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

Advertisements

What do I want from magic? I want to see magic burn. MuVi on Spont effects…

As the hail of steel rained down upon the hillside the shrieks of war peaked and drained away to whimpers. The hill was now empty of moving figures where seconds before they swarmed viciously upon each other. A lone grey-hooded woman picked her way down the hillside, stepping through the haphazard remains soldiers and weapons. She walked with purpose toward a clutch of armoured figures collapsed together on the ground.

In their centre a similarly robed old man half reclined with a spear through his midsection and open cuts peppered across his body. Blood pooled around him, soaking the earth beneath.

“Neutral you said. Neutral” he gurgled.

“Your sworn-men came for me yesterday assisted by magic. You broke our peace,” she replied sharply. “This is the outcome,” gesturing to the ring of dead soldiers around him, and the carnage beyond.

The old man’s pain permitted a half smile with sad eyes, but he couldn’t laugh.”Let’s be done then,” he groaned, looking through her and away down the hill.

The young woman bent to her knee and reached to touch her opponent with a final gesture. She drew a deep breath as her other arm began moving in inelegant gestures, their tempo different to her gobbledygook words. A moment later the old man also rasped a quick phrases of his own, one hand forming a bridge on his chest, the other touching her. He thumped his other hand to the ground. The woman screamed in surprise and frustration, her spell gone awry. His perfectly.

The old man looked on as her conjured array of short steel spines instantly surrounded her and struck home across all quarters of her body. Her body ruined with holes sunk sideways to the ground as the spines disappeared. Lifeless.

The old man smiled again and exhaled hard. A shimmer washed him head to foot as his illusion dissipated, his skin and clothes actually unmarried; except for the long spear which still sunk deep into his side and the ground behind. He reached out for her body once and missed with a grimace of pain, then again successfully touching the woman’s body which dissipated into dust.

Looking across the field he knew he had a long evening ahead to remove all the evidence of their battle.

In the blurb above the wounded Magus uses a Muto Vim spell to retarget the spell on another – changing the range to Personal. I took a license with the concept just to have a story introduction to meta-magic post.

A fair and reasonable game balance rule in Ars Magica is for a MuVi spell to not be able to affect a Spont spell, which is why in the story blurb above the young woman casts her spell longer than the old man – hers is a formulaic spell, and his a spontaneous one. In Ars Magica’s RAW her spell could only be formulaic as spontaneous effects can’t be altered.

In-game it’s dangerous, “too chaotic and the caster will loose control“. Out-of-game the limitation is there so that Spont magic does not get trivialised (boosted, sustained, or empowered) by assistance from a Muto Vim expert.

There is also an out-of-game consideration that altering a spontaneous spell with Muto Vim is terribly inefficient way to scale up a spontaneous spell, unless the caster of the MuVi is a specialist and also cooperating with the other caster.

However in-game what if it was allowed via a breakthrough? If we take the spell guidelines as written what would happen when a Magus starts working on a magical breakthrough to find a Muto Vim discovery for spontaneous magic?

  • The SG might say the breakthrough theme just isn’t going to work, which is totally reasonable.
  • It might not work as intended but be a great story thread for the game; as it’s a great theme for an NPC wizard in Ars Magica.
  • Or perhaps it allows a MuVi based chaos effect which deliberately hooks into the randomness of Spontaneous magic. Similar to deliberately ruining a magical experiment to see what happens, it ruins both spells.
  • Or an additional rule-set is created for Muto Vim in these circumstances? And/Or it’s allowed but the penalties for botching are horrific?
  • Or allow it. Yes, it took the wizard some 30+ in-game years to develop, but they’ve cracked part of the Hermetic puzzle. It’s a huge thing for game balance, but has legs for high powered sagas.
  • Perhaps this is what all the House Diedne brouhaha was about?
  • Perhaps the breakthrough does not allow Muto Vim to alter the target spell in a predictable way, but does force the Spont spell to be chaotic – it might have an effect which is undesirable for both the caster of the Spont and the caster of the suCcessful MuVi effect?

Continue reading

Symbiotic Invested Devices, an Ars Magica Hermetic Virtue

In an old discussion on RPG Stack Exchange I suggested a virtue to allow an enchanted device to also be a symbiotic link to the caster as part of a form of necromancy, and blogged about it too. Here is the shorter version.

Symbiotic Invested Devices (Hermetic) +1

By use of this virtue the magus can create invested devices which are symbiotic links to the creatures they are used by. The invested device must still use the limiting Arts (use appropriate effects to facilitate the function of the device itself as relevant) and the item is further enhanced by this virtue to feel like a natural part of the target.

A sample use of this virtue would be a replacement hand for a magus who lost theirs in combat. The hand forms such a visceral link to the user that it functions as a normal hand (or perhaps even better than).

The virtue may be used on any type of targets (subject to Art requirements) such as men, animals, or even trees, and may add new functions to existing creatures; such as wings on a human as crafted for Icarus. It is worth noting that devices crafted in this manner are better than prosthetic replacements in that they actually feel like a part of the target creature.

e.g. The NeverLost Hand – this enchanted device is designed to create the sense feeling and touch, which includes a deep sense of connection to the hand. The effect is cast by the hand onto the target who then feels that any movement made by the hand is as real as their own.

In effect this makes the target feel as the hand would. An important note is that the hand itself has no invested powers that facilitate movement, which means that the most effective way for the target to feel these experiences is to hold and move the hand themselves, or give it to another.

 

A “normal” item without the creator having this virtue would be crafted with two effects:

 

a InMe effect around level 30-35, (Base: 4 (?), +1 complexity in feedback to target, +2 Duration Sun, +2 Range Voice, nn uses per day +3, etc)

 

a ReTe effect around level 15-20, to move the hand as the wearer desires.

 

This virtue removes the need for the first effect.

 

There are restrictions on the devices:

the device only functions properly when placed upon the wearer. This means that a replacement hand is no use to a person who already has a hand.

 

the devices cannot heal as normal, and damage must be repaired.

 

Amongst the potential for devices is all sorts of more traditional items from other games, such as the Hand and Eye of Venccna from DnD Greyhawk lore, the Steel Arm from DragonLance, and so on.

In the end this might be just another funny and odd virtue for Ars Magica, which I hope to use one day on a character of mine.