I was initially baffled by how to spec and then alter a Magi’s lab in Ars Magica. These are my cheat notes for how it works…
A basic rule is for every improvement you want it to make in a lab it probably requires an investment of a season to make the change, and first an additional space. The remaining space is represented by the size less the consumed space, and the process of Refinement adds more space to a lab by reorganising the current content. Essentially the Magus can reorganise the content many times but there is little benefit unless the new space created will be used for something significant.
This means that a season is needed to refine a lab first, and then whatever enhancement. So most improvements need two or more seasons. In more detail…using an example helps.
Firstly, a brief description of the initial lab should be written. This fluff allows a common view point for the starting conditions and a basis for expansion.
“The laboratory of Zharkune the Necromancer is located below the ground in one of the Covenant’s cellars. This is accessed by a secured stairway from an antechamber on the tower’s ground level aside the main corridor. Both the antechamber and the downward stairwell are secured by heavy wooden door, the inner door bearing Zharkune’s sancta marker. Inside the cellar is cold and dark, with no natural light which insulates the lab against outside noises. The lab is standard size, with a two small storage chambers to the north, a side reverie for reading, and an unused but furnished sleeping chamber to the south, as Zharkune also keeps a larger residence in the upper levels of the tower. The ancillary chambers are not considered part of the lab proper, but could be converted for use in the future.”
The second task is to set the initial conditions of the lab, and those are based upon the construction, physical environment, and resources of the covenant. Some labs will start very plain with no special features, but many should start with altered characteristics. Further if the covenant has pervasive aspects like a regio or in an extreme temperature then this should be accounted for.
Laboratory of Zharkune the Necromancer – Starting characteristics.
Working scores: +2 Safety, +2 Aesthetics, +1 Upkeep, -1 Health, +1 Terram,
- Well Insulated (behind two doors and underground): +1 Safety, +1 Aesthetics.
- Subterranean (cellar): +1 Upkeep, -1 Health, -1 Aesthetics, +1 Terram.
- Guard (who protects the outer door): +1 Aesthetics.
- Superior Construction (a conjured tower): +1 Safety, +1 Aesthetics
Laboratory of Zharkune the Necromancer – Modified characteristics.
After a brief year (a season of refinement and a season to invest each of the two properties) Zharkune’s lab has become specialised to his tastes.
Working scores: +2 Refinement, +2 Safety, +4 Aesthetics, +1 Upkeep, +1 Health, +1 Terram, +1 Corpus, +1 Creo, +1 Warping,
- Specimens (human body parts): kept for study and for reanimation. +1 Upkeep, +1 Aesthetics, +1 Corpus.
- Preserved (a magical storeroom): which keeps content immune from natural decay. -1 Upkeep, +1 Warping, +2 Health, +1 Aesthetics; +1 Cr.
Advice for lab creation
A common example – a covenant tower created with a magical ritual or sources from some other supernatural source should start with the Superior Construction quality.
Also if the wizards have the option it is far better to create labs which are larger than the standard; meaning a positive size attribute due to initial construction. This is because each new aspect or quality which is added takes up a virtual point of space which is directly linked to size.
Then the players should discuss is any characters wish to gain highly customised aspects (such as a bottomless pit or sentient lab) as this will guide the flavour of the lab going forward.