A Future ArM 6 -- what is ESSENTIAL?

I think there's a way to leverage virtues and flaws and make character creation potentially easier. I've shared (elsewhere) my view on a directed character creation that takes you through stages of the character's background (childhood, what it is that gives them their magic, their apprenticeship, their House/tradition, etc.) and at each point the decisions you make open up a couple of V/F choices.

Quick example... If I decide my magus' magic comes from some kind of frost giant lineage from back in the day, that background might open up a focus in "cold effects", or you have some kind of affinity with the creatures of the arctic north.

Rather than leave the player to scan through pages of virtues and flaws deciding whether the character's magic comes from the blood of a frost giant, a curse laid upon their family, a bargain made with a faerie, a prophecy foretold, or some other kind of background, directs the player towards certain specific options.

These "backgrounds" for want of a better word (and I appreciate that this is probably now overloaded what with D&D5 having backgrounds too) could be setting and tradition specific. Once you start layering them up (you're from a poor background / you were abandoned at a monastery, your magic is a curse / a spirit gave you its power, you were saved by your master / you were stolen away by your master, etc.) then your character starts to take on a life of its own and the choices of V/F (or equivalent) start to arise as a natural consequence.

Those descriptive elements also start to act as story flaws in that they give the storyguide something to hang a story off.

I could also see each supplement (based on area, time period, magical tradition, whatever) publishing new "backgrounds" that support the supplement and the target play style. So if we put out a fifteenth-century supplement, the action might move to the Italian peninsular and we might have backgrounds modelling artistic patrons, alchemists, mercantile families, etc. These would be different from the Celtic/Pictish/British/Druidic backgrounds that the sixth-century British Isles setting provided.

I don't know, it's an idea, right? I like how Virtues and Flaws allow me to make my Verditius a little different to your Verditius, but I don't like being swamped with a lot of Virtues and Flaws that I don't really want and being left to choose between them. I want to build my character and for those special touches to derive naturally from the background choices I make when building the character.

You're almost certainly right, Matt. I'm not trying to insist that Ars maintain a high barrier to entry, or even that it maintain a high requirement of GM prep. I love me some story games too.

I was just trying to say that I do find the prep to be fun, and part of the game, albeit one enjoyed solo rather than at the table.

Personally, I think it's a great idea. It reminds me a little of other (more recent) games where you add one distinguishing trait to your character as you go through each of three-five distinctive phases. So maybe in childhood you get Immunity: Cold, as a young apprentice you acquire Magical Focus: Cold, and then in your Gauntlet you get Reputation: Giant-Killer. This makes character creation into a group exercise, and allows players to build connections between each other before play. It is character creation as play -- which we already have, but it exchanges a solo mini game for a group mini game, more like the way we currently come up with the covenant.

I think that part of the problem is that the enjoyment from (often solo) character/covenant/spell/item tinkering is the sort of thing that many people now derive in a more accessible way from fooling about with online/phone games (not necessarily a better way, but certainly more accessible).

Perhaps, an approach to ArM6 is to hand all the calculations and number checking and other tinkering stuff off to apps. You wouldn't even need the rules for a lot of it in the core book --- the rules could be hidden in the app.

Of course, the luddite in me is screaming and bashing his head against the wall at the very thought of having ArM apps being required for the game.

"Alternative histories" is not the same as "generic fantasy"
If the Romans had won the battle of Frigidus over the Byzantines, and subsequently the war, then mythic Europe would be much different than what we have in the 'close' timeline. Allowing mages to travel between worlds where history had a different outcome could open up a lot more stories and still keep the core setting, possibly with a new art or two.

Personally I think the appeal problem at this point is a combination of prep time and constraint- the world is over-defined to the point that the players have little room for their own creativity. That is why games tend to occur in chaotic situations- wars the characters are involved with, frontiers, an apocalypse... playing in a world where everything just rolls along and there is a feeling that the future is predetermined (because it is tied to real world history) tends to kill enthusiasm.

Then there are the real world conflicts barely mentioned such as the prevalence of the celtic monastic forms of Christianity which the Catholic church was competing with for dominance in the 13th century at the same time it was splitting from the Eastern Orthodox...
the game system has very powerfull magic that has been overwhelmed by mundanity..

... asking another member of my group they indicated that basically what they disliked the most was the troupe style of play... and the time frames of spending seasons and facing the eventual death of their magus from old age.

I feel, that the first place to take complexity out of a renewed Ars is the covenants.

  • Covenants ground sagas in Mythic Europe.

  • Setting them up did always benefit from a cooperative, narrativist approach, driven by research of their place and its history - and did suffer from gamesy catalogues of covenant properties to pick from.

  • Laboratories are rather extensions of mage characters than parts of the covenant. Shouldn't they also be treated like this in the rules?

  • The covenant's library and vis income are the main joint resources for the development of characters in the saga. It is these sagas, not the covenants themselves, that IMO warrant classifications by seasons - and thereby should be discussed with the troupe when determining the power curve of magi (as Andrew Gronosky suggests in https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/card-board-games-archive-links/116/1 ).

What do you think?


I really like the idea of background-based character creation, provided it is kept simple.

The reason I like it is because the background generates a story. Stories are far easier for people (especially new people) to understand, and they create a narrative that is incomplete.

This is ideal. A great approach would be to develop and distribute (for free) a starter-version of this character creation system, because the resulting characters aren't going to be just numbers but stories waiting to happen. Stories, ideally, that the creators want to have told.

Which does rather sum up a lot of modern RPG business: games design, user acquisition and marketing all need to be intertwined.

I think it's a good idea, but it's diametrically opposite to Andrew's idea that the number of Virtues and Flaws could be reduced. You would also need, probably in a supplement, a way to cut the V&Fs free from the backgrounds, for people who had character concepts that didn't fit the list that the authors had managed to come up with.

Because RPGs are supposed to inspire imagination, they quickly hit the point where a substantial part of the fan base finds the guidelines constraining. Look at Pathfinder for an example. You choose one of eight classes. Easy. Oh, or the other dozen classes. And then there are about a dozen archetypes per class. And feat choices. I think this is the nature of ArM-style RPGs. Story games get around the idea by basically dropping the ideas of character creation and ongoing campaigns; you get together to tell a particular story. You probably do it once. This is a good style of game, but it's different.

...I don't get it.

Prep time in the game is high, so a defined world cuts down on prep time, but that defined world is a bad thing? Real history is the game's greatest resource AND an easy source of inspiration - because truth is stranger than fiction.

Don't we sort of have that, though? You've got your 'childhood' skill packages, your choice of House and your apprenticeship XP and spells. Going beyond that with "Ice mage with giant blood in his veins" and you're sort of into splatbooks full of starter packages.

What could be done is have a free virtue based on your pre-apprenticeship background. A blacksmith's son is likely to have Puissant Craft:Blacksmith, even if he's strong in the magic of bees and never picks up a hammer in his life.

....and now I'm picturing a Jerbiton magus who was born a peasant and is highly resentful of the nobility for keeping his relatives in what amounts to slavery.

Yes and no.

Yes in that for those of us who have played Ars Magica a lot, the system itself sparks story concepts. But there's actually a fair amount of creative heavy lifting to move from a collection of virtues and flaws to a memorable character concept. And vice versa is similarly hard.

What I've learned (the hard way) is that when dealing with people who are new to something, you need to do quite a bit of the creative heavy lifting for them. If you don't, they'll move on to something else. You need to hook people in with some nice, easy stories that they can get excited about.

The limited classes in DnD or Pathfinder or whatever are an example of this; they do a huge amount of the thinking for the player. It's a pre-packaged 'this is cool!' that the player can be excited about. It comes with level progression that unlocks new and funky abilities that give the player something to look forward to. It hooks into a lot of sales/marketing techniques; ultimately giving the player something they can not just create now, but plan for in the future.

This is something I personally love about Ars Magica's 'character' game - working out the different options for characters. I will spend literally hours designing countless spells, magic items, etc. - most of which never go past a giant word document full of crazy off-the-wall spell ideas, etc. But this is a relatively recent habit of mine (within the last four years), while I've been playing Ars Magica since 3rd edition. And, sadly, it's actually hitting the same 'need' that skimming through the character class and feat writeups in Pathfinder or DnD does, only with the latter it is something I can be on-board and doing within literally minutes of picking up the rulebook for the first time.

So where am I going with this?

A huge part of the success of any game comes down to making the player want to play the game a second time. Or open the rulebook and keep playing with it after their initial browse through. And this basically comes down to stories - not stories as in 'The Story of the Demon Tower', but stories as in memories the player has of enjoying the game; both memories of what has happened and more importantly the prospective 'what if...' stories of what the player will experience if they keep at it, give it a go, recommend it to their friends, whatever.

Ultimately, it is this 'potential for future awesome' that sells games. It's why level-up tables are so successful, despite their many flaws and accompanying ironies.

This is why anything that helps on-board a player with prospective 'I want to play my character and see their story continue' mechanics is not just a good thing, but something that needs to be at the forefront of any design work.

No, I honestly don't see why Intelligence is an Attribute (+X on all skill rolls involving intelligence) and not a Virtue (+X on all rolls involving Intelligence). The Attributes could go completely and no-one should care.

Also, the virtues are listed by their in-world effect, not their game effect, so we have dozens and dozens of "+3 on Ability roll" Virtues, which are actually all the same virtue, mechanically.

Flaws are a mix of "I nerf my character in ways I don't care about to get a benefit in do care about" which are rubbish and "I tell you all, this is what is cool for me to do." which is great.

The limit is 1 story flaw...which seems a bit limiting.

The House Flaws don't work except to enforce character class. Also, they wreck the Tremere to such an extent that they have reacted to it in-world.

I can see that as an online tool, actually.

I hate Seasons.

I have hated them since I first saw them.

They come from Huzinga, in the 16th Century, and they are anachronisms.

This idea that history is a cycle of creation and destruction is imperialist bunkum, and was used to justify ceaseless European nation-state wars. You need to fight to prove you are not the sick man of Europe.

I hate them as markers of tone. Power and happiness are the same, in the season system.

I hate them as upper caps on what the characters can achieve. I kind of destroyed that in Covenants, by making the season just what the PCs could access...

Seasons are bad history, encourage bad design, and import a metaplot of hopelessness.

I do not like them Sam-I-am.

I hate them as a mechanical limitation. I like them as a general description.

+1. It's a Special Circumstance, a FATE Aspect.

Dixit https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/character-generation-and-virtue-list/9705/1:

I'd be surprised if more than 100 of them are useful or cannot be merged into a few generic ones. And I'd rather pair up a Member-of-Tradition Virtue to a generic Virtue for any one Method + 2 Powers as a reduction on the full-fledged Tradition.

Apparently you refer to Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) [see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Autum ... iddle_Ages ]. I read it decades ago and can still tell you, that you do him wrong in the remainder of your post https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/intellego-and-warping/142/1 . But this is not the purpose of this thread.

Neither is this 'Huzinga-digression'' related to my post https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/catnip-garlic/129/1 . Actually I would not mind to classify campaign power levels in another way than by seasons - which would do away with yet another entrenched ArM concept of covenants.


A more streamlined virtue system would be nice, as would assistance (but not requirement) from a background system.

I like how D+D Next does its backgrounds - gives a bunch of examples, allows you to roll on a table and then work with stimulus or just completely make it up with some guidelines for stringing it together. I think that would be a great idea for magical houses, and could well be done for other parts of life.

Essential? I think retaining the capacity for long term saga play is essential. It really is what makes Ars differ from the rest. I could play Mythic Europe in almost any system.

I think the most important, essential thing with 6th is to bring it to newbies. How to do that? I suppose there's plenty of suggestions here. But if people make 6th for the fans of 5th edition... why not just remake 5th as 5.5? That'd make the current fans a lot happier I believe. It wouldn't bring anyone new in, because most of the issues that stop new players will still be there.

The whole Virtue/Flaw mechanic could be simplified and streamlined, limit the choices and weed out the ones that are the same. Characters pick one Virtue underlining what and who they are and what they do. Limit Flaws to Story Flaws and Hermetic/Supernatural ones.

*Grogs pick one Virtue for background: Either an innate knack (Puissance), special training (extra exp in limited group of abilities, access to specific ability classes), natural feat (from an example list e.g. luck, lightning reflexes), or a supernatural ability.
*Companions pick one Virtue for background, as above. Plus another one paid for by a Story Flaw.
*Magi get a Virtue for background, one House Virtue (general or Hermetic) from Apprenticeship and can take another paid for by Story Flaw.

So all in all fewer Virtues and a lot fewer Flaws. Save that for the really important ones. Emphasis on taking Personality Traits rather than take Flaws to demand certain traits at certain levels. These still shape the character.
Of course V&Fs need balancing if one wants to do away with Minor/Major alternatively substitute "one Virtue/Flaw" for "one Major or two Minor".
Characteristics could be dropped and instead created as Virtues. Sub-average values could be simulated with a Flaw, but then again you'd get more Flaws into the mix than I had otherwise imagined. Bu instead of giving the background Virtue for free it could require a Flaw to balance it out.

Another approach could be to meld Virtues and Flaws together - call them Descriptors, Traits or any other such name - and have them contain both a positive and a negative side. More positive effects affecting things most of the time and lesser negative sides only relevant at some occasions. So that an advantageous feat has a drawback, likely related to something opposite to the positive side. Like the 'frost giant blooded' magus who has a focus for ice and cold and/or immunity probably has a weakness concerning fire or heat, not a broad weakness but something more limited in order to still make the overall trait positive. Or a 'nimble rogue' companion has bonus to rolls to jump about and do things quick and with finesse, but lack power and strength. So his fighting style is throwing daggers which rarely penetrate an armour, but when he hits good it's a killing blow to a weak spot in the armour. And most traits would have an opposite number. Like a 'massive bull' grog who is big and tough and can overpower his enemies wearing them down and beating them senseless. But he lacks finesse and has little chance of disarming a foe or hitting a chink in the armour.
This way something positive is always balanced by a drawback, and further a certain type of way to play the character, certain ways of dealing with things. In essence these feats also contain a little bit of personality.