Differences in editions...

Hello all,

I was curious if you veterans of the game would have the ability to try to express what the key differences are between editions. I can't imagine ever scoring 1st edition, but I have 2nd on the way and have had 3rd-5th for a long time, but only played a handful of times over those years at conventions for the most part.

If you had to boil it down - how would you differentiate between the editions of ArM?


1st Ed was... interesting. Settingless, and long-term activities operated in months, not seasons. A lot of things we take for granted these day were not yet developed.

2nd Ed was pretty good. Considered the 'One True Edition' by many until the 5th edition came, and even for a while after that. Long-term activities were now based on seasons. I would still play this edition. It was a smaller and simpler game though, and the setting was much less well researched.

3rd Ed was the 'Infernal Edition' to many - published by White Wolf, it had a lot of demons and dark metaplots - particularly the 'magic is fading' and the 'reason aura', which made no sense what-so-ever in a setting where magic was provably real. IIRC, this was when Wizard's Twilight (now Warping) was introduced.

4th Ed was - IMAO - an f-ing mess. Due to popular demand, Arts were forced to use XPs (a mistake IMO), but unlike 5th ed, you divided the XPs instead of simply needing more. You also added Concentration (and intelligence?) to study totals when reading books, leading to certain unique bits of silliness.
Mechanistic spell design was introduced, but not fully thought through. I have seen magi fireballing England (size there was no size modifier) and starting characters building flying castles.
I don't miss the 4th edition, and in fact consider it overpriced on e23. But opinions may differ.

5th Ed ... works. Sometimes I miss the simpler libraries of the early editions, and quite often I miss Arts not interacting with XPs. But 5th edition is my GOTO edition these days. Pun intended, if inversion required.


Personally I think the biggest problem with the 'rational' aura as not calling it a 'skeptical' aura instead- plus the fact that libraries were inherently anti-magical where magic was very academic. It was clearly an attempt to root the Mage:the ascention rules into the Ars Magica setting, where AM was a historical piece of the mage universe. There were signifigant problems with the cosmology, most especially in terms of how it was vampires got more powerfull while the overall strength of the supernatural waned (similarly with werewolves, etc). I never tried 1st or 2nd edition, but grogs made a lot more sense when stats were being rolled instead of assigned...

Great summation. Thanks for it.

Sooo, I can blame White Wolf for Warping? Its sad that while the aura of reason was removed warping wasn't. (I fundamentally see nothing fun about Paradox or Warping or any other thing like that. I want my magic users to be able to use magic. Which is why I have it so that those with the Gift are immune to all sources of Warping beyond the one you get when you like super botch.)

I do have to say I do like the mechanistic spell design. I think its a brilliant element to Ars Magica, one that actually fits with the concept of Magic Theory and structured magical design.

I'm not saying that the mechanistic effect design is bad, just that the 4th version was... not entirely well thought through. 5th edition fixed most of the (more obvious) bugs, IMAO.

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As an aside which edition included Pace as the main size, becuase really, that just made things muddled. I would have been fine with Feet or Meters but to use a non-standard size system makes things frustrating.

I actually didn't think you were. I was more commenting that out of all the things you mention 4e introducing the one thing I like a lot is the idea of mechanistic spell effects.

The idea of you picking a Form and Technique and then a effect level and then add parameter modifiers is just great. While there is much flexibility the base capability of what mages can do is the same. I like that.

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I agree very much with the analysis so far, but to add a couple of other distinctions.

In 3ed (and before) the Hermetic Wizards, and their companions, where the only characters worth playing. Hedge wizards were supposed to be too weak to bother with rules. Infernal characters were lost to Hell and not suitable as PCs. There may have been rules for faerie companions, though, and the Shamans supplement, but those were exceptions.

4ed caused some chagrin (in my circles at the time at least), with Hedge Magic upgrading hedge wizards to almost magus level. And 5ed has taken it all out, with Mythic Companions, and C&G and A&A rules to create a whole new playing field for companions.

Looking over the development history of Ars Magica, it took 13 years and 5 editions to get a magic system, that derived (well, nearly) all its spells and effects from a flexible framework and still did so within the Mythic Europe setting based on 1220 Europe. It took a few more years to allow the magic framework itself to develop and grow in the saga, and to provide vast (and mostly working) mechanics for Mythic Europe proper.

The clarification was more for my own sake really. I'd realised I was perhaps not getting things across completely clearly :wink:

Not really. At least not entirely. They published the edition that introduced Wizard's Twilight, which was mostly a way to cap how old a magus could get (while using longevity potions).

Warping is a much broader concept that derives from those rules.

And knowing why you don't like warping ... 3ed twilight resulted from two things: longevity potions and magical botches.

There was always an assumption that magic had a warping effect on mundanes, but this was not made concrete until 5ed. That is of course a great step forward ... now we know how to deal with grogs in the level 10 aura. If you want your magi to take constant and high-level effects without warping, that is easily house ruled without breaking the other aspects of warping.

Another things that constantly changed was combat. 4e had a strange "engagement" mechanism, which essentially made everything a duel, and lots of combat Ranges. Characters also only had one Body Level of each type.

Third edition combat was similar, but without the many Ranges, and with the strange additional rule of pushing the opponent back if your had Initiative (First Strike) (and possibly a bonus to hit too).

As a note: Wizard's Twilight was actually introduced in Lion Rampant's Order of Hermes for 2nd Edition.

The rules are actually referenced in the 2nd Edition corebook: "HOUSES OF HERMES: Details the schools of magic (Houses) within the Order. Also, new spells (including those exclusive to certain Houses) and rules for Wizard's Twilight. Due out fall of '89." (IIRC, it was actually released as Order of Hermes in 1990.)

I'm fairly certain that the rules for Twilight in 3rd Edition are almost indistinguishable from the 2nd Edition Order of Hermes.

Mea culpa, I was assuming core book only. My apologies.

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I just read both 2nd and 3rd ed rules for advancement. Having never actually played any of those editions I was wondering.

Back then Abilities were either Talents, Knowledges or Skills.
Talents were intuitive, untrained abilities - things anybody should be able to do, like awareness, guile, but some people are just better at.They could only be raised by direct experience, usually on stories.
Skills are trained or self-taught abilities - things better left to professionals, like animal handling, combat, also certamen and parma magica. Could be raised by training or direct experience.
Knowledges were purely mental abilities, bookish subjects. Most types could only be raised through study (meaning: reading books). But Casual Knowledges (church lore, faeire lore, area lore, language) could also be raised by direct exposure, 1 exp per month (edit: both 2nd and 3rd ed).

2nd ed seems to not have any specific rules for training or time use (edit: except for knowledges, in the lab chapter)
3rd ed has rules for annual time use, you got 1-3 exp per year depending on how intense you train, and I assume the existence or lack of a teacher or trained could affect this. Now, this number is furthermore reduced by 1 for each story after the first you participate in during the year. Or for each season a magus spends in lab or library. Mind you, you get story exp, study from books or make things in the lab as a trade off for the lost annual experience. How teachers work to grant experience is somewhat vague.
Lab chapter outlines arcane studies from books, for the study of arts in full levels only.
Edit: 2nd ed does not have this annual time use thing. However it is clearer about studying (reading) knowledges. Labv chapter defines you get 3 exp per season of study,until your own ability level reaches the rating of the book. Also: "...but direct experience can serve, pending the SGs approval". Whatever that means...maybe you can be tauight by a teacher, with no use of books? Maybe you just practice?

So in conlusion, 3rd ed had rules for time use both monthly (for casual knowledges), seasonal (for lab and arcane library), and annual. With rules all over the place.

Edit: I find myself with nostalgic feelings about the simplicity of the experience system, with the pyramid scale without multipliers. But I don't miss the divison into Talents, Skills, and Knowledges nor the further subdivisions (Arcane, Casual etc.). Division by theme, for learning restrictions I'm ok with. And I favour a broad and short ability list.
I think Arts and Abilities should be treated separately, so you don't need to use different scales and I liked it when Arts increased full level, but I see problems with Exposure and say bonus from experimentation or Twilight. And I liked it when a library did not track every single book but rather a rating for each subject.

That's pretty much why I ended up running a 2nd/3rd hybrid. :-/
Certain things were just clearer in one edition, or missing entirely. So I used each to patch the holes in the other. I don't remember what I did with familiars though. Probably nothing. Back then, familiars were less useful but had stronger requirements.

Very true. In spite of all the features that ArM has pioneered, I think it was until 3ed still primarily a conventional RPG focused on uptime. Rules for downtime advancement were bolted on. Running dense stories was still the most xp-efficient means of advancement, and seasonal activities was really just for Hermetic activities.

ArM5 is more consistently built on top of a system of long-term seasonal advancement, and more effectively emphasises the potential for slow pace sagas.

In terms of mechanics, I think both 3ed and 5ed are flawed and workable. Arts advancement leaves for some annoying meta gaming. In 3ed, one should not start with 0 arts; the first season of study could only yield three levels, or six points in that case. In 5ed you really should start with many 0 arts because high quality and low level summæ are cheap and give such huge xp yields. Other examples can be found, I am sure.

Personally, while I like seasonal/monthly activities I think the idea of putting Adventure into the same category is a mistake. To me adventure always is in addition to, on the side, from other seasonal activities. I think a mage who leaves the laboratory to go on some quest should be higher in experience then one who stays home and researches.

As a question were there any editions where something like 5e Virtues were gainable by experience after play began? The same with Characteristics. I always though it was less then fun that neither could be increased or added to once the game began (minus ritual creo spells on characteristics and initiations for virtues).

Well, that's so definitely non-canon in 5ed, and thus is not very relevant to the comparison.

I definitely agree that adventures should be the most effective arena for learning, and I not so happy that books can give 20-30xp easily while stories are capped at 10xp. When the most efficient way to learn martial abilities is reading a book, 5ed gets silly¹.

However, 3ed opened up for an opposite extreme. One story could easily net 3-4xp, equating 15-20xp in 5ed. A slow paced saga could easily accommodate a number of stories in a season, 80-100xp would be no stretch of imagination in some troupes.

¹ The 4ed defence against such silliness was the division into talents, skills, and knowledges, which was rather complicated to handle.

Bought 1st edition on a lark at a book store when it first came out. It was...okay, but then 2nd Ed. rolled out and it became fun again. Printed scenarios were great fun (with Atlas games doing a few that are collector's items now and extremely hard to find), with Pact of Pasaquine introducing the concept of 'Regio'. 3rd Ed. We actually enjoyed, with the tribunals getting some decent writers (we still use the Iberian tribunal and the Covenent of Doisetepp, shhh...)but the combat system was ridiculous. 4th Ed. found us rethinking and playing Chivalry and Sorcery instead, while using the Tribunal books. 5th Ed. is really quite better than 2nd Ed. if a little 'crunchy'. The Tribunal books are excellent, but I still miss the 'one-offs' (like Festival of the Damned) if I just wanted something else than a simple Vis Hunt for the night.

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