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.


  1. Will you be setting up a separate G+ community for this game? I have some char questions and don't want to clutter up the Ethereal Tribunal with nitty-gritty character questions.

  2. That's a fine idea, sure. I'll get to that this afternoon. In the meantime, ask away. I'll create a wiki too, I think, for everyone's benefit.