Alternate settings

Well currently I'm running a game set in 790. In one of the previous grand tribunals, I was up front with my players are about some of the politics. "if you do nothing, you will get the status quo in the rule book, if you do something, you can change history." They opted to change history.

As a blank slate for my own saga:

0.) Start the game with the assumption that the PCs are going to change the timeline - possibly dramatically

1.) I would change some of the limits of magic regarding time.

2.) I would get rid of house verdituis altogether, and have their virtues integrated in as part of hermetic magic.

3.) Merge Bjornear and Merineta - one faerie/shape changing/nature house is plenty.

4.) Jerbiton's focus would be on grand pieces of magical art - giant medieval epeen contests

5.) Trianoma and Guernicus would a single house dedicated to the stability of the Order

6.) Criamon would be a house of pagan mystics worshiping the old gods

7.) Flambeau would be the enforcers of the edicts by the new house mentioned in 5

8.) Tremere and Tytalus would be two rival political camps of the Order instead of actual houses. Many magi are part of neither camp. Both wish to dominate the order, but neither will let the other do it. The tremere wish to dominate by uniformity (magic academies, social engineering, meditation, peace) etc The Tytalus wish to dominate the order through direct conflict, passion, personal strength, and power - only the strong deserve to be members of the order.

If a magus can resist the Tytalus, then they are worthy otherwise, they are chaff to be separated from the wheat and discarded. Only though the efforts of the Tremere are the Tytalus thwarted. Yet at the same time, given the point (10) below, without the Tytalus the Order would be woefully under-prepared to face external enemies.

9.) House Mercere would be a group of magi who facilitate trade between the different houses as well as between magi and mundanes. Message carrying is just a bonus.

10.) Multiple rivals to the Order of Hermes - it simply cannot sit around and rest on its laurels. New hedge traditions appear out of the blue every few decades or so causing serious angst to existing covenants of the Order. Implacable viking raiders. Mysterious Persian and Arabian wizards leading raiding expeditions deep into europe for magical goodies. Roman wizards coming out of Regio's trying to rebuild the roman empire. A rival order, perhaps like the Augustan's, carefully bound into the status quo of europe - competition for Apprentices is fierce.

11.) A distorted historical timeline assuming the supernatural

12.) Combining Magic and Faerie into one.

13.) House Bonisagus is constantly pushing new boundaries of magic, a series of discoveries with chronological start points that over time will cascade together to have various effects on the game.

i.e. (961 - designer babies ala ancient magic. 1028 - alternative to longevity potions, a powerful ritual that lowers a magus's age, 1077 - break the limit of energy) etc that kind of thing.

14.) The setting more integrated with the Order - factions of the Catholic church actively working with Magi to do good works for the poor, crusading, or building cathedrals. A properly built magus with a few rooks of creo & terram vis can save the church decades and centuries of time and effort to build churches and cathedrals.

15.) All magi have the gentle gift - but can get the effects of the "normal" gift or blatant gift as flaws or through twilight/warping.

Sadly, this has this own problems:
A magus can't walk on a magical bridge, he'll cancel it.
A magus can't be stopped by a magical wall, he'll cancel it.

Most people that try to do this solve this by using what ammounts in the end to "intelligent parma": Sometimes, the parma dispells magic, sometimes it blocks it, and it falls upon the GM to say what happens when. Too whimsical for my tastes.

What I suggest instead is that MR is to magic like the sun is to Vampires: It has a different effect depending on their strength. This is not perfect, mind you, just a compromise :wink:
So, for exemple, spells of level lower than 10-15 are too weak to stand against the Parma, and are dispelled by it, which solves the pink dot at the cost of minor problems (like those above). Stronger spells aren't dispelled, but are still repelled. You can still do Pink dot, but at this level, you could just as well cast a defense spell.

Agree with both of you :smiley:

I’m torn on this.
On the one hand, this changes the setting a lot, as well as the game (less need for companions and grogs).
OTOH, I’ve seen enough games where the gift’s effects aren’t emphasized that this is quite tempting.
In the end, though, I fear this would make the “normal” gift just another “dump” flaw.

Oh, and speaking of dump stats… I’m tired of all these magi with Int/Sta/Com at +2/3 and Str/Pre/Dex at -2/3. Stamina and Pre being the odd men here.
So maybe have Com and Pre become 1 stat. Say, charisma. If you want to be a better writer, more seductive… there are virtues for that. Same for Sta and Str, wich I’d put under “Fitness”. And I’d drop quickness, replace it by the lower of Perception and Dexterity (You need to perceive something and not fumble).
So we’d have Intelligence, Perception, Fitness, Charisma and Dexterity. Or something like that. We could live with some simplification on this front

Earlier in thread, someone suggested "No mind control" as a Limit. Today when I was shopping it occurred to me that this is really important for the historical Merlin.

I was thinking that Helen of Troy was a rape victim, which I'd never noticed before, and thinking of the similar situation with Uther and Ygraine and wondered "Why did Merlin not just make a love potion, or hit her with a Mentem spell? Why make Uther look like Goloris?" Answer: he couldn't do mind control.

So: there's some folkloristic support, there. You can manipulate emotions perhaps, but true mind control? Even Merlin couldn't manage it.

Not all mages are mind/emotion experts. Did not Merlin use Illusions in order to make Uther appear as his enemy or something (This is not me field of expertise and I am too tired to look up on wikipedia at the moment)

YR7 made that post, and he was going quite a bit further, basically removing the Art of Mentem.

Yes he did. As I noted, he made Uther look like Duke Goloris. My point is, he's the most powerful mage in Britain at this point and arguably the second-most powerful ever. It's not really enough to say "He was just specialised in other stuff."

Wasn't Merlin conflicted about this request? A reason to not provide his best efforts?

Possible. Later he paralyses Pellinore instead of just commanding him, though.

Is there a good example of mind control in Arthurian Lore other than love potions?

Gwenbaus, a French clerk taught magic by Merlin, bound an entire gathering of knights and their ladies to dance perpetually, breaking only for food and necessary sleep. They were eventually rescued by Lancelot, but not before they had lost both their memories and their minds.

From the French Lancelot-Grail cycle.

Once again, Lancelot ruins everything.

My concerns with Mentem were more gameplay than folklore related. And personal preference - I believe there is precedent for killing demons, but I much prefer the theme of not being able to kill them (instead binding them, or banishing them back to hell, or so on).

Why? I see this sentiment is shared around here - but why?

I think levels make the game better as a game, i.e. in terms of its game balance, having different characters be able to contribute to the same encounter and face the same enemies, and so on. Coupled with hit points, they also make for a "superhero" game where characters can sustain and dish out much more damage than mere mortals.

This isn't suitable for an Ars Magica game in both ways. In ArM magi are intentionally overly-powerful characters, so that gameplay is essentially broken and the game focuses more on setting and roleplaying. Magi are also intentionally vulnerable, however, to create room for fear of the peasants, to shield grogs, and to the importance of Parma and protection spells. And magi (and hence characters in general) are also unique, which a class system doesn't provide. So levels aren't suitable to an Ars Magica game unless the premise of the game is significantly altered, in my opinion.

But levels are suitable for games played as games. Things like moving miniatures on the board and activating their powers so as to defeat the challenge in this room of the dungeon. And for games where the characters are essentially superheroes, at least at high levels. For games that have a large component of that (ahemD&Dahem), I think levels are a great tool.

YR7, I'm having trouble following your argument.

Ars Magica isn't balanced but it should be? And the way to do it is to make it more like D&D?
Wasn't the premise of Ars Magica, indeed it's raison d'être, the fact that it made magi preeminent among the character archetypes? I don't know about you, but I got sick of playing the D&D Wizard who saved his magic missile for the perfect moment, or had to provide a list of spells to the GM that he was going to use that day, and then not have any of them be useful. When I was playing Rolemaster in a MERP setting, I got tired of running out of power points, which were a function of level and some intellectual attribute and maybe something else, if I recall. In any event, what drew me to Ars Magica was the rich and varied magic system. If I want to be primarily combat focused, I can choose to do it with weapon or magic, or both. I can play all of the archetypal RPG roles in Ars Magica, as a magus of the Order of Hermes. My spells will reflect the roll I wish to play.

I don't care to move miniatures on a board, that's a distraction from the story. My days of marathon sessions lasting 8-12 hours with tons of combat that involved miniatures are over. If I really wanted that, I'd be looking at Warhammer where everything just feels the same.

That's the key. You're after the story aspect of roleplaying, not the game aspect of it.

For contrast - one of my players recently complained to me that Ars Magica doesn't have the tactical details and character limitations that make dungeoncrawling fun for him. He revels in mastering the game of tactical maneuvering in D&D 3rd edition, or just describing how his character sets up some elaborate tactical position, cuts the ropes that hold the bridge, or so on. In Ars Magica combat is so abstract and magi so powerful that these things are far less important, and the tactical game within the roleplaying game is basically gone.

My counterpoint to him was precisely that I enjoyed the story, and the setting, much more than the tactical maneuvering. But I do believe that for a Gamist, like him, character levels make for a far superior game.

I don't think Ars Magica should be balanced - not in the power-level way D&D is. But I'm trying to argue that this is because the game's concept is radically different: Ars is gamist in off-stage stuff, like making magic-items, spells, advancing characters, and generating characters. When it comes to actual table play, Ars is mostly about providing a stage for the powerful magi to do their awesome and unique stuff. It's another kind of game, that requires a different game design.

I think Ars Magica's wonderful magic system is tangential to this issue. We can have a level-based game with the Ars Magica spell system (just let character's gain 300 XP in Arts per Level, for example, so basically each level is a decade of character advancement; apply all the variants for more realistic character advancement in Later Life, and you're done).

So the question is whether we want character advancement/generation to be class-based, or use a point-buy system. Ars Magica chooses point-buy, which helps its gamist off-stage aspects as people fret over allocating points (what to do each season?) and makes each character more unique. In-game, the point-buy method means the characters vary wildly in their abilities and resilience, and not in any systematic way that eases adventure or encounter design or gameplay. The result is that it's exceedingly difficult for large parties of main characters to each function effectively in the same encounter and support each other's actions and tactics.

For contrast - consider the classic D&D party of Fighter, Cleric, Rouge, and Wizard. Because each class is designed to do a certain job in combat, the characters complement each other. The Fighter stands in front to take the hits, the cleric heals him, the wizard blasts from behind, and the rouge skirmishes around. What makes all this work is the class-level system. The classes make sure that the characters complement each other, and that they'll have different roles in combat. The levels make sure that they have the right hit-points, attack bonuses, damage output, and spell resistance to serve these roles. All this is impossible with a point-buy system - players just won't choose balanced, well-rounded characters that complement each other and fit a certain role. They'll instead specialize and create paper tigers.

Ars Magica solves this problem by building features into the game that compensate for the lack of the class-level system; but in so doing, it only distances itself further from the class-level style of play. Main characters get to play alone, or in very small groups, so that they won't have the problem of not being effective or not supporting each other. They are often immensely powerful in the offensive, so that the DM can throw just about anything at them without worrying they won't have power to take it down; but the cost is that too often encounters are a breeze or too deadly, as there are little to no mechanics to make sure that they fall in the middle, fun, ground. They are surrounded by lesser characters, which helps shore-up weak spots like defenses (shield grogs!) but at the cost of having other player character serve menial roles in combat (shield grogs...).

All of this is my long-winded way of saying class levels are great for doing what they were always meant to do - provide tactical cooperative gameplay for superhero-like characters. Ars Magica doesn't have a cooperative tactical combat mini-game in it, and its (main) characters aren't super-resilient (they're just humans, with perhaps some specific magical protections). Levels don't belong in Ars Magica; they do belong in D&D.

Sure, because stories are interesting and fun. Grinding through a combat scenario isn't fun. Nearly getting killed because one is inadequately prepared for an encounter and somehow managing to survive is a lot of fun, too. In Doctorcomic's Alpine Apprentice saga (which is going to need a new name soon...) my apprentice was involved in combat that turned out to be a lot of fun for me, as a player. Wolves swarmed us, and he cast Dagger of Ice twice, because he has it mastered for Multiple casting, rolled a 1 and creamed a wolf right off the bat. His Overconfident Personality flaw kicked in and he stood his ground, despite another apprentice creating a circle ward nearby where the wolves couldn't enter. The next round he stood his ground again and ended up getting hamstrung by a wolf, taking a medium wound and another light wound, and with the fatigue he was losing due to casting Dagger of Ice he was at something like a -6 and stood a very real chance of dying until another apprentice finally destroyed the Infernal wolf controlling them, making the pack break and run.
Going back to the game aspect, I can have fun playing Warhammer or other miniature based games, or even D&D with miniatures. But I'm not going to have as much fun. I play those games because my friends are playing them or want to play them, and I can't convince them to play Ars for whatever reason.

Yeah, and I don't think that's all that much of a bad thing. Putting it back onto the player, if he wants a dungeon crawl, make him SG a story where there's a dungeon crawl and have him implement all of the stuff he wants.

I actually don't see what levels have to do with tactical maneuvering here.

Why? What does the use of levels add here that it doesn't otherwise add? If a level is 300 XP, well, it's 300 XP. You have to have some mechanic underlying the level to make a level system relevant.

Right, and this is why there's a troupe system, play companions and grog(s). Another game I was in had the grogs rob a small village unbeknownst to the magi and companion present. Caused a lot of problems for the group later on, of course. Characters, despite being magus, companion and grog should all have their own motivations and should act accordingly. In games like D&D I seem to feel like it's all for the good of the party...

You can create the classic archetypal party as magi. Fighter magus who has towns of bonuses to soak, someone of the School of Ramius from House Flambeau, for example. See Alexie von Kroistau of Flambeau in my Bibracte saga. A magus focused on healing magics takes the cleric spot, probably has Sun duration spells that heal wounds. The rogue/thief will have Imaginem or perhaps Mentem magics to sneak around, and finally the Wizard would be a powerful combat magus who can fling spells willy nilly, probably has a MMF in damage or something that would increase her penetration for her bread and butter attack spell.

Main characters do and should exist. You make a movie, or tell a story with supporting characters, too, though. Often times the supporting characters can do things the main characters can't (see the stealing from the village above) and they steal the scene and story for a bit.

Class and levels, IMO, have nothing to do with tactical cooperative game play. They can exist in games independent of each other.

Merlin was half demon. Mind controlled people are not dammed for what they are forced to do

I'm curious. Who's the most powerful one, and who are the other contendants?

Yet the best superhero game ( IMHO), Champions has more in common with Ars than D&D. No levels, flexible character creation and power levels.

I'm not familiar with Champions. Aren't Champion characters able to take and dish out large quantities of damage?

Mutants & Masterminds does away with classes, retaining only character level. This leads to more flexibility, but less in-built tactical cooperation too.

It is possible for magi to be created who can take and dish out large amounts of damage. Giant Blooded magi, Large magi, tough magi, and then Form bonuses, especially Terram bonuses against weapons adding to soak. A terram specialist with an art score of 20, has a +4 soak against metal weapons, not to mention all of the spells that could deflect those weapons.

What I mean by "Superheroes" here is that characters can dish and take large amounts of generic damage. They are like superhero characters in a high-budget comic-made-film flick: they take missiles, punches, alien ray guns, whatever. They get thrown through walls. They throw other characters through walls. They are, simply, in a league of their own. A high-level D&D character, or a high-power-level superhero, doesn't get put down by anything other than other high-level characters, and to do that he must be beaten down with the stupendous amount of damage that only other high-level characters are able to produce.

Ars Magica doesn't really work that way. Damage resilience (wound levels) is almost static, only slightly increasing with Size, and large creatures even have lower defense. Magi can have some innate resilience, such as Giant Blood or a high Terram Form, but their big defense is actually the specific wards/protection spells they have erected around themselves. And that sucks in that the gameplay often becomes a very black or white thing (d"o you have a ward against Terram on?"; incidentally, the house rule that "wards" generally provide +5 to Soak per magnitude rather than an all-out ward will go a long way to solve that), and magi are really paper tigers if you can find the chink in their armor (the things their wards don't protect then against).

This is a radically different situation from the high-hit-point high-saves character, that can pretty much take whatever you throw at it, and whether the game is one of attrition of hit points rather than who draws the right magical cards the fastest.

So no, I don't think highly resilient characters are possible. You can have slightly more resilient characters, and you can pile on magical defenses, but that's not quite the same thing.