A Future ArM 6 -- what is ESSENTIAL?

I'm currently playing in a Parhfinder mythos with Ars Magic rules. It has been fun.

I am kind of attached to the Houses. I started with 4th and materials from 3rd. Actually I started with Mage, and the concepts of House Flambeau as described in Book of Chantries drew me to seek out Ars Magica.

What if we dispensed with Covenants? Granted, there needs to be a McGuffin to draw the party together, and a Covenant is the easiest example we have thus far. But what if instead each magus had their own little private sanctum apart from other people, and a private allotment of resources?

I think the conclusion to be drawn from this thread is that, in one sense, nothing is essential, and in another sense, everything is. Any individual element can be dropped, and most people will still think it is Ars Magica. On the other hand, if you drop anything, then some people will think you are destroying the heart of the game.

This is why I think discussing derived games is likely to be more useful. Don't forget that Atlas is considering lots of possibilities for extending the line, so things that are clearly not Ars Magica (like Mythic Britain, or games with accessible parallel worlds/alternate histories) are things that might be of great interest. Arguments over the definition of what counts as Ars Magica are of substantially less interest.

I'm not even sure that discussing what has to be in a new core rule book is that helpful, because of the lack of consensus over what a new edition should look like. Maybe it would be better to have that discussion on the assumption that it is still ArM5, but you are producing a new core rule book to make the game more accessible. So, no rule or setting changes, but you can add and remove material.

Covenants (as a concept, not necessarily in their actual form) is the one thing I have taken from Ars Magica and tried very hard to spread to every other game I GM.
Do not mess with the covenants, they are a stroke of genius in motivating characters to stay together.

Covenant is the central character of an Ars Magica saga.

Covenants and Covenant Charters are essential narrative Ars Magica concepts. I doubt, though, whether the ArM5 rules to create covenants are similarly essential. Narrativist approaches - like from FATE - to define a covenant might be more appropriate, combined with guidance for the anyway necessary research of the covenant's place and history.
(EDIT: This change may be of interest for a revised ArM5 core rule book.)

20 powerful wizards can be just as bad as 400 or 2000.
The issue is always,
(1) to have them credibly block each other's schemes to rule and change Mythic Europe,
(2) while the player magi plan to break that stall.
For this, both the Oath of Hermes and the Order of Hermes are essential, and extremely hard to replace by a credible alternative.
(EDIT: So, this needs to be kept in a revised ArM5 core rule book.)

The Houses serve a double purpose: they help players to define their characters, and storyguides to embed these characters into the society of the Order of Hermes. They are simplistic, and most defy even superficial sociological analysis. But they would have to be replaced, not just done away with.
(EDIT: Leaving most of the Houses to the HoH: books, and adding in a revised ArM5 core book other means to define player characters and their relation to the Order, needs to be discussed more in detail yet.)


EDIT: I just see that David Chart (in Familiars from the start) has suggested to redefine the scope of this thread.

That might take some marketing research to say why players think it is not accessible. Is it too complex rules? Too many books?

Just as a guess, I would remove Houses from the main book. If people want to play with them they can buy the 3 House books. I would do this because the Mystery Houses are not playable from the base rule book. So just remove all Houses and let new players play any wizard they want.

Then the rulebook needs a single source for the Level Guidelines so different books are not needed to find them all.

Another alternative is to break the rulebook into 2 smaller books. Have a players guide with the Houses ( including the Mystery Cult paths) spells, virtues and flaws, grogs and companions. A second book for the Setting with all of the realms, regios, beasties and background for Mythical Europe. Basically things needed for the Story Guide.

Cults often do. And most houses can be seen as cults of personality in their formation, though it doesn't explain how some of them have held together.

I read most of the thread
I think that's easier to reduce choice by "house rule" when there are lots of choice than to make a lot with to few choice...
so I am very happy with virtues and flaws proposed by the game. I made a file where they are so that i can easily choose amongst different categories.
As far as experimentation is concerned, I love the experimentation table which is absolutely needed to make a mage richer... I love all the possibilities of research that make that game so riche in possibilities... so I wouldn't like those possibilities be reduced...
Experimentation is one the things very interresting when the mage stay in his laboratory between adventures.
I hope that one day we could have the tribunals that were made in 3d and 4th edition remade as in the 5th in a further edition.
I would also love be able to play at the time of the creation of the Order.

A lot of the talk on this thread is about either rules presentation or fairly minor tweaks to the existing ruleset.

Honestly, perhaps the most essential aspect of a future AM6, for me and in relation to my purchasing decision, is that it not be the same as AM5. This isn't because I dislike AM5, it's because I like AM5 very much, own most of the product line, and am generally satisfied with it. I have trouble picturing starting all over with a very similar game when I can continue to use what's already printed.

I have very little experience with RPGs as a business but I think going this route would be a mistake.

I kept these things to my magical middle ages Savage Worlds campaign:

-vis (single type)
-longevity potion (in a rewritten form)
-magical skills like true sight, speak with animals and such. I kept actually only the related virtues and not the skills.
-magical aura (single type)
-learning spells from books (but only spells)

Not much, right? But people still called it an Ars Magica clone on the forums.

Anyway redesigning some rules would be good to the game. There are many incoherent parts where the rules don't fit to other books, for example the tribunal books.
-For example there are a lot of methods to extend the lifespan but the magi in tribunal books are too young. I know only a few of the tribunal books but the eldest German magus is only 160 years old!
-The tractatus rule makes the advancement too easy, makes learning from vis needless and requires a insane bookkeeping for older magi. An older magus may read many dozens of tractatus and you have to keep track perused books! And this rule also makes vis less valuable because you just write new tractatus and exchange them with other covenants.
-Your own pupil will be a double munchkin compared to the standard pupils. (I slowly forget ArM terms.)
-Enchanted devices has a huge, gamebreaking penetration bonus.

I think it would be enough to read the house rules topics of the forum and making an official beta ruleset from them every half year or so. After 2-3 such turns you would get rules which don't break the game and worth to be printed. If you know Blood Bowl game they did the same. After some editions they put their new ideas in 'living rulebook' pdfs and all the players tested them not just a few people. After many editions they finally got the best ruleset they could achieve.

Is anyone else finding this whole process really exhausting?

So, sure, it might be that I have a baby and some tool has just broken into my car, so I'm not in the best position to be chipper about things...but, has anyone else noticed that the author pool has fractured into several authors working on their own versions of what the new ArM6 could be? I know of at least four, counting my own.

I'm not really clear on how a mechanism for co-operation could work here, because whenever any of us needs to make a big call (or even a little call like "No Latin!") there's no client to decide, so the two groups fission off into two separate projects. There's no possibility of agile development, because there's no client, so there's no possibly of development in iterations, just people going off to create big slabs of text, one of which might eventually be picked up.

So, here in Australia at least, we call this the "competition" model. All of the creative weight and cost are bourne by the entrants, and the majority of entrants get nothing for their involvement. As a creative person, I hate the "competition" model. It's ridiculously wasteful in terms of the time and effort of the people who are doing the writing, because all of the versions which aren't going to die are pulled from the pool of resources that creates the fanzine material / web pages / podcasts whatever that fuel 5th.

So: what's essential for Ars 6th? Atlas communicating what it wants.
Now, I know the point of threads like this is that Atlas does not know precisely what it wants, in content terms, but if the plan really is "Let's just keep having discussions, possibly for a year, until someone designs a kickstarterable project." then I'd like to point out that what that does is takes even more of the weight of creating the game and puts it on the shoulders of the lightly-paid volunteers, and I think it's already cut the author pool up into little bits, and has it wasting its time on things which, after the competition is over, will be of no value. It's not like you can usefully recycle your version of Ars 6th, when another one makes it to the top.

So, it's not just essential for 6th: it's also essential for 5th, if "fan supported" is the new model, to get the many authors wasting time on 6th doing anything else.

I'm happy to help out on other people's designs, and even muck around with my own little pirate game, but I was trying to finish an article for one of the fanzines today and I was really struck by how little I felt any desire to finish the piece. Thinking through the reason I'm finding Ars exhausting, it's because I'm putting energy into a lot of stuff, and I know that the stuff I'm helping out with is stuff that's designed to compete with each other, and so most of it is going to be worthless. So, I can either ditch my version of the thing (which, who knows, might actually be the best version) or tell the other authors I'm not going to help them any more (and fracture the author pool, but I -like- working with them. That's how this whole thing worked.) or, I can just step away from Ars and go do my Librivoxing and ukelele practice. That's where the metagame is, for me, right now.

So, Atlas needs to decide if they wanted this to be design by competition.

If they did, well, there's nothing to be said. Presumably in the US, that's not considered as poorly as it is here.
If they didn't then they've lost control of this process of consultation and are burning out the author pool for no reason. To avoid this they need to give more direction on what they want, because the authors are wasting vast amounts of time, effort and energy writing multiple variants of 6th.

I think Atlas should either say, and mean, that they don't welcome submissions, or put up submission guidelines.

If Atlas really has no idea what is wanted, so that writing submission guidelines is not possible, then they should say that they will not accept any submissions for an Ars 6th core rules type of product until (date X), because the current situation is understood as being that informal pitches are welcome. This creates a time pressure to get these things finished before some other author hard-codes his mistakes* into 6th by getting his work into marketable form first.

So, yep, this current process? Atlas needs to give it some more direction.


  • "Mistakes" here being the things that the pool has disagreed on, which has led to splits into multiple different projects, not actual, obvious errors. Things like "No Latin", changes to multiples of 5 instead of 3, that sort of thing.

I don't see a process. Or a project to apply technical discussions on this thread to.

Who needs to make 'big calls' or pitches currently, with no publisher or project yet?

The future of ArM appears to be in a phase of commercial and strategic evaluation - with discussions of rules and background being just peripheral input.


I think it's too early to start work on ArM6 and for many of the reasons that Timothy outlined. But for me, the key barrier is that there's currently no (public) product vision for 6th. Without that product/brand vision there's very little to hang a game off.

We've all got ideas on what we'd do with the line and those range from a little nudge here and there to wholesale rewrite. And each of those ideas sees support and resistance in equal measure. I want to change the dice mechanic, I want to promote Mythic Europe as the game hook rather than the Order of Hermes, I want the game line to support a progression through time and support troupes better by feeding directly into their sagas. But each of those ideas will receive very valid criticism for which I have little answer.

So I'm happy to enjoy fifth edition for a good while yet. I might explore some of my ideas through Sub Rosa (dice mechanics, spontaneous magic, and character creation are good candidates there) but I don't have the energy to try to build my vision of 6th on the off-chance it's considered better than Erik's or Timothy's or Andrew's or Ben's or... The list goes on.

I'm quite sure that when the time is right for Atlas 6th will come about. I suspect that will start with some kind of vision document that clearly sets out how 6th will be different to 5th. No doubt some of the ideas from these here threads will make an appearance in one way or another. So I think this is all a useful sounding board, but this isn't how you develop a new edition of Ars Magica.

Atlas has nothing to do with this thread. It was started by Andrew Gronosky, and my main contributions have been to suggest that a discussion of ArM6 is a bit of a waste of time at this point. This is not part of any process, as far as Atlas is concerned; it's just an interesting thread on the forums.

I mean "this process" in a broader sense...but yes, it's fair to say I've been unclear. 8)

Well, in that case, there is no process yet because we still have to finish getting ArM5 published. Two books to go!

I don't recommend anyone putting significant effort into anything with a view to Atlas publication until Atlas say something about how they are going to do it.

Because I'm one of those guys organizing a project which Timothy is helping out with, I want to say that -- for my part at least -- this is not a contest in which only one game will win. I'm organizing a second fanzine, but I don't see it as a competitor to Mark's wonderful project. I'm not trying to write Ars Magica 6.

Rather, Ars Magica regardless of edition is a very large topic and I just want to help keep it alive. I want to add more toys to the toybox. Some campaigns are going to like one toy, others will like another. As long as people have fun reading about and using one of these toys, it's a win. I think I speak like this because that is how I have used RPG products over the years. When I saw the latest issue of Dragon, I might only use a single article. I might use none of it. But it was fun to read and it gave me ideas. It's no different with Realms of Power: the Infernal.

I'm personally not that interested in Ars Magica 6 in specific; I am, however, very excited about Ars Magica as a whole.

I on the other hand would be very interested in leading a 6th ed based on a point based character creation system with multiple timelines of alternate histories centered on mythic Europe. Options would be to rewrite from scratch and create my own system (presumably to try and sell) and call it something different than Ars Magica, convince Atlas to accept my vision, or purchase (and I have not been able to find any information as to what the price range would even hypothetically be if they were interested in selling) the rights to future Ars Magica editions. Notably the primary differences between option 1 and option 3 is price and name recognition...

As David says, there is no process at the moment.

I am interested in the ideas that previous ArM writers may have, but I want to make it very clear that I do not believe we're in the business of competitive models of "who gets to design Ars Magica?" being put forward to us. We're not, as far as I know, going to sell the rights to anyone, either. There is no contest or panel of judges or anything like that.

What we are interested in is fans carrying the torch for their own favorite editions and continuing to engage in communities of like-minded (and often contentious) folks who love the setting, the game, the characters, and everything else that has made ArM what it is.

I do, of course, absolutely understand the exhaustive nature of this kind of thing as a fan and designer. For years, I was the line developer for Dragonlance as a 3rd edition product line after starting as a fan and moving to a writer and designer. When 4th edition came around, the fan base splintered: some went back to AD&D 1st edition, others steadfastly held on to 3rd edition rules, still others decided to create a fan conversion of DL to 4th edition. We didn't have a unified "official" baseline for the property any more, and I have a sense that many of you might see this as being the case here.

I hope to have more for everyone to chew on in the coming months, but as David also says, we're not done with ArM5 yet.