After longing to play in an Ars Magica campaign for decades, I finally got my chance. I've been playing in one for the past six months and running another for the past three. Playing the game (in its 5th Edition) has revealed a lot of cool and a few not-so-cool things about the mechanics, but it's a ton of fun overall. I especially like how downtime is used and how characters can experiment with magic both in adventure sessions and during their off seasons (the unit used for downtime).
I've been playing a few characters in our saga, most notably Venzi Lüin of Tremere, a disputant who fights in certamen, magical duels, for his covenant, Mont-Mercure, in the Normandy Tribunal. Based on our experiences and what I've seen online, certamen is not something comes up often in many Ars Magica sagas. The core rules can be likened to grappling rules in most editions of A/D&D: seldom used and often dreaded. However, that didn't stop Atlas Games from expanding the basic certamen rules in Houses of Hermes: True Lineages. As my character is a disputant, I often play him as someone who is looking for an opportunity to duel.
Recently, I realized that my development of Venzi as a disputant would probably trail off sometime in the character's late 40s (he just surpassed me in age -- 39). He can master two special styles (found in HoH:TL) but otherwise he will continue to develop his arts and forsake the things that drive other magi: spell research, item research, apprentices, and familiars. These things add little to nothing to the disputant's dedicated dueling arsenal, which is defined primarily by his arts and three arcane abilities: Finesse, Penetration, and Parma Magica. Spending time on spells and apprentices means time not spent on keeping the dueling arsenal at peak power.
When choosing arts for a duel, there is a small bit of psychological strategizing that goes on. The duelists want to pick arts they are strong in that their opponents are not strong in. Learning about your opponents through the use of Order of Hermes Lore can help discern what their strong and weak arts are. Knowing that your opponent can veto one of your choices, you may "throw" an initial choice out with the intention of seeing it vetoed. Still, once the arts are chosen, the process of moving from round-to-round is largely a matter of attrition. If you fight in the "style" of a school rather than as a master, you have the option of switching from round to round. You also have the ability to spend vis, a resource of raw magical power, in the course of the duel, but there are not many more choices to make.
Because Venzi will be focused on dueling for his entire wizardly career, I wanted to extend the rules to develop more oddball aspects and give dedicated duelists the ability to develop new styles on their own. HoH:TL describes how to achieve Breakthrough Points through original research in the Bonisagus chapter. Similarly, Ancient Magic describes how to integrate non-Hermetic magical concepts into Hermetic theory using a similar system that works in parallel. Despite the description of the Harenarius virtue in HoH:TL, which states that the harenarii are the most likely magi to develop new certamen styles, there are no rules present for doing so.
To fill in the gaps and extend my interest in Venzi's development, I have created a system that hybridizes the rules from original research and non-Hermetic integration. These rules should give advanced duelists goals to work toward as well as the dangerous, chaotic thrill that other magi feel when fooling around with arcane experimentation and the Extraordinary Results chart. These rules haven't been playtested, but I hope you may find them of some use. Thanks for reading.
Developing New Certamen Styles
Magi can develop new certamen styles by applying Lessons they learn from fighting duels. Each duel they fight is like a tiny artifact they can obsess over for new techniques and applications. Experimenting with these Lessons is risky and time-consuming, but over time can allow duelists to develop Breakthroughs for certamen just as a maga may develop Breakthroughs in original research and Hermetic integration. Once the maga achieves a basic Breakthrough, the research coalesces into a new style. After years of continued work dueling with the new style, the maga can become a rare and celebrated figure in Hermetic circles: a Magistra Certamenis, the master of her own new style.
Dueling Lessons - From the Ring to the Lab
In any season following one or more certamen duels, a maga can spend a season attempting to gain a Lesson. Lessons can be used to augment study of the arts and arcane abilities in the short term, but are more valuable for their ability to help develop entirely new styles of certamen over a longer period of time.
It doesn't matter if the maga won or lost, but she must have dueled "on stage" as a meaningful part of the story (as determined by the storyguide). The maga may initiate this study in the season immediately following the duel or later, but once a new season has passed in which the maga dueled on stage, she can no longer attempt to gain a Lesson from the earlier season of duels. To gain a Lesson, the maga must make a stress roll of Intelligence + Magic Theory against an ease factor of 18. The Harenarius virtue adds three to this roll and the troupe may rule that some seasons of duels grant additional bonuses. An ordinary or uneventful duel adds no bonus, but a truly extraordinary duel may add as much as +3. Note that the maga does not roll for each duel, but for the season of duels and the troupe should consider all of the duels together.
On a botch, the maga thinks she has gained a Lesson, but does not. She realizes this after she attempts to apply the Lesson, which always results in an additional wasted season.
Nature of the Lesson
The nature of the Lesson is judged by the troupe and should be connected to the nature of the duels but in all cases relate to at least one form, one technique, and one arcane ability used in certamen (finesse, penetration, and parma magica). The troupe's determination defines how the lesson may be applied. E.g. in a season with one duel involving Creo and Herbam that was resolved with lightning-fast initiative, the troupe may decide the lesson may be applied to Creo, Herbam, or Finesse. In a season with multiple duels involving various forms combined with Perdo, and in which the duels lasted a long time due to high resistance totals, the troupe may determine that the Lesson may be applied to Perdo or Parma Magica. The most notable duel involved the use of Ignem, so that is the form the troupe agrees can also be applied to the Lesson.
Applying the Lesson
Once the troupe has agreed upon the nature of the Lesson, the maga may choose to apply it in any future season. It may only be applied once, but there is no time limit on when it may be applied. When a lesson is applied, the maga must apply it while learning an art or arcane ability connected to the nature of the lesson. The normal source rules apply, but the maga cannot apply the lesson while receiving instruction from a teacher. She must have time to experiment while incorporating the lesson. The experimentation also always requires a lab (even if the maga is studying vis).
Roll a stress die on the Certamen Experimentation: Extraordinary Results chart for the results. As with normal arcane experimentation, the maga may add from +1 to +3 worth of risk bonus before the die is rolled. However, this bonus is also the additional number of botch dice that must be rolled.
In all circumstances other than disaster and complete failure, for every 5 experience points (rounded up) you gain using this method you gain 1 Breakthrough Point. This also applies to experience gained in Magic Theory and shifted arts on the discovery or modified study tables.
The Seed Is Planted: A New Goal
Once the maga achieves a Breakthrough Point, you should declare what the Lesson and subsequent Breakthrough have motivated the maga to discover. In certamen research, the end goal is always a new style, but you must define what that style is going to accomplish that the other existing styles do not. Over time, your research may shift how your style develops, but it's good for the troupe to know what you're going for in the long run.
A New Style: The First Breakthrough
When the maga has acquired 30 Breakthrough points, she has developed a new style of certamen. This new style is gained as soon as the final Breakthrough point is acquired. The player and the troupe decide what the nature of the style is based on the maga's earliest stated goals, the duels the maga has participated in, and the types of results that appeared during her experimentation. Like other certamen styles, this can be taught to other Hermetic magi, but there is no "master" level in existence. A maga who uses their new style in at least 5 duels and/or teaches their style to 5 students will earn 15 experience points in the Hermetic Reputation: Magistra/Magister Certamenis (magistra in this sense indicating their role as an academic master).
Developing the Style: Working Toward Mastery
Once the maga has developed a new style, she can only progress in it by repeating the initial process, but she must use her new style in duels "on stage" to devote Lessons toward another Breakthrough. If the maga does this and moves from 30 Breakthrough points to 45, she will have become a master -- the first master -- of her new style. This mastery applies even if the maga has already mastered a school of certamen (or two, in the case of a Harenarius).
At this point, the maga may determine (with the troupe) what mastery entails and if it has changed even the basics of the style. If the style has changed since its inception, any magi who already knew the "old" version can be updated to the new way if they learn mastery -- or if they simply take another season of studying with a "corrected" disciple of the style.
A maga who uses her mastered style in at least 5 duels and/or teaches mastery of their style to 5 students will earn another 15 experience points in the Hermetic Reputation: Magistra/Magister Certamenis.
Defending the Style
Certamen, being binding in "all matters", is a sensitive subject for many magi. Depending on how successful the new style is, it may draw attention from bitter disputants, curious quaesitores, and other sources of criticism. This may provide even more opportunities for the new "Magistra Certamenis" to defend her style both at tribunals and through continued dueling. Peripheral Code rulings dealing with certamen are not common, but the possibility is always there.
Certamen Experimentation: Extraordinary Results
Extraordinary Results Chart
0-4 No extraordinary effects
5-6 Cicatrix Certamenis
7 No benefit
8 Complete failure
9 Special or story event
11 Modified study
12 Roll twice more on this chart
Disaster: You fail miserably. Roll a simple die + risk modifier - Perception, and compare to the following chart:
<=0 You spot the disaster before it occurs. Your season is still wasted; see "Complete Failure."
1-2 Lab accident. Your lab takes one season of damage (reverting to -3 if a standard lab, or complete ruin if a half-established lab)
3-4 Personal injury. You injure yourself, taking damage equal to a simple die + the source quality of your study material (yes, even with Parma Magica).
5-6 Explosion! Your lab is ruined and you must roll a simple die for each valuable possession you keep in your lab. On a 0, it is destroyed. You take an amount of damage equal to a simple die + (2 * the source quality of your study material).
7-8 Your experiment backfires in such a way that the entire covenant is threatened, either through fire, the summoning of a major threat, or some other calamity the storyguide makes up.
9–10 You gain Warping Points equal to the number of zeroes on the botch roll. Roll for Twilight if you gain two or more.
11+ Roll twice more on this chart.
No Extraordinary Effects: Your experiment does produce any exceptional results but still counts toward your certamen Breakthrough.
Cicatrix Certamenis: You develop a dueling "scar" -- not a physical mark, but an ingrained habit in your certamen technique connected to the art or arcane ability you are studying. Some scars are beneficial and reflect that you have mastered a powerful tactic or gained confidence from your experience. Other scars are detrimental and represent either the incorporation of a bad habit or the development of a psychological block connected to your duels.
Roll a simple die and add your risk modifier and compare to the appropriate chart. If you roll a result you already have for the same art, you gain no special insight and no Breakthrough Points. Cicatrices certamenis should be tracked for each type of Breakthrough. They can help shape the direction the new style takes.
1 Transformed Image - Your half of the shared illusion is transformed or exaggerated in an unusual way when this art is used in certamen. The nature of the transformation is determined by the troupe, based on the nature of the lesson.
2 Weak Response - When you use this art for defense, any successful hit on you (whether or not it does damage) reduces your next attack total by 1.
3 Overcompensation - When you use this art for defense, a successful hit on you will reduce your next attack total by 1 and increase your next defense total by 1. If you score a successful hit while using this art to attack, it increases your next attack total by 1 and decreases your next defense total by 1. Both events could potentially occur in sequence, canceling each other out.
4 Strong Response - When you use this art for defense, any successful hit on you (whether or not it does damage) increases your next attack total by 1.
5 Gloriola Desperationis - Your experimentation has caused you to become careless with vis in duels. When you use vis in certamen to boost this art, you run a risk of causing actual damage to yourself. For each pawn you use on a roll, make a stress die + Stamina + Concentration roll against an Ease Factor equal to the number of pawns used x 3. If you make the check, nothing unusual happens. If you fail the check, you take +2 damage for every pawn spent and mometarily gain the so-called "halo of desperation" from energy coursing over you.
6 Powerful Momentum - Immediately following a successful attack with this art, you gain +3 to your defense for the next round.
7 Sloppy Aggression - After you successfully land an attack with this art, you suffer -3 to your defense for the next round.
8 Urna Volubilis - You have developed a precariously-balanced use of this art. The chaotic "rolling jug" grants boons and horrible misfortunes in extreme circumstances. When this art is used for attack or defense and a 1 is rolled, the final die is always assumed to be a 10 regardless of what the re-rolls are. Conversely, any botch roll always has an additional botch die added.
9 Pars Imaginis - You have figured out a way to trick onlookers into believing you have used -- or not used -- vis with this art by masking reality through the shared illusion. You must commit to the ruse before rolling and suffer -1 to your final result for every three pawns of vis (or part thereof) that is being masked or faked in the process. Separately from the attack or defense rolls, you then make a stress die + Presence (if attack)/Perception (if defense) + Guile roll to determine the effectiveness of the trick. Subtract 1 from the total for every pawn of vis being masked or faked. The opponent and onlookers can detect what's happening with a stress die + Perception + Awareness. Tricks of this sort are not against any ruling of the code, though serious sticklers frown at them.
10 Flinch - When you suffer the loss of a fatigue level from a successful attack while defending with this art, you must make a stress die + Stamina + Concentration roll against an Ease Factor of 9. If you fail the roll, you suffer -3 to attack and defense on the following round. If you botch, you immediately cease concentration on certamen and drop your half of the shared illusion.
11 Warping Surge - When you roll a 1 when using this art for attack or defense, before re-rolling you may choose to add +10 to the final result at a cost of 2 points of warping (meaning an immediate check for Wizard's Twilight). The warping takes effect concurrently with the action, meaning the maga could win or lose the duel and immediately enter Twilight.
12 Ars Vicaria - You have accidentally discovered how to surreptitiously substitute other arts for this art during certamen. However, it is by no means foolproof. You must decide to make the substitution (only forms for forms, techniques for techniques) before you roll and must describe to the troupe what art is being is being substituted and how this is disguised in the shared illusion. A stress die + Perception + Awareness vs. an Ease Factor arbitrated by the storyguide determines whether or not the opponent or any onlookers notice what has happened. Though this phenomenon has not been seen frequently enough to receive any tribunal rulings -- and thus is not explicitly covered by any Peripheral Code -- maintaining a stance of victory when caught employing a "proxy art" is broadly condemned by magi.
13 New Side Effect - You learn something else about using this art in certamen. The effect is either of no mechanical benefit or has equal benefits and drawbacks as arbitrated by the troupe.
Finesse + Art
1-2 Confident Start - If you win initiative at the beginning of a duel, you may apply +3 to the total generated by the related art in the first round (only). You may not gain this bonus in circumstances where you decline initiative, but you may take it in circumstances where it is declined to you (e.g. when dueling against a master of Hoplomachus).
3-4 Nervous Start - When this art is one of the two used in a duel, you may not apply Confidence to your initiative roll.
5-6 Rising Tempo - When this art is involved in certamen, you gain +1 to your initiative on every round following the first, up to a total of +3. This has no benefit in circumstances where you win initiative, but it may allow you to eventually reverse the combat order.
7-8 Falling Tempo - When this art is involved in certamen, you lose 1 on your initiative on every round following the first, up to a total of -3. This causes no problems in circumstances where you already lost or declined initiative, but in cases where you win initiative, you may eventually drop behind your opponent.
9 Seize Advantage - When your opponent botches while you are using this art (actively, on the contested roll), you both re-roll initiative. It does not replace your current initiative total, but if you win the roll, your opponent loses his or her next turn.
10 Stumble - When you botch while you are using this art (actively, on the contested roll), you both re-roll initiative. It does not replace your current initiative total, but if you lose the roll, you lose your next turn.
11 Calculated Opening - When rolling for initiative at the beginning of the duel, you may take a penalty equal to your Finesse score and apply it to the associated art on the first round. This bonus applies regardless of whether you win or lose, but cannot be used in situations where either party declines initiative.
12 Nictus Infelix - When using this art in certamen, you must make a stress die + Perception + Concentration roll against the opponent's stress die + Presence + Concentration or lose your first attack (even if postponed).
13 New Side Effect - You learn something else about using Finesse with this art in certamen. The effect is either of no mechanical benefit or has equal benefits and drawbacks as arbitrated by the troupe.
Penetration + Art
1-2 Probing Attunement - While attuning your shared illusion in a duel where this art is used, you can attempt to discern the opponent's score in this art before initiative is rolled. You roll a stress die + Perception + Penetration against their stress die + Presence + Parma Magica to determine success. The opponent will become aware of your attempt, but will not know whether you are successful or not.
3-4 Exposed Offense - While attuning your shared illusion in a duel where this art is used, roll a stress die + Presence + Guile against your opponent's stress die + Perception + Awareness. If you fail, your opponent learns your Intelligence + Penetration total.
5-6 Rising Offense - After you first hit with this art, you accumulate +1 to your Weakening Total on subsequent hits with this art in the same duel, up to a total of +3.
7-8 Falling Offense - After you first hit with this art, you accumulate -1 to your Weakening Total on subsequent hits with this art in the same duel, up to a total of -3.
9 Prensa Parmam - When you attack with this art and exactly match your opponent's defense, you may choose to re-roll your attack. However, you must accept the second result.
10 Pilum Curvum - When you attack with this art and exactly match your opponent's defense, your Weakening Total is halved for the next round.
11 Sundering Blow - If you score a hit with this art, you may decline to in inflict one or more Fatigue Levels in exchange for -4 to the opponent's Resistance Total for the rest of the duel.
12 Impetus Malus - Each time you use this art to successfully hit an opponent in a duel, you must roll a stress die + Stamina + Concentration against an East Factor of 9 or lose your next attack (intentionally going full defense with Hoplomachus does not count).
13 New Side Effect - You learn something else about using Penetration with this art in certamen. The effect is either of no mechanical benefit or has equal benefits and drawbacks as arbitrated by the troupe.
Parma Magica + Art
1-2 Sensitive Attunement - While attuning your shared illusion in a duel where this art is used, you can attempt to discern the opponent's score in this art before initiative is rolled. You roll a stress die + Perception + Parma Magica against their stress die + Presence + Penetration to determine success. The opponent will become aware of your attempt, but will not know whether you are successful or not.
3-4 Exposed Defense - While attuning your shared illusion in a duel where this art is used, roll a stress die + Presence + Guile against your opponent's stress die + Perception + Awareness. If you fail, your opponent learns your Stamina + Parma Magica total.
5-6 Rising Defense - After you first defend with this art, you accumulate +1 to your Resistance Total on subsequent defense rolls with this art in the same duel, up to a total of +3.
7-8 Falling Defense - After you first defend with this art, you accumulate -1 to your Resistance Total on subsequent defense rolls with this art in the same duel, up to a total of -3.
9 Prensa Gladium - When you defend with this art and exactly match your opponent's attack, you may choose to re-roll your defense. However, you must accept the second result.
10 Manus Prava - When you defend with this art and exactly match your opponent's attack, your Resistance Total is halved for the next round.
11 Blunting Deflection - If you defend with this art and are hit but your opponent fails to exceed your Resistance Total with their Weakening Total, your Resistance Total gains +3 for the rest of the duel. This may only occur once per duel.
12 Praesidium Inconstans - Each time you use this art to defend against an opponent in a duel, you must roll a stress die + Stamina + Concentration against an East Factor of 9 or you are unable to use this art for defense on the following round.
13 New Side Effect - You learn something else about using Parma Magica with this art in certamen. The effect is either of no mechanical benefit or has equal benefits and drawbacks as arbitrated by the troupe.
No Benefit: Your experimentation produces no unusual results. However, your Lesson does generate progress toward your Breakthrough.
Complete Failure: You get nothing from your efforts, and your season is wasted. Roll a simple die. On a 0, you lose your Dueling Lesson and cannot re-apply it. Otherwise, you may attempt to apply it again in a subsequent season.
Special or Story Event: Either some effect not covered elsewhere occurs, or, at the storyguide’s option, an event unfolds as a result of your work which involves the entire covenant.
Discovery: Roll a simple die and add your risk modifier.
1–4 You gain 15 experience points in Magic Theory.
5–6 You gain 15 experience points in Finesse, Penetration, or Parma Magica.
7–8 You gain three experience points in one of the Arts that is part of the Lesson.
9 You gain enough experience points to bring one of the Arts that is part of the Lesson to the next level (or three experience points, whichever is greater).
10+ Roll twice, and reroll this result if it is generated again.
Modified Study: Roll a simple die and add your risk modifier.
1–3 You receive half the expected experience points for your study.
4–6 You receive double the expected experience points for your study.
7–8 Half of the experience gained does not go to the original study topic, but to Magic Theory.
9–10 Experience granted by the study is applied to a different form, technique, or arcane ability used in certamen, but always with a like type (forms for forms, techniques for techniques, arcane abilities for arcane abilities). This is not chosen by you, but by the troupe.
11+ Experience granted by the study is applied to an entirely different art or arcane ability used in certamen and not even within the same category. I.e. a form grants experience to a technique, an arcane ability grants experience to a form, etc. This is not chosen by you, but by the troupe.