Monday, February 4, 2013

Oxford Magica: Introduction

It is the year 1290 in the reign of Edward Longshanks, and Gifted students from throughout the British Isles and western Europe come to Oxford to learn the Art from magi of the Order of Hermes. You are one of these pupils.

Oxford is not a single school, but a collection of Colleges, each financed and run by a single Hermetic House. Students at any of these Colleges register with a master who guides their education; they attend mandatory lectures, which might be given by any of the masters present at Oxford, not just the student's College. Roger Bacon, former Chancellor of the University and member of House Bonisagus, is now a professor Emeritus, living in Oxford and only occasionally appearing in public.

Most students enter between the ages of 14 and 16; the best graduate as magi of the Order ten years later (it is very common for students to be held back for one or two years). Before arriving at Oxford, these students have spent years learning Latin and the liberal arts, often at parish schools. But parish schools are not rigorous enough for aspiring Oxfordians; cathedral schools at Canterbury (in the south) and York (in the north) train students in advanced Latin and the liberal arts as well as natural philosophy. Wealthier students avail themselves of private tutors instead. The Gift has made this early education a trying experience, as teachers uniformly consider their students lazy and shiftless cheaters.

The Order's interest in Oxford dates back to the mid-12th century, but the turning point was in 1209. In that year, a murder on campus and the legal controversy which followed sent most of the masters and students to Cambridge. By the time they tried to return five years later, magi of the Order had taken over. When the University re-organized itself under a Chancellor appointed by the bishop, it was as a place of learning devoted primarily to the responsible and ethical use of magic.

Every student at Oxford identifies with his College and House. The Colleges currently established at Oxford include, in order of founding:

  • Baliol College is home to House Trianoma, aspiring politicians and diplomats. It was founded in 1261 by students of Michael Scot.

  • Merton College is run by House Bonisagus, and is known for its scholars and theorists. Founded in 1264, Merton is in the process of building grand new facilities.

  • St. Edmund Hall was founded in 1278 by the first master of arts at Oxford, who unexpectedly became a practitioner of the Faerie magic of House Merinita.

  • University College is Merton's great rival. It was first founded informally in 1249 but was taken over by the trouble-makers of House Tytalus in 1280.

  • Hart Hall, founded 1282, is for students of Druidic and nature magic, including House Diedne. Many British folk traditions (Columbae and Corrguineach) have allied to Diedne and are also housed here.

  • The wild Saxons of the House of Odin live in Burnell's Inn, a student residence known for its raucous parties. Some Saxon and pagan traditions (Tempestaria and malice writers) have allied themselves to Odin and their students reside here.

  • Finally, the monastic orders maintain two colleges for Holy Magicians, segregated by gender. Blackfriars, originally founded by the Dominicans in 1221, is for boys, while Godstow, which dates to the 12th century and was founded by Benedictines, is for girls.

  • In the years to come, it is very likely additional Colleges will form, sponsored by additional Houses. Historically, the next College to form was Exeter in 1314.

More on the Order: The Order of Hermes is made up of many Houses, some large, some quite small, generally distinguished by a particular style or tradition of magic. Most of the lineages traditionally considered to be part of House Ex Miscellanea or minor Mystery Cults are, in Oxford Magica, distinct "minor" Houses. These may be allied with a more famous House; for example, the British folk traditions are mostly allied with Diedne, the Order of Odin, or Merinita. Learned magicians are welcomed into Bonisagus. Some major Houses, such as Flambeau, Tremere, and Jerbiton, are stronger in Europe where they sponsor other universities and have not yet organized at Oxford. House Mercere and Guernicus do not exist as Houses; "Redcap" and "Quaesitor" are offices held by mundane messengers and investigative magi, respectively. If you have additional questions about the Order and its history (Schism War, Tytalus Corruption, etc.) the answer is probably "I haven't decided. What do you think would make a good story for your character?"

Character Creation Notes:

  • The base starting age for characters in this Saga is (17 - Intelligence). Characters younger than 14 will have characteristic modifiers for age; see Apprentices. Ignore these modifiers when determining the age your student is admitted to Oxford.

  • To be accepted into Oxford, characters must have: Latin 4, Artes Liberales 1 and Scribe 1. Philosophiae 1 is likely, but not required.

  • Characters will need a virtue to access these academic abilities, such as Educated (for parish and cathedral schools) or Privileged Upbringing (for private tutors).

  • Early education might have been provided by a rural Parish School (maximum Latin or Artes Liberales of 2) or urban one (maximum of 3 in Latin, Artes Liberales, or Theology).

  • Additional education probably came from a cathedral school, permitting training in Latin, Artes Liberales, Philosophiae, Theology and Canon Law to as high as 5. Canterbury is the cathedral school for most Englishmen, Welsh and Cornish; York is in the north and is more accessible to Scots and Irish.

  • Everyone starts with the Free Social Status Virtue: Simple Student (Art & Academy).

  • Child Virtues and Flaws (see Apprentices) are allowed. In Apprentices, the rule is that these virtues all go away by age 15, but we will keep them in play as late as age 21. You can exchange them for new, permanent Virtues and Flaws during play or over Summer vacation.

  • Inherited Virtues and Flaws (see Apprentices) allow players to plan for Virtues and Flaws which have not yet appeared, but which will during the course of play. Use this for Hermetic Virtues and Flaws you want your character to have, but which have not yet appeared. For example, if you want your character to have a Hermetic Flaw like Incompatible Arts, this is written down as Inherited Flaw: Incompatible Arts (-1). The Flaw is unknown to your character until it manifests.

Other House Rules:

  • The Autumn and Spring seasons are taken up by instruction; each lasts about 4 months. The Winter season is represented in the game by a break between semesters lasting about six weeks, and two and a half months are granted for the Summer season; these two seasons are "free," with no requirements on students.

  • We will advance one season every meeting, possibly skipping Summer or Winter break and occasionally spending a second session on Fall or Spring. Players are not expected to attend every session and new players are welcome to make a new student and join a session on short notice.

  • In the first year, students have their Arts opened and learn the basics of Magic Theory. In subsequent semesters, they have more choice over which lectures they use for advancement, with usually seven options available (one teacher at each House).

  • Teachers can teach Arts to multiple students at once, exactly like other Abilities.

  • Aegis of the Hearth mitigates the social handicap of the Gift within the town of Oxford. The Blatant Gift still inflicts a social penalty equivalent to the normal effects of the Gift, and of course leaving the Aegis restores the Gift's effects.

  • Turbulences (see Apprentices) are spontaneous uncontrolled magical effects triggered by emotional or magical stress. They can even be triggered intentionally by a young person. By the time a student comes to Oxford, he has certainly experienced at least one episode of Turbulence, and probably many more. In Apprentices, Turbulences are mostly over by age 14, but we will keep them in play as late as age 21.

  • Students will receive 1 free experience point every season to put towards a cantation of their choice. See Apprentices for a list of cantations; they are minor spells of level 5 or less.

  • Oxford has a lot of magi and apprentices in a small urban space; vis is in very short supply and this is a "Low Vis" Saga. Books and teachers, however, are plentiful.

  • In the event we play long enough for characters to graduate, those characters retire from active play and become supporting characters in the Saga. They may become masters, teaching at Oxford.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ethereal Tribunal: Character and Covenant Creation

Characters and Covenants in Etheria have some particular problems and priorities. Notes are collected here, first for character creation (magi, companions, and in general) and then for covenants. A sample covenant -- the Seven Sisters on the Isle of Venus -- is presented.

Note to Storytellers: I am adopting the Seven Sisters covenant as the focus of my personal efforts when it comes to detailing Etheria. If you would like to claim one of the other Isles, and the Covenant which dwells there, please do! Post your work in the Ethereal Tribunal community on Google+ and we can advance the Tribunal's story together.

Magical Botches: The high aura throughout Etheria makes botching especially dangerous for Ethereal magi. Spell Mastery and Virtues which minimize botching (Flawless Caster, Mastered Spells, Cautious Sorcerer) are especially helpful here. Flaws which make botching more likely are more dangerous.

  • Cyclic Magic: This Virtue and Flaw is especially appropriate to maga on the Isle of the Moon.

  • Hermetic Astrology (Mysteries, Revised Edition): Some of the magi who have come to Etheria have been initiated into the Magoi of the Star. Indeed, it is said one of the Hierophants is here, but no one can agree who that is.

  • Major Magical Focus (Planet): Each of the seven planets counts as a major magical focus; for the range of effects governed by each planet see Mysteries, Revised Edition.

  • Mercurian Magic: This is especially appropriate for magi dwelling on the Isle of Mercury, who include members of the Neo-Mercurian mystery cult.

  • Planetary Magic (Mysteries, Revised Edition) is especially appropriate for magi in Etheria. Magi who use it calculate their horoscopes using the positions of the seven islands relative to each other and the sphere of the fixed stars.

  • Susceptible to (Planets) (New Minor Hermetic Flaw): Pick two planets. When within any auras aligned to these planets, the aura strength subtracts from your casting total, instead of adding.

  • Susceptible to (Realm): There are no Faerie, Divine, or Infernal auras in Etheria, so these flaws are not worth points. A magus might have them, and indeed having such a flaw would be a good reason to move to Etheria, but since the flaw will not impact the character, its not worth points!


Most Companions should have a Supernatural Virtue aligned to the Magic Realm. This allows them to avoid Warping, which will otherwise affect all characters with 1 Warping Point every year.

Landed Noble and Temporal Influence: The mundane nobility has no presence in Etheria. Your character might be a noble, but his land is back in the mundane world. Consider Knight, Wealthy, or Heir instead.


These notes are for all characters in Etheria.

  • Animal Ken, Inoffensive to Animals: There are no normal animals in Etheria, but there are limited numbers of Beasts of Virtue and, as characters from the mundane world continue to travel there, it is possible that small populations of ordinary animals may migrate, be brought, and thrive.

  • Faerie Friend, Ghostly Warder, Guardian Angel, Plagued by Supernatural Entity: Supernatural beings of the Faerie, Infernal, and Divine Realms are not native to Etheria. You probably brought your supernatural companion with you.

  • Lycanthrope (Minor): In Etheria, Lycanthropes are in animal form whenever they are on the Isle of the Moon, and in human form at all other times. Since this essentially bars you from traveling to that location and could potentially be used against you by an enemy, but otherwise is irrelevant to your life, this Flaw is only Minor.

  • Mistaken Identity: The community of the Tribunal is still quite small. There's no room for two individuals who are that near but never meet. This Flaw is not allowed.

  • Shapeshifter and Skinchanger: Magi and companions with these virtues are mostly found on the Isle of the Moon.

  • Supernatural Nuisance: When a character takes this Flaw in Etheria, it is always aligned to Magic creatures.

  • Venus's Blessing and Curse of Venus: Especially appropriate for maga on the Isle of Venus.

  • Ways of the (Land): The terrain of Etheria is highly symbolic and variable by Isle. This virtue should be specialized to one of the seven Islands or, alternately, the Twilight Sea. For example: "Ways of Jupiter".


There are no less than four, and possibly as many as seven, covenants in the Tribunal. All are in Spring and the oldest was founded in 1207. There is never more than one representative from a single House at any given covenant.

  • Isle of the Moon: Cyclic Magic (both positive and negative) is especially common in this covenant. Some of the magi and companions are Shapeshifters (with the Merit, not members of House Bjornaer). The Isle of the Moon is the only known source of Muto vis in Etheria.

  • Isle of Mercury: The covenant here is dominated by magi who draw their lineage from the Cult of Mercury and who specialize in ritual magic. It is also the home for the Tribunal's redcaps.

  • Isle of Venus: The Isle is home to Seven Sisters, a covenant made up entirely of maga.

  • Isle of Mars: Several Hoplites, seeking to build a stronghold for the Order, have gathered on the Isle of Mars to form a covenant.

Other Covenants may exist, but details are not yet known.

Using the Covenant rules, most of the Etheria covenants are transitioning from "low" to "medium" power. Covenants have 25 build points + 25 more points for every year since they were established, so even the oldest will have only around 400 points. Lab texts and enchanted items should be level 30 or less. The default aura in Etheria is 6; no build points or virtues need to be taken for this aura. Auras can be raised as high as 9. It is presumed that one exit from the regio exists either within the Covenant or conveniently nearby, on the island. For additional exits, take the Mystical Portal Site Boon. There are a Boon and a Hook which apply to all covenants in the Tribunal; they do not need to be selected, and are received for "Free".

Fantastic Environment (Major Site Boon): Every covenant in Etheria takes this Boon. While it does not require special magic just to survive in the regio, it is isolated enough, and requires magic both to be reached and for long-term support. This Boon supersedes all other Boons and Hooks that emphasize isolation, such as Secluded or Autocephalous.

Tribunal Border (Minor External Relations Hook): Etheria is newly discovered and, when it becomes common knowledge in the Order, it will become the target for Hermetic politics. Powerful tribunals will seek to assimilate it to preserve their own power; weak Tribunals may encourage it as a way to weaken greater powers.

Prohibited Boons and Hooks: Etheria's isolated location, its lack of native inhabitants and mundane power structures (nobility, the church), and its nature as a Magic Regio prohibit several boons and hooks. Others are already covered by Fantastic Environment.
  • Site: Corrupt Area, Faerie Aura, Missing Aura, Seclusion, Regio, Road, Urban, Weak Aura

  • Fortifications: Writ of Crenelation

  • Residents: Indigenes, Tame Nobleman

  • External Relations: Center of Excellence, Centralized Kingdom, Church Territories, House Covenant, Mundane Politics, Undemocratic Tribunal, Ungoverned, War Zone

  • Surroundings: City, Ford, Legendary Site, Monastery, Pilgrimage Site, Roman Ruins, Seat of Power, Ungarrisoned Castle

Miscellaneous Boon and Hook Notes:
  • Island: while all the covenants are on islands, these are much larger than the Free Choice Island describes, so this is probably not appropriate for covenants.

  • Fortifications: Almost all the architecture in Etheria was constructed by Hermetic magic, as there has not been time or personnel to build in the traditional manner, and magic is easy anyway, and unobserved by mundanes.

  • Resources: The most common source of income for Ethereal Covenants is the patronage of a wealthy Autumn covenant, or even a House or Tribunal. However, there is a small economy and perhaps a thousand people living in the Tribunal, so other sources are possible. Covenants who sell their wares in the mundane world do so through a factor, which should probably be purchased with Build Points as a specialist.

  • Mutable and Highly Mutable are most appropriate for the Isle of the Moon.

  • Mercer House is reserved for the Isle of Mercury.

  • Felicitous Tribunal: The politics of the tribunal are as yet too uncertain to know if this Boon applies.

The Covenant of Seven Sisters

The oldest of the Ethereal covenants is nonetheless young by any other standard, founded in 1206 by Anactoria filia Philomena of Bonisagus and a trio of other maga, including Jerbiton, Tremere, and the first Guernicus in Etheria. Over the years that followed, three more maga were welcomed into the Covenant from Flambeau, Verditius, and Miscellanea, putting it at maximum size.

The charter of Seven Sisters requires that only women can become members and all apprentices must be female. This rule does not extend, however, to Companions or covenfolk. The Covenant operates as a school for apprentices and other scholars, and welcomes male students from elsewhere in Etheria or Mythic Europe, though such boys are always outnumbered. The presence of a senior Guernicus at the covenant is considered an asset, ensuring that apprentices and other students are brought up with an appreciation of the Hermetic Code. All of the maga save for Anactoria have apprentices, and with the addition of students and visitors from other Covenants, the Isle of Venus is a busy place.

Physically, the Covenant boasts a central school building in the Corinthian style, with slender and elegant columns widely spaced, creating an airy and open environment. Stone houses surrounding the academy serve as laboratories and sanctum for the seven maga, also housing their apprentices, shield grogs and personal servants. A beautiful garden decorated with statues of Venus, Aeneas, Paris, Helen, Julius Caesar and others was constructed by the Covenant's Verditius maga as a Great Work, and is invested with Imaginem magic. Other buildings include a reception hall, guest chambers, and a temple to Venus which serves as the home for the covenant's financially lucrative prostitution services. Most of its money comes from Valnastium, however. For while Etheria is far enough from the nobility and the church that House Jerbiton is unlikely to move there in force, the Isle of Venus and its dedication to beauty parallels the House's interest, and Seven Sisters is their primary means to monitor and influence the activity of this new, strange Tribunal.

The covenant is near the shore, and a small dock houses a magic boat enchanted to safely sail the Twilight Sea. A modest vineyard produces an excellent wine for the Tribunal and is also sold in Europe. Roses and myrtle grow on the isle, along with a single herd of magic cattle. A small cemetery is dedicated to Venus Libitina and copper is plentiful on the Isle, mined by magic and used for mirrors and other enchanted devices.

The Covenant is 16 years old with 425 build points and is limited to effects of level 30 or lower.

  • Vivid Environment (+1 Minor Site Boon)

  • Edifice: School Building (+1 Fortification Boon)

  • Important Buildings: Great Hall (+1 Fortification Boon)

  • Secondary Income: Prostitution (+1 Resources Boon)

  • Wealth: Charity (+1 Resources Boon)

  • Literate Covenfolk (+1 Residents Boon)

  • Strong Community (+1 Residents Boon)

  • Book (+1 Boon, Great Work Garden of Beauty, Imaginem Summa, Level 20, Quality 15)

  • Hermetic Services (-3 Major External Relations Hook)

  • Outbuildings (-1 Fortification Hook)

  • Resident Nuisance (-1, Nymphs, Minor Site Hook)

  • Vis Salary (-1 Minor Hook)

  • Gender Imbalance (-1 Minor Residents Hook)

  • Suffrage (-1 Minor Residents Hook)

Build Points: 425
Aura: 6
Aegis: level 30
Laboratories: 7
Library (196 Build Points): Most of the Covenants in Etheria have very poor libraries and Seven Sisters is no exception. Their emphasis is on teaching, so they have less need for traditional books on the Arts, and make do with a large collection of lab texts (mostly copied from the seven maga themselves) which students can use to learn spells (330 spell levels, 66 Build Points). They do have a small collection of thirteen tractati on various Arts (average quality 10, 130 Build Points). Increasing the library is the Covenant's top priority right now.
Vis (30 pawns/year, 75 stock, 165 build points): The Isle of Venus is Etheria's primary source of Imaginem vis, produced in a small copper mine on the island (15 pawns/year). It has a source of Aquam vis from foam collected off waves as the roll in from the Twilight Sea (5/year), some Auram vis from Spring breezes (5/year), and a small source of Creo vis thanks to its association with fertility (5/year), but at least one season must be spent every year extracting Vim vis to fuel the Covenant's Aegis of the Hearth. This duty is shared amongst all seven maga. The Covenant has emergency stocks of 75 pawns, divided evenly among all the Arts.
Grogs (35 Build Points): The Covenant maintains a very small body of soldiers, essentially shield grogs acting as an honor guard, commanded by one of the maga in her role as Venus Victrix. There is a skilled Bookbinder (6), Illuminator (6), and Scribe (6, also trained in Magic Theory). Their boat is maintained by an old man who also acts as pilot and navigator (Profession 6), and a vintner has been brought to supervise the winery (Profession 6). Many of the female servants act as prostitutes for visitors; they have a female overseer who is a priestess of Aphrodite (Folk Ken 5).
Facilities: In addition to living quarters and labs for seven magi, there are living quarters for seven apprentices, a few class rooms of varying size and purpose, servant quarters, guest rooms for students from other covenants, a reception hall for visitors, and a barracks for the honor guard. A small dock houses the Covenant's magical boat which sails the Twilight Sea. The Covenant is decorated with beautiful statues depicting, among others, Aeneas, Paris, Julius Caesar, and Venus herself. Constructed in a Corinthian style, the buildings are supported by slender, elegant, widely-spaced columns decorated with leaves, creating a large airy space. A small field of grapes is used to produce a humble everyday wine. Roses and myrtle grow also grow on the Isle as well. There is a small cemetery on the isle dedicated to Venus Libitina.
Enchanted Items (24 Build Points): The Covenant keeps a Twilight Boat and all seven of the shield grogs bear Copper Shields of Brilliance.
Money (5 Build Points): 50 mythic pounds at start of play

Twilight Boat
This is a boat capable of holding about a dozen people. It is enchanted with two effects. The first is a constant Rego Herbam effect which keeps the boat from tipping over. The second, also Rego Herbam, propels the boat, steered by whoever grips its tiller.

  • Spell Against Capsizing (ReHe 14). Base 3, Personal, Individual, +2 Sun, +1 Size, +1 level 2 uses per day, +3 levels environmental trigger (sunrise/sunset). Constant effect.

  • To Sail Without Wind (ReHe 10). Base 4, Personal, Individual, +1 Size, +1 Concentration (+5 levels, provided by the enchantment).

Copper Shield of Brilliance
Once per day, the shield emanates a blindingly bright light. All who see it are at risk for temporary blindness, exactly as if Flash of the Scarlet Flames had been cast upon them. This light is actually brighter than that spell, in order to effect targets at range.
(CrIg) Base 10, Personal, Momentary, Individual.