I'm trying to write up some character generation advice for HermesWeb. Here's my intial and grossly incomplete try at it, do give more insight, suggestions, and other advice to make this more worthwhile!
This page is devoted to making a [[magus]] character in [[Ars Magica]]. For advice on creating other characters or the covenant, see [[Character Generation (General)]].
Creating your first [[magus]] character in [[Ars Magica]] can be a daunting task, since there are so many options, so much background, and, let's be honest - so many rules. How best to approach this? There are basically two methods: your can start with the [[Virtues and Flaws]] that define the character, or with the [[spell|spells]] that define what he does. The first method works well for a [[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNS_Theory|Narrativist]] player, so will be written from that perspective, while the spells method works best for a Gamist [ibid.] player, so will be written from that perspective.
**The Spells Method **
The idea here that you want to build a wizard who does stuff in-game, so we'll focus on what kind of cool things you want to achieve and work our way to a character than can do that. And the best place to start is with the spells chapter, because basically, what your character does in adventures is cast spells.
Pick Defining Spells
There are many ways to skin a cat - or a human. Go over the spells list, and try to pick a defining spell you want your character to cast. These are relatively high-level spells - a starting (properly built) character can usually know spells of level up to 45 or so within a narrow Technique-Form combination, but this may require over-specializing. It is often best to have signature spells of about level 35, leaving room for fall-back tactics and utility spells. Spells with requisites are generally to be avoided, as such high-level spells are much more difficult to learn and in the future will be difficult to advance in penetration and variants.
Some "classic" combinations include:
- A Creo Auram specialist, with ''The Incantation of Lightning'' (level 35) as his signature spell. This is a somewhat problematic combination as Auram is often not otherwise very effective, but it can be with a generous storyguide. The Creo Art also allows for some very useful effects (like healing wounds).
- Perdo Corpus specialist wielding ''Clenching Grasp of the Crushed Heart'' (level 40). Reaching the high levels required to wield this spell and useful variants thereof is not easy for a starting character, but can be easily achieved by a few years of down-time in-game. Perdo is also very useful for invisibility, and Corpus for healing effects, so this is a potent combination. Perdo specialists have it hard in that they must match a Form to fit their target, so while powerful if facing humans and human-like oppoents, this build can be very weak against other opponents.
- A Rego Corpus specialist wielding ''Strings of the Unwilling Marionette'' (level 20) and variants as his defining effect. This is a fun character to play - getting opponents to stab each other is definitely fun - but the Concentration demands can be high, and often useful variants of the signature spell are required. Rego is also very useful for many other effects (like wards against metal pointy things), and Corpus is good for healing. Like their Perdo counterparts, however, Rego specialists must match the Form to fit the target, limtiing the effectiveness of the character against non-human opponents.
- A Creo Ignem specialist wielding a ''Ball of Abysmal Flame'' (level 35) as his defining spell. Fire magic has the best damage-to-spell-level ratio and is flexible in that it affects nearly all targets, can deal increasing damage with increasing spell level, and can affect areas. A Creo specialist is also good at healing wounds and longevity rituals, amongst other things. And blowing things up is just fun. So this is a very popular and effective build.
- A Rego Mentem specialist with ''Enslave the Mortal Mind'' (level 40) as his signature spell. The high level is somewhat hard to reach, but there are lesser effective effects in this combination and many more in other Rego and Mentem combinations. His power against creatures without Intelligence (e.g. animals and brutish monsters) is somewhat limited, but his signature spell still has a very large applicability. Plus, being able to do a Jedi Mind Trick is just too cool to pass over.
- A Rego Terram specialist, wielding ''Creeping Chasm'' (level 35) as his main effect. Terram is a uniquitous element, and you can Rego knights in armor and steel weapons too, so this has a surprisingly wide effectiveness. Rego Terram specialists also often throw around already-existing boulders, or carve ones out of nearby rock. Throwing around massive boulders and splitting the earth as you fight is cool and fun, and can also be very effective - so it's all good.
These are just some of the classic builds, there are lots of others that are equally or even more effective - just scour the spell list, and pick out one signature spell or perhaps a few that work around a theme.
Once you do choose your signature spells, you probably have an image of what the character is like. That's fine, but don't get too attached to it - there are many more important choices ahead, so be willing to be flexible.
Now Make Sure You Can Cast Them
Your starting spells are determined by your Intelligence, Magic Theory, and the relevant two Arts. So it's time to try to reach them. Take +3 in Intelligence - that costs you 6 points out of the 7 you have to purchase [[Characteristics]] with, so use the remaining one to purchase +1 in Stamina and leave it at that for now. Now pick 3 in [[Magic Theory]] - this costs 30 points out of 120 for [[Ability|Abilities]], but you have to do so.. Now you've got 120 experience points to spend to purchase your Arts so you can start with your desires signature spell. Except, chances are you can't. For example, to start with a level 35 spell you need to invest 91 experience points in the Form and an equal amount in the Technique, for a total of 182 points. You just don't have that many.
So, you need to choose some [[Virtues]] to make sure that you can. You main tool is the [[Magical Focus]] (Minor or Major), that will allow you to double your "lowest" Art - that 35 is starting to sound a lot more reasonable, eh? Choose a Magical Focus that fits your character's concept and magic style. (Yes, technically there are good builds without a Magical Focus - no, wait, there aren't. Magical focus is ''that'' good..)
Now consider taking an Affinity in (Art), perhaps for both relevant Arts, and also Puissant (Art). The Affinity is generally better (for high Art scores), but Puissant still provides a nice boost.
Consider taking Great (Characteristic) to boost your intelligence, perhaps twice.
If you're ''still'' not there, an Affinity with [[Magic Theory]] and/or Puissant Magic Theory is another good option. You can also increase your Magic Theory score to 5 (before Affinity). If your storyguide is generous, you can also choose a specialty for your Magic Theory that applies to initial spell selection.
This should suffice to get you your spell. A magus with all the above options can start with a level 62 (!) spell, but such specialization is excessive. By this point, you'll probably also have a House in mind, for its free Virtue.
Now Choose More Spells
Now that you've got your defining spell and the rough outline of your character firmly in place, you should be able to go back to the spell list and choose more spells to start with. Pay attention especially to other spells in your specialty, and in your defining Arts. If you're a Creo Ignem specialist, look at lower-level Creo Ignem spells, but also at other Creo and Ignem spells and even at spells from other Arts with a low-enough level.
What you're aiming for is flexibility here. Your main spell is your main gun, but you may need a backup.
A key consideration is penetration - lower-level spells in your area of expertiese have higher penetration, so it's best to choose a "lesser variant"of your main spell. Creo Ignem specialists, for example, rely on ''Ball of Abysmal Flame'' against targets with low [[Magic Resistance]], but may turn to ''Pilum of Fire'' when facing tougher opponents. You're generally better choosing aimed signature spells, as then you don't have to worry about these issues, but most fun spells require penetrations.
Having a defense spell and an escape spell is also very, very valuable, although many magi have to make do without one or both. Low-level Imaginem spells such as the ''Wizard's Sidestep'' are good for defense, while teleportation spells (Rego Corpus) are the best escape plan.
Once your main combat spells are picked, you can choose lesser spells to pad the list to the allowed amount of spell levels. Picking up a few lesser spells to do "magicky" things like telekinesis or telepathy can be fun, but you should take a good look at the [[raw vis]] detecting spells (''Scales of Magical Weight'' and ''Sense the Nature of Vis'') as they're more useful. Don't bother with ''Gather the Essence of the Beast'' - unless your storyguide is particularly annoying, you can just yank the horn or heart or whatever contains the beast's vis, so don't waste the spell levels.
You'll probably need to add in more Arts to do so, investing more experience points in them. That's fine. You may even want to increase your experience in one or both of your main Arts. Remember that 120 is only the ''recommended'' limit for Art expenses, so that with a kind storyguide you can invest more. However, you'd want to keep experience points for [[Ability|Abilities]].
Chances are you'll have more cool spells than intiial spell levels. This is why you should pick the [[Skilled Parens]] virtues at this point. More spells! Yay!
The Rest of the Deal
It is time to choose the rest of your Characteristics and Virtues and Flaws. Consider taking one Characteristic to -3 and picking +3 in Stamina (moving the +1 to Communication or whatever). Strength is a good alternatuve for the dump stat here - it's virtually useless for magi (excepting some martial builds). To help you decide, here is the low-down on the Characteristics, in order of usefulness:
- Intelligence, as we already saw, is great for allowing initial spells, but also for nearly any future laboratory activity, which includes inventing and learning new spells as well as creating magic items and directing spells. It's grand.
- Stamina is good for casting spells, so you want lots of it. It also boosts your [[Soak]], which is great, and aids in [[Concentration]] checks.
- Communication is good for writing good books, that other magi will want to trade stuff to get. So it's actually a very good charactaristic to ivnest in if you're into that. If you are, take the ''Good Teacher'' virtue as well.
- Quickness is good at getting to shoot first, which could be critical. Consider taking the ''Fast Caster'' virtue as well.
- Dexterity helps your [[Defense]], which is nice but not effective against most magic and you'll probably be better served by investing in other defense strategies.
- Perception is useful if you want to imitate stuff with Imaginem magic, but is otherwise useless.
- Strength is useful to increase the damage of some melee attacks, but who makes those? Well, some [[Bjornaer]] do, but that's still a lame tactic for a magus.
- Presence is only useful in the political arena (excepting some odd-ball rules not in the main rules).
And on to other Virtues and Flaws. Take up the list of Virtues you've got so far, and go over the Hermetic Virtues list. You're looking for virtues that you can apply to improve your spell casting ability. Things like ''Cyclic Magic (Positive)'' or whatever. Once you've got those, choose some other Virtues that will aid your build, until you reach 10 points in virtues. Not very hard to do. Some good virtues include ''Educated'', which gives you a bucketload of experience to boost your Abilities and therefore Arts; ''Flawless Magic'' which not only grants you free experience points towards spell mastery, but also keeps on giving as the character leanrs new spells in-game; ''Personal Vis Source'' is excellent for those (far too common) sagas where vis is scarce; and Life-Linked Magic, which allows you to go nova in a difficult enounter.
Flaws, now, well - just go over the list and try not too choose overly limiting ones. Pick one major and one minor Personality Flaws. Pick one story flaw that you like - preferably one that's an advantage, such as ''Visions'', and a Major one. Pick one Hermetic Flaw that won't affect you, like incompatible arts with Creo Aquam (if your storyguide allows that).
If you haven't chosen a House up to now, choose it now.
Now that this is settled, you need to pick up some Abilities, probably about 120 experience points of them. Don't get too greedy here - Abilities are expensive.
Choose your childhood abilities, up to age 5; a high [[Brawl]] score is always nice here. You now have 15 years of apprenticeship, starting at age 25. Take the required package, and the Magic Theory score you've settled on, and you probably don't have much left. Here are some ideas on what abilities you picked up. in addition to Magiic Theory above:
- Spell Mastery. Not every spell needs to be mastered, but some gain a lot from it. It's expensive, but worth considering.
- Finesse is great if your signature spells are aimed. Otherwise, pretty useless.
- Concentration is usually very difficult for anything worth rolling, so you need to either heavily-invest in it (possibly with Virtues as well), or not at all.
- Penetration. The penetration ability only comes to bear with an [[Arcane Connection]] at hand, so is probably a poor choice - but can work for the right builds. Still, a Penetration of 1 with a useful specialty is a nice idea that fairly cheap.
The Minor Details
You're done. Pick your personality traits, your wizard's sigil, eye color, and any other detail your troupe insists on. Write a nice story about how your unique background gave you the weird combination of virtues and flaws you ended up with, if you must. And just start blasting stuff with your awesome powers.
The Bigger Picture
Having a good wizard is one thing, having an effective party is another. Get a shield grog. A good one, loyal and with a high Defense and Soak, that will block all damage to you. Get a social companion to talk to all the pesky mundanes, and do the diplomacy thing. And build your magus to fit the other characters - be interested in dealing with problems that will rarely pop up in your saga, so you'll have plenty of lab time, but yet capable of dealing with any problem that creeps up, so you'll be able to school your sodales on the meaning of power.
Invest in Parma Magica as you age, if you can get good Sources on it, becasue let's face it - your Magic Resistance sucks.
Invest in inventing or, better, acquiring useful variants for your signature spell and other spells.
Make a talisman early on, with lots of components, and attune to him to get the casting benefits. Invest it with effects that need to bypass your Parma.
Bind a familiar early as well and invest self-enhancing spells into the bond; you can use them constantly, without [[Warping]]. Have your familiar learn Magic Theory, from books, at any season he ain't assisting you in the laboratory; give it an Obsession to learn Magic Theory if that what it takes for your storyguide to approve this. And use the Golden Cord, to save you from early warping.
Invent, or have someone invent for you, Characteristic-boosting ritual spells. There is no reason you and your familiar shouldn't have +5 Intelligence. And you should have +5 Stamina too.
Unless you developed Leadership, you can't have both a familiar and an apprentice as lab assistants so don't bother with an apprentice - your familiar would be better. But if you do want an apprentice make sure he helps you in combination with your familiar (so develop Leadership first). In some Houses, you can skip some Seasons of personal tutoring by having someone else do it - that at least sucks a little less than a normal apprentice..
Invest your signature power into charged items, with a lab text, and using the penetration option to its maximum, to create high-penetrating items to deal with particularly nasty beasties easily.
If you need penetration for some other spell, don't forget the value of a Wizard's Communion - learn it to low level, that will be enough. If that's not feasible and you have at least some Penetration Ability, try to arrange for an arcane connection and sympathetic connections. And if all else fails, use raw vis. A wizard can usually penetrate against anything, so if you're not penetrating you're not trying hard enough.
Multiple casting is not only fun, it's great. Do it. Work on doing it better, with more spells and variants. Convince your storyguide that having your items trigger multiple powers at once is legal (it is), and have them "multiple cast" too.
When the time comes to get a longevity ritual, go to a specialist, it's worth it. And don't hurry, it doesn't really hurt if you look old - but it does if you have Decrepitude, so don't tarry.
Don't be too afraid of Twilight at low Warping, it'll be good for you - unless it's a long saga, where you want to avoid the warping Points.
Cooperate with other magi in the lab, especially ones with Inventive Genius and a high Magic Theory - that's the way to break the system (although you'll need Leadership to pull it off).
Pursuing mysteries can be useful or a waste, so think carefully if you want to do it.
Use the lab personalization rules from ''Covenants''.
Don't experiment, unless you're really stressed for time and are desperate for that small bonus. It's much, ''much'' better to get a bonus by some other means.