Advice on some classic dungeon crawling in Ars.


I'm currently running my first Ars campaign, but I have played the game for many years. So far the adventures haven't been too combat heavy. The players are trying hard to avoid attention from both the mundane but also The Order, as they often skirt or outright break the code. Because of this they try to talk or sneak their way out of things.

But now they're getting their chance at blowing some stuff up. They've dicovered a cult attempting to summon Surt, king of the fire giants in nordic myth. According to legend he will set the world on fire during Ragnarok, so the players have decided not to take any chances, and stop this ritual in case Surt doesn't care that it isn't the end times yet. The ritual takes place in a temple deep in the northern mountians. Far from everything, obviously bad guys in the temple, no witnesses etc. Perfect conditions for some guns blazing fun.

Has anyone got experience with a more "dungeoncrawly" combat oriented adventure in Ars? Stuff that fails/works everytime, puzzles/traps that work out great with hermetic magic etc.

Thank you in advance for any advice.

Well, if you want to make sure you won't either obliterate your group nor give them a piece of cake, you should do a little math regarding their combat scores.

I'd consider the average chance to get hit by the enemies and to hit them, as well as the average minimum and maximum damage dealt, disregarding botches and 1's. Just to make sure there's no accidental 100% hit insta-kill, or completely immune 0% chance to be hit. Take into account that there are two dice involved in any attack, the attacker's and the defender's, so the probabilities are a bit gaussian-bell.

Here's a quick simple die probability chart:

[table][tr][th]At least[/th][th]Chance[/th][/tr]

The chance on the right column is the probability of scoring the value on the left column or less on simple die minus simple die. So, for example, if your grog has an attack score of +9 and he's fighting a monster which has a defense score of +6, that means that the chance the grog will hit the monster is around 79% (Att 9 - Def 6 = +3 -> 79%). This is not totally correct, but will give you a general idea of whether your enemies are too tough, too bland, or a nice match for your group. In case of doubt, I'd err on the side of softer monsters.

Also, remember to take into account exertion, confidence (if any), ferocity and trained groups when considering what are sensible combat scores for your monsters.

Just a word of warning on ignoring botches. Botches on defense by PCs without soaks in the 15 or more range are likely an instant kill. One botch on defense by a key shield grog will wreck a magus's day. Wreck enough magi's days, and you have a very easy to achieve TPK.

If a lot of combat is expected, each magus should probably have a primary and a backup shield grog. Also bandages (chared items) that confer a D: sun version of Endurance of the Berserkers and other bandages that bind wounds are a good addition to the grog's adventuring kit. These are cheap and relatively easy for magi to make, and require no vis.

Just a few notes:
0. Magi are really, really powerful. Refrain from throwing only ever-more-powerful stuff at them. Instead, let them revel in their power by having them face challenges that would be difficult for a knight, but are easy for them. Occasionally challenge them with the consequences of power: moral issues, legal stuff, etc. Only rarely throw at them stuff that's a real challenge. It will feel all the more legendary.

  1. If magi are involved, challenges must be carefully tailored to the party. There are some challenges that are impossible to face without the appropriate magic, but become very easy (sometimes too easy) with the appropriate magic.
  2. Combat is Ars Magica is DEADLY. Anyone who faces combat routinely has a pretty good chance of dying. Make sure your players understand that, and keep the magi huddled behind their grogs. Even better, have magi safely studying in their towers while the grogs do all the dirty work! Grogs dying is ok, they are side characters.
  3. Classic ways to challenge magi. Demons deceive very well, often undetectably. Hermetic magic can scry into minds, faraway places etc. but can't see the past. Sometimes one's greatest opponent is oneself: make magi fall in love, and squeeze those Personality Flaws for all they are worth (rewarding players if the roleplay them well, even at the detriment of their characters). The more powerful the magus, the more inconvenient the Hermetic Oath. Miracles trump Hermetic magic (but remember that the Divine prefers a subtle approach).

I'm going to second the comments about the deadliness of Ars combat, and add:

ArM rules do not play well with multiple combats in a short amount of time. Every combat, there's a likely build up of fatigue, plus wound penalties which won't go away unless the group has lots of vis and time to sit around doing ritual spells.

So, unlike the standard RPG dungeon crawl where, after the first combat, you're only down 25% of hit points, no biggie for the next round of whatever, after a combat with any non-trivial adversary group, you should expect that your fighters will have at penalties to all rolls for the rest of the dungeon crawl unless you stop for a multi-hour rest; if it's really a dungeon crawl to stop a summoning ritual, you won't. Every fight will be harder and harder after the first - this means that, if the party gets to a dragon or something at the end, you have to expect them to not be at their freshest when fighting the dragon; it'll be dramatic, but it also might be extraordinarily fatal.

And it's entirely likely that, in a relatively early combat, a grog or two will be wrecked. Not killed, necessarily, but suffering a couple Medium Wounds or a Heavy Wound and maybe some fatigue, which means that said grog is useless for the rest of the adventure.

On another note, you asked about puzzles and traps. One kind of "standard dungeon RPG" puzzle is something where the characters have to do something clever (throw a switch in another room, figure out a passphrase, touch a hidden button) to open a door. Don't do this and expect the players to play that game. Someone will have Obliteration of the Metallic Barrier, Curse of the Rotted Wood, or sufficient Arts to simulate their effects (or merely Rego Terram to carve out a hole in the wall next to the door), and anything you do to stymie the use of those spells is going to be seen as unfair and your players will have less fun for it. Now, players do enjoy feeling like they were clever, so you can make a door with a ridiculously elaborate puzzle on it, and someone just destroys the door, and everyone cheers like when Indiana Jones shot the guy with the twirling sword.

"Traps" that I have used that players found fair:

  • Rooms enchanted with persistent PeIg spells; for special challenge, you could have a room that merely has a persistent PeIm spell for sound
  • PeTe spells cast on rings carved/inset in doorways - you only miss seeing one of those once
  • A hallway with a colonnade where massive, dangerous lightning bolts arced randomly between the columns (this one incapacitated two characters, but I did make it clear that they were lightning bolts and they were running through them, so no one was put out by it)

I have lots of combat sg & play expeience with 4th and 5th. So in reviewing what others have commented, all I can say is that they are all wrong. But 100% right. ArM5 combat is deadly because real life combat is deadly. Old AD&D was high on legend but shrt on realism.
Keep in mind that it is just as dangerous for the other guy as well :wink:
I myself do not balance or plan encounters. I create situations, which are what they are regardless of what skills and scores the PCs have. But I also fudge and fiat a lot, whatever keeps the pace flowing.
I suggest hiring at least one Flambeau magus :smiley:

As a player I've seen the dice explore in wonderful and horrifying ways which adds more strength to the point that combat is lethal. Agree totally.
As a SG I encouraged players to maintain the roles and modes of play where grogs might be used as recon resources, to supply information for the Mage to then have the epic confrontation. It allows grogs and companions to dungeon crawl without worrying that the Mage will spont cast solutions to obstacles.
And fudge the dice to suit the story.

Thanks a lot for the advice people :slight_smile:

Seems I'll have to hint insistently at the fact, that they'll need some magic bandages and a creo/corpus vis stockpile for healing etc. And maybe a tiny bit of dice fudging, to avoid TPK in case of RNG hate.

I looooove the PeTe traps at doorways, challenging but not immediately deadly. Especially as they have a chainmail covered beastly knight as their front man nearly all the time.

There are some trap rules in Lands of the Nile...

I usually have one or two large fights per Saga and one thing which works really well with all the grogs/magus/enemies/canon fooder to manage is a map.
Choose a scale which allows to easily check for spell range and it will make your life easier. You don't need figurines, markers will do the trick.

Because I can never find the reference, but I swear it's part of the oily footsteps spell, I'll just put out what I know we've used-- that a grog can go about 30feet, or six paces a round, and then you treat each pace as 5 feet (a pace being left-right-together), and then a one-square-equals 5-feet map works pretty well for you.

We'd allow an athletics roll to push that distance in a round, using an EF of 7 for +1 pace, 9 for +2, etc.

I don't recall if it's covered in Lords of Men, but I'm begging Serf's Parma.

EDIT: In the ArM5 core, it's page 121, an inference from the description that says the next 10 paces you walk have would be oily, and so we presumed then that this was a distance you could walk in a round, each step being about a 1/3 of height, so about 3 feet, so 2 paces is ~6feet, round it down to 5 to make it nice on the maps. 50 Feet in a round seemed too far. Now I'm going to try digging it out of LoM.

MOAR EDIT: It's page 120 in LoM, and the round is 6 seconds, the distance you go is 2 * (10+ Quickness paces), cannot move and attack unless charging.


Page 120, LoM?

Page 120 of Lords of Men.



Instead of dice fudging, a single rules change can dramatically decrease the swinginess (and deadliness) of combat: All die rolls are simple. (If you want exceptions, make them exceptional and warn players on the fly.)

Injury would remain a more serious matter than in D&D, since instant healing in AM is extremely expensive. But a swarm of NPCs will no longer have a great chance of rolling up, and a PC will no longer need to worry about a triple botch. Encounters also become easier for the GM to plan and run, not only because PCs are not likely to be one-shotted by a mook, but also because the Big Bad is not vulnerable to an unexpectedly good roll from a grog.

Yes, fumbles and rolling up are touted as an AM feature, but have the same effect here as they do in Rolemaster.

The deadliness of both systems is no more realistic than the safety of D&D. Neither system simulates reality; both systems simulate a certain kind of play that some people like to think of as realistic.

BTW, once you're fudging, might as well ignore die rolls entirely and do what feels good! Much, much simpler to run. There is much to be said for using a system to create characters and then using the result to get a sense for what ought to happen in a given situation.



SG fudging nly works if the SG remembers to lie :mrgreen:

And if used lightly. For example, after a string of exciting unplanned rolls, the SG notices there is no way to beat the "boss monster" without an explosive roll. Or the reverse, your archvillan has a critical unnoticed weakness. That is when the SG fudges something that lets characters (or enemy) to escape and save face.
But for the most part rolls stand and offer unpredictability.


It works even better if the SG is up front and blatant about it.

Or if used extremely heavily and continuously (but in a consistent manner).

So, one could have a combat resolve slowly with lots of unpredictable die rolls and a system that is quirky and not quite realistic, such as pretty much every system out there.

Or, the GM can tell the PCs something like "You are confident that you can scatter the rabble without real chance of injury to yourself, but the cult leader is likely to ambush you right afterward, when you are more fatigued from the effort, or during the middle if you seem distracted. And you are less certain of his abilities. So, want to crush that mob?" Or even, "You are confident that you can scatter the rabble without real chance of injury to yourself, but they have been duped, maybe enscorceled, and in the melee you are certain to kill or cripple more than a few, including women and children. On the other hand, they are totally out for your blood. Up to you."

Dice... not needed.

Or: "You can tell from his stance that the dark knight outclasses you. If you fight him, the best you can do is draw out your defeat."

Why fudge some of the rolls when you can fudge them all? :slight_smile:/2

Predictable unpredictability. :slight_smile:/4 If you like the unpredictability of dice, what's wrong with an unexpected standoff that will not resolve unless someone slips up big time? Or a TPK?



"[C]onsistency is the hobgoblins of little minds."

An SG could routinely and consistently fudge in favor of the players, and it's all too easy. Or he routinely and consistently fudges in favor of himself, and it's darn hard.

Anything that can be done, can be done poorly.

My point is that consistency is probably vary vague, and isn't well defined, or is at least defined upon a specific perspective, which should be defined...


Sure, I can agree with all of that, except for "should be defined."

Consistency is sometimes an emergent property, developed over time rather than defined beforehand. The kind of consistency I speak of involves how a game world works, what is valued in a game session, and so on. Having some guiding principles is useful, even when they amount to "I know what I want and will rule accordingly," even in games with dice. (There's lots of GM fudging and fiat in most games, even (especially?) in games where the GM insists there is none.)

Your Emerson quote specifies a foolish consistency. Not all consistency is foolish, even when it is difficult to define. Of course, some consistency is foolish, and I've done my share of that too.