Ars Magica 2nd ed or 4th ed? (or 5th ed?)

Hello everybody,

I am new to this forums, though I am not new to the game, or kind of so...

I used to play Ars Magics 2nd ed in the 90s and then I droped it for other RPGs, although I also own the 3rd and the 4rth editions also, but I have never played them.

After so many years I was considering to go back to Ars Magica. This may sound strange, but the things that I loved more of Ars Magica were not its magic system (which I find good nonetheless), but its setting, its innovative approach (many PCs per player) and its combat, which was pretty bloody. For these same reasons I am considering going back to it.

After a quick look to my 4th ed core rule book, I have realised that the combat rules have changed quite a lot, specially the weapon damages and the armour soak values have dropped significantly from 2nd ed to 4th ed.

Giving by granted that the setting has ben kept unaltered through editions, my question is, which Ars Magica edition has the deadliest combat system (not the more playable, I am looking for the bloodiest)?
and just in case, has the magic system been improved in the new editions?

Thank you a lot, and sorry if this topic has been already discussed in these forums.

Owning both 2nd, 4th and 5th, I can assure you that 5th edition is improved in every respect. The mechanics for everything make far more sense.

You'll also love the changes to the combat system. I recommend picking up Lords of Men (nobles) for an awesome massed combat system which is very dramatic. I don't own Ordo Nobilis so I don't know if it was adapted from a system in there. But Lords of Men has pages of combat options and additional modifiers that can be added to the system at your leisure.

Hard to say. I briefly played 2nd edition, but remember very little of its combat mechanics :slight_smile: Between 3rd, 4th and 5th... Well, 3rd edition was the least deadly. I'd say 5th edition is the deadliest, because on a botch against a capable opponent one is likely to be killed or very seriously injured. On the other hand, in 5th edition one can take a lot of minor wounds, and still survive (until they get infected...) Alternatively, 4th edition was pretty deadly too, because you could "carry over" whatever attack advantage you had in a combat round, adding it to your next roll -- in a couple of rounds whoever had the upper hand could simply kill their opponent in one shot (which made less sense than the current mechanics).
I'd strongly recommend 5th edition.

There was a strong attempt at making it more "standardized", with precise guidelines rather than just examples. This has advantages and disadvantages, but I think the former outweigh the latter. In general, I have to say that there was a huge leap in quality moving from 4th edition to 5th edition. Ars Magica 5th edition is probably one of the most solid rpgs on the market in terms of mechanics -- at least in its class of complexity.

Welcome back to Ars Magica. I too started out with 2nd ed, and back then it was revolutionary in many regards and transcended the otherwise all to often munchkin-dominated genre.
I hope you get wel started and enjoy playing the current edition for many years.

Regarding Combat:
2nd and 3rd ed required you to buy weapon abilities for attack and defense separately, 4th and 5th did away with that
4th ed had a snag in combat about two men with the same stats except one wore armour. The armoured fighter would lose the fight because his Encumbrance caused him to lose Fatigue faster than his opponent. This is not an issue in 5th ed. 5th ed also allows you to fight as Groups, greatly increasing the speed with which combat with lost of grogs or mooks can be executed.

Without changing the basic system or the 'feeling' the magic system is shaprper, more well defined, and lab activities are more streamlined by using the same basic

I find Fifth Edition combat to be more rewarding. The group mechanic makes things quite bloody if one side is outnumbered and helps to speed up the run of play. You'll probably like the defenders rules too, which allow for one or more characters to defend an equal or lower number of other characters, meaning that all attacks need to go through the defenders. That small change makes grogs really important as they'll be the ones standing in front of the magi soaking up damage on their behalf.

The core rules are still pretty freeform; there's little to nothing on movement, terrain, different types of action each round, etc. The Lords of Men supplement adds those layers on, should you wish them. And, as mentioned above, the massed combat system is okay too.


3rd edition had fancy tables for what happened when you botched in combat (sort of the opposite of the Warhammer RPGs) and that's about it. Otherwise it was much the same as 2nd, mechanically.
4th was IMAO shaite all the way through, adding complexity where simplicity was needed, simplyfing where details might've helped.
5th works.

If you liked the game for its combat system use the version of the combat system that you liked. The combat in 3rd edition is very similar to the combat in second edition. There was a lot wrong with third edition, many of these problems were corrected in fourth edition but fourth edition brought in other issues including my least favorite combat system of the line's history (I actually may be the only person who liked the possibility of weapons getting smashed when attack = defense in 1rst edition so take my opinions with a grain of salt).

Fifth edition is better in most ways than any previous edition (especially compared to fourth edition, in that the areas where fourth edition shines compared to earlier editions fifth edition does even better), but for my money the combat system in the earlier editions was fast, fun and quickly became invisible as the players picked up the rules. It didn't give the players a lot of good choices but I always had fun with it.

Hi Erik,

Would you mind expanding on what you mean by "invisible"? Thx :slight_smile:

people just declared their actions and made their rolls they didn't ask questions about how their options worked, I didn't find myself double checking the arithmetic of the players. We didn't think about the system we just used it, that's what I meant by invisible.

Thank you all for your replies.

I will check then the 5th edition to see how combat is. In the mean time I will prepare a scenario of the second edition for my players :stuck_out_tongue:


Two important things I've come to realize about 5th ed combat is the Death Spiral and slow death.

The death spiral is easy to spot... you can, in theory, have a long fight in which you suffer nothing but Light Wounds. In practice however, the accumulated penalties from those wounds reduce your defense and so increase the damage you take, which increases the penalties and so... etc.

The slow death is less obvious, but important to understand. A Medium Wound is only a -3 penalty in combat... but without magical healing that Medium Wound, with only a few failed recovery rolls, can be fatal. Heavy wounds are dangerous and Incapacitating wounds as deadly. Most of my combats end with foes yielding rather than dying because the NPCs recognize this.

AND the PCs as well!!! I have seen heavily armored and clearly superior forces of grogs retreat when they have 4 light wounds or so because they know that they are about to start getting mauled and risk dying during the following season as a consequence. Recovery is more feared than edged steel in most of our sagas. The first thing that covenfolk want the magi to do is a nice recovery room for the covenant! It certainly is useful. It has saved a lot of fighters and mothers from certain death in our sagas.