Ars Magica Character Questionairre

I seem to recall seeing a list of interesting questions for Ars players to answer about their characters - things to give background and depth, but now I cannot seem to locate it. Anyone have an idea where it might be?



I've seen these questions, but don't know where they are. Sorry I can't contribute in that respect.

However the question motivates a question of my own.

Recently one of my friends has begun to set up an Ars Campaign. When he returns the MidWest this fall I may actually get to play Ars again! During the process of setting up this game, he's asked me about a million questions. I keep brushing them off as unimportant.

My personal style of gaming typically focuses on a few simple sentences and then a strong motivation to play off the people around me.

So my characters orgin might be, "Master Renounced. Gauntleted but disliked and distrusted because of Master."

That's it. Everything else I make up on the fly at the table. If people ask me about my past I'm either evasive or just make it up on the fly based on the needs of the story and how people might react. My personality is always something that will compliment the troupe. That doesn't mean my character will always be a buddy, sometimes being an advesary in the group is the gut feeling I go with.

I point this out because this whole process of asking me a dozen questions before I sit down to game is just about impossible for me to do.

Given this situation I ask,

How many people put a lot of thought into their character before they game? How much of that work before game play sticks?

Everywhere I go people discuss complex character origins, but I think I can match any dozen page origin with at the table play. I know it's just style, but I'm just curious how many people invest that sort of time into something BEFORE game play.

I spent about six months working out my current character...

I didn't spend that time maximizing him...just making all his abilities, virtues and flaws combine to make him a person...


Holy crap!

'Scuse the French, but I just don't have the time for that. Wow. Ok. I'm starting to think I'm in a minority here.

Chuck knows my style all too well. About 20 minutes or so for the basics, and the rest is filled out in play. It can be a lot less time if I have a concept in mind.

The last time I had a detailed origin, the DM went and flushed it down the toilet (figuratively speaking). So, never again...


Six Months seems a bit excessive to me. :open_mouth:
If the Game was not starting for a while , then you have plenty of lead time.
When i have had Games happening , the most planning time i have had is a month.
I like people to put a bit more work than just a few sentences into background ,
but i don't expect (or want) a 20,000 word essay.

No character concept ever survives contact with the Game.
My usual plan is to let Players have the first 02 or 03 sessions to modify their characters.
Whether by changing skill points , stats or even some background options.


Well, I had a lot of time to think about my next character, so while I was waiting for the next game, I started working on the concept. I worked it over, and over, so I could get a very complicated character that has about ten layers of complexity. Needless to say, he is tough to play.
That was the point though...

My maga has a 15-page background; my companion has a 12-page background. This thinking-out helps me to understand what my character is going to do and fosters the opportunity for future stories. (E.g., my companion is a Jewish merchant who was centered in Venice for a long time, including during the 4th Crusade, in which he semi-willingly participated as a way of helping the city's Jews escape the destruction. One of the other companions is a Greek nobleman who had dedicated his life to the murder of Venetian merchants. Naturally, story possibilities abound.)

It all sticks. I've changed a few of my maga's virtues and flaws as I came to realize what exactly they had meant, but only in ways consistent with the campaign to date.

I'd go with the bare minimum and work from there.

Mundane name
Hermetic name
Master's name
Covenant of apprenticeship
What are you up to now?
What broad goals do you have (magical interest, mundane involvements)?
Tell me something else I can use to get you into a story

Leave everything else to open play.

As an example, my Jerbiton originally had the driving goal to set up and lead a covenant. It brought with it the opportunities for conflict with other characters and the potential for a broad story arc for my character.

As it turned out, I slotted into the alpha story guide role so all of a sudden my character's goal wasn't that appropriate. If that had been too deeply embedded or I'd been too attached to it then it would have been a) wasted time up front and b) really annoying. In this case the goal was easily changed to the desire to have a mundane family and that was that.

Too much down on paper up front usually means that you end up limiting your own discovery of the character as play goes on. So long as it has a certain consistency, make it up as you go along. Once you've mentioned some item of background, add it to the list.

I found these, and then promptly forgot the link. I think they're by J. Darmont:

Apprenticeship and before
What was your life like previous to apprenticeship?
What is your first memory?
How old were you when you became an apprentice?
Who was your master and what was he like?
It is common for one's view of authority to develop in their adolescent years. What is your view of authority, and what event most affected it?
What did your master expect you to become, and what did you actually become? Are you a disappointment?
Besides your master who was important to you during your apprenticeship? Another apprentice? A different magus?
What is your first memory as an apprentice?
What is your favorite memory from apprenticeship?
What is your worst memory from apprenticeship?
What was your lineage like?
Who was your paren, and what are they like?
Do you have hermetic sibling? What were they like?
What's the worst thing one of your siblings ever did to you? What's the worst thing you've done to one of your siblings?
Did you ever meet any other lineage members? Who were they? What did you think of them?
When's the last time you saw any member of your lineage? Where are they now?
Full Magehood
What was your Gauntlet?
What is your relationship with your mater/pater now that you are a full magus?
What do you expect to gain by studying magic?
How confident are you about your understanding of magic?
What is your eventual goal? How do you intend to use your magical powers?
How do you feel about your powers?
How do you work your magic?
What are your specialties, magical and scholastic?
What are your opinions about the Order? Your House? Your Covenant? How would you rank them in order of importance?
How do you view the other Houses in the Order?
Are you more Traditionalist, Transitionalist, or other?
Do you belong to a secret society? What is your opinion of it?
Morality Questions
What one act in your past are you most ashamed of? What one act in your past are you most proud of?
Have you ever been in a magical fight before? Over what, with who, and who won?
What do you feel most strongly about?
What do you pretend to feel strongly about, just to impress people?
What trait do you find most admirable, and how often do you find it?
Do you have any feelings in general that you are disturbed by? What are they? Why do they disturb you?
What is your religious view of things? What religion, if any, do you call your own?
Do you think the future is hopeful? Why?
Is an ounce of prevention really worth a pound of cure? Which is more valuable? Why do you feel this way?
What's the worst thing that can be done to another person? Why?
What's the worst thing you could actually do to someone you hated?
Are you a better leader or follower? Why do you think that?
What is your responsibility to the world, if any? Why do you think that?
Do you think redemption is possible? If so, can anyone be redeemed, or are there only certain circumstances that can be? If not, why do you think nothing can redeem itself?
Is it okay for you to cry? When was the last time you cried?
What do you think is wrong with MOST people, overall?
What is the thing that has frightened you most? Do you think there is anything out there that's scarier than that? What do you think that would be?
Social Life
What do you look like?
How do others see you?
What names have you gone by? Prior to apprenticeship, during apprenticeship, your Hermetic name, any nicknames...
What are your quirks?
How do you feel about the common folk, the nobility, the church, the fae?
Who do you love? Who are your friends, allies and contacts?
Who rules you? Who do you owe allegiance, favors, etc.?
From your character's point of view, in relations with socii, is it better to be loved than feared? Or better feared than loved? Would the answer be any different with any other group of people? If so, who?
Your character gets into a discussion about death and dying. How would your magus describe the perfect death?
What one word best describes you?
What is something you had to learn that you hated?
Abstract Issues
As a thinking, probably generally philosophically bent person, you've probably considered the following questions at least in passing, if not thoroughly obsessed over them.

What is your faith? Do you believe in God, the devil, the Old Ones, the pure light of philosophy, or something else?
What do you value? Are you honest, or do your morals shift when convenient?
What does it take to change your mind?
Do you trust in God/Fate/etc to guide you, or do you make your own way?
What would you do to get what you want? What would you do to those who stand in your way?
What do you fear most?
What are your driving goals, long-term hang-ups, short-term wants?
Has anyone or anything you've ever cared about died? How did you feel about it? What happened?
What was the worst injury you've ever received? How did it happen?
What is your current long term goal?
What is your current short term goal?
Do you have any bad habits? If so, what are they?
How private of a person are you? Why?
What is the most frightening potential handicap or disfigurement you can conceive of? What makes it so frightening?
Where have you traveled? For what reason?

yeah, this is the list I saw someplace on the web.

Now my head hurts. :blush:
That's a lot of questions!

I guess I'll add that if the GM things lineage is important I am willing to spend a lot of time into detailing a Paren or lineage. For me 'family affairs' are always strong story telling material. So while my characters may be light when they show up to the table, if it matters to the GM, I'll have a strong grasp of at least the Pater.

Nice to know I'm not the only one out there who wings it. :wink:

Adding more detail to creation will allow you to be better conected with yer character and you'll have a better idea how it will respond to situations.

Just slapping something together will most likly have you wanting to switch characters a few sessions down the line, at the very least have an idea what yer characters goals are...granted stories will interupt, but in general you'll have a focus

That's a pretty broad statement and actually not borne out by experience. I don't layer on the detail and, while your approach may bring a fully rounded character to the board, I don't think that my turn in the spotlight suffers any the less. I don't find myself reaching for a new character very often (we're just going to start a second saga soon and that's after three and half years with the first) unless I'm playing something that supports that - I mean, playing marvel every now and then really lends itself to coming up with new heroes.

In all honesty, if I was faced with the list of questions as posted above and asked to answer them for my current character, I doubt I could without reaching. But, let me slip into character in play and there's no doubt who's at the table. Again, if my SG really wanted me to answer all those questions, I'd have to question whether his/her style of saga was going to suit me.


I tend to have just a vague 'unformalised' idea of my character's Gifts, Desires, Abilities, Personality and Experiences (other than character sheet references necessary for mechanical game play).
I then find that the character evolves deeper through play, often going in directions that I would never have dreamed of, and often with much more realistic deeper motivations becoming apparent in ways that I would have missed during character generation.

A classic example of this was a generally quiet, conformist, Bonisagus labrat. Attending his first Tribunal he was astonished at the presentation of several Lartae Magus candidates by House Jerbiton. He'd never heard of such thing and an overloud expression of disbelief lead to a debate on the acceptability of Lartae Magi, degenerating into a shouting match on the floor with one of his sodales (generating an 'argumentative' rep for our covenant) and eventually Larta magi being disallowed in our Tribunal (and after a visit to a Grand Tribual an Order-wide cessation of gauntleting Larta Magi). I rather think that it was allowed to get that far because of the Primus was from House Tytalus (hehe, open conflict on the tribunal floor ) and won only because Tribunal Politics narrowly came down against the Jerbiton Covenant.
It was seemingly completely out of character but followed completely naturally, totally against my personal wishes, from my character's responses to a completely new thought.
It also changed the characters motivations from being a magic focused experimental research Bonisagus into a Trianomic fellow because he suddenly realised what a mess it was possible to get in even if the magic was perfect.
Which is not to say he stopped doing experimental research (far from it), but his motivations and outlook developed a much wider perspective than 'pure magic'.

It also developed quite unexpected play sessions and stories.

Most important of all, it was a great deal of fun.

I doubt it would have happened if I had detailed notes of past history and preprogrammed responses etc.

Why do you say that because you didn't create a detailed history that it would limit your response to a new thing???
:question: :question: :question: :question:
I am confused at that...

YOU certainly have a detailed history...(if your more than six months old)

Did you fall apart when CD's came out (not that old?)
Cable TV?
Satellite TV?
Faster computer?
Zip code change?
New interest rate...
The war broke out?
Gas prices went through the roof overnight?

People are born to modify and adapt. What you are gives you a base to work doesn't limit you. In your example above:
Your character had a firm grip on reality. He was comfortable. He choose a direction in his life that fit with his ideas...All of a sudden, this new idea comes a long and he has to cope with it. He adapts to the situation and goes on...
Does that change the fact that he is/was a Lab Rat? No, what it means is that he found something MORE important to HIM. It does not disqualify the rest of his life...
Anymore than you getting your first cell phone and having to adapt to the fact that now people can interupt you ALL the time..

Other way round. If I did have an extremely detailed history created then I would be more inclined to refer to the history to find the 'right' response, thus it would be limited by the history I 'remembered' (wrote) and the history I 'forgot' (everything not written down) would play no part in the response.
Perhaps that is a learned limitation of my own, that when material is available to refer to, I tend to use it?
Instead, I play what 'feels' the right response. Its what works for me, and frankly, its the way I think nearly all people 'play' their real lives. Things they don't even remember or understand affect the way they respond to circumstances.

Yes, but I don't have it written down and I rarely refer directly to it to when making a response. There are also large amounts of it that I don't directly remember or understand that affect responses I make. Situational responses are usually resolved by 'feel' and a detailed analysis of what a response should be (given a detailed history to analyse) is not always accurate.

In the end, all I'm saying is that I find my roleplaying works better and more naturally if I 'feel' responses rather than 'analysing' responses. It also leads to more fluid and flexible game play as, like Tuura (IIRC), I can make up the specifics behind my generalised background in ways that enhance the story. Or leave them unknown as mysterious past events - this also gives the SG interesting story options if he cares to discuss them with me first.
Basically, I have more fun this way (and I think it makes a more realistic roleplaying experience).

I'm not saying its better for everyone.

Obviously, this is a too-each-her-own sort of thing. But you might be under a misunderstanding about those of us who write detailed histories. I have a 15-page document that I wrote about my maga and sent to my SG. But I don't refer to it in play. Rather, having written it gave me a sense for what sorts of experiences the character has had, and what sorts of responses they're likely to lead her to have in many situations. It doesn't straitjacket me into any particular set of responses.

For instance, my maga thinks that men are all rapist pigs and that women are all harlots. (She's a cheerful one, this, with no hang-ups of any kind.) A grog was killed escorting her to the covenant in the first session, and she promptly ran into the grog's mother. Now, my maga has a real problem with wives (harlots, see). Mothers, however, I discovered, she had no problem with. So she was very sympathetic over the woman's loss, which is not something that I would have expected in advance.

Another advantage of having a detailed background is that it can help you avoid having a contradictory story concept. There might be some error in the basic concept of the character, but an error that you don't notice until/unless you work out the concept at some length.

There's also an entertainment factor beyond usefulness. Some of us find it fun to write the background of the character, as an end in itself.

Yep, totally. Its a game for all types. :slight_smile:

Sorry, my bad writing I guess. I didn't actually mean refer to it as in physically look it up, but rather refer to it as in use what I've written to define the character wholly. Sort of like laziness in some ways.

So you are using it to create for you a sense ('feel'). That seems to simply be an operational difference between us. I start with the 'feel' of the character instead of trying to 'work up' the feel. OTOH, for me, every time I write something down that seems to work out as straitjacketing me and reducing the 'feel' to a mechanical response.
Just the way different peoples brains work I guess, all good, and interesting. :wink:

That's true. OTOH I like to play around with character concepts and designs enough so that I hope such things get caught anyway.

:smiley: I prefer to work out character mechanical designs for fun, finding neat little matches of flaws/virtues that just feel right together - like my current magus with No Hands/Flawless Magic/Subtle Magic and the very nice little add on suggested by someone else of Slow Caster. Very pleased with that little combo.
Each to his own. :wink:

My thing with the lack of a developed character is this...

If you have a good developement, you can 'look' to that, and decide what your character will do based on this history, or that. Its all based on HIM.

When you play by feel, your not playing your character, your playing YOURSELF...

How YOU react is different than someone who did this or that in the 13th century...

Thirty years of roleplaying has taught me that you need to make a very distinct "mental adjustment" when playing. You have to put yourself in the characters body, and think LIKE him....not yourself....thats the tough part...and the fun of it.


It's a going back and forth. I begin with an inchoate feel for how the character is supposed to go (e.g., a very, very rich Jewish merchant, genuinely nice guy). I then imagine what sort of experiences might generate that sort of character. But in imagining those experiences, I always go beyond what's necessary to account for the general idea (e.g., I decided that he's so smart that he was supposed to be a rabbi. But that's inconsistent with being a merchant, so his refusal to become a rabbi led to family problems which helped lead him away from marriage and into a more lecherous lifestyle). Both the experiences that I need to posit to account for the inchoate feel, and the new experiences that I posit spontaneously, lead to additions to the (decreasingly) inchoate feel. Back and forth between general character idea and specific experiences enough times and I get a biography that should flow more or less naturally into game time. (E.g., I decided that this Jewish merchant would be an older man. So I started making aging rolls for him, and the first time he underwent a crisis was the winter before he would retire and join the game.)