and it’s not overly far from the material in Ars sourcebooks.

Crying for points

New Target: Illuminated

Discussed a decade or so ago, T: Illuminated is interesting as it has aspects of sensory magic and might be a useful addition to the special faerie duration: Fire. The idea is that the target may include anything which is illuminated by a light source. That light source may be mundane or magical, and can be anything from a candle, a roaring fire, or a magical beam of light.

Target: Illuminated (+2) The spell may affect any number of targets who are presently illuminated by a light source. The target is also expanded by an additional secondary light source per magnitude, where the secondary light source is within illumination range of the first. This allows a chain of illumination to be established. Illumination is also valid if spread or reflected by natural means (reflective water, mirrors, etc).

I think it is a clever extension to include non-magical reflection. If the illumination is spread in special natural ways by mirrors then the spell target is also manipulated. Likewise something which protects from illumination is also protected, so standing behind a barrier will allow somebody to avoid the spell; although the barrier itself would be valid.

A sample use could be:

Nonna’s Unbelievable Stories

Perdo Mentem 35, R: Voice, D: Fire, T: Illuminated

People illuminated by the targeted fire will believe almost any passable lie while the fire burns, even after they have left the light.

(Base 4, +2 Voice, +3 Fire, +2 Illuminated)

Free new spells compendium for Ars Magica.

Thoughts about WFRP 4th

4th edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was launched recently by Cubicle7 and I’ve recently joined an in-progress game. Learning a new-ish set of rules while playing isn’t ideal. It is darn enjoyable. This post is initial thoughts and grumbles.

TLDR = The complexity in the system is hurting it, and it needs to be streamlined; or given more streamlining options for when quick play is more important than the rolls.

For example the complexity in picking/assigning by race, then mechanics of use in fate/fortune and resilience/whatever points is daft. The points are present to allow a player character to help control the outcomes and fake-out their risks.

Why does this need two sets of points with two separate caps, with different choices for races, and choices to make at character creation on where points should go?

This design choice in 4th edition demonstrates how the mechanics of 2e were reworked from the inside of the system to create 4e, not rewritten holistically.

That’s a strength and a weakness in the system – depending on what crunch you like and how flexible the group is.

I’ll report many months from now when I’ve more than a handful of sessions done, however these are my first impressions:

  • Far better all round than WFRP 3rd edition, which I think was a misguided edition – much like D&D 4e we can pretend it didn’t really happen.
  • Better than 1st edition, which was great for its time but hasn’t aged well.
  • Better than 2nd edition, for now. If this edition does not get the love, support, and books that 2e has, then I think 2e will surpass 4e. I’m worried that Age of Sigmar is already distracting the product owners from more 4e content.

As a product the art style and polish in the graphics is excellent. Every career grouping has an illustration, and you really know you are reading a Warhammer product. I felt the same about the art and material presented by FFG for Deathwatch too – high quality presentation.

The audience of the new edition is certainly the players of 2nd and 1st, which is good and bad in terms of styles of game I tend to play. Many players are solid fans and I think they will like this. The challenge will be growing the playerbase with a better offering vs keeping the existing fans engaged.

The grim dirty and painful setting is present, and very palatable through the core book. However I think there is a missed opportunity to make WFRP more than just a 2e re-vamp – which is what it feels like to me. Everyone is a dirt eating scrub, again. Rare are the knights and heroes, especially when a class is recommended as a random roll. The system offers more flexible movement between classes of character, and seems to lean into letting players choose once play has started.

The system also lets a player choose, and gives a minor xp bump to those who take the random choices. This reflects the previous editions but I don’t think it makes sense as the default way to start a game because several randomly rolled classes has a lower probability of forming a useful group of characters, especially if group makeup will make a difference to the story.

Most “modules” assume the group has a mix of skills and talents, and rolling randomly won’t suit that. So why make that the default? Because early editions liked to make this selection random to reflect how shite life is for the PCs. If you like that then 4th will be ok too.

When generating my character to join the existing group I re-rolled on the random class table three times, as each choice didn’t suit the group. That shows how doing it randomly only suits some games, probably shorter ones. It certainly makes no sense to have attributes for a group’s motivation, when they are forced together without a story premise.

I know too the line – “if you don’t like it, then don’t use it”, yeah well that’s always true. What does the random choice say about the setting and mechanics? It’s a tribute to earlier editions. AD&D had a table for random classes back in the day, and I don’t think players who liked role playing used them often. IMHO.

I’m a fan of keeping the lore, going heavy into setting, and telling stories across those themes, however a huge issue I saw in all editions of Warhammer is the juxtaposition of character mortality vs campaign style games. Some people like playing unskilled peasants (I guess?), but I don’t feel like that is a way to build a long campaign, especially when the characters have very little to keep them from suffering terrible wounds and permanent disasters.

The characters should have the option to play or act heroically, however all the mechanics indicate that failure and pain will result from anything remotely risky, and nobody actually wants to be a hero in the setting. You’ll die. The message appears to be max out your combat skills, avoid combat, and be happy eating dirt and earning pennies. Grumble.

That’s really dull. If I wanted to play a boring scrub I’d play with excel spreadsheets. At present 4e feels like edition 2.5+e. It’s good, but if the GM had said “we play 2nd ed” I’d be just as pleased with my character, and would have had almost the same options in-play.

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