ArM 6 : A point of conflict model for Ability selection

In other threads we have been considering how the gane's mechaqnics might change in a theoretical future edition. One element, which I noticed while writing my section of RoP:F was that the Ability model is unnecessarily static, which is why Faeries have player-defined Abilities (or pretences, which are mechnically identicasl to abilities, so I'll use that term for the rest of the post.

The point of abilities, at the moment, is to quantify the player-character's aptitude, in situations of stress. There are two problems here which we can look at separately, the first is that the abilities we currently have do not encapsulate the situations of stress in most sagas. Various people have already commented on this, by suggesting for example that Carouse isn't good value for your points, or that basically a high language score, Ettiquette and Charm are modelling responses to the same stressful situation, and so they should be combined much as all the weapons skills were this time around. I don't intend to deal with that sort of issue here.

What I'd like to suggest is that, much as Flaws are stories you want to be told about your character, so Abilities are your vote on the sorts of scenes you want your character to be involved in. If you have a Single Weapon ability of 5, then that's a pretty fair bet that you'd prefer each story that involves the character also involves him chopping someone up.

Now, the converse of this is that Abilities which do not reflect scenes in which you want your character involved should not be selected. Currently, you are kind of required to make small defensive buys in all kinds of things which in no way reflect what you want to do, to make your character "realistic". Little Area lores you'll never use. Languages which you never roll against. Things which are part of your design to make it look realistic, but which aren't yuor vote on what you want your character to do. Things you want a score of 0 (1) in, so you don't get 3 botch dice (does anyone actually so this?) If you've ever started a character desgn by just putting a 1 in a long list of things you want the character to have a passing familiarity with, you know what I mean.

I think we should do away with all of those. They add a level of needless complexity. They simulate the game world well, I agree...but is that level of realism as valuable as making character design easier?

I also think we should do away with all of the abilities which model your character's life, but against which you never roll under stress. Parma Magica, Language, Magic theory, perhaps Profession and craft, too, in most sagas. If you aren't going to roll, then don't have an ability. If everyone has the same score, then don't have an Ability. If a Professional gerts it for free as part of profession (like bargain for merchants) then don't have it as an ability.

Instead, I think we should have a system more like Unknown Armies. A SG looking at your sheet should see your vote about what you want to do, and if he or she added together all of the sheets, haqve some idea of what you all want to do. Currently if you do that summation on all of the covenants ever published, it turns out that what magi most want to do is Speak Latin, and most companions want to speak their current language.

The "my abilities are my vote" model also helps to explain why some people dislike some of the unbalanced elements of the current system. Does raising your Latin from 4 to 5, so that your magus doesn't sound like a yokel, give you the same pleasure as your warrior getting to 5 in Bow? Or is it a compulsorsy buy that is basically a point sink?

So, that's my suggestion: to rework the abilities so that they are like the virtues, flaws, boons and hooks: a model of the dramatic points of opposition in the stories you want to tell, rather than a numerical model of your character's life experiences, regardless of how boring they are.

I don't want to sound judgemental but...

I have played and enjoyed many games that use those sorts of ability schemas, and I will play and enjoy them in the future.

I play, enjoy and come back to AM in part because of its (current) mechanics - and in part that is the skill and experience system (there is some simplicity in having a short ability list - if only because it makes it easy to remember everything that you want - and while there are a couple of niggling issues with experience and abilities, I generally like the approach AM has taken - I think it is cool watching even trivial skills getting better as the years of game-time go by - and, well, I don't see your bow skill going from 4-5 to be any bigger a deal to be honest as even then it's only 1/10 of the random element in most skill checks!),

While you could easily make AM a good game with a much more freeform sort of game-space, it can also be a good game without it. Is it really beneficial to change it in such a dramatic way? There is space for both approaches within the RPG sphere, and personally I would prefer each game to refine its niche rather than hopping about and not settling (or thoroughly exploring) anywhere in any depth,

In some ways the V&Fs are an area that I think needs looking at far more than the abilities. There are far too many V&Fs, they are in many cases too specific (many could be generalised with personalisation picked by the character, rather than the extremely specific ones given - such as most personality flaws in the RAW!). I would certainly not be looking at V&Fs as a role-model for other game mechanics until they are much tidier...

An interesting suggestion.

I think this might be a good way for ArM6 to go towards, but it must do so more completely. I see such a change in Ability mechanics fitting within a more general switch to a Narrativist approach for ArM. Some aspects of ArM are already heavily influenced by story-based reasoning: the more-Narrativist approach to Faeries (that you yourself have brought on), to Mysteries, to combat, and to V&Fs that the 5th edition has. I can see how the change is slowly changing in that direction, and can certainly see ArM evolving in this way. If done right, so as to eliminate the great hassle of book-keeping that has been plaguing Ars Magica since forever, then it would make for a very interesting game.

This change is utterly unsuitable for an ArM5.5. The Revised Edition shouldn't change something as fundamental as Ability mechanics, and from his post in the other thread David Chart seems to want to leave such radical re-designs to newer people.

However, as things stand much of the character generation and advancement mechanics of ArM are Simulationist, and the current Ability mechanics work well in that framework. The mechanics the OP offers do not. Adopting them therefore requires a major shift away from simulation. Since much of the talk on these boards is about simulating what Hermetic society is like and twiddling with baroque laboratory and spell-design rules, I suspect such a change will have its fair share of detractors. An edition of Ars Magica that fully embraces the narrativist style would be interesting, but I'm not sure many fans will see it as "Ars Magica".

As you already pointed out yourself, Abilities (or more specifically, “skills”) are an intrinsic part of the current game mechanics, a means to model the circumstances of a character's succeeding or failing at what he does. Regarding the intended purpose of this model, one might call it a gamistic/simulationistic approach, a resolution based on stochastics to determine the outcome, and thus, the continuation of a situation. The model as such is based on general assumptions, the fictitious in-game reality. Contrariwise, the methodology you propose is mostly based on narrativistic premises. I do not want to drift off too much into role-playing theory, but I considered it useful to mention the basis of my argument.

Assuming that your vision becomes reality, we'd probably experience a noticeable overall shift towards a different style of play, and I'm not sure whether Virtues and Flaws on the one hand, and Abilities on the other, would be the only components affected by that shift. For example, the mechanics of spell casting could, and, for the sake of consistency, should be affected, as would be the basis on which the story guide introduces and evolves conflict as such.

For the moment, I'm not going to comment on the pros and cons of the new style of play, but would rather note that changing individual components is a difficult way of introducing a change as radical as this. If the change is made, I suggest to follow an holistic, top-down approach, rather than altering individual parts bottom-up. For example, with such radical changes in mind, it is, on the long run, counterproductive to alter individual spells only, or even singular spell guidelines, and leave the rest of the core mechanics untouched. One may rather want to contemplate the very foundation of the current rules structure, like the various Limits, and then determine how to follow the threads that lead to the respective game mechanics they imply. The design of most role-playing games works that way, especially the ones that have a tight linking of background and mechanics.

At last, I'd like to hint blatantly at a rather mundane phenomenon, yet one that is sometimes drowned in game mechanics, or tacit personal assumptions that have grown over the years: the players' ability (note the lower case) to talk to each other. Apart from what I write on my character sheet, I can always talk to my story guide and the other players, explicitly and undoubtedly expressing my wishes regarding our style of play — be that the weight of rules, my spot light time, or my actual preference of how to involve my character(s). The other players are still at the liberty to ignore me in one way or another, but at least I know that they are aware of what I would prefer.

Obviously, my typing was too slow.

Someone should mention the Forge, and then this thread should be moved to

I do have a concern that these recent ArM6 threads might be pushing an agenda to the table that neither wants to be there nor merits its place there. That said... I think there's probably room to move on Abilities.

The key for me is in defining the skills well. They need to either have clear mechanical uses, such as weapon/combat skills, or well-defined boundaries, i.e. it should be clear where the Charm offensive ends and you need to remember your Etiquette. Carouse probably isn't one of the heavy-hitters when it comes to Abilities, but that depends what kind of character you want and what kind of story is being told in the setting at hand. Does Carouse just mean drinking and gaming? Does it include dancing and telling jokes? Does it actually have the same relationship to Etiquette that Chirurgy has to Medicine? we need to get these things absolutely clear.

That's something of an obvious statement. Of course you'll invest in the Abilities that define that character. You wouldn't take a pig farmer to a Papal investiture no matter how good his Profession: Farmer score is. But go on...

I disagree with you here. I don't see them as little "defensive buys". I sometimes see them as soaking up that spare 5xp I have hanging around after buying everything else I want, but never really defensive or for the sake of rounding them out.

I think this comes down to building a better guide through character creation. The childhood templates are a fair start on this, but I think there's room to go further. What kind of sphere do you move in? If all you've known until now is the fence that borders Farmer Maggot's field, then you probably have a fairly peasantly looking set of Abilities. Do they need to be that differentiated? Does one pig farmer need to be that different to another? But a pig farmer who has accompanied a prince on crusade? Well that's two bits of character history that open up a new set of Abilities.

I want to see character design and creation made a little easier, ironically through probably introducing more steps, but I wouldn't want to lose some of the rounding out that those Abilities afford. And I do think they're kind of valuable. But I think that they could be strengthened by tying them back to the character's history. If you want your pigs farmed, then any old pig farmer will do, but if you want someone with Area Lore: Jerusalem, then that humble pig farmer that went with the prince on crusade is the obvious choice. If you have that kind of Ability, there needs to be a story reason for it.

My emphasis above... Now, here's the issue for me. Have you ever had one of those sessions where you ask "so, who has Second Sight?" and every player round the table shoots a hand up? I have no problem with characters having scores in Area Lore for the neighbouring county or Organisation Lore for the Lord Worcestor's Stables. But if everybody has them then how do you get to that character that shines in that scene or that story?

That's a question that's much wider than just the Ars Magica system by the way. And it applies equally to magi characters. I want to see a stronger focus with magi too. One of the strengths of the game is that you can create a magus that can do anything. Its big weakness is that you can create a magus that can do everything. That's a pain in the backside as both a player and a storyguide.

I'd love to see Parma Magica as an Ability go. I don't like it as an Ability and I think there are more dynamic, exciting, and interactive ways of representing it. Craft/Profession? These could and should be either more strongly differentiated or just collapsed into Craft (or Profession). Profession always implies that there's a bit of Leadership and a bit of Bargain and a bit of Area Lore etc. thrown in. And that muddies the waters. Why buy Leadership when all you're doing is leading your staff? You have Profession for that and you've saved yourself 50xp you can spend somewhere else.

Magic Theory is very clearly an Ability with a heap of mechanical uses. It's intrinsic to lab work and (I seem to remember - I'm not looking it up) that you use it to determine the Te/Fo of spells as they're cast. And we use it a fair bit in our saga to prompt magi (ahem... players) who might not remember all their limits of magic etc.

I don't think Abilities is the right metric to do that on. Virtues and Flaws are the better metric. And I've toyed with the idea of Archetypes and Destinies too:
Who are you? I'm a louche third son of a wealthy and boorish noble (I'm not really, in case anyone is wondering...) and I'm destined to inherit my father's domain and cast aside my wanton ways (again, that's just for example).

There you go, two statements that tell the storyguide what kind of role the character fills and inspires stories that takes me to my end point. For my money, that's more helpful than adding my Carouse score to the pig farmer's Carouse score whether that particular grog is played by me or anyone else.

Well, that comes down to mechanical use. I'm not looking it up so I'll work on assumption - If my Latin score influences the quality of the books I can write, then I might be interested in advancing it. If my Latin score influences the Source Quality of books I read then of course I'd be interested in advancing it. And when I breach the 5 or 6 I (the player, that's what counts) would feel a sense of achievement. Currently, you can gain a score of 1 in Ancient Greek and the whole world of ancient mystical Greek texts becomes an open book to you. Does that sound reasonable? I don't think so. So it's about ensuring that every Ability has a mechanical purpose that's clearly defined. And if you can't clearly define it, then there's probably a reason to either re-think how that Ability is represented (Parma Magica, for instance) or roll it into another one.

I would like to see Abilities streamlined, rationalised, made clearer, etc. but I would want to keep the numeric values. I think once you remove them you start to head down a route that's less reliant on dice and rolls for resolution within the game. Is that a good thing? Some might suggest so, but it's not where I'd position the game.

The depends entirely on the type of game you're playing in.

If your saga involves a lot of battling enemy knights, archery contests and general armed mayhem, then sure getting a 5 in Bow may seem more valuable. On the other hand, if your saga involves diplomacy, intrigue and power plays at the Grand Tribunal, speaking fluent and elegent Latin may be far more valuable and being able to shoot a bow may be a useless skill.

A system that favors "adventuring" skills is a system that favors "adventuring." Some of us play Ars Magica precisely because it isn't a system that does that. :smiley:

As long as whoever eventually designs ArM6 has the confidence to completely ignore these threads, then these threads are fine with me.

Yes, to me that is the critical problem as well. In contrast to you, I quite like Parma Magica as an Ability. It has a clear mechanical use. It has a well-defined boundary.

Some Abilities either have marginal mechanical uses or unclear boundaries. Although sometimes whether an Ability has a marginal mechanical use comes down to the troupe, and what is actually happening in the saga. What is just an XP sink in one saga, is a quite critical mechanic in another.

I agree, I think some more (well thought out) little 5 year blocks of purchases would be a good idea. So, you went on Crusade for 5 years, then this is what you get. So, you went to cathedral school, then this is what you get.

Basically, take the Educated, Warrior, Well-Travelled Virtues, and make a whole lot more, and make them not Virtues but little packages of Abilities. So character creation is a matter of picking a thread of 4, 5, 10 (whatever) number of packages.

Not all the packages would be equal, some would specify precisely what Abilities were purchased, others will give you a set of Abilities to distribute experience between. They might not all have an equal number of experience points allocated to them. Hermetic Apprenticeship, would just be another package (or likely several).

Actually, you need a Score of 4 in Ancient Greek, and you need to be able to read the Greek alphabet (probably a Score of at least 2 in Artes Liberales) to read texts in Ancient Greek. Score of 5 in Ancient Greek is required to write the language.

No, Abilities is the numbers part of describing a character i´m playing. Playing stories according to the characters?
Thats a terrible idea. That´s like looking at really bad and predictable movies or an episode of highly formulaic and repetitive tv series , "because i´m good at this, there will always come situations for it to be used... and it wont happen to those who cant handle it". :imp:


And flaw doesnt HAVE TO be stories you want told, its potential stories that MAY be told.

I WANT my characters to be realistic thank you very much!
I´ve made characters starting out fluent in 6 languages(and another, though much older character, with 11 Area lores at no less than score 4 and 10 fluent languages, including latin at score 12), not because i expected, wanted or assumed that all those would be useful, but because that was the character i´d come up with.

I really really hate the OP idea.

I thought that was already quite clear? At least between those 2. Etiquette is "proper behaviour" and social competence in fancy situations and with nobility or alike while Charm is a matter of actively influencing someone.

I would say its main component is rather that of social competence among "regular people".

I think its a rather good thing to have as an Ability. It allows you to be a specialist in it without interfering with other things.

No, profession means you can do the things needed for that profession. A merchant will have a fair score in Bargain as well, a ship captain would have a good bit of Leadership score as well etc... Otherwise you make Profession far to wide in scope.
Otherwise, how do you define the knowledge of the above ship´s captain? Craft? That just wont work.



And because we can choose, and CHANGE what kind of stories are favoured from time to time even with the same bunch of characters. Which, with the OP idea would become impossible because those who elected to not pick some skills that are "correct for the next situation" would be useless while those who did will breeze through it.

Anyone who has Mechwarrior 3rd edition might take a look at the life paths used in character creation there for an example of this sort. Still, there are lots who really doesnt like it, although many of those are the ones who tries to stick with it too strictly, making it a limitation instead of an assistance.

Oh i´d like to keep them as Virtues, but also making them packages i think would be a fair idea. With the virtues representing a greater focus and giving extra points for it.

It's not that clear cut. What if you are conforming to etiquette in order to influence the court?

If Etiquette is about "proper behavior" how does it differ from Organization Lore: Ducal Court, or Area Lore: Palace, or Profession: Courtier?

What's Folk Ken then?

Isn't Etiquette about social competence too --- you can have a "peasant" specialty for Etiquette?

Yep, there are plenty of games with similar systems. For example, Cyberpunk, Traveller, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (or at least the first edition, not sure about the current edition). You are right that the design of such a system would need to try to minimise players perceiving it as an irritating limitation to their creativity.

Adhering to the proper behaviour of the court will ALLOW you to use Charm more easily to influence the people.
Proper Etiquette might influence the court, but it will do so indirectly, not as a direct result of you saying or doing something(rather thanks to you NOT doing something "out of place" or embarassing yourself).

"Organization Lore: Ducal Court" means knowing how it works, "Area Lore: Palace" means you know how to get where you want in it and where to find different people, events and things. The former might very well give a bonus to etiquette and/or charm by assisting in talking to the right person about a subject or avoid a "sore toe" subject with someone. The latter might help you to get things done quicker but overall its not exactly a very useful skill(it might be very useful if you´re attempting to get straight to a specific persons room in unnoticed for example).

"Profession: Courtier"? Im not sure id allow such a widely stretched profession.

Understanding people. What makes them tick. Spotting that someone is lying based on how they behave.

Etiquette is competence in formalised situations.
You wont make a roll for Carouse when going to a baptising in church, but you MIGHT do a roll for Etiquette.
And if there´s a celebration afterwards, you might roll for Carouse then. Unless its a formal dinner, then Etiquette is a better choice to roll.

Yeah, and sometimes someone tries to come up with a "fix" and is less than successful. Its quite hilarious how the "points-based" system that was added as an alternative to the Life-path system in MW3 turned out.
Not because its bad overall, but because if you want you can start playing with what someone dubbed the "geriatric superheroes". :mrgreen:
(essentially, if you created older characters, the advantages eventually outweighed the negatives due to aging far beyond silly if the character was properly made)

I agree that it is not always mechanically obvious which social skill to use, but I don't think this is the right approach. I feel the proper ability to use is dependent on the personality of the NPC (yeah, there're traits for that too). Using the proper approach should make it easier, using the wrong one harder. A barmaid might think you're a weirdo if you try Etiquette, another might like being treated like a lady.

EDIT as reply for below:
Folk Ken will help you discover that NPC prefers Etiquette.

So, say, the Duke executed his previous wife and that we don't talk about it. Ever. But we all wear black on the Tuesday after Easter to commemorate her execution.

Is knowing this Etiquette, Organisation Lore: Ducal Court or Area Lore: Palace?

I can see strong arguments for any and all of these to apply. And I know that you might have an answer to how you would play it. But it's not clear that there is one correct answer to this. The answer might vary from character to character and troupe to troupe.

Wouldn't understanding people help with Etiquette? If somebody is "happy", there is a different etiquette to communicating with them, than if they are "sad".

The RAW doesn't limit the Ability Etiquette to formal situations. And in common parlance, there's an etiquette to informal situations too. Take an event such as "going down to the pub" (in either real life or ArM). Questions such as "who you kiss in greeting", "who buys the drinks", and "are jokes about whores/priests/wives funny" are questions of etiquette.

The very fact that you recognise that it is an "informal" situation, is an expression of etiquette.

And yet you have to multiply it by five in order to get it's actual value. Which isn't very Ability-like. And it just kind of hangs around. And is a bit static. And not very exciting.

I think there's a better way to handle Parma Magica than just have it as an Ability, though granted it might make specialising in it rather more difficult.

But one of the problems that we'll run into is that by cutting a number of Abilities, you start to weight the remaining ones too heavily. If I'm creating a 25-year old Blacksmith grog, I have 345 XP to play with. Right now, I can split those into Area Lore, Craft and/or Profession, Bargain, Charm, Brawl, Carouse, Folk Ken, Guile, Intrigue, Organization Lore, etc. But if we decide that actually Guile and Intrigue are too close, or that Folk Ken and Guile are actually two uses of the same ability (spurious examples to illustrate the point) then we reduce the number of Abilities needed, which allows more XPs to be spent raising others. Does this mean that Ease Factors need to increase to keep pace with the apparent strengthening of the Abilities that are left? Or do you get less at character creation?

There's a big difference between spreading your XPs across ten Abilities and spreading them across five. That's where it needs an holistic approach to this.

You could have it as an "extra" art, and simply not multiply it by 5?

That way it would have a little more granularity (i.e.: MR that are not exact multiples of 5), though you might have to slightly tweak the form-resistance to balance the alteration out (simply using form + parma might do it),

I don't think there's an easy answer to it. I like the aesthetic balance of five techniques and ten forms as they combine nicely. Throw in an extra Art that's neither Form nor Technique and it's as much a cludge as leaving it as an Ability. To be fair though, you could advance it as an Art but actually have it as a separate line item in the same way as Soak.

But that aside, I was thinking along the same lines as yourself but also looking at whether a magus' Parma Magica Resistance is just calculated as Rego + Form. Or is it the magus' highest Technique plus Highest Form? These will probably have the effect of reducing overall Parma Resistance scores, which in my book is no bad thing.

Either that or supernatural creatures need much better penetration...

Most creatures seem to suck with penetration, and as there is no random element for them (penetration is just Might - (5 x Power Cost)) they frequently simply can't affect Magi with their abilities,

I have been pondering making creature penetration (Stress Dice + Might - (5x power cost)), whilst not setting the latter half at a minimum of zero just to create some uncertainty,

and penetration.

But Magi of Hermès are the true rulers of Mythic Europe... Why isn't normal for them to be rarely affected by magical creatures?

Because facing a dragon is just an inconvenient situation, not a really dangerous liftime goal.