Laboratory Activity without a lab?

Wandering Magi typically have limited access to a laboratory, so will rarely be able to create a lot of spells and items. Enforcing the rules of no-lab-no-results encourages Magi to join covenants and to find novel solutions to not having a readily available laboratory – however I think there is reason to allow Magi some capability to invent spells while away from their labs.

First – I’m happy to acknowledge this breaks the rules, or that the degree of the bonus needs to be changed to suit different games. And yes, it add complexity in a system which is already full of options and rules – YSMV.

The Apprentices source book introduced the idea that casual experience points can be spent on spont cast spells, at a rate of one point per level, to allow a magus (in this case an apprentice, see “Learning Cantations in Play” in Apprentices p.46) to learn a spell gradually. This makes a lot of sense for learning while doing, and when the option is presented among a set of level 3-5 spells it makes sense as they can be purchase cheaply without distracting the apprentice from other learning.

There are several small effects which might also be worth learning. Detecting vis, detecting aura, and a host of other low level spells which are frequently cast spontaneously are great candidates.

aside – Two spells from the Apprentices book look great (p.46-ish) – A Pestilence of Fleas (MuIm4, to itch the target so much they have a -1 on actions) and Whispering Fingers (CrMe5, whisper into the mind of somebody you can touch) are good examples. Both very useful, especially suffering a -1 to a target in combat, or following up a whisper into the mind of your target via an Intangible Tunnel.

Consider that a magus can learn these easily with a lab, and take a season. However that ignores the fact that a season has an opportunity cost for what else could have been done. Could the magus buy these spells instead of invent them themselves? Could these spells be learnt in the same season as others, thereby being stacked for efficiency.

This optional rule “opens the door” as an example of a magus learning a spell without a lab. Using the rules in Apprentices the magus just needs to cast the spell spontaneously and spend xp on it.

I guess that the rationale is that the caster is experiencing the spell and earning its subtle aspects again and again in-Play, so should be able to learn it without a lab eventually.

This seems like a casual way to learn a spell, but what if that magus applies themselves to practicing aspects of a specific more complex effect and devotes time to learning it as a seasonal activity despite not having a Hermetic lab?

As a House Rule a magus can progressively design spells without a lab within the following rough guidelines:

  • If the Magus is trying to invent a spell whilst performing some other activity which takes up most of their time, then the success points accumulated beyond the level of the spell is one fifth its normal value. Always rounded down.
  • If the Magus is distracted by many chores or goals, however they have enough downtime to spend pondering and designing; such as touring safely between a few covenants, or stuck aboard a ship, the success points are divided by four.
  • If the Magus is doing little else except trying to invent a spell however they still lack a lab, such as living at a covenant where a lab space is absent, the success points are divided by three.

Some examples:

A beginning magus with a low-ish lab total around level 25 is seeking to invent a level 5 effect while travelling and camping in the wild. Normally the magus would accumulate 20 success points per season, however the travel, rest, and logistics reduce this total down to 4 per season. The junior Magus is able to scratch away at a minor spell while he travels and hunts for 2 seasons (or a level 10 in five seasons).

A very mature Magus seeks to stay productive while visiting another covenant. The host covenant does not have a guest lab, however the Magus is provided with ample rooms, and the political and social activity is not at all arduous. He returns to his notes on a pet project within his focus and specialty, normally generating a level 65 lab total, on a niche spell at level 20. However his success total is reduced to one third, from 45 down to 15 which is still enough to generate the spell in two seasons (or a level 15 effect in a season, or a level 30 effect in three seasons).

The rationale for this is the Magus is able to gain some success points on a magical activity whilst doing something else, and that they can slowly progress their work. The invention might happen in disjointed seasons, say perhaps one season a year where the Magus travels for some obligation to their apprentice or House – they get some productivity.

Obviously the players need to ratify this suggestion to be used in the Ars game. The intent is to allow a magus to be productive on the same complexity of effect as normal, however to reduce their effective productivity.

And as always I’d like to add a few new spells into the wider community based upon one of the spells in the Apprentices book. A Pestilence of Fleas lends itself to a greater version for combat against groups – perhaps A Carpet of Fleas instead? Sure, not a huge change, but disruptive for crowds and armies.

A Pestilence of Nipping Bugs

Muto Imagonem 10, R: Voice, D: Diameter, T: Group

This sensory illusion makes all the targets itch, any tasks requiring Concentration or physical activity are penalized by –1.

(Base 1, +2 Voice, +1 Diameter, +2 Group)

As an Inagonem spell it isn’t locked to humans or animals…so lots of diversity in use.

A Pestilence of Fleas for Months

Muto Imagonem 10, R: Voice, D: Moon, T: Individual

This sensory illusion makes all the targets itch, any tasks requiring Concentration or physical activity are penalized by –1.

(Base 1, +2 Voice, +3 Moon)

Curse of Imaginary Pestilence

Muto Imagonem 20, R: Voice, D: Until, T: Individual, Faerie, Ritual

This sensory illusion makes all the targets itch and smell of rot, any tasks requiring Concentration or physical activity are penalized by –1, until the caster utters a sentence of forgiveness.

(Base 2, +2 Voice, +4 Until)


A spell for a warrior wizard

Mentioned in a blog post, a reworking of cannon spell Assume the Stature of the Giants of El Cid (MuCo10, MoH, p.49).

Assume the Stature of the Titans of Rome

Muto Corpus 15, R: Personal, D: Diameter, T: Individual

Caster’s body and equipment is increased to +6 size. At size +6 humanoid is truly massive, approx 100 times the weight of a normal human. At Size +6, the caster’s wounds have 11-point increments.

(Base 3, +1 Diam, +2 size, +1 to increase equipment as well)

a war

A Giant Precedent, spell discussion for Magus Morat

Morat is a combat oriented Magus for a play-by post-game who is deliberately gruff and also highly focused on physical mundane combat.

Designing Morat for the game was simple as Ars Magica has many spells which enhance combat abilities on one way or another. There were too many good options so I picked a few stable spells (Edge of the Razor, Endurance of the Berserkir) and hunted one or two from outside the base rulebook.

One stood out in particular : Assume the Stature of the Giants of El Cid (MoH p.49, MuCo15). This is a spell which increases the size of the caster and also increases their gear and equipment.

I think this spell might be controversial because:

  1. it explicitly allows the caster’s personal items and combative equipment to be enlarged at the same time as the caster, using a +1 magnitude increase. With no mention of how many items.
  2. It does so also without any consideration to how complex or detailed the items are.
  3. The spell makes no mention of casting requirements, and clearly the intent is to change weapons and armour.
  • This sets a precedent for a small magnitude increase to do this in other spells, which is significantly different from what I expected. I’m happy as it’s now canon that this can occur, however I thought it would be harder.
  • This +1 mag for gear adds legitimacy (in my humble opinion) to adding sub effects in Muto transformation spells, and also to making other hybrid Muto spells slightly easier.

    If this wasn’t presented I would have argued that the increase should have been more like +2 and included a note in the spell text to force casting time requisites. Why?

    Well basically these points, however these are a very pessimistic view of spell complexity:

    • It affects multiple items the caster is carrying, perhaps it should have been +2 Group?
    • It affects clothes which are arguably free, but also weapons and arms, which are not.
    • It affects steel, cloth, leather and all manner of other Forms. Perhaps +1-2?

    As a counter in support of the plain +1 increase there is the notion of a small sub-effect in a spell adding a magnitude, and a large spell adding a +2.

    In this case enlarging several worm items as a separate spell would:

    • Still be a Muto spell,
    • Perhaps would be using a higher Base from Terram instead of Corpus,
    • Might be argued as a generic size increasing spell, which we can see in other spells.

    So what is the conclusion? Ars Magica is darn interesting and play what makes you happy, is balanced, and tells a good story.

    Personally I love the fact that this spell exists and it allows the Magus to be closer to mythical. On balance I’m a supporter but I can see the wider issues this introduces.

    The spell when taken by Morat was boosted in effect to increase the size of the caster by a further magnitude, which I renamed to Assume the Stature of the Titans of Rome. So yeah, I took the El Cid spell and boosted it a little more – because at some point it breaks and just before that point is darn interesting.

    Happy role playing folks, enjoy your Ars Magica games.

    Giants vs Vikings

    Variations on supernatural creature might stripping spells

    I couldn’t find a room based Demon’s Eternal Oblivion (Ars Magica, p.160, Perdo Vim) so here are variants mixing supernatural realms, and demonstrating scaling up for Perdo Vim spells for rooms and big structures.

    Strike Against the Undesirable Faerie

    Perdo Vim General, R: Touch, D: Momentary, T: Individual

    Reduces the Faerie Might of the creature touched by (Level of this spell +5), as long as the spell penetrates each creatures magical resistance.

    (Base Gen, +1 Touch)

    This effect could (arguably) be learnt at PeVi1 and still inflict +6 Might damage. This also shows that there are ways to help penetrate against powerful supernatural creatures when each dice roll counts; and could also be invested in a device to gain additional penetration – particularly a weapon with an “on-strike” trigger.

    Excise the Unwelcome Magical Guests

    Perdo Vim General, R: Touch, D: Momentary, T: Room

    Reduces the Magical Might of all suitable creatures inside the affected chamber by (Level of this spell -5), as long as the spell penetrates each creatures magical resistance.

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

    Scaling means that this spell taken at PeVi5 has no effect, however at level 10 the spell will still inflict 5 points of night and may also identify creatures affected by they spell as they react. It’s a spell that probably is only spont cast by powerful wizards.

    Excise the Unwholesome Demonic Interlopers

    Perdo Vim General, R: Touch, D: Momentary, T: Structure

    Reduces the Infernal Might of all suitable creatures inside the affected structure by (Level of this spell -10), as long as the spell penetrates each creatures magical resistance.

    (Base Gen, +1 Touch, +3 Structure)

    Ward against arrows, spells against Archers

    The spell Shriek of Impending Shafts (Ars Magica p.136, InHe15) is a darn effective defense spell against wooden missiles. However it does not really neutralise the threat of an archer against others. So here are two approaches to better deal with archers.

    Malevolent Gift of Roses

    Muto Herbam 25, R: Voice, D: Diameter, T: Group

    All items with wooden parts on the target are changed to roses. The spell is intended to be cast upon an enemy archer or soldier however it may also be used on any valid Group target.

    (Base 3 to make one Herbam product into another, +2 Voice, +1 Diameter, +2 Group, +1 sub-parts of complex items)

    The spell could also be used to ruin any item or thing which has wooden parts. Ladders, carts, and so on.

    In the spell design I’ve opted to pay an extra magnitude to be able to affect the wood in component items, to affect a Group, and to do so for a fair duration in most fights – that is potentially overkill. The intent is to make the archer all but useless, and will probably make many parts of soldiers, workmen, and many other targets equally frustrated.

    It would also be useful if scaled up for really large groups, however as it stands will affect a group of people in a fighting formation too as they form a valid target group. The limitation of this approach for arrows is that it is not plausible to affect all foes as there may be many of them and not in a group.

    Ward Against Staves and Arrows

    Rego Herbam 20, R: Personal, D: Diameter, T: Individual

    Caster is protected against wooden weapons and missiles, which may not touch the caster.

    (Base 15, +1 Diameter)

    The ward could be changed to be R:Touch or an extended duration D:Sun for safety while travelling. These spells are part of the free new spells compendium for Ars Magica.

    Clarification on the stats when Changing Creature Sizes in Ars Magica

    Many spells change the size of a person or creature, or creatures have their size altered to suit the story needs of an Ars Magica saga. I’ve been asked several times about changing size in the last month (mostly because my blog post on gigantism had an error) so here is what I’ve sussed about it. Broadly speaking the spell mechanics are variable, so please see your story-guide.

    • Each +1 mag in spell design will add 3 size levels (note some spells sampled from the core books seem to use +2 levels instead, but there has been much discussion and the fair middle ground seems to be +3 per mag).
    • Each +1 mag in spell design will reduce size by 6 levels (again variable by books, some spells seem to be able to reduce by a far greater amount than increase, I think that is primarily because once a creature is smaller than size -4 they have such low wound levels than it is almost moot).
    • Each +1 Size = +2 Strength, -1 Quickness, +1 point in the wound level damage ranges (see HoH:MC p. 39).

    That means changing a soldier from normal (size +0) size to size +2 adds 4 strength, subtracts 2 quickness, and alters their first “light wound” damage range to 1-7 points instead of 1-5. That might not sound like much of a change but it makes the soldier far more offensively oriented. Slower, harder to kill, and able to inflict more damage.

    This is also why reducing an opponent down to -3 or smaller is very effective, it might make them quicker but they have radically reduced wound levels for penalties, which is savage in a prolonged battle.

    There is also a point at which the difference between the attacker and defender becomes so extreme that the defender really shouldn’t be able to “parry” to defend.

    A rationale is: A mouse can avoid the boot of a man easily due to speed, but if the man successfully steps on it, then it really should be dead, or mostly dead.

    So how big does your shield grog need to be to just squish opponents? Well I’m not sure. The size increases are meant to be 10x larger per 3 size ranks, but there is not a formula that shows how tall a person is per rank (a project for a rainy day?). Size 0 human vs a size 10 dragon seems altogether a massive challenge.

    a giant fighting several folk, couldn't find the owner/artist - pretty good though eh?

    Wizard’s Auger, with an example of spell penetration

    Sharing several similar effects demonstrating how Muto Vim might raise the penetration score of another spell. The most likely use is a caster to alter their own spells, as demonstrated in a similar enchanted effect in a magical axe in Magi of Hermes, p.51, which uses Range: Touch. To cast upon another Magi’s spells cooperatively R: Voice is required.

    These spells demonstrate an interesting potential for Magi with high scores in Muto Vim; they may be able to spontaneously alter another lower level spell for which they have poor art scores to increase its penetration.

    Example scenario – the junior Magus Argento needs to cast a sleep spell on a troublesome faerie soldier.

    Argento has very strong Muto and Vim arts, and while she has learnt “The Call to Slumber” (ReMe10, Ars p.151) and cast cast it easily under normal circumstances against foes without magical resistance, she believes she will not have a high enough casting total or penetration to put the faerie to sleep due to her low Rego and Mentem arts.

    Argento stats: Int 2, Stm 2, Muto 12, Rego 6, Mentem 4, Vim 11, Penetration 0, which means The Call to Slumber (CtS) has a CT of 10+roll, and a spont spell has a CT of 22+ before dividing.

    Fearie Soldier has a Might score of 10. So Argento needs an effective CT+Pen of 21+ to put the fae to sleep.

    Argento might try to roll 12+ roll vs the Fae’s Might of 10, however unless Argento is lucky and gets 9 or over on her roll, she will not succeed. This is because the Fae’s might will require a penetration result of 11 or higher more than the spell’s level to be successful.

    Argento needs to choose to either repeatedly cast Call to Slumber at the faerie and hope that she rolls 9 or higher on the dice roll, or she can opt to boost her penetration using the style of spell below, with the the knowledge that each casting will cost her a spontaneous fatigue level. Note that if Argento learns Wizard’s Auger or Wizard’s Awl (below) formulaically, she can boost many of her low level spells easily, giving her better penetration – if she had, the poor fay would be asleep in the first round. This does not add any more than +5 to +10 penetration to a spell, but that little extra is sometimes all that is needed.

    Argento chooses to first cast a spontaneous version of Wizard’s Auger as a MuVi10 spell, for which she has a casting total of 25+ roll before halving the result by spending a fatigue level. Unless she botches she will succeed, and this raises the penetration of the next spell by +5.

    She then casts her Call to Slumber as normal, and while she still has a CT of 12+, her final penetration for the spell is now CT+Pen of 17 + dice roll, making it far more likely that she could put the annoying fae to sleep. She only need a 4 or more on the d10 roll.

    In this scenario yelling with powerful gestures also helps both styles of approach, it makes the casting without a MuVi spell far more likely, however it makes the solution with a MuVi spell almost a certainty (botches, twilight, etc).

    Learned formulaically these spells add a lot of utility without requiring significant additional power or lab level. A Muto expert could also spont cast their own versions easily, and also might help their troupe if they cooperate with other Magi. Continue reading