Damaging Spells for Combat Monkeys

I'm fairly new to the Ars Magica system, having come in for the Fifth Ed playtest and fallen in love with it. I'm quite comfortable creating new spells, having heavily hammered that, largely for fun. I'll post soon my spell for turning a suit of armor into a mass of seething, angry cats, but that's another post.

In my monkeying with the magic system, I noticed a distinct lack of guidelines for spell damage. For my current character, this isn't a big deal as she isn't the head on confrontational type, but I was wondering what sort of guidelines people use. I've mostly worked so far by looking at other spells for examples of damage, but if anyone (including my own ref, of course) has any ideas, I'd be grateful.


First, an official Welcome to the Game and the Forums!


Your reaction is understandable. And, to some degree, invited. The editors intentionally leave many aspects of AM "open to interpretation" - of the SG, of the Troupe. The framework is solid, but the details are left open as you prefer, to better fit your RP style.

The base rule of thumb* is that for every magnitude larger you get +5 damage, providing no other special effects are included. This latter is for game balance, and is subject to SG/Troupe preference.

(* Not written anywhere, but most(?) canon examples follow this pattern.)

And regardless of whatever approach you adopt/adapt, the most important rule about spells and damage is - "One spell casting = 1 damage roll/target"! A "group+size" version of Crystal Dart does not equate to ten or a hundred or a thousand d+10 rolls! It would either increase the damage a bit and/or broaden the "area of effect". (Mastering and multi-casting the spell creates multiple spells, and so, yes, does allow multiple rolls!)

Okay, that said, there are two basic ways to go - that I will call "one rule" and "old school". The two considerations for both are 1) game balance and 2) your (or your SG's, or your Troupe's) sense of how AM magic works (or doesn't work).

One Rule:
Easy - see the Creo Ignem guidelines for Base Lvl vs. damage, and apply those to all Forms. Or less, if the spell does "other stuff" too. (For instance, a CrAq spell that creates a jet of water that bashes the target back may do less damage "for game balance", etc.) The significant exception to this is Crystal Dart (MeTe) - explain that as you prefer (but see below...)

This makes all (physical) Forms (potentially) equal for direct damage, and gives Players a clear guideline for creating "direct damage" effects. If they can come up with an Aurum or Animal effect that can hurt someone, they just apply the CrIg guidelines as the max damage and go from there.

Old School:
In older editions, a few of the Forms were clearly superior for direct damage combat - Ignem (fire), Terram (stone/metal), and (less?) Herbam (wood) - the "dangerous" Forms, if you will. (Animal too, and Perdo Corpus, etc. but in diff ways, etc etc.) These Forms offered superior damage to other forms, sometimes expressed by "modifiers" to armour (armour doubled, doubled if "rigid armour", whatever). For instance, taking CreoRego and applying it equally to Terram, Herbam and Aquam, we got:o A "jet of Fire"
o A flying dagger/spear
o A flying shaft of wood (not as strong/penetrating as metal, but equal vs. unarmoured targets)
o A jet of waterThe wood just isn't as scary as the first two, and the last... meh.*

(* "Ice" is a diff discussion. Some (not all!) SG's decide to follow Terram and other guidelines and make "ice" 1 magnitude more difficult to create/etc, sim to the diff between "dirt/stone/metal" etc.)

This "old school" pattern is seen in "legacy"* spells like MuReTe 10 Crystal Dart (d+10) and MuReHe Piercing Shaft of Wood (d+10 max), which are both "above" the CrIg Guidelines, "Fire" having its own dis/advantages that balance that out.

(* "Legacy" spells are ones that may not fit perfectly into the current edition's TeFo guidelines, but are so "classic" to AM that they have not been radically altered between editions. Ysmv.)

Between those two approaches, you should be able to find some starting point that works for you/your Troupe/your Saga.

Good gaming!

The most standard damage spell is Pilum of Fire (Creo Ignem 20) - damage 15
Most people assume that one magnitude equals +5 damage.

Usually it is assumed - but there are no rules for this as the Hound pointed out above) that no spell should do more damage than a Pilum of Fire (which is level-5).

Some spells have a minor beneficial aspect but are (level-10). A good example for this is the Creo Aquam Torrent of water spell: It causes less damage than a pilum of fire but may knock you off your feet.

Note that low level spells are used against magi to maximize penetration: Call to Slumber (Rego Mentem 10) is a good example.
This spell has the added benefit that it can be used in a dominion aura like a village/city (usually some -3 to -9 to spellcasting).

A special class of attack spells is the Perdo Vim spell "Demon's Eternal Oblivion", which is usually learned at a low level and mastered for multicasting and to maximize penetration. A similar spell exists against fairies and magical beings. The disadvantage of the spell is that it ususally leaves no vis. The advantage is that these three spells allow you to deal with most monsters.

Finally there are School of Vilano spells that need finesse rolls to hit (see HoH:S, Flambeau). They are good against magi and other creatures that are protected against most magics, but depend on your terrain and your finesse.

I personally go with the CrIg guidelines as the upper limit for damage spell, mostly because if there was a better TeFo around the Flambeau would use it instead. And the PeCo guidelines if you want to directly cause Wounds somehow. That's the upper limit, assuming you come with an effect that's clearly optimized for damage.

Indirect damage of course doesn't follow that rule. If you collapse a cavern ceiling on someone, the damage is going to be out of all proportion to the spell level.

Oh, and the Crystal Dart is the one spell that breaks the limit, so I call it the result of experimentation and forbid my players from changing the parameters at all.

As a historical note, many (most?) "classic" spells have been changed from previous editions to bring them back in line with the damage guidelines of Ignem. The Incantation of Lightning used to cause (still at level 35) +45 damage, if I recall correctly, and it also had secondary effects. The one advantage Ignem has always had is that it's "scalable": you could always get progressively hotter more damaging fires at progressively larger magnitudes. You mostly could not do the same with other elements.

(I dunno - Rego'ing a sharp, barbed tree trunk thru someone sounds like it'd hurt pretty bad...) :wink:

Correction: Guideline in general appears to be
Base Level = base damage.

Thus a spell to cause +10 damage at range voice is ordinarily level 20.
Certain Art combinations (most notably CrIg and for some reason MuAq) get a "better deal".

As mentioned in Societates, this is about "on par" with directly wound inflicting spells (usually PeCo).

Again as mentioned in Societates, CrIg gets about a +5 (more accurately, a free magnitude) compared to this guideline.

Now, the problem is those arts for which there are no guideline. A reasonable rule of thumb would be base level = base damage as mentioned above, but it is better (if harder) to base these effects off what the spell actually does.

If my spell creates a piece of rock above my opponent and drops it, damage is reasonably based on the size of the rock and distance it falls.
Thus damage becomes a matter of circumstances, which is why there are no guidelines!

In general, it's probably best to assume that common spells are likely to be optimized versions, and thus new spells cause no more damage/spell level than those, except under specific circumstances (eg. a Silver Dart against werewolves etc).

Ref this thread too - https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/r-d-t-questions/6255/23

As a preemptive action to answer for my group; what would be the scaling up of damage given the additional potential impacts when Target is changed from Ind to group? In particular I am thinking of what happens in the 3rd example below, but also generally.

I am thinking of the implications of "Arc Fiery Ribbons" which applies the group target to create the fan of effect, but cannot find a similar spell which demonstrates the difference when a spell like Crystal Dart is scaled up to a group casting.

I also think that it is totally subjective to the spell description (typically ysmv); which leans me toward having many options:
1 - it might enable a wide arc (like AoFR above) of effect. Plausible and highly referable. This might make avoiding it far harder, make it better for mass combat usage, but also limit the applications when allies are in mixed melee.
2 - it might enable multi-targeting all members of a group auto-magically (like casting a dart at each in a fighting formation). Sympathetic to the meaning of Group, with one "hit" per hostile group member. To me this sounds very appropriate, but also limits greatly the application.
3 - it might enable multiple hits on the same target. This is where the trouble starts. I'm not adverse to saying that group basically cannot be used to generate multiple concurrent hits on the same target (as the one target is not a group), and having the caster either multi-cast or consider the projectiles as one "impact".

Expansion on the benefits of option 3:
3a - increased damage. How much?
3b - increased benefit to Finesse rolls for targeting, such as spells like Vil's Sling, which is targeted with Finesse. This makes sense, as you're likely to hit with one of the impacts, but you'd have to consider collateral affects too with all the misses.
3c - at what point does it become almost a rain of impacts, which is impossible to avoid - and deadly given the other effects.

Apologies in advance for the "munchkin-ism" of this - I'm seeking to prep my answers beyond just "nope, not allowed".

So does CrAu (lightning bolts, once you factor the 'wholly unnatural' to fling them at will) and CrAq (create acid). The really damaging stuff, in other words. CrIg remains the easiest and most versatile to employ.

So I agree, the guideline should be base level=base damage for spells that do damage directly (no aiming roll, subject to Magic Resistance).

Spells that do damage indirectly can be all over the place in terms of damage, depending on what's available at the time of casting, but generally spells that can be reliably used all the time ("Invisible Sling of Vilano") should be designed to have the same damage at the same range, trading Magic Resistance for an aiming roll.

As you say, easy and versatile, I see no problem here. There are already plenty of spells with area effects, even without using the Group target. This would be particularly good for aimed spell when the caster is not good at aiming: the increased area of effect gives a bonus.

Again, no problem. After all, you can already PeCo a group.

That's a very dangerous idea, in the sense that it can be too easily abused. A Group Target is two extra magnitudes, normally good for a +10 to damage, but here you turn it into a x10. With one extra magnitude for size, you go from +15 to x100 ; and how long before a clever player decides to use the smallest projectile that still does a little damage just so he can divide the base Individual by that size and come up with the 'death of a million small pebbles' (+0 damage each, but those stress rolls are going to deliver a killing blow at least once) ?


That's easy. Group is +2 magnitudes, so +10 damage. Treat as one impact. Simple, effective, balanced.

Generally, in aiming a spell, a +1 Size of the effect gives a +6 to Finesse. Since you are using Group you can scatter the projectiles even more and still be guaranteed a hit if the target is within the area, I'd give it a +12 per +1 Size (the challenge being to have enough of them). Yes, if you are standing on a pebble beach, you can probably fling a thousand or more at once with a Group target, and guarantee a hit (short of a Finesse botch), but you still only do the base damage. It's all about standing in the right spot.

Here's my take:

It should become deadly at the same level as flinging a single large boulder does. Let's say +30 damage is deadly, then Base 5 + Group + 3 Size flings enough fist-sized stones in the same spot to do +30 damage (they probably get in each other way a lot, to the point where they pretty much hit as a single mass of rocks). Same as Base 30 flings a large enough boulder fast enough to do +30 damage. You'll need at least Voice range to collect that many stones (and you probably need to shout at that). You then need an extra +1 Size to target a wider area and claim the above +12 to Finesse, which should guarantee a hit.

Rain of stones: Base 5, +2 Voice, Mom, +2 Group, +4 Size, total 45. Does +30 damage to a single target, by flinging a lot of stones at it in one gigantic wave. This assumes that there are enough loose stones around the mages: the spell works as advertised on a pebble beach or very stony ground but does nothing inside a building in good repair or in a grass meadow. Treat as a single ranged weapon attack, attack is Per + Finesse + 12 + SD (-3 per extra 20 paces of distance between the caster and the target after the first 20) vs the target's missile Defense (Quickness + Brawl + SD or Quickness + Single Weapon + Shield Bonus + SD), damage is +30.

This should pretty much auto-kill any normal human. Particularly expert warriors who are lucky that day might manage to cower in time behind a large shield and avoid it, and giant-blooded characters with enough soak might survive, but squishy mages that don't manage a Fast-Cast defense should be just a lot of smears on a lot of stones... as befits any magus stupid enough to meet a Terram master on a pebble beach after Wizard War has been declared.

For comparison, killing a person with PeCo at range Voice is level 40 (but does need to penetrate MR), and a Ball of Abysmal Flame has the same damage and is only level 35 (again MR applies). Oh, and Cascade of Rocks, which drops a cliff, is level 40, and probably counts as an auto-kill too if the target is under it and the cliff large enough.

CrAq follows the "+(Level)" rule-of-thumb.
CrAu wa the example I decided to avoid, since ends up at the given damage value through a rather indirect route.