An Imaginary Lab in the Familiar Bond

The Crown of Hermes magical device (Covenants p.121) allows the wearer to have an imaginary lab within their mind to perform their magical investigations, limited to particular activities like studying arts and inventing spells. I’ve never seen this device used in a game but it is a very interesting option for a Magus who travels a lot or with strong Mentem Arts, as they can have a lab anywhere. When combined with the lab specialisation rules the lab might be on par with a standard lab for some activities.

A primary advantage is how portable it makes a lab. A Bonisagus Seeker might get a lot of use from it when they are frequently traveling, likewise a Mercere Magus, or a Magus who wishes to remain untethered. One of the primary downsides of the device is the warping it inflicts (even though it might be designed for the wearer).

So what if the enchantment was performed on a familiar bond instead a normal device, as the familiar bonds do not cause warping (as per Ars Magica p.168)?

Modifications would need to allow for casting upon the wizard, and perhaps also the familiar could share the experience, and preferably an effect which can be used more frequently if desired. It becomes an invested power of the bond as:

Imagined Laboratory of Hermes, Invested

CrMe/InMuRe 58, Base 35, +1 Touch, +1 Conc, +1 extra target. Then mods for +5 device maintains concentration, and +3 for 6 uses per day.

In this version the spell affects both the Magus and the familiar, allowing them to work together. It could also be made as (CrMe/InReMu 53) by only affecting the magus but being controlled by the familiar – which might make sense if the familiar was to guard the body of the Magus while the spell is in effect; although typically a magus wants that familiar in the lab to gain their skills. Those additional uses allow for interruption now that the effect duration is concentration.  Continue reading

Quick example of how to improve a Magi’s lab in Ars Magica

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, 

Attributes:

  • 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, 

Additional attributes:

  • 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.

lab1

Sean, a sample Ars Magica lab assistant

portrait-seanSean is the personal assistant to Magus Corbin, Follower of Merinita. He is a failed monk who is one of the rag-tag bunch brought to the covenant by Corbin.

Background

Born a lame bastard of a trivial midlands clan, Sean has no great destiny. His early life saw him shipped off to a college school as he seemed to be passingly smart and could do very little of the field work or hard laboring with his gimp leg. The church needed more hands, and saw fit to begin his training. Alas he was a poor fit for the monastic life and he left the Church shortly after taking his final vows, and fled to his old home. Sean was found by Corbin during a brief but utterly problematic visit to his old clan. Corbin was one of the only people who gave Sean a second look, and for that reason alone the clan were happy for Sean to hobble after Corbin when he departed.

While Corbin completed his apprenticeship he saw that Sean was trained in more skills than just writing, and found him to be an useful extra set of hands. When the time came there was little doubt that Sean would accompany Corbin to his new home. Continue reading

Shorthand vs longhand lab notes

Ars Magica has a core concept that each Magus writes their lab notes in an abbreviated shorthand. It is a personal style of notation which must be undone and the notes translated to longhand if they are to be easily used by others as lab texts. This is typically done by the Magus taking additional season or so, or by somebody also very familiar with the Magus’s style – perhaps their lab assistant, an apprentice, or even a familiar. I think that a person can learn the style of another magus and then be able to translate for them, once a hand-waved amount of exposure is performed. That could be represented as time working with the Magus or time deciphering their style. 

However if a magus wished to write the lab notes longhand in the same season as the magical activity, what penalty to lab productivity would be incurred to the lab total?

I ask as sometimes a magus can perform a lab activity easily and will have capacity for additional effort; but no real valuable mini-project to add to it. 

I think it would take a significant amount of additional energy to document correctly as you go, correct for changes, and the additional scribing overhead would act as a negative influence to the efficiency of the work. On smaller projects it is probably easier, and in complex projects it might add so much time it is not worth it.

As such I’d say add one quarter again the difficulty of the lab totals to the project.

e.g. A project with a target difficult of 20 becomes 25, and the magus must try to complete the project as normal. If the magus has enough of a lab total to still complete the work in a season then well and good, otherwise it takes them into the next season. It is then a balancing act for the magus to see how they wish to conduct the work. For small projects it makes a kind of sense, which meets the balance I think is suitable.

In terms of exposure I’d say it takes 5 seasons of shared lab work to learn a magus’ shorthand. Those who know it will be able to translate well. 

And yes, some games will just say stick to the rules as written, you can’t do this. Accepted without argument, but I think this makes a lot of sense. 

lab-orb

Magi Lab Protections using Illusions

A while ago I wrote about a few effects to protect a Magi’s lab and here are a few more using illusions. Many effects are tricks that won’t fool or dissuade another wizard, but they may abstract the lab enough to make it difficult to navigate.

First it’s worth noting that using charged items might be a valid method for labs which don’t expect frequent incursions. Lesser devices are very good too if their triggering actions are designed to be complimentary.

Secondly – each effect might be presented in an item or spell differently according to the intent of the designer – particularly when considering the effects duration. To avoid too many variants I’ve mocked these effects up using Duration: Concentration. This means that the effects will either be higher level if invented as formulaic spells, or the enchants device will maintain the spell.

An idea from a few years back was an illusion to spin all the images in the room, thereby making navigation and investigation very difficult.

Chamber of Imaginary Chaos

Rego Imagonem 15, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Room

The images of the targeted room are broken, blurred, and ruined as they whir chaotically in all directions.

(Base 3, +1 Touch, +1 Conc, +2 Room)

Illusion of the Abandoned Storeroom

Muto Imagonem 5, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Room

This effect changes the image of a room and all its contents to appear like a disused storeroom. Dust, cobwebs, ruined furniture, and stacks of old sacks, barrels, or crates replace the images of all items in the room. The specific appearance is chosen by the caster.

As the effect alters the room completely the appearance of large objects can be made to look like walls or counter-tops.

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

Illusion of the Dangerous Circle

Creo Imagonem 10, R: Touch, D: Ring, T: Individual

This spell creates a visual and auditory illusion of a hermetic circle and allows the caster to tailor what appears to be held inside. The illusory ring may appear separate from the actual ring maintaining the spell, but must still be within it.

(Base 2 for sight and sound, +1 Touch, +2 Ring, +1 moving image)

Hide the Dangerous Circle

Perdo Imagonem 10, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Individual

The image of the circle, marking, ring, or ward targeted by this spell is made invisible for the duration of the spell. The spell was intended to assist in using non-permanent circles and rings as part of temporary defensive measures, and allow those measures to also be hidden.

(Base 4, +1 Touch, +1 Conc)

Illusion of the Misplaced Ring

Rego Imagonem 5, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Circle

The targeted ring and its contents appears to be up to a pace away from its actual location.

(Base 2, +1 Touch, +1 Conc, +1 moving image)

A nested ring effect where the outer layer is drawn is something quite easy to break like sand and the inner layer is marked in a more permanent material such as chalk.

The first and second ring spells cast on the external layer to stop all noise from exiting the ring, and another effect hides everything in the ring. The internal or second layer creates a huge amount of noise as an alarm.

Physical props could be set to marr the outer circle if they are disturbed, like the opening of a door or window, or an invisible stick being moved by accident.

Illusion of the Screaming Cacophony

Creo Imagonem 5, R: Touch, D: Ring, T: Circle

This spell creates a very loud continuous noise, intended as an alarm.

(Base 1, +1 Touch, +2 Ring, +1 very loud)

This effect is low enough it’s easy to cast spontaneously.

If you like these look for the 350+ more new spells for Ars Magica.

Pondering a House Rule for labs in Ars Magica

Aside

In Ars Magica the wizards typically spend a lot of time in their laboratories, doing a variety of wizardly things. One of the key aspects of a wizard is what and where that lab is, and what it might say about them. Labs can be enhanced through time, money, and magical devices to become specialised and/or less dangerous. The rule for such things start in the Ars Magica core rules and then greatly expand in the Covenants source book.

When a covenant is “set-up” it starts with a number of labs at the basic +0 level for each magus who lives at the covenant. A bonus to the lab is a very big deal to a lab-rat style character, and still significant to a typical character.

With that focus in mind the game provides the time elapsed for the various activities for improving or altering labs; but now that I’m in a game where the passage of time passes very slowly and the labs are pivotal to my character I’m finding the time required to alter a lab to be ridiculous.

For example in RAW*:

  • Setting up a lab takes 2 seasons, with the first giving a basic skeleton capable of a -3 modifier, then the second finalising on a +0 modifier.
  • Moving a lab from one location to another takes 3 seasons.
  • Improving a lab is a season-on-season activity, where points build up to gain advantages or specialisations. This can be a huge investment of time and money in the games.

Essentially it takes a wizard 6 months to establish a functional place to work with magic, and 9 months to move an existing lab from one place to another. So it takes 3 months longer to move a +0 lab than to set one up?

Apologies to the writers of Ars (as I’m a fan) but this is absurd. Even if this time included the effort and activity in buying the materials, haggling with suppliers, carting the gear, and adjusting the layout to suit some sort of astrological and metaphysical schema, it is a bloody long time.

Consider that a wizard may wish to alter where their lab is for in-game reasons, the time spend in a mundane task is prohibitive. The game lore has references to labs in exotic locations and involving strange and wonderful components, but frankly I think only an NPC would bother.

Do real characters really desire to spend this much time suspended in time?

These times should be reduced by something like an order of magnitude, and even then they’d be long. Converting Months to Weeks is perhaps too far, but 6 months of dead character time just to have a working +0 lab? Nope, makes no sense to me.

I understand why the rules are written this way, a lot of activity is measured in seasons for Ars Magica, and (I think) the times are provided as a way to make labs feel heavier in the mindset of the players. The heavy investment of time adds a certain gravity or presence to a lab; and conversely it means that a character spends half a year doing almost nothing of value. In an RPG sense six months of game time can be an eternity, and the wizard just got the benches and flasks all set-up.

This is my current thoughts as an alternative house rule for lab setup:

  • Establishing a lab takes a season. This is a working +0 laboratory area.
  • Lab establishment can suffer from the same rules as interruptions to activities, and if a legitimate interruption occurs then the lab suffers a -3 modifier.
  • That -3 penalty can be removed as a distraction to study in a subsequent season of legitimate lab activity.
  • This means it might take a few seasons to get a lab working if the wizard is also doing other things, but generally they can get up and working in a season of dedicated activity.
  • Moving a lab also takes a season, however when established it cannot have a bonus of higher than +0 modifier regardless of it’s actual quality. All negatives still apply, but the positive values are capped at +0.
  • After a move, a lab distraction each season improves the qualities back to their previous levels by one step each season. Thus a +1 lab is able to work at +0 in one season, and back to normal after two seasons. This also means that the lab can be used in the second season at +0 and it is restored at the end.
  • After a move, a wizard may dedicate a full season of time to setting the lab up again properly. If this is done without interruption the lab gains a max of a +3 shift per season spent.

Given the house rules above a high quality lab should return to normal operation quickly enough after a move, and a basic lab can be setup or shifted without too much worry. Likewise a powerful lab can still be shifted but it’s qualities do not return straight away, and the rate at which that power returns can be chosen by the wizard themselves instead of an arbitrary block of 9 months.

My perspective as a player is what is driving this post. When I was a GM in Ars Magica I was less worried about the loss of time for the players, and I think that is a telling factor in how time can be handled. As a player I want value from the elapsed time, and it wasn’t until playing in a game where I was affected by the shift in labs that it became clear just how time intensive the basic rules are.

I’ve not covered the rules for the advancement of labs from the Core rules or the Covenants book – and probably won’t until I get a chance to see this alteration in play first. Perhaps it is really too fast, I won’t know that until I get a feel for how it plays out.

* RAW – meaning the Rules as Written.

Tricky uses for Imagonem magic in Ars Magica

In previous games my Magi have used Imagonem magic with Ring durations to remove or alter the image of a wall, thus creating magical windows. In an expansion source book a sample spell does this exact effect too, which was a nice nod of the head to the Ars players who had been using this trick. I’m sure I initially borrowed the idea from a player’s post to either a forum or some online resource. It is not a new idea, but it is clever. I know that it might seem a little silly initially, but given the amount of time that Magi spend indoors and the desire to keep their sanctum secure, windows that are actually solid walls have some benefit (This post extends on a previous one, which talked through the basics of some Ring baset sneaky spell effects, and I cannot ignore the recent palava around how it breaks the game in a thread in the official forums). Anyway, do as you will in your games folks; this is what I do in mine. It is another example of where the use of the Duration: Ring in Ars Magica can be very handy and effective.

These effects create a great natural source of light during daytime in the lab, and does not affect security. Like most things in Ars Magica’s magic system there are many way to get this result, depending on the detail of how the effect is designed. There are two effects I can thing of to do this “cheaply”; that is to remove the image of the wall totally, or move the image of the wall slightly out of the way. Given T: Part is probably as effective and it is a smaller effect, that seems the best choice.

Summary of effects:

  • Pedo Imagonem 15 = Base 4 affect sight, R: Touch +1, D: Ring +2, T: Circle +0. This effect removes the image from the area within the target circle, so that it is rendered invisible.
  • Rego Imagonem 10 = Base 2 to make it appear 1 pace away, R: Touch +1, D: Ring +2, T: Part +1. This effect shifts the image of the circle up to 1 pace away. This leaves the target area invisible.

When translated into full spells:

Ring of Impermanently Clear Vision

Perdo Imagonem 15, R: Touch, D: Ring, T: Circle

This effect removes the image from the area within the target circle, so that it is rendered invisible.

(Base 4 affect sight, R: Touch +1, D: Ring +2, T: Circle +0)

Ring of Transiently Clear Vision

Rego Imagonem 10, R: Touch, D: Ring, T: Circle

This effect removes the image from the area within the target circle, so that it is rendered invisible.

(Base 2 to make it appear 1 pace away, R: Touch +1, D: Ring +2, T: Part +1)

The trick for Ring duration and Circle targets is that they last only until the ring or circle is marred or damaged. The game is not specific about what that particularly means, and I like that some parts of this magic system are left for the players to decide.

The effects also can take time to cast, given the circles must be drawn. A solution to that problem is for another spell to drawn the circles properly and permanently.

Inscribe the Magic Circle

Perdo Terram 10, R: Touch, D: Mom, T: Part

This spell inscribes a magic circle into the surface of the object touched. The circle may be as large or small as the caster desires, up to around 5 feet diameter. The spell affects simple materials such as dirt, clay, or sand; and harder substances such as stone or glass. It may also affect other materials subject to requisites at time of casting.

(Base 3 to destroy, Touch +1, D: Mom, Part +1, to affect stone or glass +1, and requisites for different materials at time of casting are free)

I’d suggest that a Magus who is going to use Circles for effects routinely might also want a spell which will not carve into the surface, and also allow them to have more control of the durations. A variation on the effect above could be called Render the Magic Circle to allow a circle to be drawn easily and perfectly, remain even though others attempt to mark it, but also not be permanently inscribed on the object.

A marking spell could be designed in a variety of ways. A simple approach is a Creo Imagonem effect to draw the circle at the point touched. This is probably the simplest approach as it creates a very low level effect.

Render the Magic Circle

Rego Imagonem 5

The caster draws a circle onto the surface touched. The circle may be as large or small as the caster desires, up to around 4 feet diameter.

(Base 1 to create something affecting one sense, R: Touch +1, D: Moon +3, T: Ind)

The duration of Moon is useful as it is long enough for it to not need to be recast frequently, but also not make the final effect level too high.

A Muto Imagonem spell could also be designed, and it would have the same base effect; so would a Animal, Herbam, Terram, or even Corpus (yuk) effect to “write” the circle using different materials.

Using the optional rules from one of the source books for crafting magic, a Rego effect could also be used to actually draw the circle if the caster has the inks or tools on hand. This allows the casters to have their “almost permanent” rings drawn as they like, but has a downside of requiring the material to hand. Not a problem in a wizard’s lab, but certainly a problem in the wild.

Draw the Magic Circle

Rego Herbam 5

The caster quickly draws a circle onto the surface touched, far faster than the typical inscription time. The circle may be as large or small as the caster desires, up to around 100 paces in diameter. The caster must make a Finesse check of 3+ or else the circle is unusable.

(Base 1 to create something simple, R: Touch +1, +3 for very large circles)

This spell could have been invented at ReHe2 but the circle size would have only been around 1 pace maximum and as the key benefit of crafting magic is to accelerate work, it seemed too much of a lost opportunity not to scale it up to level 5 and have a more useful effect.

I’ll be the first person to say that these effects are odd, but in the hands of a character casting wards and circles all the time they save on the hassle of stressful casting conditions.