The Fandom Perspective

Mythic Perspectives was an Ars Magica fanzine that came out between 1997 and 2001. This was the era of 4th Edition Ars Magica – a welcome return to form for the game after the various missteps of 3rd Edition (mostly involving various kludges added to make it the backstory to the World of Darkness – including the imposition of the Realm of Reason and various unintended consequences arising from it, like libraries counteracting rather than helping the decidedly intellectual, empirical, experimentation-oriented and scholarship-focused magic of the Order of Hermes).

It was also just about the last era when producing a fanzine through conventional printing methods rather than throwing it up online or maybe doing it as a PDF download made even the slightest bit of sense. These days, most of what you’d want a fanzine for is provided much better via online communities – with greater regularity and interactivity at that.

Still, back when I was running my Ars Magica game for my now-dissolved Monday evening group, one of the players gave me a couple of copies of Mythic Perspectives (thanks Andrew!), and I’m favourably impressed. These were issues 8 and 9, two of the three issues released in 1999 – and the last issues to be put out with any regularity. (One more squeaked out in 2000, and another in 2001.)

The tail-off in publication frequency can be attributed to the fact that Mythic Perspectives was put out by Damelon Kimbrough through his Gnawing Ideas imprint – and in early 2000, Atlas recruited Kimbrough to become the line editor for Ars Magica. However, his stint in the job would be short-lived; he would be replaced by David Chart in 2001, and Chart would go on to manage the line up to 2015, thus overseeing not just the tail end of the 4th edition line but the entirety of 5th edition issued to date. According to the fandom grapevine Kimbrough got married and moved to France in 2008, where he pursues other interests these days; good for him.

The 1999 issues, then, represent perhaps Kimbrough’s inadvertent “audition tape” for Atlas Games – produced on the back of winning the 1998 Origins Award for Best Amateur Game Magazine. As you would expect of a product of the Ars Magica fandom, it’s a delicious mixture of folklore, real history, and game system tinkering, and there’s a familiar name or two in the credits – indeed, David Chart contributes some considerations on “Society and the Gift” in issue 8.

Atlas Games have traditionally been a bit weird about putting their Ars Magica catalogue on DriveThruRPG, and I’m not sure why that’s the case – they’ve been happy to put the new editions of Feng Shui and Unknown Armies up there, for instance, and have gone to the extent of putting up Statosphere, a shopfront for fan-made Unknown Armies material along the lines of the DM Guild for D&D. Perhaps the issue is contractural, because as well as putting their full range up on Warehouse 23 – Steve Jackson Games’ awkward PDF outlet – they’ve got the last three issues of of Mythic Perspectives up there as PDFs too. (Presumably their deal with Kimbrough to bring him in as Line Editor gave them rights to these but not the earlier issues – or perhaps they just haven’t been able to produce nice scans of the earlier ones yet.)


A Chivalric Tribunal

The Lion and the Lily is the Ars Magica 5th Edition supplement detailing the Normandy Tribunal, which corresponds to the northern half of modern-day France. This is a place where the mundane authorities are starkly divided between the King of France and the King of England, whose extensive possessions in Anjou and Aquitaine mean that the extent of French rule is much more limited than we are used to thinking of it as being.

To provide scope to allow player characters to interact with this fascinating bit of history, and to account for the fact that the region is one of the most highly populated in Europe at the time so avoiding contact with the local population would be difficult, the Tribunal is presented as being reasonably permissive when it comes to interactions with mundanes, to the point where if these interactions don’t actually result in magi suffering harsh reprisals from mundanes the attitude of the Tribunal is “no harm, no foul”. This makes it an excellent place to consider for your Ars Magica game if you aren’t up for a stiflingly strict interpretation of the Code of Hermes (and let’s face it, who is?).

Other cultural issues further cultivate the unique flavour of the Tribunal. A shortage of vis sources has knock-on effects on the Hermetic economy, including the development of a system of liege and vassal Covenants paralleling secular feudalism as practiced in the realm as well as providing a further reason to go easy on interactions with mundanes (since these will sometimes be necessary to keep the vis flowing). Furthermore, the craze for troubadour’s tales has prompted mages to consider such things as Hermetic tournament and adventurous mages errant – and of course this is Mythic Europe, so King Arthur and his associated legends were real and had extensive ties here.

Offering a brace of Covenants to populate your campaign with whilst leaving space for PC covenants, the supplement also makes sure to avoid keeping things too static, with various issues potentially about to erupt that could change the face of the Tribunal forever. Had I not gone with the Provençal Tribunal for my now-demised Monday evening Ars Magica game, I’d have been very tempted by The Lion and the Lily.

The Reality of Mythic Europe

One of the advantages that historically-themed games like Ars Magica have is that there’s masses more setting information out there for historical settings than could ever be produced for s fantasy world, with a richness and depth that goes beyond that of any invented setting. One of the disadvantages of that is that it can be quite hard to get a really good overview of important subjects compiled with an eye to being gameable.

Thus, it’s quite handy that Atlas have produced a string of Ars Magica supplements which focus on the reality of 13th Century Europe. It isn’t that you couldn’t draw this information together yourself with enough time – but that would be a lot of effort which the designers have saved you, and they’ve described these matters with an eye to integrating them into the Ars Magica system in interesting ways.

City & Guild

This is a supplement covering medieval towns and cities, merchantile activity, guilds of craftspeople, trade, and so on. This is subject matter which both has the potential to be rather dry and tends not to be the sort of thing that we tend to put front and centre when we think of medieval Europe, but I actually think that its slight obscurity is part of what makes this supplement of interesting. It is true, of course, that following the fall of the Western Empire that much of Europe became much more rural and trade became much more sparse, but it is a massive oversimplification to take this assumption too far and including cities, trade, and guilds enriches a historical medieval setting. (Indeed, in my current campaign the city of Toulouse is not too far away from the PCs’ Covenant, and one of the PC Companions is a merchant.)

Though there are some system bits provided in here if you really want a rigorous system for working out how many pots your potter makes in a season (or whatever), a large part of the value of the supplement comes in its discussions of how guilds, cities, and the liked worked during the time period. Whilst this is not a substitute for looking to more rigorous sources if you want to become an expert (and a decent bibliography is provided if you want to read further), I think what Atlas have usefully done here is provide an introductory condensation of information with a specific focus on stuff which makes for good gaming material. There’s an extensive discussion of town charters, for instance, because the authors recognise that there’s an enormous amount of interesting political gaming that can arise from interactions with a town charter – whether it revolves around acquiring one, blocking the acquisition of one, changing its terms or trying to abide by its requirements. On top of that, they show a decent amount of imagination when it comes to working in aspects of Mythic Europe even to this subject, with ideas offered about the sort of charters which might be offered not by the secular or ecclesiastical authorities but by faeries or Hell.

The discussion of the workings of guilds is particularly interesting, not least because it points out a very nice way to allow for women to be extensively involved in them which seems on the face of it to have some historical credibility: namely, that whilst formally many guilds were closed to women, in practice women could be entered onto the membership rolls of a guild under their father’s name. This is a nice example of how “historical accuracy” isn’t really an excuse for locking women out of having powerful, interesting roles in society in historical RPGs: yes, in women faced barriers above and beyond the barriers they still face today, but equally there have always been women who have found their way past those barriers.

In terms of trade, the discussions are also of some interest. It is worth remembering that the default start year of 5th Edition campaigns is 1220, which would be when Venice and other cities had become major powers through the power of trade, so it’s definitely in the high medieval era when a functional economy is coming back into Europe and the power of coin is rising once more. Indeed, if you start a campaign in 1220 then the hottest news of the past few years would be the Fourth Crusade, in which Venice used its economic leverage to persuade massed armies of Crusaders to go and friggin’ overthrow Constantinople for them, establishing a Latin Empire in the East and leaving the region of Byzantium convulsed in conflict between the Latins and the rump states of the Byzantines. Even if your campaign doesn’t take place in that part of the world, it’s a major illustration of how trading powers had become geopolitically significant by that point.  (There’s also a very useful bit at the back giving quick summaries of typical trade goods from a range of different regions, which is handy if you want to come up with a particular trader’s stock in a hurry.)

City & Guild gives such an interesting overview of such an overlooked set of aspects of medieval European life that I would say it is useful not only for Ars Magica but, in addition, it’s also useful for any historical RPG set in the era and of at least some utility for games in any fantasy setting with comparable social institutions.

Arts & Academe

This is a supplement which naturally has an awful lot of overlap with the core fantastic elements of Ars Magica; after all, Hermetic magic is presented as being steeped in the philosophical, scholastic, and academic outlook of the medieval period (to the point where your Artes Liberales skill contributes to some magical rolls!), so even your main mage PCs in an Ars Magica campaign are going to be interested in chatting about Plato or Aristotle with sufficiently well-read scholars, and fine artists or wise scholars are, in turn, excellent concepts for Companions, since they are placed to interact usefully both with significant non-magical institutions and with the Order of Hermes itself.

Arts & Academe, then, offers both an overview of the world of education, scholarship, and the fine arts in the medieval period, as well as a dense but rewarding breakdown of the worldview and theories then in vogue. It’s particularly fascinating as an illustration of how medieval thought at the time of 1220 AD (the default start date for 5E campaigns) is currently undergoing a new flowering, thanks to many works (especially by Aristotle) which had been lost during the Dark Ages being reintroduced to European academic circles. If you want a particularly deep look at the theories of the crystal spheres, the humours, the geocentric version of the world, what medieval thinkers really thought the world looked like (no, they did not think it was flat), and so on, this is a really great supplement. The authors, Matt Ryan & Mark Shirley, also have a keen idea of how some academic practices back in the day came close to magic in their own right – particularly considering how the distinction between astronomy and astrology was rather fast and loose, as was the distinction between chemistry and alchemy.

Back when White Wolf were publishing Ars Magica, in the 3rd Edition they introduced the idea of the Realm of Reason, a fifth Realm which acted to suppress the supernatural in all of its forms, as part of a vague effort to present Ars Magica as a credible backstory for the World of Darkness games. This late addition to the setting was an awkward fit in all sorts of ways, not least because of the way it presented academic libraries of the time as being houses of Reason which would suppress magic in a game setting where the most powerful wizards are presented as being highly academic and very given to poring over their books.

Atlas Games junked Reason for 4th Edition, and it’s never come back; Arts & Academe stands as a good argument as to why it shouldn’t, because the products of reasoned, academic scholarship in the Middle Ages are so fantastical to our modern worldview that they deserve to be integrated into the game alongside Hermetic theory, rather than standing in opposition to it. Thanks to its clear discussions of such matters, I would say that Arts & Academe is a very important supplement for anyone who wants to make the cosmological worldview of Mythic Europe have real depth to it.

Lords of Men

This supplement does, as the title suggest, takes in the nobility of Mythic Europe – in several different models as practiced across the continent at the time – as well as giving additional insight into secular rulership in general. In addition to that, though, it also takes a good look at the life of the average peasants – the Men of Lords, as it were – as well as various subjects of worldly import. There is an interesting chapter on the Hermetic law on interference in mundane affairs, which offers some pointers on just how cozy you can get with your local lord before it becomes a problem, and there’s an extensive section on mass combat that may be useful in my own campaign if the players start to take a detailed interest in the outcome of the Albigensian Crusades. There are also expanded combat rules to give additional options, which again sort of makes sense since the characters most interested in combat aside from Grogs will typically be Companions of a knightly or mercenary background. On the whole, it’s a solid supplement, if a bit of a grab-bag of odds and sods fitting the general “secular authority” theme.

The Church

As the title implies, this is a supplement-length look at the Church. Specifically, it’s what we would think of today as the Roman Catholic church, since that is the main variant of Christianity in most of the Tribunals of Mythic Europe. (To cover the various Orthodox churches and other groups would take a whole other supplement, and be largely irrelevant in many campaigns, but thanks to the Crusades the Roman church has a presence in more or less every Tribunal the Order of Hermes recognises.)

This is a supplement which obviously has a lot of interests in common with Realms of Power: The Divine; it distinguishes itself from that book by focusing much less on systems for representing the supernatural and miraculous and much more on providing an in-depth description of the structure and functioning of the church. The book covers subjects ranging from typical parishes and congregations to the governance and structure of the church to the monastic life, with extensive explanation of each and plentiful story ideas associated with them to boot, as well as specific notes on events which will be still in living memory in 1220 AD and which are, if your campaign follows history, just coming up on the horizon.

Specific chapters are offered for some issues of particular interest. The Knights Templar get a chapter covering their unique niche (nicely, the chapter also offers guidance on how other military orders differ from the Templars, so its ideas can also be used to represent them), and there is an entire chapter on the role of women in the church, which carries the obvious but welcome caveat that individual groups can of course elect to be a bit more ahistorical if they want to make women more equal in the church.

There’s also a very neat chapter on corruption within the church, both providing pointers on how to handle such plotlines and providing examples of three potentially controversial groups who could, believably, conceal some form of Infernal subversion or could simply be a bit eccentric but basically pious and decent sorts. (Interestingly, none of these are the Templars.)

What makes this chapter – and the supplement in general – so interesting is that the authors clearly are very knowledgeable about this stuff, and as per their biographies several of them are clearly sincerely religiously Christian, so unlike many depictions of corruption in the church in RPGs (and in fantasy in general) this clearly comes from a place of love and understanding rather than blanket condemnation. The discussion of how medieval stories and rumours of corruption in the church differed in their tropes from the lurid anticlerical fantasies of the late 18th and early 19th centuries is particularly interesting, because of course the later anticlerical tropes have, as a result of being extensively used in the original wave of Gothic fiction, become perennial starting points for depicting bad priests and rotten churches in fantasy fiction, so hints on how to make stories about the enemy within fit a medieval.worldview better really help when it comes to giving a distinctive flavour to Ars Magica stories on such themes.

Lastly, the book is rounded off with an excellent chapter describing the current state of the Franciscans in 1220 and their future evolution if the campaign does not change history – useful because, of course, in 1220 St. Francis is still alive and his community of friars is a novel and revolutionary new force in Christendom, and therefore may conceivably play a memorable role in an Ars Magica campaign starting at the assumed start date.

Expanding the Boundaries of the Art of Magic

So, in my ploughing through the various Ars Magica supplements on offer I’ve come to what I think of as the “expanded magic” supplement. These are supplements which add onto or provide alternatives to the Hermetic magic system as provided in the core rulebook; this includes hidden secrets possessed by the Order of Hermes, lost magics as yet unknown to the Order, hedge magics belonging to lone practitioners and small groups here and there, and a few types of magic which may pose an actual danger to the Order’s monopoly…

The Mysteries, Revised Edition

Updating the original 4th edition supplement, The Mysteries is built around the idea of mystery cults but isn’t exclusively devoted to them; rather, the titular Mysteries constitute a range of magical techniques that have not entirely been folded into the mainstream of Hermetic magic, but are practiced by individuals and groups within the Order of Hermes, either within the established Mystery Houses, or cross-House Mystery Cults, or as areas of obscure knowledge that are widely experimented with but aren’t part of the “core curriculum” (these latter “curious common magics” get an entire chapter filling you in on them). The book therefore mixes in both accounts of how these specialist magics work and details of groups dabbling in them, and rounds itself off with a chapter of additional Mystery Cults to round things off (along with an appendix on immortal magi).

Implementing all of these ideas in one campaign would, frankly, be incredibly difficult; however, the basic idea of new forms of magic which allow you to accomplish things not allowed for by the Hermetic magics in the core rulebook and which player characters can try to track down is a sound one. (It provided the basis of several other supplements in this vein, after all.) What puts these Mysteries aside from, say, the sort of magic outlined in Ancient MagicHedge Magic, and Rival Magic is that they are varieties of magic which, thanks to their association with Mystery Cults and Houses within the Order, helps get player characters seeking them out to engage with and become entangled in the politics of the Order of Hermes by virtue of needing to track down and gain the trust of individuals within the groups in question to obtain them.

The book is also, of course, a natural companion to Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults, and indeed there’s some bits in here like Hermetic Architecture which you will want to have handy to get the most of some of the Houses outlined in there. I suppose this is why The Mysteries is listed as a core supplement on the Atlas website; between this factor and the way the book covers little miscellanea which aren’t offered in the main rulebook, it provides a really dense set of options for Ars Magica which a whole swathe of other books build on.

Ancient Magic

Ancient Magic offers a range of varieties of magic which have either entirely or are right on the brink of extinction. (The language of Adam, for instance, has at least one speaker still living – unfortunately, it’s Cain, who for this post-White Wolf iteration of the setting isn’t the first vampire but could very easily be reskinned as a vampire if you really wanted.) Thus, there’s an extent to which it’s another selection of little magics which are a bit more simple and narrower than the main magic system, but the method by which PCs obtain them are different; PCs have to go out into the world and explore to track down their last remnants, and then undertake extensive study to reframe them in Hermetic terms. There’s a fairly diverse range of magics on offer, but unlike The Mysteries it may be a little trickier to work these in; whereas it’s reasonably easy to work in a Mystery technique in any campaign where the PCs are regularly interacting with Order of Hermes types, Ancient Magic will often not come up unless the PCs actively have a reason to go looking for it, though then again an Ars Magica party which doesn’t include at least one lorehound eager to hare off after long-lost wisdom would be an unusual one.

Hedge Magic

Naturally especially useful for campaigns where House Ex Miscellanea is a big deal, Hedge Magic covers varieties of magic which are still practiced by small groups here and there outside of the context of the Order of Hermes typically, but which can be folded into the Order’s practices under the right circumstances. (In particular, a practitioner of hedge magic isn’t necessarily Gifted, which means the Order puts less of a priority on putting the “Join Or Die” ultimatum to them than they would for Gifted individuals.)

The types of magic on offer range from types which feel like perfect fits for Ars Magica – folk witchcraft and Viking-style rune magic – to varieties which I don’t think work quite as well. Elementalists, for instance, don’t feel like they really fill any niche than a Hermetic mage working largely with Aquam, Terram, Auram or Ignem wouldn’t fill, and likewise I’m not sure there’s much conceptual space in between the various types of “Learned Magic” and the scholarly Hermetic magic of the Order of Hermes.

Rival Magic

The final member of the quartet presents a clutch of different magical groupings which each, in their own way, could conceivably become an existential threat to the Order of Hermes. Neatly, the designers make sure that none of these varieties of magic are quite as flexible as Hermetic magic, and crucially the Order’s possession of Parma Magica provides, at least in the baseline default setting, a crucial advantage. Of course, this does mean that protecting the Parma Magica is all the more important…

Of all the supplements in question, this is the one which I think merited going last – not because it’s bad, so much as it’s a niche application. Any particular Ars Magica campaign is quite likely to involve wizards going after lost magic or delving into the mysteries of the Order, and anything which helps give a bit of colour to House Ex Miscellanea can only be a good thing, but whilst many referees may find it interesting to pit their players against a potential rival society of magicians, in other campaigns the subject will never come up. Furthermore, most of the varieties of rival magic here are quite regional, so it may be difficult to shoehorn some into particular campaigns. Still, the options are nice to have.

Covenant Sweet Covenant

My Ars Magica campaign is currently in one of its breaks as the GM rotation in my Monday evening group passes around the crew, so it’s time once again to look at what supplements are out there and consider how to use them in the campaign. This time around I’m going to look at some supplements which expand on covenants – the groups of magi Ars Magica campaigns tend to revolve around – and the sort of characters who fill out the numbers there.


This short and sweet supplement provides guidance and suggestions for running characters (or even playing them) who haven’t yet hit adulthood. The general assumption is that these rules would be used for Hermetic apprentices, which admittedly is one of the more likely routes for kids to become significant to a campaign, but you could also use it for mundane childhoods too. I can anticipate dipping into it here and there in the near future, because thanks to an improvised encounter in the most recent block the PCs now have a Gifted child in the covenant who’ll need teaching, but the supplement also provides a nice insight into formal medieval ideas about childhood, as well as offering guidance on how kids can find themselves at the heart of supernatural trouble.

Due to its brevity, there’s not much more to say about it beyond the fact that it neatly expands the scope of Ars Magica and the range of characters it can support, as well as usefully clarifying the process of bringing up an apprentice. Particularly in the context of troupe play, having a framework for playing the occasional session with the players cast as children of the covenant is also helpful.


This one pretty much does what it says on the tin, offering a comprehensive look at all sides of the grog equation. You get some useful setting information describing how grogs tend to be organised, what guard duty is like (including some fun “roll to stay awake” rules), what other responsibilities non-martial grogs take on and so long, you get some pointers both on the use of grogs in magi/companion-focused sessions, ideas on how particularly lucky or favoured grogs can graduate to companion status, and you get a bunch of ideas and support for running grog-focused sessions, or even a grog campaign. Additional sample grog statlines are provided, along with a useful template system which can be used to quickly generate more personalised grogs without taking an undue length of time about it. There’s even pointers on livestock as grogs if you fancy running a session where the players all play dogs or something, which is handy for me since my players have been talking about investing in a pack of hunting hounds.

How useful this supplement will be to you will depend largely on the style of your campaigns. If you aren’t up for running with the “people play a range of different PCs” aspect of troupe play, or if you want your campaign to focus primarily on magi and companions and just want to use grogs as a background element to explain who does the chores whilst the PCs do important stuff, you might not have much use for it. But if you want a game where players regularly play grogs, or where grogs and their management are a significant part of play, this is a goldmine.


To a large extent this supplement is simply an expansion of the existing covenant creation rules in the core book – for instance, there’s a massive list of new Boons and Hooks to use when designing covenants – along with additional details on how covenants are actually arranged and governed (including a fully written up example of a covenant’s charter). You also get details on customising and adding more details to magi’s laboratories and the covenant library, which are likely to be the most important locations in the covenant itself, plus a really useful list of ideas for different forms in which all the different flavours of vis might take (vis being physically manifest lumps of magic that can be used for various purposes).

Covenants makes a useful counterpart to Grogs as well, since the discussion provided here on covenfolk and the various offices and jobs they might have helps to flesh out the life of grogs whilst avoiding needless redundancy. There’s also a chapter discussing covenant wealth – where it comes from, where it goes, and suggestions for different ways to manage it ranging from getting in-depth and detailed to simply winging it. The latter is my inclination for my current campaign; whilst careful bean-counting might be appropriate for a campaign in which the players have decided to play members of a poor covenant which must carefully ration out its resources, but instead my players chose to play a wealthy covenant, so it’s fair enough to assume that they an afford to buy whatever mundane purchases they want provided within reason – and of course, extramundane resources are likely to be purchased from other magi, who will tend to be more interested in receiving payment in magical resources than in funds anyhow.

As far as my own purposes go, Covenants may be more useful as a resource for filling out the features of other covenants and thinking about their governance, since my players have already created their covenant and decided what features it has. For this purpose it’s great, and since we found the selection of Boons and Hooks in the core rulebook a little sparse I’d probably want to use it in creating covenants in any subsequent campaign.

Learning More About the Order of Hermes

It’s time I set my sights on planning the next Ars Magica slot for my Monday evening group, so it’s time to look at another brace of supplements. This time around I am going to look at the Houses of Hermes series, a three-book collection of supplements providing expanded information on the inner workings of the titular Houses. This radically expands the detail provided on the Order of Hermes, but given the extremely sparse notes on the Houses provided in the 5th edition core book this is no bad thing – particularly as in my campaign the player characters have to prepare to host the Provence Tribunal meeting in 1221.

Houses of Hermes: True Lineages

That said, the first of the series doesn’t just provide information of interest to members of the True Lineages (Houses which you can only be a member of if you served as apprentice to a member). It additionally provides further information of more general import associated with each of the profiled Houses. As well as cleverly providing motivation to buy the book, even if none of the player characters in your chronicle is in deep in the politics of any of these Houses, these additional sections neatly illustrate how each House expresses an essential part of the Order as a whole.

Here, under Bonisagus we get guidelines on making breakthroughs in the Hermetic theory of magic, under Guernicus we get a more thorough consideration of the Code of Hermes than the core book offered as well as some guidance on investigative magics, under Mercere we get some inside information on the magic of the Cult of Mercury from which the Order of Hermes evolved, and under Tremere we get some decidedly spooky material as suited for the Transylvanian tribe who might or might not have a vampiric destiny, depending on whether you want to roll with the World of Darkness as a future history of Ars Magica.

As well as providing inside details on the workings of the Houses, we also get some insight into their foundation and the legendary establishment of the Order, with Atlas not neglecting to work in interesting adventure seeds here and there. The upshot is a book which will sooner or later become useful in just about any Ars Magica campaign – unless you dump the Order of Hermes concept altogether, though at that point you’re playing something so divergent that you’re not necessarily going to get much out of any Ars Magica supplements and you probably ignore half the core rulebook besides.

Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults

This book is an interesting one, because as well as being part of the Houses of Hermes series it is also closely tied in with The Mysteries, a supplement covering those Mystery Cults of Mythic Europe that aren’t lucky enough to be full-blown Hermetic Houses. Indeed, the system for Mystery initiations given here is reprinted from that book, so whilst you don’t need The Mysteries to use this, you may find that if you use this book a lot The Mysteries may be useful to you anyway.

As a result of these Houses being constructed to exclusively control particular secrets, the information in this book isn’t as broadly applicable as, say, the notes on Hermetic law in True Lineages; if you want to interact with the material here you either need to be a member of the applicable Mystery Cult or be willing to straight-up steal their secrets.

As far as the individual cults go, there’s clearly been an effort made to distinguish them in terms of their outlook and their internal politics. For instance, House Merenita has some interesting factionalism built into it, whereas Verdititus is more cohesive and unified but has a number of more recent controversies provided.

Unlike True Lineages, this book isn’t likely to see much use unless and until a significant PC or NPC from the Mystery Cults features in your campaign. Then again, in my experience there’s always at least one player who is drawn to this Mystery stuff like a moth to a flame, so in practice this is another very useful supplement, particularly since without it the referee would need to invent initiations and inner secrets for the Cults wholesale. (And even if you want to do that, the systems and ideas presented here can help a lot with that.)

Houses of Hermes: Societates

The last volume of the series revolves around those Houses whose members come together not out of a lineage of master to apprentice dating back to the Founders, or from common membership in the same Mystery Cult, but from some more nebulous common interest – whether it’s Flambeau’s specialisation in combat magic and chivalry in the name of the order, Jerbiton’s interest in finding a way to live harmoniously alongside mundane society, Tytalus’ emphasis on strength through conflict, or Ex Miscellanea’s special status as the House for Order of Hermes members who don’t strictly belong to any Hermetic magical tradition.

Since like True Lineages this supplement doesn’t have to detail specific Mystery Cult-style initiation processes for the Houses in question, it is able to follow that supplement’s lead in providing information of more general interest beyond just the bounds of the Houses in question. Combat magic naturally gets a spotlight in the Flambeau section; techniques for living in cities without getting your magic utterly squashed by the local Dominion aura are covered in the Jerbiton chapter. Tytalus get to present rules on debating, whilst Ex Miscellanea’s chapter not only offers a handsome range of non-Hermetic traditions for characters to belong to, but also offers guidance on non-Hermetic Supernatural Abilities. Finally, an appendix offers support for Agencies – extended networks of mundane stooges and fronts through which magi can act without overtly meddling in mundane affairs.

Building On a Solid Foundation

At the end of the day, I would say that the Houses of Hermes books are even better than the Realms of Magic series as an expansion to Ars Magica. Unless you’re deliberately running a core book-only game, or a variant campaign where the Order of Hermes doesn’t exist, it’s stacked with ways to make the Houses both interesting cultures for your players to be members of and useful sources for the generation of NPCs – especially when your players decide, as they almost inevitably will, to stick their noses into other Houses’ business. And the extra rules of additional cross-House usefulness are handy to pull out if moments come up when they are especially relevant, even if you aren’t likely to consult them on a regular basis.

Referee’s Bookshelf: Realms of Power Series for 5th Edition Ars Magica

So, as mentioned I’ve been running some Ars Magica for the Monday evening group, and after the first block of sessions I’m now looking at preparation for the next set. My plan is to introduce new concepts to the game bit by bit, giving myself a chance to fully look over supplements and decide exactly what parts of them to incorporate into the game as I go. The first set of supplements I’m going to look at are the Realms of Power books.

Part of the Hermetic theory of magic followed by Ars Magica PCs is that supernatural events can all be traced back to one of four sources, known as the Realms of Power – the Divine, the Infernal, Magic and Faerie. (The less said about 3rd Edition’s Realm of Reason the better.) Whilst past editions have had supplements dedicated to some of these realms – Faerie was detailed in Faeries for 2nd edition and Faeries Revised for 3rd and 4th, and the Divine was looked at in Pax Dei for 3rd – neither the Infernal nor Magic have had a supplement devoted exclusively to covering those Realms before 5th Edition. Indeed, the 5th Edition Realms of Power series is a noteworthy example of the more systematic approach Atlas has taken with supplements for 5th Edition. This makes sense because although not all the Realms are created equal – the Divine, in particular, enjoys a certain pre-eminence for obvious reasons – all four are of comparable significance when it comes to being sources of supernatural phenomena – and, thus, they’re all equally useful for generating adventure hooks for Ars Magica.

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