Getting an Ars magica game of the ground

Okay before I start allow me to apologies if this is a repeat. :frowning:

I have searched under geting started and beginning etc cant find any threads that seem to help a complete Novice Ars player.

Back in the 90's I picked up Ars 3rd edition or was it the eighties (I was a teen and now a thirty something) any way it was new to me then but I loved the flavour and I have just came back to it by way of 5th edition. :smiley:

So I have all the 5th edition books with the exception of RoP Magic and Hedge magic R which are on their way from my dealer. (lets face it this hobby is an addiction)

I see a lot to side track a new campaign or even interval sessions

So here is the question

What advice on how to sell the game to my group who are veterans of some 20 years but always single character games never once did we even have a henchman in ADD& (that is deliberate by the way).

Never did we have any resource management.

I see great long term potential in a game like AM and I would like to get them going.

I have also managed to pick up a couple of the old books from 3rd edition too like Twelfth night, Deadly Legacy, Iberia and Rome.

So i have a lot to get on with but what is the best way to just get started

basic book and an adventure and expand over time I see no harm in using some of the info from Rhine Tribunal as background to the adventure

is Deadly Legacy a good option?

Any suggestions or assistance would be great.


Iberia is an awesome book, but I must warn you that you need to turn down the Infernal to a setting of 2 or 3 (because it is cranked up to 11). This isn't the original author's fault, the editor did it to him. According to the FAQs, Peter Hentges has officially denied some of the inserted material (such as a particular Craft skill).

But anyway, you can play Ars Magica using traditional style gaming. It may not be utilizing the full potential of the game, but I have found that it is sometimes neccesary when converting old grognards over to Ars. They need the comfort of familiarity. Once they get used to it, it then becomes much easier to ranch out into he other possibilities of the game (troupe style, Companions & Grogs, etceteras). Keep resource management really light. In fact, make it utterly unimportant. Others may scream at that suggestion, but I get the feeling that your friends will not have any fun with a session based around copying library bbooks or hunting for vis. give them other kinds of stories until they are ready for these sorts of plots. Also, you will have to get them to divorce themselves from the concept of Character Class. Everyone plays a Magic User, that's just the way it is. You can be a Lab Rat Bonisagus, a Warrior Flambeau, a theiving sneaky Tytalus, or whatever. But everyone plays a wizard. Their is no parity or balance between wizards and non-wizards, and if your gamers are expecting such a tradiional balance, they will be disappointed.

My suggestions, coming from a couple of long running sagas and more false starts that I can to count...

First, pick a saga setting that everyone is comfortable and familiar with. I've tried to run sagas in the Levant or Iberia, but they've always failed because my group is always more "at home" in merry ol' England. For me, more saga's have failed because we couldn't really get our heads into the setting than any other reason.

Second, sell ArsM on it's differences. Ars Magica was created by a bunch of guys who had played D&D, liked playing magic-users, wanted to have a game centered around them and wanted them to be more Merlin and less Johnny OneSpell. So, Ars Magica is a game about powerful magic users. Be sure to tell your players outright that there is no game balance between mages, companions and grogs. Another difference to sell is that Ars Magica assumes that adventures are things that happen once in a while, not every day. So, there are a lot of options for things to do between adventures.

A way to think about troupe style play is that, instead of having one set of ongoing adventures with one party of adventurers, you have several parties of adventurers - each consisting of 1 or 2 magi, some companions and maybe some grogs - all with a common "home base" (the covenant). For each session, you might play through the adventures of one party than switch to another adventure with another group. Those parties not out adventuring during a given season are instead advanced using the "downtime" options. In that way, Ars Magica can be played very much like a set of overlapping D&D games. Once you get the hang of it, the rest follows.

As a final thought, you may leave out grogs, since you don't like hirelings. They aren't essential if you don't design/play adventures that need cannon fodder.

Grogs are not cannon fodder. They are human beings with dreams and aspirations, just like any other. Grogs are your armaments, your sword and shield. Yes, they do get involved in danger and sometimes sacrifice themselves for the greater good. But they are not disposible. You wouldn't just throw away your sword & shield, would you? No, you provide care and maintenence for them. Grogs who serve well deserve Longevity and Healing Rituals. It is a wise investment, especially if they are skilled and well experienced.

But anyway, I suggest you try the old traditional style you are used to at first, and then introduce things as you go along. At first, the mechanics can be a lot to absorb. I used this technique to get people to migrate from AD&D & WW games over to Ars, and it works well.

Also, I myself have never had a problem with setting. Well, with the exception of Brittain. That never seems to work for me, so I suppose in that I have had quite the opposite experience of Lucius. Don't get overly bogged down in real history, just use it for flavor and plot ideas. No one likes a pedantic DM :laughing: . If they can handle generic fantasy worlds based on European history, then I am sure they cn handle most portions of Mythic Europe.

Well said, MM.

Hokay... (thinks back, back, to first AM campaign...)

AM is ~very~ diff from standard RPG's, tho' some others are starting to follow the trend. But if they're used to playing the predictable ones, this will be a big brain-cramp as many assumptions are challenged and broken. Accept that, warn them about it, try to get them in to a "new paradigm" mind set even before you crack a book.

First, I assume you know your players - as MM said, tune your game intro, and the start of your campaign, to them.

The biggest selling point is the magic system, and the flexibility of what is a "wizard". Unlike most other systems, no two will look alike, and often no two will have any spell in common. There is no single "best" spell, nor "most powerful" build - the varieties are endless. And with Spontaneous spells, all those annoying "cantrips" in some other games are not necessary - they're all at the fingertips of any mage who knows those Arts.

Another is the "Covenant" concept. A stronghold/safehouse from word one, complete with redshirts to show how the monster works, if necessary. Add to that The Order, and the challenge of "no fireballing the natives", and you have a different world-view welcomed by many players who are jaded by the hack-and-slash routine. (And those who aren't can be Flambeaux...) :stuck_out_tongue:

With regard to Troupe vs 1-character style, ~IF~ you think they can make the shift to Troupe style immediately, then go with it! If not, then... I'd suggest you start with just magi, maybe even still in gauntlet*. (It's not bad to only bring in Companions as they are needed - if a player wants to run a woodsy-ranger, but the Saga goes to the city... yeah. So, see where the saga goes, see what the Covenant needs, and if/when/as Players want to volunteer for a Companion role, have them fill it in as needed, rather than shoe-horn a private pet into the Saga. Be generous with re-writing existing NPC "specialist" characters (or even grogs!) to suit players who want to make them into Companions.)

(* If you start them maybe 1 year pre-gauntlet, you can introduce them to each other as apprentices, and have them think about their relationship to their Parens, and to each other as a means to mutual power, that can be a great lead-in to the later Saga. Or, walk them all thru their first year post-gauntlet - 4 seasons: 1 in study (fills in some gaps), 1 in the library learning a canon spell (diff from CharGen!), 1 in the lab inventing/designing a spell from scratch (a ~key~ player skill!), and the last inventing/designing an item - slightly different, but again, important. I found that doing this introduces the players to these activities that will be repeated so often later, and creates ~slightly~ stronger and better rounded beginning characters.)

That might also be a more "familiar" starting point - several characters working together, and also demonstrates why the "Troupe" system is desirable. If a mage is in the library/lab, they are hesitant to go respond to a mystery. Companions rarely are. Few magi will be combat thugs - handy to hire some. Emphasize that Companions are companions to the Covenant, not the same player's character - they should compliment the other magi, not the same Player's, for maximum play potential.

And that is what is diff from most other games - these are not "henchmen" who are just extensions of a single character, but independent additions to the story as a whole.)

Emphasize several points -

  1. That the Saga (aka The Covenant) is the key character. Companions will die, magi may die, but the Covenant will continue, and that will be the continuity.

As more than most any other game, The Story is what is important here, not the individual Character. Make sure they understand that. A good death can add more to the story than a dull existence in the lab.

  1. Resources. As mentioned above, downplay it. In my first campaign, I had one player go a little crazy in the head, and took every "money making" spell in the book - not only could he not use them all without getting into trouble, he found he rarely needed even one. This game has a different premise than others, where simple day-to-day survival is not a guaranteed, and having a wealthy stronghold and guaranteed income is only for high-level characters.

  2. CharGen - urgh. Don't underestimate the time needed. Possibly take each player aside individually, before the "first" game session. Players tend to go shopping, down the list of Virtues and Spells, and that is (arguably) the worst approach, and completely non-productive. I'd ~strongly~ suggest that you explain the basics of Magic - the 5 Tech's and 10 Forms, and then, even before they read the rules themselves, you tell them to pick a "concept" for their mage, and have them stick to that concept - at least for their first effort.

(I'm embarrassed to bring it up twice in as many months, but here: )

The same that is true for setting is true for theme and central interest - find one that everyone can get on board with. The sooner you can give the players a feel for the "theme" of the campaign, the better. Having one mage who chases the Fae, one who chases the Demonic, and one who is only at home in the Lab or a Library can be a formula for at least one always being a fish out of water, and one player bored*. If you see that one interest is high on everyone's list, then mention that - and don't let one player expect to go in a contradictory direction.

(* Before anyone says it, stop. Yes, it's ~possible~ to twist any plot to include any combination of elements - but the fewer ~necessary~ to include, the more creativity and time that can be spent on the common interest/focus.)

Avoid letting new players create magi who can barely cast their massive combat spells - a sure way to die fast.

Or even use pre-Gen for the first session. Give them a flavour of what's possible, and how it works. (Or allow them to toss away their first efforts - those can become NPC's at a neighboring Spring Covenant.)

In short, don't expect to dive in on the first session, nor expect Players to start to internalize the game before the third or so. Don't start with an "adventure" that will take many sessions - short and tight, even if several are tied together by some greater elements. Give as much world info as you can, and some meta-info about where this "group" wants to go with the story. Use their ideas as well as your own. Be generous with mundane elements - grogs, the Covenant. Focus on the magic, the magi, the Covenant, the Saga.

For the first game, I used pre-generated second-year apprentices, a number of which got discarded later.

I have but one pearl of wisdom, and it may be controversial. Lie.

Tell them to ignore "troupe play"... whatever that is... as you won't be using it. Tell them you're going to concentrate on their magi.

And then slip in grogs. Of course, when magi go out, like all others of privileged standing they need guards and even attendants. And a librarian for their books. And the kitchens need staff. And they'll need a new shepherd after that monster killed the last one... that fella touched by the Dominion might do... And then just casually mention that, as they're bringing guards with them, they'll be playing the grogs alongside their magi on this story.

Build it up slowly. Don't overwhelm them all at once. It really isn't important who mans the gates until they interact with him. And even then it hardly matters unless they find a reason to like (or dislike) him/her.

And don't worry about resources until they're threatened or contested. Tell them they have everything they need... until a story comes along and ruins their crops, or topples a tower, or digs up a vis source.

And as for alpha and beta storyguides, don't even go there. Just offer up opportunities to run stories. You can even plant a few hooks into your own stories and say, "I don't have anything going on with the one-armed priest, so if anyone fancies using him, feel free".

For me, it's about not stressing the differences too much and just letting them speak for themselves in open play. They'll pick up on the style and the opportunities in their own way and their own time.

Exactly, grogs are cannon fodder. :slight_smile:

Actually, I've never played a saga where that was the case. In fact, in my longest running saga, it was the companions who fell completely by the wayside and the hopes, dreams, goals and lives of the grogs sometimes occupied more game-time that did those of the magi. :slight_smile: In my present saga, we have no characters I would considered "grogs" though some meet the game mechanical definition, just a bunch of characters who aren't magi.

Let me heartily second this. While having some historical characters around can be fun (I can't wait till my magi meet Saint Anselm) and historical events make great inspiration for adventures, but a game should not be a history lesson. Don't get hung up on whether the Bishop was really named Robert or Hugh, just make him an interesting character.

Ask "What did all of your characters back in D&D plan to do once they got rich? In this game, we assume that you are already effectively as rich and noble as you are going to be. What was it your thought you'd do? Try that."

D&D is -all- resource management, which is why there are so many single use magic items in D&D: the thing is though that in D&D, the basic unit of measurement is the individual combat. Provided you win that, then you can go off and ressurect your dead and buy new resources. In Ars, the basic "thing you need to win to keep going" is to do stuff interesting enough to amuse the other players.

You have two options, basically.

You do all the work and make pregens or download the Living Covenant materials, or as a group you use the mechanics in "Covenants" to help you decide, as a group, what sorts of stories you want to play.

  • Start in a generic medieval setting and build outward.
  • Get them to come here: we'll all chip in to help them design their characters, if you like.
  • Don't snow them with data: try unfolding it slowly. Perhaps play apprentices close to graduation or something?