Tabletop Game: Ars Magica

Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in Mythic Europe, a quasi-historical version of Europe around AD 1200 with added fantastical elements. It typically centers on the lives of Magi, powerful wizards belonging to the Order of Hermes, and the various mundane folk in their lives. While several details about the world change, sometimes drastically, from edition to edition, the same basic premise applies: the Order is a secret society in a world that believes in magic, founded by the apprentice of a wizard who first developed a unified magic theory and a general defense against magic, the Parma Magica. There are twelve Houses (with a missing thirteenth), each focusing on a particular area of study that the House founder excelled in originally:

Bjornaer: Shapeshifting magi who can change into form of their "Heart-Beast" (or, in the case of an inanimate, natural object, a "Heart-Shape"). They are descended from a Pomeranian Bear-witch name Birna and practice secret magical rites at their Domus Magnus Crintera every twelve years

Bonisagus: The Founder of the Order, though his apprentice Trianoma did most of the leg work. Originally wrote the Bonisagus Magic Theory, which is the magic system the book uses and that all Hermetic Magi are expected to know, if not use. Those who consider themselves Followers of Bonisagus are more interested in the study of magic; the Followers of Trianoma are more politically-minded. Either way, they have a natural prestige within the Order due to their Lineage.

Criamon: Magi who pursue The Enigma as the path to true wisdom and power, often prone to prophecy and using unusual logic to solve puzzles and riddles. Most insist that the Order is doomed on one level or another.

Diedne: Druids who were virtually wiped out during the Schism War and tend to be terminated with extreme prejudice even now; early editions simply mention the house as existing at one point, but they provide no information beyond "You cannot play a member of House Diedne" and a Flaw that means Quaesitors suspect your predecessors of being Diedne. Later editions provide rules for Diedne Magic, and detailed history regarding the causes of the Schism War itself (suspicions of human-sacrifice and devil worship, coupled with the house's insular and secretive nature, the nominally-Christian allegiance of the rest of the Order, and House Tremere pushing its own agenda against them).

Ex Miscellanea: Originally created as a "rival Order" to the Order of Hermes, but it didn't quite get there. Many of its mages only nominally practice Hermetic Magic, and is home to several "converted" hedge-wizards. Most (but not all) members do practice Hermetic Magic, albeit coloured by their earlier training, but as members of the Order they are taught the Parma Magica.

Flambeau: Battle-hungry pyromaniacs who love fire and warfare; probably the most mercenary of the Houses. Later editions have down-played the pyromania and homicidal, with mixed reaction from fans of the house. Many members of the house specialize as Hoplites (battle-magi who guard Quaesitors from harm and enforce their decisions).

Guernicus: Also known as House Quaesitoris; Order-keepers and judges, effectively the police. In later editions Quaesitors may come from any House, but the lineage of Guernicus remains dominant due to Guernicus' vow at the First Tribunal.

Jerbiton: Socially-oriented mages who love things like high society, the arts, and the Church. Most of the House's apprentices are acquired from noble houses, and sometimes even retain their mundane lives once out of apprenticeship.

Mercere: Primarily messengers and the Hermetic equivalent of the Pony Express; most of the House is comprised of mundanes. The Founder Mercere lost his Gift and took up the useful position of messenger. The Gifted members of House Merecere tend to focus on the arts of Creo and Muto and frequently possess the Mercurian Magic virtue.

Merinita: Split into two camps the same way Bonisagus is, with Followers of Merinita focusing on Nature magic, and Followers of Quendalon focusing on Faerie magic. This gives them some trouble, as molesting the Faeries is against Hermetic law. In addition to giving them access to unique RDT parameters, Merinita magi are less inconvenienced by Faerie Auras than other Magi.

Tremere: Rigidly hierarchical and focused strongly on various aspects of war, especially strategy, and notorious for moving sheer numbers across tribunals to gain the majority vote in order to block unfavorable laws from being passed. They operate under strict codes of dominance and submission, and often not considered trustworthy by the rest of the Order due to their trying to take over the Order. They are usually written as the primary instigators of the Schism War.

Tytalus: The Trickster House. Tytalus philosophy states that only conflict can inspire growth, and so they constantly test themselves (and others, whether they like it or not) in various ways, sometimes referred to as The Game. This eventually led to the House's corruption when they tried to outwit the Devil, resulting in widespread diabolism.

Verditius: Natural artificers who are inept with Formulaic magic, requiring casting tools where other magi of the Order need none; they produce most of the magic items in the Order and are the beating heart of its economy.

The Order of Hermes itself is richly political, with laws governing how Magi must conduct themselves toward each other while at court (Tribunal) and just in general, with secrecy and the right to power being primary tenets of the vow taken by mages at the completion of their apprenticeship.

It was one of the first examples of a Troupe system: early editions recommended that the players collaborate to create the campaign world and story. Each player would have an opportunity to be the Story Guide, and each player would have more than one character, so that if they felt their main character would not go on an adventure (for example, if they were busy with their research) a secondary character may be used. The game was developed by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen of World of Darkness fame and if you look, you will find traces of Ars Magica in the Classic WOD - particularly the Order of Hermes mages and the Tremere vampires. The magic system of Ars Magica is generic, based on a combination of Forms and Techniques (to create fire, you'd use the form Ignem for fire and the Technique Creo for create together) and very intuitive. It's also one of few magic systems that allowed for spontaneous spellcasting, allowing the player to use magic off the top of their head to perform specific tasks, rather than limiting magical ability to a shopping list of immutable conditions and effects.

Had an unsuccessful Kickstarter towards a computer game version.

Ars Magica provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parens: While no wizards apprenticeship is usually easy (9 months of virtual slavery for 3 months of teaching) the mages of House Tytalus aren't just abusive to their apprentices but are arbitrarily so. Of course they consider it justified in order to teach their apprentices to question and challenge all rules and to create the kind of resentment that an apprentice needs to initiate the conflict with his master that will mark his Gauntlet (test for full wizard status) a conflict which can continue, sporadically, until the death of one or the other if the master particularly values the former apprentice.
    • The 4th edition supplement The Wizard's Grimoire includes a list of Hermetic legal trials, one of which regards a magus who tortured and murdered his last three apprentices. The court ruled that the apprentices were his to do with as he pleased, and so he had not committed a crime.
    • The "Tormenting Master" flaw generally results in this. Once a year, your parens takes a two-week vacation, during which they devote one hundred percent of their free time to finding some way to ruin your life. Tytalus mages might as well have it tattooed across their backsides.
  • Alchemy: There's a lot of forms of alchemy, existing in several magical traditions (particularly because some form of the art is necessary to refine vis from magical auras), as well as completely nonmagicalnote  applications of Philosophiae and Medicine. Some of this is integrated into Hermetic theory, but much of it isn't and remains the province of mystery cults.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Code of Hermes prohibits a magus to "interfere with the affairs of mundanes and thereby bring ruin upon my sodales [fellow magi]." What this actually means gets complicated, varies from Tribunal to Tribunal (you can get away with a lot more in Normandy than in the Greater Alps), and is often decided based on one's reputation and political connections.
  • All Myths Are True: The same Divine power that protects the Christian Church from magic also protects Jews and Muslims. This, naturally, gives the Church fits.
  • Aloof Ally: Guernicus the Founder was not really on board with the creation of the Order of Hermes, and only accepted his post (and by extension, that of his filii) as Quaesitor to help ensure that the Order would be used as a tool to protect magi rather than drag them into the Order's political agendas.
  • Animals Hate Him: People with The Gift (that is, magi) are able to cast powerful spells, but are hard-pressed in regards to communicating with non-magi and animals (doubly so for those with the Blatant Gift flaw). Averted for those with the Gentle Gift virtue.
  • Anti-Magic:
    • The Parma Magica is the universal defense against magic developed by Bonisagus for the Order of Hermes. No other tradition has anything close (except for True Faith, which can't be taught, certain divine magic feats, and an application of the Ars Goetia), and any tradition that could would immediately face the full might of the "Join or Die" policy.
    • The Lancea Magica was a breakthrough that allowed any magus to freely penetrate the Parma with a lethal spell. For obvious reasons, this was forbidden immediately and the inventor burned his Lab Text. It's lost forever. Really.
  • Appeal to Force: The Order of Hermes tries to restrain this, but the institutions of certamen and Wizard's War allow for magi to settle matters by force of arms if a Tribunal doesn't act. Incidentally, it is perfectly legal to stop a prosecution under the Code of Hermes by declaring Wizard's War against the prosecutor and killing him before the Tribunal, even if that prosecutor is himself a Quaesitor. The latter is tantamount to suicide unless you're of godlike power, however.
  • Artificial Human: It's mentioned in one book that doing this should be possible for Hermetic magic, sidestepping the sterility caused by the longevity ritual. Nobody's ever figured out how to do it yet, though.
  • Artistic License – Economics: Defied by Stonehenge and several other Tribunals. Magi are very much aware of the consequences of inflation (most covenants, by being richer than the surrounding area, cause a bit of inflation on their own), so they strictly limit the amount of silver that can be created per magus to avoid melting the mundane economy.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The law in House Tremere. A Tremere mage, even after theoretically graduating, is still bound to their parens unless they can win their freedom through certamen, and Tremere magi can likewise try to challenge for higher rank within the House if they think they could do a better job.
  • Badass Grandpa: Characters advance mechanically only once every season, four times per year. Magi tend to have ways to delay or even stop ageing entirely. Wizards with grey beards are by their nature the scariest things in the whole setting.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill:
    • The Aura of Rightful Authority spell only sort of counts, as it's magical. It makes anyone who looks at you and doesn't resist consider you his natural superior, similar to the natural Commanding Aura of kings and bishops.
    • There are rules for "false scholars," who are "students" who slip into classes at universities without formally matriculating into the university, thus acquiring an education without paying for it or impressing a master; they just dress in student robes, sit at the back of the room and take notes on the lecture, and attend disputations if they feel particularly bold.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: In-Universe, "Join us or die!" became known as Flambeau the Founder's Catch Phrase in Hermetic legend. Actually, there's only one recorded case of him using those words, and that was after he had completely lost his temper at a wizard who'd already made the Order his enemy.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: In Faerie, this is usually the case. A faerie taking on an evil role is also ugly, and a faerie taking on a good role is beautiful. However, sometimes a faerie needs to be a beautiful predator. Sometimes this is represented by said faerie acting and being completely good until he puts on his Game Face.
  • Beware the Superman: Mages are well within their rights to torture Muggles to death.
    • They have one Crime for this, loosely referred to as Interfering with Mundanes. No wizardly court on the planet will convict you for less than bringing actual harm to other mages, however, and not even then if you have enough political power to stop it.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Tremere the Founder tried to take over the Order of Hermes for himself by a combination of economics, political intrigue and naked force, but someone (there are several groups who claim the honor, including House Tytalus, the Theban Tribunal, and his own successor Albanus) mind-blasted his lieutenants before he could even try to launch his coup. Even the House that he founded would really rather forget about him, or at least use him as a cautionary tale rather than a hero.
  • Chain Letter: The malleus epistula is one that provides detailed instructions for witch-hunting; at the end of the (long) letter is a paragraph that commands the recipient to make six copies and distribute them anonymously to other Christians, or (depending on the letter) something horrible will happen. It's a demonic plot to turn good Christians into psychotic torturers.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Criamon. In later editions, they're the only ones who have access to the Enigmatic Wisdom Virtue, which gives bonuses to understand things that normal logic can't process. The classic joke?
    How many Criamon does it take to light a candle?
  • The Commandments: The Order of Hermes has a Code of Conduct which (among other things) forbids dealing with demons, endangering the Order, interfering with secular governments and spying on or killing other mages.
  • Complete Immortality: Aside from God, there is one known method of attaining a qualified Complete Immortality, and that's through the Zoroastrian secret ritual of the Saoshyant's Elixir. If it's done right, the mobed cannot age or die at all so long as he complies with the requirements of the ritual, avoids sin and adheres to the tenets of his religion. However, aside from the fact that they can lose the benefits of the Elixir if they open themselves up to evil, at some point the mobed is going to want to move on to their reward in Heaven.
  • Court Mage: It's absolutely forbidden for magi of the Order to take this position, but Hedge and Rival traditions are quite happy to take the position of "court wizard." The Augustan Brotherhood, with magical powers based on reading the Aeneid, specialize in taking this position, and the Suhhar Suleyman have a mechanism for doing it without getting the Order as a whole involved. Other hedge-wizards sometimes take the job. Notably, however, most court wizards are charlatans or very weak, as any wizard with the Gift will find it almost impossible to maintain a position at court due to the social difficulties caused by the Gift.
  • The Crusades: The repurcussions of the Fourth one are still being felt in Europe at the official start date of 1220 AD for the latest edition. The Fifth one is just getting started.
  • Demon Slaying: Seen as problematic by the Order. Mages are strictly forbidden from dealing with demons, but while destroying an occasional demon is considered praiseworthy, actually making a business of taking demons down is considered extremely bad form for a Hermetic mage, as it might lead to Hell turning on the Order.
  • The Dung Ages: Earlier editions tended to lean toward this trope.
  • Elemental Powers: Aquam, Auram, Herbam, Ignem and Terram spells.
    • Elementalists, as described in Hedge Magic, are another (more limited) example of this.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: Underworld gods and spirits of the night are not necessarily evil or Infernal, but they and the Chthonic Magic associated with them does have a very negative and sinister aspect to it, reads as Unholy to divine sources and can be used to draw more effectively on infernal powers.
  • The Fair Folk: The Faerie Realm contains all manner of different things, many of them easily offended and dangerous; this is the reason why "I will not molest the faeries" is part of the Oath of Hermes.
  • Familiar: All mages, bar House Bjornaer, can bond themselves to a magical animal as a familiar. Some can bond themselves to spirits and others can bond themselves to faeries.
  • Fights Like a Normal: The School of Ramius among House Flambeau knows that Magic Resistance and the Parma Magica are a difficult obstacle to magical attacks; thus, they don't use them against magi. Instead, they fight against magi with mail and steel, using magic solely to enhance their defenses and physical capabilities in ways that don't pit them against their opponents' magical defenses.
  • Flat Earth Atheist: The briefly included Realm of Reason was based around skepticism about the existence of the supernatural, despite there being clear evidence that it truly existed. The implication is that magic can only exist where it can be believed in, and progress into Reason eliminates that possibility: this is explicitly a world where weasels give birth through their ears and where amber is formed by bobcats urinating on rocks.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Something of a Running Gag with corrupt monasteries. Existing monastic orders are seen as corrupt, so a lot of monks who are sick of the mercantile and impious ways of their old monasteries go and found a reformist order under a new Rule. The pious reformist order receives a lot of support, donations and members, grows rapidly, and eventually starts to bloat and become yet another order of fat, impious monks in the eyes of the next generation of reformers, who start another order under another Rule...The Franciscans are the current crest of the reformist wave as of 1220, but while Francis of Assisi is Europe's greatest living saint, he's in failing health and lacks the organizational chops to run the movement, and his chief understudy is already trying to reform the Franciscans into operating more in line with traditional monastic Rules...
  • Functional Magic: Basically every type can be found in Mythic Europe somewhere, though the Order mainly has the Inherent Gift, Rule Magic, and Device Magic.
    • The Mysteries (Revised Edition) introduces Hermetic Theurgy, which is the province of the Order's most deeply-secretive Mystery Cults (since it's a forthrightly pagan practice that could turn the Church against them).
  • The Gadfly: Guernicus the Founder was named this in earlier editions and probably was considered one by some of his peers in the current edition, but Tytalus the Founder and members of his house more readily match this trope.
  • Geas: A major element of gruagachan magic is the ability to cast a geas upon someone, either with painful consequences if disobeyed, or with benefits as long as it's upheld.
  • Gender Bender: "The Succubus' Trick" allows a female magus to turn male, and vice versa for the Incubus version.
  • Gender Is No Object: In the Order of Hermes, this is the case, but in the outside world...not so much, it's The Middle Ages. The Suhhar Suleyman has no gender restrictions, but it's worth noting that sahirs need to work for a living and not all occupations are as open to sahiras as they are to sahirs.
  • Geometric Magic: Magic circles can be used to set up spells, and there's a Minor Virtue that allows more expert use of geometry in magic.
  • A God Is You: One of the spells presented in The Mysteries Revised Edition can transform a magus into a Daimon, which is (depending on who you ask) either a god of a very powerful spirit. Either way, rules are presented in some detail for continuing to play a Daimonic magus as a PC.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: While all immortal magi have to take special measures to grow and develop (since immortality, by its nature, makes you highly resistant to any form of change), Daimonic magi are the only ones who do so by casting spells and performing other "miracles" for mortal worshipers. This gets them Daimon Points, which they can either spend on bumping their stats and learning new abilities...or trade with other Daimons in what passes for a godly economy.
  • The Hashshashin: Presented largely historically, but mixed with magic as well. They use Solomonic magic like the Suhhar Suleyman, but are not on good terms with that order.
  • Healing Magic Is the Hardest: Healing someone's body requires ritual magic, or else the wounds will reopen once the spell ends.
    • More downplayed than anything else. Instant permanent healing requires a ritual, but regular spells can siginificantly increase the chance of recover during the course of the normal healing process. Recovering from fatigue on the other hand, is well nigh impossible for Hermetic magic.
  • Hermetic Magic: Played with in a couple of ways: the only Hermetic magic as-per the trope is Verditius magic, which requires casting tools and considered a flaw of House Verditius (in some editions), and Ritual spells, which require the use of crystallized magic energy called vis and a long casting time; the rest of Ars Magica's magic is closer to Vancian Magic, but it's named Hermetic Magic after the Order of Hermes.
  • Heroes "R" Us: The Cult of Heroes in a downplayed sense, at least as far as any campiness.
  • The High Middle Ages: The setting of the game. Worth noting, however, that the default start date of 1220 is about when many of the standard tropes of this period (chivalry, castles, chain mail, big horses and centralized monarchy) are just starting to come into being.
  • I Know Your True Name: Mages eventually end up with three names. Their True Name (the one given to them by their parents at birth), their apprentice name (used by their master during apprenticeship) and then the Hermetic Name (which they choose for themselves after their apprenticeship is complete). This is all because the True Name is an extremely powerful weapon in the hands of one's enemies, particularly non-Hermetic ones. Demons are especially susceptible to the use of their True Names, and invoking a Demon's true name against them usually doubles the effectiveness of whatever spell or command is being used. In 5th edition, knowing the True Name of a demon (or angel) counts as an ability and forms a powerful (x5) Arcane Connection to it. It should also be noted that, according to Realms of Power: The Divine, a character's Baptismal Name cannot be used as a Sympathetic Connection.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: The Hermetic Longevity Ritual sterilizes the recipient, as do most other versions (the Solomonic Al-Iksir being an exception, like many things Solomonic). In addition, the Gift does not follow bloodlines, so a magus is likely to outlive any children they do have.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Ignem Flambeau (fire) approach to most things that are in their way. Flambeau specializing in Perdo (destruction) just destroy.
  • Knight Templar: The Flambeau tend to be the first to shoot and the last to talk when dealing with anything that might be an enemy to the Order. They've been behind most of the conflicts with non-Hermetic magi, and enthusiastically supported the Schism War. Dialed back a bit in Fifth Edition, with the house being more focused on chivalry and its Founder not being so enthusiastic about the Join or Die policy. This has led to a slightly Broken Base in the fandom, since many of them preferred the founder as a Blood Knight.
  • Lamarck Was Right: The descendants of Bulgars whose eyes were regrown by a particular wizard still have Supernatural Gold Eyes. There's no indication that this is a usual thing though.
  • Language of Magic:
    • Latin, for the Order of Hermes, or other ancient languages for other magic wielders both in and out of the Order although they usually need the Gift if they want to play with power. Other languages used based on magical tradition include Gothic for House Bjornaer and Pictish for the Gruagachan. Classic Greek, as opposed to Romaic Greek, is used by members of the Order of Hermes in the Tribunal of Thebes. In very few cases is the language itself actually magical, but when all of the Order's books and spells are written in Latin, you'd best know the language.
    • Pictish, for the Gruagachan, is the exception to the rule that the language isn't magical. The dead language of the Picts is a sacred liturgical tongue that's as important to the Gruagachan as Magic Theory is to the Order of Hermes.
    • The Ars Notoria is written in four dead languages, each of which is written in a different script. Translating the book would destroy its magic, so a would-be reader of the Key of Solomon must be a Cunning Linguist before even unlocking the first of seven tiers of power.
    • The Futhark Runes of the Old Norse language are very much magical, being the core of Norse Rune Magic.
  • Large Ham: one of the advantages of playing a 'grog' as opposed to a major character, according to the 5th edition rulebook, is that it's acceptable to chew on the scenery a little.
  • Long Lived: It's fairly common for magical traditions to have some form of life extension, including Hermetic magi. Most such rituals come with sterility as a side-effect, however. Furthermore, most forms of magic have a final Warping that leads to the wizard either disappearing from reality, dying, losing all of their supernatural powers or going irrevocably insane after too much magic use, so the practical limit on lifespan is about 150 years, barring some way around this.
  • Loophole Abuse: Defied in one option regarding the rule against magically creating wealth. The rule is that only two pounds of silver (this is a lot of money) may be created per magus per year. Creating gold and gems for trade instead is not only punishable, but the magi responsible will be mocked for being so utterly unoriginal. (This is part of an optional rule, however, and it's entirely possible that the Silver Consensus has not become Hermetic law yet, or that this particular loophole hasn't been ironed out.)
  • Lost Technology: Ancient Magic is about extinct magical traditions that might be integrated into the Hermetic system, if the PCs can find their lost items and lab texts.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Magi have laboratories that are modified over time to give the characters bonuses. Laboratories filled with lightning bolts, exotic creatures or enchanted devices that automatically sweep and organize are common. Laboratories that are underwater or located on clouds are not unheard of.
  • Magi Babble: In spades. There are arts, mystery cult initiations, exotically named spells, different types of vis, and a dozen or more exotic traditions to speak about in character. The magic rules are so closely linked to the in-setting magic concepts that it becomes difficult not to talk in magi babble.
  • Magic A Is Magic A:
    • There are several known laws of Hermetic Magic that cannot be broken by any spell. Well, by any Hermetic spell. There's several mystery cults that can and do ignore the limitations of Bonisagus' theory.
    • Even within the Order of Hermes, no two mages' magic works quite the same. Each and every magus has some area where their magic is flawed, because no magus ever fits perfectly into Hermetic theory, and there are lots of magical virtues to differentiate magi as well.
  • Magically Binding Contract: A common element of faerie magic, with dire consequences for those who break their word. Also a method of binding djinn to a sahir's service.
  • Magic Knight: Possible, but generally ineffective for Hermetic magi; against mundanes and non-Hermetic wizards, it's far more effective to just Kill Them With Fire, and the Parma is just as resistant to magically-sharpened steel as they are to explosives. The school of Ramius accepts these limitations and instead develops spells to defend the magus and improve his capabilities, as well as focusing on a strong Parma Magica; the Ramian magus himself attacks with steel alone, rather than magic.
  • Magical Society: The Order of Hermes is the main one in the game, including the most powerful and numerous of magic users in Mythic Europe. Within the order itself are several more distinct magtical societies, including the houses of the Order (listed above), mystery cults (four of which are also houses), leagues, and various individual magical traditions. There are still societies of magical traditions that exist outside the Order as well, some in Mythic Europe and some without. Likely the largest of these is the Order of Suleiman in the Mythic Middle East (which is roughly five times the size of the Order of Hermes, though its individual magicians are weaker). Some magical societies have members both within and without of the Order of Hermes, but these tend to be relatively small groups.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Tytalus the Founder. Especially in the minds of the members of his House. invoked
  • The Magocracy:
    • The spice islands of Soqotra are ruled by a caste of sorcerers who use incense magic harvested from the magical trees of the islands, and who use spirit intermediaries to overcome the instinctive hatred that humans (including other Gifted) feel for Gifted humans.
    • The Purple Islands (also called the Canaries) are likewise occupied by a people who are governed by wizard-kings. This is probably not a coincidence; Soqotra and the Canaries are both possible locations for the Gardens of the Hesperides, and the magic of each place is governed by a serpent who protects a magical tree. Exactly what is going on is unclear.
    • Officially, setting one of these up is specifically banned by the Hermetic Code. In practice, how flexible the Order is on enforcing it is up to the GM, and several supplements go into detail about how setting up a working magocracy could be done.
  • Master-Apprentice Chain: One of the core pillars of Hermetic society, and second only to Code and Covenant in importance. Every magus is nominally descended, parens to fidelius, from the Founder of one of the Twelve (or Thirteen) Houses, although adoption is common from outside the Order; only four Houses require direct descent. This is part of the basis for Hermetic social structure - if your master is revealed to have betrayed his oath, you have a legal problem. Further, if you go bad, your master has already sworn to hunt you down and slay you.
  • Medieval European Fantasy, The game is actually a fantastic medieval Europe, with the typical campaign starting spring A.D. 1200 but oddly it more subverts this trope that supports it, due to the level of detail and 'reality' the various campaign source books looking at medieval politics and society. The supplement books that don't focus on the Order and its magic are about as accurate and informative as any regular general-history book, 4th edition's Ordo Nobilis in particular.
  • Medieval Stasis: Averted. The game is set in a period of modestly-fast change (at least if you're not a peasant), and the gamebooks mention areas where, if history proceeds on schedule, new technologies, events and trends will reshape Mythic Europe. Chainmail is currently the height of armor technology, the longbow hasn't quite made it out of Wales yet, and universities are just getting started, but all of these will likely change over the length of a magus' life.
  • The Middle Ages: The official start dates for all versions of the game are well within The High Middle Ages. The history of the Order itself starts in Dark Age Europe and carries on through The Low Middle Ages.
  • Mutant Draft Board: Back and forth. Originally, the Order ran on the principle of "Join or Die," and in theory they still do. In practice, however, the Order only drafts Gifted wizards who know the Parma Magica or some equivalent form of Anti-Magic, or who are otherwise of great enough power to attract attention, and avoids harassing hedge wizards who don't make trouble. There's only one way to leave the Order, though.
  • Mystical Plague: The spell "Curse of the Unportended Plague" starts a plague in a city over a period of 6-12 months.
  • Nay-Theist:
    • Nobody denies that the Divine exists, but there are a few people who want nothing to do with God; some pagans prefer their old faiths and believe the absolute power of God to be a lie, and some magi from Houses Tremere, Criamon and Tytalus (among others) hold to philosophies that denigrate all gods, including the Divine. No currently-existing House is fully pagan, however, not even the Germanic Bjornaer.
    • House Tremere and House Criamon both reject all Faerie and Magical gods as unworthy of worship. House Tremere is descended from a Pluto-cult and collectively feels betrayed by gods in general (the Divine is sometimes an exception), while House Criamon holds to a very esoteric philosophy that holds, among other things, that pagan deities are no different from humans and worship is fruitless. Criamon's membership is very divided on the Divine, but the atheistic Criamon nonetheless believe that Jesus Was Way Cool and the Criamon who follow the Divine are working to uphold the structure of the universe.
  • No Eye in Magic: Some spells have the range "Eye", which means the mage must make eye contact with the target for the spell to take effect.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: The Code of Hermes exists, in theory, to protect the Order of Hermes from getting into a fight with external adversaries, tearing itself apart in internal warfare, or otherwise bothering the wizards who want to spend all their time in their labs. In practice, it's impossible to either entirely abide by or fully enforce, and it really exists so that stories happen when it gets broken.
  • The Order: Several organizations think they are this, but in practice it doesn't quite work like that; any purpose that an order might be devoted to usually takes second place to personal agendas.
    • The Order of Hermes is an Order dedicated to the study, teaching and development of Bonisagus' theory of magic. In practice, it's more of a Magical Society that exists to keep a bunch of egomaniacal sociopaths with too much power from killing each other over vis and library books.
    • The Order of Solomon (Suhhar Suleyman) is both more and less of an Order than the Order of Hermes. They take anyone who can summon a spirit and teach the Suhhar's form of magic, and they don't make anyone join, but they do sometimes act as a group and require their members to contribute to the upkeep of the whole.
    • The Order of Odin is an order of Norse rune-wizards (vitkir) at war with the Order of Hermes. It doesn't exist, and never did. There were some rune-wizards who fought alongside Damhan-Allaidh during the time of the early Order, and there are still plenty of vitkir running around now, but the idea of an organized group of Scandinavian runepriests out to topple the Order is a boogeyman with little basis in fact.
    • The Order of Geonim are a group of Kabbalists mentioned in Realms of Power: the Divine who have a truce with the Order. It's unclear what they are; the supposed "Order of Geonim" could just mean all Kabbalists everywhere, or a specific bunch from Barcelona, but there's rumors of a secret order throughout Europe dedicated to protecting Jews from their enemies. Regardless, the Order of Hermes generally leaves Kabbalists alone.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Come in almost infinite varieties. Broadly, Magic giants are big humans with magical characteristics (and there's a lot of variation there, including some giants who are more like spirits than humans, most notably the Jotnar patrons behind the Muspelli), Faerie giants are fairy-tale giants such as the one up the beanstalk, and the Nephilim are angel-blooded Divine giants who have to constantly eat or go into a slumber.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're a form of fairy who take the form of the deceased, for one...
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Includes were-bears and were-lynxes.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • The Houses, though a rather downplayed variant. Each House has its own traditions, and most have some unique magic of their own, but two members of the same House may have completely different magic, attitudes, or both.
    • House Bonisagus has two separate hats. Followers of Bonisagus are the archetypal lab rats of the Order, while the line of Trianoma are the Order's master politicians. This is for historical reasons; Trianoma chose to remain Bonisagus' apprentice rather than found her own House so she could work as the power behind the throne.
    • The hat for unGifted Merceres is a red cap, but Mercere with the Gift really avert this trope. There are two major subtraditions within the House, a subtradition of one of those subtraditions, and a lot of magi Mercere who don't fit into any of these. Given that there's only about thirty magi Mercere at all, it's safe to say that every Mercere's hat is different.
    • Ex Miscellanea is, as its name implies, another aversion; their hat is being "none of the above." It consists of Gifted wizards adopted from outside the Order (who may or may not practice Hermetic magic), magi who didn't fit in with their old House and didn't find any other House to join, and their descendants.
  • Perilous Power Source:
    • Magic, if powerful or long lasting, warps its targets. This eventually mutates the targets or in the case of magi removes them from the world entirely. Other magical traditions have their own forms of Warping.
    • The only form of power that doesn't really qualify is the Divine, and that only for those who know how to use it. The Divine Ascent still changes you, but for its users, the change is seen as a good thing even if it comes with some drawbacks. And spending most of your time whisked away to Heaven, while it hampers your ability to get things done, hardly qualifies as a drawback...even if it can lead to some inconvenient situations when you get back.
  • Point Build System
  • Power at a Price: Mystery Cults provide special abilities that can often bend or break the rules of Hermetic magic, but to Initiate into a Mystery, you nearly always have to pay some kind of price. For the unGifted, doing this for a magic virtue always leaves you with some kind of flaw for each ability you Initiate, and for the Gifted, most initiations still require a price of some kind.
  • Pride: Part of the Verditius flaw is that every Verditius who descends deeper into the Cult develops a degree of hubris, which is intrinsically linked to their magic, as well as adding to the vendetta culture within the House.
  • Rapid Aging
    • The Perdo Corporem spell instantly ages the victim 5-15 years.
    • 3rd Edition adventure Twelth Night. After the Burial Shroud of Christ is warped by Hermetic magic it gains the special power Circle of Decay, which affects all creatures within a half mile. Any creature less than 35 years old will age at a rate of 1 year per minute. Any creature 35 or more years old ages at a rate of 1 year every ten seconds.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Lion of the North. The gruagachan Brude Deathless's eyes turn red when he's angry.
  • The Red Mage: At it's heart, Bonisagus' magic theory theoretically gives all Hermetic magi the potential to become this. However, in Ars Magica, magic is not a science, but an art, different individuals have different ways of working magic. The game strongly suggests that all magi characters have at least some form of Hermetic flaw, to represent imperfect understanding. Nevertheless, one of the strengths of Hermetic magic is that it is that it is that is very broad in what can be learned, though the greatest heights can still be reached by specializing. In some ways, Bonisagus' theory takes the Red Mage up to eleven. Although certain non-hermetic traditions can break certain rules of Hermetic Magic, they do so at the cost of extreme specialization, usually also requiring a disproportionate amount of time of study to be able to create such effects.
  • Religion Is Magic: The Divine Realm (alternately, the Dominion) draws its power from God, and divine power can make awe-inspiring effects (though pure divine magic doesn't match up to the power of the Hermetic Arts), and an area influenced by the Divine serves as Anti-Magic for any non-divine power. The big limitation is that it cannot be intentionally used to sin, and it's very difficult to learn without True Faith.
    • Holy Magic is a form of Hermetic magic adapted to the Divine Realm. It's difficult to use, because Hermetic magic is based in pagan charms that can't be used with it, and Hermetic magi dismiss it as a joke in poor taste, but it allows for wondrous effects that can bend or break Hermetic limits, and it can also be used safely within a Divine aura.
    • Kabbalah is Jewish holy magic. It's unusual in that most Kabbalists do not have True Faith, but it's still highly effective and has its own (small) order of users (the Order of Geonim) who have a peace treaty with the Order. Useful for creating golems and calling angels through the Chariot Mysteries, but also somewhat dangerous, as its practitioners often become curious about the Infernal or addicted to its power.
    • Christians and Muslims don't actually have a lot of divine magic. For Muslims, it's pretty much the exclusive province of Sufis, while among Christians, it's pretty much limited to small holy orders and lone saint-mystics. The big joker in the deck are the Cathars, whose Perfecti have already developed some pretty potent magic as a result of their Gnostic theological heritage.
    • The most powerful divine magic of all is found in a fairly minor religion off in the East. The Mazdeans (or Zoroastrians) are a minority group in Mesopotamia and Persia, but their mobeds are descendants (theoretically or factually) of the magoi priests of ancient Persia, and they were mighty wizards well before Bonisagus was ever born. Since the fall of the Sassanid Empire, nearly all of their greatest magics have been lost, but what they have is still highly impressive. They are masters of Alchemy and astrology, capable of calling angels and destroying evil with flame, and their greatest priests live much longer than even Hermetic magi. A mobed in full possession of the magic of his tradition would be a match for a Hermetic magus, but mobeds of that power mostly don't exist anymore. It's also notable that there are Zoroastrian sub-traditions within the Order of Hermes and the Order of Solomon, wielding Hermetic or Solomonic magic and some of the Zoroastrian power-set.
    • A particular trick common to House Jerbiton (though anyone can do it) is to invoke the patron saint of a city and ask for "the right to defend the City." This gives a pass to any virtuous use of magic within a Dominion aura.
  • Religion Is Right: See the trope immediately above. The existence of a Divine power is a demonstrable fact in this setting, although some pagan, polytheistic, and agnostic magi believe that the Abrahamic God is just a very powerful spirit.
  • Resignations Not Accepted:
    • By the Code of Hermes, all magi are called upon to hunt down and slay any magus expelled from the Order; the parens of the magus so Marched has a specific duty to do so (though this particular requirement is no longer enforced).
    • House Bjornaer, likewise, does not allow its members to join another House. Any magus who leaves or who is cast out of the House will immediately face the wrath of the House through multiple Wizard's Wars.
  • Retcon: In Ancient Magic, Norse Rune Magic was stated to be an extinct tradition. In Hedge Magic: Revised Edition, however, the tradition's alive and well up in Scandinavia.
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: House Mercere, commonly called Redcaps because they wear silly-looking red pointy hats. The robe is optional, but common, since most major places know not to mess with the guys in the doofy red stooge cap— those guys have friends.
    • House Jerbiton, in its self-appointed role as 'envoy to the mundanes', tries to spread the idea that this is 'proper wizard attire' so that a) Wizards can be identified as such if they want to be (and are wiling to dress up in a silly outfit) and b) wizards can disguise themselves as mundanes by not wearing said silly outfit. Jerbiton also spreads other false (and true) information which they feel it would be beneficial to the Order for the mundanes to believe.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Mages who remain in animal form too long can have their human personality replaced with the animal's.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: The Curse of Venus flaw, which makes the character very attractive to people he or she does not WANT to attract, and who won't take no for an answer, and causing you to fall for those who have no interest in you.
    • Envied Beauty story flaw from the Jerbiton section of 'House of Hermes: Societies' which is exactly what it sounds like (your beauty causes (sometimes murderous) envy in others)
  • Soul Jar: Lion of the North. The "External Soul" gruagach virtue and the famhairan a'falach "remove heart" ability.
  • Special Snowflake Syndrome: There are multiple books full of possible magical characters who are not Hermetic magi and have unique abilities. However, this is partly curbed by the general supremacy of the Hermetic Arts.
  • Spell Crafting: It may be the Trope Maker, or at least Trope Codifier, for freeform magic in games. Spells use pseudo-Latin "power words" to create spell effects on the fly.
  • Spontaneous Weapon Creation: The spell "Tooth of the Staff" can create a spear with a polished flint head. Several such spells exist, and magi can invent new ones, or make them on the fly.
  • Star Power: The various forms of astrology. Low-level astrology is used in nearly every Hermetic ritual to empower the effect, but those Hermetic wizards who specialize in it can draw up horoscopes for doing lab work, cause spells to take effect or end exactly when they need them to, empower their magic by casting spells at the correct time, and a number of other effects. The Zoroastrian priests of Persia can also use astrology to enhance their holy magic, and the Suhhar Suleyman have an entire discipline devoted to astrological divinations.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Hermetic magic is based on this; indeed, the discipline was created when Bonisagus got the idea of putting together a universal theory of magic that could do anything, though he ended up saddling it with some unnecessary Limits, and the theory has since begun to ossify and become suspicious of outside knowledge. Spells are developed through scientific laboratory research, and the limits of magic are constantly tested in hopes of a Breakthrough that might amend the rules or even remove one of the Limits of Magic. Magi of House Bonisagus in particular are expected to do original research of some form, creating unique spells or chasing after Breakthroughs, and disseminate it to the other magi of the Order. Most other magical schools have some degree of this too.
  • Summon Magic:
    • The specialty of the Order of Suleiman, the dominant magical order of the Islamic world. All of their magic involves summoning jinn (or sometimes other spirits) to power their effects.
    • The Hermetic mysteries of Theurgy also involve summoning spirits, with varying magical effects.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Amber eyes are a result of being descended from Bulgars who had their sight restored by a Tremere; the amber was part of the sigil of the maga responsible, and the color deepens as a result of magical Warping.
  • Sympathetic Magic: Specifically referred to as the Law of Sympathy.
  • Training The Gift Of Magic: A major element of the setting. "The Gift" is an absolute prerequisite for the practice of Hermetic magic, and identifying and training prospective magi is considered a social duty in the Order. Gifted but untrained individuals cannot generally work magic, but tend to be disliked and distrusted by other people anyway.
  • Übermensch: The philosophy of House Tytalus, in a nutshell, is that a person should subvert or ignore laws and customs whenever possible if they violate his own nature. In the more extreme form, Might Makes Right and the ideal state of being is to impose your own whims on everyone else; a rival positionnote  holds that natural law comes from the Divine and is an inherent part of human nature, but that custom and law developed by men are inherently divisive and tyrannical.
  • Unequal Rites: The Order of Hermes looks down on mages who don't practice Bonisagus-standard Hermetic magery. There's plenty of odd magic around Mythic Europe, and by and large the Order wants nothing to do with it.
    • It also tends to lend itself to some really fantastic comedic moments. The Order tends to think very highly of itself and its very sophisticated magic, to the point that some Order mages are downright snooty when it comes to non-Hermetics and their weird, uncivilized pagan nonsense...and then a Criamon wanders by, up to his eyeballs in Wizard's Twilight and not wearing pants.
    • The Bonisagus Seekers try to avert this, to a point. Their schtick is going out and finding ancient forms of magic or meeting non-Hermetic mages, discovering their abilities, and trying to find ways to integrate useful abilities from them into Hermetic magery. That said, this research is out of a desire to improve Hermetic magic, not foster good relations; it's just sometimes easier to steal someone else's secrets than to invent one's own breakthrough.
    • Even within the Order, some Houses' magic is seen as inferior to others'. Verditius gets a bad rap because they require tools to use their magic, Merinita is distrusted because their magic is linked to The Fair Folk, and having Diedne magic in your legacy is still grounds for having a Wizard's March called against you.
    • The Order of Suleiman in the Islamic world tries to avert this. To be a member, a sahir has to prove that they can summon a spirit and be willing to help out the Order. That's it; while most sahirs do use Solomonic summoning, the yatus of Persia, the Kurdish Mulhidun infernalists, and other weirder wizards all have places within the Order. They're at war with the Order of Hermes, but that's because Hermetic magi (though not the Order itself) have become involved in the Crusades.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Most Hermetic magi can do this with spells, and there are other ways to change shape that those inside and outside of the Order of Hermescan use, but members of House Bjornaer have their own particular style that lets them more truly change into one animal. Unlike other shapeshifting, no form of magic can discern their human shape when in animal form. Also, if some other power changes their shape, they may continually try to change back into their own human or animal shape.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: In the Rhine Tribunal, ghost voting is legal. When a magus who has given a proxy vote to another magus dies, the magus' death is not recorded and the magus who's got the sigil gets to keep it forever (and may transfer it to another magus), resulting in the Rhine's elders having a massive amount of sway and being essentially above Hermetic law. When the Quaesitors told them to cut it out, the Rhine's elder magi responded by "voting" to declare the practice legal, and followed up by threatening Wizard's War against the Quaesitors who prosecuted them. The Quaesitors have decided to let the Rhine's elders do what they want, but keep the practice from spreading to other tribunals and wait for a chance to knock the system down in the Rhine.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Arguably what makes the Tremere as dangerous as they are; they are ALL Well Done Son Guys, out to please no one but their parens (the mage who trained them), who wants to please their parens, who wants to please their parens...
    • Also carries over into the Tremere clan of Vampire: The Masquerade. There's no official link between the World of Darkness and Mythic Europe, but it's fairly obvious where to connect the dots. Ceoris, the center of Clan Tremere's politics, is not a happy place. Of course, Clan Tremere's origin is canonically House Tremere of the Order of Hermes... whom the clan exterminated to the last during the Middle Ages.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve
    • 3rd Edition adventure "The Pact of Pasaquine". The night the PCs arrive at Pasaquine they hear wolf howls in the woods. At midnight there is a sudden silence in the village and the Faerie wolf Hrulgar and thirteen other faerie wolves pad into town to confront the villagers.
    • 4th Edition adventure "The Fallen Angel". The demon Crom Vruach falls to Earth in meteorite form at midnight on the winter solstice. Six months later, at midnight on the summer solstice he hatches out in his new Nigh Invulnerable iron body and summons two more demons.
    • Mythic Perspectives fanzine #9 (Autumn 1999)
      • "Draugadrottin, The Norse Necromancer". A necromancer begins her ritual to raise a dead body as a draug (powerful zombie) at midnight.
      • "More on Exceptional Abilities". In an example, a woman has Second Sight (the ability to see the supernatural) because she was born at midnight on All Hallows Eve, and thus stands between the worlds of tha living and the dead.
  • Witch Hunt: The reason the Order of Hermes keeps a low profile. While most people in Mythic Europe don't think too hard about the occasional wise woman who lives in the woods or weird magician in a tower, the idea of open conflict between the Church and the Order is a headache no one wants to deal with.
    • The Church is cognizant of the Order and prefers to leave it alone. It's not so much a secret as it is something that isn't widely bandied about. The Church know that the mages can wipe them out if angered enough, so they ignore them. The Order know that God can wipe them out if angered, so they leave the Church alone. It's a beautiful balance of power.
    • The Order of Hermes also enforces its own "Join or Die" policy with regards to other magical traditions; though admittedly this is rarely invoked unless the other tradition has somehow learned the secret of the Parma Magica or some similar means of Magic Resistance...
    • Occasionally, some mundane noble or bishop gets the idea to declare a general hunt for wizards. However, this is very much a case of Bullying a Dragon, and the usual reply from the Order is the death of the noble and his entire army.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Some forms of Warping lead to madness.
    • Elementalists gradually become dominated by the humours aspected to the elements they can use, until they become as uncontrollably insane as elementals themselves.
    • Al-Iksir, the Solomonic youth ritual, can lead to the user going very mad very quickly if misused.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: Rune Magic involves writing spells in the Futhark. Each rune embodies a concept, which can either define the target or the effect, and a spell is created by using a rune for either an effect, an effect with a target, or in a particular use, a target without an effect.
  • Wrong Context Magic: In Ars Magica, all rules apply at all times, except the times that they don't. Even within Hermetic magic, the Limits of Magic and the verb/object rules only apply until someone comes up with a breakthrough or a Mystery that changes how the rules work. Outside of Hermetic magic, nearly anything goes.