I'm going to be Storyguiding a game of Ars Magica soon, which I hope will last for years. I'm hoping that you can give me some advice on common problems and how to overcome them, as well as any things I should be careful of.
I first played Ars Magica many years ago at university. I won't claim to have understood it, but I loved it! I played a Jerbiton air mage who went around doing anonymous good deeds for the peasantry and wrote tractati on spell mastery. I really liked how it de-emphasised combat, made ordinary people useful and powerful, and didn't have any huge setting-defining enemies that you had to struggle against.
If it matters, I started roleplaying through Vampire: the Requiem. Most of my experience has been in 7th Sea and Legend of the Five Rings.
Over the past year and a half, I've been running a game of Trail of Cthulhu. Originally it was for my husband and two of our friends, but we got two more players as it went on. It was my first venture into being a GM and I'm having a great time. They've asked me to run another game after this and said that I could pick whatever I liked, and I chose Ars Magica.
The first worry is that I'm not sure how to pitch the game. I want to run something slow and gentle that tells the story of "a community solving its problems with magic." My players are more used to something very GM-led with a defined plot. I hope they'll have fun with something more open, but I'm not sure how to help them get there.
We're probably going to have four regular players. Three of them are good friends but haven't ever played Ars Magica before. One is also a good friend and has played before several times.
This leads to the second worry: the experienced player really wants to include lots of extra content from other books. He's already asked if he can take some things from Ancient Magic and from The Mysteries Revised, and has mentioned wanting to start with a customised lab. I've told him no for now because I don't want to overwhelm the game with too much new content but I'm worried that he'll find it boring if the rest of us are still exploring the basics.
My third worry is that I don't want to ask the players to make too many decisions right away, before they really know what the consequences of those decisions are, but I also want to make them feel that the game belongs to them rather than just being a very GM-led adventure. One of my players is very into the Albigensian Crusade so I might set it in Languedoc to tie in with her knowledge, but apart from that I don't think they really know what they want yet. Medieval Europe is almost more foreign than a lot of fantasy settings, and is far larger.
I'd be really grateful for any advice you can give me, as well as anything you think I should be worried about that I haven't mentioned.
You may find it useful to have the players part of an established covenant, and the new-to-ArM players taken under an elder's wing, or multiple patrons. The newly gauntleted magi then can earn their way into membership through assorted services to the covenant. The more experience player might play a covenant companion of some experience, asked to shepherd them along. Similarly, a more experienced grog sergeant could be assigned to the fledglings; of course the new players would play young grogs.
If they are starting with the time-honored and usual path of starting their own covenant from scratch, possibly they have experienced covenfolk/grogs acquired from wherever the magi departed. Relatively nearby covenants may offer advice (good and bad) and aid (with more and less obvious strings attached).
The most important piece of advice, I think, is «keep it simple», but I think you have already thought of that. Keep most of the world and most of the rule set unknown and mysterious until the PCs discover it in game. There is no need for all players to make both companions and magi for the first story. Get used to the first character, possible a grog, in the first adventure, and then make more PCs when the players know what they want. There is not necessarily any need to make a covenant before the first story either, and this is true whether the PCs are going to found it or it already exists and simply has not been detailed yet. Exactly what and how much you make up front obviously depends on the troupe.
Another good idea is to make a key NPC straight away to act as a Gandalf type - someone to pull the strings in a benevolent way, without being part of the troupe. Two stereotypical variants of this is (1) the redcap who introduced the characters to each other, brokered a deal to join an existing covenant, or suggested a site to found a new one, and (2) the old and frail senior magus who has recruited the characters into his Winter covenant in a hope to turn it around to Spring. In both cases, you have an excuse to put the NPC into the group when it is necessary and pull him out when he would otherwise railroad the story. The redcap has other duties and primary loyalty to the tribunal and his house, and the old magus may be completely loyal to the PCs, but is too afraid of twilight to use magic and too frail to travel. Playing out council meetings is a good way to introduce ideas of how to explore and develop the area, and encourage the PCs to prioritise and follow up.
Sounds like you want to explore a Sandbox campaign (which Ars does very well).
Couple of key points to get any Sandbox game up and running.
Make sure the players know it will be a sandbox and they are expected to push the story forward themselves
Begin with a GM-led story arch that binds the player characters together, so that, in the future, they want/trust each other and will continue to work together (easier in Ars due to the covenant at least).
Explain to the group how Story flaws work in Ars. Anyone can have a tormenting mentor narrative wise, but by taking the Tormenting Mentor story flaw, that player is asking to have plots developed around it. If they don't want to explore that in game sessions, they shouldn't take it.
Same goes for Covenant Hooks. The entire group needs to decide whether to let you make the covenant, or if its a group effort. Sometimes its easier for teh GM to do it solo if you have a specific setting/narrative in mind, else let the entire group do it together (aka session 0, really important) - just be careful the experienced player doesn't dictate the entire covenant to suit their needs Hooks are their to provide stories, not numbers/powers etc.
Lasting, as you've said you draw a lot of experience from Vampire Requiem (fyi, your 'ususal' games are awesome and my group has the same trends), see if you can come up with something similiar to 2nd Ed's Climbing teh Ladder - make the questions relevant to your campaign, and use these to inform your group of aspects of the setting you think would be good to explore.
You could check out the campaign I wrote for peripheral code ep 3. It's badly in need of an edit but it might set you up for quite a bit of sandbox play. It would be great to see someone get some use out of it!
Sorry I meant to answer earlier, but I had a really great idea for a faerie based on a mixture of "She walks in beauty" by Lord Byron and "Skin" by Oingo Boingo. I must write her up. As an aside, when I'm writing I often have a song that captures a mood. My first Vampire campaign even had a theme song we played before the games ("Moon over Bourbon Street" by Sting).
Explain that the covenant is your home, but its also a setting. The game is about using power, and the consequences on you and your group. In that sense, it reminds me of Gilmore Girls or Hamish MacBeth, or any story set in a country town.
Ask what your characters in more usual games wanted to do once they had enough treasure. What was it for? This is not a game or "right tunnel or left tunnel", "kill it and take its treasure". You can have as much treasure as you think would be interesting. You can kill an army if you have time and line of sight. Great, you won: what do you want to do now?
Your group needs to work together to get some idea of who is playing what and why: it's OK to not reach detailed plans.
You don't need to spend all of your boons and hooks at once. You can agree to just spend them as ideas occur.
Make it clear you are going to write down all of the story flaws and hooks and that people will pay them in the next six months. That's not a punishment. That's you giving them what they asked for.
Tell them their character design is their vote. If you make a character who kills demons, he will kill demons. If you make a diplomat with the Gentle Gift, he will be a diplomat. D&D and its relatives give you the idea that you need to armor your character against the world. That's not how Ars works.
Thanks very much everyone, this is great! You make me feel really welcome.
We'll be playing the last session of Trail of Cthulhu tomorrow night, and might have a brainstorm for Ars Magica. If I may, may I share our thoughts here and ask for further feedback?
That's a good idea! I do want to have them found their own covenant, but I might start the game at a larger one to give them guidance and to give examples of what a "typical" covenant looks like. This also helps with your second point because it means that when they leave to found their own place, they can take experienced covenfolk with them.
It might be in the Provencal tribunal because one of my players did her PhD on the Albigensians and I think it'd be fun to let her roleplay with something she knows that much about.
If not, I kinda want to do something in the Carpathians because I went there once and it was gorgeous, but Mongols and Tremere make me a little uncertain.
I like the idea of starting with grogs, thanks!
I'm not sure about keeping things mysterious. As a player, I get really annoyed when the GM intentionally keeps something from me that my character could well have known. For instance, if they didn't tell me that Bjornaer exist until after character creation, then I'll feel annoyed because I might have wanted to play one. It constrains my creativity and makes me feel less ownership about the game. I don't know if everyone feels that way.
This is great... having a character who's their "mentor" would be useful, because he can give them advice and pull them out of trouble. If one of the players chooses to have close ties to their parens (is there a Story Flaw for that?) then that would be a good link to it.
That's a great term for it. Yes, that's what I'm looking to do, if I can.
I mentioned this to my husband. He said he's been in a very bad "player-driven" game of Vampire before which didn't go anywhere, so is a little dubious, but will give it a try.
You're right, though. If everyone expects to be spoon-fed plot then they won't realise that they can strike out on their own.
That's a good idea, thanks! What I might do is write down everyone's Story Flaws and then come up with a short plot which uses all of them, tying everyone together.
They are awesome! I kinda want to get into old-school Vampire the Masquerade too, but the system is so baaaad...
I'll give that advice a shot, but I'm not yet sure what my campaign will be. There are some things that I want in it, like the Diedne and Trianoma's sister (I have ideas for her!) but I think I may need to wait to see what my players engage with before I can really flesh it out.
I love this. It's such a good way of putting it. In general I like stories about power. Trail of Cthulhu is about having none of it, and I believe Ars Magica about having lots of it and asking how you use it. A game where you know that your opposition has the same amount of power as you is just less interesting.
That said I do want to have conflicts with other magi because I like the idea of villains with reasonable goals who you can negotiate with and who you have to be civil to. That was one of my favourite things about Vampire.
That's an interesting idea. Covenant design (especially id we use the Covenants book) seems to front-load the work to an off-putting degree, and this idea helps to avoid it without just abandoning all the hard work that you and the other authors put into it.
I love this.
When we played Legend of the Five Rings, we always used to say that the party needs a duellist and a sneak, because otherwise we'll be unable to engage with those sorts of problems. If I understand correctly, what you're suggesting is that if the party doesn't have a sneak, then there will simply not be any sneak-style problems?
That feels almost like cheating, in a great way. Coming up with good session plans for Trail of Cthulhu was really hard because I had to try to get past the player's skills and hurt them where they were weak, but somehow without making it not fun for them, which is a narrow balance. This just feels like an easier way.
You can't say a thing like that and then not share it!
Oh. I think this challenges plausibility. Why would the young and inexperienced characters be given resources to found a new covenant? It is a challenge which always nags me when I look at sagas starting with the founding of a covenant, and a covenant spinning off another like that seems even less plausible.
But by all means, some implausibilities must just be glossed over before they spoil the game.
You are right in that it can be overdone. The core rulebook must be known to everyone playing magi. Every magus in the Order knows about the twelve houses, and the mechanics described is undisputed. More exotic rules may well be held back though, such as RoP and Mysteries, for several reasons. Exotic characters are permitted by the rules, for the sake of experience troupes. For inexperienced troupes, they provide excellent ideas for the SG, but are best digested one at a time.
If you want to introduce the core rules piecewise, however, the only option I can see is to run stories without magi. To create a magus you need the full core book, but not necessarily more.
There is a Tormenting Master (major) and Mentor (minor) and they can lead to a lot of fun, but I would not overuse such NPCs who are really linked to a single PC. I like to have one who is more neutral and not biased towards or against a given PC. There are analogous covenant hooks/boons btw.
The covenant setup in ArM is very helpful here, because there will be critical, long-term objections and necessities. They need income, but not any particular kind of income. They need vis sources, not to conquer one particular source. They need to make friends with neighbouring lords/fairies/clergy, but they do not necessarily need to make friends with everyone. Enemies can be afforded, but not too many. In other words, the players need to choose their battles. If they choose not to act, the world will come down on them like a mass of stone. Few other games set up this kind of context to promote player-drive.
There are few other threads of this kind on this forum with relevant and useful advice from some of the very same people responding to your thread! Search for them, in case we missed anything this time around.
My overall theme: You want a long campaign, but be prepared for a short one, so live in the present. This means...
Start with magi, not grogs. That's what you're here for. That's what AM is really all about. Start with the good stuff.
Start with your covenant already established. You can design it after the players make their characters, based on their choices, or before to help them refine their choices. But do not have any covenant design occur during play, and do this yourself. That lets you start with the good stuff, and makes it more likely that your game isn't about designing a covenant.
Your first adventure/story/arc/whatever should start in one of two ways: a) "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. You are wizards, Harry (and Harry)! What would you like to do?" Hopefully, between the design of your covenant and the PCs, there will be many things to want. This start reinforces the style you want for your campaign. b) Between your covenant design and your PCs, there should be lots of adversaries. Introduce one. Yes, this is driven by you rather than the players, but at least it's something that the players should expect from your covenant design, or have asked for, from their character design. Maybe your second story can start with "what do you want now?"
Since you are concerned about player-driven games, you might want to find something I wrote about character motivation, especially in the context of AM.
Tying this idea back to some of your current concerns, and to other posts here, an essential component of character creation is "What do you want?" If a character takes a personality flaw, you can ask "What are you angry about?" "What are you cheerful about?" "To whom do you especially feel compassionate?" Then you can challenge this by making sure appropriate triggers live in your setting.
For me, the difference between a low-powered vs a high-powered game lies less in big numbers (I hit for 10 damage vesus 1 million) than in "can I do this" versus "what shall I do." This isn't either-or, and AM can work toward either extreme. Something you might want to think about, especially since you want player-driver stories. If a PC wants to create some ultimate enchanted item, do you want stories about gathering the materials, finding the secrets of construction, warding off rivals, etc? Or do you want stories about "Now that you've built the Death Star, what do you plan to do with it?" Do you want stories about "Can I save Sodom from destruction," or about "I'm pretty sure I can save it, but should I?"
(In the context of AM, this kind of choice can really exist in a campaign, if Sodom II were a medieval city in Mythic Europe. Sure, God can obliterate the city with overwhelming power. But he can also send two or three Might 30 angels to do it, something the magi can contend with, if they choose to. Are the angels really angels? Is God threatening the city or testing the magi? Are these things angels from God at all, or just opportunistic and malevolent demons looking for an excuse to destroy a city that has it coming? Or maybe faeries hoping to re-enact the original story? And even if it is God, maybe God wants the magi to oppose Him in this case? Or not. Magi might have a hard time discerning, since demons are great at lying and faeries are all pretense. The story arc can be about "how do we defeat the angels" or about "should we" or about both!)
This has been mentioned elsewhere in this thread in different ways. My take: In character-driven games, character design is a bid for the style of campaign the players want. Does your player sing of the wrath of Achilles? Then he is telling you to challenge his temper. Is Achilles a great warrior? Then he is telling you to challenge his might. It is fine if you don't want to run that campaign! Tell the player so up front, especially before he pores through the rules optimizing Achilles of Flambeau. But if you are good with Achilles, then you must also be good with stories about wrath and war. You can even have a story or two about "what do I do when my usual methods don't seem suitable?" But most players will be rightfully frustrated if that's the entire game. Achilles does not belong in an Okeanos Enteka campaign! Above all, make sure the players understand this up front.
At least at first, make sure most challenges are NPCs, not PC vs PC. This will not only help develop the game world, but also ease players as they learn the rules of the game.
Don't use all the AM books. Core only works fine. Discussed at length elsewhere. It's easy to choke on sourcebooks.
Keep covenant design simple. Also discussed elsewhere. The Covenants book is a great source of story ideas. But as rules go, you can start with something like "Aura 3, 10xp per year in whatever you want to study, a reasonable amount of money, X pawns per magus per year (I'm never sure what's a good amount), a bunch of grogs and civilians." For you, you can even start with no problems at all. "Everything is shiny, the grass is green, your towers are pretty. What would you like to do today?" A simple covenant can make sense if you really want to focus on characters. Players being what they are, problems will almost design themselves! But you can load on the problems as you like, if the players don't bring their own. Is the local witch a good witch or a bad witch? Does the nearby baron admire your pretty tower a little too much? What about the local priest, who wants to marry all of his daughters to real wizards? And then there's the barrow where no one goes because the vegetation is stunted. And the town crazy person who has been raving about the destruction by fire soon to come; he was right about lightning killing Bessie the Prize Milk Cow, after all. Not at all epic, these, but epic is easy. (Bessie the Prize Milk Cow had 40 hit dice! Produced +7 Milk of Lactose Tolerance! )
As for your experienced player... Explain that keeping things simple for the first AM game makes it more likely that it will last, because the other players will not be overwhelmed, and that you don't want to be, and that if you start allowing books beyond the few you want to play with, then soon you'll need to buy and read and understand (and reconcile) all the books. Also explain that books like AM and Mysteries are all optional content, not all of which works that well together in one big pot. The lab customization rules are atmospheric, but have issues all on their own, though it is fun to over-optimize. (And all too easy, which is part of the problem.) It might help to explain that you want the game to be focused outward, on what the characters do with their magic in the world. Above all....
Decide what you want. GMs are people too. There's a temptation with sandbox game to forget this. Don't. Your game is not a blank slate for the players. It isn't enough to want to run a game, nor enough to declare that you want a player-driven game. Just as you need your players to want to go out and do things in the game, you need to bring some of your own desires to the game. If you forget this, your game will become generic, and the PCs probably too. Many player-driven games founder and sink upon these rocks. (Many others die because the GM and players are not on the same page about how the game is to work, and do not realize this.) If you tell your players before they create characters that "Your covenant is the great city of Venice. You control it, and through it, the Republic. Whatever shall you do?" you will get a very different game from putting the characters in a forest or on a boat, or from telling them to just create magi. Then communicate this to the players! If you don't reach a real consensus, don't start the game, because what you want is not what they want. That happens.
How "player-driven" games die:
The GM doesn't provide enough of an environment so that the PCs can lust for things and go out and do.
Everyone is waiting for someone else to do something.
There is insufficient agreement about expectations, either about what they are and what they should be.
The GM reflexively challenges players in the more traditional way, instead of yielding to the player about in-game interactions. (This might deserve more conversation.)
The GM is really hoping that the players want to initiate a narrow range of options.
Most of this is about the GM. /4
How to make a player-driven game shine:
Know what you want. Then you can...
Explain how the game works. Then you can...
Reach a consensus among players that they understand this and it will be fun. Then you...
Provide sufficient information for the players to create characters who belong in your world and who belong together. You can determine that all is well when you...
Receive characters who both largely conform to the rules as you have represented them and who want things that are very much "of this world," specifically, the parts of the world on which you are willing to shine a spotlight. Then your job is to...
Give the players everything their character sheets say they want and then some, even with both hands.
I'm tempted, in player driven games, to have the rotating role of Guy With The Sharp Stick, so that if the plot stalls we all know who has the job if poking the plot with a stick. The role circulates with each required poke.
One thing to note about AM is its in-game timeline - unlike most games, it's (theoretically) measured in decades. Lots of folks (experienced players included) tend to forget that, and instead have all the plot happening up-front, in the first week or months of the game. The XP curve, such as it is, is NOT designed to support this. Stories are designed to be told over the course of years and decades, with study and research happening for months on end to fill in the blanks and get the characters advanced. As such - let the characters have a chance to breathe, and let their plots unfold, or have them build that magic item, or let them go to France for a season to study a magical waterfall, or whatever.
I would personally say that the covenent should have an overarcing plot (via its Hooks), but that they shoudl only happen at BEST once a year: that dragon should only roll over in its sleep and cause an earthquake once, or that noblemen should only try to come buy a magical artifact once, or whatever. Everyone else's Story Flaws should be able to fill in the blanks. (personally I like using a 5-act structure, with each act being a separate adventure, spread out over 5 years.)
Also note that having all the PC's in an adventure will probably be complete overkill, just in terms of the amount of power involved. That's what grogs and companions are for; the PC's should mostly be in their labs doing their own thing, and only coming together when the Archangels are in town or the Farie Lords are fighing on the veranda.
Others have said it, but I'll give my own spin on it: the character sheet is a love-letter to the GM, asking them to tell stories based on what is written within. (Both positive and negative. Let the demon hunter kill demons. But If they're designed to have 50 levels of penetration with their Demon's Eternal Oblivion, don't consistently put them up against demons with 55 levels of Magic Resistance. That's the GM saying "your character's awesome schtick is now consistently useless", which isn't fun for the person being made useless. Use the flaws to challenge them; don't try to one-up their character virtues.)
The Ars Magica forums LOVE this question. They always respond so well.
A few things I enjoy that others may not have mentioned (sorry if you did and I missed it).
The Covenant is a CHARACTER in the game. It is the most important one. you want the players to understand this. I suggest building the covenant yourself (as others have); I suggest doing it before the players make characters, because having a setting/area helps make character ideas formulate, but leaving the Library mostly undecided. I also suggest having an old addled-but-respected elder magus who can help guide them along, offer suggestions, but is too enfeebled to actually adventure. A Quesitor is a good suggestion, though my first covenant had a Criamon who's twilight scars left him an indecipherable teacher so they couldn't use him as a source of answers.
I did also like the idea of having them in a wing of a major covenant with limited resources from it. I may steal that in the future.
I definitely suggest you tell the players that plots, stories and events will transpire over years. If they find a dragon they need to kill, the usual magi answer is to spend a year researching and developing a way to kill it, rather than to solve the problem immediately. while not every problem will be that way, they should know that retreat-and-fix-later is a common magus option.
Point out that usually adventures take enough time that it will interrupt the seasonal labwork/xp grind. That way you're less likely to get problems where every small problem attacked by every player mage. Grogs are awesome for this.
Make sure every player has a short term goal and a long term goal for their character. My players tend to either forget one or the other. It's important to know where your character is going for the next few years, as well as the next few decades.
In the covenant design (or above-mentioned elder magus design) it's important for the Covenant to have a short term story in addition to a long term one. Give them a short-term sense of power and accomplishment as they fix a problem, like that noble who keeps demanding taxes and levy. Or that biased parish that's been raising people up to scare off the demon-worshippers they thing the magi are. Only long-term plots makes the early game hard. For my new players, the best formula was (1) early problem solved in a year or two (2) small problems that can be solved over time, while players have lots of their own plots or advancement (3) Oh, this long term problem is going to be trouble soon.
Most importantly, don't worry if your plots die because the players don't care or get lucky too early. Don't be afraid to let the players dictate what happens, and win - if they solve a problem, there WILL be consequences for you to Plot at them. let the players have fun, explore, and succeed.
The phrase we like to use in our group is "an embarrassment of plot points" - ie, the GM (and the players) brought too many plot ideas to the table, to the point where we simply can't focus on all of them.
And those of us who do tend to sing our usual themes! There may be room for a sticky containing advice from various AM luminaries.... and me too.
Or overwhelming compulsions that always create short term goals. This is most important, I think. Long term goals are optional, even in AM.
I call this "I've gotta have a wildebeest." A great character should be hungry for some metaphorical wildebeest right out the gate. Of course, he still won't get to do anything if the GM makes it too hard to find! And if he's hungry for more, long term goals can wait. Especially if ....
... you make sure he gets lots of wildebeest, early and often and yummy. After a bit, if you (GM) get bored of that, you can always introduce consequences, like mobs of peasants angry about all the wildebeest being gone, and quaesitores showing up to investigate whether some magus is violating the part of the Code that says "I will not interfere with the wildebeest..."
It's very hard to just say yes though, especially since plot stalls are almost always the GM's fault due to wildebeest denial. I have great sympathy, of course, being myself guilty of withholding wildebeest. That's kind of why I increasingly think it's important to find out up front what players want from their characters for realses, if only to be sure the GM will have fun providing that but especially to really be on the same page.
It can be, but in most games (AM and others) it is not.
There is some history here, about how flaws and disadvantages are really supposed to be disadvantageous in order to be valid. AM inherited this idea from earlier games, and RAW continues to embrace it. Although I agree with the sidebars in various AM books warning players that defensive character design doesn't work that well in AM, I also think that the actual rules and other text encourage defensive design, and that the issues regarding that kind of character in AM are the same in pretty much every other rpg.
I think AM (and any other game that is not going to be about walking through set story lines) would be well-served by making story protection and desires more explicit.
Consider a covenant in a castle: What does this mean? Are the players taking this because they want stories about armies dashing themselves against their castle, or because they want to make it very clear that their covenant is a safe space that none shall dare assail because they want their saga to be about something else? Or maybe it's just because castles are cool, and they want to declare that they are cool magi who live in a cool castle, rather than in medieval tract homes?
In the Hogwarts saga, the troupe clearly just wanted the castle to be decorative, because castles are great, and giant weird castles are even better. All those mundane defenses proved utterly useless against any actual threat within the saga. Non-interference with mundanes was a recurring challenge, yet never involved the castle. The group was also clearly uninterested in stories regarding castle maintenance and finances....
Regardless, the castle -- or any similar Hook or Boon -- ought to cost or provide no points. After all, if a game is going to succeed, some kind of interesting sequence of events will emerge from play, though not necessarily a story. There will always be challenges. If the players protect themselves fully against 5 entire categories of challenges, all it means is that the game will have more of the other kinds.
Boons and Hooks that involve stories mingle with those that involve power, with increased aura being a poster child for the latter.
As for covenants, even more for characters: A character without a personality is hardly going to be interesting. Likewise for desires. Does a player not want his character to ever suffer damage in combat, whether or not he fights? Fine. That just means more stories about love and prestige and ignominy and being misunderstood. Similarly, without explicit communication, it's very hard to know whether a character has been loaded up with Cautious Sorcerer and Flawless Magic as a way of declaring "I don't want botches" or "Challenge this!" (In my case, it's always the first: I think the game would do well with fewer stress dice, and I'm not a fan of fumble-driven stories, similar to the way I don't like how barbarians in some civ releases are more of a challenge than actual AI civilizations.)
At this point, might as well just declare things like:
I want to have stuff, and I don't want stories about my stuff being taken away.
I want stories about how I have to use my cool stuff in order to survive.
I want to be liked, especially by the hottest of the hot, but fully expect to have difficulty here since I love my stuff more than I'll ever love them, and I'm a misshapen dwarf. (As opposed to a shapen dwarf.)
We finished Trail of Cthulhu last night. Afterwards, as we sat around digesting it and finishing dinner, we started to chat about Ars Magica. I outlined the basics of what the game is about ("You're magicians who live in medieval Europe, except it's not real-life medieval Europe but rather the way that people thought it was at the time. Also, there are a lot of academia in-jokes") and people got quite excited.
I asked the question about "what do you want in the game?" but the answer I got was that they didn't know enough about Ars Magica to answer that, and instead wanted to experience as wide a variety of the game's themes and content as possible. They did, however, seize on the idea of having a "reverse D&D" running joke, in that every so often some adventurers would come along and try to sack their covenant to get loot and +1 swords.
They liked the community aspect of it and the idea that the game would last over a long time, so that they would see the supporting cast age and change.
They were also really enthusiastic about an idea one player came up with of tying their covenant into the founding of the University of Toulouse in 1229, so that gives us a location.
I mentioned the idea of a mentor wizard but they weren't sure about it. Some liked it because it gave them guidance, others didn't want to have to obey orders.
I think the player character lineup will be as follows:
Criamon, either an Elementalist or a Vim metamagician. The player really liked the idea of a very abstract, not very human sort of wizard who would study the deeper and weider stuff.
A necromancer who's actually a decent, friendly person and tries to be ethical about it. I've suggested Tremere for this character, but my players have latched onto the idea that Tremere are vampires, and I don't want to do that so I might avoid the whole issue.
A magus with Gentle Gift who acts much like a mundane knight errant and gets involved in courtly love and the romances and so on. The player really liked the idea that magi don't have to be squishy wizards, and has mentioned that she wants to explore illusion magic. I've mentioned Jerbiton for this.
A terram mage, possibly with Rego and Muto. The player (my husband) mentioned that he wants to build flying castles. I thought maybe Verditius but still unsure. I know he loves making dramatic in-character speeches so the Hubris system might work well for him.
Someone who, and I quote, "kills stuff with fire." I think the player feels out of his depth about the sheer breadth of Hermetic magic and just wants to latch onto something simple and archetypal.
The next step is to build the characters, which we'll do next week, and I'll get the Story Flaws from that. Thanks a huge amount for all the support and advice so far, everyone!
It sounds like they would do well in the Pyrenees Mountains.
Lots of caves, for deeply weird mystical stuff.
Close to Iberia and to the Domus Magna of Flambeau.
Lots of isolated valleys for large but private projects.
Assorted loose knights to wander by to try to loot their stuff.
Close to the heart of romantic chivalry.
House Tremere may very well have sent a young magus to help build their power base in the south. Emphasis that House Tremere is a military house of necromancers and other specialists. They executed their vampiric members for being too creepy (or something like that).
There is an entire house for people who want to kill stuff with fire. Having a wizard who is good at killing stuff with fire is always useful! Plus, as the game goes on, there are other aspects to explore. Is he a fire worshiper? Whom does he want to kill with fire? And so on.
So killing stuff with fire is okay. Especially if you make sure to give him stuff to kill with fire.
Note that in canon AM, the flying castle is a thing - known to have been built by Tomae of Tytalus, who claimed to have been a mystic architect. (Legends of Hermes, pg. 121). The castle itself disappeared 20 or so years ago, but Tomae was having legal problems with it. (A flying castle REALLY pushes the "no interference with mundane" clause of the Oath.) The general consensus is that he's still alive somewhere in North Africa, abusing the natives and trying to build up enough vis stores to pay off the debts he accrued for building the darned thing.