Ars Magica: The Lost Sourcebook

I turned up an old notebook from the 90s when I was working on organizing my office yesterday. I found the pictured outline inside. This was for an Ars Magica book that Atlas Games contracted Nicole and I to write in 1997. As you can see, the outline proposed to make most of the book an epic adventure. Atlas asked us to lean into the sourcebook aspect, focusing on a treatment of the city of Damietta and providing expanded info on elemental magic. I wrote a few thousand words, but the project fizzled because life got complicated. Nicole and I got together as a couple and I moved out to Seattle, then got a job as a game designer at Wizards of the Coast. We discussed our changed circumstances with Atlas and we agreed to shelve the project.

After finding this outline, I dug into some old files I pulled off 3.5 disks last year. To my surprise, I found the material that I’d written for the book and I’ve decided to post it here so interested folks can get a glimpse of what might have been. There are three sections. The first is a bio of Beatrix, a contemporary of the founders of the Order of Hermes who developed a Unified Elemental Theory of magic but was murdered. The adventure involves discovering her history and unearthing her lost theory. The second section involves the theory itself. You can definitely tell I was reading books about alchemy at the time! The last section is some history of the Fifth Crusade, which is the backdrop for the adventure. Enjoy!


Beatrix was born in the city of Marseilles in 692 CE. Scion of a patrician family that traced its lineage back to the heady days of Roman power, Beatrix received an excellent education. Her deep philosophical probing eventually led her to a noted scholar named Alexius, who in fact was a wizard of some power. Alexius took young Beatrix under his tutelage and taught her magic, as well as broadening her understanding of philosophy. Marseilles, an ancient metropolis steeped in Greek and Roman history, proved an excellent campus for the budding maga and scholar. From the beginning, she had a keen interest in the elemental structures that she perceived to be the basis of magic. Alexius focused her research and encouraged her to go beyond what he could teach her. After ten years at Alexius’ feet, Beatrix left Marseilles to study other magical traditions. She spent the next twenty years traveling across Europe and the Near East, finding mages where she could and exchanging ideas. Her travels in many ways presaged those of Trianoma and cemented her reputation as a master of elemental magic.

After two decades of travel and investigation, Beatrix returned to Marseilles in 727 and began her real life’s work. At the same time Bonisagus was working on a Unified Theory of Magic, Beatrix was working on a Unified Elemental Theory that incorporated all she had learned. Trianoma visited Beatrix in 735 and tried to recruit her into the Order of Hermes. Beatrix was interested but wanted to meet Bonisagus first. Trianoma set up a meeting between the two theorists and the weeklong visit of Beatrix quickly turned into a month. Bonisagus taught Beatrix the Parma Magica and she in turn worked with Bonisagus on translating the most basic of her elemental spells into Bonisagus’s system. These spells stand today as the basic Hermetic spells for dealing with Elementals.

Beatrix returned to Marseilles to finish her own theory and try to integrate as much as possible of it into Bonisagus’s theory. Her visit, and news of her breakthroughs in elemental magic, had caused quite a stir in magical circles and she found herself visited by a number of prominent mages of the day. The most important of these visitors was Tremere himself. Tremere, young and lacking in prestige, was even then looking for a way to enlarge his own power and reputation. Before working with Bonisagus to develop Certamen, Tremere tried to coax Beatrix’s Unified Elemental Theory out of the scholarly maga. Beatrix was unimpressed with the power-hungry young magus and refused to teach him what he wanted to know. Tremere left in anger but Beatrix quickly put him out of her mind.

Tremere was stung by her refusal to teach him, but he knew that he could not match her power. He turned therefore to Tytalus for aid. Tremere and Tytalus had shared the same master, Guorna the Fetid, and shared a certain bond despite their rivalry. Tytalus was always interested in testing himself against powerful mages, so he quickly agreed to Tremere’s scheme and the two set off for Marseilles. There the two ambushed Beatrix in the streets. The citizens of Marseilles fled as the three mighty wizards unleashed magics of unbelievable power, leveling entire blocks of the city in their great struggle. In the end, however, Beatrix could not stand against both Tremere and Tytalus and she fell, mortally wounded. Her attackers then fled the scene in the confusion and tried to despoil Beatrix’s sanctum. When they arrived, however, all of Beatrix’s books were gone. Nor was her body ever recovered. So passed from history both Beatrix and her Unified Elemental Theory. Trianoma tried to piece together what had happened to Beatrix but she never found out who it was that attacked the maga in the streets of Marseilles. In the end, the incident became a footnote in Hermetic History. Until now, that is…

The Unified Elemental Theory

Beatrix began her studies the Greek and Roman classics. Her master Alexius had a fine library, with many tomes thought lost to the West after the sack of Rome. Her first approach to the elements came from Aristotle. According to Aristotle, there was something called the prima materia (first substance), from which everything in nature was derived. Itself immaterial, prima materia represent pure potential and only when it united with a form would it produce a physical object. Furthermore, the form of all objects was determined by the four elements — earth, air, water, and fire — and the four qualities — hot, wet, cold, and dry. To change one element to another, it was only necessary to change its quality. Thus, heating water turned it into steam, a form of air.

Simple magical experiments based on Aristotle’s ideas were easy enough, but Beatrix was unsuccessful in applying these techniques to living creatures. She had heard of magicians who could summon spirits of the elements, so she determined to find some of these masters and learn from them. This led to one of her famous journeys to the north, where she stayed amongst the warlike Prussian tribes and consulted with their shamans. Here she learned to summon elementals, and also journeyed to the magic realm with her shaman guides. Unfortunately, the elementals themselves did not have the answers she sought. Although they were living embodiments of the elements, they had no deeper understanding of their place in the universe, or if they did, they could not communicate it to Beatrix.

This led her back to Marseilles, where she delved into Graeco-Egyptian Alchemy. These alchemists had tried to apply Aristotle’s theories, as well as those of the Stoics. They believed that if they could distill the prima materia, they could then turn it into any form. The Stoics posited that the universe was made up of two inseparable principles, the active principle (called pneuma, or “fiery cosmic breath”) and the passive principle (matter). All things in the world contained pneuma and the differences between them depended on the form of pneuma within. The alchemists of ancient Greece believed that if pneuma could be extracted from an object, it could be changed into a new substance. Beatrix followed the formulas of the Graeco-Egyptian alchemists and tried to apply the theories of Aristotle and the Stoics but neither was entirely satisfactory. It was one thing to posit the existence of prima materia or pneuma, but it was another thing to actually extract it.

Her research stymied, Beatrix decided another journey of discovery was in order and she determined to travel to the Middle East. It was a long and dangerous trip, but she relied on her magic to protect herself. Her first stop was the city of Harran, which had an ancient tradition of magic and may have been the birthplace of alchemy. She was somewhat disappointed with what she found there, but she did hear of a man in Kufa who was said to be a magician of some power. His name was Jabir ibn Hayyan, later known to the West as Gerber.

Jabir was a Shi’ite and a disciple of Ja’far al-Sadiq, the sixth Shi’ite Imam and a known scholar of occult sciences. Beatrix found him in Kufa and the two struck up a strange friendship. She found his ideas fascinating, and he was thrilled to have found a mind that could keep up with his own, even if it did belong to a woman and a foreigner. Jabir theorizes that all metals were made up of sulphur and mercury. He was not, however, referring to the substances known later as sulphur and mercury, but of two principles. Sulphur is the masculine principle, fiery and active, while Mercury is the feminine, liquid and passive. When they are pure and perfectly combined, they make the most perfect of metals: gold. Jabir also talked of an Elixir of Life, which could heal the sick.

What interested Beatrix about Jabir’s work was not the combinations of sulphur and mercury, but its specificity. She began to consider that perhaps she had been looking too broadly for an answer, that maybe she should try to restrict her inquiry.  Rather than trying to unlock the secret of all matter, she decided to concentrate on the four elements themselves. Her decision made, she took her leave of Jabir and returned to Europe.

Rather than going back to the laboratory, Beatrix left nearly immediately on another long journey. She had read Caesar’s commentaries on Druids and had also heard of the great maga Diedne. Thinking that perhaps Diedne had some insight on the elements and their relation, Beatrix made the trip to Britain and met with Diedne.

Beatrix found Diedne a little too spiritual for her taste, but they struck up a fruitful professional relationship. It took Beatrix some time to cut through the ritual and find the underlying principles of Druidic magic. Their approach was wrapped up in paganism and treated each element as power to beseech rather than manipulate. While this did not fit in to Beatrix’s rational form of magic, she found the nuances of Druidic magic quite informative.

This was to prove the last of Beatrix’s great journeys. She returned to Marseilles and began to work on a theory to unify all she had learned. At first, she pursued each element separately, trying to see what was unique about it. She worked out basic spells of elemental summoning and control based on these principles and found them effective, though limited in power. This, however, was not what she was after.

So, she returned once again to Aristotle, looking for answers which eluded her. She came back to a part of Aristotle’s work that she had previously dismissed: quintessence. This substance, sometimes called the fifth element, was the ethereal essence from which the celestial spheres were made. A part of the prima materia, quintessence was said to be part of each of the four elements. Perhaps this was the key to the elements that Beatrix had been looking for.

She began work again, looking at what the elements had in common rather than what made each unique. After years of research, she found it. She was able to identify the quintessence of the elements and crafted spells to manipulate it. When she met Bonisagus, she realized that he had identified quintessence as well, though he called it Vim. This was the key to her ability to meld her theory with that of Bonisagus.

The Fifth Crusade

In 1213 Pope Innocent III sent out letters to the leaders of Christendom announcing the Fourth Lateran Council, to be held in November of 1215. The stated cause of the council was the reformation of the universal church and the conquest of the Holy Land. The crusading spirit, which had swept Europe in the late 11th century and culminated in the success of the First Crusade, seemed a thing of the past. The army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been dealt a crushing defeat by Saladin in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, and the Fourth Crusade had ended with the crusaders sacking Byzantium rather than liberating Jerusalem. The Pope hoped to revive the crusading zeal and win back the Holy Land before the Kingdom of Jerusalem was swept away by Muslim armies.

Innocent set to his task with a vengeance. Preachers such as Robert of Courcon and Oliver of Paderborn were sent out across Christendom to recruit a new generation of crusaders. Innocent ordered monthly processionals, in which men and women (marching separately of course) offered public prayers beseeching God to restore Jerusalem to the Christians. All were to prostate themselves during daily mass while the clergy chanted psalms, and then a special prayer provided by the Pope. Crusaders were promised freedom from tax obligations and rent and the special protection of the Pope. Innocent also suspended the privileges of other crusaders, such as those who had fought the Albigensians, to encourage them to join the new crusade. Maritime trade with Muslims was suspended for four years, and tournaments for three. The Pope also ordered a general peace for four years to keep the nobility from fighting amongst themselves. Despite his great efforts, Innocent III did not live to see his crusade become a reality. On a diplomatic mission in north Italy, the Pope died in Perugia on July 16, 1216. His successor, Honorius III, continued the plan with energy and enthusiasm of his own.

What is known as the Fifth Crusade began in July 1217, when an army led by King Andrew of Hungary, Duke Leopold of Austria, and Duke Otto of Meran set out for Spalato, and thence to Acre in the Holy Land. They were met at Acre by John of Brienne, the King of Jerusalem, and King Hugh I of Cyprus. Unfortunately, they had arrived in the midst of a terrible famine, and many of the crusaders returned as quickly as they came. However, the army that was left set about operations that November that lasted two months and achieved nothing at all. They came close to overwhelming the fortress of Mt. Tabor but were beaten off by the Muslim garrison. By January 1218, King Andrew was ready to return home and, despite threats of excommunication from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, he took his army and began a long overland journey to Hungary.

With Andrew gone, operations were suspended. At the end of April, however, the ships of the Frisian-German crusaders, who had left nearly a year before, began to arrive. With fresh troops and ships at their command, the leadership decided that conditions were now favorable to launch an attack on Damietta, an important city in Egypt. The logic was that storming Damietta would open up Egypt for conquest. Egypt was a country rich in resources and denying it to the Muslims would make the conquest of the Holy Land that much easier. With these goals in mind, the fleet departed for the Nile delta in May of 1218. When the vanguard landed on the 27th, the Fifth Crusade at last began in earnest.

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