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FVLMINATA prep questions

Started by Ron Edwards, January 17, 2003, 11:30:30 AM

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

We're getting ready to play some FVLMINATA, and I'm combing rules and setting up some player-notes handouts. Here are some little points I've run into that need clarification. Michael, it's mainly directed to you, but anyone else knows the game can chip in too.

1) If a character takes a single 3-point Humor, the text says that he gets all three physical, emotional, and mental traits from that row of the Humors table. However, for all of the example characters in the book who have a 3-point Humor, he or she has a single Humor trait, corresponding to his or her lowest Attributes - in other words, using the same rules which (as written) apply only to 1 or 2-point Humors. I like the rules implied by the example, which uses the same logic for any Humor regardless of its magnitude. Am I correct in reading the contradictory rules-text as a leftover?

2) Regarding Influence, the table of options includes the term "GM's choice," but in the example, the same thing is referred to as "player's choice," referring to the player of the Influence-targeted character. Am I correct in interpreting the rule as "choice of the target character's controller, whether player or GM"?

3) Can any magus do any of the spells listed in the big spell list? That is, never mind point-costs in rules terms, I understand that, but rather, I'm asking about in-game. Can a witch know and use a spell that an Etruscan diviner can know and use, and vice versa? If so, it seems a little ... I don't know ... "open" to me, in terms of the setting. Any thoughts on that?

This next thing isn't really a question, but I'm interested in your feedback.

In my first reading, soon after the game came out, I liked the magic - it was sufficiently arcane and weird in in-game terms, but usable-looking in out-of-game terms. However, now that I'm prepping stuff and thinking about characters, I realize that I'd rather just toss it. Rome, I get; Rome with Roman magic, I get; Rome with gunpowder as the alternate-history vibe, I get ... but I'm pretty sure that I don't get Roman with gunpowder as the alternate-history vibe plus magic. It's much more jarring to get into, emotionally, than I anticipated.

By the way, I decided to set the Fabula in Rome itself, in the context of an upcoming, very significant chariot race. I'm looking forward to all manner of possible personae all embroiled in the society-spanning hassles or consequences of the event.



Ron, I can't really offer any help on the FVLMINATA clarifications, as it's yet another one of those games on the 'Should buy, need to eat' list.

Anyway, regarding the Rome + Gunpowder + Magic thing, I agree, it does seem a little jarring, and I think what it comes down to is our conditioning as consumers of alternate history literature. It's a two step change, to coin a really awkward phrase. We're so used to Rome, and Romans and everything else that as a setting it works for us [the general consumer of stuff about Romans] as a thing, even if I'm interested in guys in sandals stabbing lions through the eye, and you're interested in the drive to introduce plumbing. I use these examples because they're relatively straightforward.

When we throw in something that changes it, we can each take what we're thinking about and give it that little bit of spin. So my guys in sandals can stab lions through the eye by magic, or your plumbers can carve paths for aqueducts with explosives. When either of us tries to stick both of them in it gets a little confusing. I mean, why use magic to shoot a lion in the eye when you've got a gun? Why use explosives to move a hill when you've got magic?

Now, I could use Clarke's quote about technology, but I think it's probably better to call FVLMINATA an alternate-alternate history. It's the same, but doubleplusunsame. The Romans thought differently to us, did different things for the same reasons and the reverse, and I think the pairing of relatively familiar things [guns and magic] in an unfamiliar way does something to enforce the idea that things are different. As you've said, the combination is emotionally jarring, and I agree - but is it a different emotional jarring to the idea of owning slaves, watching people kill each other for your entertainment, an empire where there's no detailed communication faster than a guy on a horse, or public vomiting?

Of course, this is just an outside point of view, but it seems to fit in with this vague idea I've got that everything in a game should try and put those within it into a certain state of mind.

- drew
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Blake Hutchins

Of course, the crux of the issue to me - borrowing from the Religion thread - would be how to present the alternate history world so the characters absolutely believe in magic as an actual force, whether or not it works.  Maybe the way it's presented in FVLMINATA is to lend credence to the characters' magical world view.  I presume, given how superstitious Romans were, most or all would believe in the existence of witches, sorcerers, the Roman gods, and the like.

It's an interesting decision, with real consequences for character creation and the direction of play.  Ron, if you were to decide not to use the magic and go with a purely mundane alternate history, how would you present this aspect of the world to your players?



Ron Edwards


Blake, that's just what I was concluding about the way I'd prefer to play in the long term, although at the moment I plan to run with the written rules, for review and understanding purposes.

Here's what I'd do - have all the magus character sorts and societies, just as written, and define all the spells and whatnot as stuff that everyone believes they do. It would even be fun to have the actual magic skills and spell-casting as part of play, just without any magical effect. But not without any effect.

I hesitate to do the "suggestion" option, which is to say, if the target knows about the spell, he or she may be affected. In game terms, this is pretty much the equivalent of "real" magic.

So instead, I think it would be neat to have the magic skill become, basically, a very powerful Influence-oriented skill, useful for hard-core intrigue.

It might interest people to know that I don't enjoy the modern version of alternate-history as a fiction form, and in fact dislike just about all of it that I've ever read.



Well, there you go. It seems to be shoot yourself in the foot week, in a specific locus defined by the gap between my gun and my foot.

I agree, even from a position of relative ignorance, that turning magic into an Influence skill is neat. Would all magic work that way, or would you be trimming it? By which I mean has 'magic' become a catch-all term for the realms of mesmerism, prestidigitation, alchemy, and informed observation?

The other major question is where does gunpowder come from? Or is it effectively a chronological aberration in physical science paired with a chronilogical aberration in, um, social science / psychology / neuroprogramming? Which works, I hasten to add, in that it's not really a two-step, but a one-step. To wit, some narrow fields of human endeavour have seen tremendous advances.

For parity's sake [and this is just me putting on my helpful-suggestion hat], have you considered [even just now] applying those tremendous advances to any other fields? Something as innocuous as the Fosbury Flop might do as much to change sports, as might, say, Income Tax. The image I've got here is suddenly grabbing some stuff from further down the line in Civ tech-trees, and dragging it back to the past.

I'm intrigued by your dislike for alternative history fiction, but, rather, than go monstrously off-topic or anything, what's different about FVLMINATA that it hasn't put you off?

- drew
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Michael S. Miller

Sure, I lurk around here nearly every day for a month and the *one* day I get so swamped at work that I can't log in, The Man has questions for me. 8-) Talk about rolling the Dogs!

1. Humor 3 with Temperaments
  You are correct to follow the example. The text is left over from an older idea we changed during development. I wish I could say that we'd fixed it in the 2nd Edition, but I'd be lying. Oops.

To state plainly, I've always played that: An excess of any amount in a single Humor causes a Persona to gain a Temperament associated with that Humor at that level. The type of Temperament (physical, mental, emotional) is determined by the Persona's lowest Attribute, as shown on the table on page 28, 1st ed. and page 34, 2nd ed.

2. "GM Choice" in the Influence Table
  Let me get back to you on this one. I've got to confer w/ Jason. Incidentally, the "Reactions" column of the Influence Effect Table changed in 2nd Edition. To implement change, do the following to the last column of the Table shown on page 48 of the 1st edtion: 1) delete the Vultures entry; 2) move each entry from 2 Pair to Venus down one row to fill the gap; 3) change the words "GM Choice" to "GM Fiat*" in each entry; 4) copy the text from One Pair to fill in the Two Pair row; 5) change the "+1" in the Two Pair row to "+2"  Ron, I'll send you the 2nd ed. tables, if you like, all formatted for a MasterScreen. Admittedly, they should be on the website, but ...

3. Magic choice by magicians
Ironically, I just answered this on the Fvlminata site's message board this week. We hadn't really discussed this too much, although the origins of each spell are, of course, authentic historically rather than tooled for any sort of "play balance" between schools. I tend to take it this way: Any Magician can, in theory, choose any spell. However, if the spell is outside their order's region of influence, I'd make the player explain how they learned such a strange spell. For these purposes, I'd say that any magician can take Greek, Roman and Aegyptian spells without explanation, but only Mithraics can take Persian, only Etruscans can take Etruscan, only Venfica can take Thessalian, and only Marsian can take Marsian without explanation.

As for Rome and guns AND magic (and a partridge in a pear tree), all I can offer is my personal feedback, as the setting is not my area of expertise (for anyone who's interested, Jason Roberts is the mastermind behind the setting, the alternate history, the magic research, the Latin, etc. I'm the guy to blame for the funny dice 8-P  

I can certainly see your point of magic being one step too far to the left. In fact, my newest convention game, "Weekend at Burnius" has no magic in it at all. However, we did our best to make the magic work like the Romans believed that it worked. I find it helpful to think about it like this: That if one took out the magic system, there would still be people running around doing this weird stuff with the lead tablets, the bizarre finger positions, and, lest we forget, the blood sacrifices, as you said. Using it as an Influence skill never occured to me, at least, although it's damn cool.

I think giving magic a game effect highlights magic -- and  these crazy Roman superstitions -- in a way that causes most gamers to sit up and take notice. Rather than having the player read lots of details about Roman beliefs and saying "so what?," it aids them in getting into the mindset of the culture, as Drew points out, by forcing the players to get some grasp of Roman belief in order to facilitate their own game play.

Additionally, when designing the game, we were well aware of Rome's popularity in wargaming circles and, as a counterweight, wanted to provide a lot of support for games set outside Legionairy camps and Gladiator pits. The magic system was our main method of doing this through most of the period of development, as the Influence system was added only a few weeks before 1st edition went to press.

Ron, I look forward to hearing how this plays out. Chariot races are always lots of fun, chaos and, if you're lucky, blood. But then there was that "for review and understanding purposes" phrase. Review? By Ron? ... My face is a motionless mask of gravitas, while my damp palms grip my toga tightly to keep from shaking.

Drew, not to pick your example apart -- I know you don't have the game -- but you can't move a hill with magic in FVLMINATA. Now, a love charm, or mimicking the voice of another, or speaking with shades, or giving someone the Evil Eye; that we can handle. The magic is all based around actual, historical, magical beliefs, rather than high-fantasy tropes of magical power.

Also, the gunpower in the game comes from the survival of one boy from the eruption of Vesuvius. He grows up to be the Newton of his age and stumbles across the formula for gunpowder. The rest is alternate history.
Serial Homicide Unit Hunt down a killer!
Incarnadine Press--The Redder, the Better!


Quote from: Ron EdwardsI hesitate to do the "suggestion" option, which is to say, if the target knows about the spell, he or she may be affected. In game terms, this is pretty much the equivalent of "real" magic.

if it's any consolation, magic-by-suggestion was documented in a very famous claude levi-strauss essay (I don't have my old anthro book handy, otherwise I'd tell you the name of the essay.)
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:

Ron Edwards

Hi John,

Oh, I've read it all right. Me, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, and Mags Meade go way back.

Michael, thanks for the feedback. And what's with the anxiety? I think my reviews are pretty nice. Their primary aim is promotion, after all.

Drew, I don't see any foot-shooting, man. You're doin' fine. To answer your question, Fvlminata is sufficiently not-alternative that it can basically be played as ... well, as Rome. I don't plan on ignoring the gunpowder, but I also don't plan on emphasizing it much as a plot element. I wanna do the Roman stuff, and the game is amply, amply supplied with material for that.

(Did I mention that the interior art is stupendous? I mean, really, really amazing, for purposes of letting me, the reader, know "what to do"? I don't know how the artist achieved that mainly through portraiture, but it works.)

And in my hypothetical future-Fvlminata game, the one in which I'd tweak the magic, I would indeed permit and encourage magus characters to "do magic" in the sense of alchemy, suggestion, etc. They think it's magic, the targets think it's magic, and the players/GM know it's not and apply modifiers accordingly. Very author-stance, actually. But since that's not how the game is written, that's not what I'm doing for the current game.



With regard to the 'magic gets you thinking like Romans' thing, it seems to me like FVLMINATA succeeds at something that's the current hot-topic - to wit, representing religion in a roleplaying game.

Well, not 'religion', per se, but myth patterns and superstition - there seems to be an active component of the system and setting which represents what was an active component of life in those times, no?

So, in effect, players are rewarded for operating within that mode by, well, being able to operate within that mode. Which is an amazingly succinct way of phrasing something that I've been trying to think through for days.

As for your future FVLMINATA game, have you considered the potential value of a clash of world views? What if some interpreted the deployment of the magic rules [to differentiate it from 'magical effect'] as, well, magic, but others interpreted it as [for want of a better word] science?

The potential from such a 'new school' for trouble of various natures is, frankly, astounding, even from where I'm sitting. At the very least for even more complicated arguments in RPG Theory.

- drew
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Michael S. Miller

2. "GM Choice" in Influence Effect Table
The "GM Choice" refers to the GM, because only NPCs can be targeted using the Influence System. This does not appear anywhere in the book, but we feel it would be an infringement of player rights to allow one player to dictate the actions of another player's persona.

Ron, the anxiety is partially in jest, but also due to the fact that a vitrolic review elsewhere can be easily blown off. "The reviewer's got an axe to grind." "The reviewer came in with preconceived notions." "The reviewer doesn't know what he's talking about." However, I know that with your review, not only will none of these apply, but you will offer up laser-sharp insight into all the weaknesses the game has to offer. Every critique will sting the ego that much more because I'm certain it will be accurate and thoroughly-considered.

Of course, as I type this, I realize that each positive comment will also pack the same punch, and you do focus on the functional, rather than the dysfunctional. Just gettin' myself worked up over nothing, I suppose. I do that from time to time, particularly where FVLMINATA is concerned. >>deep breath<< Thanks for taking the time and effort to review our game.

Thanks for your kind comments on the art. All through production, I was continually blown away by Jerry's artwork, and have been rather disappointed that the reviews to this point haven't given it the praise it's due. It seems that many RPG reviewers can only make negative comments about artwork in general. >>sigh<<

Drew--We did try to capture the Roman mindset in the game as much as possible. Our portrayal of Roman religiousity was aided by the fact that the Romans, in general, were a people more of action than of reflection. The main things that defined the state religion were the performance of specified rituals, the observance of holidays and festivals, sacrifices, and the like. The Romans didn't care what, for example, the Jews believed was divine. They only got pissed when the Jews refused to go through the motions of venerating the Emperor. Actions are easier to simulate than beliefs.
Serial Homicide Unit Hunt down a killer!
Incarnadine Press--The Redder, the Better!

Ron Edwards


Michael, the NPC-target-only concept confuses me - is there not, right there in the rules, an extensive example of two players using the Influence roles on one another's characters?

And Jake! Ye of Fvlminata Influence Fame, in your Actual Play threads ... you guys used the Influence rules left & right & center throughout at least three sessions, right? Did you only permit NPCs as targets?

Hi Drew, actually, I think that the "reinforce belief structure by validating its assumptions via magic systems" idea has a lot of problematic aspects. I am planning an extensive post, perhaps even an essay, in response to the ongoing (and fascinating, and fruitful) debates in RPG Theory right now, so I'll hold off on addressing that here.



As an aside, my FVLMINATA game (which is about to be ported into FVLMINATA, I started using Gurps while I was waiting to get the rulebook) includes magic but not gunpowder and is set during the Republican period - Crassus, Pompey, all those good people.

The magic felt Roman to me, guns didn't.  It's not a criticism, just a personal taste thing.
AKA max

Jake Norwood

Quote from: Ron EdwardsAnd Jake! Ye of Fvlminata Influence Fame, in your Actual Play threads ... you guys used the Influence rules left & right & center throughout at least three sessions, right? Did you only permit NPCs as targets?

Hear that, y'all...Ron said I'm famous...I gotta call my mom...

We did use them on each other, yeah. Basically we just set it up so that all the "GM gambit" was gone and then ran it as if both parties were players (which they were...). It worked pretty well, although sometimes it seemed that the looser could come out on top if he worded his info right (and that's even being "honest" and stuff).

As for my thoughts on magic and guns in play...

The guns allow you to freely break free and write your own history. I didn't find that they really disturbed anything Romanesque in-play, as the use of firearms is really only a big deal on the battlefield, where it replaces the Pilum. Sure, pistols popped up in play because we had so many upper class figures, but then it was like "one shot, and then pankration, baby! Pain!"

The magic is just creepy. It's that "someone could mess with my life, not just my physical person" kind of stuff. Even though we didn't use it much in the adventure we ran, I will use it in the future.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant

Michael S. Miller

OK. Here's the low-down on the "NPCs-only" thing. When I wrote the examples in the book, I hadn't given much thought to the "use it on a PC"/ "NPCs-only" issue. If you re-read the example taking "player" to mean "participant in a role-playing game," (i.e. player or GM, as appropriate) I think that comes through.

Some player-abuse issues arose during post-publication play, so Jason made the official "NPCs-only" ruling.

In the 2nd Edition, the only way you can get out of following one of the Influencer's 3 options (provided the effect roll is 3 of a Kind or greater) is through "GM fiat," that is, paying the player a Humor Point. To dabble with the unofficial "PC vs. PC" Influencing, I'd say that the target Player still has control over their persona and can still choose to disregard the Influencer's options, but must pay the Influencer a Humor Point to do so.

Blackmail? Sure, but that's another reason why it's good to be a Senator!
Serial Homicide Unit Hunt down a killer!
Incarnadine Press--The Redder, the Better!