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)

Discussing a portable floating laboratory

A laboratory is a fundamental tool for every Magus in Ars Magica. As such there are variations and rules in abundance for how to detail and personalise a lab (Covenants source book, p 106). Just to be slightly odd I thought detailing a few aspects of a floating lab might be interesting. Typically to find a structure for a lab isn’t difficult but finding something which is suitable as a portable and floating lab is harder, it’s either constructed purposefully by understanding mundane craftsman or conjured.

If constructed the sourcing becomes a challenge only in resolving how the building is designed for flight. The Magus comes to acquire the stonemasons, labourers, and materials of the build in context of their covenant resources.

If conjured the sourcing probably requires a bespoke spell for the shape and size required, so it adds seasons of work or vis to be spent if another Magus is supplying the solution. It does however grant the owner exacting design choices and options which would be very difficult for mundane craftsmen to complete.

Rather than a conjured room or tower which is then enchanted, I suggest taking a lead from the floating castle in Legends of Hermes (p.121), by using a massive sheet of stone as the base with a Rego Terram effect, say one pace thick by 30 paces across. That requires a constant lesser enchantment as ReTe28. This allows the stone sheet to move at the speed of a running horse. Then if it is commanded in the same way as The Flying Castle of Thomae then another constant lesser device of CrIg9 is needed to send the colored light as control commands.

A 30 pace wide disk is far more than large enough for a single lab and likely could hold a small tower, or many ancillary buildings too. The disk itself will have the same abilities and failings as listed for the flying castle. It’s plausible to have the disc far smaller than 30 x 1 paces to make a smaller block, especially if the next task is adding a multi-story building. It could be about 15 paces wide and still hold a huge lab, and reducing the blocks diameter makes it easier to fit into a lab for enchantment (note though the Ars rules allow for an outdoor lab, so it’s plausible to create a place to enchant this easily). Perhaps a block roughly 15×2 paces is better as it makes for an incredibly sturdy base.

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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