Creating a Mage
Creating a Magus Character
© 1999 Ken Kofman
Creating a magus for the first time can be daunting. First you have to consider characteristics. Then Virtues and Flaws. Then Arts. Then Spells. Then Abilities. But wait! The Abilities you choose might affect the spells you are allowed to take or choose to take. And wait! Once the workings of Spontaneous Magic are understood, none of this stuff makes sense anymore. Back to the drawing board. And now does all this make sense for the character’s background? More tweaks and rewrites. The essence of who the character is can easily be lost amidst the number crunching.
This treadmill of refining a character can be avoided, or at least reduced.
I am assuming that no special apprentice rules are being used save those in the main rulebook. Apprentices do not gain abilities at the rate magi do, but apprentices are not magi. Apprentices in play are not considered here.
Obviously, you need a character concept. No one can else can tell you what interests you, though reading through the list of Houses and through other parts of whatever rulebooks and other source material you are using in your saga might help.
As another preliminary, you should understand the three important breakpoints for allocating points to Arts, Intelligence and Virtues or Flaws that affect spellcasting totals, such as Affinities.
The first breakpoint is Int + Technique + Form + (Relevant Modifiers for Virtues and Flaws) + 10, which is the limit of what formulaic spells your character can know at the beginning of the game. Although your character will usually be far less capable than this, he can readily know spells of level 25 and better, in extreme cases up to level 40. Spells at level 30 or level 35 usually represent accomplishment in a Technique + Form combination. A Quaesitor apprentice can demonstrate he can look deeply into people’s minds. A Flambeau apprentice can demonstrate that he can hurl fire with the best of them—Penetration will come with time. Weather mages can raise and break storms. Mercere can “Seven League Stride” across great distances. Coming away with a formulaic spells at level 25 requires an Art + Form of only 15. Less, when Affinities and Intelligence are considered. Most apprentices should have at least one such spell. Some apprentices will have one or more spells at level 30 or level 35. This is not an abuse of the rules, but represents a master preparing his apprentice to represent him and his House in the world and in the Order. Spells 10 levels below this maximum can generally be cast without Fatigue, or cast even in very hostile Auras, and should also be considered. For example, a newly Gauntleted Flambeau who can cast “Ball of Abysmal Flame” (CrIg 35) might also have “Pilum of Fire” (CrIg 20) for situations where a big fire is less important than being able to cast many smaller ones in a hostile Aura. Or perhaps “Arc of Fiery Ribbons,” an easier spell that also has an area effect. Similarly, a Quaesitor who can “Peer into the Mortal Mind” (InMe30) might still want “Posing the Silent Question” (InMe20) or “Frosty Breath of the Spoken Lie” (InMe20) for situations where casting a less useful but easier spell makes sense.
The second breakpoint is (Int + Technique + Form + Modifiers)/5, which represents the ability to cast Spontaneous Magic without taking fatigue or using a stress die. The “magic number” to consider here is 5, the number at which first magnitude spontaneous magic in a TeFo specialty can almost always be cast, trivially and successfully. Only specialists in a TeFo will achieve this, requiring a total of 25 (which also allows learning Formulaic spells up to level 35.)
The third breakpoint is (Int + Technique + Form + Modifiers)/2, which represents the ability to cast Spontaneous Magic at the cost of fatigue and risking a stress die. Here, the important numbers are multiples of 5, yielded by totals that are multiples of ten.
Characters in the game do not know about these numbers, but they have an understanding of what these numbers represent far better than our own. A master knows what he wants to teach his apprentice. So don’t worry overmuch about trying to get starting scores to reach plateaus in various TeFo combinations. The apprentice’s master is essentially trying to do the same thing—he just doesn’t know about the numbers.
First you should consider the character’s parens. This is the fellow who took time out from his research to leave his comfortable laboratory and covenant into the wide, wide world to find you. This is the guy who then spent all sorts of money keeping you fed and clothed, and even more time training you.
He didn’t do it just because. He had a reason. He wanted to achieve certain things for himself. Or maybe he had an obligation of some kind. No matter why he did it, he had a reason. The player should have some idea of what that reason might be.
This parens, the inheritor of a great lineage of wizards, or at least a proud lineage of wizards, or at least some guy who once spent fifteen of the most formative years of his life being indoctrinated into some weird and esoteric coterie of wizards, is hardly going to let his apprentice walk into his Gauntlet with some random array of spells and skills, but will teach the apprentice what the master thinks is appropriate. Some masters will attempt to discern the apprentice’s inner talent, and develop a program of training to suit that talent, but even here, the master is mostly in control of what happens.
You need to decide what the master wanted the apprentice to know.
A Flambeau master is likely to decide that the culmination of an apprenticeship involves the ability to cast “Ball of Abysmal Flame.” This is not abusive; it makes perfect sense. A Quaesitor is likely to insist that his apprentice be able to cast a few appropriate Intellego spells. Less stereotypical masters need to be dealt with case by case, but they all have plans for their apprentices. Even a magus who does not care for his apprentice’s well-being and later survival is likely to care a great deal about how an apprentice’s later career as a magus reflects upon his own reputation in the Order.
So decide what the master wants his apprentice to learn.
To a much lesser extent, a master even has control over the virtues and flaws his apprentice will have. These are not taught in a formulaic way, but a magus searching for an apprentice is more likely to notice candidates who fit his idea of what an apprentice should be. Feel free to saddle a master with a wholly inappropriate apprentice, but don’t feel that you are abusing rules if it just so happens that your Flambeau finds an apprentice with an Affinity for Ignem, since that is what the master was probably looking for. Besides, all Hermetic Virtues and Flaws can be developed during apprenticeship. Take what works for your character.
The by-product of this step is the creation of a lineage, and the lineaments of a person who is often the most important and influential person in your character’s life, when the game begins.
This section and the one previous gives you a pretty good idea about how to allocate points for Intelligence, Stamina, Arts, Spells and Affinities, or other Virtues and Flaws that can affect spellcasting and magic totals. It also helps you allocate many of your skill points even to non-magical endeavors. An apprentice who went with his master on field trips might have Area Knowledge, Survival, Swimming and perhaps Brawling. In a city, Survival might be less appropriate than Bargain. Where was the master’s covenant, anyway?
Life Before Apprenticeship
Consider who your character was before he became an apprentice. Everyone comes from somewhere, and from some family, whether or not they know it. And most people know it. This not only helps provide background information for your character, it also lets you sanely allocate a few more ability points, and perhaps provide an idea for more Virtues and Flaws.
Life During Apprenticeship
Consider what apprenticeship was like for your character. How did he feel about it? You won’t be able to allocate Arts or Spell points from this, but other Virtues and Flaws might come to mind, and perhaps even Abilities.
Desires, Goals, and Drives
Related to the last consideration, what does your character want? Despite the overwhelming influence first of his family and then of his master, your character is a person, far more than clay that is molded first by this person and then by that. He wants things. He has desires beyond magic, and probably has ideas about using or learning magic to achieve his aims. Is magic a good way to pick up women? The only way to impress your parens’ parens, a person you hold in awe? A way to insure that you will never be hungry or persecuted ever again? A means of revenge? Abstract curiosity is well and good, as is idealism, but both are more interesting when backed by some rawer emotion: Make it personal. Take Flaws, Virtues and Personality Traits that represent your character’s deep, personal involvement in his life, beyond magic, beyond the laboratory and beyond adventure just because.
The very best Flaws (and sometimes Virtues) are the ones that really drive a character. Take enemies—and then give them a real reason to hate your character, not just “I’m misunderstood.” If your character has a Bad Temper, that’s excellent, but if you give him a reason for being so angry so often, that’s even better. Driving Goal? Obsession? Common Fear? Dark Secret? You bet! But provide your character with personal, nay, visceral reasons behind these Flaws. All of the best motivations are visceral and intensely personal, even when they seem trivial, even cliched. The best cliches get that way because they are almost universally true. Most people love, fear and desire similar things, and reserve their most intense emotions for the most common loves, fears and desires. Stories about these tend also to move us, despite being common, even base.
Now that you have perhaps taken a single Flaw or Personality Trait that’s less than optimal from the perspective of doing the most efficient thing in the story—consider taking another. And maybe another. After all, most real people want more than one thing, sometimes even conflicting things. The heart of the game is not completing stories, but playing your character. Interesting characters make interesting stories even better, and do not even need the artificial framework of a story to be interesting. But bland, impersonal characters weigh down all but the most interesting stories.
By all means, though, Flaws that limit a character’s raw power are legitimate and are often an important part of a character concept. Just don’t overlook that Bad Reputation, especially if the GM will enforce it. Being bad at Herbam means that a few rolls that your character will avoid anyway are at a disadvantage. Having a Bad Reputation gives you a chance to do some interesting roleplay, and helps you understand and develop your character, as a person.
Your character probably has few skill points left to spend, and in any case, your character probably has not had enough control over what he has learned to spend many skill points on abilities corresponding to his motivations. But if you have some, spend them now. Maybe your character’s temper has gotten him into many fights. His tendency to tell people what they want to hear because it’s safer that way might give him Folk Ken, Acting, or other appropriate skills.
Throughout, understanding your character and the important NPCs around him, especially your character’s parens, can help bring better structure to character creation.
A Sample Magus Character Background
Here is a sample character background that quickly covers salient points. Numbers are excluded, but you can probably guess! -K.K.
Archimedes filius Kerberos of Guernicus
Archimedes has just passed his Gauntlet, having answered thousands of questions about Hermetic Law, hurled at him like Pila of Fire from all sides. It didn’t help that his master Kerberos has an uncanny habit of walking around with two extra images of himself, all of whom asked rapid fire questions, along with Kerberos’ familiar too. Life as an apprentice wasn’t easy. Well, no. Life as an apprentice was a living hell, sometimes even worse than life before Kerberos rescued him from the streets of Thessaly, where he lived by stealing after his parents threw him bodily out of the small house where they lived and worked. Kerberos seemed like an avenging angel then, when he and his hound sent the street urchins running in terror. But not for long. Kerberos insisted on perfection, insisted that House Guernicus embodied the priniciple of perfect and unwavering interpretation of the Code of Hermes, insisted that his apprentice be perfect. Nothing could be hidden from Kerberos’ unblinking vigilance. Sometimes he used his formidable array of Mentem magics, but he rarely needed to. Both he and his familiar could literally smell fear. Not only smell fear, but smell shades of fear, the way a normal person might discern pink from red or purple.
But now freedom is near. Relative freedom, since every Quaesitor has duties that cannot be denied and must answer to his House. Archimedes intends to leave his master and make his own way in the Order. He has also begun to consider that there is something inherently wrong with his master’s way of doing things. He intends to oppose Kerberos and his ideas, subtly, until he gains enough power and reputation to stand openly against Kerberos and the twisted values he represents.
As for Thessaly, nothing remains there for Archimedes. While travelling on an errand for Kerberos, Archimedes made a short detour through Thessaly (for which he was punished). No one recognized him, yet people glowered at him from doorways, spat at him behind his back when they thought he would not notice, and tried to cheat him at every turn. But this time Archimedes was not afraid. He silently used his magic to cheat those who would cheat him, and with a glance sent those who would harm him running in fear. His father did not recognize him when he almost bought a stone table from him, but tried to overcharge him and misrepresent the quality of his offerings. The mundane world has few consolations to offer a magus save when magic is used to make it more accomodating, usually through Mentem spells, cast most often on women.
Only the company and respect of peers in the Order and perhaps the love of God for the world despite itself matter.