My Life as a Grog(nard)

So I’ve not been posting much here on My Life as a Grog for a number of reasons.

I have a deep love of ArM5 and I’m proud of the material I’ve contributed to the game over the years (both in the official line but also through this blog, the early days of Marko’s Light of Andorra PBP online Saga, and the fanzines Hermes Portal and the two incarnations of Sub Rosa). However, going back and rejigging the pages of this site with all I’ve learnt about blogging and recycling the material isn’t a high priority for me sorry.

As much as I want this site to be a “Point of Light” between Ars Magica editions as suggested recently by Timothy on the forums, I’m really not going to be feeding the flame as actively as once I was able to and my interests aren’t really “vanilla” ArM5 in any case.

So I’ve gone back to my roots a bit more, shifted to a different main nom de plume (“The Ranting Savant”) and looked back on “Old School Roleplaying” and some of my juvenilia – mainly Planescape material when Jon Winter’s I am the Mimir was more than a husk floating in the digital Astral Sea…

My current active blogs are:

I’m still contactable via the Atlas Forums as Jarkman or by my various RPG related private email addresses for specific questions about aspects of my work, but I’ve enjoying the nostalgia trip and working in a more “rules-lite” design space for now.

Who knows I may be back from Twilight at some stage but for now…

Vale sodales!





ArM5 Whimsy: Rochetto the Black Hrool

Rochetto is based on Rocket Raccoon but reinterpreted for Mythic Europe as an exiled warrior Hrool from The Broken Covenant of Calebais, designed as a grog level character with exceptional thrown weapons skills by using the clesrada mechanics from The Contested Isle. 

raccoon thief
The Raccoon Thief (from Dark Sword Miniatures)

Rochetto the Black Hrool

Magic Might: 5 (Animal)
Season: Summer
Characteristics: Int +2, Per +1, Pre -1, Com -3, Str -1, Sta +3, Dex +2, Qik +3
Confidence: 2 (5)
Size: -3
Virtues and Flaws: Magic Human*; Improved Characteristics, Natural / Pack Leader, Perfect Balance; Feral Upbringing, Magical Friend, Oversensitive (appearance).
* Includes the Monstrous Appearance (humanoid animal) Major Magical Inferiority
Magical Qualities and Inferiorities: Fatigue Mastery; Improved Confidence, Improved Defense x3 (dodge), Improved Powers, Minor Virtue (cles – see below) x3, Minor Virtue (Tough), Personal Power (Supernatural Agility); Major Flaw (Age Quickly), Miniature; Minor Flaw (Small Frame), Susceptible to Deprivation.
Personality Traits: Hrool +3*
     Sling*: Init: 0, Attack +8, Defense na, Damage +4

     Dodge*: Init: +3, Attack na, Defense +12, Damage na
Soak: +9 (Sta, Tough, leather)
Fatigue Levels: OK, 0, -1, -3, -5, Unconscious
Wound Penalties: -1 (1-2), -3 (3-4), -5 (5-6), Incapacitated (7-8)
Abilities: Athletics 5 (climb), Awareness 2 (ambushes), Brawl 2 (dodge), Hrool 2 (orders), Leadership 4 (combat), Occitan 5 (insults), Ride 1 (combat), Stealth 2 (hide), Swim 1 (diving), Thrown Weapon 5 (sling)
Clesrada: Apple Feat, Rope Feat, Thunder Feat
(see The Contested Isle, pages 102-104 for full details of these semi-magical feats)
      Supernatural Agility, 2 points, Init -3, Animal; this power allows the character to perform minor supernatural feats when using Athletics. These might include swiftly scaling walls, leaping from the ground onto the back of a galloping horse, and dropping great distances to the ground without harm. Costs 25 spell levels (Base 10, +2 Sun, +1 constant), 4 mastery points to reduce Initiative, 1 mastery point to reduce Might cost.

Equipment: sling, specially sharpened stones, buckler, leather harness (armour)
Vis: 1 pawn of Animal vis in teeth
Appearance: a black and white furred humanoid weasel wearing a leather harness with several pouches and a crude bandolier. 

This is where the backstory would go if I’d written it – presumably there needs to be some explanation as to why he is encountered outside of Calebais and acquired his clesrada feats but I haven’t worked one out yet so suggestions welcome…

For those of you that don’t have the Contested Isle, the Apple and Thunder clesrada feats allow Rochetto to juggle up to nine stones in one hand, throw up to three stones a round unerringly but not infallibly at an opponents head knocking them prone if it hits.  The Rope feat synergises with his constant Supernatural Agility power allowing improved acrobatics to explain his ability to move as his MCU counterpart does in the films.

Author’s Note: by explanation, he has been designed as a Magic Human rather than a Magic Animal as although his Hrool form includes numerous animal features and the core character concept is an anthropomorphic weasel (or raccoon), in ArM5 Magic Animals are animal in form, not humanoid. As a bestial variant of a Magic Human aligned to Animal rather than Corpus, Rochetto has functioning hands and can speak, unlike Magic Animals that suffer the Mute and No Hands Flaws. The obligatory Monstrous Appearance Inferiority of Magic Humans reflects his bizarre appearance – a talking humanoid animal, and one overly sensitive about his freakish nature.  

I also have some notes on a conversion of Groot as a Herbam False Elemental somewhere to expand on…


A Grog’s Life for Me?

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything due to personal reasons and in a practical sense, since the official end of the ArM5 line with Dies Irae, my appetite for contributions has fallen off over the last 2 years in any case.

I’ve been wondering what to do with this blog and whether the current format is as relevant or user friendly to new or existing Ars Magica players as it could be so I’ll be posting over on the Atlas Games Forums for ideas and feedback…


Books as Magic Things

Magic Book Sketch
The Magic Book: Talisman, Magic Thing, Faerie or Familiar?


Despite the importance of books within ArM5 Sagas, the books featured to date with few exceptions consist of either Summae or Tractati on the various Abilities or Arts. There are the expanded book rules in ArM5 Covenants, “Chapter 7: Library” and scattered across various supplements, but few eponymous books as individual tomes or objects stand out in the current canon as having magical power per se other than the knowledge they contain or help access such as the books that lead to the Mysteries of the Ars Notoria (RoP:DRE, pages 97-100).  There are rules for casting from text in the core rules, Timothy’s rules for “casting tablets” (ArM5 Covenants, page 89-90) and the books of Numerologists, but unless I’ve missed a bespoke talisman somewhere in the later canon there is no definite instance of a book being the actual source of magical power or the generator of a specific magical effect.

So let’s examine that for a bit…

Books As Talismans…

A large weighty tome inscribed with symbols, whether floating in front of a magus, positioned on a lectern or held in one or both hands makes for an archetypical wizard scene and a book as talisman or greater invested device may have some initial appeal. However, it’s sadly not a particularly practical choice –  wandering around Mythic Europe with an open spellbook basically screams “sorceror” and a book crackling with mystic energy floating ahead or to the side of the individual highlights the character as a wizard even more so…

Unfortunately, a standard leather bound book of vellum with wooden boards and leather stitching makes a somewhat lacklustre object to enchant as an invested device – if one counts the vellum and leather with a base size similar to a shield, the Material & Size product is only a mediocre 8 (2 base points, x4 medium size) unless one includes the simple metal clasps, bosses and corners which increases the potential to a more reasonable 20 (5 base points, x4 medium size). This limit on maximum instilled effects able to be included may be circumvented by incorporating more expensive materials such as precious metals and gemstones (see ArM5 Covenants, page 87 for a list of the various components of medieval books), but this also makes the book more conspicuous and likely to arouse suspicion from mundane scholars and thieves. Similarly, the size is unlikely to increase without making the whole thing unwieldy as a larger book is generally prohibitive cumbersome unless immobile on a lectern or levitating using simple ReAn(He) magics, which as noted previously scream “magic” to the casual observer.

Interestingly, there are no listed Shape & Material bonuses for books, papyrus, paper or vellum listed in official sources according to Erik Tyrrel’s PDF of Shape & Material bonuses, but there are bonuses for animal hide, bookshelves, Ink of Hermes, and wood. However the following bonuses are given in relation to the Numerologist’s Book in the “Arithmetic Magic” section of ArM5 Mysteries: Revised Edition, pages 91-91:

  • Book: +2 Intellego, +3 Divination, +4 Numerology
Supernatural books Part 2.JPG
Sketched Design Notes for Magic Books

To be continued…

Languages of East Africa

Design Note: this is the second post in a series about the East African area of the Erythrean Sea and draws on material from the supplement Lands of the Nile (pages 10-11) and the Appendix A “Languages and Name” section of the Cradle and the Crescent. 

The following languages are spoken on or around the Red Sea and the Erythrean Sea. Most characters should take the appropriate dialect as a specialty but educated or well-travelled speakers will have tried hard to rid themselves of their dialect and may have standard specialties (see ArM5, page 66).

     Arabic (Masri, Khaliji, Maslawi, Shirvani, Somalian)
     Bantu (Kiswahili, many other mainland dialects)
     Faerie Speech*
     Somali (Northern, Mogadishan)

Languages of the Red Sea

The most common Arabic dialects spoken in the northern areas and by most traveling merchants and sailors is either the Egyptian Masri  or Arabian Khaliji dialect (the latter usually spoken with unique Yemeni and Omani idioms and inflections). Merchants and seafarers from further afield will use either the Levantine dialect or if originally hailing from Basra or nearby ports, the Persian Maslawi dialect. Due to the short distance across the Arabian gulf, the variant Somalian Arabic is spoken by many southern Arabian natives and differs enough from the form spoken elsewhere in Arabia to be classed as a separate dialect.

Somali_Stone script
Wadaad script

 Somali is the common language of the Bilad al-Berbera, the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf comprising the Horn of Africa. It is very distantly related to both Coptic and Arabic and currently uses the so-called Wadaad version of the Arabic script, although older inscriptions using can be found using a unique native alphabet. Soqotri was once a closely related tongue but has become distinct enough recently to be unintelligible to outsiders. It is rarely heard outside of the isolated island as its merchants and spies use Arabic or rarely Somali when moving through the wider world.

Languages of the Erythrean Sea

Bantu is the anachronistic umbrella term used here to describe a variety of related languages spoken by mundane inhabitants of the hinterland region of the Bilad al-Zanj often enslaved by the coastal towns. The most commonly heard dialect is Kiswahili (or Swahili), spoken in the Arabicized island trade settlements of the coast and island states. It contains many Arabic and Persian loan words and fast becoming the Erythraean Sea’s equivalent of the Mediterranean’s lingua franca. Unlike the other Bantu dialects, Kiswahili is written using the Arabic script.

Shirvani Arabic is an unusual dialect only spoken on the islands of the southern seas, particularly by inhabitants of Qumr. It includes some Bantu derived phrases but mainly borrows Persian words as it was brought to the area by exiles from Shirvan in northern Persia.

Malagasy is an unusual magical language spoken only by the cannibals of Waq al-Waq to the far south and sometimes the rarely encountered Faerie blooded merchants claiming to be from far off ports of the Bahr al-Harkand on the route to Serica. The exact relationship between the two groups is unclear but their language is completely unrelated to the other languages of the region. The exotic merchants sometimes use an unusual Arabic based script they refer to as Sorabe.

What Language do the Faeries Use?

The area of the Erythrean Sea is beset by Faeries claiming to be exotic but mundane merchants or sailors from distant lands such as al-Hind, the hinterland of al-Zanj and the far distant ports of Serica. Instead of speaking mundane dialects, these creatures use a magical ability to interact and carry out their roles in stories. Close observers will note that although these Faeries may appear to speak their own language, the words have no meaningful structure or grammar, merely serving to enhance the creature’s exoticism.

Faerie Speech is not actually a separate language but a Faerie Pretense (see Realms of Power: Faerie, page 50). Characters that possess this Minor Virtue are able to converse with humans as if they know the language being spoken, allowing them to appear to always know how to talk to anyone they encounter.

Dead Languages


Ge’ez is the Semitic forebear of Amharic using it’s own unique alphabet. It is the ancient language of Axum and still used in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s liturgy. Sabaean is the magical language of the ancient Kingdom of Sheba and can still be seen inscribed in either the Masnad or Zabur scripts on ruins and scrolls respectively found in contemporary Yemen.

Languages Penalty

Same language, different dialect -1
Arabic (Somalian) vs Somali -2
Somali vs Soqotri -3

The other pairs of languages are so distinct from each other that comprehension is likely to be based on signing and good guesswork, or magic such as the use of the Gift of Tongues Virtue or the Faerie Speech Pretense (see above).

Once Upon the Erythraean Sea

Design Note: the area known in the 13th century as the Erythraean Sea reflects the modern day Arabian Sea or western edge of the Indian Ocean, correlating with the Arabic Bahr al-Hind. This area links the “Mythic Arabia” chapter of the Cradle and the Crescent, the “Ethiopia” chapter from Lands of the Nile and “Sorcerors of Soqotra” chapter from Rival Magic. This article is one of several gazetteer style posts intended on ultimately linking these sources together.

A typical dhow

The dhow (Arabic or Swahili: daw) is the predominant style of ship on the southern waters constructed from teak from far off mythical al-Hind. Unlike the ships of the north detailed in City & Guild, page 84-85, these ships are literally sewn together with coir, a tough woven cord formed from palm or coconut fibres soaked in seawater.

In the thirteenth century, these ships have double-ended hulls that come to a point at the bow and stern – the much later square stern is an innovation influenced by European ship designs.

The generic word for ship in Arabic is markab or safiinah. Although named variously badanbuumjalba, and zaaruq depending on the region they are found, all ships share the common hull features of carvel design (planks laid end to end) providing them with flexibility to manage the surf or shallow coastal shoals and rocks of the Red Sea or Arabian Sea at the expense of their overall structural integrity.

Each ship is so-called lateen rigged, using a near triangular trapezoidal sail (or corectly a settee sail) with an additional luff as opposed to the true triangular sail seen in the Mediterranean. This hybrid design still allows the ship to tack before the wind, unlike the square rigged ships of Europe, but the extra area provided by the leading edge or luff helps catch a greater amount of wind than the regular triangular shape use in the north. Most used for coastal trading have two masts with basic rigging, the larger sail on mizzen and a smaller sail aft, although smaller craft only have a single mast.

Unfortunately, very few of these sewn ships have closed holds or decks, requiring passengers to brave the elements and settle themselves amongst the cargo and any sported animals as best they can. This and their pliant hull design makes them ill-suited to rough weather – the standard practice for regular sailors of these vessels when confronted with a storm at sea is to pull down the mast, jettison the sail and pray for deliverance. Unsurprisingly, the nakhodas or “dhow-masters” often name their ships with fatalistic names that effectively translate as: “By Allah’s Deliverance”, “In Praise of Mohammed” and “As Allah Wills”.

The Magic of Sewn Ships

Unlike northern ships which use bronze or iron nails in their construction, the woven coir binding method and teak or coconut wood construction means that dhows are composed entirely of material derived from plants. This makes them virtually immune to Hermetic Terram spells, but exquisitely sensitive to Herbam based magics.

Historically most dhows were built in India, the eastern source of the teak and coconut used in their construction. Although well known in the thirteenth century to Muslim merchants, in Mythic Europe canonically there is no such land as India, only the rumoured Faerie land of al-Hind. This suggests that the ships of the southern seas may be all built with the aid or permission of exotic  Faeries or may even be Faerie Objects obtained through bargains…

Even if otherwise mundane such ships are rumoured to be crafted using planks sourced from Faerie teak trees in their construction, which if the correct incantations are muttered whilst building them may provides the resultant ship with a small amount of resistance to magics intent on warping or twisting it out of shape, providing a defensive bonus to Herbam style magics equal to the boatbuilder’s Craft: Shipwright score.

Teak wood has the following Shape & Material bonuses:

  • +3 resist rot or disease
  • +2 Rego

Additional Resources

If Wormwood came to Gimlé…

The Fall of Wormwood through the sky…

Dies Irae: A Book of Wrathful Days is sadly the last book of the ArM5 line and while I bought it a while ago, I’d been reluctant to open and read it out of mixed sense of grief and nostalgia at the official end of the line that I contributed to.

It’s an amazing work. Kudos to Ben, the two Marks (Lawford and Shirley) and Matt.

Two of the scenarios (“Fimbulwinter” and “Twilight of the Gods”) link together thematically and potentially sequentially, with the option of integrating a third as an extension or follow-up of the main arc.  Any Saga would need to last decades to play through the combined plots presented, but each scenario provides details of the effects on the Order following the apocalypse.

There’s been a lot of talk about alternate settings for Ars Magica now the line has finished – a whole issue of Sub Rosa, Issue #16, was dedicated to these concepts and similarly, many of the Diedne articles from Issue #13 touched on this. The majority of concepts, except Mark Shirley’s “After the Plague”, deal with earlier versions of Mythic Europe, drawing on the history of the Order and it’s origins.

But I’ve been wondering about an alternate setting for Ars Magica set significantly *after* the Apocalypse or even the combination of two of the scenarios involving Ragnarok and the fall of Wormwood with some elements of Mark’s 1470 AD article.

A Saga set in an Age of Bitterness











I am (the) Mimir…

Mimir's Head
The Head of Mimir

“Odin took the head of Mímir, embalmed it with herbs so that it would not rot, and spoke charms over it, which gave it the power to speak to him and reveal to him secrets…”

Sounds like a particularly gruesome fate eh?

Except of course in ArM5 terms Mimir is technically a Jotun (an elder Daimon, effectively the Norse equivalent of a Titan) and Odin is the leader of the Faerie Gods of the Norse that claimed victory over the Giants in their cultural equivalent of the first Titanomachy.

Odin didn’t behead Mimir, that was due to an altercation between during the Æsir-Vanir War, but regardless of the precipitant one wonders whether this passage suggests Odin has effectively made a pact with the elder Daimon, drawing on his knowledge and advice by carrying around his head to consult when needed. After all an elder Jotun of wisdom and rune magic might have something useful to add on occasion…

Perhaps the embalming process and muttered charms Odin employs is meant as a mystical metaphor for an imprisonment similar to the other Jotun? Or Odin formed some sort of pact with Mimir – unlikely a formal Muspelli / Jotun patron relationship but perhaps something more akin to a Spirit Votary, allowing Odin as a Faerie to draw upon Mimir’s Magic Might and powers?

Variant Muspelli: Mimir as a Jotun Patron

Mark Shirley has suggested Mimir as a potential “benign” Muspelli patron in a 2015 forum thread quoted below, an idea he rejected originally for the Muspelli section of Rival Magic apparently, but the concept crops up again in the aftermath section of his Dies Irae section as a potential sponsor for vitkir and other rune magicians.

If I were to pick another benign patron I would go for Mimir.

He is Urdur’s brother and the Jotun who taught the runes to Odin. He is a patron of wisdom and magic. His gandur would be a severed head (or the carving of one), representing his fate after the Aesir-Vanir war.

There are some (obscure) sources which make him the father of the dwarfs, so the initiatory Major Flaw could be Dwarf. This would make the Etin-Mod all the more surprising! The dwarfs are the seven primal smiths of the Norse creation epic, and Mimir would be all about creative forces as well as wisdom.

Mimir‘s reasons for pursuing Ragnarok could be the same as his sister’s — it is fated. However, Mimir is concerning himself with the creation of a refuge (Hoddmimis holt) that will outlast the Twilight of the Gods, and he is responsible for building a new world once the destruction has taken place. His Muspelli would be interested in choosing who is worthy to survive.

So then Favored powers for a Muspelli of Mimir would perhaps then include Spadomur, Threads of Fate and Premonitions Virtues similar to his sister Urdur, but with say Sjonhverfing replacing Entrancement.

The proposed gandur form makes sense, although the Etin-mod of a muspelli serving Mimir may be less monstrous in appearance than most, although certainly remain Giant sized and powerful enough to inspire awe in a mundane human..

Dies Irae suggests that post the Second Titanomachy / Ragnarok, either “benign” Jotun sibling could also be appropriate as a patron for a vitkir so a Muspelli of Mimir may wish to forgo the two Major Supernatural Abilities usually granted from its patron’s allies in return for being able to use Rune Magic.

Alternatively, for a more high powered hedge magic Saga, a Muspelli could initiate into Rune Magic following their Muspelli initiation or an ambitious vitkir pledge himself fully to Mimir as a Jotun patron as a further intitiation or an advanced Mystery Script resembling Odin’s sacrifice…

Of Morte and other Floating Skulls…

Morte: a Former Skull of Abaddon?

The floating skull as a motif for a talisman, familiar, opponent or companion has become a common enough trope in fantasy – think of the likes of the bawdy Morte in Planescape: Torment, the Skulls of Skullport in the Forgotten Realms setting, the Servo-Skulls of Warhammer 40K and even the now terribly pixellated flaming Lost Souls of the original Doom videogame to name a few examples. None may seem particularly suitable for the Order of Hermes, but as far back as ArM2 Covenants, the necromancer Abaddon ex Tytalus was assisted by a mob of skulls that acted as his eyes, ears and mouthpieces throughout the ruined covenant of Val-Negra and a floating version seems feasible…

Size, Shape & Material Considerations

According to ArM5 p97, a skull is a Medium sized object for an enchantment, providing a x3 multiplier and the natural bone has 3 base points, whereas base metals such as iron, copper and lead have 5 base points. Other “base metals” may include brass, bronze, electrum, pewter or even steel alloys – after all “brazen heads” are common enough in Medieval literature and stories.  This effectively multiplies out to 9 or 15 and therefore sets the requirement for 9 or 15 pawns of Vim vis to open the object to Hermetic Investment and limits the effects able to be placed in the device to 90 and 150 levels respectively. Similar formulae are used for various non-Hermetic enchanting methods.

For a more powerful device, either crafting the skull completely of silver (6 base points) or gold (10 base points) can be used to provide higher capacity for spell like effects eg. 180 or 300 levels at the significantly costly increased Vim vis investment likely to be beyond even the most capable Verditius magus with significant Craft and Magic Theory scores. Wood with 2 base points, provides little capacity at 6 but the different types of wood may have significant material bonuses suitable for various effects.

Skulls. What are they Good for Anyway?

According to the near complete combined Shape & Material bonuses PDF on the Atlas website lovingly maintained by Erik Tyrrell, a human skull has the following Shape bonuses:

  • destroy human body +4
  • destroy human mind +5
  • destroy or control ghosts +5
  • destroy or control ghost of particular skull +10

For a natural skull, human bone gives a +3 bonus to destroy human mind and a +4 bonus to destroy human body, but the same table arranged by bonus is useful for determining the potential benefits of the use of different base materials or additional fixtures (jewelled eyes, gold plating, copper springs, sigil inked parchment etc) for mechanic or thematic purposes. So in keeping consistent with the basic theme from the Shape bonuses above, lead as a base material provides the following potential Material bonuses:

  • hatred +3
  • summon or bind ghosts / spirits +3
  • wards +4

For most formulae, Magic Theory or a similar secondary Ability limits the total bonus possible, although various Verditius and other Mystery Virtues can increase or modify this limit.

So although useful for necromancy, in this context the default or common shape and material bonuses provide little benefit for the “floating talking skull” concept without the incorporation of more bespoke components…

Instilled Effect: Flight 

The first thematic effect is that of flight or floating movement. It’s arguable which of the two Rego Corpus base guidelines from ArM5 page 134 applies if the skull is created as a Magic Thing or can otherwise trigger the effect on itself such as in the case of a Talisman.

  • Level 4: Move a target slowly in any direction you please.
    Move a target slowly straight up, or in one direction over surfaces that
    cannot support it.
  • Level 5: Hold a target’s body motionless.
    Move a target slowly in any direction you please, even if the target is unsupported.

The following effects may be applicable:

The Floating Skull; 0 points, Init (Qik -2), Corpus; R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
The skull can float in the air and move slowly in any direction simply by concentrating. If distracted the skull still remains floating but while floating, it cannot support more than 50 pounds additional weight. ReCo 15 (base 4, +2 Sun, +1 constant, +0 size): Personal Power (15 levels, -2 Might cost)

Technically this effect would also suit floating heads, and animal versions of these above powers for non-human skulls are simple enough using the same base effect although technically need to be designed specifically. According to the Rego Terram guidelines in ArM5, page 155, technically moving a skull of stone is similarly a base level 4 effect, whereas a metal or gemstone skull is a base level 5 effect, resulting in potentially minor changes to the final instilled effect for the latter materials.

The Flying Head; 0 points, Init (Qik -2), Corpus; R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
The metal skull or brazen head can float in the air and move slowly in any direction simply by concentrating. If distracted the skull still remains floating but while floating, it cannot support more than 50 pounds additional weight. ReCo 15 (base 5, +2 Sun): Personal Power (15 levels, -2 Might cost).

A floating skull capable of supporting the weight of a human sized creature however would required a variant or similar effect to “The Woolen Cloud” power of Amiculum, the Awakened Magic Cloak from RoP:M, page 130-132:

The Floating Servant; 0 points, (Qik -6), Corpus; R: Per, D: Conc, T: Ind
For the duration, the skull can float upon the air and move slowly in any direction. While floating, it can support the weight of up to two human beings provided they are able to harness or attach themselves to the skull.
ReAn(Co) 15 (base 5, +1 Conc, +1 size): Lesser Power (15 levels, –2 Might cost)

Design Note: the first effect is based on “Flight of the Hummingbird” from RoP:M, page 38 which appears to assume that the Level 4 guideline is applicable, whereas the stronger example effect derived from Animiculum is based on the Level 5 guideline. The Terram guidelines are similar and accounting for a magnitude of variation, the spells are similar enough in practice due to their zero Might cost, although technically the first effect for bone skulls automatically renews whereas the effect designed for metal skulls must be activated. 

Instilled Effect: Speech

Replicating the effect of a skull speaking is essentially a modification of the Creo Imaginem spell Phantasm of the Talking Head, but with Personal range so base Level 4.

The Chattering Skull; 0 points, (Qik -2), Imaginem; R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
The skull can converse with human speech, although this is an illusion that affects two senses – the component parts or jaw sculpturing do not actually move.
CrIm 5 (base 2, +2 Sun, +1 constant, +1 intelligible speech): Personal Power (5 levels, -1 Might cost, 2 remaining intricacy points)

Design Note: by comparison for a familiar on page 105 of ArM5, giving an animal the ability to form human speech is Muto Animal, with a base level of 5 (a minor change that makes the animal unnatural). 

Optional Instilled Effect: Flaming

The following illusory effect is for show and impressing susceptible mundanes. Unfortunately it also is very clearly magic and may provoke accusations of Infernal patronage if used in front of a crowd of mundanes… as if a floating, talking skull wasn’t cause enough for accusations of devilry come to think of it:

Wreath of False Flames; 0 points, Init (Qik -2), Imaginem (Ignem); R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
Cloaks the skull constantly in a mane of fire that dances, illuminates, crackles, and (apparently) warms. It does not burn or protect against cold and is only a cosmetic effect.
CrIm(Ig) 10 (base 3, +2 Sun, constant, +1 for light from Ignem requisite); Personal Power (15 levels, -2 Might cost)

This cosmetic effect could be combined with an instilled effect similar to Fearful Flaming Eyes” (RoP:F, page 48), potentially paralysing the target with fear.

An effect that produced real flames would require a CrIg spell similar to “Coat of Flame” ArM5 page 140based on the level 5 guideline “create a fire doing +5 damage in an unnatural shape, such as in a ring or sheet, or covering an item”, but with R: Per and D: Conc. This effect would technically inflict +5 fire damage to the skull per round so would require an additional warding against fire effect or Major Virtue to protect the skull against the flames, such as Greater Immunity: Fire.

 Mechanica of Heron: the Anima Skull variant

In Chapter Six of Ancient Magic, pages 77-78, details are given of creating simple mechanica capable of simulating any single Creo, Rego, Perdo and Muto effect on Auram, Aquam, Ignem, Mentem or Terram. Their intelligent counterparts are created by awakening their anima, providing a sentient being that can create multiple effects and is capable of learning Abilities, including Languages.

Stylistic aspects aside, a mechanica skull fits the whole mimir / Morte as living library trope well, as invested devices and talismans are not normally capable of learning Abilities. A floating talking skull with considerable (Area), (Organisation) and/or (Realm) Lores makes for a more interesting source of XP at the very least.  It is unclear whether this excludes Supernatural Abilities as these typically require a corresponding Virtue, but creative adaption of the Mystery Initiation mechanics or through other non-Hermetic magic such as Lesser Craft Magic (see Rival Magic, pages 11-12) or similar. Employment of other spell like powers through the use of unique simple mechanica that can “modify” the anima may provide an interesting avenue to explain such development and even provide additional effects through the use of these simpler devices as extensions or carried as tools.

Technically, in the RAW, the anima needs to be a simulacrum of a living creature and not a body part, although there is *no* limitation on the anima being an animal despite the numerous examples given. So a human or fantastical creature form is possible like the famous Turk or a chimerae, but a floating disembodied skull is not unless the Storyguide allows a variant of the base Supernatural Ability through Mystery Initiation. More gruesomely, the simulacrum may be based on a intentionally stunted form or damaged after initial construction, providing a more “servo-skull” like appearance. As a creature of Magic Might, the decapitation of a simulacrum by a necromantically inclined mechanician may not disturb it’s functioning significantly, although may drastically limit its movement without the use of other spell like effects.

As opposed to Invested Devices, the Size and Material (plus either Artes Liberales or Philosophae) determines the anima’s Magic Might, still limits the number and level of effects that can be instilled but rather than determining the number of pawns of vis reflects the construction cost of materials in Mythic Pounds. As vis is not required, making this style of construct is appealing for low vis or predominantly hedge magic dominated Sagas.

By comparison, according to the rules for Magic Things in RoP:M, page 32, a skull designed as a Magic Thing given it has a base Size of -3 can have a maximum Magic Might score of only 10 regardless of material. A Mechanica skull made of bone however can only have a Magic Might of 9, but more elaborate  skulls fashioned from expensive materials  may have much higher starting Might scores.


Movement and speech are not inherent to a skull and must be imbued, although “the effect must be logical and the simulacrum capable of carrying it out”. While a humanoid anima could be imbued to walk but not fly by mechanical means without an additional variation or perhaps an advanced Mystery Virtue – a skull would therefore need an additional power from a different source or the use or even physical grafting of a simple mechanica that provided flight or perhaps spider leg based locomotion.

Speech is similarly unnatural but potentially logical for an unfleshed bone skull, but makes more sense for a finely crafted skull with additional components to provide the basis of the generation of a voice, similar to the classical example of Justinian’s Nightingale. The concept pushes the RAW significantly beyond the original intent of the author I suspect, but discussion with the Storyguide is suggested can determine how to realise this motif within any individual Saga.

Note: the original description of Mechanica of Heron describes it as a Supernatural Ability, but it would likely be classified as a “Difficult Art” using the later guidelines from Hedge Magic: Revised Edition  or Rival Magic and the totals could thus affected by relevant Hermetic Virtues and Magical Foci. Following the second Titanomachy / Ragnarok (see Dies Irae), the Mechanica of Heron Virtue would therefore increase as an Art, although a Mechanician would need to employ Entreat the Magic Powers Virtue similar to a Learned Magician (HMRE,  pages 81/82 and 87/88) or form a pact with a Magical entity such as a Daimon in order to link into the Golden Chain as a non-theurgical Gifted wizard.

The Lonely Tower on the Barthelasse

Lair beneath island
Example Coenobium Sanctum?

I found this image on Pinterest the other day, and although it’s much more “d20” than ArM5 in style it would work quite nicely as a temporary sanctum for a reclusive magus of the Coenobium in Faith and Flame or even one of the lairs of the infamous Drac…

At the time of a starting canonical ArM5 Saga, the so-called “Isle of Barthelasse”, situated in the main stream of the Rhone at the level of the Avignon crossing / Pont St Benezet was most likely composed of a number of shifting swamping islets similar to the small island depicted in the image.

The original concept for the geographical precursor covenant to the Coenobium, “Sub Pontem“, was a collection of reclusive magi living beneath the swampy islands beneath the main bridge and on moored barges served by a rag tag turb of outcast river folk. The laboratory barges and Nicodemus (himself a nod to another famous wizard that was found beneath a bridge) remained in the final draft but some of the more “gypsy” elements were left behind in the transformation to the more urbane Jerbiton covenant.