GM advice for a one shot with new players?

Hi, I want to give mastering and ars magica a try and I'm looking for some advice. What do you explain to new players? I'm targeting a one shot for new players.

I noticed I can easily spend hours on the game, setting, rules etc. The easiest parts to skip are character creation by having some ready mades to choose, and the whole long term stuff including lab work and inventing spells.
Still I wonder what to explain etc. Any pointers?

I'm most worried about spontaneous spells. One rule book for the whole group won't work well, and if everyone needs to have a rough idea of what their magus can and cannot do with the power they have - how does that work out for new players?

Thanks for your advice, Andreas

For a one shot for new players. Don't let them near the spell guidelines. If they want to spont something you them the level that htey want to hit off the top of your head as a guess. The setting is a complex place and if your guesses don't line up with the published guidelines

1 the guidelines don't account for the variables like how mars is in the house of Capricorn and how the magical aura of the casting area has a pine tree aspect so of course the story guide's pronouncement is both different and more correct than the book guidelines and

2 they'll never know

This question comes up a lot on these forums, and I think you'll be rewarded by searching the system. That said, you'll get a lot of advice here, and it will probably conflict!

Spontaneous magic is not as challenging as you think, simply because it is restricted to such low power level for most newly-Gauntleted magi, and usually has no Penetration of significance. This means that it is virtually useless in a battle against things with Magic Resistance, and you will mostly deal with it between action scenes when the players try to solve various logistics problems using magic.

For a first game, when you are showing people the system, I think it's perfectly fair to ask the player, "describe the improvised magic you use to cross this pit," for example, and not even roll. Let them pick what Arts they're going to use (ReTe, perhaps, in this case), and handwave it, in other words. At the same time, it's fair for your first session to say, "Let's all agree not to use Spontaneous Magic in action scenes, so we can keep the story moving swiftly." As long as you design the encounters so that magi don't NEED to use Spontaneous Magic to solve it, you should be fine. Make sure the players have written descriptions of all their known spells in front of them, so they don't need to borrow the book.

Players will want to make their own characters. But when you are showing them the game, they often benefit from pre-made ones. The solution to this is to use pre-made characters for the first session, and then kill them all off in the climax. Now, the players all go and make their REAL characters, with the benefit of some experience, and these new characters come back and get vengeance for the dead NPCs. I have both played in and GMd sessions like this, and they work very well.


Any magus should be pre-made, and just out of Gauntlet. Keep the theme for a magus very straightforward, with virtues and flaws that make that theme obvious. If you are not sure it is obvious, it isn't. If it isn't obviously obvious, it isn't. The magi in the core rules are reasonable examples of this kind of thing.

Most such magi will only be able to perform minor spontaneous magics. Let players know that spontaneous magic exists and is part of what makes this magic system different, but that players should only expect to do very small things, and only in their very best Arts. A copy of the guidelines for a single TeFo per magus introduces them to the idea and limits the pain. A House rule that newly Gauntleted magi are inexperienced, so that thinking up a spontaneous spell takes a combat round in itself is insurance against bogging down at the wrong time.

If you have only one magus, even better! Letting non-magi players create or customize their companion-level characters while keeping the magus fully pre-made makes those characters also attractive. This also makes it easy for you to list a few possible sponts for the magus, to provide an idea of what is possible. Make sure your magus does not have the Gentle Gift, and enforce social problems. Remember that overcoming the -3 on social skills helps people hate a magus less rather than leveling the playing field.

It is advisable to avoid FFM, Spell Mastery, Life Boost and similar virtues that add even more options. Doing this isn't much of a limit for newly Gauntleted magi. Similarly, only use the core rules. Supplements are best suited for troupes that already have many hours' experience arguing about how to take advantage of Magic Resistance. You can use them, to help define your world, but no game mechanics that affect players.

What to explain?

  • Magi are powerful, but specialized. They usually have social problems. They are bound by the Prime Directive, whose enforcement has Star Trek consistency, always honored in word but not always deed.

  • Life in Mythic Europe can be short and nasty. Warn players about the deadliness of combat and the absence of easy cures. Death is not only a condition.

  • The world is based on medieval Europe. Your one-shot should have some medieval elements. A green magus sent to the fair to pick up supplies for the covenant, along with the covenant folks who actually know how to do this fits the bill. If you send a Flambeau, make sure the magus understands that solving mundane problems with fire can be a bad idea, but also give him something to nuke in the final act. (Sending a Flambeau as your only magus is likely to be more interesting than sending a Jerbiton; just saying.) Make sure that characters understand that social status is a Big Deal. But ignoring that and sending them up against faeries works too, and that might work better if everyone has a magus: Players being players, you'll be happier if they try to nuke the faeries than if they burn the cathedral.

Things to keep low key: God, demons, Hermetic Politics, the Enigma. Not an exhaustive list, just the usual stuff we don't talk about at work in the real world. :slight_smile:/2

For a one-shot, your players should not need much of the rule book. If they do, something is wrong.



Another point that's important to explain is "covenant". Not in any detail, but as part of the background get across the general message that they live together in this place, called their "covenant", which is kinda like their lair.

So, that's about it. I think what you need to explain for a one-shot is:

  • That the game and setting are rich, so there is ton of stuff you won't go into. Like - how wizards learn magic from actually reading books about magic, experimenting in their lab, and so on, rather than by killing things and taking their stuff.
  • What magi are - wizards in a fantasy-version of medieval Europe. Probably no need for greater detail than this.
  • That you are a "coven" of magi (a "covenant"), with its own lair (and servants, and soldiers, etc.). Because one never splits the party! Each specializes in different magic, as detailed in each pre-made character sheet.
  • How formulaic spell-casting works: Te+Fo+Sta+die (+aura if it's relevant in the adventure), and Fatigue.
  • That they can cast minor spells without knowing them, and that this has rules but we'll just go with "half your Casting Total, spend Fatigue, and the SG says what happens - and don't expect to do anything major!" in this session.
  • That you can ask them to roll the die and add any other thing on their sheet, like Communication + Guile or whatever.
  • That combat can be deadly or cause hard-to-heal wounds; so don't hurry-off to combat and expect to shrug off the wounds and resurrect the dead.
  • How combat works (in the first combat, not ahead of time).

Plus whatever they need to know for the particular story. If it involves mundanes, or animals, then they definitely need to know the effect of the Gift, and do that ahead of time. If fighting against critters, you probably need to go a bit into Penetration and MR, but you can postpone explaining that until combat starts.