Ars Magica needs a fatiguing mechanic for magi

I've been thinking about this for a while, something to discuss for a future edition, or a possible House Rule. It's been my experience that magi need something that limits them in some way that is meaningful, but it doesn't distract from the terrible power that they can bring to confront any particular problem. Magi can be designed to be able to cast spells without any appreciable limits, it's not difficult to design a combat caster who can subtract 6 botch dice from their casting rolls, indeed a starting magus can be designed easily to remove 4 or 5 botch dice, with 1 virtue point (cautious sorcerer) and 5-15 xp (1 or 2 ability skill in mastery).

My idea isn't true fatigue, where if you cast enough spells that cost you fatigue that you end up passing out, but it's more that, the more often you use magic in quick, rapid succession, the more risk you take in losing control over said magic, that is your botch risk increases, and that as you cast magic more and more often in succession, it automatically becomes stressful, thus tamping down on the Monte Carlo approach players often use to achieve an end with a mastered spell and rolling until one gets an explosion of sufficient magnitude to satisfy the result. Perhaps the first spell is free, whereas subsequent spells introduce the botch penalty, similar to how the fatigue mechanic works in that the first fatigue level costs nothing. Note, I'm not saying a 1, 3, 5 progression for botch dice. Just each spell cast before adds a botch die, except the first.

In my experience, combat rarely lasts more than 6 rounds, but is often more like 3, especially as magi exercise their Arts in the conflict. My idea would be to increase the botch dice for a magus as he casts a spell each round. This means that combat casters need to invest heavily in their favored combat spells, but also consider mastering their utility spells that get used in combat, too. IT means the aftermath of battle, where spells might be employed to save lives are not safe periods with which to cast spells.

I know that there will be some people who will hate this idea. If you do hate the idea, that's fine, but I'd like to see you add something constructive rather than merely saying, it's dumb and Ars Magica doesn't need this or some variant thereof. I know that there are people out there who feel similarly to me, that magic needs to have some sort of cost. I don't want to place artificial limits, such as a power point system, or limit the level of spells in some way and when you hit that, you're done. Although, perhaps it's the number of levels of spells that causes increased risk, and not the use in quick succession?

Just thinking out loud here, and if I'm not on point enough, please feel free to un-derail the thread.

One challenge to the proposed rule is that it emphasizes the first strike, even more than the first strike is already emphasized in Our Favorite RPG. If botch dice (or some other mechanic) increases the longer the fight goes on, magi interested in fighting will focus on an overwhelming first strike and ensuring they have the initiative to go first. And while that is realistic and simulationist, and to some degree already true, I'm not certain it enhances the game play.

In fact, it might be interesting to speculate on a rule that did the opposite. Back in the days of R Talsorian's CYBERPUNK, when a firefight broke out, everyone had to make successful checks of their Cool stat (yes, you had a stat representing not just how cool you were, but how well you kept your cool) to think clearly through the panic of gunplay. You could not take actions until you made the Cool check.

Now, no one likes losing control of their character, so I'm not recommending a roll before you get to act in a Pilum of Fire Fight. But maybe the chaos of battle results in an immediate very high Botch dice total (or other mechanic), and that penalty DECREASES as each round goes by and characters are able to get their wits about them. The longer the fight went on, the more sure and certain your magic would get as you stop panicking and start aiming. Not counting, of course, other factors like the accumulation of Fatigue. In this system, we'd lose your observation that the after-battle time is no longer safe, which doesn't bother me but might bother others. But mastering combat spells would still be emphasized, representing your training to remain calm and collected when the CrCo hits the ReAu.

(And on that note, as you've probably already decided, whatever penalty or mechanic you end up using needs a name other than fatigue, just so other game mechanics don't think of the current Fatigue system as they debate it. You use the word "Risk" a lot, and you might be able to just call it that.)

I remember losing my cool so often in that game it's not even funny. SWIDT?

The original desire is to mimic the idea that characters who use too much magic to often in a short period of time hit a wall of sorts. It's a common trope of fantasy, that magi can't keep going indefinitely. Ars Magica's rules completely ignore this aspect of magic. My experience is that magi will always attempt to bring overwhelming force to bear on whatever attempts aggressive negotiations. Combat is deadly, and the more time that is taken to deal with something, the more likely something bad is going to happen, like shield grogs going down. It's unlikely that magi will ever be cautious in Ars Magica's combat system, because the risk is really great. I'm not sure I've ever played a character who thought in terms of, what's just enough effort to get through this. The fatigue rules are essentially meaningless in combat, because most magi never cast spontaneous spells during combat AND, they also will rarely cast spells that don't have a chance to penetrate, unless they know the recipients of the spells can't resist the magic.

This is all a talking out loud exercise. I used time, originally, because it was what was on my mind when I posted. As I made my post the idea of increasing risk as the number of spell levels you've cast in a day increases popped into my head. This might address your concern about bringing overwhelming force, because, without time being a factor, they could afford to cast more lower level spells than they could higher level ones, before they hit their magical wall, so to speak.

What would the Magical Wall Limit be? Te+Fo of the highest Arts in magnitudes cast? A fraction thereof? Unfortunately, it introduces some additional bookkeeping during play, and there's more than enough of that.

You could use Parma as the relevant stat for Hermetics (obviously no hermetics are going to be tricky)

The Parma could be interpreted as shaving risk off the casters spells, but it gets a bit ragged, and eventually does shield as well giving rise to more botch dice. Better parma increases the number of magnitudes it could take before weakening.

It also provides an in universe explanation of when it resets, and a maga could always reset the penalty by recasting their Parma in teh middle of the day. Essentially the same from a mechanics point of view as catching their breath.


Magi will always reperform their Parma ritual after combat to get a refresh. It doesn't actually cost them anything to do it. Also, since Parma is an Ability, it's going to be a pretty low limit. Parma score of 6 costs 105 xp, and that gives what, 6 magnitudes of spells that can be cast? 6C magnitudes, where C is a coefficient that just increases the number of spells that can be cast, and if you have a Parma 1, well, you're SOL? It's not a meaningful limit if one can just reperform their parma. I see this all the time with spontaneous casting. "I cast the spell spontaneous, then wait a couple of minutes to recover fatigue." In fact, it takes the exact same amount of time to recover fatigue as it does to perform the Parma ritual.

I saw this as the feature: you only wanted to limit it in combat or very shortly after combat has finished when they are still in the heat of the moment, the two minute ritual to refresh parma provides that pre-existing divide.


Your point that magi in combat never get fatigued -- because only spells which Penetrate are relevant in combat, and spells with significant Penetration by definition are not fatiguing -- is well taken.

What if we allowed magi to expend Fatigue to get more Penetration? (I realize Life Boost already does this, but in the case I am talking about, fatigue could not change the effect of the spell, it could only boost Penetration). If we incentivize spending fatigue, players will do it for us...

I see what you are trying to do. Even though I do not agree with your motive, I do desire a reform and have ideas that may result in something similar. Just putting it out there: I have no problem with magi casting endless spells with no botch dice or fatigue. None. Yet the whole Fatigue mechanic needs reform. My idea is that you accumulate Fatige, instead of loosing Fatigue Levels. Much in the way that we now accumulate Injuries instead of loosing Body Levels. It feels more realistic. There are an infinite gradients of tired between refreshed and passed out. One can be near exhaustion and still expend minor bits of energy.
To harmonize this with JLs intent, have it cost taking a -1 level every time a spell is cast. It takes 5 rounds to loose this -1.
Or something like that. need to meditate on it.

I also want to stop the Monte Carlo simulation I've seen discussed in games, and here in the forums. Learn a spell, master it once, and cast it repeatedly until I get a 1. That's not an interesting feature of the game, and it's certainly something that the rules definitely allow. I'd rather close that loophole down, too.

This is exactly what Life Boost does, it doesn't change the effect, it adds to penetration. Well, really, the casting total, which 9 times out of 10 will be the penetration, especially if used during combat.

It's an interesting approach, but, IMO, it should be 5 rounds of inactivity to lose the -1, otherwise you get to a -5, and it never goes below that. The problem with your approach to fatigue, within the game, is that you effectively treat it like wounds, and with regard to wounds, you can have enemies with -30 in penalties that still aren't dead. I've seen it happen several times.

I wonder if there needs to be an inverted pyramid of fatigue, where you have 5 -1 levels, 3 -3 levels and 1 -5 level before you pass out. Gives all characters a lot of fatigue to spend without huge penalties. Eventually you get to a point where you can't expend even a tiny bit of energy, or you pass out.


Port AM to GURPS.



Anyway, ars magica magic is IMO and has always been (still imo) a game where first strike conquers all. That's why I see intelligence and stealth as key actions. Send in the illusions/decoys let the magi unveil themselves, their positions know. Then strike on them while they waste strength on the diversion.

Because of the "resisted or not" aspect of the parma magica, and because of low levels with deadly consequences (slumber for 2' while in combat...) which can be put in wands or charged item for max penetration, magical combat is not very interesting. Planning and letting the player react/act beforehand to prevent the first strike from NPC is what, imo, makes it interesting.

How will the player get to the enemy without him noticing? that's what I see using fatigue. And when you have exhausted yourself doing it with spontaneous magic, you realize it would have been for nothing but fighting a threat (like a sentinel or something) meaning danger while some players are not at top.

Fatigue can be dealt easily... if PCs have time to recover. Most of the time, on the field, they can't just rest. They must fly/ride/move forward/work in lab.
Sometimes they can... remember the 10 days of absence in lab, and give them "you were at 3 levels fatigue, but you went to the rest room and did a nap for 3hours. Your day still has 6 hours to go, and after that, it will be another day off your lab/reading activity from the month.

But at some point, they will have formulaic, and for formulaic, yes fatigue is never a bother. But should it? I don't think so. [Well to be perfectly exact, aegis/high divine aura/malus on casting totals are many tools anyone can use to mitigate the power of formulaic spells.]

(And personnaly, when out of stress situation, I never give a stress roll on mastered spells, exactly to prevent the 1 rerolled by pure statistical logic... or, more precisely: any situation where a 1 rerolled would be an advantage is considered as stressful (like "I'm preparing wards against demons while waiting. - That's stressful." The player can give me the "but i'm quiet in my lab" and I will say "no, you are preparing facing demons. That's not eating your breakfast, that's dealing with potential death threat. Thinking about death is stressful.")
That means you would better be ready to deal with it on your normal formulaics.)

I'd read that, but fear playing it.

ExarKun, you essentially prove my point about needing a different mechanic, because your response to the lack of such a mechanic is to institute a couple of house rules.


It would actually work pretty well. The way I would do it is retain the setting but ditch the rules, including the magic system.

The easy stuff: Mundane skills and combat work exactly as normal for GURPS. Is it 1220? Use the appropriate tech. Is it Ars Magica in Space? Break out Ultra Tech or whatever. Character creation is exactly normal for GURPS, except that there are 3 character types (magus, companion, grog), each with a different number of points to play with. I would not bother trying to figure out the point value of being a magus and having the Gift: It comes with the character type. That value only matters in trying to balance things, and we don't care about balance within a character type. Even if you want to play Order of Hermes versus Justice League, just create magi using the magi rules and superheroes as usual. If you don't like the balance give one or the other more points. It really doesn't matter if a 500 point magus is much better than a 500 point Dungeon Fantasy cleric.

The harder stuff...

Hermetic Magic: I'd not try porting the AM magic system to GURPS; lots of good reasons for this but that's another conversation. Instead, I'll be GURPSy and take GURPS stuff and then add flavor. In a weird way, traditional GURPS magic has a few points of great similarity to AM5's take on Hermetic Magic. The one that matters most starting off is that every GURPS spell can be considered an AM5 guideline. GURPS wizards need to know a spell to cast a variety of effects using that spell; magi need to have access to a TeFo guideline to cast a variety of effects using that guideline. So an Ignem magus spends xps learning spells from the Fire College, with each xp assigned to successive spells providing new guidelines.

For every 4xp invested in a single spell, I'd give one free Perk applying to that spell, per one of the GURPS powerup supplements. That substitutes nicely for mastery.

Magery works as usual, with the usual 3 level limit. But for every 20xp spent within a given college, er, Art, I'd give one free level of single-college magery; a player must choose one Art for xp belonging to a cross-listed spell.

Spontaneous Magic? Each spell already provides quite a bit of latitude. But I'd also include a variable skill slot (1xp that only applies to Hermetic Magic, costs 3 fatigue per casting, no time needed to change) to represent a magus being able to cast spells he doesn't know. This also allows a magus to add 1xp to a spell he already knows at the cost of 3 fatigue, but I'm fine with that. House Diedne gets a better version that doesn't cost fatigue. Magi can take as many of these as they like, though this is less awesome than it seems because of all the free Perks and single-college Magery levels earned by specialists.

Vis? One point of vis is worth 1 fatigue. A pawn of GURPS-vis is smaller than a pawn of AM-vis. Ritual spells require all 'fatigue' to come from vis.

Magic Items? Needs some new rules. Punting for now.

Each House gets a template or two, with some unique advantages (such as Diedne's better spont, above; Flambeau might be allowed to buy a Talent that affects Ignem and some House skills; etc) and disadvantages available. IIRC, virtues listed in a template aren't limited the same way as other advantages.

Parma? That's Magic Resistance, which also applies to anything with a Divine/Faerie/Infernal/Magic descriptor. Only magi and supernatural things can have it. Levels of Penetration counter MR; excess Penetration changes the Rule of 16 in your favor (ie, net +2 Penetration is Rule of 18.)

Non-magi should be built using powers, or ritual magic, but never (ok, almost never) with anything based on a spell from GURPS Magic, even variants. This works for non-Hermetic wizards, demons and Superman.

Inventing a new spell? Come up with a guideline. Decide on the prerequisites. Decide if it requires a Breakthrough. If it does, need rules for that and the spell cannot be cast or invented until the Breakthrough is achieved. If it does not, the spell can be cast spontaneously by having at least 1xp in all of the prerequisites and at least 1xp in the spell itself: Multiple levels of spontaneous magic can be used for this at 3 fatigue per xp; the spell can be invented using some lab rules, not included at this time.

AM likes seasonal time; GURPS does not. I'd adapt to GURPS time. Lab work becomes more granular, which is fine.

Covenant? No need to pay points for that. But you can if you want. I suspect that by now GURPS has rules for an advantage shared by a group of people, such as Wealth or Ally. Need rules for libraries and Auras and such, but that matters less than one might think.

Some GURPS spells are not suitable for AM (radioactive jet, resurrection, etc). Remove them. Some spells are needed to support AM, dealing with regiones, Auras, etc. Replace or add them.

I could go on, but it's utterly workable. The disadvantages are obvious. The advantages? Better combat system. You can sic kung fu masters on your magi, or aliens, or superheroes, or (of course) the Illuminati fnord. Deep list of stuff not related to magic.

Nothing to fear, unless you hate GURPS! It does have issues.



That[strike]'s abominable![/strike] ... could actually work. Fairly well even.
Have you kept power stones, or would you toss those over the side?

I actually love Gurps right back from the early days, the flexibility is wonderful but also often cumbersome. A long time ago we played a Shadowrun ported to gurps, it didn't reflect all the flavour but did the job.
I guess I value the quicker resolve and simpler mechanics of Ars as I play for the story more than the crunch, and gurps comes with so much crunchiness. But you make a good case for a suitable port for crunchier tables to play with. Fair point well made.
And it would certainly then have very detailed ways of handling fatigue.


I would recommend tossing them. The entire classic GURPS quick and dirty enchantment rules would have to go, I think, because they are utterly wrong for AM.

The worst offender is the need to roll dice for every q&d enchantment increment. This works very poorly in conjunction with the idea of magi enchanting things during downtime! One hour per q&D, 8 per day, 90 days for a season... that's too many rolls where there should be no rolls, so that players can advance their magi a day, a week, a season or a decade between sessions.

Powerstones rely on q&d for balance and even that is a bit weird. It has some classic Steve Jackson cleverness, yet works only for Steve Jackson universes.

Want more fatigue? 3xp per point. Want it in an item or with other limitations? There are rules for that.

And, you can just distill vis. I don't have a specific rule for this atm, but something like the following is a reasonable first place to start:

One time increment distilling vis in the lab yields Aura+Magery+ArtSpecificMagery+bonuses-penalties pawns of vis specific to that Art (school). One pawn of vis can be used as one fatigue in all spellcasting.

How long is the time increment? Either a day or a week. I don't know yet. Haven't played with it.

This seems very powerful, but remember that AM pawns are far more valuable, and that GURPS spells consume far more fatigue. So I also wouldn't bother with heavy penalties for casting with vis. Perhaps you can use pawns up to your casting skill (including stat, magery, etc but not range or Aura) without penalty, with each increment of 20 pawns or fraction thereof imposing a -1 penalty to your casting roll.




AM is pretty crunchy! GURPS is also crunchy. GURPS can be worse, but the crunchiest AM game I've been in was crunchier than the crunchiest GURPS game I've been in.

As for Shadowrun... that just oozes flavor. With real ooze. The system oozes too, and not in as good a way. I've done HeroRun and GurpsRun; neither had quite the flavor of Shadowrun because generic systems aren't really generic but their own thing. But as you say, they did the job.

Perhaps the best argument for GURPS over AM is the support for running adventures without the magi. AM combat is an afterthought, and the skill system is a post-afterthought, with magic being the star. As it should be. But if you like having sessions in which relatively mundane grogs and companions do their thing, GURPS offers support and more support and more support, extensively played and therefore tested.

Another: Combat Reflexes. These 15 points (iirc) are almost required for any warrior. Will your magus spend the 15 points on this rather than spells? Especially with the very generous free levels of Art-specific Magery you get? And free Spell Mastery Perks? School of Vilano, maybe... and that sets you apart from magi who just happen to have a high DX and a few points in weapons. More generally, the deep pool of advantages like this really help.

Another: Trained by a Master, and similar advantages that open up cinematic martial arts. Not just for Kung Fu, but also Criamon who have access to the Path of Strife. (Trained by a Mystagogue!)



You guys sound like you actually fight. In our current chronicle, there's been two combat rounds in total, in circa 4 years of gameplay (close to half a year of real time playing near-weekly).

In my experience, problems are solved by politics. If you need to actually fight, there's always someone to do it for you. Of course, it's still good to be able to fight, since that usually prevents stuff like people trying to ambush you, challenging you to silly certamen, etc. But the real power is not having to fight.

Well, when you have stories involving the Golden Horde and a dragon war...