A Future ArM 6 -- what is ESSENTIAL?

Dare I say necessary seasons for research and the like? Start at 1220 with magi just out of gauntlet you're looking at 1240-1250 before magi are together enough to take an apprentice, and that's if they focus on taking an apprentice and shoring up their Arts to 5, getting a teaching score, etc. 30 years, or a 120 seasons sounds like a lot of time, but it really isn't, because you need to be ready to do things with your apprentice in the lab when you get an apprentice, IMO at least 2 seasons out of every year...

I think Seasons work fine within the context of the game. So I disagree there.
Also, I think Characteristics are an essential part of any RPG character. It gives one a good feel for the character's potential upon a quick reading, and is a common feature in just about every RPG i have seen (table top and computer). Are there more innovative and interesting ideas? Perhaps, but these are best reserved for another game designed from the ground up.

"Works fine within the context of the game" ignores the fact that the game is not profitable, and as such something working fine within that context is to say it may not work- in this case it alienates the potential customers who choose not to play because they don't want to play Mage: The Accountancy
Personally I like Mage:The Accounancy, but at minimum the game has to be redesigned so people who don't like it are able to play the game they like and the accountants can do their thing in the background between games. Lab work should be able to be broken up and handled between adventures. Seasons as they currently exist do not lend themselves to this, especially with the idea of 1 adventure/season maximum.

In the GenCon threat it has been clarified that the game is profitable...

FWIW, almost no one I know plays under the concept of Adventure XP taking an entire season, as the RAW suggests. It's probably the most common (unwritten) house rule adopted. Take adventure XP and finish your seasonal activities, applying any applicable time penalty for the time of the adventure...

Except, as has been clarified, the game is profitable. More so than most actually. The problem is cash flow. The issue isn't the game or the rules, but rather, it is the struggles present in the modern publishing industry.

((clarification found here))

We tried that, but went back to the RAW. If you can squeeze in both an adventure and lab work the progression is fast. And it quickly creates a gap between those roleplayer-accountants who know how to get the most out of seasons of study and lab work and those who don't. If they both get story exp but one magus wastes the rest of the season while the other reaps in Book Learner enhanced study exp, writes books to sell for vis, or enchants powerful devices power levels differ.
I see where this idea is coming from, as a way to ensure that magi are actually played on stories not just grinding downtime. But it removes any choice on the player's part whether to go out on adventure or to stay home. we did this once in a group where almost all players always played their magi all the time. Some did not grasp the concept of multiple characters, some could not manage to create a companion or grog that wasn't unplayable freaks. We also saw lab-rat magi loath to ever go out, and thought this was a way of egging them on. Magi Verditii especially can easily become tool introvert.

In later sagas we've begun to enforce the choice between Story or Seasonal activity and I have to say it works fine. People are forced to think long and hard about what the character's personality and concept would decide here. For small, short stories the Story exp are often modest so the season is often better spent reading or whatever. For some of us Independent Study is a popular virtue, to support an outgoing character concept. With increased Story exp this may be a better chocie than reading a sub-par book or if the season's activity wasn't anything important.
As for Verditii in play Tellus in the newest Rhine saga has the concept that the Verditius magus is a stay at home guy, producing devices for the rest of us, namely his companion characters who is then set to be very active. The outside stories involve a lot of interaction with mundanes, nobility, guilds, the church as well as other covenants. The inside stories about our covenant and the village it is located in, about grander Hermetic plots at Tribunal and such this introvert Verditius can easily participate in.

This is true, but beyond this, there is also the case that aspects of the niche Ars Magica has occupied in the past may be shrinking.

When I first picked up Ars Magica in the very early 1990s, it was light years ahead of games like AD&D in terms of its narrative tropes, internal consistency and innovative options within the magic system and elsewhere. These days, D&D has a much more fluid game engine and inclusive design and many of Ars Magica’s innovations have been assimilated into the gaming community at large. There are a lot more imaginative magic systems in various RPGs than there used to be for example. It’s niche has thinned to the degree that it’s really only the authenticity of the mythic medieval world and it’s attention to detail that truly marks it apart anymore.

This is not to downplay it at all - indeed, it merely highlights it’s influence.

It gets tricky. My guess is that it takes a long time to make a character. That appeals to some and not to others. It would be better to just list the cons of the system/game and see if any would benefit from a change.

Here are some I have come up with...
a) Long time to make character - this depends. A base level character from just the main book would take about 30-45 minutes for a new person with a mentor helping. Add in other books to expand the Houses/Tribunals and it would take much longer even for someone familiar with the game.
b) historical setting with different rules ( Aristotle physics) - Historical setting is a bonus in may cases as it is familiar. You are on Earth in medieval times and not in Greyhawk of which you know nothing. Add in physics working differently and you must understand the difference to work some magic. Now I need to get A&A and understand it because the base rule book does not (an cannot ) go into great detail on it.
c) Rules glut - Could a troupe play with the main rule book and perhaps a tribunal book? Sure. Consider that the Covenant rules book is "advanced" rules and the history of the Houses plus extra House virtues/flaws are not needed to run a game but consider trying to run a game without the Mystery Houses book for any of those Houses. It would work a group right out of apprenticeship but not for long. So you are at the main rule book plus a tribunal and the 3 house books for a game of any length of time.

Well, a lot of it depends upon how fast the saga progresses. IMO, if you're playing out every single season you need something like this, or you play static characters. And I'm not really commenting on whether it is a good idea or a bad idea, I'm just saying I see it all the time, so much so that players actually forget what the RAW is and say what they are doing is RAW.

About the number of books needed to play:
I never even touched a Tribunal book until way after I had bought 5th ed and some time into actually playing it. In all my years of 4th ed gaming we never needed or wanted one. Of course this means having to brew up a Tribunal of your own devising, invent names of covenants and some of the magi, decide upon politics etc. But it doesn't have to be that hard, just decide upon a gimmick for each covenant, or a House that dominates it and leave naming individual magi until later. As for politics you'd need at least one theme or plotline, decide who is dominant, and perhaps for two covenants to hate each other and thus work against one another. Of course this may seem like a lot of work, and if people already think it is too much work just generating a simple character...then you may have to fork out the greenbacks for a Tribunal book. Same for adventures: buy the book or do the work.

IMHO only the core rules are needed to play, although I remember reading about the Mystery Houses for the first time and having no idea what so ever about Mysteries until I got Mystery Cults. Core rules lack the simple description of Mystery initiations that GotF has about Nature Lore.
Back in 4th ed the only book we used apart from the core rules was the Grimoire. Plus the Houses of Hermes for a little more fleshing out of the Houses.

Since then I've grown very fond of the Tribunal books. I find the books with adventures and stories very good, but I find I have a hard time actually running them. Some things always contradict what the saga is like. Plus I have trouble remembering things from reading a supplement, while notes I take for plots of my own devising are easily remembered. I don't cook very well from a recipe either.

For a novice group trying Ars Magica for the first time the Semita Errabunda resources from the Atlas website seems a good start. For further play using the magi templates from the core book can also save time in character creation.

Which was my point for just listing it and it goes to what the thread title is. What would be the bear minimum to play? The Core rule book. After that the Mystery Houses book for any player from those houses. A Tribunal book for whichever tribunal you are playing ( if it is in the 5th Ed). Could you survive without a Tribunal book? Sure. Not so much without the Mystery Houses book ( only if a player is in one of those Houses).

Honestly I think many people see Mythic Europe as a straight jacket rather than a feature- I know in my troupe they indicated they felt like the setting meant they could never do anything epic or that had any real effect beyond their covenant. No rings to throw into volcanoes, no epic wars that were not already scheduled and decided...

So what we need is a line to the effect that:

Although it looks like Magi cannot ever make large scale alterations to history as we know it, the conceit is the history up until (insert game year) has been the result of large powerful forces cancelling each other. This is in no way guaranteed to continue and you might find your campaign diverging significantly from the history books of our world or you might not. Take the campaign setting for what it is: a jumping off point for which you don't need to buy piles and piles of books, but instead any wiki article could inspire you, because all the background splat books are real history up to (insert game year). Anything beyond that is not guaranteed to happen.

Bob

Also, are those wars foregone conclusions? Or is it up to the player characters to MAKE them so?

I think the fundamental issue is the one of exceptionalism- all these forces have somehow balanced until now and then- what? those balancing forces have disappeared? Need to be overcome? Even with that sentence in the text the overwhelming feel of the game is that the middle ages will remain the middle ages, as written, because God has decreed it will be so.
Which is also a very real in game mechanic as written, one my players found even on a merely conceptual level disheartening.

Magi created the world as of 1220, they were behind the scene actors, they had to be behind the scenes, because of the Code. This is almost like Jonathan Strange making the road for Wellington in Spain that helped move troops about. Or something.

Sometimes the setting can seem stifling, but more than likely you can plant a Hermetic actor behind some mundane event.

"The default assumption is that Mythic history will diverge from real history after 1220, as player characters interfere, but that need not be true in your saga."

(ArM5, page 216)

That conceit never really worked for me. When you have great supernatural powers colliding, the result is not something mundane. Where are the great wizard wars? Where are the armies turned to pigs, the kingdoms cursed, the kings assassinated by magic, the monstrous hordes, the army of dragons, the great acts of direct magical devastation? The canon history of Ars Magica includes some magic, but not at this scale. Yet Hermetic magic can do all of that. This just doesn't gel.

I'd suggest moving the timeline of the setting to the Foundation of the Order. Ramp up the canon history to include more Mythic elements, but at the scale of hedge and non-Hermetic magic - from magical assassination attempts to pagan gods walking amongst men. And explicitly include a few grand supernatural wars involving Ancient Magic in the deep history (the Titanomachia, plus a highly-Mythicised version of the Mesopotamian-Egyptian wars over the Levant). You now have hedge-magic affecting the setting up to now, and you have Hermetic magic poised to make grand changes to the setting on the scale that was done before.

This will lower the appeal of Ars Magica to the history-buff crowd. But they can have their mundane Mythic Europe by dialing down the magic to return to real history much more easily that the Mythicists can add up a plausible Mythic back-history - especially in 1220, after centuries of Hermetic magic supposedly not-affecting the setting.

The basic concept of the game is "powerful wizards in high medieval Europe". This, fundamentally, does not make sense. However, change either of those points and you don't really have Ars Magica.

Hence the thread about derived games.