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

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Crafting the enchanted object for Initiation to Bjornaer Sensory Magic

Part of the Sensory Magic initiation process (HoH:MC, p.27-28) is the creation of a magical device in the shape of the Bjornaer’s Heartbeast which is imbued with five senses.

The Initiate must craft an object in the shape of his heartbeast and enchant it with the ability to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.

This task is totally undefined and very open to interpretation. I thought to write out a few potential ways to create the object and discuss some of the options. While trying to complete the initiation requirements in blog-post form I have a few goals:

  • Meet the requirements of the initiation ritual minimally and simplistically, to demonstrate how to not waste vis and time.
  • Meet the requirements beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • See if any of the designs for the invested spells or effects might be reused for a similar purpose later.
  • See if any odd or weird options arise while pondering this design task.

From the outset of sketching potential solutions there was a large discrepancy between the options and the real answer is to set the requirements to what is reasonable for the character and the saga. There is no point getting overly prescriptive or pedantic in most Ars games because the gameplay is more about the interactions than the consumption of vis and seasons. The vis and seasons are a point of consistency in requirements for Magi, because almost everything else they do is totally subjective.

Therefore the goal should be an amount of seasons and vis which represents a sacrifice, and allows the story to continue.

Frankly with that in mind I’m tempted to recommend the most basic version be the default and move on (option one below). As anecdotal support for this a Bjornaer magus named Lexora (Through the Aegis, p.45) has the Sensory Magic virtue and also the flaw Weak Enchanter, which makes it implausible that Lexora created anything in the lab beyond the most basic magic item. So consider: she would struggle even with the simple “method one” version.

I’d also encourage the reuse in the lab, so if the Bjornaer can craft something which they can craft again to good use that’s a potentially good solution. Continue reading