Ars Simplex

In my ever-continuing tinkering with Ars Magica's rules, I've been thinking lately of cutting all the numbers down to the lowest possible values. My current idea looks something as follows. It means that everything is much more granular and there are some weird quirks.

My last attempt to recalibrate ArM was burned down in a fiery wave of criticism that would have been worthy of the legendary Berklist flame-wars, and I expect this won't be different - but I'd like to hear your comments, y'all.

Ars Simplex
The Core Mechanic
Ars Simplex (ArX) mostly uses Fudge dice - marked with "-1", "0", and "+1". To determine success where it's uncertain, roll:
Roll: Fudge die + modifiers vs. Difficulty
Note that unlike ArM, there are no Characteristics. When the modifier is a Score (such as the Single Weapon skill), you thus have 1/3 chance to perform at your score's level, a 1/3 chance to perform one difficulty-magnitude below, and a 1/3 chance to perform one difficulty-magnitude above your skill.

Stress roll: In stress, when you get "-1" on your die you must roll an additional "Bad Luck Dice" (another Fudge die). If it comes out "-1", you experience bad luck: the "-1"s stack so your roll is -2, and you may botch. Roll a number of 10-sided dice, Botch die, and determine botches like in normal ArM.

The Pyramid Scale
The pyramid scale for ArX is x10; to increase a Score from X to X+1 you need to accumulate (X+1) x 10 points. You need 10 total points to reach score 1, 30 to reach score 2, 60 to reach score 3, 100 to reach score 4, 150 to reach score 5, 210 to reach score 6, 280 to reach score 7.

Source Quality
Practice gets you 1 XP per season. So does studying raw vis.
Practice with a book or teacher gets you 2 XP per season. So does studying significanto.
Book Learner gets you +1 XP per season when studying from books.
Adept Student gets you +1 XP per season when studying from teachers.
Free Study gets you +1 XP per season when studying from raw vis or significanto.
Affinity with X gets you +1 XP per season when studying a given Art or Skill.
Elemental Magic (Major Virtue) gives +1 XP to one of four Elemental Forms when studying another.
Secondary Insight (Major Virtue) gives +1 XP to one of two Forms when studying one of two Techniques, and vice versa.
Study Bonus gets you +1 XP when studying at the appropriate locale.

Character Generation
All wizards are Wealthy, Educated, and have Magic Resistance. They also have The Gift. Wealthy gets you three free seasons in character generation; Educated gets you literacy and mastery of the liberal arts.
Early Years (30 XP): 30 XP over 5 years, including a score of 1 (10 XP) in Native Language, and 2 general skills at score 1 (20 more XP). Languages are usually only learned to score 1, which is native fluency; there is basically no incentive to learn a language to higher levels, and ArX doesn't bother with lower levels of skill.
Apprenticeship: 75 XP over 15 years, divided as follows:
Apprenticeship Skills (30 XP): A score of 1 in Magic Theory (10 XP), 1 in Latin (10 XP), and 1 (10 XP) in an additional arcane/lore skill of your choice.
Apprenticeship Arts (40 XP): Practically meaning a "specialist" with a score of 2 (30 XP) in one Art and 1 (10 XP) in another, or a "generalist" with 4 arts at score 1 (10 XP each).
Apprenticeship Spells (5 XP): Five spells, of magnitude (difficulty) (Magic Theory + Te + Fo +1), so usually about magnitude 4.
Later Life: 2 XP per year, 3 for Wealthy, 1 for Poor. Virtues and access to teachers or books may increase these totals. A spell costs a Season, which is basically 1 XP.

Apprenticeship stats based on assuming Wealthy (3 free seasons per year), with access to books or teachers for 2 of those, giving 5 XP per year.

Tainted (0), Weak (+1), Medium (+2), or Strong (+3).
Magic adds, Faerie adds one magnitude less, Infernal subtracts, Divine subtracts twice as much.

Hermetic Magic
Basic Lab Total is (Magic Theory +Te +Fo +Aura).
Basic Casting Total is (Te +Fo +Aura); Ceremonial Casting is always possible, adding +Philosohpy by using materials, symbols, rituals, and so on (at 15 minutes per magnitude).

Puissant Magic Theory is free virtue of House Bonisagus, and only possible through it. Adds +1 to MT. (Puissant Skill is otherwise only applicable to Supernatural Skills.)
Puissant Philosophy is free virtue of House Jerbiton, and only possible through it. Adds +1 to Philosophy.
Puissant (Art) adds +1 to one Art. Can only be taken once.
Magical Focus adds +1 to one area of magic, but at the cost of -1 to all other areas of magic. Minor has range less then Te+Fo combination, Major has range less then Fo.
Cyclic Magic adds +1 when it applies.

Using Raw Vis adds as much as +Magic Theory to Casting Total (+1 per pawn).
Effort (spending Fatigue or Confidence) adds +1 to Casting Total.
Arcane Connection adds +1 to Casting Total.
Sympathetic Connection adds +1 to Casting Total (does not need Arcane Connection).
Great (Characteristic) adds +1 to the Casting Total of one Technique; Com adds to Creo, Str to Perdo, Per to Intellego, Pre to Rego, Dex to Muto. Each Char also adds to appropriate Skill rolls.
Talisman attunement adds +1 to the Casting Total of attuned bonuses.
Wizard's Communion adds +1 per extra participant, up to Leadership participants ?!
Method Caster and Special Circumstnaces add +1 to Casting Total when they apply.

Using natural philosophy( = ArM5 shape & material) adds +Philosophiae to Lab Total. (Note that aura will be higher for Lab Total as well, typically.)
Inventive Genius adds +1 to the Lab Total for inventing new effects or spells. Adept Lab Student adds +1 to the Lab Total for inventing ones based on Lab Texts.
Enchanting your Talisman or Familiar adds +1 to the Lab Total.
Lab Specialization adds +1 to Lab Total in the area of specialty. Must be described and due to magical/supernatural effect or conditions.

Casting Spells
Formulaic Casting Total = stress die + Basic Casting Total.
Spontaneous Casting Total = (stress die + Basic Casting Total) / 2.
Fast-Cast Casting Total = stress die + Basic Casting Total - 3. Plus 2 extra botch dice.
Ritual Spell: Anything above magnitude 6, plus anything else that fits (as per ArM5). Always Ceremonial Casting (adding +Philosophiae), requires one pawn per magnitude.
Words and Gestures: -1 for Quiet/Subtle, -3/2 for No/No.

Spell Guidelines
All combinations use the same spell guidelines:
Magnitude 0: Superficial/cosmetic effect.
Magnitude 1: Small change with natural limits. Light Wound, Winded fatigue level.
Magnitude 2: Large change within natural limits. Medium Wound.
Magnitude 3: Small supernatural change. Heavy wound.
Magnitude 4: Large supernatural change, or multiple small supernatural changes. Incapacitating wound.
Magnitude 5: Multiple large supernatural changes.
Magnitude 6: Kill; deadly wound.
Magnitude 7: Complete supernatural change.

Range, Duration, Target costs/rules as per ArM5.
Individual size is "Typical individual of the created or affected kind". Size magnitude costs +1 per Size (x3 mass) increase.

Each House provides a unique free Virtue, that cannot be had otherwise.
Bjornaer: Heartbeast - unaffected by Mentem and Corpus spells in Animal form; plus useful animal form.
Bonisagus: Puissant Magic Theory.
Criamon: Enigmatic Wisdom.
Ex Misc: Package-deal.
Flambeau: ?
Guernicus: Quaesitor
Jerbiton: Puissant Philosophy
Mercere: Redcap
Merinita: Faerie Magic
Tremere: Tremere Training - like Skilled Parens, providing +15 XP during apprenticeship; plus X Build Points per year in House support in Later Life/game.
House Tytalus: Self-Confident.
House Verditus: Verditus Magic - adding Craft skill to Lab Total.

1 Warping Point per year of Later Life. When warping score reaches 5, you're in eternal twilight - so you've got 150 post-Gauntlet years.

So you've divided by 3:

  • Ease Factor,
  • dice roll,
  • Art scores {210 = 6 was 20}
  • Apprenticeship {70 vs 240}

But you've divided by 5ish:

  • Source Quality
  • Later Life xp (when adjusted by SQ).
  • player advancement now matches Later Life - yay!

Ability scores drop by about 2!? {150 = 5 was 7} which makes them more important, that sounds good.

Puissant 6+1 costs 210 xp and saves 70 xp, Affinity is better when you get less than 3+1xp per season. Same balance as normal ArM5.

Elemental/Secondary Majors... should read as +1 to any 2 Elements/Forms/Techniques at the very least.

Magical Focus... look, Puissant gives +1 to a full Form or even Technique, better than Major Magical Focus. I'd make Puissant, Affinity and Focus mutually exclusive and make Focus (+2/-0) to solve that.

There's 3 missing Great (Char), I'd suggest Sta = Soak, Qik = init, Int = ?lab?, unless something better comes up.

It doesn't look too shabby. Now with magnitude 2 spontaneous templates similar to Amazons, you'd have something there.

I will read it fully later and comment, but the basic mechanic looks less than optimal to me. 1D6 (fudge), then another fudge in case you rolled low. Then D10 enter the equation. Clunky. And slow.

For starters I would use 2D6 (normal dice). One is the "real" die, and the other the supporting die that only enters the equation if you roll 11 or 66 and is otherwise ignored. They are rolled together to save time (use different colored dice).

The main roll is negative if it is 1 or 2, neutral if 3-4 or positive if 5-6. Easy :slight_smile:

If you roll snake eyes (11) check for botch rolling more D6: 1D6 per each 2 D10 you would roll in normal Ars. Each 1 is a botch.
If you roll great (66) you scored a critical. Double your total. There are no exploding dice (I have always found them ridiculous).

There you go: a single die system instead of the use of fudge dice (not widely available) and 2 die types. :slight_smile:


I agree with Xavi. If you're going to use a different kind of dice, go all the way and use 6-sided dice throughout.

Bigger steps mean less advancement. Characters will be more static.

Moving from a score of 1 to a score of 2 will require almost 4 years of full-time practice with a book or teacher. A score of 7 requires 280 xp, which is 140 seasons of practice (ignoring virtues that increase xp). That's 35 years of continuous study.

Not necessarily a bad thing, but I would guess that few mundanes will ever achieve scores above 3 in an ability.

How many virtues and flaws do characters have? I think you should probably get rid of the distinction between minor and major, and reduce the number of virtue/flaw points to 7. Each virtue is going to be hugely important, and each flaw a reasonably severe problem (or combination of smaller problems).

Do all of the various virtues stack? For example, what would be the result of having Book Learner, Affinity (Ignem), Study Bonus and Elemental Magic when studying a book on Ignem beside a volcanic spring? Is the character gaining 5 XP in Ignem (2 for practice with book +1 for Book Learner +1 for Affinity, +1 for Study Bonus), plus 4 XP in a secondary Art (1 for Elemental Magic +1 for Book Learner +1 for Study Bonus)?

Basically, each of the xp-bonus virtues become much more valuable (even without the stacking). You run the risk of players will try to stack as many of those as possible, particularly the general ones like Book Learner, to the exclusion of almost anything else.

Learning spell from lab texts? Or a teacher? I think spells should probably cost a number of XP based on their magnitude, rather than a flat 1. Otherwise all the spells learned will be the high-magnitude ones, leaving a wide gap between what the magus can achieve using spontaneous magic and the spells he learned during apprenticeship.

That works.

Too many ways to add to the casting total. Makes the Arts almost irrelevant to it. Prune it down, this is supposed to be simple.

Simplify spontaneous casting -- no division, just a substraction. That way, a fast-cast spontaneous doesn't have both a division and a substraction (which needs a ruling to decide which one goes first). Plus, dividing 0 by 2 still gives you 0, which basically allows magnitude 1 effects if lucky on the die roll, without fatigue.

By keeping the R/D/T and Size at the same cost, you are crippling many spells -- they will need to be rituals.

By this, a simple Pilum of Fire (medium wound) would be mag 2 + 2 for Voice range. That seems fine.

But when multiple parameters are increased, things go south quickly. A Sun-duration spell to turn someone into a pig at Voice range is mag 4 (large supernatural change) + 2 (Sun duration) + 2 (Voice range) = mag 8, well into ritual territory.

You should probably go with 2 steps per magnitude of increase.

Overall, this could probably work. Can't say that I would like to play that game, but it could work.

My thinking here is that a Major virtue is better than 3 affinities in 3 DIFFERENT subjects - spreading the benefits rather than increasing them. So Elemental still adds only +1, but you improve four different Arts; likewise for Secondary. It's like having four Affinities, for the cost of three virtue points.

You're right, Magical Focus is definitely too weak in comparison with Puissant. But I don't want a Minor Magical Focus being more powerful than Puissant, either, and your +2/0 version will be. So how about +2/-1 ? You get a bigger bonus than Puissant, but your magic in other areas is weaker. Should we leave the area's size the same as ArM5, with this Magical Focus, or just leave it as a Minor Virtue affecting an Art or comparable area, to bring it in-line with Puissant ?

Making exclusion-lists is appealing power-wise, but it takes away simplicity. I''m not sure whether it's a great idea or not.

Well, the game uses Great/Poor Chars to affect spell casting. Since those don't, I didn't include them.

I suppose we can include Qik and Sta, but I don't think we want Int affecting lab, however; that's what Inventive Genius and Adept Laboratory Student are for.

Sorry, I don't follow you. I read the amazons chapter, but I, ehm, don't really remember it.

Moving to one die type is a definite improvement. I used two dice because I didn't figure out how to do botches reasonably with Fudge dice.

Hmm. Your system means a character has a 1/12 chance of checking for botch, as opposed to RAW 1/10 or mine 1/9; this seems fine. With 2 ArM botch dice the chance for a single botch is 1/109/10+9/109/10 = 0.18; with 1d6 the chance for a 1 is 0.17; again this seems fine.

On critical success - doubling your total makes little sense, no ? Why not just add +2 or +3 instead of +1 ?

Now honestly, I don't like the use of 1d6 like that. Takes me forever to read whether it's negative, neutral, or positive. So if I could come up with a Fudge-dice substitute for botching, I'd prefer that. Until then - it seems like your system works great.

The scale as I see it:
0 (Trivial) An unskilled laborer has a score of 0 in Profession: Porter.
1 (Easy) An apprentice in a smith’s ship has a score of 1 in Craft: Blacksmith.
2 (Average) A master smith, a full member of the smith’s guild, has a score of 2 in Craft: Blacksmith.
3 (Hard) A great swordman, recognized as the greatest in the city, has a score of 3 in Single Weapon.
4 (Very Hard) A grand master of fencing, recognized as among the greatest swordmen alive, has a score of 4 in Single Weapon.
5 (Fantastic) Aristotle, a legendary scholar, might have a score of 5 in Philosophiae.
6 (Epic) Philopus Niger, a powerful archmage, might have this score in his strongest Art.
7 (Legendary) Flambeau, considered the greatest fire-mage that ever lived, might have had a score of 7 in Ignem.

Not sure if that works.

Well, I'm mainly been doing a coversion to lower scale rather than any real change. So I wasn't thinking about changing the number of virtues. I do think Major Virtues are cool in that they allow you to do things like Elemental Magic, which is impossible with just a Minor Virtue. You're right that they complicate the game, however, and it's supposed to be a simpler one... I'm not sure.

If we do get rid of Major virtues, we definitely need to cut down the max to 7. Perhaps even if not that will be a good idea - I find 10-virtue characters to be mainly packs of perks rather than tight character concepts.

Why are the xp-bonus virtues more powerful ? What's the difference between adding +3 (Book Learner ArM5) on top of a Source Quality of about 10 and adding +1 (ArX Book Learner) on top of a source quality of 2 ?

In my previous attempt at "recalibrating" ArM5 I suggested limiting xp-boosting to one boost; only one Virtue may apply. I still think that's a very good idea, as it sets a (somewhat soft) limit on power escalation in the setting. The idea was shot-down as overly-restrictive and not necessary for balance as the benefits actually decrease with more stacking in compared to, say, increasing the casting/lab totals with another Puissant Art. So I'm inclined to say the Virtues can stack, and yes that can lead to very high scores but these would be at the implicit cost of lower casting/lab totals so there is no balance problem here.

I suspect either lab text or teacher.

I agree with your analysis on the game effects, but the rule was based on in-game character advancement. It takes a season to learn a spell. We could allow splitting the lab total to learn more spells in Season, perhaps but this seems like a rather complicated rule for Ars Simplex. I think living with high-magnitude spells is preferable; remember magi still need those lower-level ones for penetration, too.

Yes, you're right. I was just converting ArM5, but you're right - these options need to be pared down.

The problem with subtraction is that at low-level it is crippling and at high levels hardly noticeable. Still, you're right that it's simpler. I'll need to see if some malus makes sense at all levels.

Good. Hermetic magic is too powerful.

Well, that's actually a fairly low level of power when you think about it - ArM5 magi regularly cast level 40 spells. The rule for Rituals aside - I'm thinking that we should actually stretch the spell guidelines to make such major spells more difficult... Although that is starting to get into my "Hermetic magic is too powerful" regular rant.

Ok, so instead of

you prolly meant

You're right, Magical Focus is definitely too weak in comparison with Puissant. But I don't want a Minor Magical Focus being more powerful than Puissant, either, and your +2/0 version will be. So how about +2/-1 ? You get a bigger bonus than Puissant, but your magic in other areas is weaker. Should we leave the area's size the same as ArM5, with this Magical Focus, or just leave it as a Minor Virtue affecting an Art or comparable area, to bring it in-line with Puissant ?
If you take Puissant Te + Puissant Fo, you get the same +2 TeFo as the Magical Focus. Sure it's 2 Virtues, but you still get a +1 Te/Fo outside the focus-equivalent TeFo. If the player wants a penalty, let him take a Flaw.

Amazon's guidelines are not based on Pers/Mom/Ind. I would write out a few useful lvl10 spells as base templates like:

  • bring an iron sword to your hand from R:Voice,
  • dry everything inside a Room at R:Touch,
    Then you pick something that's close enough and adjust it, instead of recalculating from base. It's easier to say to the ASG "if I give you range, will you give me time?" than it is to play with maths. Kinda like "fudging" the spell with a few +/-1 steps, which is something newbies can understand at Cons.

You are not making things simpler. You are adding needless layers of complexity for the sole purpose of making everything "weaker".

Want simple? I ran a table-larp at a Grand Tribunal once (in which we free formed like a larp, but just sat around the table like normal sane people :laughing: ). Character sheets has simple notes: Name, short bio, and notes on what their power range was (things like "young magus, Imaginem specialist, minor general magic, musician).
Actions taken were adjudicated by the storyguide (me) along with the troupe suggestions. Seams reasonably easy? No die roll needed. Somewhat challenging? Check for a botch. Hard but possible? Roll a high number. The troupe guided themselves along effortlessly, governing themselves as to what seamed reasonable within their power, what might be hard, when to limit themselves and when to deuss ex machine (we agreed to let a hedge wizard summon a twilight ghost because it helped the plot along).
And know that I rarely create rigid storylines. I prefer sandboxes. This was a specific structured story, as it was intended for a convention. But the structure was minimal. I created a setting, a mystery, multiple potential subplots, and just let the players play with the toys I created. The story was called "Midnight in Barcelona" (subtitle: Meet me on the Dancefloor at Midnight).
No rules at all. What could be simpler? :smiley: