I was watching a documentary the other day about the ancient Olympics, and was struck by a few things which seemed useful for Ars Magica play.
The first is that if you had a great bard like Pindar in your service, and you won at the Olympics, he could convince people you were so amazingly skilled that this indicated you were more than mortal. You had the Blood of the Gods. The odd thing here is that the person Pindar lionised had two sons, and each of them also won at the Olympics. The Blood of the Gods appears, in this case, to have been a genetically transmissible Virtue. So, I’d suggest Pindar is a faerie who has the Grant Virtue power, and can actually give the Blood of the Gods to a person. Much the same way that if a magically-created horse leaves footprints which do not disappear when its spell duration ends, so too even if Pindar were to disappear or withdraw his Virtue from his patrons, his sons would still retain the Blood of the Gods.
A second point I found interesting was that when you were presented with your wreaths, to indicate your victory, you stood before a statue of Zeus and it was believed he looked into your heart and, if you credited your own strength for the victory, he destroyed you with a lightning bolt. That’s a Humble Personality trait check.
So, let’s try here to construct a Mystery Cult Initiation based on winning pankration at the Ancient Olympics:
Let’s assume that the priest handing out the awards is the Mystogogue, and is required to have a positive Presence to have his role. Also, let’s assume the athlete knows enough about the Olympic cult to give an Ability score of 3. So, that gives us a stating score of at least 4. Can we creep up on the 15 required to initiate a minor virtue?
- Initiate must travel far to reach a special time and place: +3
- Quest: Initiate must defeat the most skilled warriors in the known world in hand-to-hand combat. Entrants specifically agree that if they die, it’s their own fault for entering and demand their next of kin seek no reprisal: +3
- Sacrifice of time: The athlete trains for years to enter the event. +1
- Sacrifice of wealth: All athletes, and their cities, give lavishly to the gods before the competition, +1
So, that’s +12, which is not quite there in terms of Lesser Virtue Initiation. We could tip it over the top in several ways:
- Assuming the priest has a Presence higher than 1. The chief official at the Olympics is presumably excellent.
- We can assume the athlete has a higher Cult score.
- by adding an Ordeal, for example one which gives a Personality or Story Flaw.
- The Troupe may say that there’s a Sympathetic bonus (up to +3)
- A Sacrifice may add up to +6, depending on what you destroy on behalf of Zeus.
The interesting question then is, can we work from this older, partial script to the Normandy Tournaments.
The first four elements can, in some sense, be carried over. People need to travel, defeat the cunningest of adversaries, sacrifice time and sacrifice wealth. People outside the group who are controlling the cult will never be initiated because it requires a Cult lore of at least 1, but let’s see if we can find ways to get a modern version of the games over the barrier for Minor Virtue initiation:
- We might again assume the mystogogue, who is presumably from House Tytalus, has a Presence higher than 0. Some of the Leper-magi have huge Presence scores because of the terror their condition evokes.
- Were I to suggest that the games are run by and for House Tytalus, and that House Tytalus Lore sufficed as a cult lore, that makes the score markedly easier to reach.
- An Ordeal, of course, fixes everything.
- A Sympathetic bonus is possible, if the final virtue is suitable.
- A sacrifice might also work. Destroying a talisman, for example.
So, there’s a loose structure here that may suggest that the point of the Normandy Tournaments is to prove a Quest for magi on a mystery path.