The Longue Durée
A season of study represents the mystical tradition of representing cycles within the natural order. Each season has a specific set of associations. Characters will find that the world around them changes to accommodate varied seasonal impetus. This means that characters’ studies, being intimately tied to the metaphysics of mood and the flow of eternal cycles, also reflect the seasons.
The seasons have no beginning and no end, but they follow a regular progression. Generally, the seasons represent three-month periods — they hail, after all, from the seasons of the medieval Order of Hermes’ studies, which in turn were influenced by farming and day-to-day life in the Middle Ages. Sometimes the Order also uses seasons to describe other cycles, like the life of a chantry, but for purposes of downtime play a season is a space of time.
A season may describe the phase of a specific project — for instance, an old and well-established chantry that has little new growth but is stable and strong may be referred to as an autumn chantry. Modifiers for seasonal activity apply in the literal season — that is, during the spring of the year, it’s a good time to start new projects or create new organizations, because of the metaphysical energy of birth and creativity.
Spring is the season of birth and renewal. Old or dying structures become revitalized. New ideas come to the fore. Creativity and energy are at their peak. This is the best time for dynamic growth activities, like starting new research or founding a chantry. All Dynamic-related seasonal activities, and those with a Dynamic Essence, gain a one-point break on difficulty during this season.
Summer is the season of vigor and fullness. In summer, projects reach their peak, organizations become vibrant and full of membership, and groups work towards great works of the future. All Questing-related seasonal activities, and those with a Questing Essence, gain a one-point break on difficulty during this season.
Autumn is the season of fruition and results. Research and structures are now seeing their goals fulfilled. Large projects are brought to their culminating tasks and completed. All Pattern-related seasonal activities, and those with a Pattern Essence, gain a one-point break on difficulty during this season.
Winter is the season of maturity, introspection, and death. Groups spend time together, discussing the past and planning for the future, or else ending their affiliations. Individuals look inside themselves, considering their recent successes and failures. Change is primed in this season. All Primordial-related seasonal activities, and those with a Primordial Essence, gain a one-point break on difficulty during this season.
Note: Immortals do not inherently enjoy any Essence-based bonus; however, at the beginning of a season an Immortal may roll their Quickening, difficulty 9, in order to attune themselves to the current season and enjoy the benefit of that Essence. This attunement represents an Immortal mystically connecting with the season itself and shaping their Quickening in response until events (such as re-attuning or receiving a Quickening from another Immortal) forces a change. In the case of receiving a Quickening from another Immortal, the current attunement is kept if the beheaded Immortal was attuned to the same season or unattuned, otherwise the Immortal reverts to an unattuned state. Similar to the Avatar Essence of a mage, attunement always has an effect on the behaviour of an Immortal during the period of attunement. Immortals with a Dark Quickening rating equal to or higher than their Willpower become unable to attune themselves to the seasons and immediately become unattuned.
Additional Note: Some Merits may affect the seasonal play rules, at the Storyteller’s discretion. One example is the Fast Learner Merit, which will provide one extra seasonal experience point to any successful seasonal play dice roll. Another is the Luck Merit, which will allow a character to re-roll a season play dice roll, but only once for a season, and that roll will count against the total Luck Merit re-rolls for the ‘story’ occuring after the season (this may be a continuing ‘story’ from before the season or a new ‘story’ which is only starting after the season is over).
For any of the study methods described below, an entire three months must be dedicated to the research program. Basic life activities — eating, sleeping, and the like — are assumed. In addition, seven days out of each month may be taken as a break from the studying, but even then, they should be spent in relative relaxation. Combat, lengthy travel, massive magical workings and other stressful endeavors can throw off an entire season of training.
Each of the training methods provides experience toward a specific goal which must be determined before the season begins. If the goal is not reached through a combination of normally earned experience and seasonal experience, all of the seasonal experience is lost except for one point which is earmarked for expenditure only towards the specific goal of the season in which it was generated. This is a cumulative effect, meaning that a character could spend successive seasons gaining one point of seasonal experience each season towards a goal to eventually purchase the goal without recourse to normal experience.
The basic system is as follows. Choose your training method and its associated Background or Backgrounds. Your dice pool is equal to your Ability (often Intelligence) plus the Background(s) of your chosen training method. The difficulty is also based on the training method you choose. In general, if you choose a method that involves more than one Background, the resulting difficulty is equal to the highest difficulty of the chosen Backgrounds, but you may gain a break on difficulty for having multiple sources of information — if a Library doesn’t have answers, a Mentor might, for instance. The number of successes is the number of experience points gained toward your training goal.
When studying under a mentor, that mentor must have the Trait at a level at least equal to the level the character wants to learn. If the mentor has not previously been specified, the Storyteller has final say as to whether or not the mentor is qualified to teach the student. Similarly, the Storyteller determines whether or not the Avatar is qualified to teach the student anything. Similarly, no Trait may improve beyond the limit of the training Background — if a character only has a one-dot Library, he won’t be able to learn secret knowledges from it. Except where noted, Backgrounds cannot be shared or traded for the purposes of seasonal training.
The character spends the season studying under her mentor. At the end of an uninterrupted season, roll the Ability (usually Intelligence, but possibly another depending upon the trait studied) plus Mentor (or Totem), difficulty 7. A single mentor might train more than one student. However, for each student after the first, each student’s roll increases in difficulty by one. Training under a mentor can provide experience for any Ability, Arete, Spheres, Quickening Power, or teachable Numina the mentor knows.
The character spends the season studying a specific series of texts under the tutelage of a teacher or teachers. At the end of an uninterrupted season, roll Intelligence plus Library plus Mentor, difficulty 9. A lecture series can teach any number of students. If multiple students study together in this way, each of them must use the lowest Library score of any of them (the slowest student holds up the group). On the plus side, each of them also gets the highest Mentor score that any of them possess (they can all attend the best lectures). In addition, they must all attempt to learn the same level of the same trait. A lecture series can provide experience for any Ability, Spheres, or teachable Numina.
The character spends the season studying in her library. At the end of an uninterrupted season, roll Intelligence plus Library, difficulty 8. Library research can provide experience for Skills, Knowledges, Spheres, or teachable Numina. Possession of a specific book which is good for the job — such as a Grimoire which focuses upon the desired knowledge — will provide extra dice or a drop in the difficulty.
The character spends the season working on rituals/rotes, which could be through the studying of books, learning from practitioners of similar practices, or from personal development. For study from books, use Intelligence plus Library, difficulty 8, just like library research. For learning from other practitioners, use Intelligence + Mentor, difficulty 7, just like study. For personal development, use Intelligence + the lowest Numina Path or Sphere involved in the ritual/rote, difficulty 9.
The character spends the season opening herself to the insights of her own Avatar. At the end of an uninterrupted season, roll Intelligence plus Avatar or Past Life (whichever is higher), difficulty 9. With Storyteller permission, the Avatar can train the mage in any Trait except Attributes.
The character spends the season immersing themselves in either the “Sleeper world” or the “Supernatural world,” developing contacts, expanding resources, impressing mentors, or developing esoteric skills. At the end of an uninterrupted season of Sleeper or Supernatural living, roll an appropriate Attribute plus an appropriate secondary Trait (usually a Background), difficulty 9. With Storyteller permission, any Background or Ability can be developed (such as Contacts, Resources, Library, Wonder, Esoterica, etc.).
It’s notable that Intelligence, foremost among the attributes, shines in extended research. This is deliberate: the process of study, insight, and memorization requires intelligence first and foremost. That doesn’t mean that other attributes aren’t important, though.
Remember that accessing a given resource may require the use of attributes besides Intelligence. For instance, convincing a mentor to give up a season of his valuable study time may require some roleplaying in conjunction with some Manipulation + Expression rolls. Figuring out how to use an arcane library’s shelving system might test a character’s Wits + Academics. Spending days at a time hiking up and down the mountainside where a Node resides could call for a Stamina + Survival test.
Also remember that, most of the time, a mage won’t be able to maintain an artificial, magical boost to intelligence long enough to justify a full season of improvement.
Using Quintessence or Quickening Experience Points While Training
When using any training method, a character may, with the Storyteller’s permission, spend temporary Quintessence or Quickening experience points to reduce the difficulty. Even when not specifically studying the stuff of magic or the Quickening, Quintessence and Quickening experience points provide insight. Each point of Quintessence or Quickening experience point used while studying reduces the difficulty of the roll by one and reduces the Quintessence available to the mage at the start of the next adventure by one or the Quickening experience point total of the Immortal by one. The character must have the Quintessence or Quickening experience points on hand at the beginning of the season for this option to be utilized.
Using Quintessence in this manner is not without its hazards. Any botch incurred while using Quintessence to study invokes Paradox. The mage gains an amount of Paradox equal to the level of the desired trait being trained times the number of Quintessence points used to reduce the difficulty of the roll. So, a mage spending two Quintessence while trying to learn Occult 3 would gain six Paradox. Naturally, this Paradox probably discharges over the course of the season — long before the next story session starts. The Storyteller should therefore determine the nature of the drawback that occurs. Typically, a research Paradox can destroy work and materials involved. The character might lose Background levels in a Library or Node, suffer from new Resonance or take on a Flaw or injury. The table on page 257 of Guide to the Traditions offers some options. Immortals which make use of Quickening experience points suffer no ill effect if a botch occurs.
One of the great benefits of a chantry is the ability to share useful research resources. A cabal with access to a chantry has a far better opportunity to undertake seasonal study. So long as the chantry’s paid for and the mages otherwise have their day-to-day living expenses covered, the cabal members can expect to use their chantry to everyone’s benefit.
The major advantage of the Chantry Background in seasonal play lies in its flexibility. The mages can all make use of their shared chantry, but can divide up its resources in Mentor, Library and Node as they see fit — not everyone need rely on the same study style, or on studying the same topic.
Of course, characters who rely on the resources of a chantry must also be willing to expend some of their own effort to help keep the chantry functional. A character may be called upon to serve as a mentor to other mages in the chantry, or to improve the chantry with donations of books, time or money.
Multiple mages can combine their efforts on a specific research topic, if so desired. Typically, only the primary researcher makes the breakthrough, but a group of researchers with similar levels of skill might all benefit.
The group chooses a research lead, who makes the various decisions regarding study time and style. The player of that lead makes the necessary research rolls. Each assisting mage grants one extra die to the roll, so long as the mage has at least some knowledge of the topic in question or some way to contribute meaningfully to the research.
Generally, a group of mages can only work together on a topic up to a limit of mages equal to the Background involved. That is, if studying from a two-point Library, only two mages can combine their efforts — the library simply doesn’t have enough materials to allow additional mages to help.
If the research roll is successful, not only does the head researcher gain valuable study that cuts the costs of improvements, but each associated researcher gains one point toward the same study. Thus, the assistants can garner a one point break on the cost of the study material. Say a group all works together to study Forces 3 — the lead researcher gains a cost break as normal, and all assistants gain a one experience point break on the cost of learning Forces 3.
Obviously, if assistant researchers don’t have the requisite abilities to learn the trait, or enough experience to complete it, this does them little good. However, if they’re willing to spend their time in assistance, they can substantially improve learning for the research lead.
Note that mages of differing Traditions may impose a +1 penalty to the difficulty of the research rolls, due to the need to translate systems and magical understanding between different paradigms.
Mages who spend a lot of time studying tend to take notes. Eventually those notes become books, the books become libraries and the libraries attract younger mages.
Spending a season on research and collation is a perfect way to justify an increase in the Library Background. Such an increase isn’t automatic or guaranteed. After all, a good Library not only includes a mage’s research notes, but also materials that detail things the mage doesn’t yet study or understand. Similarly, the player may need to expend experience points for the library improvements.
As a rule of thumb, improving a Library requires that the mage accumulate new books and notes over the course of the season, which costs money or favors. The mage must use an appropriate Attribute + Ability/ Background, such as Perception + Resources when buying new materials or Charisma + Subterfuge when convincing allies to help supply books.
On some occasions the Storyteller might decide that only a specific book will do for a given project — for instance, if a Hermetic mage wants to learn the true name of a demon so as to command it, then the Storyteller might decide that only one book written contains that name, and the mage must discover it. This is, of course, more fodder for a story! Such books tend to be hoarded in libraries of mages who already have uses for them.
By the same token, a mage can write down personal experiences, magical knowledge and advice in book form over the course of a season. In general, a mage can’t write books that will bring a Library Background rating any higher than the writer’s Expression Ability. A specific book — for instance, a treatise on the application of Forces under the Verbena paradigm — might, as noted above, work as a special component to help in research or a requirement for special spells or rotes. Similarly, a mage can write down rotes into book form, and trade such a book to other mages for study purposes. Seasons spent learning rotes or doing library research can especially benefit from the appropriate books.