First Saga - Online with a bunch of beginners

Hello all,

I have been fascinated with Ars Magica for quite a while and have all the books from the bundles of holding, but only ever played a bit and never ran it.
My idea is to start the players out as Apprentices in an established covenant, run them through their apprenticeship and then let them set out to found
a covenant of their own.
The idea is, that this way they will easy more gently into all the fiddly stuff that is lab work and can get a better understanding of what goes on in the
game world before making any lasting decisions for their character.
Is there any problem with this plan?

Also, we are playing online, have used roll20 in the past but are open to other venues if anyone knows any with better tools for playing Ars Magica.

I did this for my campaign, so for what it is worth, here are some of the things I learned.

Apprentices are very weak, especially if they begin as children. Their characteristics are mostly negative, they have few Abilities, 0 in most of their Arts, no spells, and even their Virtues and Flaws might not all have appeared yet. Their small Size and negative Soak means they die easily. This is a challenge for GMs because you need to come up with stories they can handle. Conflict from non-physical sources is ideal. When physical dangers do present themselves, it needs to be the sort of thing that can be handled with spontaneous magic of level 5 or less. The APPRENTICES book has some advice on this.

But the weak PCs is also frustrating for the players, who signed on to play wizards. I advise moving through apprenticeship rapidly. I moved 1 year per game session, with a couple of two-parters. That was a 16 session saga. It was very rewarding. We all had a lot of fun. But it was a challenge.

Remember that, at least from an in-character perspective, apprentices make almost no choices about the magic they learn, the Arts they're taught, and the spells they end up knowing. This is determined by their master. There are a few ways you can go here. I wrote up all the masters, who decided what they'd teach, but the apprentices always had at least one free season of the year to read books on their own. I also gave them 1 point worth of "Cantations", spells of level 5 or less, for free every season. So by the second year they had spells of their own choosing, even if those spells were only level 5.

PC apprentices are going to be better than apprentices generated according to RAW. This isn't a bad thing, just be prepared for it and be ready to explain it. Apprentices will get more than 30 XP a year; their masters may have better Teaching, they may get access to the library (where a single Root of the Arts can give you 21 XP in a single Art in a single season), and they'll know more spells. (Eventually. Spells are usually taught late, because you need Arts to learn them. I did 3 rounds of spell-teaching over the course of the apprenticeship, one in year 7, one in year 14, and one in between.) If you use NPC masters, PCs will develop at very different rates and some will be happier than others. Masters may not have the spells and Arts which students want. If they're getting bucket loads of XP and spells, it may not matter so much that they're not getting what they want. Your Mileage May Vary.

An alternative is to simply not write up the masters at all, and presume that whatever the PC wants his character to learn, the master knows. This is much easier, and you can keep the XP under control. PC apprentices look more like NPC apprentices, getting 30 XP a year and 120 levels of spells, and that's it. Much less preparation time, simpler, but less true to the simulationist nature of Ars Magica and the PCs will be less powerful when it's over. There's no bad decision here, just different outcomes.

A special note on House Tytalus: Apprentices of House Tytalus are basically tortured for fifteen years. They're also usually children. This can be very unfun, and even morally wrong. It's not easy to just hand wave away the Book of Instruction when the RAW says every master uses it, even the ones who swear they won't. If no player wants to be Tytalus, you have no problem. If someone does want to play Tytalus, talk to the player about the Book of Instruction and figure out, between the two of you, what you both want to do.

For what it's worth, my campaign has extensive online resources, including a complete narrative of the 15 years of apprenticeship, with game notes and NPC stats.

Remember also that apprentices don't have Parma Magica. They have to deal with the effect of the Gift with respect to any other apprentice. That's one thing that discourages apprentice stories.


Nothing wrong with the plan, and I deeply admired HBO Saga Season 1. But this is not the simplest way to start a first saga, not by a long shot.

Rather than dealing with the normal rules, you're dealing with corner cases and exceptions that have enjoyed much less playtesting. Choices are harder and require more system mastery all around rather than less.

The easiest way to get going and learn the rules is to start out with normal magi right out of apprenticeship, created with the core rules, at a basic Spring or Summer covenant generated again using just the core rules. Or, if you prefer a more "missions oriented" campaign, an Autumn covenant that the PCs do not run.

(Dead simple covenant design: Aura 3, 10xp/season in any reasonable Art or Ability, 2 pawns per magus per year, 2 Cool Covenant Features, 2 Moderate Covenant Problems, 1 Big Covenant Problem.)

If you are worried about players making wrong choices, let them modify or recreate characters after a few sessions.



Ken is right. (And thanks for the kind words!) If you are looking to make things easy for players and ease them into the magic system, an apprentice game is not necessarily the way to go. There's a lot of prep, and a full apprenticeship covers 15 years! That's a long time to stay apprentices.

You can totally ease players in by, for example, giving them each a grog and having them explore an environment, rolling Abilities and getting in a fight to learn how the system works. Run a single-session game using throwaway characters, so they can learn the magic rules. For example: a Faerie monster is terrorizing a new covenant. Five young magi try to stop it. Use the magi from Semitae Errabunda (did I spell that right?) or the magi from the core rules. Kill all of them off in the first session. On purpose. Like, they work magic and cast spells, but in the end, the Big Boss is just too tough and slaughters them all. Then, tell all the players, "Now go make your characters!" And the campaign starts with the new PC magi coming into the area where the evil Faerie is, and the characters don't know what is there, but the players do, and they have learned enough about magic to make a go at their character sheets.

And yes, absolutely, allow players to change things around on their sheets for the first few sessions. Especially things they haven't used yet.

There are some great ready-made covenants for this game. There're 5 in the THROUGH THE AEGIS book, and two of those are Spring covenants. All of them have ready-made PCs with plot hooks. They have complete libraries and interesting situations and environments to explore. I've said it before, but THROUGH THE AEGIS is the best book written for Ars Magica, with the exception of COVENANTS.

This is a general policy of the board, as I understand it. :wink:


Other advice: You have the bundle of holding, but don't succumb to the temptation to use it all! Start your first saga using only the core rules. You might want to add stuff in later as you go, but do that later as necessary, and treat everything outside the core rules as house rules that you need to evaluate rather than as privileged rules on par with the core rules. I've posted elsewhere about what books I recommend adding in first.

Because lab work happens during 'off seasons,' there's little need to worry about this. On the contrary, your game will benefit from having a lab season or two early rather than late. If your characters start off with a covenant, labs and maybe some vis, the game can start off with an adventure or two, which might generate a desire for "if only I had spell X," which in turn generates a desire to try out the lab rules. That's a good positive feedback loop. Similarly, starting off with a basic covenant and the assumption that the PCs already know each other also helps get a game going, and attenuates one class of game disintegration. OTOH, your game will not benefit from the first few 'off seasons' being used to set up a lab or covenant.



Thanks for all the good advice.
I was planning on starting with just the core rules. I have read the other books for background and the only thing I am not really happy with is the tribunal book I have (france) cause that area is a bit too civilized for what I imagine. I guess another covenant book would not make things too complicated?
Also you guys, have me convinced, I shall start the characters as young magi fresh out of apprenticeship, with one ore two adventure, followed by a lab session for their first year.
As a covenant I imagine a spring covenant with just the characters as the magi.

@Ovarwa: Could you point me to the post of yours where you explain what to add in first. I am keenly interested in that even though, to my eyes, it seems like it will be quite a few sessions before everyone is comfortable with all the basics.


Erm. Please search both here and on; that's how I'd find it. I've posted more than once.

In a nutshell: If you don't like the Tribunal book, ignore it utterly. Do not use RoP:M or RoP:F until you and your players feel very, very comfortable with the system. If one of your players has a magus from a Mystery Cult House, you might want to consult that book when it comes time for a deeper initiation... but if something about those rules puts you off ignore that too. RoP:D and RoP:I might be worth introducing if divine or infernal elements creep in more than a little; there's useful information here, and the AM take on demons is refreshing and worthy. The 'mundane medieval' books (A&A, Church, Lords of Men, C&G) start to become interesting, especially as background reading to inform your saga; these books showcase AM5's greatest strengths, imo, which (again imo) are meticulous research and a consistent approach to presenting the medieval. Covenants is well worth avoiding, except for the chapters listing hooks&boons and income sources, both of which are gold mines for story ideas and for outlining the sheer potential of Mythic Europe.



This is probably the most "imo" part of the post, really. Covenants is complicated, so I'd probably agree with avoiding it for a first saga at least, but it's actually one of my favorite books in the line and my games have been significantly improved (for my troupe's definition of improvement) by the material my group absorbed from it. Lots of info about the general personal lives of magi, lots of rules we've really enjoyed using, lots of inspiration and helpful mechanics for customization we'd always tried to work into our games anyway.

Just to provide an opposing viewpoint. Feel free to read it yourself and come to your own conclusions once you've got a firm grasp on the core rules.


The whole post was opinions and recommendations based on them.

Some people like Covenants. I have deep problems with the labor system, which I find fiddly and inconsistent, fundamental problems with the lab development rules, which shatters the game's math by providing large linear bonuses in a system where everything else is quadratic and which favors certain Hermetic magics over others unreasonably, and aesthetic issues with the sections about books and libraries.

But there's also useful material, I acknowledge, and the chapter listing sources of income in tiers and categories (you could be the covenant secretly running the Hospital in Jerusalem, using reliable CrCo instead of flaky miracles; you could run a major brothel in Paris--now there's an Ars Magica saga for the ages!) is possibly the most useful source of inspiration for grounding a covenant in Mythic Europe. I think an entire book of that would have been stupendous, superb, superlative and otherwise brought to you by the letter S. (Really: Pick a source of income, consider some extra benefits and problems that come with it, and half of your covenant is already designed, along with perhaps half your saga.)

And people who disagree with me (at least about this :smiley:) aren't bad or deluded (at least regarding Covenants.)



Late to the party here...

One piece of advice is to have a character of your own there (in the covenant) who can push things along. You can make him a bit older, and perhaps he contributes significant resources upfront, which is why the PC magi need to go out and do stuff. One of the challenges I've had with magi all of an equal age, all joining a new covenant is that there is a lot of desire to build a consensus. This is great and it's horrible, at the same time. Having someone in charge say to someone else, "Hey you, go do this." And then to someone else he says, "Hey, you, go get this McGuffin." And so on...

I would also encourage you to encourage your players to specialize in one or two Forms and a Technique. Generalists can be tough to play, Doctorcomics knows I struggled with my generalist in his HBO game, and my frustrations with the character were poorly expressed.

Certain builds require a lot more time to bake before they become viable, too. It's pretty easy to build a Flambeau who slings fire with massive penetration, but building a Hermetic Architect (Mysteries book) can take quite an investment in time.

Covenant libraries will tend to make magi in a covenant similar. I recommend, instead of having a lot of summae, having a lot of tractatus in the Arts that line up with players' specialties. Summae are ridiculously cheap when compared to tractatus in cost of build points, and I recommend inflating the build points spent acquiring books by a large margin...

Thanks for all the advice. Last friday, we had the first "session". We mainly talked about the game (as they are all new to it, I had quite a bit of explaining to do) and they came up with some mage concepts but were a bit stumped for companions for now.
The background is now as follows:
They will establish a new covenant on an island shrouded in mist that has a high level regio in it. They are "the pawns" of an older and established covenant that plans to exploit them to cheaply get all that juicy vis. They start with the bare essentials and we will see where they go from there and how they strike out on their own. We put the island north of ilfracombe as that is quite the exciting area at the time, with the irish, the army, trade and all happening.

The characters they have so far come up with are a Quesitor (that was fully expected, the same player ran a Kel'Dor Jedi Guardian last game), an Artificer specilizing in potions/healing who didn't want to become a wizard in the first place, his Criamon best friend from childhood (probably going mind/illusion stuff) and a Bjornaer wizard specilizing in Muto with the heartbeast of some kind of bird.

For Companions we have one, being a scribe in the service of the Criamon and the other being a halfblooded (troll) sailor.

I created an example wizard for them to follow the character creation along and tomorrow we will have session 2 (Bonisagius with Vim, so someone can cast a decent Aegis).

It is beginning to take form, I am curious to see how this all changes when they pick Virtues/Flaws :slight_smile: