The Fourth Cause
Characters who want to go it alone have a tough time ahead. Generally, learning the Spheres is a difficult undertaking normally. Discovering them through self-tutoring, practice and reading is even harder. That’s where the Library and Mentor backgrounds become invaluable.
As a rule of thumb, the below numbers are the standard time to learn a Sphere:
These times may seem rather lengthy, and they are. One doesn’t master magic overnight. However, they don’t refer to exclusive study; it’s not like the mage has to sit sequestered in a Sanctum for a full year doing nothing but studying. Rather, it refers to time that the mage must engage in moderate study, practice and general familiarity with the Sphere in question.
To simulate the effects of the Library background, the player can roll their Library rating against a difficulty of the desired Sphere rating plus 3 minus each level of Arete the mage has in excess of the desired Sphere rating. Successes divide into the time required to learn the Sphere. One success means it takes the base time; two successes, halve the base time; three successes cut it to one-third, and so on. A failure indicates the library does not have the materials and information to improve that Sphere using that library, while a botch indicates that the character has somehow damaged the library or ruined his research in a spectacular fashion. If the mage has acquired access to a library other than their own, the Storyteller will dictate the number of dice rolled as based upon the access granted and completeness of the library. Some rare and specialized libraries may reduce the difficult of the Library roll.
Conversely, a mentor is much more effective in teaching Sphere knowledge in a shorter period of time, but the mentor is not guaranteed to know the right Sphere, to always be willing, or able to help or to do the job for free. While learning from a mentor, paradigm should always be remembered; the mage will be taught the Sphere in the overtones of the paradigm of the mentor, which will affect how the Sphere is used as well as the mode and method of its foci. Use the Mentor background against the same difficulty, with each success halving the learning time. (One success equals base time, two equals one-half base time, and so on.) However, the mentor will naturally expect some favour of the student, as per the Protocols’ reference of a tutor’s debt. A failure on the roll indicates that the mentor does not have the appropriate knowledge, or is unwilling to help. A botched roll means that the character has alienated her mentor. Similar to a library, a mage can acquire a teacher that is not part of their Mentor background, however such a mentor is much more likely to expect favour and repayment. The Storyteller will judge the rating of such mentors based upon the mentor’s Instruction ability.
If using a library and mentor both, roll for each separately and take the best result. A good mentor is better than books, while really good research material is better than a crummy teacher. Add one to the final results, as long as both rolls succeeded. (Therefore, if you score two successes on a Mentor roll and one on a Library roll, it’s considered a three-success Mentor roll.) Of course, you run the risk of botching on either roll, and your character still has to pay his mentor for the services. It should also be noted that, at Storyteller discretion, other factors may speed up the time to learn a Sphere, such as the intercession of an appropriate Awakened Being, a spiritual realm (such as an Epiphamy), or certain Wonders (typically Grimoires).