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Capfalcon
Apr 6, 2012

No Boots on the Ground,
Puny Mortals!



While I'm sure you were all waiting for me to come back and finish up Dungeon Crawl Classics, it's... well, the rest of it was pretty much all spells, and I'm not going to plow through that huge amount of dry text to try and find something interesting. So, next up, we're going to go with a game that isn't talked about nearly enough.



So, first off, I love this game. It's honestly the only game I've ever played that made feel like I was playing a hero in Middle Earth. Keep that in mind. You're not a blacksmith, or a merchant, or random villager number two. You may do some of those things to pass downtime, but you are a straight up, no foolin', "if by life or death I can save you, I will" Hero from the word go. And you know what?

Good.

I can't say I've ever been impressed by games that claim let you make any "character that lives in the world of your favorite IP!" Because, well, I don't care about if the game can let me make some anonymous merchant, because I'm never going to play that.

I play Unknown Armies to play crazy wizards in the modern world.
I play Pendragon to play knights going off on adventures with their knight bros to gain glory.
And I play The One Ring when I want to go on some epic journeys against perilous odds.

With that said, I think it's got... well... some problems. Obviously, I think the game is still well worth playing, but I'd be remiss if I don't point them out, which I will when I get to them. But, we're going to start out in the first book of the Boxed set: The Adventurer's Book.


Chapter 1: Introduction

-Wilderland-
...He knew how evil and danger had grown and thriven in the Wild, since the dragons had driven men from the lands, and the Goblins had spread in Secret after the battle of the Mines of Moria.

The "campaign time" for the game is to start in the year 2946. Which for people who aren't big Tolkien nerds (including me) is five years after the Battle of Five Armies at the end of the Hobbit. Ever since :smaug: decided to take a permanent nap under the Long Lake and the :smugwizard: got served eviction papers by the Wizard's Council, The Wilderlands have become a much nicer place. Of course, considering that the Wilderlands had two separate dudes that could wreck entire cities and consider that a decent warm up for the day, the place still is pretty lovely. On the other hand, :smug:, :psydwarf:, and :colbert: have been pretty unhappy that no one was doing anything about the big dudes that were making their lives lovely, but they couldn't be arsed to make the first move because years of not doing anything had kind of made it the style of the time. However, once the Battle of Five Armies happened, people began to see that actually doing things tended to work out a whole lot better than sitting on your rear end and hoping that things get better. Now, when bad things happen, different cultures actually talk to each other to figure out what's best to do.

Crazy, huh?

Now, in the first book, there's six playable cultures. Yes, cultures, not races. A man from Dale is a whole lot different than one of the Woodmen. They'll get a better description when we get to them in the Character Creation Section. But, for now, you've got:

Barding: Follower of King Bard of Dale. They're a prosperous city of men who tend to prize archery and forge skill.
Woodmen of Wilderlands: Follower of Radagast the Brown Wizard. Canny Survivalists who have an affinity for dogs and the woods.
Beorning: Follower of Beorn, the Shapeshifter of Carrock. They're tough as nails fighters with an afinity for animals, especially bears.
Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain: Follower of King Dain under the Mountain. Rich as gently caress dwarves with strong backs and skill in the most brutal weapons.
Elf of Mirkwood: Follower of Tharanduil the Elvenking. Elves who are mad as hell and not going to let the Shadow worm its way into their beloved forest anymore. They also really like the dark. Go figure.
Hobbit of the Shire: Follower of... well... Bilbo and his stories, to be honest. Small, stout-hearted folk from the west with a penchant for finding themselves on roads they weren't planning on walking down.

After that, the book talks about the Shadow. The thing that everyone tells stories about to their little ones to make them go to sleep. Two thousand years ago, the Shadow decided to set up shop in Greenwood the Great. If that name doesn't sound familiar, it's probably because you know it better as Mirkwood. Yeah... the council probably should have gotten a move on with that whole eviction notice thing. So, anyway, the Necromancer has been shown the door, but he's lived there longer than even some Elves remember. The trees, the animals, even the air and water of the deepest parts of the wood are tainted, and it will take years to cleanse the taint. And, even then, "only if the Shadow is kept at bay." (In the book, there is actually flashing text pointing to this sentence saying "THIS MEANS YOU, HEROES.")

-How to Play-

The Loremaster (One Ring speak for GM) and the Player Heroes (See what I mean? Sure sounds better than PCs to me.) are going to play an Adventuring Phase followed by a Fellowship Phase. Adventuring Phase is what you'd expect, running across the world, fighting orcs, etc. The Fellowship phase is what you do when you're taking a break and not doing adventures. Mandating this may sound a little forced, but the book breaks it up and shows the Hobbit as it would be in a TOR campaign:

Adventure 1: Hobbiton to Rivendel, with the Fellowship Phase being guests of Elrond.
Adventure 2: Rivendel to the House of Beorn, with the Fellowship Phase being guests of Beorn.
Adventure 2: House of Beorn to Lake Town, with the Fellowship Phase getting ready for the expedition to Smaug's Lair.
Adventure 2: Exploring the Lonely Mountain and the Battle of Five Armies, with the Fellowship Phase seeing everyone home safely.

The rest of the chapter is talking about Narrative and Game time (i.e. an hour of game can be a day or a year, depending what happens), a glossery of terms we haven't really gotten to yet, and the dice. The dice are mostly a dicepool, with a single twist. You roll a d12 that goes from 1 to 10, with the other two having either an Eye of Sauron or the Gandalf "G" rune. Eye is auto fail, "G" is auto succeed. For every point in the appropriate skill, you roll an additional d6, with every 6 making your success better than normal.

Next time, Character Creation. If anyone wants me to make a character of a particular culture, just let me know.

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Down With People
Oct 31, 2012

The child delights in violence.


Beorning! That poo poo sounds :black101: as hell.

Arashiofordo3
Nov 5, 2010

Warning, Internet
may prove lethal.


Down With People posted:

Beorning! That poo poo sounds :black101: as hell.

Seconded!

Tasoth
Dec 12, 2011


Whoa, whoa, whoa. We have a game where you can play a Tolkien Hobbit and no one has chosen that? poo poo, we need an axe wielding Hobbit soldier on this one. The blade can be banana shaped.

goatface
Dec 5, 2007

I had a video of that when I was about 6.

I remember it being shit.




Grimey Drawer

I'm not actually sure if you can give Hobbits axes without deliberately spending points in it (which is super expensive). They can sneak though, they can sneak SO HARD. The game I played in had a Hobbit who would regularly roll 25+ sneak checks, in a game where a 20 is supposed to be a really loving hard task.

Dzurlord
Nov 4, 2011


Down With People posted:

Beorning! That poo poo sounds :black101: as hell.

Thirded!

I'm looking forward to this readthrough - I've heard a few good things about this game, and I wanna see if I should spend my monies on it.

Tasoth
Dec 12, 2011


goatface posted:

I'm not actually sure if you can give Hobbits axes without deliberately spending points in it (which is super expensive). They can sneak though, they can sneak SO HARD. The game I played in had a Hobbit who would regularly roll 25+ sneak checks, in a game where a 20 is supposed to be a really loving hard task.

Doesn't matter, you know what you must do. A jovial, well mannered chef who just so happens to sing delightful songs about explosively eviscerating goblins with his axe is such a great character concept.

Evil Mastermind
Apr 28, 2008



The storm has a name... - Let's Read TORG


Part 8b: You don't by pulp powers, you just rent them.

quote:

"Why am I so successful, kid? Well, I'll tell ya. It's cause I know the rules, see. And in life, figurin' out the rules is three-quarters of the struggle.'
- Diamond Jack Murphy to his young assistant, Kwok, in D.W. Decker's "The Fire Opal of Khartoum" (from Straight Out Action, November, 1932)

As I said before, each worldbook is pretty much half-crunch, half-fluff. Every cosm (with one notable exception) has its own "shticks" power-wise; Nippon had martial arts, the Cyberpapacy and Tharkold have cybernetics, and so on. Each cosm also has a few skills that are specificially for people from said cosm.

The Nile Empire sourcebook not only adds new skills and the pulp power/gadget rules, it also adds three new magic subsystems AND new miracle rules because apparently the casting mechanics weren't complicated enough. The Terra sourcebook would further introduce more powers, a different gadgeteering system, and a fouth magic system.

What I'm saying here is that, at this point, we're leaving all the cool high-stakes adventure behind and getting into some ridiculous crunch. Out of the 128-page Nile Empire book, 71 pages are new rules.

Let's start by looking at the new skills for Nile characters. They're available to other characters as well, but they're mostly intended for characters coming from the Nile Empire.

  • Egyptian Religion is both a knowledge skill, and is used in one of the Empire's new magic types.
  • Hieroglypics just lets you read hieroglyphics.
  • Mathematics is used as a magic skill for another of the new magic systems.
  • Scholar (Master Criminal) is used to plan big supercriminal heists. Bascially you roll it when you're planning the crime, then you can substitute the total you get for the skill roll for a total you generate during the crime.
  • Engineering is another new magic skill.
  • Hypnotism does what it says on the label. If you hypnotise someone, you can get bonuses when you interrogate them, or implant a post-hypnotic suggestion.
  • Weird Science is the gadget-building skill.

On top of that, the Terra sourcebook added another eight skills:
  • Espionage covers all your secret agent-y stuff that isn't covered by the evidence analysis or stealth skills.
  • Journalism is used both for interviewing people to get information (which is technically covered by other skills like charm) and presenting information to people to sway their opinions.
  • Photography is used to take pictures. That's it.
  • Politics/Diplomacy is your knowledge of world events and your ability to deal with foreign dignitaries.
  • Research is your ability to look up information. It's different from evidence analysis in that you're not getting information at the scene of the crime (or whatever), but are getting it after the fact. It's also worth pointing out that there's a Orrosh-specific research skill that works completely differently.
  • Science: archaeology is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Science: cartography is also self-explanatory.
  • Petty Crime is your ability to be a con man and swindler. This is the skill you use when you're running a Three-Card Monte game.

Admittedly, I'm not a fan of granular skill lists, but come on. This is just ridiculous. A good number of these skills can be folded into other skills (like petty crime, which you could probably put into the streetwise skill) or just flat-out don't do anything worth dedicating a skill to (like photography). It also creates situations where you can be very learned about Egyptian culture (scholar: Egyptian studies but not know how to read hieroglyphics. Not to mention the four new skills needed to access the new magic and gizmo rules.

What makes this more annoying is that characters don't get a lot of skill points. After the intial 16 adds, you have to use your Possibility points as XP to buy new skills, and as we'll see later Nile Empire characters can arguably get more screwed out of their metagame currency than Shadowrun mages get shafted on Karma.

Anyway, let's move on to Pulp Powers.

Powers are self-contained abilities that have no real prerequisites beyond a cost in Possibility points. There's no special skill needed to use them; you get them by either taking a template that has the desired power, or you spend one Possibility at character creation for each power you want. Using a power is just a matter of rolling normally and adding the result to the power's Action Value.

There are 35 powers all told between the core Worldbook, the Nile Empire book, and the Terra book. They range from the simple (like super-skill, which lets you have more than +3 in a skill) to the more "pulp power" type things (electro-ray) to flat-out superpowers (like shrinking). Admittedly some powers are included so they can be built into gizmos, but as the books continued to come out they become less pulpy and more DC comics.

(Just for the record, here's the full list of available powers: Animal Friend, Chameleon, Dark Vision, Darkness, Dazzle, Dispersal, Electro-Ray, Emotion Control, Fear, Flight, Fog Screen, Force Field, Gravity Control, Grow, Illusion, Invisiblity, Jump, Mega-Hearing, Mega-Scent, Mega-Sight, Mind Control, Mind Reading, Power Neutrality/Resistance, Running, Shrinking, Super Attribute, Super Skill, Swimming, Telecommunication, Telekinesis, Teleportation, Ultra-Sight, Wall Walking, Water Breathing, X-Ray Eyes.)

Let's take a look at a typical power.

quote:

X-Ray Eyes
Adventure cost: 3
Action value: STR+5
Range: vision
Tech rating: 25
Description: Characters with x-ray eyes can look through solid objects as though they were transparent. Once activated through character concentration (a simple action), the power will remain active until the user voluntarily switches it off, or a time value has passed equal to the power value.
The user's x-ray eyes total serves as the maximum Toughness he can penetrate; he cannot look through an object with a higher Toughness. X-ray eyes will never penetrate lead. Generating an x-ray eyes total greater than the base value is tiring; the character fatigues (two shock points of damage) for each total generated above the base value.
I'm going to skip the "Adventure cost" for now.

The "Action value" is the base value of the power. For the most part you don't roll to use your powers; instead they have a flat value that's applied when you use the power. If I have a STR of 11, then whenever I use my x-ray vision it always has a base value of 13, which is what I roll and add to.

The range is self-explanatory. The tech value doesn't come into play unless you're trying to build the power into a gizmo.

Now let's look at the Adventure cost. This cost ranges from 2 to 12 depending on the power, and is how many Possibilities you need to spend to keep the power. At the end of an adventure, you have to pay the cost in Possibilities, and if you can't then you lose the power forever.

Now, most powers cost 3 or 5 points to keep. That means that you have to make sure that you set aside that many points; which are used to save your rear end from getting killed, not screwing up important rolls, and as experience points; otherwise your power just goes away. Permanently. Sorry.

quote:

Unless you devise a story line which allows the character to regain the power, the character loses the power forever. When purchasing powers, it is important to consider the adventure cost, keeping in mind that an adventure might not earn a character more than eight or nine Possibilities. Remind players of this when they are putting their characters together. Overbuying powers can cripple a character, although taking power flaws to compensate can help.

It's worth pointing out that these rules get either contradicted or overwritten (depending on how you look at it) in the Terra book, where the cost has to be paid the first time the power is used in an adventure. Which kind of works out to the same thing, I guess?

Oh, the Terra book also has these two paragraphs:

quote:

Powers that are not used during an adventure start to "fade." A character who does not make a meaningful use of any of his powers (gamemaster's discretion as to what a meaningful use is) should start to lose the power. After two or three adventures, the character should start losing the power, and when it is gone, it is gone permanently.

The intent behind this rule is to keep players from selecting a bunch of powers at the beginning of the game and then just using them when they want. In reality, no character should have more than two or three powers (super attributes and super skills don't always fit into this limit), and the character certainly shouldn't be able to go through a menu of powers during an adventure.
Yes, how dare players use the powers they bought for their characters and have to keep paying for whenever they want! :argh: Hell, a character probably wouldn't be able to afford to have more than two powers in the first place, so why put more restrictions on them? Even having two of the less powerful abilities would cost you around 6 possibilities at the end of the adventure, which is about as much as you get for completing an adventure in the first place.

I would also like to point out that pulp powers are the only special abilities in the game that are subject to this "keep on paying" horseshit. Magic? Just buy the skills and one possibility up front per spell and you're good forever. Cybernetics? Just pay the cash and survive the surgery and you're pretty much set. Pulp gadgets? Use 'em all you want; the real cost is in "money and time" to make them. Pulp powers are the only special abilities that you have to keep paying out to keep and can fade over time because you haven't had a good opportunity to use them.

There's probably some "game balance" thinking behind that, but it feels more like a lack of trust on the designer's part that the players won't actually try to break the game.

Anyway, power flaws. These are used to offset the cost of a power by putting restrictions on how or when the power can be used, and awarding the character possibility points when the flaw comes up in play. It's kind of like compels in Fate. You can buy multiple flaws for a single power, but you can't have more that one flaw of each rank on a single power. Every flaw has a "triggering condition" that causes the flaw to kick in; such as being exposed to a certain element or hearing a specific phrase.

There are two three point power flaws: a "stymie flaw" means you are stymied whenever you use the power, and a "shock flaw" means you take 1 un-healable shock every time you use the power. If the power is something that's always in effect (like, say, super skill), then the stymie flaw makes you stymied for the whole scene, and the shock flaw means you take 1 shock every round the power is in effect until either the scene ends or you fall unconcious.

There are two six point power flaws: a "power setback" means that you lose the use of your power for a scene, a "roll again vulnerability" means...uh...

quote:

A roll again vulnerability is a flaw which gives an opponent an additional roll again whenever using that particular attack form against the charaeter with the flaw. For example, a character with electro-ray may short-circuit when lassoed by metal wire, giving opponents who uses a metal lariat a roll again when attacking him. If the character takes no damage from the attack form in a scene, then the roll again vulnerability is worth only three Possibilities.
Yeah, I have no idea what that means. The example doesn't synch up with the description of the flaw.

There's only one nine-point power flaw: the fatal flaw, which means that for every round you're subject to the triggering condition, you take a wound.

The Terra sourcebook also adds a few variable-cost "Advanced Flaws" that actually reduce the adventure cost of powers down to a minimum of 1.
  • Activation: You need to perform a specific action for the power to activate, such as touching the mystic stone that increases your strength or making a skill roll. The more complex the action, the more the flaw is worth.
  • Activation Time: There's a "spin up" delay on your power.
  • Burnout: Every time you use the power, there's a chance it will go away until the end of the act/adventure/the next adventure. Or maybe it never comes back!
  • Power Reserve: You have a pool of energy points you need to spend to use the power. The pool only refreshes at the end of an adventure.
  • Power Limitation: A flat-out limit on how a power can work; reducing the duration, range, things like that.
  • Situational Modifiers: The power only works under specific circumstances; only in direct sunlight, when angry, etc.

You can put Advanced Flaws on a power with basic flaws, if you want. It's probably possible to get a combo that breaks even or comes out ahead cost-wise but you'd have to deal with so many limitations and drawbacks it's probably not worth it.

I should probably point out that some of the powers have built-in flaws and drawbacks anyway. The electro-blast power does 2 stress to the user every time you successfully use it, and teleportation does 2 stress even when it doesn't work. The grow power has an adventure cost of 5, even though it increases your Toughness and Strength by insane amounts, but the shrink power costs 12.

While there's a good spread of powers (I'm pretty sure I could stat up the classic JSA with what's presented), the ridiculous drawbacks make actually having powers pretty difficult. And again, there's no need for them. No other power structure has this level of "balancing mechanics", you can't just flat-out permanently lose any other abilities (except maybe miracles, but even then there's more to it than "oh, I can't afford to keep having my miracles". There's no point to this implementation; what would have been wrong with just making the pulp powers have a higher up-front cost?


But as annoying as these rules are, they loving pale in comparison to what's coming up...

NEXT TIME: The groin-punching good time that is pulp gizmo creation!

MadScientistWorking
Jun 23, 2010

"I was going through a time period where I was looking up weird stories involving necrophilia..."


wiegieman posted:

How are the CTech guys still in business? Who in their right mind eagerly awaits the release of these products?
Truth be told it doesn't surprise me at all given that a lot of media tends to try and shock in the most lamest ways possible like this. Good horror tends to leave a lot to the imagination and plays upon our fears while bad horror tends to use shock tactics like fetus batteries.

Tasoth
Dec 12, 2011


MadScientistWorking posted:

Truth be told it doesn't surprise me at all given that a lot of media tends to try and shock in the most lamest ways possible like this. Good horror tends to leave a lot to the imagination and plays upon our fears while bad horror tends to use shock tactics like fetus batteries.

I spent too much time thinking about that while trying to fall asleep and a clever GM could salvage it. Just have the boxes bind a minor mythos spirit/monster to it with a small portion of the B-cell's energy and whenever someone opens the box, it consumes the baby and erupts to wreak havoc and harm the warranty voiders. This has the benefit of keeping your proprietary technology solely yours as well as dropping a red herring for people to investigate as all they ever find in the box is a malicious spirit. Bingo, bango, no crazy EULA and Ashcroft can't copy your poo poo because they think it's powered by spirit mojo.

Down With People
Oct 31, 2012

The child delights in violence.


Tasoth posted:

I spent too much time thinking about that while trying to fall asleep and a clever GM could salvage it. Just have the boxes bind a minor mythos spirit/monster to it with a small portion of the B-cell's energy and whenever someone opens the box, it consumes the baby and erupts to wreak havoc and harm the warranty voiders. This has the benefit of keeping your proprietary technology solely yours as well as dropping a red herring for people to investigate as all they ever find in the box is a malicious spirit. Bingo, bango, no crazy EULA and Ashcroft can't copy your poo poo because they think it's powered by spirit mojo.

As this post demonstrates, I think baby battery isn't such an awful idea that it couldn't be done well by a decent writer (unlike rape furries).

It's just a shame no such writer is on the CTech staff.

ZeeToo
Feb 20, 2008

I'm a kitty!


I'd never heard of TORG before it came up in this thread, but now I want to see a full conversion to something, like, Fate or a * World game.

Evil Mastermind
Apr 28, 2008



ZeeToo posted:

I'd never heard of TORG before it came up in this thread, but now I want to see a full conversion to something, like, Fate or a * World game.

I've said this before, but I'd loving love a Fate or Savage Worlds version. I don't think *World would work too well, though, because I can't see TORG based that heavily around predefined playbooks. Yes, there are templates, but they're more conceptual starters with suggested skills than anything else.

ZeeToo
Feb 20, 2008

I'm a kitty!


I was thinking cosm-specific generic moves, but I'm not a *World expert by any means. Maybe that's not the best idea.

Capfalcon
Apr 6, 2012

No Boots on the Ground,
Puny Mortals!




We'll make the Beorning (:black101:) for now, and a Hobbit(:banjo:) later. Gotta have some comparison for all these numbers, after all.


Chapter 2: Characters

-Hero Creation-
...He had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adenture lay in front.

All right, let's start with our Beorning.



A few years after the Battle of Five Armies, Beorn stopped being a hermit and decided to unite the lone warriors and hunters into a single group. People joined up with him partially because because Beorn is a crazy awesome badass and partially because the Wilderlands are pretty dangerous, so having a safe place to crash in exchange for some work is a pretty good deal. Beorn's people are self sufficient, but they aren't really wealthy. This is brought across as them having a Martial Standard of Living. However, Beorn's been thinking about charging a safe passage toll for every crossing through their lands, which could easily bump them up to a Prosperous Standard of Living. However, this would probably irritate anyone who wants goods or services from the West, raising all sorts of tension in the rest of the Wilderlands. Seriously, I love this book. Almost every page gives me an idea for an adventure.

Anyway, every culture gets a particular cultural blessing, and Beornings are Furious, which means if we're ever wounded in battle, we ignore the penaltiese from being weary or miserable for the rest of the fight. As those penalties really, really suck, that's a pretty nice blessing. Of course, being wounded is dangerous, so it's not something you want to hope for.

We get a host of skills just for being a Beorning, including very high Awe, Insight, and Awareness. Awe is a strange combination of intimidation and generating... well... awe in onlookers. Insight is a more traditional "Sense Motive" skill, allowing you to get a decent feel for people you meet, and Awarenesss seeing small or hidden things unexpectedly. For example, it helps you avoid ambushes or see small tracks left behind.

Now, we also get two special traits to pick. All cultures have two of their own, each background gives another two, and finally your Calling (your core reason for going on adventures) gives you a final one. These are sort of like FATE aspects, only chosen from a list. However, it is mentioned that the GM and player could come up with custom traits. These traits work in three ways:

1. Automatic Success. You say you have this trait, and the GM can give you a simple success. Examples include someone who is keen eyed noticing tracks (but following them would almost certainly be rolled), a woodwright opening a barrel without damaging what's inside or destroying the barrel, etc. The GM is encouraged to use their judgement here, but to be generous with simple matters.

2. Unforeseen Actions. Sometimes, the GM just says how things are going down. "The Goblins are too far away." "The water is too rough for your boat." Etc. One of the examples includes the GM saying one of the goblins was faking dead, and when you get far away he starts running. One of the players says, "Hey, I'm cautious, so I would have been keeping an eye on them. Can I get an awareness roll to see if I noticed him faking it?"

This one is kind of... eh... I kind of feel it's a bit antagonistic towards the GM and the Players to invoke this one a lot, because the GM feels like a dick since the player is essentially saying "Hey, you're kind of hosing us here." In my experience, this one doesn't tend to come up too much, but that's just my group.

3. Experience Points. One of the way to get Advancement Experience points is to take an action that strongly reflects your traits. While this is a bit harder for, say, woodwrights, most people are going to end up with some more practical adventuring traits. Basically, succeeding in actions that bring up your character's notable traits give you experience points.

Right. Where where we again? Oh, yeah. Traits. So, Beornings get to pick from a few different traits. We're going to go with Beast-Lore and Mountaineer. Since our guy has lived in the wild since forever, he's going to know his way around animals, and he's going to be comfortable with climbing the nearby mountains.

Next up, we pick a background. This gives us our basic attributes, favored skills, and some more traits.

Attributes are what you add to your die roll when you spend Hope. If you're using a favored skill, you add your favored attribute value instead. They also decide your Encumbrance and your hope score. Unlike other games, Encumbrance is a big loving deal here. The whole combat system is a tradeoff between the heavier war gear giving better numbers and pluses, but making you more tired and thus more likely to get wounded or become weary.

So, we're going to pick the Child of Two Folks. One of our parents was from Mirkwood and the other was a mountain-dweller. This gives a high Body and Heart but low Wits. Consequently, we end up with a lot of Endurance and Hope, in addition to hitting like a truck, but we're pretty short on Parry. To offset our poor parry, we'll probably end up getting some heavy armor later. We also get Insight as a favored skill. We're going to be total bosses at judging people.

The next two traits from our background we pick are Hardened and Grim. We're a mountain survivalists who's lived off on their own for years. We're not some pansy from the cities.

The last major choice we need to make is why we're adventuring. What's our calling? Not a job, but our rasion d'etre. We're going to be a Warden. We've lived in the wild forever, and we're going to make drat sure that the Shadow won't take a single inch more. This gives us our final trait, Shadow lore. In addition, we've got a shadow weakness. Yep, everyone's got something in their heart the lust for, and we want power. Power to protect the things we love from the Shadow, granted, but the Shadow can work with that. The Shadow can give us power beyond our wildest dreams, and it would only cost us our soul.

The last major choice we're going to make is whether we're going to start with two Valor or two Wisdom. I'm not gonna lie. The Valor and Wisdom rewards are probably my favorite part of this game, so I'm going to leave it to a post of its own. For now, we're going to choose if we know secret Beorning Lore or if we've been gifted with special War Gear for our valor in battle. I'm going to give us a bit more Valor for now, but all the Beorning secrets are totally awesome, and I'm going to go through all of them later. For now, we get a giant slaying spear that that does an extra four damage to anyone who's bigger than us. For reference, we have 30 endurance, and we're about as endurancey as players are going to come. Monsters may be a little tougher, but this isn't DnD. HP inflation isn't really a thing. We're going to have 30 endurance for pretty much our entire adventuring career.

Name: Evoric the Black

Culture: Beorning Standard of Living: Martial
Cultural blessing: Furious
Calling: Warden Shadow weakness: Lure of Power
Specialties: Beast-lore, Mountaineer, Shadow-lore
Distinctive features: Grim, Hardened
Body: 6 Heart: 6 Wits: 2
Body (favoured): 9 Heart (favoured): 7 Wits (favoured): 4

-Common Skills-
  • Awe: 3 Inspire: 1 Persuade: 0
  • Athletics: 2 Travel: 0 Stealth: 0
  • Awareness: 2 Insight: 3 Search: 1
  • Explore: 0 Healing: 2 Hunting: 3
  • Song: 0 Courtesy: 1 Riddle: 1
  • Craft: 1 Battle: 1 Lore: 0
-Weapon Skills-
  • Great spear: 3
  • Dagger: 1
  • Axe: 1
-Rewards-: Giant-slaying Spear
-Virtues-:
-Gear-
  • Great spear damage: 9 edge: 9 injury: 16 enc: 4
  • Axe damage: 5 edge: G injury: 18 enc: 2 (not carried)
  • Dagger damage: 3 edge: G injury: 12 enc: 0
  • Mail shirt enc: 12
  • Cap of iron and leather enc: 2
Endurance: 30 Starting Endurance: 30 Fatigue from Encumbrance: 18 Fatigue from Travel: 0 Total Fatigue: 18
Hope: 14 Starting Hope: 14 Temporary Shadow: 0 Permanent Shadow: 0 Total Shadow: 0
Armour: 3 Headgear: 1
Parry: 2 Shield: 0
Damage: 0 Ranged: 0
Wisdom: 1 Valour: 2

Zereth
Jul 8, 2003




Capfalcon posted:

2. Unforeseen Actions. Sometimes, the GM just says how things are going down. "The Goblins are too far away." "The water is too rough for your boat." Etc. One of the examples includes the GM saying one of the goblins was faking dead, and when you get far away he starts running. One of the players says, "Hey, I'm cautious, so I would have been keeping an eye on them. Can I get an awareness roll to see if I noticed him faking it?"
That seems more like a "The GM forgot something because he is an imperfect human" mechanic to me. And some GMs tend to go with "nope I already said it happened no backsies" even when the sequence of events doesn't make any sense in-character.

Capfalcon
Apr 6, 2012

No Boots on the Ground,
Puny Mortals!



Zereth posted:

That seems more like a "The GM forgot something because he is an imperfect human" mechanic to me. And some GMs tend to go with "nope I already said it happened no backsies" even when the sequence of events doesn't make any sense in-character.

I know, but I'm talking about my experience as the GM, and since I'm perfect and never make any mistakes... :P

I mean, it's not a bad rule, really. It just seems kind of weird to me. More something that would come up more in the social dynamic of the group in the form of "Hey, we feel like we're getting hosed here. I think we should get a check to see if we can do it." than a hard, encoded rule in the game.

Still, it's not hurting anything to have it there, I guess.

Ryuujin
Sep 26, 2007
Dragon God

Beorning are awesome, I played the game in a PbP briefly some time back and I remember really enjoying the character creation. My Beorning seemed to get more perceptive or something when in the dark. I think I added one of my stats to the roll of Awareness, Insight or Search checks in the dark.

Been awhile so I am not exactly sure. I think my Beorning had a Giant Slaying Spear as well. Kind of want to play The One Ring again.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

House Guernicus contains 98 members, and there are an additional 41 non-Guernicus Quaesitores. Their domus magna is Magvillus, in the Roman Tribunal, and their Prima is the archmagus Bilera, known for her investigative skill and prowess in negotiation. She was appointed in an effort to heal the rift between the Traditionalist and Transitionalist factions of the House. The symbol of the House is the scales of justice balanced upon a sword, and their motto is Lex super voluntate, 'The law above the will.'Without the aid of the Founder Guernicus, the Order would have died within a lifetime. Without his descendants, it would be a tyrant. It is a truth - high ideals forge a society, and decadence later corrupts it for petty gain. Once lost, the slide to lawlessness and chaos lasts until, once more, the idealists forge a new order. This cannot be stopped. But, House Guernicus says, it can be slowed. By their efforts, it has been delayed for four centuries yet. Almost all Guernicus magi hold the title Quaesitor, named for the magistrates of the Roman Republic. They are the judges and investigators of the Order, overseeing Tribunals and ensuring the Code is upheld. To aid in this, they have hunted for magic in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, giving them much strength and secret ritual.

You see, when the Mercurian cult disbanded, most of its members fell into poverty. With their Gift and their rather limited repertoire of magic, an honest living was nearly impossible. Many became bandits, and most Mercurians knew less than a dozen actually useful spells. After perfecting those, the easiest way to get more was to kill other wizards and steal their secrets, that being the method they knew best. There were, however, exceptions. A single Mercurian priest after the fall of the Cult of Mercury retained magic related to the earth and metals. From him derived a small earth-wizard lineage, the Terrae-magi. They retained knowledge of the huge rituals that could cause earthquakes or volcanoes, but lacked the numbers and power to use them. Besides, such magic was impractical. However, they used the magic to develop smaller spells that a single man could cast, swallowing up foes or hurling boulders, increasing the fertility of fields and trading that for food and water. One spell, both blessing and curse, conjured gold from thin air.

Enough coin could buy even the Gifted a soft bed and, in time, even acceptance. However, rumors of the Terrae-magi and their metal conjuring grew among the Mercurian remnants. Greed for their gold gave even more incentive to hunt them down. They took to living in secret, burying their books in chambers only their magic could access. Still, they were hunted. Though they could fight and no one could steal their books, attrition took its toll. By 756 AD, only one Terrae-magus was left alive: Guernicus. He returned home from Mass one day to find two Mercurian wizards torturing his master. He snuck up on them, managing to kill one of them before they could flee. Despite Guernicus' care, however, his master died a long and painful death. Guernicus devoted the next seven years to hunting down the second wizard.

In this time, he became respected and feared. Tracking down a Mercurian was dangerous business, for they were secretive and paranoid. He approached any Mercurian he found and demanded to know whether they had seen the man he sought. Despite possessing a gentle Gift, he was often attacked, though through luck and cunning he never died. Even if he defeated a wizard, he had no interest in their magical secrets - just his quarry. He would help those he found suffering unjust persecution, and his honor, charity and determination won much respect and trust among those he encountered, though he remained suspicious of all wizards. With the allies he made by his ways, he eventually did track the murderer down, trapping him in an underground chamber surrounded by the grimoires of the Terrae-magi. With no food, no water and only a single candle, learning the magic he would need to escape was impossible.



When Trianoma sought out wizards to form the Order, she heard about Guernicus. His reputation for defending other wizards was extraordinary. Several Mercurians named him as friend, a moral man of high Christian faith. In 762 AD, Trianoma met with Guernicus, and her legendary diplomacy was sorely tested by his boundless cynicism and suspicion. He was happy to live in peace, but did not believe other wizards could. He acknowledged that there were exceptions, but believed that immorality was in the nature of the Gift. He'd swear an oath and hold to it, but no one else would. Given that the Parma Magica was being offered to any who joined, he agreed simply to learn it, that he'd not be at a disadvantage when the others fell to squabbling. He agreed to share his knowledge with Bonisagus, again so he would not be disadvantaged in the inevitable chaos. When the time came to debate the form of the Hermetic Oath, he argued that all members should hold the same voting weight at Tribunal, that not even the Founders should have more than one vote. They might rule their followers, but never the Tribunals. This was agreed upon, and the system of Houses and Primi was settled.

Even after learning Hermetic magic, Guernicus argued constantly with Trianoma over the viability of the Order. Guernicus said that only through strict enforcement of the Code could the Order survive. In the early years, he hunted constantly for examples of magi breaking the spirit and letter of the Oath, challenging magi in order to settle ambiguities of interpretation. He also hunted for offenses not recorded in the Oath that might lead to discord. His staunchest ally was Diedne, for magi of House Diedne held their rituals at sites sacred to their druidic religion, and Diedne often complained that others were desecrating her holy sites. Criamon also complained of his privacy being threatened. In response, Guernicus, Criamon and Diedne demanded that the privacy of sanctums be protected. This and other proposals were accepted, and soon the body of Tribunal rulings was formed, clarifying, expanding and embellishing the Code, creating the earliest form of the Peripheral Code. Satisfied, Guernicus revised his estimate of the Order to "threescore years and ten - or perhaps a few more due to longevity potions." Exasperated, Trianoma asked him what he thought was needed. He replied simply: the Order required someone dedicated to keeping the peace, exposing transgressions and ensuring the law was kept, yet had none. Trianoma suggested that Guernicus might be that magus, and he accepted.

As the years went on, Guernicus' apprentices shared in his responsibilities, becoming collectively known as the Quaesitores. Magi of other Houses began to complain that they had no say in application of the law, and Guernicus met with the other Primi, agreeing to allow magi of other Houses to become Quaesitores. Traditionally, at least one member of every House must bear the title, representing the House in the Quaesitores. However, the Guernicus Primus is careful only to offer this title to those that are objective and at least individually nonpartisan. In fact, many are often harsher against their own House to ensure they are never seen as showing favor.

Guernicus spent most of his remaining life guiding the growing Peripheral Code as he thought best. He was often not very succesful in that. He wanted membership in the Order to be purely voluntary, but found little support. He did manage to convince the First Tribunal to rule that magi should offer membership to the peaceful rather than just killing them, and this became the Join Or Die ruling, though it was quickly apparent that there was little will to enforce it. Tribunals were quick to accept most pretexts for killing. Flambeau, Tytalus and others used their magic and skill to purge traditions they disapproved of, and while Guernicus and his filii did their best to recruit as many as possible, sending them to other Houses to be sponsored, many were still slain. The final public appearance of Guernicus was at the Grand Tribunal of 817 AD, when, against his strident objections, the meeting passed the ruling allowing use of certamen to be decisive in all disputes. He retreated to Magvillus, claiming the ruin of the Order was at hand. Rumor has it that he forswore his Arts and went on pilgrimage to Rome. When his longevity ritual eventually failed, he refused all others and, without the Parma and becoming more senile by the year, he shunned all contact with those lacking the gentle Gift. He claimed the Parma hid the true nature of magi from each other. These tales may have been a ruse, but all that is publically known is that Guernicus spent his final years secluded in Magvillus, communicating only via his favored student, Fenicil.



Fenicil was made Primus in 832 AD, but the final fate of Guernicus was never revealed. Rumor suggested that perhaps Guernicus had found a way to cheat both age and Twilight, and some say he still sleeps beneath the earth, awaiting the day when the Order falls solely to witness the success of his own prediction. The early years of Fenicil's rule were defined by Tremere's attempt to dominate the Order. While the 817 ruling may have hamstrung the Quaesitores, Fenicil was not idle. In close partnership with House Diedne, he prepared for war. As the Guernicus magi prepared to assassinate Tremere and the Diedne trained for battle, the Sundering happened. Relieved, Houses Guernicus and Diedne kept their aborted war plans secret. Fenicil blamed the Order's trouble on a lack of unifying tradition, as the religious roots of both Mercurian and Druidic magic were dissolved by the secular universal magic theory. With the rise of House Ex Miscellanea, more wizards joined with even greater diversity. Fenicil feared that without a proper foundation, the Order was unworthy of respect. Even before he became Primus, he launched a fifty-year campaign to find the knowledge of the most ancient groups, to find that deeper foundation. This led him to the Egyptian Cult of Thoth and the work of Hermes Tresmegistus.

On the basis of his research, Fenicil declared the Order of Hermes a temporary manifestation of an eternal institution, fated to unify all wizards, and so all should submit to it. The Code of Hermes was, likewise, a manifestation of ancient Codes that had governed earlier groups, not merely the pragmatism of Guernicus. Strict observance of the law was his mandate to both House and Order. Though many joked wryly about his scholarship, no one opposed Fenicil, and more and more magi simply accepted his views as time went on. Besides his evidence of prior orders, he'd gathered as many Mercurian texts as he could find or copy, as well as ancient Greek, Egyptian and Babylonian rituals. Most needed large numbers rather than individual magi, and he worked in secret with his followers to translate them into castable form. Thanks to this, the Quaesitores now have powerful, secret magic which we'll look at later. In addition, Magvillus became home to many ancient artifacts of magic, and like the rituals he found, Fenicil did not tell the Order as a whole what they did. It is rumored that one item gave the power to scry on any magus without fear of detection, and while the rumor was wholly invented, it may be true - though only the inner council of Magvillus can say for sure. The Fenicil collection may now be the most extensive source on ancient magic in the entire Order, but its extent is known only to that inner council, and all solicitation to copy or examine the works within has been politely rejected.

Next time: More Guernicus history.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages



In the 10th century, documents were found in Iberia, at the covenant Duresca, which appeared to be a series of letters written by Guernicus and his filii. Within this correspondence, a "secret agenda" for House Guernicus was laid out, describing a plan to dominate first the Order and then the world. These became known as the Duresca scrolls and caused quite a stir. They were presented at the next Iberian Tribunal, but officially declared fraudulent and were destroyed. As the ruling was based primarily on evidence given by the Presiding Quaesitor, not all were satisfied. However, the later Purging of Tytalus in that century distracted most people from the issue. A number of secret copies of the Duresca scrolls remain in existence and occasionally resurface. The Quaesitores have no patience with those who circulate them and tend to charge them with endangering the Order via the spreading of known lies.

In any case, as time went on and the conflict between Tremere and Diedne spiralled towards war, House Guernicus was sent into disarray. They knew they'd lost control of the situation, and many believed that Tremere and Diedne should be left to their battles, but the Primus Antonius would not allow the complete breakdown of law and order. The full council of Magvillus was summoned, including the Diedne representative, and it was determined that an emergency Grand Tribunal should be held. All Primi apart from those of Tremere and Diedne were invited to attend, as well as many high-ranking magi from all Tribunals, with as many proxy sigils as could be gathered. Tremere and Diedne would be represented solely by their Quaesitorial members. Antonius had made public that he desired a peaceful settlement. He was trusted by House Diedne and so they accepted his call. Word was sent out to gather at Magvillus, heavily guarded by the Hoplites. However, the Primus of Ex Miscellanea chose to travel by mundane means, carrying many proxy sigils for his House. He never arrived, perhaps forever altering the fate of the Order.

At the meeting, the war was discussed and debated, with the Tremere and Diedne Quaesitores stating their cases. The vote was close, but a majority voted to renounce House Diedne. Antonius restrained but did not kill the Diedne representative, for he had given oaths to the magus' safety. He was, instead, to be held prisoner indefinitely at Magvillus. Those of other Houses joined the war against Diedne, and at times it even seemed they might lose. Considering this, the Magvillus inner council made a decision. One of Fenicil's rituals gave the chance to strike a decisive blow...but the ritual required human sacrifice. House Tremere's primary accusation against Diedne was that very practice. The irony was not lost on the council, and neither was the betrayal of trust between Guernicus and Diedne. Still, the situation was dire, and the decision was made. Antonius personally led the ritual, killing the Diedne representative. Shortly after, the war took a turn for the worse for House Diedne, and most of the ritual's participants believed it was their doing. They were all sworn to secrecy. House Diedne fell, and House Guernicus rose to be stronger than ever, claiming that if they had more authority, the war could have been prevented. The traumatized Order gave them that authority, expanding investigative immunity and the requirements for cooperation.

Under the influence of Guernicus, the Code was framed to ensure peace and freedom for individuals, and Guernicus always argued against any proposal that would restrict the freedoms of magi. Thus, there has traditionally been great Guernicus resistance to such ideas. Traditionalist Quaesitores consider the First Tribunal and its rulings to be the foundation of the Order. Traditionally, a Tribunal has the authority to contradict its own rulings with later ones, amending or revoking the old, but not those of a higher Tribunal. Traditionalists maintain that the Grand Tribunals cannot overrule the First Tribunal, as this was the final ruling of the First Tribunal. Traditionally, it is the duty of the Presiding Quaesitor and Guernicus Primus to ensure this via their veto. However, in 1148, a well-respected Quaesitor named Simprim began advocating openly the revision of the Code. Simprim and his followers claimed that a law that could not adapt was dooming the Order, not preserving it. In many Tribunals, the loss of vis and auras to mundane encroachment was becoming critical, and many believed that the strict prohibition against mundane interference should be relaxed to allow defense of those resources. Simprim argued that if the Code demanded they sit idle while resources were destroyed, magi would be forced to defy it and lawlessness would reign.

Additionally, Simprim claimed that the Order had outgrown the vision of Guernicus. It was no longer a loose society of freemen. He maintained that corruption had set in among the local Tribunals, and that action to purge that corruption was too hard under the current system. The traditional rights of magi hindred investigation and trial too much. In times of general conflict, one Tribunal meeting every seven years was not sufficient to keep the peace, and a new schism, he said, was inevitable. Simprim suggested an expansion of Quaesitorial and Tribunal power. He called for the Grand Tribunal to have the authority to amend First Tribunal rulings as desired, and that local Tribunals be given reasonable scope to set policies on mundane interference. Once that was done, he suggested that Quaesitores be given the right to arrest and interrogate via use of Mentem magics, the right to enter sanctums without suffering forfeit immunity and a revised trial system to allow trials to be held outside full Tribunals. Some, especially younger Quaesitores, supported Simprim at least partially, and so the split between Traditionalist and Transitionalist was formed.

Traditionalists argued that Simprim's proposed changes would undermine the very founding principles of the Order, which existed to allow magi to study in peace and security, not impose its will. They said that once the Pandora's box of altering the Code was opened, the Order would slide into chaos and tyranny. Transitionalists dismissed this as fearmongering, and for the first time in Guernicus history, there was major division in the House. When the last Primus, Arliandus, passed into Final Twilight, the Traditionalists lost a lot of power. He had led them, and now his filius Jart would have to. With the appointment of Bilera to Prima, much of the heat has been taken out of the debate. Bilera is tolerant of both views and has encouraged both sides to step back from open abuse of the other. In an early speech, she pointed out that the debate will be won or lost in the Order at large, not House Guernicus, and urged them to recall that even Quaesitores have only one vote. While the majority still holds the First Tribunal to be inviolate, the Transitionalists cannot win, and if the majority wants change, the Traditionalists can do nothing but delay it. Thus, the arguments are now being taken to the rest of the Order.

Though dedicated to the law, House Guernicus has only a loose organizationa and no rigid control. No Guernicus is ever ordered to do anything. Any directive is a request. On average, a Tribunal will have around eight Guernicus magi and one apprentice at any given time, and of the 98 known Guernicus, about 90 are Quaesitores in good standing. On average, each Tribunal has about three non-Guernicus Quaesitores, and so every Tribunal has an average of 12 Quaesitores total, though no Tribunal can truly be called 'average' and Magvillus will reassign Quaesitores if it perceives a need. Magvillus lies in the southern Apennine mountains of Sicily, about nine miles north of the town of Potenza. It is highly secretive and avoids local politics. Only Quaesitores, Redcaps and those invited are allowed inside; guests are given shelter outside the walls, and only House Guernicus may enter the inner buildings.

Magvillus' defenses are immense, thanks to the pessimism of Guernicus, and it is virtually invulnerable to mundane attack, between its position and the solid granite from which it was conjured. Its water is supplied by magic and enough magically preserved food is held within to last for years. The covenant is split by three sets of walls, with the outer ward housing guest quarters, the council chamber and the law library, the middle ward housing the covenfolk and the inner ward and main keep allowed only to Guernicus - and then only by invitation of the Magvillus inner council, for the rituals of Fenicil are kept there. The local nobles used to worry about the place, but since its sudden appearance four centuries ago, it has never interfered in mundane politics, so most merely ignore it now. In the past, messengers were sent to demand its allegiance, but all, from Charlemagne on, were rebuffed, and all thought better than to force the issue. The guards of Magvillus are armed with magical weapons and armor, as well as potent automata created by the Verditius Quaesitores, and it is said that the mountain contains earth elementals who were allies to Guernicus and are still loyal to his heirs. Even during the Schism War, Magvillus was never assaulted and its defenses remain entirely untested.

The Prima, Bilera, was chosen for her neutrality in the Transitionalist/Traditionalist debate, and in many ways she is the archetypal Guernicus Primus. Before taking office, she was a quiet servant of the Order and her primary field of magic was the growth of herbs and gardens, which she is amazingly good at. She used to travel, making magical gardens for covenants in exchange for a tithe of any vis the garden could be made to produce. Many of her investigations began while working on gardens. She was not, at first, very famous for her ability to unravel even the most complex intrigues, and her small body and soft manner of speech led many to underestimate her. She had keen insight and skill, rarely needing magical investigative methods, and she tried to be discreet, keeping her from becoming famous. Indeed, many believed she wasn't even an active Quaesitor.

However, after she became an Archmagus and uncovered many diabolists in Rome, Transylvania and Iberia, her name began to spread, and the tales of her previous work became more common knowledge. When the Magvillus Council checked her work, her contributions to the Order became manifest. When Arliandus entered Final Twilight, all of the successor candidates were strongly for one side or the other, and Bilera was convinced to help heal the rift. As of 1220, her primary concern is to bring the House to the best possible outcome, whatever that turns out to be. If anyone can bring the two sides together, it is her. She has also begun a mountain garden at Magvillus, which will take years at best to complete, but promises to be the finest garden she has ever made.

The Magvillus Council is the true ruler of House Guernicus, with two tiers. The inner council consists of six Guernicus magi and the Primus, while the outer council is one non-Guernicus Quaesitor from each House and the Presiding Quaesitor of each Tribunal. Typically, the Presiding Quaesitor of the Roman Tribunal is on the inner council, and the Primus presides only over Grand Tribunals. Thus, the outer council is generally 24 magi. Presiding Quaesitores are chosen by their Tribunals, but the House representatives are selected by the inner council. The inner council resides at Magvillus, and the outer council, while not residents, are given devices able to transport small groups to the covenant's reception houses. The device may be used either to signal meetings or to receive a self-destruct order, both of which can be triggered remotely by the Primus. The full council is thus 31 magi, including the Primus, and the inner council governs only the internal business of the House. For all other matters, the full council sits in judgment, with 21 considered quorum. The Primus chairs meetings and sets the agenda. Any member may propose discussion and votes are carried by simple majority. The Primus is charged to implement the council's will. The inner council is chosen by invitation of the existing members, and it is for life. The new Primus is chosen by full council and can be dismissed by full council, though this has never happened.

New magi are voluntarily assigned to Tribunals based on need, with the Primus writing letters of introduction to potential covenants on their behalf. It is within the rights of any covenant to refuse, but few do so lightly. New Quaesitores accepting assignment are looked on well by the House, but they are allowed to go their own way if they like. It is a mixed blessing to house a Quaesitor, for they seldom condone any action outside the law in conflicts with other magi but also pursue investigations against illegal activities performed by the covenant's foes with extreme vigor. Young Quaesitores are often assigned to Spring covenants (that is, newly founded) in areas where older covenants are known to be hostile.

Next time: The Code of Hermes

Drakyn
Dec 26, 2012



Capfalcon posted:

For now, we get a giant slaying spear that that does an extra four damage to anyone who's bigger than us.
This bit's going to be a bit tricky to exploit, isn't it.

HitTheTargets
Mar 3, 2006

I came here to laugh at you.


drat. Shoulda been a hobbit.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages



When Guernicus decided what legal system the Order should adopt, most thought that the Roman one would be a good basis. He dismissed this idea; magi had been lawless barbarians for three full centuries, and a barbarian law was the best they could hope for. Thus, the Code is instead based on the tribal laws of Germanic and Nordic societies, recast to suit the Order. The key defense in most Hermetic legal cases is to claim that the victim forfeited immunity. Normally, a magus is under protection of the law and immune to attack. However, in some circumstances, they may partially or totally step outside that protection. Wizard's War, for example. Those engaged in it are not protected against attacks from the other combatant or combatants. This is known as forfeit immunity. You are also under forfeit immunity while committing, preparing to commit or shortly after committing a crime. While forfeit, other magi may act against you, but the response should be proportional. Forfeit immunity is a matter of degree.

Clear and direct breach of the code is a high crime. High crimes are the only crimes which may have a Wizard's March declared as a punishment. All other offenses are low crimes, and the March can only be called if the convict does not abide by the Tribunal rulings, which is a high crime. The first high crime, though, is deprivation of magical power. The code says: "I will not deprive nor attempt to deprive a member of their magical power." Any act that detrimentally affects your ability to use, practice or study magic is illegal, with the most serious involving destruction or maiming of the Gift. Any physical injury that restricts the ability to speak, gesture or move is a crime, as is theft of magical property such as vis, vis sources, magical sites, enchanted items, familiars, apprentices, books or lab equipment. Beyond this, a covenant's mundane resources, including personnel, are partially protected to the degree they are required for study, though attacks on mundane assets tend to be low crimes.

Slaying is the second high crime. It is written in the Oath: "I will not slay, nor attempt to slay a member of the Order, except in a properly declared Wizard's War." Very clear. However, there are valid cases where forfeit immunity works as a defense. If the person you killed was working to kill you, threaten your magic or threaten your covenant, you can claim forfeit immunity, though you'll have to convince the Tribunal. Provocation can mitigate punishment as well. The case will always be tried if you kill outside Wizard's War, though it can be just a formality. Early First Tribunal ruling states that the act of entering a sanctum confers forfeit immunity with respect to the owner. The sanctum owner may legally try to kill you, but any aggressive response from you is illegal. Petty spells and physical attacks do not justify lethal response, but may mitigate punishment. For example, in the Roman Tribunal of 884, Gravis of Flambeau was charged with slaying Talus of Merinita, and claimed forfeit immunity due to provocation, as Talus had cast a spell that made his voice sound like a little girl's. In response, Gravis burned him to death. As Talus' spell was clearly not a threat to life, Gravis was found guilty, but the obvious provocation reduced the sentence from Wizard's March to the death of Gravis' familiar. In the Roman Tribunal of 891, Dominicus of Jerbiton was charged with the slaying of Gravis of Flambeau and claimed forfeit immunity. Gravis had attempted to burn him to death after a heated argument, in which witnesses attested that all provocation was verbal and Gravis threw the first spell. Dominicus was barely injured and responded by crushing Gravis' heart. One member of Dominicus' covenant attested that he had drunk a potion to protect against fire that morning and had engineered the confrontation. Dominicus did not dispute this, but maintained that because Gravis had tried to kill him, it fell under forfeit immunity. The ruling was that Dominicus' intention did not excuse Gravis and so Dominicus was acquitted. He was, however, convicted later of breaking his covenant charter and was exiled from the Tribunal.



The Wizard's War clause ('I understand that a Wizard War is an open conflict between two magi, who may slay each other without breaking their oath, and that should I be slain in a Wizard War no retribution shall fall on the magus who slays me.') is generally kept legal by hiring a Redcap to ensure the declaration of war occurs at the appropriate time and then reports back, acting as legal witness and ensuring legality. This is not, however, core to the clause and some Tribunals have more elaborate procedures. The core interpretation is that the recipient has one lunar month to prepare, and the war lasts for one lunar month. Both parties may attack each other's life and property without fear, but are still liable for any colleteral damage, and may not attack any property held in common, such as covenant buildings, vis sites or covenant books. If you endanger the lives or property of other magi, you forfeit immunity to them. You are free to enter your foe's sanctum and destroy the things within, and any shared property inside a sanctum is considered forfeit during Wizard War. Destroying an entire building is typically not okay. The prohibition on retribution typically is interpreted to mean legal retribution from charges or persecution, but not from a Wizard War declared in response. In only one case has this ever been challenged. In the Rhine Tribunal, the magus Hernis was charged with endangering the Order via excessive and unjustified use of Wizard War, and by Wizard War he sought to politically dominate the Tribunal with fear. It was ruled that if he endangered the Order, he would forfeit immunity to protection by the Wizard War clause, and he was found guilty. He refused to cooperate and so suffered Wizard's March, though he killed two of the magi sent after him. The case is still considered exceptional. All other rulings have held that it is perfectly legal to declare Wizard War in search of vengeance for the killing of an amicus, and that this clause was included for that express purpose, at the insistence of the founder Flambeau.

The Code states: "I will abide by the decisions made by fair vote at Tribunal." Rulings of regional Tribunals apply only to residents and visitors, and non-residents are under its rules only if their case can be brought there. First and Grand Tribunal rulings apply to all magi at all times. Regional Tribunal rulings cannot contradict them. Traditionalists maintain that even the Grand Tribunal may not contradict the Oath or the First Tribunal's rulings. Local Tribunals tend to have a lot of control over details and a good amount of scope in interpreting Grand Tribunal rulings. The Presiding Quaesitor will generally only use their veto if a Tribunal is clearly and unambiguously conflicting with any reasonable interpretation of the Oath, First or Grand Tribunal rulings. Most Tribunals are rather conservative and do not reverse precedent easily.

The Code states: "I will have one vote at Tribunal and I will use it prudently. I will respect as equal the votes of all others at Tribunal." Originally, there was only the First Tribunal, but since 773 it has split. The term is now interpreted to apply to both the regional Tribunal of a magus and the Grand Tribunal. Every regional Tribunal must be recognized by the Grand Tribunal, and every magus must have a single Tribunal of residence. Most Tribunals have some kind of residency requirement, occasionally in an attempt to restrict the population, which is generally tied to belonging to a recognized covenant or be able to be contacted by the Mercere. Itinerant magi still need an official residence, and it's their job to maintain enought contact with the Mercere to be informed of any cases against them. Tribunal borders can be vague and fuzzy, and most Quaesitores support the ability of border covenants to pick what Tribunal they belong to. A magus who is declared vagrant and not belonging to a Tribunal has seven years to fix that or be considered potentially guilty of vagrancy. (The same applies to not belonging to a House.) A magi may freely appoint a proxy to vote for them, which allows for the block voting of Tremere. The polite fiction is that, of course, Tremere magi grant their parens their proxy sigil out of respect until they are strong enough to win a duel to take it back. The reality, of course, is that those who do not agree to this are asked to leave the House and may be in danger of Wizard War. But the polite fiction satisfies the law. The provision for prudent casting of votes is used to forbid bribery and corruption, at least in theory.


...in theory.

The most fundamental clause of the Code is the endangerment clause: "I will not endanger the Order through my actions." Any act that risks the peace and security of other magi can be interpreted as breaking the clause and can justify a case. This is generally held to be the most important clause, important enough even to break others at times. A defendant may claim that any endangerment was purely personal or trivial, and it is the duty of the prosecution to show that magi other than the defendant were endangered. Intention is important for mitigation, as is recklessness or negligence. Culpability and degree of endangerment are both considered when assigned punishments.

The mundane interference clause states: "I will not interfere with the affairs of mundanes and thereby bring ruin upon my sodales." This is interpreted to forbid significant involvement in mundane politics, either noble or Church. Typically it is most important to not support one faction against another, as it encourages mundanes to seek such aid, and refused requests often meet hostility. Most magi would prefer not to have to fight nobles or Churchmen, and any act that undermines the Order's neutrality is seen as an offense. Conflict can occur directly between individual magi, nobles and churchmen, but as long as you don't form an alliance with your foe's rivals you aren't breaching this provision, though you may still break the endangerment clause if you bring wrath down on other magi. There is much debate over this provision, both in House Guernicus and the Order as a whole. In some Tribunals, it is virtually ignored, and it is the source of much argument among the Traditionalist/Transitionalist debates. The Transitionalists hold that it is unenforceable and should be recast to suit the times, to stop abuses and legalize benign activities, which both get ignored now. Traditionalists disagree.

The most stricly enforced provision is this: "I will not deal with devils, lest I imperil my soul and the souls of my sodales as well." You cannot knowingly make deals with the Infernal. Period. It is the greatest threat to the Order, and even the most seemingly benign agreement will usually result in Wizard's March if discovered. The only possible defense is ignorance that the deal was made with a demon. Even an agreement to mutually avoid each other has been punished. Faced with a demon, agree to nothing, and either defend yourself or flee. Seeking out demons to slay them is usually legal, unless it causes the demon to focus its attentions on the Order, which may break the endangerment clause. Demons that have already attempted to corrupt or harm the Order are known foes and showing that can defend against such charges. In 1151 in the Rhine Tribunal, Rudolphus of Bonisagus attracted the attention of a major demon, which he unsuccessfuly tried to kill over a decade. The demon began systematically attacking Redcaps, and the senior Mercere brought Rudolphus to trial for endangerment. He was convicted and sentenced to provide House Mercere with some magical means to protect themselves from demons.

The fae clause is this: "I will not molest the fay, lest their vengeance catch my sodales as well." Prosecution must show that a magus or covenant has endangered others, such as by an attack on a third party. The term 'molest' is often argued to mean that conflict is provoked somehow, and reasonable defense of lives and property is considered a valid defense. In 1172 in the Normandy Tribunal, Guardinia of Merinita accused Berenguer of Tytalus of molesting the fae. Berenguer claimed they had stolen his apprentice and therefore he had every right to take steps to return the child. The Tribunal found in favor of Berenguer, though he was admonished for the heavy-handed nature of his rescue.

Next time: More Code of Hermes

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

The scrying clause states: "I will not use magic to scry upon members of the Order of Hermes, nor shall I use it to peer into their affairs." Criamon insisted. The key here is 'legal affairs'. Many covenants have devices to reveal scrying attempts, and the most serious scrying cases are those that seek magical secrets. Such detections are recognized as legal. Theoretically, they might reveal a legal act, such as use of scrying magic to communicate home by visitors, but complaints about that sort of thing being detected are seen as exceptionally petty, abuse of hospitality and unlikely to succeed. It is also hard to argue when caught invisible or shapeshifted on someone else's land - spells that detect such things are reasonable. However, spying and attempts to pierce privacy are not. To avoid prosecution, many magi deliberately cast scrying spells without use of any penetration, but this is not perfect, as it can still catch Redcaps, who are fully legally empowered against scrying as if they were magi. Intent to scry is assumed if such spying is discovered, and the defendant must prove otherwise. If any secrets are learned, they will need to pay damages, even if there was no intent.

The apprentices clause states: "I will train apprentices who will swear to this Code, and should any of them turn against the Order and my sodales I will be the first to strike them. No apprentice of mine shall be called magus until he or she first swears to uphold the Code." In most Tribunals, it is a low crime to keep a Gifted child as a lab assistant without training them as an apprentice. Any unclaimed Gifted child can be taken by the first magus who makes a formal and witnessed offer to teach them the Hermetic Arts, and the new master is legally obliged to take the child to their sanctum with reasonable haste and begin initiation as soon as possible. A similar method can be used if a master is delinquent in training the apprentice. Typically, anyone who has developed magical power before joining the Order does not need to be an apprentice and is invited as a full wizard if they simply swear the Oath and find a House to take them in within a year. Generally, that means Ex Miscellanea. The companion to this is the duty of the parens. The Oath requires the parens be first to attack an outcast magus. If the parens is dead or in Final Twilight, that duty falls to their inheritor, the eldest filius. If there isn't one, the duty passes to the magus with closest relation. Ultimately, the House Primus is responsible if there is no one. The exact chain of inheritance is a matter of regional rulings. This clause is rarely actually practices, however, and generally this means a formality case to hand inheritance rights over to whoever did the actual killing, as well as payment of any debts owed by the outcast, which are paid from the inheritance.

The Bonisagus clause is sworn only by House Bonisagus, stating: "I shall further the knowledge of the Order and share with my sodales all that I find in my search for wisdom and power." This may legally be applied to all books and lab texts the magus produces, which must be shown to anyone who wishes it, though they need not be translated out of personal shorthand. Any copying of these works must be done on the spot, as there is no obligation to give the works away to travelers. To avoid these demands, a Bonisagus magus may always choose to just send a copy of their works to Durenmar, where they may then refer any enquiries.

The other Bonisagus clause is sworn by all other Houses: "I concede the right of Bonisagus to take from me any apprentice he may find helpful in his studies." This is extended to the entire House, allowing them to legally obtain the best apprentices. Abuse of this right is not well regarded, and because Wizard War grants full immunity, it may well be used by outraged masters. An example case was brought forth in the Roman Tribunal of 1172, where Helvennia of Bonisagus exercised her right to claim apprentices no less than eight times in seven years. All apprentices had died within a year. Helvennia claimed the nature of her work was inherently dangerous and the losses, while unfortunate, were beyond her control. The Tribunal wished to rule in favor of the prosecution, but the Presiding Quaesitor stated that Helvennia's actions were legal and she was acquitted. However, the Praeco of the Tribunal wrote to the Primus of Bonisagus with a petition to censure Helvennia. He was refused. She later claimed an apprentice in the following year. One month later, she suffered seven declarations of Wizard War. Despite attempts at arbitration, none were withdrawn. She fled to hide, but was found and killed with the aid of her new apprentice. Thus, the danger of excessive use of the Bonisagus right.

The outcast clause states: "I request that should I break the Oath, I be cast out of the Order. If I am cast out, I ask my sodales to find me and slay me that my life may not continue in degradation and infamy." If taken literally, it would mean all convictions resulted in Wizard's March, but in practice, lesser punishments are common. If such a punishment is refused, the magus is then cast out and Marched.

The final clause, the enemies clause, states: "The enemies of the Order are my enemies. The friends of the Order are my friends. The allies of the Order are my allies. Let us work as one and grow strong." Friendly relations with known enemies of the Order can be prosecuted, as can attacks on friends and allies of the Order. However, the Order has few declared enemies, most of which are demons or diabolists, and only a Tribunal can declare an individual or group as an enemy. The requirements for friendship are more open. A prosecution can be made for attacks on friends or allies of a covenant, though it is a difficult case, and few prosecutions are made under this provision.



Low crimes are generally a matter of regional Tribunal rulings or Grand Tribunal rulings. In such cases, precedent is a big deal for both sides. A magus may also propose a ruling at Tribunal to be voted on. A traditionalist would insist that such proposals must be based on some part of the Oath, and that Tribunals should only clarify, expand and embellish the Code, not invent new laws. Proposals must be published no less than two years prior to Tribunal, which means writing letters to all covenants of a Tribunal and ensuring they are received. The Tribunal may then debate them. When one Tribunal makes a ruling, prosecutions or proposals on the same lines often propagate to others, if the ruling was popular.

The book then provides detailed advice on preparing and handling legal cases. While useful, it is not especially interesting if you don't need the advice. It is important to note that if a client has no one to speak for them, a Guernicus will serve as advocate. Wizard War can be threatened in response to legal cases, but if this happens to a Guernicus advocate, typically Hoplites will step in to assist them without needing to be asked. In many Tribunals, threatening a Guernicus advocate is essentially suicide and is never considered by rational magi.

Common punishments short of a Wizard's March, in descending order of severity, are: death of the familiar, a horrific event which some wizards will accept Wizard's March rather than submit to. Doing so is seen as an honorable choice. Loss of the familiar via cutting of the cords which connect familiar and magus, which is painful and emotionally scarring for both parties and may be done by forcible Quaesitorial ritual or by voluntary activity of the convict, which must be checked by the Quaesitores. A former familiar can never be rebound, and typically the magus and familiar will be unable to take the sight of each other after. Banishment from Tribunal, which orders a magus to avoid lands that are accepted as part of a particular Tribunal and to find a new residential Tribunal. Loss of apprentice, requiring the magus to surrender their apprentice immediately, with first claim in practice givent to the prosecuting principle and then any other candidate. Investing items - that is, the magus is ordered to create enchanted items for particular effects and deliver them to particular Mercere or Guernicus magi. Least of all are seasons of service performed for the benefit of Houses Mercere or Guernicus in pursuit of Tribunal duties. Examples include enchanting items or making longevity rituals for Redcaps, or copying Tribunal records for Guernicus magi. A particularly good chance to restore your good name is to be asked to help investigate other crimes.

So, what are duties and powers of a Quaesitor? First, every Quaesitor must carry a letter from the Primus of Guernicus declaring them to be a Quaesitor in good standing, or Quaesitor cum auctoritate. The letter must be no more than seven years old. Without it, you have no authority whatsoever. Quaesitores have the duty to investigate any serious complaint formally presented to them, with seriousness decided by personal judgment. The Quaeistor is entitled to three seasons out of the year to pursue their own studies or attend to covenant responsibilities. This may be accrued for later usage if Quaesitorial duties require multiple seasons of work. A Quaesitor may demand cooperation in official investigations, and a magus must assist insofar as it does not infringe on their legal rights. They must answer reasonable questions, though they need not reveal legal magical secrets. Other evasions are not permitted. Failure to cooperate is a low crime. Servants must also be allowed to be questioned, and any command to have them lie or evade answering is a low crime.



The Code normally forbids use of Intellego magic to intrude on other magi. However, Quaesitores are permitted to scry on any act performed while committing or in preparation to commit a crime. However, if a crime is found, a Guernicus might still be charged with scrying on the innocent activities discovered while seeking it. Thus, they have limited immunity as long as they are engaged in justified investigation and are reasonable in scope. However, Intellego Mentem magic may never be used on magi or their servants without permission. Further, a Quaesitor who accidentally discovers innocent information is never responsible for more than damages, and the victim must show their secrets were compromised by the investigation. Any compensation due is paid by the Tribunal, not the Quaesitor. This is true of all compensation for actions by the Quaesitor. Most Quaesitores, however, will pass on investigations of enemies if they fear being brought to trial for abuse of power, because such trials embarrass the house. However, success in finding a crime generally excuses this problem.

Next time: Quaesitorial Rights and Privileges

Tasoth
Dec 12, 2011


Drakyn posted:

This bit's going to be a bit tricky to exploit, isn't it.

I have a feeling anything smaller than a Beorning (GOBLINS!) and of equal stature (ORCS!) are in for trouble. The dragons and trolls are probably more of a concern. Both the Fellowship and the Dwarfs went through greenskins like they were spending their way out of a recession.

BinaryDoubts
Jun 6, 2013

Looking at it now, it really is disgusting. The flesh is transparent. From the start, I had no idea if it would even make a clapping sound. So I diligently reproduced everything about human hands, the bones, joints, and muscles, and then made them slap each other pretty hard.



Dogs in the Vineyard posted:

The shopkeeper from Back East? His wife isnít really his wife. Heís the procurer and sheís the available woman. Their marriage is a front.

Your brotherís son, your nephew, is fourteen years old. Heís been stealing money from his father, your brother, and taking it to visit this woman.

Your brother is in a bitter rage, humiliated by his sonís thievery and grieving his sonís lost innocence. Heís going to shoot her.

What do you do?
Dogs in the Vineyard is Vincent Baker's great Western RPG. It's more about tough decisions and moral turpitude than high-noon gunfights and saloon brawls (althoug there's room for some of that, too). Hailing from the now-distant year of 2004, it's notable for playing with some unique (and sadly never-ripped-off) resolution mechanics and for its evocative and unique setting. It's easy to see a lot of throughlines from Dogs to later indie RPGs, particularly in the town creation system, which encourages the GM to not plan plots out in advance. The game is a sometimes awkward mixture of traditional systems and storygame-type innovations, but I'll go over that stuff when I get there. Until then, let's start in the first chapter: A Land of Balm and Virtue. (I'm skipping the introduction since it's mainly just the "What is a RPG?" stuff we all know by heart).

The author opens the first chapter by saying

Vincent Baker posted:

I'm just making stuff up!
which doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Anyway, the game is set in a fictionalized pre-Civil-War Utah, and is largely concerned with the settlements of the Faith (full name: Faith of All Things in the King of Life, Reborn), who are basically Mormons. The capital of the Faith, Bridal Falls, is built near the soaring mountain ranges that border the Faith's territory, while most of the other towns are built across the huge fertile range west of the mountains (ranging from green hills to scrub desert). The Faith settled here after abandoning the decadence back East, and the Territorial Authority (the secular government) largely leaves them alone. Their relationship with the native Mountain People is troubled but mostly peaceful; the natives are nomadic and tend to pack up as soon as the Faith expands into their territory. The Faith doctrine is that the Mountain People are the fallen remnant of an old Faithful civilization. Some say that they are uniquely beloved by the King of Life (the Faith's God), while others think of them as subhuman sinners.

The Faithful don't drink coffee, liquor, or black tea (herbal teas and barley beers are OK, though). Women dress modestly and do the housework, men work with their hands and deal with outside affairs. Most people have a gun, and they're the big, scary hand cannons from before the six-shooter took off. They're slow, smoky, and prone to misfire, but they can punch a hole through you the size of a fist. Tobacco's allowed, but increasingly unpopular. One of the nice touches in this chapter is that it lists the kind of buildings that you'd find in a small/large town- stuff someone without a lot of Western experience might not think about (barrel-makers, millers, masons).

Of course, your character isn't going to be a barrel-maker. He or she is a Dog- a member of the Order Set Apart to the Preservation of Faith and the Faithful (the Faith really loves its long names). They travel from town to town, representing the Faith as both priest and lawman. Dogs are the final word on religious and legal affairs, and it's fully within their purview to drag a sinner out to the main square and shoot him in broad daylight. Most of the time, though, Dogs serve a more benign role, carrying out ceremonies, bringing mail, kissing babies, and so on. But when confronted with sin, it's their job to bring salvation, in whatever way they choose.

Next time: Character creation! Ceremonies! Hot Dog-on-Dog action! Also, this was my first post. Let me know if there's anything I need to fix up or improve!

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

Quaesitores are paid back for any vis used in the course of their investigations by the Tribunal. If coffers are low, this may not be full compensation, and fines are likely to be especially harsh for a while, since that's where most Tribunal vis, uh, comes from. If an investigation proves to be spurious, the complainer owes the Quaesitor a fee as well as payment for any vis spent. In extreme circumstances, a Quaesitor has the right to declare Wizard's March, typically done only when, say, a diabolist is discovered. The next Tribunal must ratify the decision, and expects compelling evidence. As of yet, there has never been a Quaesitor that has failed to do so. Grand Tribunal ruling holds that no Quaesitor may, you see, materially benefit from a Wizard's March they call and must donate any material goods they acquire as a result to the Tribunal.

Quaesitores are often asked to help draft or witness formal agreements between magi or to arbitrate disputes. Such arbitration considers both legal weight of both sides and political concerns - very valid in 1220. The aim is not really fairness - it's lasting peace. Once both sides agree to a Quaesitor's rulings, however, and the agreement is ratified by all parties, it is legally binding and failure to comply is an offense of Grand Tribunal rulings. Quaesitores are not required to charge for these services, but it is common to do so, with the fee chosen at the Quaesitor's discretion. Conduct in such matters makes or breaks reputations.

There are, of course, duties. The Presiding Quaesitor of each Tribunal is chosen at the end of each Tribunal meeting by vote of the Tribunal's Quaesitores. It is seen as unhealthy to retain the post for more than three terms. There must always be at least two candidates, even if one is just a token opponent. Thus, the post is frequently rotated among senior Quaesitores. A Presiding Quaesitor must have two advisers. If they are Guernicus, at least one must not be Guernicus. Every decision they make must involve consultation with both advisers, and it is not unheard of for a young Quaesitor to be made adviser in order to gain experience. The Presiding Quaesitor has final word on all legal matters put to the Tribunal, and may in fact veto any ruling if they truly believe the ruling to unambiguously conflict with higher rulings. They may also veto case rulings if they believe there was miscarriage of justice. A Tribunal may appeal any veto at Grand Tribunal, but it takes up one of their legally required three issues that can be brought up. At the end of a Tribunal, the Presiding Quaesitor recalls any magi expelled by the Praeco, then makes a speech giving their opinion on the Tribunal, then calls for a vote to ratify the Tribunal, which requires a two-thirds majority. If a Tribunal is not validated, all rulings made are void. This almost never happens. The Presiding Quaesitor also names all punishments that are not Wizard's March. The Guernicus Primus serves as Presiding Quaesitor of the Grand Tribunal, but may only exercise the right of veto by majority vote of the Primi.

The right of veto is worth discussing. House Guernicus, of all the governmental institutions of the Order, has the least capacity to defend itself independently. This is intentional. Quaesitores often antagonize magi - perhaps even the majority of magi in a covenant. To maintain their powers, they must be accepted as moral authorities. They must be valued. They must be trusted. They may be disagreed with, but everyone must respect them and their office. The right of veto, then, is used only and exclusively in cases of clear and unambiguous conflict with the Code or a higher Tribunal ruling. What constitutes clear and unambiguous conflict is up to the GM, but should be obvious to any reasonable magus. Abuse of the veto is self-defeating. In theory it should never need to be used. It exists to prevent casual slide into mob rule. Magi should be able to recognize an illegal position, even if it is popular, and give up. Such cases will have had private hearings and should not be brought forward. If a controversial case is brought forward, the Presiding Quaesitor will have made their opinion known before the vote is cast. Forcing the use of a veto means that the authority of the Quaesitores has failed. Any use of the veto will be thoroughly investigated by Magvillus, and if they do not agree, the Guernicus Primus can revoke the veto. Any suggestion of abuse of veto is likely to receive extreme consequences, to make an example. Any veto may still be appealed at Grand Tribunal, which can overrule it by generating a new ruling. Ultimately, even if it is a First Council ruling that was contradicted, if both Primi and populace want to override it, there is nothing that House Guernicus could do about it. At best, they might maintain a principled objection and hope for a reversal at a later date.

The Quaesitores also have the duty of endorsing testimony. Most evidence used by Tribunals is not material, but testimonial. Any magus may request that their testimony be verified by Quaesitorial investigation via magic. The witness must drop their Parma and any other protective magic. The Quaesitor then checks for any magic that might manipulate the results. If one are found, they cast their truth-detecting magic. This is typically done privately, for protection of the testifying magus, but it would be the height of idiocy to attack someone at Tribunal in front of senior Quaesitores. Many magi have in the past tried to deceive Quaesitores into endorsing false testimony. Sometimes it works. When it is discovered, however, Houses Guernicus and Bonisagus design magic to defeat it. The field of counter-deceptive magic is highly developed and unless you were to find some truly innovative method, it is unlikely that you will be able to deceive a Quaesitor. However, as a safeguard, the endorsing Quaesitor must be at least your equal in age if not your senior. In perjury cases, multiple Quaesitores are used to verify testimony this way, each checking to ensure no deceptive magic is in use. Infernal power, of course, can deceive any magic, so it's not foolproof. However, in cases with no known Infernal connection, the endorsement is generally accepted as proof of truth. If conflict is discovered, Infernalism is immediately suspected.

So, what is life like for a Guernicus magus? I mean, sure, they're mostly Quaesitores, but they're magi first. Apprentices are brought up strictly, with firm education on morals and ethics, so most are skilled in moral philosophy. They are trained in mundane and magical investigations, and it is the height of skill for a Guernicus to be able to solve a case without casting any magic. They typically spend little time as lab assistants, and often are sent to accompany other Quaesitores, for training in Quaesitorial skills is seen as a group endeavor. By the time an apprentice is ready to graduate, they should know and be known by every Quaesitor in the Tribunal. Their Gauntlet consists of a written legal exam and practical tests of investigative skill, judgment and character. Often, there is an intentional chance for the apprentice to cheat, as a moral test. If they do, they will be informed that they failed some other, unrelated test, and it is this opportunity that usually decides whether they passed the Gauntlet. If an apprentice is dishonest on three seperate exams, they may still graduate but will never, ever be a Quaesitor.

Not all Guernicus magi are suited to investigations, of course. They're expected to do their best if asked, but a particularly unskilled investigator can forego such tasks. If they want to remain a Quaesitor, of course, they must find some other method of serving the Order. Guernicus magi are encouraged to take part in Tribunal politics, but as keepers of the peace and prosperity above all. They are meant not to be partisan, but to serve their personal convictions, and those who become too factional may receive quiet warnings. Arbitration skills are important, too, and most Guernicus are skilled at unravelling intrigues.

Obviously, a Guernicus can be a Quaesitor. It's a privilege, not a right, but every Guernicus who is not barred by cheating on the Gauntlet is given the chance to try. Their office is empowered solely bt the respect others have for them, but most Guernicus have very high moral standards, and corrupt Quaesitores are rare. They may be disliked or even hated for being brusque, rude or otherwise annoying, but they are rarely corrupt. Occasionally, however, a Guernicus magus finds their talents more suited to combat than investigation. Such magi are offered the job of Hoplite, and such a predisposition is respected. Guernicus himself was a passionate man, after all. Hoplites are those who bring muscle and force to the investigations of Quaesitores - half bodyguard, half riot cop. Not all Hoplites are Guernicus, of course. And some Guernicus feel they can best help the House as Advocates. Advocates are, well, lawyers. They take cases where principles feel threatened or otherwise are unable to conduct their own cases. Their fees are generally affordable even by the poorest of magi. They work also to resolve cases out of court and to broker agreements. Ideally, they work to bring peace and stability to the Order, standing between week and strong and ensuring that justice is done.

Some Guernicus focus instead on magical investigation. They are not the best at normal investigations, but are specialists in their fields, coming in to support other investigations or to serve as experts in specific fields of investigation. Most have devices to allow them to travel easily to anywhere they are needed, and specialists are often greatly in demand to endorse testimony. The most experienced are often engaged in research that pushes the bounds of Hermetic theory as much as any Bonisagus, and they dream of the day they may break the Limit of Time, to see into the past. Such a success, of course, would hardly be advertised. Some Guernicus also practice the art of the Terrae-magi. Guernicus never pushed his students to practice that art, though it was his own, but it is said that he especially loved those who did. There is a cult within the House that specializes in earth magic. It accepts magi from any House, but the leader is always Guernicus, and almost always sits on the inner council of Magvillus. Many of the cultists practice divinatory magic via geomantia, and many others learn to summon and bargain with earth elementals.

Advancement in the House is by reputation. Impress people with your skills and your successes, and you advance in...well, not rank, per se, but esteem and power. As there are less than a hundred and fifty Quaesitores, all told, they tend to know each other pretty well. After all, the Magvillus Council is encouraged to invite fellow Quaesitores to attend their meetings, to feast, socialize and observe. Having a good reputation is a great way to earn position as a Presiding Quaesitor or adviser to a Presiding Quaesitor. To reach the inner circle, however, you will have to do something truly noteworthy or skillful. Success is, again, how you gain your "rank." It gets you lead role on big investigations, and that can get you onto the inner council, or even the post of Primus, should it open. The highest position a Quaesitor outside Guernicus can hope for is the role of House Representative on the outer council, which normally involves a direct contract with their House's Primus. In the event that a Representative is made Primus, they resign their role on the Magvillus Council. Under Bilera, success is the only measure - political views no longer hinder or help you. So long as you follow the law, lobbying to change it or preserve it as is doesn't really matter to your rank. Ideally, at least. Since new Quaesitores are typically sent to lands distant from those they trained in, nepotism is usually avoided. When this doesn't happen, parentes tend to be very critical of their filii to avoid that accusation. Thus, Guernicus magi tend to be very respected and very cosmopolitan, generally uncommitted to local traditions and views. Their culture is fairly uniform, wherever they are found, due to their migratory nature.

Next time: Quaesitorial Magic

Druggeddwarf
Nov 9, 2011

My first attack must ALWAYS be a charge!


Hello!

Druggeddwarf here, and I just wanted everyone to know that I plan on (if I can get the bloody time for it) actually reviewing something, and hopefully doing it justice.

It's a 'fun' little game set in feudal japan called Kagematsu, and I am sure I will give it the full 'exciting' justice it truely deserves.

Also, I hate this game. With a passion. But I will do my best to be unjudgmental about it as I play it.

In the meantime, here's the cover

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

Since the start of the Order, magi have tried to hide their crimes, and the Quaesitores have become extremely good at uncovering it. They loan each other lab texts and train each other in the arts of investigative magic, though these magics are Guernicus secrets and it is a low crime for anyone not of Guernicus or a Quaesitor to read them. Great care is taken with their security. This magic specializes in boosting the senses, examining active spells and detecting spell traces. Spell traces are the residual remains of spells, which exist for some time after the spell ends, generally over the course of months (or years, for potent magic). Further, spells bear a unique signature in the form of the sigil. Everyone knows a wizard's sigil touches all magic they cast, giving it some harmless but distinguishing special effect. Fewer know that this can be traced in the spell's residue to express a unique pattern to each magus. Unfortunately, it's not that hard to hide the sigil, should one know it exists.



Quaesitorial magic has also developed spells to detect what someone looks like via an Arcane Connection to them (hair, say, or blood), or the ability to spot bodily material at a glance, even in a crowded room. They have also discovered methods usable with Creo Mentem to restore damaged, forgotten or lost memories. Now, none of this requires anything special - anyone could, in theory, reproduce these spells. It's just most magi have no purpose for doing so. Many Quaesitores also have magic to make people trust them, in order to more easily question grogs and others who would suffer from the Gift's penalties. They have developed spells that commune with stone and metal, mixing Guernicus' ancient magic with their own specialty in investigation, as well as spells that strengthen spell residue to make it easier to spot and track. They have in the doing learned how to weaken spell residude as well, and how to destroy enchantments that might keep them out of an area. (Or others. Enchantments in general.)

One thing that no other House or magus will ever reproduce easily, however, are Fenicil's Rituals. They are still largely Mercurian in nature, and do not actually involve the Hermetic Arts. These rituals are taught only to those trusted most by House Guernicus. Each must be carefully studied and mastered if it is to be cast at all, and the books that would help with this most are locked away in Magvillus. It is practically impossible for a single magus to cast the greater rituals - large groups are generally needed, with the aid of a Wizard's Communion. These rituals are exceptionally slow to cast and cost vast quantities of vis but are very, very safe, by magical standards.

The Greater Rituals require an entire season to cast, with the ritualists spending team each day casting them. These rituals are not used casually - and, indeed, some have never been cast at all. Only the most experienced Guernicus know the details of the greater rituals, and ritual chambers are kept constantly prepared in Magvillus in case they should ever be needed. No one actually has proof, however, that most of them even work. There are only three listed Greater Rituals, and of those, only the Curse of Thoth has ever been used, so far as most know. The Curse of Thoth targets a magical group, cursing them with misfortune. The act of casting involves a ritual blood sacrifice of a member of the cursed group. Those who do not resist the Curse will botch more often and are more prone to entering Twilight when they screw up. This was the ritual that House Guernicus laid on House Diedne during the Schism War. The Curse of Mars curses a nation to internal strife. It involves the blood sacrifice of a noble of that nation, and targets all the nobles within it. Those cursed are inclined to start or support civil wars. The Call for Justice summons Nemesis herself to punish a criminal. If the call is unjust, she punished the summoners instead. Nemesis is noted for hating immoderation, loving order and punishing pride and undeserved luck. She is merciless to the violent. The ritual has never been tried, and no one knows if it works at all, or what Nemesis would actually do once summoned. It is expected, given the fact that the other Greater Rituals target entire groups, that she would be extremely effective. She is believed to be an entity of the Magic Realm of immense power and subtlety.

The Lesser Rituals see occasional use, though their costs are prohibitive. They are all known to have real effects, and again, only the Guernicus are taught to use them. They generally take at least an hour to cast, if not more. Wisdom of Athena empowers the ritual leader with knowledge of the ways of men, plots and spotting the unseen, granting mythic levels of perception. The Sight of Alatheia grants the power of Second Sight. Veil All Eyes causes everyone to ignore the ritualists unless they are directly threatening, and even then, they are forgettable. The Oath of Truth causes a willing subject to suffer dire consequences should they lie - death, or worse. The Will of Alatheia swears a willing subject not to perform a certain action, with the same dire consequences as above. This ritual has been used to level punishments, but is seen as very heavy-handed. Most magi are not familiar enough with the magics involved in these rituals to develop a counterspell to either the Oath of Truth or the Will of Alatheia, at least without intense research.

Next time: House Mercere

Erebro
Apr 28, 2013


Druggeddwarf posted:

Hello!

Druggeddwarf here, and I just wanted everyone to know that I plan on (if I can get the bloody time for it) actually reviewing something, and hopefully doing it justice.

It's a 'fun' little game set in feudal japan called Kagematsu, and I am sure I will give it the full 'exciting' justice it truely deserves.

Also, I hate this game. With a passion. But I will do my best to be unjudgmental about it as I play it.

In the meantime, here's the cover



Wow. That is literally the most boring, generic cover for a setting ostensibly in Japan.

Even Random Anime poo poo would be better than that cover.

Don't judge books by covers, and all, but the cover...I can judge that very well, and it sucks.

Knowing what is going to be inside given your comments, though, I can get an early start to this game's list of sins.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

House Mercere is believed to have upwards of 150 unGifted members, with at least ten in every Tribunal. However, they have a grand total of perhaps twelve Gifted Mercere. Total, anywhere. They are most common in the Rhine, Roman and Provencal Tribunals, in the sense that they are common anywhere, largely because these are the Tribunals closest to Harco, the domus magna. Redcaps, the unGifted, are a common sight, while the Mercere magi tend to support them by crafting and developing spells and enchantments to assist their work in delivering messages and managing the Order's trade and banking network. Harco lies in the province of Piedmont, Italy, and is notable for lacking almost any magical aura at all. It was chosen instead for a central location. Harco serves as the central bank and warehouse for the Order. Redcaps come and go all the time, and they track and record the vis held by each Tribunal, as well as the knowledge sent to Durenmar. The place is extremely wealthy and is a true crossroads of the Order.

The Prima of Mercere is Insatella, a practical woman in her eighties who has run Harco for nearly forty years. Her father was the former Primus, Mihalyi, who replaced the Primus Aldico after the Schism War. Insatella is not Gifted and tends to avoid magi and politics in favor of ensuring that House Mercere runs as smoothly as possible. She has a very large family, and her second-eldest daughter Maria will likely take over for her when she dies, as Maria is Insatella's primary assistant. The symbol of House Mercere is a red cap bearing a yellow circle inscribed with a blue triangle. The cap signifies duty and knowledge, the circle is a coin meaning wealth and commerce, and the triangle is a potsherd from a Roman crossroads, symbolizing communication and travel. The motto of Mercere is 'Ordinem ministramus et sustinemus:' We serve the Order and keep it alive.

The origins of Mercere the Founder are a mystery. None of his descendants have any idea what part of the world he was from, nor where he learned his magic. The stories that they have are undoubtedly exaggerated by time and the hero-worship that is so common among Mercere, as well as by the fact that the Founder himself did love exaggerating. Some say he descended from Circe and Odysseus, others from Perseus or Orpheus or other heroes. Some even believe he was the incarnation of the god Mercury. His House claims that he had traveled all of Europe by the age of 20. He is said to have been the first to join Trianoma and the fledgling Order, and the House whispers that the two were romantically involved, though others say she refused his advances. In either case, he swore a solemn oath to follow and serve Trianoma and the Order, and they traveled together for several years before meeting Bonisagus. Mercere helped Trianoma find many of the Founders, whom he had either met or heard about, and kept her company on her famous journey.



In exchange for the Parma Magica, Mercere taught Bonisagus what he could about Mercurian fertility rituals and shapechanging magic. His Gift was always weak, and while it was very gentle, he had trouble casting any magic at all. Indeed, he was so impressed by Bonisagus' command of magic and great knowledge that he promised Bonisagus the right to any apprentices he had. Bonisagus accepted, promising not to abuse this privilege, and the two became great friends. In the years after the Founding, Mercere settled in northern Italy, in what was then believed to be the center of Europe. There, he founded Harco, envisioning it as a crossroads and trading center, where both magical and nonmagical commerce flourished under the Order. He saw it as his duty to prevent the new Order from fracturing as the Cult of Mercury had before them, negotiating with the other Founders to create magical portals linking their great covenants together.

Unlike other magi, Mercere never adopted Gifted children as apprentices, instead bringing those he found to Bonisagus. It is said that in those early days, he considered himself a member of House Bonisagus in all but name, and he only ever had two apprentices, both of them his own children. His line always remained small. Even while teaching his children, he worked tirelessly to keep the Order together, spending most of his time traveling and carrying messages or with Trianoma and Bonisagus at Durenmar. However, Mercere suffered a great tragedy while working with Bonisagus in the lab. Somehow, his Gift was obliterated. Some say it was an accident, others a flaw in his Parma Magica or his weak Gift, while others suggest that Mercere willingly sacrificed it in pursuit of mysteries. Records of that time say that Bonisagus tried to restore Mercere, but failed. It was, he wrote, his greatest failure, "a sign of the inherent evil of this world, that magic can so easily destroy what only God can create."

After the event, Mercere changed dramatically. At first he seemed desperate to regain his magic, neglecting even his children as he sought out ancient legends. When that didn't succeed, he vanished for ten years, either traveling or shut up in his lab at Harco. Many believed him either dead or mad. Years later, he emerged and began to adopt mundane followers, all of whom served him for fifteen years as an apprentice would, and to whom he taught all he could. He stressed to these people that their first duty was to support the vision of Trianoma in any way they could. He never acknowledged that these men and women were different in any way, calling them his children much as he did his two Gifted followers.

This caused great conflict at Tribunal, for many Founders felt it implicit in the Hermetic Oath that magi would train apprentices to work magic, and by taking unGifted followers, Mercere set a dangerous precedent. Other Houses would gladly buy mundanes into the Order as servants, companions or even just votes. Some felt it would cheapen Hermetic status to consider ordinary people equals. The majority seemed to feel that the Code should be altered to require the Gift. However, Trianoma spoke passionately on Mercere's behalf, for the first time in years, and out of respect for her and the Founders it was reluctantly agreed that this would be a special privilege of House Mercere, with no ruling to prevent it. Mercere promised that his "younger" followers would swear to the Oath as he did, and serve the Order selflessly as he did. He also asked them before the gathered assembly to always show special respect to those "with powers more apparent than your own." Shortly after, Mercere died. His body was cremated at Harco according to the rites of the Cult of Mercury, in the presence of several Founders, including Trianoma. Some of those who were present swore that instead of burning away, Mercere was carried through the smoke by a man with winged shoes, which many Mercere now take as a sign that the Founder lives forever among the gods.

After Mercere's death, House Mercere suffered decline. His unGifted followers had been respected while he lived, but without his influence, they soon became a plebeian underclass. For decades, the House remained small and insular, before they began to take on their modern administrative duties now associated with the term 'Redcap'. However, as they began to take on those duties, they did them so well that other Houses began to depend on them. In particular, a woman named Belin became famous for always getting her messages through even the most dangerous wars and weather, and it was because she wore a loose red cap like Mercere's that those without the Gift began to be called Redcaps. As the magi began to rely more on Redcaps, so the Redcaps relied more on magi. Many began to leave the Mercere-only covenants, joining others. They maintained strong ties to their House, of course, and spent about half of each year traveling to carry messages and serve the Order, but the rest of their time was devoted to their covenants, which profited greatly. Many benefitted from this, and began to think of the Redcaps as their sodales, not lesser citizens, and even went so far as to think of themselves as patrons and protectors.

By the time of the Schism War, House Mercere was integral to the Order's proper functioning. So integral, in fact, that it was able to influence the War in small ways. Some Redcaps learned to control the flow of information, taking a long time to deliver bad news or conveniently losing key messages, to help those they favored and hurt those they did not. In this way, the Merceres believe they were able to prevent many atrocities and bring about peace much faster than would otherwise have been the case. In 1220, the House is far too disorganized to unite like that again, but groups of them certainly can have great influence, and one or two Redcaps working together can easily disrupt communication enough to be a major problem for their foes. However, Redcaps do not generally get involved in politics, preferring to use their positions to, if anything, maintain the status quo. Many have become notoriously independent, if still loyal to the Order, and are typically indifferent to any personal causes that aren't their own.

Thus have Redcaps become something of an anomaly among the Order. They are not truly of Mercere's lineage, in that not all are literal descendants of the Founder. And yet, some are, so they cannot be said to be completely independent, either. Redcaps do not have the Gift, but have the full rights and privileges of magi, and though they usually do not vote at Tribunal out of respect for full magi, they could in times of dire need. In effect, they exist to support magi and help them do what the Gift prevents them from doing. To fulfill this mission, they take on many duties, most of which are not exclusive to them in the same way that, say, Quaesitorial duties are exclusive to Quaesitores. Redcaps just tend to be the ones doing these things that most magi would consider beneath them, to justify their existence.

Redcaps are primarily messengers and heralds, working as couriers for the Order. There is no formal schedule, so any Redcap could in theory be anywhere at any time. They're encouraged to use their own initiative. Every Tribunal has at least one covenant that supports the Redcaps, usually in a central location, which is where records are kept and the House administration is handled for the area. These are known as Mercer Houses. Each is run by a senior Redcap who sees to its needs and keeps track of the Tribunal's Redcaps. Often, these covenants are known by the keeper's name and reputation. Some Tribunals have more than one Mercer House, often centered around a lab kept by a Gifted Mercere that just ended up becoming a Mercer House by accident. Others, such as the Rhine Tribunal, have competing Mercer Houses aiming for dominance. The only official obligation the House has is to distribute invitations to Tribunals a year ahead of time. In the early days, this was an easy task for Mercere - he just had to visit each domus magna, which he did often anyway. As the Order grew, though, the Redcaps needed a way to keep track of magi. Thus began covenant registration. If you want your covenant to get Redcap visits, you need to arrange it with House Mercere.

The House does not track individual magi - it tracks covenants. They care about addresses, not people, when it comes to deliveries. No matter how many magi live somewhere, it is considered a covenant if they have registration for it. Someone from the House will visit every covenant before each Tribunal to deliver the invitations, and in this way the senior REdcap may discharge their legal duty by swearing that they have made a reasonable effort to visit every covenant they know of. Registration isn't hard - the contract just says you'll admit as guest any member of the Order who needs shelter for at least three days each year, thus ensuring Redcaps (and other magi) may travel safely. Redcaps keep their registration rolls secret, so that magi in hiding can still receive messages. After all, spying on Redcaps is a Hermetic crime. Because of this discretion, many covenants and magi register vis sources with the Redcaps, too, for purposes of determining prior ownership at Tribunal in case of conflict. This allows resources to be protected without making them public.

Next time: More on Redcaps

Count Chocula
Dec 25, 2011

WE HAVE TO CONTROL OUR ENVIRONMENT
IF YOU SEE ME POSTING OUTSIDE OF THE AUSPOL THREAD PLEASE TELL ME THAT I'M MISSED AND TO START POSTING AGAIN


Back when I lurked on RPG net, there was a trend of suggesting Dogs in the Vineyard for everything.

So could you use DITV to play as Quaesitores; traveling from Convenent to Convenent and enforcing and interpreting the Code of Hermes?

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Count Chocula posted:

Back when I lurked on RPG net, there was a trend of suggesting Dogs in the Vineyard for everything.

So could you use DITV to play as Quaesitores; traveling from Convenent to Convenent and enforcing and interpreting the Code of Hermes?

In theory, maybe, but Quaesitores are a lot less unquestioned than Dogs are. They don't really have any inborn moral authority beyond being known to be one of the most honorable groups in the setting.

neonchameleon
Nov 14, 2012





Count Chocula posted:

Back when I lurked on RPG net, there was a trend of suggesting Dogs in the Vineyard for everything.

So could you use DITV to play as Quaesitores; traveling from Convenent to Convenent and enforcing and interpreting the Code of Hermes?

DitV has an attached setting. But I don't believe many people actually play it for the setting. Instead they play it because of the one upsmanship/chicken it leads naturally to, and that it fits naturally with freeform.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

Redcaps, incidentally, can blacklist a covenant. They almost never do - it takes years of mistreatment or one particularly heinous act to get the House to boycott you and refuse to deliver to your covenant. Legend has it that one Irish magus once got so mad at a Redcap that he actually declared Wizard's War on him, hunted him down and burned him alive at the stake. Forever after, no Redcap would help him. They were polite, even apologetic, but every record of the magus was lost, he never received any letters from anyone and when he died, his name was misspelled on his tomb, his funeral sparsely attended and no one heard about his death.

Anyway, Redcap couriers make a good living. Traditionally, they are paid in silver as they deliver messages - about three shillings at each covenant they visit, paid over the course of three days. The first shilling pays for their journey there and is given as they arrive. The second is paid when they give their messages, to pay for the service. The third is a goodwill gift given as they leave. They tend to hit about four covenants each season, earning enough to live on if they don't have a covenant of their own to support them. If a covenant cannot afford to pay, they get less frequent visits. A covenant can easily make a strong friend of a Redcap by paying extra, or by giving gifts of vis. It's even better to convince one to join your Covenant - you pay their keep, but they're loyal to you.

Mercere is well-known for its Societas Merceris, groups of likeminded Mercere. One of them is the Followers of Belin, who specialize in courier work. Belin was the final apprentice of Mercere, and she is nearly his equal in legend. She never shirked her duty, it is said, and every message she delivered got there. She always put the Order ahead of herself. Her reputation was so great that 'well, they're no Belin' is a common phrase among the entire Order to refer to disloyal covenfolk. She was skilled in disguise and trickery, and it is said she once escaped a castle under siege by impersonating a corpse, getting carted out with the dead, where she then scared a priest into fainting as he tried to give her last rites. The Followers of Belin are usually lineal descendants of Belin, but those who demonstrate great humility and great skill are sometimes adopted on merit. The Followers are never proud or rebellious, and while they have great reputations, they also have great expectations placed on them.

House Mercere is also notable for maintaining a great interest in commerce and banking. Many Redcaps carry mundane goods as well as messages, supplementing their income as merchants. The most profitable practice they have, however, is vis exchange. Redcaps, like moneychangers, carry many forms of vis, which they will trade for other vis. Typically, they take two pawns of vis for each pawn they give away. They have developed a measure which treats Technique-based vis, or vis tenta ('persistant vis') differently than Form-based vis, vis forma ('formed vis'). One pawn of vis tenta is valued at two pawns of vis forma, since it is more flexibly used. Redcaps tend to stick to standard exchange rates: one pawn of vis tenta will buy one pawn of any vis forma. Two pawns of vis forma will buy one pawn of any other vis forma. Two pawns of vis tenta will buy any one pawn of vis tenta. Four pawns of vis forma will buy any one pawn of vis tenta. This is a universal rate, though supply and demand may change things for specific Forms or Techniques. Other Redcaps and Mercere magi get a one-for-one trading rate, keeping in mind that two pawns vis forma are worth one pawn vis tenta.

Redcaps also borrow and lend vis. Fair practice is 20% interest on either, paid annually, with the repayment determined when the loan is made. There is some controversy over this, as the Church says charging interest is sinful, the crime of usury. Christian moneylenders tend to get around this by negotiating payment in a different currency, so that it's not entirely clear what the profit is from the loan and what the profit is from the exchange rate. For this reason, a Redcap may loan in one form of vis but require payment in another. Not all Redcaps fear the charge of usury, however, as most of Europe does not understand the value of vis, though dislike of moneylenders is quite strong. Still, the House prefers not to antagonize people - the goal is to serve the Order, not gouge magi. Redcaps thus set a rather humble standard for loans, though magi can borrow vis from each other at whatever terms they like. Still, it's pretty hard to compete with Redcap rates. Redcaps will typically not lend more than 10 pawns to any one magus. As another way to balance against usury, they often loan in exchange for "use" of a vis source. This is known as a lien, and means that until the debt is repaid, the Redcap essentially owns the vis source's proceeds, and typically a Redcap lien will be for an amount of vis such that the vis source pays back 20% of it per year. This is how you can get loans in the hundreds of pawns, by offering many sources as collateral.

Redcaps also pawn magic items for vis, generally paying up to half of the item's cost in vis to make and then selling it back to the magus a set time later at the same price. If the magus does not buy it back, the Redcap keeps the item. Until the buyback, the Redcap may use the item freely, though typically these items are kept safe in a Mercer House until the loan expires, to prevent damage. Redcaps who have no use for an item not bought back typically sell it at the Mercer House. Occasionally, Redcaps also speculate, funding expeditions to find vis by matching investments with explorers in exchange for a cut of any findings. This is very risky, as it can fail completely, but since other Redcaps tend to be the ones proposing this kind of expedition, the House encourages it anyway as a form of initiative.

Redcaps never accept collateral sight unseen - all magic items must be demonstrated before they are pawned, and vis must be seen at its source to determine the value of a loan. This is one more reason why people register vis sources with House Mercere - it lets them get loans on short notice. Rarely, they may accept payment in silver, but it is frowned on since vis and silver do not really have an exchange rate and some Redcaps may be tempted to pocket the coin. On average, they accept that a pawn of vis is worth ten pounds of silver. About. Usually. They will never knowingly accept magically created silver. Anyway, all vis earned off loans is owned not by the Redcap but by the Mercer Houses, where it is recorded and then put back in circulation. Lenders do not get a share of the take - they're paid standard commission like any other Redcap. However, because vis is dangerous to carry, any time a Redcap delivers vis they are credited 10% of its total value. Most carry no more than 10 pawns at a time - enough to ensure a 1 pawn profit, but not so much that its loss cannot be covered.



In theory, a REdcap could just keep their vis, but they have little use for it outside of magic items and longevity potions, neither of which they make themselves, so they need it accounted for. All Redcaps have a running tab of about one pawn per year, with any additional vis they earn added to that total. They may withdraw vis if they like but are discouraged from trading it or loaning it out in competition with the House. Instead, they use the vis to contract out projects to willing magi, preferably Mercere but not always. (There are only 12 of them, after all.) All Redcaps may take vis from the House's coffers to trade or loan, so long as it is returned by the end of the year. A Quaesitor must witness all loans or banking deals, or failing that a letter from one stating they have the authority to write binding contracts. Redcaps who have such letters are known as notaries, and may be used as legal witnesses. A letter from a notary or senior Redcap is treated as legal tender by Mercer Houses, and are how banking is generally done. The Mercer Houses tend to control Tribunal treasuries, reimbursing all Tribunal expenses and collecting fines. This is kept seperate from the House's funds, and while borrowing from it is not unheard of, it is quite rare.



One of the Societas Merceris are the Pawnbrokers, who developed after the Schism War, when House Mercere seized on the commercial opportunities of the British Isles and Ireland. A REdcap from Italy named Venafro began seeking out old Diedne vis sites and seizing them. He liked chess, and he used an ivory pawn as his sigil. When gathering vis, he liked to store it in magical pawns which he'd had commissioned for that purpose, so he could easily count the worth of the collection. These became very popular and are why vis is counted in pawns, especially after a Tremere certamen duel took the form of a two-day-long chess match that involved Venafro's pawns being spent in a clever move. After that, everyone wanted a vis chess set of their own. The most famous set, made by Venafro for a wealthy Tremere, had more vis in the larger pieces - 10 in each bishop, knight and tower, and 100 in the kings and queens. Eventually, the fad passed, and by 1220 these sets are no longer fashionable, but the term 'pawn' (and the lesser used 'rook' for ten and 'queen' for 100) are still in use. There are no requirements to join the Pawnbrokers, who follow in Venafro's footsteps by gathering vis in unusual forms and trying to standardize it as a currency. They tend to carry amounts of personal vis, and typically own devices to measure and transfer vis, as well as having craft skills.

Next time: Redcaps as Mercenaries.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Ars Magica 5th Edition: Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

Some Redcaps make their living protecting other Redcaps, escorting them through danger. These are known as custodians, and they spend their time on the dangerous roads, leading Redcaps through difficult or hard-to-find places. In exchange, they get an equal share of the pay, which is typically less - most covenants pay three shillings no matter how many Redcaps show up at once. However, Mercer Houses also care about the roads. When a senior Redcap learns about road trouble, they typically offer a bounty of vis to anyone who takes care of it. Since it is accepted that bounty hunters also keep whatever they find on the job, even magi may join in the hunts for magical creatures. Other threats may include bandits or animals, but also things like cursed villages or rivers too deep to be forded any more.

When a Mercere portal is built, a custodian is generally assigned to guard the other end, wherever it is. Their job is to check identities and business of those who want to go through, open the portal for those granted passage, destroy it if threatened and ensure no one investigates it to find out how to make them. For this, they keep 10% of all tolls collected, with the average toll being one pawn per use. It is entirely at the custodian's discretion whether they charge any given traveler, but traditionally those on Order business and Redcaps do not have to pay. Custodians are also often hired to do dangerous work - collecting materials, gathering arcane connections to far-off places, collecting vis that is dangerous to harvest, that kind of thing. They may also be contracted for express messages or to carry messages to places that are off the Redcap network, or to be bodyguards for paranoid magi.

Custodians are often the first to find crimes, Hermetic or otherwise, as they most often visit the places where crimes happen. Some take it as a duty to collect proof or evidence if they can find any, to give to the Quaesitor they next see and inform. Thus, they end up acting as private eyes, too. They also make good spies, having access to a lot of secret information and an obvious pretext for being anywhere. They may be paid to find a magus hiding from Wizard's War, to determine a covenant's financial status or just to report on activity. As long as they don't use their magic items, Redcaps cannot be charged with scrying, after all, for they can't use magic to do it. Senior Redcaps tend not to approve, sure, but that's a minor thing.

Many custodians also see themselves as enforcers of the Tribunal, joining with Hoplites to hunt down magi in Wizard's Marches in exchange for a cut of their property, or acting as fine collectors - a common activity often delegated to them. Fines are officially divided evenly between the prosecuting principle of the case and the Tribunal, with the collecting Redcap given a tenth of all collected funds out of the House's coffers. This makes it a profitable if rather unpopular job, since even magi dislike debt collectors and may resent a Redcap doing it, or argue with them. Most Redcaps hire an advocate in advance to handle any certamen challenges thrown at them. A Redcap may also deliver a fine to the principle, who would normally need to wait for the next Tribunal to receive it. It is thus customary to pay a 10% tip to the Redcap. Custodians also handle loan payments, vis gathering from liens and interest payouts. They aren't meant to threaten or intimidate those who fail to pay up, but instead will try to arrange other things - at worst, charges at Tribunal for breach of contract. Some Redcaps, however, do work as legbreakers when resources are scarce, which they might or might not actually get away with. Such brutes tend to have bad reputations.

The Bloodcaps are a Societas Merceris that draw their name from a sort of British fae found in places of great slaughter. They were a great threat to the early Redcaps for their violent nature until, it is said, one of Mercere's adopted daughters befriended a bloodcap and married him at midnight in a parody of the Sacrament. She raised their children as Redcaps, and many now serve the Order, though they have frightening appearances and terrible strength. When they defeat foes, the bloodcaps traditionally dyed their hats with blood, and so members of the lineage are remembered by the name Bloodcap. The Divine tends to make them flee for fear of their nails and teeth falling out, or so it is said. Most are only comfortable when alone in haunted ruins, especially if the faerie blood is strong, though they often join covenants that give them the freedom to live far from humans. Because of the legends associated with the hats, most Redcaps in the British isles avoid wearing their hats. Bloodcaps don't - they wear them with pride. All Bloodcaps have Faerie blood of some kind, and tend to be cursed to take damage due to their teeth falling out when they hear scripture or see a cross, or at least feel great pain at the sight of a cross or sound of scripture. They tend to be well armed and favor magical iron shoes that let them teleport to their homes.

A surprising amount of Redcaps are not very enthused about their jobs. They still do it, but their hearts aren't in it and they tend to be rather distant. They do their duty enough to earn their keep and no more. The rest of the time, they just travel and ignore the ideals of Mercere. These wanderers might go anywhere, and it is because of the things they discover on their journeys that their existence is justified in most cases. Primarily, they find unclaimed vis sources to fund their wanderings, which they register with the House and use to by magic items. However, they also have arguably greater value for their network of intelligence and rumor. Mercer Houses will occasionally allow a wandering Redcap to stay for a season in exchange for their stories, encouraging them to write books or draw maps of their travels, or to do odd jobs. Mind you, while a Redcap is legally not required to work two seasons out of the year, the House tends to expect that for fear of angering the rest of the Order with their impertinence. Missing a season or two for no good reason can be made up later, but blatantly and continually flouting your responsibilities may get you a stern warning - or even declared Orbus, orphan, and booted from the House. No one wants that, since only Mercere takes the unGifted, and so if they aren't taken back within a year it is an effective death sentence, since a year of vagrancy is enough to be cast out of the Order. That's usually threat enough to fix things.

It is common for a retired Redcap to set up an inn, offering free shelter to magi and Redcaps while making money off normal travellers. A busy route is a good way to make money, after all. Others set up hospices, fuelled by charitable donations, to take care of the sick or homeless. These can be subsidiary Mercer Houses, though they usually aren't centers of House activity. Inns are often near or double as taverns and alehouses, and since wandering Redcaps are often gamblers, they appreciate that. Especially if they have enchanted dice and the care to use them subtly. Some wandering Redcaps are also entertainers, performing for covenants and inns alike - a show can pay better than message delivery. Occasionally, you'll see a troupe of performing Redcaps, perhaps overseen by a magus with a love of the arts.

And there's always a few Redcaps who seem to do nothing but gamble, drink and socialize. These wastrels pay lip service to their jobs by writing songs or poems. There's usually nothing supernatural about their work, but these traveling poets do are often otherworldly and usually run into powerful patrons to support themselves. A few of these Redcaps are in the Order solely to encourage their unique talents. They don't carry messages or vis or help protect the Order - they just bring art to a level unheard of elsewhere. By arrangement, some of these are invited to "join" House Jerbiton to practice their art as unofficial members. Not all of these so-called Larta magi are from Mercere, but it's far less controversial to unofficially adopt a Mercere than to adopt unGifted people directly. It may be possible for Redcaps to join other Houses in the same way.

The Goliards are a Societas Merceris who take their name from the famous Redcap Golias. He was a clerk who joined the House when he was kicked out of his monastery in France. He didn't much love the Order, just wine and women, and he write lurid poems and wicked songs that were so good that many believed him supernaturally inspired. He liked to wander, especially as he aged, and he received much patronage from the Tytalus domus magna, Fudarus. Indeed, he was a semi-permanent resident there when the corruption of Tytalus came to light. He, too, was charged with diabolism and cast out, with all known copies of his work burned. His reputation survived, though he did not, and many years later, a small group of artistic magi, REdcaps and hangers-on revived his name. They call him Bishop Golias, considering him a sort of patron saint of their group, the Goliards (or more formally the Ordo Vagorum). Their philosophy is about half hedonism and half artistic excellence, parodying liturgical works to praise wine, sex and gambling. Their heyday is ending, and while they (or at least an associated mundane, perhaps) did produce the Carmina Burana, as of 1220 the Church has begun to preach against the Goliards and begun stripping clerics suspected of being Goliards of their rank. There is still a small but devoted following among the Order of Hermes, especially in Germany and France (and even more especially in Paris). Normally, their behavior would be intolderable in Redcaps, and the Goliards are often rebuked, but their art is exquisite and many magi appreciate their passion. To become a Goliard, once must either be educated well or a clerk of some variety, and all have compulsions involving drink, sex, gambling or some other vice. They tend to be men, though they hardly forbid women. Many are inspirational or highly expressive artists.



Next time: Oh yeah, Mercere magi exist.

ThisIsNoZaku
Apr 22, 2013

Pew Pew Pew!


Druggeddwarf posted:

Hello!

Druggeddwarf here, and I just wanted everyone to know that I plan on (if I can get the bloody time for it) actually reviewing something, and hopefully doing it justice.

It's a 'fun' little game set in feudal japan called Kagematsu, and I am sure I will give it the full 'exciting' justice it truely deserves.

Also, I hate this game. With a passion. But I will do my best to be unjudgmental about it as I play it.

I'm excited.

Edit: Give us just a little teaser. :allears:

Tasoth
Dec 12, 2011


ThisIsNoZaku posted:

I'm excited.

Edit: Give us just a little teaser. :allears:

I'm going with a pretentious author voice about all things Japan, purple prose, mechanics that were never fully thought out and historical data that is waaaay off the mark.

Hipster Occultist
Aug 16, 2008

He's an ancient, obscure god. You probably haven't heard of him.




Listing John Wick as an influence. :v:

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Flavivirus
Dec 13, 2011

The next stage of evolution.

Tasoth posted:

I'm going with a pretentious author voice about all things Japan, purple prose, mechanics that were never fully thought out and historical data that is waaaay off the mark.

To be honest I don't think it fits under any of these things, being a tightly focused storytelling game centred around one particular story, but I won't spoil the review. Suffice to say I've heard very good things about it but can see why someone might hate it.

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