Ars Fantasia?

I like ArM for the things it is. I like other games sometimes, as a relief, and have played others extensively in the past.
YR7 and others have mentioned their interest in what might be called "Ars Fantasia" - not something as different as the World Tree project (which revives and rewrites the game rules) - but something "using" the ArM rules, but different.
I'm wondering what that would be?

I think it is possible to do many things with ArM "out of the box", so the question is - What do you (or others) "mean" by an Ars Fantasia?

I am interested to start a thread to look into what "otherness" people might look for, changing some bits and keeping others. I have found that in most published games, the rules are substantially tied to the expectations of what will happen in game-play, and the background story/world should constrain what is possible so as to remain consistent with itself. (That constraint may be "anything goes" which is great, but needs to be said, and is actually pretty rare!)

Things I can think of where "DND" differs from ArM include (and so would raise as "is this what you are looking for?" and "why?"):
background world - ArM uses C13 Europe rather than a novel world, or a "generic" world. (Too many DND worlds seem to me to be "Generica". Europe lets one include huge amounts of detail to present an apprently "real" world to players.
monsters - ArM isn't usually monster heavy, whereas many games are teeming with monsters and monstrous combatstreasure - in ArM characters usually create treasures (in the Lab etc) rather than finding it lying aroundparty vs. community - ArM encourages a community of characters (the Covenant), rather than the Band Of Heroes
When I think of DND or many other FRP games I think of a small, fixed party (often 1-per-player), moving through a series of linked adventures one after another, rather than a broad community of dozens (or more), existing over years or decades.
They progress through a world which is "part of the game" - eg Forgotten Realms, Hyboria, Melnibone or Lankmar. The background of the world affects what is appropriate for characters to be able to do: ArM type magic might be fine in Forgotten Realms but be overwhelming in Lankhmar.

Fixed Parties of characters have special problems compared to ArM standard: you have to have something for all the players to do, so all the player-characters have to be (approximately) equally useful and "powerful". ArM as written makes Magi vastly more powerful than Grogs, and significantly more powerful than Companions. Mythic Companions can approach Magi, but still fall short. Most other games try to limit wizard and provide special features for "warriors" (and other mundane characters) so that they compete on "equal footing".

ArM games I have played have often downplayed combat and been focussed on character interaction, and problem solving. Other games I've played have often focused on "heroics" where the "Team" solve difficult challenges, often involving combat.

Other games often have characters threatened by hostile beings (monsters, enemies...) where in ArM it is usually magi who are the most dangerous beings around - magi may be friends or allies but when it comes to the dangers of the Haunted Forest (in our saga), the magi like to live there becasue the forest's reputation keeps out minor nuisances, and they can always make it a bit scarier if they need to; they may find problems in the forest, but they aren't scared of it!

About 4 years ago when I started the Ars Fantasy project, it was to take my favorite magic system in the world and do the same to create a combat system.

In 3rd and 4th editions, you were allocated 150 points to spend on your 15 Arts (Techs and Forms). So, in my first attempt to create a similar system, I allowed only 1 character type (a mergence of Companion and Magus), and gave 150 points to split between 30 arts. 15 were magic, 15 were combat.

For Combat
Techniques were: Attack, Defense, Speed, Power, and DualWield
Forms were 10 'weapon classes' such as Swords, PoleArms, Unarmed, etc.

I replaced the Houses with 4 Sources (places people gain their magic from).

You either gained your Magic from a Deity, drawing from Planar Energy, Mind over Matter, or through Nature.

Depending on your point spread, you gained a title.

Deity: Paladin, Cleric, Priest
Planar: Warrior, Mystic, Wizard
Mind/Matter: Bushi, Ninja, Wujen
Nature: Ranger, Druid, Elementalist

The biggest flaw in my first attempt was that I added in 'maneuvers' much like spells but for combat. We currently do NOT use manuevers anymore, it was a bad idea. :stuck_out_tongue:

Of course, the need for Covenants, etc went out the window, since we kinda just took the perfect characters, and system, and put it into a fantasy world. No more a Mythic Europe, or an Order of Hermes, instead we played in Bretcadia and dealt with the Royal Order of the Towers, but alot of the results were the same, all 4 magic types were represented in the order, the Diende were hunted (different name though) and basically it was alot like taking the Marvel Super Hero comics and writing something like a 1602 saga for them (a very good read if anyone hasn't read :wink:)

Anyhows, that was were Ars Fantasy started. I bet you can still find posts by me on Michelle's other forum, though I've lost my bookmarks and password to there ages ago. I learned from back then that most people hate the idea, so I don't suggest it all that much anymore, but I find a Fantasy version of the game to be alot more fun than the much slower, season based game of the book setting.


One of the interesting aspects of an Ars Fantasia would be the probable lifting of constraints on the Order of Hermes.

Now some would view this is a positive -- magic would probably be more socially acceptable (even if The Gift isn't, per se), thus the Order would not need to conceal any of its activities, could be publically acknowledged, fewer legal limitations, ease of working with the general community, etc.

This also would mean that the final restraint on magi in regards to their power vis a vis the rest of the world would be removed, allowed magi to utterly dominate mundane reality.

It is this second point that tends to worry me.

One of the reasons I find Ars Magica fascinating is the balancing act that takes place. Hermetic magi are incredibly powerful but, due to social constraints, are not allowed to fully give into that very power. For the good of the larger group magi (usually) restrain themselves. This also has an interesting effect on spell research -- instead of trying to develop a magnitude 20 Destroy Life spell, you find characters engaged in research regarding crop growth (lessening reliance on mundanes), esoteric philosophical points (to win an argument with a fellow magus at the next Tribunal meeting), or other such non-adventuring matters. This is something I truly enjoy -- the magic, which is the focus of the game, is not necessarily there just to improve your chances to kill monsters and steal the odd bits of treasure they are hiding. Instead if works into a much broader context.

Now I could see a slightly more fantastical setting for AM, but only slightly so. I could, for example, see something along the Earthsea line -- fantasy, yes, but with a grounding in reality. In such a setting magi would be more "open", but not necessarily casting magic that much more often.

In other words, while I like some notion of a non-Mythic European setting, I also want to see at least some limits placed on the magi. Without those limits, they would run the whole show quickly and easily, creating a mageocracy. And that becomes a very different sort of game, one I am far less interested in.

Caribet's discussion of what seperates Ars from Fantasy Generica convinces me all over again that I prefer Mythic Europe to Generica. AngusGM mentioned the social constraints that limit and shape the lives of powerful wizards. These limitations seem more realistic to me, because the rules of the game actually allow magi to kill each other, or rule kingdoms, or do what ever nefarious deeds they can imagine. It is the game setting that establishes reprocutions for making such choices and I find this more realistic than alignment/class/lvl limits.

Having said this, I have always wanted to see supplements that expand Ars Magica beyond Mythic Europe. South of the Sun Redux, Mythic Americas, Mythic India, Mythic China, Mythic Japan, even Mythic Polynesia Islands.

One of the problems I've observed in past home brew games is people would take the Hermetic System and drop it in say China. Hermetic Magic works well at describing European Magic, and not so well at describing Chinese Magic. Then people might make up a new system all together, but then they have trouble having Chinese Magic interact with Hermatic Magic.

To some degree I think this problem was solved with the introduction of Gruagachan Magic and later the Mysteries. Both systems allow for the development of magic systems based on virtues and flaws and can easily interact with Hermetic Magic.

One of the problems when alternative settings are created is that rules specific to an alternative system 'leak' into the core game. I think this is bad as rules built for the alternative system often screw up normal games.

If magic systems for alternative settings could be developed that are consistent with the core rules and do not introduce weird rule patches, then I think these settings could compliment Ars Magica.

Off the top of my head, from North American Lore The Thunderbird could easily be developed from core rules. Shaman represent the magic users of North American, but rules for the development and powers of spirit creatures would need to be developed (that has always been the case though).

South of the Sun used both the existing rules and introduced it's own mechanics for the Order of Juno. I would toss all this material out and approach Africa more like Nyambe does. Prester John must stay though!!!

I've always thought that Grugachan magic can with NO modification represent a particular type of Arabic Magic user. Blood and Sand does a great job at revealing that part of the world through the eyes of Hermetics. Ars India might actually be a setting more complimentary to companions that spell casters, but I've got a soft spot for 'no spell casters campaigns', so maybe that's just my inner author talking.

Ars China and Ars Japan. Well I'm sure everybody has an opinon on how to portray Wire-Fu. While popular, I think Wire-Fu is really a small part of this huge chunk of the world and it would be unfair if Ars Far FAR East only focused on how to break a brick with you bare hands (Virtues of course).

In between Ars Araby, and Ars the Far FAR East is the Mongul Horde. So many books have touched upon this topic, but none have really jumped in deep to this negelected part of the world. Personally, I feel if Shaman were rebuilt with better rules not only for the Shaman, but for the spirits they control a lot of problems would be solved. I think rules that detailed how spirits are built, what powers they have, how to keep them balanced in terms of the rewards they can bestow to people who control them, I think all sorts of settings could detailed in a fair and balanced manner.

Boy have I rambled! Anyway if I have a point, it would be providing rules for developing balanced spirits, how to control them and earn boons from them in a balanced manner would establish a foundation that could be used to explore other parts of Mythic Earth and would be key to creating the creatures of Ars Fantasia.

I think I'm either missing, or mis-understanding something....

What prevents the limitations from existing in a more fantasy setting? As an experience Ars Fantasy player/GM, it's easy to have the same settings. Our 'Royal Order of the Towers' works similarly to the Hermetic Order. And with Parma Magica, the natural 'defense' of other magi makes the wizards war the only plausable way of dealing with defunct magi who think they should rule the world.

By putting it into a fantasy setting, you don't have to discard all the checks and balances. They work just as well in the fantastic setting, but you change the feel of the game. You don't need the extra Companion (since you don't do lab time), you don't need the covenant, you don't need the seasons. You could do the Fantasy idea in Mythic Europe even, no 'new' rules need to be added. And considering that even the online games I've played have been more 'fantastic' in nature than historical, I think the default is to just play that way anyways, while doing ones best to adhere to the GMs version of human history.

Who's to say that the Northmen weren't actually Goblins and Orcs (back in those days, alot of people were sure that the Norse weren't Men at all, all that hair and fur and beastial attitude).

So, I don't see what's going missing by doing a fantasy style game. I admit in my own version, I change the rules alot, but the default rules allow for dragons, ogres and trolls (which make it a fantasy setting).

It's about how much effort is put into Poltics and how much Adventure XP you get instead of Seasons. That's the only real differences.


I look at it from a gameplay angle more than a setting issue.
Imagine a random D&D mini campaign, say the Return To The Temple of Elementnal Evil. I never played it, but I can imagine what it's all about - dungeons, fighting monsters, taking loot, saving the town from unpseakable awakening evil, the usual.
Now consider running it under ArM5 rules. The characters would not progress much as adventure XP is low; I consider that a feature rather than a bug. And you would need to adapt everything to ArM5 terms. But the real problem is the gameplay.
The D&D party will have a fighter, a trapfinder, a wizard, and healer (say). Each with a very specialized role, and capable of doing very different things. All are balanced to function in combat more or less evenly and designed to work together well as a team to overcome the very specific challenges a D&D adventure throws at them (traps, and so on). Combat is filled with tactical choices, critical hits, attacks of opportunity, and so on. Feats seperate the characters, and allow them to function very differently. As characters grow in power, they move even more apart as not only their skills but their feats and class abilities change and grow even more distant.
The ArM party is point and not class based, so the characters would not be balanced in combat and will tend to be even more specialized. As everything is based on skills, two combatants will function in much the same ways, without combat virtues to set them apart. Even if such were introduced, the characters will not accrue more and hence expand and grow distant in style and combat tactics. As everyone can learn every skill, and the costs are exponential, in time all characters will become something of a jack-of-all-trades in useful skills. Combat will be rather boring and repetitive without the detailed tactical and enviromental rules of D&D. If the wizard is allowed to grow, his power will far eclispse everyone else's.
I would also add that D&D 3e provides excellent tools to gauge character strength, appropriate strength of spells and magic items, tools to contruct varied opponents of appropriate battle prowess, and so on. Systems ArM lacks.

Essentially, I think Sphynx is right in that to turn ArM into a Generic Fantasy game you need to seriously revamp combat to make it an interesting arena of conflict, and remove the possiblity of using magi, or at least Hermetic levels of power.
You also need to provide means to further differentiate between combatants, and have these means grow with power-level. Skills alone do not suffice, a system more alike the Mysteries or Spell Mastery is in order.

Sphynx, have you considered using spells like D&D uses feats? You could learn spells to generally provide bonuses to certain areas or manuevers. For example, an Attack Sword spell that would allow you a +4 bonus to disarm a foe. A Power Greatweapon spell that would allow you to deduct -x from attack in return for getting +2x to damage. And so on.

(As far as setting is concerned, I always was partial to a Mythic version of the fall of Byzantium, with the PCs saving the last remnants of the Christian world from the Orcs (arabs), devil-corrupted Latins (with Rome even being abandoned at this time!), and the horrid Northmen, scions of the Winter Queen.)

Yes, that's what I refer to when I say 'maneuvers'. It over-complicated a good system. It was already getting complex in that you had 2 "skills" to add in now, instead of one, and needing to revamp some armours/weapons to fit the higher numbers possible. The most complex part was the Dual-Wield, which have the following rules:

If using a 2nd weapon, instead of using the 2-weapon combos available in the rule books, you use a single weapon for bonuses to combat. However, you may add half (round down) of your score in whichever is lower between your DualWield or the other Technique being used. So, a DualWield of 5, Attack of 8 and Sword of 8 when using a Long and Short sword together would have an attack value of 8+8+2(DualWield, the lower between Attack and DualWield) for an 18 total + weapon modifier. On the other hand, a DualWield of 8, Attack of 8, and Sword skill of 5 would result in 4+8+5.

Now, I don't mind the 'manuevers', but it bogged the game down alot, and felt too generic (since any 'sword' manuever would also be doable as a 'polearm' maneuver, though perhaps renamed. And Magnitudes became impossible to calculate without going pure cheese)


Nah, that's not complicated. Not compared to figuring out the wizard's armor class while protected by bracers of armor, under the shield, mage armor, protection from evil, and greater magic vestment spells, within 30' of the singing bard, when attacked by an invisible stalker using a force blade. :smiling_imp:

I don't get it, why would anyone NOT use DualWield?

It's generic but specific. Like Weapon Focus - you get a +1 to Attack with one weapon. Very generic, but very specific, and adds variety and color to combatants - that one is specialized in the use of the harlberd, and mastered the manuevers for tripping and keeping someone at bay with it; that other guy mastered strength-based techniques to deal huge amounts of damage; and so on.
And not allowing all manuevers to all weapons is part of what makes them unique. The Improved Trip manuever can only be used with certain weapons, the Weapon Finesse with another list, and so on.
I don't know what to make of magnitudes in this context.

I don't see what's essentially wrong with this idea, but you are the one with experience and playtesting behind you, so if you say so...


2 Main reasons:

2-Handed weapons do more damage, though it's rare to see a character with a polearm or great sword/axe.

Shields, which have their own rules of allowing the full (instead of divided by 2, rounded down) to the Weapon+Defense skill. So, Sword 5, Shield 3, Defense 4 and DualWield 4 would allow 5+3(the lower of Shield and DualWield)+4.

As for the manuevers, like I said, it just got complicated. I'd go back to maneuvers if they were as well setup as spells are in ArsMagica (Base + Magnitude calcs). But our first few attempts made it not so feasable.


It seems that much of what is being discussed is monster bashing and fast experience.

Ars as it was built was never meant to have balanced characters. Furthermore, it was designed for advancement to take place over years. If experience is given out in the manner that it's suppose to be, specialized characters do occur rather than 'jack of all trades.' I think Jack of all trades occur when players have hordes of exp to spend. Anyway, I don't think it's fair to call these 'bugs', that's how the game is suppose to be. If you don't like these aspects of the game-thats fine but they aren't 'bugs'.

I'm curious if you've ever looked at RUNE. RUNE uses the core rules of Ars4 as the engine for game play. RUNE is a monster bashing game in the spirit of 1st person shooters like Halo and Doom. The goal is fight, kill monsters, collect exp and power-ups, and declare yourself better than your lackey buddies. You might find some things of use here.

I vaugely recall your experiments with manuveur systems. One of the major differences between a magic system and a combat system is it's use in the game. One combine's Techs and Forms to do one of two things.

One, use a formulaic spell which is a pregenerated result. Damage or effect is predetermined and one essentially needs to hit the threshhold to activate the effect.
Two, use spontaneous magic to mimic a formulaic spell. So in effect while one might be making something up, they are baseing it on pregenerated results (formulaic spells). These pregenerated results are typically something of interest and not just a statistical bonus.

Combat is not as interested in effect generation, but instead on modifiers (statistical bonuses). I think there's a limited number of modifiers one can apply in combat and trying to set up a system that allows one to combine 15 techniques to determine a single combat modifer is work intensive, cumbersome, and unexciting.

I haven't played much with Ars5 combat system, but it seems faster and to me faster=fun. While it can be a lot of fun to declare maneuvers, I think breaking these down into specific techniques or combination of techniques or even actions makes combat painfully slow and a substitue for math class. To me, this is NOT fun.

If one wanted to simulate the epic battles that are more focused on looking cool and doing cool things, I would suggest a combat simple rule system rather than something as cumbersome as emulating the Hermetic System. If you look at Feng Shui or Hong Kong Action Theatre, you can see loose systems that encourage cool moves but don't get bogged down by numbers. The action is fast paced, the actions are cool (maneuvers are encouraged in Feng Shui) and combat is actually fun.

I love Ars for what it is, but I understand why people would want to swipe the magic system and do something else with the game. Thats fine with me. Here's a radical idea that's very work intensive, but might help you find the right system. Personally, I feel the single element that has crippled the Ars Combat system (1-4) (No opinion yet on Ars5) is the stats of weapons. I think there is a limited number of ways you can shuffle the numbers to work around the stats for weapons. As a publisher that doesn't want to redo every book or make every book invalid, I understand why the weapons have more or less stayed the same from edition to edition. However I think if you tossed weapon stats out the window and started from scratch, one could rebuild them in a manner that makes combat better. Ars 5 is done, the new combat system is set. Your on your own, if you think this is the solution to the your problems.

I just had a flash memory and I'll need some of the old vets to get this right. This may have been published by Atlas, when Ars was still owned by Lion Rampant, but I seem to recall an alternative setting for Ars Magica. I'm sure it's out of print, but I know one was made. While I have nearly everything made for this crazy game I never had an interest in an alternative setting, never got the source book, and haven't thought about it till now. Did is start with a "T"? I keep wanted to say Talislantia, but that's a card game right?

Anyway, for the die hard who wants Ars in an alternative setting, this might be it.

I seem to remeber that it was even an advertisment for it in OoH. I keep wanting to say Stalenricht for some reason, but that's probably wrong as well (or was it something with "L"?). AFAIK it was never published.

Talislanta is a fantasy rpg which came out in its 4th ed last year (?). Don't know much about it pther than that.

Stalenric, IIRC, so you're very close.

As far as I know, it was never even written...

How interesting that I should find such a thread.. I've gotten interested in Ars Magica for a while, especially when I started to wonder "Ok, can I use this game system to create a Fantasy version of Europe where magic is anything but subtle and hidden?"

Maybe not something D&Dish, but still in "Epic High Fantasy" levels of power, like Lord of the Rings in Medieval Europe: mighty wizards, powerful magic items, dangerous beasts, hordes of goblins and even mighty dragons..

From what I've gathered so far, it wouldn't actually be too difficult: a "Fellowship" type adventuring party would involve Mythic Companions with powerful magic items, and one or two Magi providing the magical firepower, but still needing the Warrior types to survive most battle encounters.

The Goblin opposition? Unseelie Goblin Fae summoned by a dark Witch. Likewise, you could have a powerful Wizard rising an army of undead warriors from a battlefield.

Magic Items as Treasures? Sure, there are bound to be a few old magic items created by Ancient Magi, gathering dust in old ruins. Only instead of being generic magic items, each item has a backstory of it's own: that's not a +3 Sword of Slashing, it's the Broadsword of Baldric the Bold, with an edge hard enough to cleave through steel!

Anyways, that's my 0.02$ on the subject: I'm thinking of getting Ars Magica 5th edition, just to see if I can do this...

...Are there rules for vampires and dragons in Ars Magica, or would I have to make them myself?

There is one Dragon written up in the Core Rules.
Stellatus , the Dragon on page 194.
No Vampires.
So yes , you will have to make it up yourself.
However , there are plenty of experienced players
who would be willing to help with design.

There are actually vampires from slavic myth written up in HoH: True Lineages but they are sufficiently different from more conventional modern myths of vampires that you may find making something up yourself to be a better choice depending upon the particular stories that you wish to tell.