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A suggestion about vis


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I'm in. I've been a fan of Ars Magica since I purchased a copy at Gen Con in 1988. I'd pledge just to get the source books regardless of the game. I'd pledge on the off chance that a fairly successful computer game might produce a few hundred more fans of the tabletop game and thus increase the chances of producing more books for more years. But now that I've put my money behind the project I'm getting a little bit interested in the computer game as well.


Here's a thought that I've had from looking at posts on RPG.net and other places over the years. In the computer game, seeing as it uses much of the RPG rules and focuses on the covenant, the game will inevitably have to deal with vis. I've seen many posts where folks describe vis as a boring collection of pawns and rooks. But every pawn of vis in the game has to come from someplace. My request is that the game not forget what the form of the vis is. If the characters slay Rucklin the two headed fire drake and take his heart to power their magic then by god don't tell the player that they're using 6 pawns of ignem vis, tell them that they're using the heart of a fire drake. If the magical protections on their covenant are powered by the collected moans of the ghosts of the lost Roman soldiers, shove that fact in the player's face. Don't let it be forgotten and merely thought of as 4 pawns vim vis.


For those fans who come from the computer side of the this project here's an introduction to vis that I wrote for my group several years ago. (upon rereading, it's not as good as I remember it)


One of the reasons that Ars Magica works is that permanent magic is very hard to do. This short lived style of magic is, I believe, a critical part of why the rules match the setting. If a powerful mage can whip out a “conjuring the mystic tower” spell thirty or forty times a day then mythic Europe is going to look a little crowded and the masons are going to be out of a job.


The rule book tells you that vis is raw magic that has taken on a physical form.


Let me tell you about how I see vis.


Vis is the ars magica version of the magic ingredient that the hero quests for in legend and literature. If the hero has to brave the valley of dire danger in order to get to the lake of despair and pick the last flower off of the ivy of woe, the reason he has to do it is because that flower of woe contains a bunch of mentem vis which he can now use to create a mentem magic powerful enough to wake the princess.


The ingredients that the Aesir collected to bind Fenris wolf, the reingeld of the Neibelungen, and the dragon’s blood that Achilles bathed in are the sort of items in folklore that serve the same purpose that vis does in Ars Magica.


In the setting, vis is as a whole not fantastically rare. Depending upon the style of play, magi characters normally see between 2 and 15 pawns of vis a year. In the way that I envision the setting, the order collects somewhere between a third and three quarters of the vis that it is possible to collect every year (they fail to collect the rest out of ignorance not ambivalence).


Inconveniently for the magi however, there are fifteen types of vis, and the rules are fairly stringent about what vis can be used for what purposes.


As a result, our covenant might have plenty of imagonem vis in the form of water drawn from a magical well in which the reflection of the moon is trapped for all time, have plenty of muto vis in the form of butterfly cocoons stolen from the faeire court of dark summer just before they hatched, and have a wealth of animal vis in the form of the teeth of the giant boar that the covenant defeated at great cost to our poor grogs, but unless we can score some rego vis (harvested from the mysterious ancient stone circle that maps the progress of the stars) we’re not going to be able to raise our Aegis of the Hearth and they’ll be hell to pay.


Here is what the rules tell us that you can do with vis


You can cast ritual spells. These include all spells that have durations of longer than a month, all spells that have a target of boundary, and any spell of level 50 or greater. (Creo rituals can create natural things and heal people permanently.)


Vis can be used to boost the casting total of spells (you can use it to increase penetration).


Vis can be use to augment die rolls in certamen.


Vis is required to create magic items.


Vis can be used to study arts.


Vis is required to bind a familiar.


Vis is required to perform a longevity ritual.


Vis (because of all of the above uses) serves as currency within the order.



Any use of vis requires vis that is specific to the technique or form of the effect that is being produced. As a result some vis is more valuable than other vis.


The most valuable form of vis is probably vim vis. Vim is needed to open up any talisman or invested device for enchantment (the most potent two of the four types of magic items). In other words no vim vis means no powerful magic items. Vim vis can also be used to cast aegis of the Hearth which is a constant drain on a covenant’s vis supply. Vim vis can also always be used in both the creation of longevity rituals and the bonding of familiars. Balancing the tremendous value of vim vis is the fact that anyone can make vim vis in a laboratory, but the process of “vis extraction” is not normally more productive than going out and hunting for vis (depending of course upon the whims of the storyguide).


The next most valuable art is probably creo vis. Creo vis can be used to permanently create objects. It can also be used for permanent, instant healing. Creo vis can also always be used for a longevity ritual.


Then in my estimation would come corpus or rego. Corpus vis, because it is the third and final type of vis that can be used in a longevity ritual and corpus vis can also be used for permanent instant healing. Rego vis because it can be used to cast aegis of the hearth.


After that I’d say that the techniques are, in general, more important than the forms.


Naturally this will vary covenant to covenant. For instance, if you have a covenant where there is an intellego magus, an imagonem maga and a perdo magus. Then intellego, imagonem and perdo vis will be at a premium.

I should note that the entire discussion about the meaning of vis and the relative value of the different arts is entirely my opinion, it is not dictated in the rules.
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