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.


Ars 5e in the wild

ars5e-stkilda-libI chuckled happily when wandering through the roleplaying section of St Kilda library, and found a copy of Ars Magica 5th edition. Ars is a niche game and not a book I’d expect to see aside Pathfinder, DnD, and some of the other larger games they had.

That said, the core rules give you all you need, so why not!

A sample NPC, Phocas the Mason

An NPC character in an Ars magica play-by-post game. Phocas is the covenant’s mason and also acting autocrat. As a grog the stats are not critical, but certainly handy.

Phocas, Mason and Autocrat
Phocas is tall and thin with thick dark wavy hair, a trimmed beard and mustache, and a wry smile which implies deep knowledge. He walks and speaks with an “aristocratic” air, having been well educated formally at great expense to his family. He is always in the midst of at least three different tasks, and it is only his passion for his work and an organised mind which allow him to run so many concurrent tasks.

Phocas was the first son of a growing family of builders. His wit and ambition was identified early in his childhood and he was given the best education his family could afford. After many years of church schooling and private study, combined with his families growing dependency for him to run aspects of the masonry business, he became a central figure in his families growing wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately as his influence grew Phocas also grew to dislike his families ceaseless lust for excess and influence, their bickering and infighting, and so he resented the conflicts in his duties more and more with each passing year. Too many years of running his father and uncles businesses for little more than lip service to his own achievements made him unsatisfied. With time his temper also grew, and Phocas began to be frustrated by the incompetence within the family business which he could not change. Phocas loved the challenges running major mason operations, focused on elegance and perfection in his work, and desired to run his own operation his way without the influences and limitations which come from family businesses.

Eventually it became too much and Phocas left his family, as he sought to find another path for himself. His business acumen and practical skills in masonry, combined with a high quality education made him an incredibly valuable employee. After several small projects were completed successfully, Phocas took an unusual but lucrative contract to build far from his typical town and parish work. The employer’s “covenant” was a series of perfect opportunities to demonstrate his skills.

Phocas was then approached by a representative of The Order with a a more permanent offer; a different style challenge which appealed to him greatly – “why not work amongst those who value knowledge over wealth, for whom worldly power holds little sway. Build your own legacy Phocas”.

With his new role acting as the covenant Autocrat as well as running the affairs of the masonry business Phocas is adamantly determined to prove himself. Phocas recognises he lacks the background to perform all functions of the autocrat smoothly, but considers himself worthy of the challenge and intends to run both aspects of the covenant professionally and with vigor. The irony of being intolerant of incompetence and his new role is not lost upon him, but he does not find this point humorous. He is also aware that his temper could potentially be his undoing with the Magi, who are superior to him in the covenant, so he is attempting to withhold his anger or divert it to other people and places.

Phocas is a hard task master for his teams and workers, but understands the value of praise and also appreciates that not all workers are as driven as he is. In direction and attitude he is forthright, clear, and prides himself on accuracy. He prefers leading his staff, but is not above performing the work himself and assisting his workers directly; especially if any show interest or talent. He is known to “not suffer fools”.

“A good job, on budget, on time, and a match to the desired function” Continue reading

a play by post game – Tales of Crimson and Gold

the yard in this house always faces the sunWe’re starting up a little play-by-forum game using a harsh cludge of high fantasy and Mythic Europe, based upon Atlas Game’s Ars Magica setting. It’s called the Tales of Crimson and Gold (or ToGC for short). The mash-up is all the huge epic fluff from typical D&D settings pushed into a world that was once Europe.

I know that makes about as much sense as a dyslexic angel with A.D.D. and a heavy-bolter, but I think it will feel good to play.

It will hopefully be like RIFTS meets Ars Magica. A typical AM games have a predilection for the local area to be rather mundane, with the odd hidden gem of mystic stuff, and then the world gets more “fantastic/odd” as the character branch out from their home. It is a “tip of the hat” to the idea that everywhere else in the world is wild and dangerous, so best stay home where it is same. Conversely boilerplate Forgotten Realms-ish makes no apologies about random encounters, huge dragons, lightning swords, monsters with 5 syllable names, and crazy wizards with floppy hats and portable hole generators.

The players and I are hopefully going to see what happens when home is just as wacky as the legendary places far away. Continue reading

Deathwatch mission background fluff

“What is the terror of death? That we die, our work incomplete.”

“However, what is the joy of life? To die, knowing our task is done.”

As part of starting a short Deathwatch game, I thought to write a little introduction, or background teaser. Hopefully useful and entertaining…

[begin] [data log 000000040001-AH-4771-k-00002] [Sec Com: Edict]
[Designation: Insertion Delta I-327] [Mission: Lachernei-P1-MH0] 
[Action: Immediate]

Signals division report malformed emissions from MWI-012 (planet 
Hartel-3). Immediate reconnaissance required. August-3 Fireteam 
to deploy via transport IST-1-6 (The Bloodied Hand). Rendezvous 
for extract at MWI-590 (asteroid Choking-Heathen). Additional 
assets at discretion of local command.

[1] Orbital Survey MWI-012.
[1] Signals Emissions Recording.
[2] Threat Assessment.
[3] Neutralize Threat.
[1] Rendezvous MWI-590.

Non-standard combat requisition: Approved: Augur Servo-skull. 
[data log 41-AH-4771-k] [end]

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #1)

Fireteam has been expanded with additional Imperial navy resources to include a signals specialist and a handful of general guard, a few of them boots. It took very little persuasion for the SS to familiarize himself with the improved Augur from the ship’s deep store, and the boat’s captain is looking longingly at the device even though I’ve implied that it will be his skull next if it was not to be returned. These Imperials are ordinary but adequate. I am wary of what we will find at the rock as the mission brief was short and unexpected.

My commander will assign two of our own to watch the SS, and the rest can go under general command for the deployment. I praise the captain for his quiet entry to system.

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #2)

MWI-590 is exactly as Temple charter described, and it has created a stir amongst the boots. They initially appeared to be nervous about the deployment upon seeing the C-Hazard, and the auspicious proclivity for exaggeration by the Fireteam made this no better. Despite my warning I have forgiven them this indulgence.

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #3)

Hartel-3 is without question unclean. I have rarely seen filth of this nature, and never on this scale. My report to Temple recommended global sanctification and the Captain has requested same through navy command. As expected response will take time. Tomorrow we close for inspection.

Such days as these test our mettle, and we are reforged stronger in His name.

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #4)

The beast struck sure at our orbit, and cleverly waited some time before its strike. Our Fireteam were fully deployed on planet so while the damage to the hull was brief and brutal, our troop was diminished only slightly; some 40 hands, twelve Imperial guard, and our barber-surgeon.

Fireteam has made contact with the creature and found it passive. I suspect it has the rare intelligence to be pondering the team’s purpose, whereas the The Bloodied Hand was here for only the creature’s ill.

I will pray for those lost, and more so for those who fight on. Their is the purest purpose, my His shield and sword be ever present. More cannot be committed to insecure logs.


I need a Rifts and Spelljammer Anonymous group

There I said it, I need a Rifts (by Palladium) and Spelljammer Anonymous group. Why? Because despite these two settings and systems being hated and joked about by almost all the RPG community – I like them both. They’re not perfect, but any experienced RPG player can knock holes in almost any highly system-centric RPG.

(aside – somebody needs to be taken to task for how cliche the RIFTS Australia World book is. Seriously, it’s almost a crime. Even in 1990 we knew far better than this tripe)

Like many I’ve bashed Rifts and Spelljammer for the sake of a laugh, and sometimes more seriously as examples of what didn’t seem to work well in game. However the more I think about these games the more I think that the settings had huge potential. It appears that it was the mechanics and the players ourselves who didn’t realise what me might have had.

Over on Star Gazers’ World is a post about RIFTS which I think is worth a read. Sunglar’s talking about character he loved and experienced in the setting, and it is an entertaining read for a long-in-the-tooth gamer like me. I commented:

I loved RIFTS. The setting has a huge potential to tell very deep and evocative stories, and while the mechanics in the RAW are questionable, I don’t think they are any worse than may other systems. It is a product of the thinking at the time about game systems. If it was written now I think the political setting wouldn’t change too much, but the mechanics would be far more graceful.

So there it is. The basics of a brief writing challenge, or at the very least the thoughts in this blog post. Firstly the game still needs a compelling story beyond “this is cool”, as the cool of both SJ and Rifts gets tarnished very quickly when the players get into the world and events start going sideways. Using pre-written games is a great idea for starting players. Continue reading

SimCity Extralife Perfection

Scott Johnson’s My Extralife comic is a mainstay of my webcomic reading. This great comic is a wonderfully dry observation on recent “always online” requirements.

As far as SimCity’s cluster-fail of how they handled the customer … well its been said that EA are not the best publisher or distributor when it comes to customer service, and I cannot disagree too much. No way in hell I’m buying a product when the vendor shows such plain disdain for their customers. That would be just rewarding them. The new Sim City might be the best version ever created, but I’ll wait for the next one. Or the one after that.


My Extralife – Mysterious Bravo Sir! Check out his archive for the old works, equally sharp.