Beginner - so lots of little questions and one big one

Hi all,
I've just got hold of Ars Magica yesterday... and I'm planning on cracking it out tomorrow to some players.
Hence there are several questions I'd like to ask, in no sensible order.

(for reference I'm using the 2nd Printing of the 5th Edition)

  1. I might have missed something, but on p25 under the Ex Miscellanea Magus Template, under the spells section the format it
    Name (TeFo X) +Y, where +Y is the casting score.
    I can't seem to work out how that template has the line
    Wall of Protecting Stone (CrTe 25) +35, namely I can't see how the casting score is +35.

  2. Spells in general. It looks like a lovely system... and I'm excited to try it out, but something tells me it would be ten times easier if someone who has played before talked you through it.
    Spell Levels and Magnitudes took me a while to separate.
    If a player asked me to make a fireball spell, I'd guess it was CrIg, may be with a Rego requisite to control it? Range: sight, Duration: Momentary, Target: Individual, but what level to put it at?

  3. p120, Spell Soothe The Ferocious Bear, it says (Base 4, +2 Voice)... I can see where that comes from, surely that implies a level 4+10=14 spell, but it's listed as a level 10.

  4. Spell Descriptions. Unless I missed it, there seems very little guidance on spell specifics. For example, on p120 Panic Of The Elephant's Mouse says the animal may make a Size stress roll of 9+ to resist.
    Firstly, what does that mean? Size + stress die against as Ease of 9... that's what I assume.
    Secondly, when making your own spells, where do these numbers come from? How would the level (stated as 15) change if I decreased that to a 6+ to resist. Can you even do that?

  5. The distinction between ritual, formulaic and spontaneous spells is interesting... but it strikes me that as a new GM of the system the spontaneous part will be a problem. I'm just not familiar enough with how things work to do that sort of stuff off the cuff yet... and I can't see a good way to improvise.

Those are some of the few questions, at the moment. But my next big request:

  1. How do I introduce/teach Ars Magica to new players?

Are there any crib sheets detailing the descriptions of the forms and techniques... the rules in general... anything may be? The forms and techniques are well described on p77/8 in the rule book.... is there another (free) pdf of them for example

Any general hints and tips would be helpful... as I'm not entirely sure I understand the system yet - so it's going to be a hard sell to convince them to play. I hope I do it justice.

Thanks for reading, if you're still with me. I do really appreciate any help, I might have more questions when I read the Lab and Book sections tomorrow... while ensuing I know the character gen well enough to make everyone a mage and a companion (will probably be just using the templates - but I feel I still need to understand how to replicate them).

So yeah, thanks agian.

Answer #1:
Wall of Protecting Stone (CrTe25) +35

The first 25 is the actual level of the spell. The 35 is the casting total of the Magus, a total of Tech + Form + Stamina.

Answer #2:
If you're talking about simply setting something on fire, Creo Ignem is it. If your target is within range, it simply bursts into flame. Ball of Abysmal Flame is CrIg35, an old standby of militant magi. A fireball similar to the one in Advanced Pits and Lizards is L45 (+1 magnitude for range, +1 magnitude for a 10x increase in size of the created fire).

Answer #3:
For base scores that start under 5, each magnitude added only adds +1 level, instead of +5 levels. So, base of 4, +2 magnitudes = 4 + 1 (because it is under 5) + 5 (because it's now 5 or greater) = 10.

Answer #4:
You do have it right. In My Honest Opinion, that would be considered a more powerful version of the same spell, and I would say that an extra magnitude is needed, for L15. It's really a storyguide's call, so Your Mileage May Vary.

Answer #5:
Consider a spontaneous magic spell as this sentence : "I " Your technique is the verb, and the form is the object. Thus, if one wants to douse a campfire, "I destroy fire." Thus, perdo ignem is the tech and form, and a quick glance at the guidelines will tell you what level you would need for personal range, momentary duration, individual target. You would probably want to make it at voice range... So, our put out the campfire spell would be L10...(Base of 4, +2 magnitudes for Voice Range).

Answer #6:
Wish I could help with this one.


Depending on what you mean by “cracking it out”, this could be the most frightening part of the entire post! 

Seriously though, most of your questions about spells can be answered in the section on Spells.
I started with 3rd Edition, and am just now learning 5th Edition myself, but I’ll take a stab at some of the answers, and let the veterans correct me if I’m wrong.

What you missed is adding in the effects of his Virtue, Major Magic Focus.

Casting Score is Technique + Form + Stamina (+Aura if applicable). But Major Magical Focus allows for the lowest Art to be added twice.
So the Stone Giant has a CrTe Casting Score of 8 (Cr) + 15 (Te) + 4 (Stam) + 8 (Cr again) = 35

Compare your questions to the CrIg spells “Pilum of Fire” and “Ball of Abysmal Flame”. In general, if you or your players want to create a certain effect, compare what you are trying to do to similar spells that already exist.

+2 refers to adding 2 spell magnitudes. The magnitude progression is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc. So adding 2 magnitudes to a level 4 spell results in level 10.

This requires practice. And a thorough reading of the Spells and Hermetic Magic sections. The Spells chapter isn’t just spells, the first few pages have good stuff, the Guidelines boxes help you assign effect levels.

I have never successfully introduced Ars Magica to players without them reading the book, or at least skimming it. It’s not just the mages who get to be bookworms in ArsMagica, it’s the players too.

Hmmm, there were two things I missed there
i) the Major Magical Focus... that again is not being familiar enough with the book yet.
ii) I wasn't adding the the Stamina, I see it clear as day now on p81, but it is wrong on a modified character sheet I downloaded ... heets_50_2
... typos are your worst enemy when trying to learn a new system, never sure if you're wrong in your understanding or just the example in the book.

Basically it comes down to experience... I had a feeling it would be a steep learning curve.

Oh... p111 coupled with p114... missed that when I was reading through. (confounded by the section Design on p116)
I assume there is a game mechanics issue for this? I gather it allows weaker spells to have larger range/dur/target that they would be able to if it was just +5 levels per magnitude.
This also explains why all the spell levels are multiples of 5 in the book.

I suppose making spells non-multiples of 5 is just for minor tweaks?

Yeah, I'd agree it is more powerful... extra magnitude I can get my head round. But there is very little guidance about setting things like this.
There are all the spell examples yes, but the level boxes don't mention resist rolls. I suppose my problem is... I was reading the rule book, skimmed the summary boxes on spells and then went to read the spells thinking, yeah I understand this.... but no. The only mention I see is on p116 the section Description, which gives no indication of how you can tweak things.
Enough of my moaning about being stupid.

More questions:
2.1) On p178, Encumbrance Section, it says encumbrance affects spell casting "see page 81". I can't find any mention of encumbrance affecting spell casting?

2.2) Right... so who should the players meet along the way. Can I get away with half created NPCs.... I don't think so for magi. You'll need to know their art scores for resistance.
I suppose the question is, can you cheat by not actually properly creating NPCs?


Wow, I didn't want to hear that.
This evening our gaming club is meeting for the new semester for people to start new games... I need to attract players, and I've only got 8 sessions at most for the story (that I haven't really thought of yet).
Being uni students, you can bet none of them will be buying the rule book... unless I sell this system really well. Sadly, there is a distinct bias towards DnD in our society... I'm looking to get three players, but that might be hard. My friend is planning on running a MnM Superheros game.... got to compete for players with that.

My plan, please tell me if you think this won't work, is tonight to get players by selling the Mythic Europe, and did I mention cool magic system.

I'm thinking jump straight in with template characters... all magi, meeting up and deciding to form a covenant. Some sort of challenge will meet them on their travels, may be find a haunted castle on some nobles land. If they rid the ghost they'll be granted the castle.
Nice, simple, introduce the game mechanics. When I introduced GURPs a while back I character gen'd before playing... I did intent to pre-gen for them, but time as usual is always short - but that almost fell apart as it took so long to make characters.

Then, next week actually do character generation, making the old characters NPCs with the new members joining years later. Gives me powerful NPCs to keep players in check and allows people to make the character they want. That'll be 2 of my 8 sessions. Then I need a one session idea... some character advancement (lab rules here I come)... then may be a multi-session saga ending.

Now to flesh out the details...

You are not very familier with the system yourself and are going to try and run it for people without the books?? While its possibly not a surefire reciepe for disaster it's going to be "challenging."

One thing which may or may not have occured to you is that there exists far more than one way to accomplish a goal with magic. But to determine at the end of the day if it is possible for your character to do this or that, you (as in the player in question) need to look through the books and determine what level the spell for doing it "your way" will be.

The vast bulk of spells thrown are spontenous at least in my experience and it brings the game to screaching halt if you. the GM/SG, have to do all the work rather then just vetting the final result the player comes up with.

Using the example of putting out a campfire...that can be: PeIg, CrAq, CrAu(Re), MuAr, MuHe(Te). Depending on if you want to "destroy the fire", "dump water on it", "create rain over it", "make a mightly wind to blow it out", "change the wood to stone", and this list is not exaustive of the ways a creative mage can do something as trivial as put out a campfire. All of which are possible for one mage and not the other, and there are significant differences in the difficulty of doing the task one way or the other not even taking into account hermetic virtues.

At a minimum you need a second book for the players.

Best of luck regardless.

The level wold depend on the base damage, determined by the Creo Ignem guidelines.
For the same range, duration and target, you could thus have different fireball spells, of higher and higher levels.
Create a Fire doing +10 damage is level 05. +3 magnitudes (sight) gives you level 25. Every magnitude (5 levels) over that gives you 5 more damage. You could also do it at Voice range (+2 magnitudes) instead of sight.

Just remember: Any spell over level 50 is a ritual.

Noble's parma: The difficulties increase 3 points by 3 points, I believe.
You could thus consider that adding/substraction 3 from a resistance roll would warrant a change of 1 magnitude.

IIRC, substract it from casting totals.

Of course!!! :wink:

NPC can be created and played in whatevfer way you want. If they want to have detachable heads, so be it! :slight_smile: As long as they make the plot advance by being interesting allies/foes or whatever, go ahead with it!

I have even changeds the stats of NPC in the middle of a game to make for a more interesting story. The players diod not know about the change, but enjoyed the adventure more because of it :slight_smile: Telling a cool story with your pals is the best thing you can achieve, so it is worth it.

never allow the rules to get in the way of a cool story.



If I were you, the very first thing I would do is get the free adventure here:

It is for the last edition, but do you care?

This has two bits of coolness for you: it contains a one page sheet on how to GM Ars, which you may find handy. It contains two pages on how to play Ars, which your players will find handy (one on setting, one on rules), and it has pregenerated characters.

I always hand the player handouts to people...always.

Also, hunt down the web versions of Hermes Portal magaine. It's not being published anymore, but there are some adventures in it as freebies.

Actually, you should go to here:

The adventure described above is linked from the lower right hand corner, but also it links to Nigrasaxa, which is a starter's campaign.

Yeah.. the roleplayers true mantra is never let the rules get you down. I suppose my question should be restated. For example, in GURPs (sorry if this doesn't help), if I need to make someone up I just write the main attributes on a scrap of paper... may be a few skills (paying no attention to other specifics). For Ars Magica... for opposing magi it seems you need all the art scores, I suppose you could fluff it, but then your bad guy can't be great at Ig and next week switch to being great at An.
This is a none point really... we all fluff it and just move on. As long as no one cares (notices).

Now, I must say that PaulM's comments are very troubling... to me and I feel to Atlas games and all Ars Magica players:

I level no direct attack at PaulM, I mean no offence or inslut, but think about what you are saying.

I'm a new player... this thread will be read by people thinking, 'shall I buy this game'.

What you've said is no. Don't bother buying anything until you convince people to play... who then won't buy it until someone else does, so no one will buy the book.

Every GM has to start somewhere with a new system... and some brave people like myself have to take the plunge and just run the game without any background experience.

To qualify all this, I roleplay in a club, games are a plenty... you'll have different players each semester/year, different games and systems. So to break into that with a new game and system is difficult.

From my experience, and I do try introduce new systems... (I got a few DnD die hards to play GURPs last semester) what new GM is going to buy multiple copies of a core book they've never used.
Even if you are good at convincing your group to give it a go, which is half the battle, how would it then go if I said "oh, and you'll need a copy of the core yourself.. how much?"

Any gaming company that assumes all the players will own a copy of the core is living in a dream world ([unnecessary rant to follow] except WotC who seem to think every gaming on the planet has a PHB to hand).

If players need to be referencing the book for art descriptions, then Atlas should release a free pdf crib sheet... or convince me why I shouldn't just photocopy p77 and p78 that explain all the arts. They're very important... and I see no other way that to do just that.

A game must be accessible to new players... but even more importantly, to whole new groups where no one has ever heard of the system other than the person bringing the book along as an idea.

Sorry, I just felt that was something I needed to say. I had a lot of issue with certain sections of the GURPs forum when I first picked that up. It too was a long standing game in its 4th edition now and many of the responses were... "obviously you know this from the xth edition so why should I explain it?"

Back to how helpful you guys are, thanks for all your comments.

Thanks, that is very handy.... something like that updated for 5th would also be great. Though I have read the official stance on Pre-made Adventure Books, you do need at least one for the current edition.

Thanks, I'd missed that as well.

Well, I'm going to spend my afternoon re-reading the book again. Tonight's the big night... the worse that can happen is I get no players, and sit alone... so alone.

I'm sure I'll be back over the next few weeks with more idiotic comments and questions... thank you all for your help.

You might want to check your Arsthmatic on that one my friend :wink:

level 05 +3 mags =level 20 not 25.

Ah, mintroll, you don't seem to be aware that the previous edition of the game is available in complete and -free- form on the web, so you don't need to buy anything before becoming familiar enough with the game to run it.

That would be "free".

Well, as I've said above, they have released crib sheets, and they have actually released the entire previous version of he game as a pdf freebie, so perhaps a bit of slack for them here?

Having answered specific questions above, I'm going to tackle the Meta-Question:

How can I run a Ars Magica game in 8 sessions with a StoryMaster who is not intimate with the rules, and players that have never heard of the game?

First and absolute: Ars Magica is a story, told collectively. The gamemaster is called a Story Guide. People who play it do so because they want to create a dramatic, epic, exciting, creative, satisfying story.

To that end, don't get wrapped around the pole by rules you don't know. Simplify, streamline, and use the rules as "guidelines" not absolutes.

I would recommend some of the following ideas to make your life easier and the game more fun:

  1. Start with your players creating a character concept, then assign or agree to 1 Major and 1 Minor Virtue, and 1 Major and 1 Minor Flaw. This will allow things like "I want my mage to use Fire, lots of Fire, fast and hard". So... Magical Focus, Fast Caster, maybe a personality flaw, an Aquam (water) deficiency, and ... Done!

If you end up extending the story beyond 8 sessions, then backfill in the Virtues, Flaws, and all the other missed stuff. Even House can be decided later. I make NPCs this way, and it's fast, and allows me to flesh them out later if they become more central to ongoing story.

It is more interesting in impromptu play for Players to create a Character (with appearance, motivations, goals) than to create a character sheet.

  1. How to handle Spontaneous spells:

Pre-calculate and put on the character sheets the Casting Scores for Spontaneous spells, divided by 2 for expending Fatigue, and divided by 5 for not expending Fatigue.

Then create custom handouts of the Guidelines insent boxes in the Spells section to assign level. This gives people a way to realize "I can't blast a hole in that stone wall with my Perdo Terram score so low, but maybe I can turn the stone door into dust with it, or turn a part of the wall to mud with Muto Terram."

Lastly, use the guidelines as guidelines. Don't whip out the pencil and calculator, ever. If it sounds plausible, it works. If it sounds wrong, it fails. It is always better to bend the rules to allow something fun and creative, than to be absolutely accurate ... and dull.

  1. Two copies of whatever book you use is good. One for you, one for your players (to use while gaming, borrow, trade, read at home, etc).

  2. As the story guide, be prepared.

In a free-form game, this doesn't mean be aware of the stats of all your NPCs, monsters, and the dimensions of each room.

It does mean know NPCs & monsters, what part you generally want each to play, to know your environment they PCs move through. Stereotypes make for easy play, but I like to have all places, people, and creatures in my stories to have at least one surprise, and the central ones to have 3 surprises. Plot lives in the twists.

This isn't DnD, so the party could easily consist of more than just the PCs. It is not uncommon for a mage to travel with a squad of guards. This is not typical for most games, so it will make a novel twist. But be prepared to introduce them at first, the players will take that over later.

Do not be too intimidated with the volume and the breadth of the rules. Most of the rules are not important if the players are not interested in such activities as potion creation or you are not planning to run a story that focuses on the Divine.

I agree with Timothy, Promises is a good start. However, I think the first story in Nigrasaxa (also available at Atlas) is even better for a troupe familiar with D&D. Do not worry about it not being readjusted to 5th edition. Use the provided PC and NPCs with 5thEd rules and they are just a bit more powerful, especially with the higher Parma scores. However, the faeries are interesting. (Do not forget to mention that the child was chasing butterflies.)

Another good faerie oriented story is about a fairy party overwhelming a covenant and the magi trying to stop the invasion in the nearby village before it gets out of hand at home. This story was available online at some site, but I cannot remember where.

If you have 8 sessions to run a story, then I suggest that you plot out a story (even one cribbed from another system) before the next session. "Suggest" virtues and flaws for your players that will be applicable to your story. Let them pick the rest at character creation.

Getting into the learning and lab work can be very difficult for D&D players who have no patient for “down time.” You may just have to jump everyone ahead by fiat since they will not usually want to break from their current storyline. If I knew I had 8 sessions, I would run 3 sessions in one storyline, give them 2 to 4 years off followed by another 4+ sessions storyline.

Do not forget about the grogs. Grogs are the soul of any good ars magica story. They provide the heroics and the humor. While magi can be jackasses, grogs are generally some of the more likable PC/NPCs. If any of your players are uncomfortable about the magic, let them play an experienced turb sergeant assigned to watch over these young wizards. You can dispense with companions at this stage. However, by last troupe had players that never really got into the magic and were happy playing companions all the time.

Have the players show up with a magi or companion and a grog. Encourage them to share the grogs among one another. One idea I always liked was make sure that your grog or companion matched up with another player’s wizard. That way you encourage mixed group adventures.

Make sure the first story has some good action scenes. At the next session, take a little time before hand to do some practice play. Have the PCs duel one another with magic so they can see how it works, especially fast casting and penetration. Do the same with the grogs and melee. Try missiles and weapons separate. Once they experience it in practice, it is that much easier.

Have them use the listed formulaic spells as examples for spontaneous spells. Under 5th edition, you cannot mess with formulaic range and duration like you could in earlier editions. Any divergence is spontaneous spell anyway.

Forget about designing a covenant unless the players really want to invest the time and thought. Use the example on line at atlas or fine another online that you like at someone’s site.

Good luck.

Oups! :blush: I was so concentrated on the +10 to damage that I added magnitudes to it :laughing:

You are exactly right. Now, I understand where Paul is coming from, as this game can get pretty complicated if you let it. But when I started I had only one copy of the core rulebook, and we did just fine.

I suggest you play around making some sample magi. Once you get the hang of it, help the players create characters you are allcomfortible with. Then just play, Make mistakes. Screw up. You will all learn and have fun as you do. The system is intuitive. Once you have a feel for it, it will flow easilly and naturally. Also, keep asking questions here on the Atlas Forums or over on the Berklist. We are all glad to welcome a new Ars addict into our fold :slight_smile:

Mui macho, y mui loco! :open_mouth:

Vaya con suertes, amigo, I'm sure!

(Sorry I wasn't on line earlier for the carnage!)

Well, by about this point in time you're at your aforementioned rendezvous with destiny. So, I fully expect you to be coming back with tales of heroism and horror, and a whole new mort of questions.

I'll try to take a guess at some, and address them.

Actually, that shouldn't be disturbing - he's right. For spontaneous spells to be created by players, they need a copy of the guidelines. For you to help them each time is just not practical.

He's not saying that everyone needs a copy of the book, but everyone needs access to a copy, especially those Guidelines for Spontaneous spells - and one copy probably won't cut it.

Maybe you should. Xerox the Guidelines, just those, and cut/paste a handout for your game. Just for reference, so that any magi Player can figure out if his Creo + Ignem is enough to do what he wants, or whatever.

If the Players like the game, they'll buy it. (At $25, that's just a weekend of beer money - and a much longer-lasting investment.)

Once the players have a feel for them, they'll have cribbed notes as to what they can/can't do. Until then, the book, a book, is the only answer source.

Hrmmm, yes, indeed...

First, learn the game yourself. Yeah, too late now, but how often did you have someone ask question and you not be able to answer it? Not a strong selling point.

I'd say, "streamline it" first. Don't worry about Spontaneous, and don't worry about Covenants. Yet. Later.

If you have time, ~I~ would say don't worry about magi - build some "companion" types, non-magic-user Adventurer quality characters, and run a simple adventure scene with them. If they die, it's a learning experience. If they're not right, they can become NPC's. If they like them, they can become Companions - nothing lost, lots to gain.

That way, the players get a feel for the core mechanics, and then can add Magic on to that when they build their 2nd characters, the magi. And while that's happening, they can think about that building. Which will take some time...

(PreGen wizards may be the best call for the first session, so that the Players see what's ~possible~, without having to make mistakes to see what they ~don't~ want to do.)

Once you're ready for CharGen, don't underestimate the time it will take. Lots of distractions for new players, lots of bells and whistles and "what if's" and detours and tangents.

Here's a thread discussing CharGen of Magi for Ars, with different views:

Warn your players, especially the "blow'em up" type, about the diff between being able to learn a spell, and being able to cast it reliably and without fatigue. Especially combat spells. It's an old, old story with Ars, that first time Players take the biggest CrIg (or whatever) they can reach, and then find they can't cast it with any reliability, and when they do the character is soon on the verge of unconsciousness. Smaller*, reliable, non-fatiguing combat spells are better to start with. Big* spells are good for "out of combat", when time (and resting a few minutes between attempts) are not a constraint.

(* "Big" and "small" are relative to the character, natch. After they study, those seemingly huge, unwieldy, unreliable spells will become child's play. If they're willing to wait, that's fine.)

You can also recommend to your players that they read the 4th ed .pdf, especially for the background info & etc. While the Spell Guidelines are not the same (emphasize this!!!), they'll be able to better understand how Mythic Europe and The Hermetic Order are significantly different from your Generic Fantasy World. That, more than anything, defines what a Hermetic Mage can and can't get away with, and can color their choices.

4th Ed download:
(Download in the right hand margin, 1st under "Downloads". You have to go to SJG and "buy" it for free, but there's no spam, no scam.)

Waiting to hear how it went!

My comment was essentially that "The blind leading the blind is perhaps not such a good thing and less so if there are triffids floating about."

In my opinion if you don't know the rules of a game as the GM well enough to not be required to look up how everything is accomplished and more importantly to be able to advise the players in how to do things, such as making a character, then there is a high chance for the whole mess collapsing and the players getting a negative view of the game. Ars Magic I think is quite a good game or an excellent game even but my experience is it requires some time investment on the players part. I had at least the luck of joining an existing group and so had lots of help as I fumbled my way through the learning curve.

If it turns out that the game experience for you and the players is a positive one I am going to be frankly over joyed for you. For the love of pete, I hope it turns out to be a positive experience since as I said above Ars Magica is an excellent game.

As a suggestion why not have the players play "companions" in the first session? That will introduce the setting and system, you can wow them with an NPC mage and create serious envy etc without the game screeching to a halt everytime you all try and figure out what the chance of success of casting a spontaneous spell is and what effect it will have.

Chris...Wolfgang...any advice?

Good idea. :unamused:

Playing companuions in the first session detracts somehow on the Ars Magica universe somehow, though.

Having said that, tghis is exactly what I did. Obnly that my players played grogs in their first adventure: I used the "Going Home" adventure that can be found online (search for Ars Magtica adventure going home" in google). 4 grogs returning to the covenant with a supply wagon from the local city played it successfully in an afternoon. It introduced successfully the concept of the supernaturasl to new players, without bothering them with the magic system. We wende dthe session with bandits ambushing the party on a further way home, only to test the combat system.

The adventure was successfully solved, and the location (with a suitably increased aura) served as the base to found a covenant, in fact.

In later adventures it is quite amazing how commonly my players have shown a desire to still have those thorny bushes available....



have to agree somwhat about the comments with all companion groupings. To play Ars Magica without a mage would be doing a great injustice to the game; and would certainly not be selling it well to your new players. In many respects the non magical elements of the game are outstripped by other RPGs. It is its magic system that makes Ars Magica truly unique and when combined with its rich background.. a truly awesome game.

Perhaps pre-gen one or two magi and for the rest a few companions.