Getting into the game

I'm a very new lover of Ars Magica. I've played very little, but unfortunately it has fallen to me to introduce the game to others. I plan on starting with the Promises, Promises mod and other easy quick start 4th edition games before transitioning to 5th edition.

What advice can you give me to learn this game well for myself and to do a decent job of showing its merits to others?



I've only been playing a little while, so my advice is hardly authoritative, but my friends and I picked up on a couple of things.

First, making magi is fairly difficult; the magic rules are complicated. (They're also elegant, flexible, and many other good things.) It's very possible that a first session should center around companions or grogs, to give people a feel for how the system in general works before magic is really introduced. Perhaps you should play a magus, or have an NPC magus present, as an example.

Second, and for the same reason, magi shouldn't be set in stone until they've been played for a few sessions. The first three magi in our game were designed very differently: one was a specialist, the other two were done up as very broad generalists. After the first session, the specialist's use of magic convinced one of the generalists' players that he had misdesigned his character, and he heavily reworked his character's arts and spells. (The other player didn't rework his: his character never amounted to much.) The point of this story isn't that you should specialize (though probably you should), it's that you need to see how the magic works a little bit before you decide exactly how your magus should be designed.

I hope that's useful.

If you're new to the game, AFAICS you should not attempt rules transitions or crossovers from ArM4 to ArM5 during setup of your campaign: rules and background of both versions have many subtle differences.

Best design characters and covenant from the onset with ArM5, then perhaps start with the ArM5 adventure 'The Broken Covenant of Calebais'. This way your players and you can focus on understanding backgrounds and concepts of ArM without having to worry about hidden rules conversion problems.

Kind regards,


I'll second that.
I would have a character creation session where I'll explain the ArM5 rules/setting and give what info I want on the first adventure, and then guide them through preparing their characters.
If the availability of ArM4 rules is a more important consideration than playing under the best rules (which it may very well be), then you can simply play a 4e game. I wouldn't beging with playing under 4e only to then switch to 5e after a few sessions.
TBCoC I never played in. As it's designed to be the introductory adventure, I suppose it will work fine.

In bringing new players, unfamiliar with ArM, to the game I found it useful to hand out pages summarizing the different choices, in stages. My pages were for 4e, though, so they won't do you any good. If I were you, however, I'll simply photocopy significant sections of the ArM5 book.
Have a copy of the spell index, virtues and flaws index, and of course the character sheet for each player; the formula sheet I actually find less useful. But in addition photocopy and give to everyone a copy of the ability list, and the basic character creation rules (I'd rewrite them in Word to give a cleaner page), and House summaries. I'd even photocopy the ArM spells chapter in its entirely one or two times, to have multiple copies floating around. It's vital to have multiple copies of everything floating around, so each player will have the one he needs before him.
I built things as a structured lecture: I gave each player a "kit" of papers, and went over each one in turn explaining it briskly. If I were to do it again, I would open up with a map of Mythic Europe and explain a bit about the setting, have the second page be the Houses summary, the third the character creation summary, and so on.
Worked for me once, can't say more than that really.

As for getting familiar with the game yourself - I can't help you there except to say read it. :slight_smile:
(Crusing the forum and reading the mailing list can do wonders, too.)

Well I will also agree with Berenger that what you want to do is start with AM5 not do the 4 to 5 transition as there are substantial differences between the editions.

How to show its merits to others is a different sort of question. One the is hard to answer because I don't know why you like the game. One thing though is to make sure the players understand that the game is not really about fighting things...that happens but it is secondary to the issue at hand. So right from the begining make them understand that this is not a hack and slash type game.

Start them off all with companions for the first session, don't bother with a prescripted adventure just let them get used to mythic europe some how. Then in the second session bring in a mage, or two. Then in the third session, bring in the other mages (you can leave the previous mages in or switch them out). Give them challenges that can't be solved with forumalistic spells and this will bring them into contact with the magic system as they attempt to solve the situation with sponted spells of low magnitude.

Then send them on a vis hunt.

Then have them do a session where part of the time is laboratory work, give them a year of time to use to do things to develop their mages.

This is something like 5 or 6 sessions by the end of which they will have experienced the basics in some easily digestable steps.

You have to read the rules particularily the magic guidelines very carefully, once you have characters have them leave the characters with you and go over them fairly carefully. It took me several hours to create my mage with the 2 Story Guides and I going back and forth on what virtues made the most sense and so forth. You should also have a really really really really good look at the virtues and flaws and decide which ones you are going to allow and so on, and more importantly how you are going to implement things like personality and story flaws. Many of the flaws are not really flaws unless you actively make them so...but you need to have those in mind when the players start trying to find the most "minamalistic" flaws they can to balance their virtues.

The other thing you should ask your players to do is come up with a character concept, tell you what it is, and then make sure you keep an eye on how the character comes together, but also you should ensure that the concepts all fit together in the group.

Your milage is going to vary so much with all of this as well...I don't know enough about you or your group to suggest more concrete things. For me the joy of Ars is playing a character that is part of something which on one hand is known (the middle ages) and on the other hand always new (the fact it is the mythic middle ages). It gives you a basis that you don't have to think about much (assuming you are familier with the middle ages) and allows you to worry more about the character...but that is my take on things and it is more than obvious that others have their own unique and quite different ways of playing this game.

How we did it....

Start with a brand new Covenant. Give them a presurveyed plot of land (The order has provided) No buildings. Give them a supply of Grogs (Freed slaves, refugees, criminals or such to do the dirty work. Go over the Covenant creation with them. You don't have to let them pick, but get generalizations from you want Money, Vis, books, items etc. Give them the resources at hand based on what they said...Vis supply, books to study from, etc.
Now they have to start from day one. They will have to build the buildings, plow the fields, cut down trees...all very mundane stuff. Once they get their houses/labs built, they will find they need to make this device that helps the grogs...(plows, axes etc). If they don't help, they starve...mundane. They then find they have to deal with the local Lord...mundane. Oop! Some magical beasty has killed a few grogs...'hunting time' for the Mages.
You can throw in Vis finding, exploring for what really there, and dealing with other neighbors. They will try to get lab work don't let them... :smiling_imp:
As they progress from the mundane stuff, you can start with Red Caps starting to show up...
Timed right, they can then go to Tribunal and find out who the Magical neighbors are...

more more more...

I appreciate the advice I've recieved so far. Each perspective is helpful. I'm afraid I don't get much chance to talk with people about this game as I'm the only one I know who has read the book. I welcome more suggestions.

Thanks again,


If you've already got Fifth Edition, I think you're better off starting there, rather than going with Fourth Edition and then converting over later. The Broken Covenant of Calebais might work especially well for players without a whole lot of knowledge about the game, since it is written as a "dungeon crawl" adventure that is more like what they may be used to from other fantasy roleplaying games. If you're going to play it with completely new people, I'd suggest designing characters for them, or using the ones from the front of the main rulebook. They should be able to start off as newly-Gauntleted magi in an older covenant, and by the end of the story they might have found themselves a new covenant of their very own. One of the fun things about the scenario is that it's a good opportunity for characters to really let loose with their magic, as there's only a few places where they have to be subtle, which means that they will very quickly get to see how powerful the magic system is.

I would recommend you start with Fifth Edition. Part of the design philosophy of the new edition was to make the game easier to learn.

I would recommend you play troupe style. Eventually, you will create a covenant where each player has one magus and one companion, and there are several grogs. During a given session, usually only one person plays the magus, you have one or two companions, and everyone else plays grogs. Then the next session you switch and someone else gets to play their magus.

I simply think the game plays better this way. I find that if there is more than one magus in play at a time then the magi tend to dominate the companions and grogs too much. With only one magus, there is always plenty he can't do, and then everyone gets a chance to contribute. I know some people like to play with several PC magi in the same story but it can be hard to design appropriate challenges for that kind of group. Besides, it is a lot of fun to play companions and grogs and I wouldn't want your players to miss out.

Another advantage is that you only have to create one magus for the first game. It would be quite a strain for every player to make a magus all at once. With troupe style play, you can have one person make a magus and defer creating the other magi till the players have seen the magic system in action.

You should consider using the magus templates from the beginning of the book - that's what they're for. You can customize them if you want to, changing Arts and spells around, switching this Ability or that Virtue. It should be easier to tailor one of those templates than to make a whole magus from scratch.

One more idea - you can have the covenant be one lonely old magus who wants to start a covenant, and who brings the new magi in one at a time. This lets the players introduce their magi at their own pace.

Have fun!

Playing a Troupe session is fine , if you play frequently.
If you play once a month ,
then i would want to play my Magus character as often as possible (ymmv).

Just don´t try the broken Covenant with inexpierienced Characters.Those Ghosts are bloody murder.

I'm confused. I've got the Broken Covenant and am reading it now. Is it something new players can handle? I thought someone said it was an intro adventure.


The Broken Covenant of Calebais was revised while Ars Magica 5th edition was still in playtest. Because of that, some of the numbers are off. If you look at the errata and follow that, you can take a junior group of magi through it. A junior group of role-players might still get killed. If you take the D&D approach of kill everything, even senior magi are going to have some problems.

We actually played Calabais back when we were running a goofy D&D game (is there any other kind?). But this thread got me thinking about how Ars Magica is played.

In our D&D game, we played very much against the norm. We played an intensely social game, had a lot of goof and schtick, would go entire sessions without combat, and used perhaps one or two critters out of the monster manual (ack! Zombies!) in the three years our various games ran before switching to AM.

But this got me thinking about Ars Magica. I'm a new player to it, coming in at the very beginning of 5th edition. On these boards, I read a lot about "This is how to play TRUE Ars Magica!" And yet, around page 220 or so, it talks about the different ways to play, including High Fantasy. Mythic Europe is talked about rather a lot, and while bits of the paradigm are clear, much is left vague, including the lack of a map for all of us who aren't as up on Medieval History as our ref.

None of this is a slam, merely a statement of fact. Personally, I'm fine with the way Ars Magica is. I LOVE this game. It's everything I wanted D&D to be all these years (I got started back in '78, though quickly moved from D&D to Runequest and others, but I digress).

But I got to thinking about how Ars Magica typically runs, at least the vague idea of typical I've picked up reading here. And then I thought, but what about a covenant composed of Flambeau, Tremere, and Tytalus? That seems, by definition, to be a very dynamic, adventure-oriented covenant. Then if you look at a covenant of Verditius and research-driven Bonisagus, you'll probably have a very different, MUCH more lab-oriented game.

Anyway, it's just a thing I noticed and no slams on anyone. It's part of what drew me to Ars Magica, the fact that it's a very versatile game where each group of players can run things to suit how they play. Try to do good, well-stuctured spell research in D&D and the book tells you to (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Look at other spells and figure out for yourself about which level it ought to be." Yeah. That's helpful advice.

But spell creation in Ars Magica is... well... sexy. I have yet to find a spell I couldn't get a handle on, though sometimes it pushes the envelope a bit, but I can always find a way of approaching it. Just the other day, more as a goof, I create a spell that turns a suit of armor into 57 individual, rather upset, soaking-wet cats. Start with Muto Terram, give it a couple levels for effecting metal, throw in Animal as a requisite, and so on until you've got a fun and humiliating way to take down an enemy knight without killing him.

Try that in any other game system. Ars Magica rocks!

I am quite impressed by the flexibility and creativity allowed in the magic system.

Also, thanks for the heads up on errata for the broken covenant. I hadn't thought to check for it.