Many folk tell me that conjuring money permanently using magic isn’t worth it in Ars Magica, or at the very least it is very problematic, and also has story and setting risks. The setting certainly discourages it, as the Covenants book provides not only a level 35 Creo Terram to create money, but also a special Tribunal ruling to dictate that the Order might have made about spending too much silver per year; essentially making it illegal to flood an economy with dramatically more money or resources that a covenant could reasonable have from an outsider’s perspective.
There are spells for creating non-permanent money, and spells to mentally control mundanes, so as far as the economic pitfalls go I can respect the lore, but not at a point of base ethics – because Wizards in Ars Magica don’t have ethics akin to any other role in the setting.
For example the Tribunal ruling wasn’t made because of an ethical issue, it was made to keep the peace with the mundanes, nobility and clergy. It changes the meta-rule from “don’t do it” to “don’t get caught” or “hide it well”. So what Ars Magica community is telling me is probably right; but I choose to ignore it and ponder how much valuable stuff that could be created and how best to spend it.
Players being players they tend to also want a lot of money, or ready access to a reasonable stash of resources should they need it. Perhaps a small horde of cash as a reserve isn’t needed and incongruent with the style of many games, but a Magus using magic to create their own personal reserve of resources seems darn legitimate to me. I can also appreciate that for experienced players the act of being clever about money isn’t interesting anymore. Darn fair view.
I prefer to think that many of the mercantile Houses (especially Harco) would bend the guidelines frequently and hide it using some clever accounting practices.
Based upon what we know about the way magic spells scale in Ars Magica we can see that conjuring permanent money is wasteful below a certain threshold (the Ritual base level of 20), but after a respectful level of difficulty it becomes quickly easy to get carried away. A covenant may never need to “work” again if they can find ways to funnel their magical money into the real economy quietly and secretly.
For example, this spell creates a darn healthy amount of wealth, but costs four pawns of Vis. The Ritual level 20 baseline means that any permanent wealth spell has to be level 20, which is why inventing a lesser version at level 15 is doubly wasteful (I avoided using a +1 complexity modifier to create coins in these examples, as that would make them akin to the exact spell in Covenants – you can do the math). Consider too that somebody either has to trade for this spell and then learn it which could cost a season or so, or create it which also requires lab work.
So firstly lets create some rough spells to base demonstrate wealth creation.
Avarice of the Uninspired Usurer
Creo Terram 20, R:Touch, D:Mom, T: Ind, Ritual
This ritual creates a 1/10th of a cubic foot of silver or gold (or 2.83 liters). As a lump of material, it has limited uses without being processed in some manner.
(Base 15, R:Touch +1, Ritual)
a.k.a. What a complete waste of Vis! Silver or gold, or whatever the material – this effect will alleviate a small burden of money for a short period, but not forever. Gold is worth far more, but also a lot harder to use in-character than silver. The created material will still need to be crafted into coins to make it easier to use. So instead lets get enough raw material to almost never need more:
Avarice of the Unscrupulous Glutton
Creo Terram 35, R:Touch, D:Mom, T: Ind, Ritual
This ritual creates a 100 cubic feet of silver or gold (or 2830 liters). As a lump of material, it has limited uses without being processed in some manner.
(Base 15, R:Touch +1, size +3, Ritual)
And then this, just because…this is a moderate sized room full floor to ceiling with the material. It costs seven pawns of vis to cast.
When the size modifier for the spell design gets higher the actual material you are creating becomes a little silly. If a covenant were to conjure 1000 cubic foot of silver to use very slowly for finances, then they are probably set for the life of the campaign. In fact this level of wealth is more than several modest covenants could spend over hundreds of years if they were to honor the implied legalities I mentioned above. I know this isn’t how a “clever” troupe solve the money problem, but frankly I’m suspecting that is because they’ve just not been thinking big enough, or securely wide enough. It is actually a great solution if the security of access to the money and the distribution of the money into the economy is properly managed. This is akin to the covenant laundering it’s conjured wealth to reap a material gain.
To be successful the covenant must be considerate to influence of their ventures within their tribunal.
A big part of the Tribunal law is about staying inconspicuous in your surroundings, and never putting more than 20 pounds of silver into a tribunal economy (Covenants, p 61). So the first thing to setup is a distribution hub in every other tribunal to trade through. That will create friction everywhere (and potentially many stories) but is totally within the rules of the game and the rules of a tribunal. 20 pounds locally,plus 80 pounds via four small trade houses is achievable.
I suggest targeting smaller regional centers instead of major cities, and stick to places which are traditional trade ports. A major city will have a better breadth of goods, but also stronger local merchants and guilds to contend with. Mid sized locations have reasonable resources and enough economy to sink the conjured wealth into. The idea is that a small cadre of knowledgeable grogs could permanently live at each hub, and manage the asset and wealth distribution. It will cost a small amount to establish each hub, but the wealth is conjured anyway.
Using Redcaps will get you noticed very quickly, but not using them will also make them angry. Reasonably the hubs could manage purchase and acquisition of the goods that the covenant desires, and then pass these through to the Redcaps for secure delivery. That way Harco gets it’s percentage and influence, but no Magus is directly exposed as involved.
Another way to hide in plain sight is to establish a set of minor businesses, with the real purpose being a secondary endeavor, such as spying, security, or a chapter house for the covenant.
…Other Hermetic Uses
What if the covenant lent money to other covenants? Or money to mundanes through a proxy?
Does the same logic follow – If I had a room full of $100 dollar notes would that not solve my financial issues for a while? Why would the local community find anything odd, as long as I didn’t change behavior too much?
In terms of greed – lastly I know its not elegant but toward the extreme end of greed might allow for a spell to create a huge degree of wealth. This answers the question on why magi do not seem so focused on money itself.
Avarice of the Dragon’s Horde
Creo Terram 40, R:Touch, D:Mom, T: Ind, Ritual
This ritual creates 1000 cubic feet of gold (or 28,310 liters), created in small golden bars.
(Base 15, R:Touch +1, size +4, +1 complexity of bars, Ritual)