Are art scores necessary for novice players?

I've just realised something about the Simplified Ars character over on my blog: the player never uses the character's Art scores for -anything-, because the Spontaneous Spell Menu makes that unnecessary. I'm really tempted to just cut them entirely.


Having looked at what you've done, I'm inclined to agree with you. If you're not expecting (or more importantly, not offering) certamen during the initial/convention story, then you can get away with it. If you're confident you've given the players enough opportunity with what's on the sheet, then lose the numbers.

I say that because I ran a shonky convention scenario at the GTUK this year. I'd given the magus (what I thought was) a cool focus on Rego Craft Magic to allow for lots of Finesse-based manipulation of "stuff", and I had the numbers on the sheets, and the spells listed, and... it just didn't work. I made the mistake of thinking that the numbers did the work for me. In fact, they worked against me as the numbers just looked small compared to what the character was designed to be capable of.

So a clear explanation to the player of what role the character plays, what they can achieve, and how they can contribute is far far more important than trying to be clever and squeezing oh so much meaning out of some small numbers*. I know the point of Ars is total flexibility and having the raw numbers promotes that, but I'd go with ease of play any day.

Let me know how you go with it. If I ever brave running something at convention again... I might just adopt your system.

  • Of course, if I'd thought through things a little longer while prepping the scenario I would have just increased the character's Art scores across the board. Conventions aren't the place for concept-characters. Conventions are for handing the player a little piece of wow and letting them get on dealing with stuff any way they want. In my opinion.

I've noticed that yes, to less to the concept of "Hey look my Magi is realy good in that things" and more specially to Magi Characthers that work heavely with Enchantments like Verditius or other Lab Totals like a Seeker or a Researcher.
By me yes.

I think it depends on what you are trying to achieve with the "simplified sheet"/game. Is this meant to be a stepping stone to the full game, or are you trying to allow a player to just play a new game, say a single scenario at a con, and have no ambitions of getting the player involved in the full game.

If the former, then I think that you need the Art Scores to be present, and I would use the conventional terms Creo, Perdo, etc. If this is meant to be "training" for the full game, you need to introduce these concepts and use the proper terminology (although it might be a good idea to follow the Latin terms with English translations--- Creo(Create)), and put them in the conventional order. I wouldn't use the terms Noun and Verb either; I'd use Form and Technique. I'd also use Parma Magica, rather than translating as "magical shield".

Actually, even providing English translations of the Latin terms is not really necessary in my opinion. The only Art which is not obvious (to a native English speaker anyway) is Perdo (and perhaps Vim). All the other Arts are close enough to common, analogous (Latin-derived) English words.

Removing or translating the Arts is a bit like, say, playing a Star Wars game and replacing the terms "Force" and "Light Sabre" with "Psychic" and "Space Sword", or removing them entirely --- that is, this jargon is an important part of the game. Without this sort of jargon flavour it just becomes a Generic Wizard Game. Personally, if I was simplifying the game for novices, I'd be more tempted to get rid of Abilities (like languages and separate realm lore scores).

If you are trying to create a new game that is only superficially related to ArM, then, no, you don't need Art Scores, if you don't want to.

I love the simplified sheets you've done and they look fantastic for a sample module or con or similar. The player will not -need- to use their Arts scores with those sheets in such environments.

However, despite not needing them I'd still include them. A con or sample play session is essentially advertising for the game. It lets those players who are interested in numbers or how the rules work see them and consider their meaning. It lets them compare and contrast their character sheets to each other, or consider how such a character might progress if the session were to turn into a saga. As a storyguide it takes moments to explain that the spontaneous spell sheet and formulaic casting totals are derived from those numbers and they'll never need to use them in this session.

You and I know that these characters' stories will end after the session, but in the mind of a properly engaged player the characters will - hopefully - live on. This includes progression, and possibly even re-invention once the player in question goes and buys the actual rulebook. Numbers are important for both of these - not for all players, but certainly for the majority that come from other numbers-based game systems - both pen-and-paper and computer.

So yeah, I'd leave the numbers on as you have them even though they are not strictly needed for the limited environment these characters will exist in.

Close enough to "perdition" for many, native English speakers or not...


Still, if its for a short "show´n´tell" game, Art scores are not a must have as you already provide the relevant numbers with the spells.
I think keeping them is better though.

Thats my leaning as well. To more easily show where the spell numbers comes from and to give players something for comparison.

I think your system is too complicated for a new player (I've wife-tested it. Her only game experience is MERP).

I'd just use "Sentences of Power".

Each character gets 6 or so words of Power (nouns + verbs=6).

This allows him to cast any and all minor spells based on these sentences of power that the storyguide allows (for one fatigue level). Include a note that this flexibility is also given in the full game, and that a system for exact calculation exists. Then give five examples of what the character could do this way - stress again that a lot else is possible (and before 5th edition - it was that way: storyguide allows anything that is fair and interesting unless it obviously breaks rules).

Who cares if a spell warming your bed on a winter evening is lvl 5, 10 or 15?

It's a con intro, and full version of the sheet are provided for if people want to go on with it in complete Ars.

No, I see it as getting them interestede enoug hthat they might thing the Ars learning curve is worth it, bot the start of the curve itself. I remember a dreadful time I had wanting to ploay in a Vampire LARP where my first job was to learn the terminology - perhaps the most boring half hour of RP time ever, as I tried to learn a dictionary.

Respectfully it is nothing like this. The term "Force" is in English, the term Psychic is in everday English and the term "lightsaber" is a conjunction of two words in English which explains its a sword made of light. That's in no way similar to forcing people to call fire Ignem, and you've only offered three terms: in Ars you are suggerting they need to learn 20 before basic play. I don't agree that's a good idea.

Always good to know someone's got a more radical proposal than I have, JeanMichelle. 8)

If they are not calling it Ignem, you are not playing ArM.

It adds incredible flavour, and that flavour is worth the cost of using the jargon, in my opinion. I think you are seriously misjudging the capacity of random punters if you think that is a barrier. Roleplayers are prepared to learn all sorts of mad terminology.

And they don't need to necessarially "learn" the terminology. Just start the game, possibly provide a short cheat sheet for terms like Certamen and Quaesitor (if needed in your scenario), and write a translation direct on the character sheet...Creo (Create) 7, Intellego (Know) 5, etc. Looking at your simplified version again, I would also recommend keeping the normal Range, Duration, Target jargon.

For me, the big barriers, are realising what you can do with Spontaneous Magic (and calculating through the level on the fly), and realising that the game is about magi. The other big barrier, for Con games, is that the full game is really about long-term play; the game is more about why the player characters are going into the dungeon rather than the actual clearing of "monsters" from the dungeon. This is difficult to realise in a con situation.

I like your idea of a menu for Spontaneous magic, but your list somehow loses something of the fiddly joy of calculating out "proper" Spontaneous magic. Although, I'm not sure what a better solution would be.

The clever thing about the ArM magic system (which the use of Latin terms adds to) is that when as players we use the system it feels a little bit analogous to the esoteric calculations that the characters might be doing. You use the jargon and do the calculations because it feels "in-character". Which is fantastic.

Basically, you seem to be stripping out the bits that make ArM interesting and different. Which, if that's what you think you need to do to make the game accessible, is hardly a good advertisment. The Arts and the magic system are the good bits about ArM, in my opinion. They are what you should be advertising, and emphasising, not disguising.

Yes, there are English words derived from Perdo, but "perdition" is not a "common" English word, and I think that the theological use of the word "Perdition" clouds it too.

Afterall, "Vim" and "Vis" are actually both words in the English dictionary that have more-or-less the right meaning (force/energy). They are just not that commonly used.

But they are not as clear as the other Arts:
Intellego => something to do with "Intelligence",
Creo => something to do with "Creating",
Aquam => something to do with "Water", etc

Yes, David Chart will break down your door and take away all your books if you don't use the Latin. In fact, you should really translate all the spell names to Latin too. If you're not conducting half the session in Latin you might as well just play D&D.

Dressing in medieval garb, eating and drinking authentic medieval fare, and playing in an abandoned castle would all add a lot of flavor too, but it's a high barrier to entry. If growing the fan base and getting more people into the game means someone Sponts a "Change Body" spell instead of a Muto Corpus spell, that's a small price to pay.

Latin scares people. Ars Magica scares people. Complicated math scares people. The game isn't about knowing Moon Duration adds 3 Magnitudes to a spell level, it's about telling an interesting, entertaining, interactive story. You don't need to speak a word of Latin or add a two figures together to tell a good story. As long as the storyguide has an idea of what s/he wants to let the players do, the players don't need to know the RDT jargon. Players can tell the storyguide what they want to do and the storyguide can explain that they don't have enough juice to do the intended result, but could do it for a smaller target, shorter range, or shorter duration. If the players enjoy the setting, they can buy the book and learn the mechanics. You shouldn't have to learn the mechanics to play a con game of any RPG.

The game doesn't have to be about any of these things. If you want to run a group of grogs, you can do it. A convention is a great place to show people who like the idea of Ars Magica, but are put off by it's supposed complexity, that you don't have to have a degree in history or Latin to play and enjoy the game.

Yes, doing math is the high point of most game sessions for me too.

Again, most players aren't going to derive huge amounts of pleasure from looking up what the base is for a spell and then figuring out whether they can cast it or not.

Not surprisingly, I disagree completely. Ars Magica is a game where the medieval myths are true. Full stop. End of story. If you wanted to not cast a single spell or have every spell cast determined by whimsy points, you're still playing a variant of Ars Magica. The ability to Spontaneously cast spells is a huge selling point, the math and rules behind that ability are not.

That's entirely true. A game that does not use the magic system (or uses some other magic system) is absolutely fine and is still "Ars Magica" in some sense.

However, it is not really any different to any other pseudo-medieval-RPG. The in-character Hermetic magic system and the out of character mechanics for dealing with it are the cool, unique bits of ArM, in my opinion.

If you are trying to make a case to people that they should play ArM, then you want to show them the bits that are unique and interesting.

I think you might be surprised.

If you take away the out-of-character methods for calculating spells, and say just replace it with an exhaustive spell list, then the game is suddenly a whole lot less interesting. Yes, doing the maths is sometimes a bit of a chore. However, doing the maths, and talking amongst the players about the magnitude of effect our characters can cast, and whether increasing the Range or Target of an effect is viable, and whether something can be used as an Arcane Connection, all feels "in-character".

Compare, this to when you talk about the combat mechanics. The players talking about the combat mechanics does not feel like real soldier-grogs talking about combat. The players talking about the magic system does feel like magi talking about the magic system --- to get this effect you need a certain amount of complexity and in-character jargon. The trick for a con game is to get this effect with players who are initially not familar with the magic system.

I agree with you here. And I don't think that you should need to learn the mechanics to play ArM at a con. I think that we all agree that ArM does have (apparently) complicated mechanics, which means that it is difficult to run with players that don't know the mechanics. I think that we all agree this is a difficulty with ArM as a con game.

However, a) I don't think that the Latin magic jargon itself is really much of an issue, and b) I think that, in fact, the Latin magic jargon is what makes ArM an interesting and different game, and c) replacing the spell mechanics with some other system is not a solution (it is an admission that you want to play another game instead of ArM).

That you say something is so does not make it so.

For a single session game at a con, when you could instead be playing something which is just in straight English? I don't think I am, you know.


No Ars game for newbies I've ever seen has used Spontaneous magic well, because it has always had, as the core play experience, this:

SG: Something wonderful and tense happens!
Player: IWhat are my options?
SG: Well, if you want a fire strike, then add your Creo and your Ignem and your modifiers, and then add half a dice roll if you are spending Fatigue and I'll tell you if its high enough. If you want to make a wall add your Creo and Terram and modifiers and...
Player: I'll just use a formulaic.

Except in con games, they just don't. People can't be bothered.

I respect your right to have this opinion - I just don't think it's correct. We'll see when Tin Islands gets playtested.

I can't believe you'd defend the idea that the complexity of Ars's mechanics is a matter of appearance rather than substance.

Which I agree is the problem. And it is all about the fact that players don't understand the spontaneous rules (as an aside why do you need to add half a dice roll?).

The trouble, for me, is that your solutions seem to be about replacing the spontaneous rules with something else, rather than having a technique for making the existing spontaneous rules accessible.

Things that are popular, like say anything done by Games Workshop, or White Wolf, are filled with heaps of specialist jargon and at least as complicated rules. Complicated rules and jargon are not the main problem.

Anyway, in an attempt to be constructive, I've posted how I would tackle the problem in the next door thread:

It's not really just about players not understanding the rules. It's really that AM has moved so far in the direction of being all about numbers and computations. When I look back at the early editions and their attitude of "make up some cool effect and guess the spell level based on game balance" and then compare to AM5's numerical guidelines, I have trouble thinking it's the same game.

If you want casual players, you need to go back to the storytelling roots.

I'm with you on the silliness of adding half a die role, btw.

I don't think that's so much the problem. In a con game the calculations can be either done by the storyguide (who hopefully knows what he is doing), and/or they can be pre-calculated somehow which is easier than normal as the storyguide has made up all the characters, and (usually) a con game is quite tightly restricted in terms of what might occur (in comparison to a normal game, anyway).

The problem is that casual players lack the vocabulary to talk about and think about what effects their characters can acheive.

I think that the solution is to make sure that this vocabulary is used a lot in the scenario. Make NPC characters talk about their Arts, make NPC characters cast effects spontaneously, make it clear how effects can be made-up and modified on the fly (have NPC characters talk about this). Provide play aids to the players so that they can conceptualise what the characters are doing.

I think, that the reason why con-games with casual players generally struggle to get PCs to use things like spontaneous magic properly, is that the adventure tends to run along, doing lots of good story-telling things, and then suddenly there is an opportunity for the characters to use spontaneous magic, and the game crashes (or the players decide it is too hard, and do something that they are comfortable with, like hitting the plot with swords).

If, as storyguide you want to run a con-game for casual players, whereby the players use some fiddly bit of the rules, then you need to design the scenario so that the players a) see NPCs doing it, and b) are gradually introduced to how they do it themselves. This is itself nothing special about ArM, most games have fiddly bits (and some technical jargon), which is why, say, many con-games for casual players have a low-intensity "fight" near the beginning; so that the players can get the hang of the combat system.

It's about designing the scenario around the players.

I'm thinking back to my last few con games and having trouble finding the fiddly bits. The games were Prime Time Adventures, Poison'd, Shock, the Beast of Lindford and Smallville. I can't say there's anything nearly so complicated as spontaneous magic in any of these.

I'd rather hear "Creo" than "Create" too but that's not the issue. Players who are perfectly capable of describing the effects they want can still have great difficulty translating those effects into AM5 terms and measuring the difficulty according to published scales. They certainly have trouble understanding whether their characters are capable of a given effect. That's a rules issue, not an immersion problem.

There's some truth to what you say about the game in general but it's not a lack of vocabulary that makes spontaneous magic difficult with casual players. Heck, the problem can be even worse with experienced players, grinding the game to a halt as they start arguing about guidelines and requisites and the like.