In Ars Magica we have four elemental arts. The one which fits the magic system least well is Aquam, and because it doesn’t fit the system particularly well, there have been very few Aquam specialists designed during the game. The story of the Founders didn’t explain where Aquam came from: the druid Diedne perhaps, so that’s why we don’t know much about it.

I think perhaps the weakness of the concept behind Aquam is one of the reasons that we never got Art splat books. It’s pretty clear what you could do with an Animal book. It’s pretty clear what you could have done with an Ignem book before the House Flambeau splatbook chapter. What would we have done with Aquam?

In the free, vanilla covenant supplement we used Aquam’s origin, with the mystery cult of Nodens. I also used this a long time ago in Sanctuary of Ice, when I suggested that the was a protofounder interested in the art of Aquam near Lake Geneva. The protofounders are the magicians who trained with Bonisagus but did not go on to found Houses, generally because they were elderly and died during the lengthy process of the setting up of the Order of Hermes.

Let’s look at one facet of the art. The spell guidelines say that slightly unnatural water, or liquids, are easier to create than highly unnatural water. What counts as slightly or highly unnatural? Those of us who have played Aquam magi know you can use this rule to end run the magic item creation process by creating highly unnatural liquids.

“This water, when you drink it, makes you fly.” is a highly unnatural liquid, but should  it be prevented? Probably. How about “This liquid, itself, flies so if I fill a cauldron with it, an then I can fly by sitting in the cauldron.” You get damp, but you can still fly without mastering other Arts which are usually required for travel magic.


Without wanting to stake out the furthest edges of what’s possible with the art of Aquam, I’d like to define what a slightly unnatural liquid is. In my own campaigns, a slightly unnatural liquid takes one of the natural properties of water and expands it to an unusual, supernatural degree. Let’s just work through these natural properties of water and see what can be done with them.

Water is a solvent. This means that acids are slightly unnatural liquids rather than being highly unnatural, just because they’re very effective in combat scenarios. I also allow specific solvents. For example, a heist could be performed by creating a liquid that dissolved silver specifically, flooding the basement of a miser, then evaporating the runoff for the silver dust. In my campaign that would be slightly unnatural. This also allows a character to non-violently disarm opponents. Water which is a specific solvent for iron could be used spray enemies down so that their gear degrades.

Water is incredibly heavy. We tend not to think about it as being heavy because it doesn’t hold its shape. If you’ve ever tried working in a building which has a flat roof, particularly during the cyclone season in north Queensland you’ll know that raindrops are essentially pebbles that are slightly friendlier. If you wanted to crush something you could easily do it with a column of water.


(When editing this podcast I came back in at this point to mention snow. I’ve seen snow twice in my life, I believe. I live in northern Australia where snow is a thing that happens to other people. I presume if you come from a snowy area you will have  some sympathy with this idea that water is ridiculously heavy and can be really inconvenient.)

Water disperses heat. I’d like to think this is why there are so few water magi around. I think House Flambeau hunted them down and immolated them. In my own game Aquam counterspells are really effective against Ignem. A Aquam spell of the same magnitude, plus one added Size, sucks up all the heat of an Ignem spell. Water that has the same effect at a lower volume is slightly unnatural.

Water is coherent and adherent. Slightly unnatural water that was more coherent than normal water doesn’t part, which lets you use some of the other properties more destructively. Adherence allows water to stick to things. Turning water into glue is only slightly unnatural. It’s the stickiness of water that makes it coat objects. You could drown someone with quite a small amount of water, merely by making it particularly adherent. Similarly, in many parts of Mythic Europe, it’s so cold that if you can keep an opponent wet you don’t really have to do much more to kill them.


Water has high surface tension compared to other liquids. This means that it’s not difficult to make water that you can walk on, for example. Similarly if you make water which is highly coherent and not particularly adherent, you’d have a particularly smooth surface, which you could use for sliding objects or for skating quickly. The surface tension of water creates capillary action. That’s where water appears to defy gravity by crawling up the sides of things. Water with a very high surface tension would be able to crawl over barriers.

To move on to the concept of ice: ice is unusual in that it’s a solid that is larger than the same weight of the equivalent liquid. Ice floats because it displaces sufficient water: most solids don’t do this. A slightly unnatural liquid would be one that created an enormous amount of ice for a small amount of liquid. One of the ways that permeable rock is broken down into tillable soil is via frost. The water in rocks freezes and expands, cracking them slightly. The next frost, more water having filled the crack, it is stretched even wider. Eventually this turns the rock into gravel, then sand. A spell can make this process more rapid, by freezing and melting the water many times each hour. Ice can also be used as a construction material, particularly if you create ice that melts at an unnaturally high temperature. It is particularly good for boat making.

Water doesn’t compress very much, which is very important in the creation of hydraulic power transmissions. That is: a great deal of power can be forced through a column of water, if the column of water can be contained. In real-world machines the problem is containing that pressure. In Mythic Europe, magic itself provides the containment mechanism. This means that contained units of water (remembering that it is heavy and coherent) can be used much like rock or metal.

So to revise. Water is a solvent. It is adherent and coherent. This creates capillary action. Water forms ice. Water is great at trapping heat and has a high heat of vaporization. Water is heavy and it does not compress. These features, taken to an extreme, are defining characteristics of slightly unnatural water.


This is a transcript of the Games From Folktales podcast.

 Photo credit: technicolor76 via Remodel Hackers / CC BY


4 replies on “Slightly Unnatural Water

  1. Very interesting indeed! A few comments if I may?

    Water isn’t heavy, it’s dense, meaning it’s heavy for its volume. Semantics, but kind of an important difference.

    More relavntly for Ars Magica, if an acid is an unnatural liquid, wouldn’t an acid that only dissolves silver be highly unnatural? Only a few natural acids dissolve silver, and those all dissolve most other things. This was probably known during the 13th century – certainly I’ve seen references to acids being used to test the purity of gold (even fewer acids dissolve gold) during this periode. This would also provide an exmple of aq highly unnatural liquid, which we also lack.


  2. Oddly enough, I’ve gone back through my much loved copy of Sanctuary of Ice and can’t seem to find this protofounder you mentioned…
    I’m trying to see if a lineage of experts can inspire my players…


      1. Still can’t find it…ghost of early magi at Botzberg, a female archdruid at Dolmeschg, Juno’s Spire…
        But I somehow keep missing the reference


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