Help for a complete newbie

Greetings all!

First, lest I be misunderstood, let me say a couple of things: 1) I've never played Ars Magica. I am unfortunate not to have a group of interested players nearby. 2) I have 4th ed, which I did read, and have just ordered the 5th ed rulebook, plus Ancient Magic and the Rhine tribunal books. Looking forward to getting those. 3) Though I've never played it, I get the feeling that this is the game for me, as I've always wanted to play a magus, ever since reading A Wizard of Earthsea, almost 30 years ago...4) I really, really don't want to upset anyone, or start a flame war or insult everyone's favorite game here, but...

The thing is, having read 4th ed, and browsed a couple of PbP threads... this game seems to be all talk and no action...

Granted, I think that doing research and such is great fun and character development, but... is that all there is to it? Just building a powerful covenant and researching to increase your power? To what end? Why be more powerful if you don't actually do anything?

Not that talk is a bad thing, but... I remember the game with the vampires and werewolves and what not published by that other company that did 4th ed, and it seemed to me to be just endless talking and posturing of players, boasting of their prowess and their lineages, while nobody actually DID anything with said powers...

Let me point out that I am not looking for an alternate version of DnD. I understand and desire a different style of playing. I don't want or pretend this game to be pointless, mindless hack and slash.

It's just that I can't seem to understand the focus or direction of the game.

So please, disabuse me of the notion. Explain to me what you think the game is about. Show me the error of my ways. Please. I want you to. As I said, I reallly, really want to like and play this game.

Are there examples of play which are dynamic? Please point my way to them....

There's a Bonisagus Magus inside me, and he wants to come out and play... he just doesn't know the way...

Help! :confused: (Again, I apologize if this post offends anyone. Such is not my intention. )

Think of it as a Post D&D game. You live a long time. You have Incredible power. You can live for centuries in comfort. What makes you get out of bed, indeed? Well, hopefully, you've made a character who wants more. That's where the conflict comes in. Magic power? How do you stand out from a crowd of Arch-Magus? Political power? In or out of the Order? Problems and opportunities either way. Push the boundaries of Magic Theory? Could take years, and a pile of resources, but pull it off, and you may have changed the face of the world. Remember, Ars Magica gives you the tools to change the campaign in a way no other RPG does. You can change the rules set while playing. You have been given the guidelines and breakthrough points needed. So what do you want to see Mythic Europe become? I think that's a lot more exciting then "kill the monster, take the treasure". Your character is not a thug, He is Important!

Well... There are some nice stories to be had.

Unlike other games, you have all the power in the world and no authority to use it. That makes for great story.

These are some major plot points in the game:

You have a huge drawback when dealing with everyday people. People are frightened of you. So your only socialization is with other magi and with covenant folk. Or worse, Faeries.

Your most valuable item is not money. You can, if you want, poop gold. You quest for magical treasure, knowledge, creatures, and vis. If you get a magus out of his lab and make him go in a dungeon and all you have at the end of a season is a pile of gold, he'll want to kill you.

You have an oath which prevents you from interfering with mundanes or meddling with faeries. So how do you prevent your Vis sources or X thing you care about from getting mangled by the mundanes... You can't just blow them up. Ok if you kill everyone, leave no witnesses and noone can say it was a wizard that did it, you'll get a slap on the wrist. Do you throw away your entire life as a magus to stop X world event from happening? Because if the mundanes, church, or Quesators find out you killed some noble (and didn't cover it up) for (name some perfectly justifiable reason) then you're in a whole lot of trouble.

Everyone is kinda paranoid of scrying so you're not allowed to officially do that when another magus may be in the area you are scrying upon. But everyone scrys :slight_smile: How do you justify your knowledge of events? Do you let some travesty happen, because the only way you would know it is because you were spying on another magus? Oh the price your soul.

There is a force out there greater then you and it's taking over the world.(my pnp has always ignored the divine and infernal though)

All progression is season based. Magi are the star characters but you rarely play them if you are in a slow campaign, if you do they never progress. It has to be important for a magus to get out of their laboratory. If you get to do a troupe style campaign you mostly play companions, grogs are fun too! You may have arguments about who is going to bother the magus to tell him the covenant is on fire.

Or you play the Maga that cares about her people or family. Never has enough time to study and gets passed up by her peers. Then she is not powerful enough to defend them from her rivals. (i like those)

If a magus has no other motivation, then you are right, they will sit in their labs all the time studying until they step out at 120 and do one spectacular thing... then fade to twilight. And you are right those guys are not fun to play... well that one adventure you kick some butt is going to be fun... but the rest of the time is going to be boring.

Storyteller: "Hey, Gary what's your mage doing this season? What's his name anyway?"
Player named Gary: "Um i forget, Eritius and he's doing what he has been doing the last 4 years, you remember that hermetic breakthrough he was working on..."
Storyteller: "Ok, Gary does the usual, roll your dice. What grog are you playing?"
Player named Gary:"How about that one template character that almost died, got healed then almost died again, I'll make him a companion."

I do see your point though. In order to progress you need to pass time. If you are in the heat of role playing and there are a lot of things going on, you don't pass time. But remember winters are very harsh. Most people stay in, live off their food stores and hope they don't get pneumonia and die. That's one season you can skip unless something really important is happening.

Also remember that you can skip a few days in a season to adventure and still get lab work done. But most days your average magus is going to be furthering their power and knowledge. At least they will want to but, gosh darn if those Grogs always need someone save their measly lives.

Hey, welcome to the fold.

This is an oversimplification and probably doesn't do justice to either game, but...

I tend to think of Ars in terms of "There's a powerful spirit out there under the mountain... what does it want".

And D&D in terms of "There's a band of Kobolds out there under the mountain... what have they got".

Arguably, the best Ars stories are those that deal with motivation and objective. It's usually not enough to simply stop the gribbly in its tracks, there's also the question of why things are happening, identifying and addressing the root cause.

In D&D, it's often enough to disband the commune of crotchety Kobolds, save the village, and take the XP + treasure. It makes for a good action session. But in Ars you usually need to find out why the Kobolds were there, You'll llikely still end up in some form of conflict, it just might not be where you originally thought. I mean, who'd have suspected the old wise woman had used her dark allies to draw the gribblies to her to take revenge on the village?

The trick is to make sure that the players have something to do. Whether that's working out how to rebuild a bridge, get back home from the confines of the magic realm, rescue a trapped ghost, or lay some very instant Hermetic justice on the Criamon magus and his Kobold cronies. Players and storyguides alike just want to be entertained, and there's plenty of entertainment to be had, just not always structured around the combat rules.

p.s. No Kobolds were harmed in the writing of this post.

Hi Morlann,

Thanks for joining our community, and thanks also for having the guts to say your first impressions weren't 100% favorable. I, for one, think you have a point there, based on what you have probably seen.

Like any roleplaying game, Ars Magica is what you make of it. You can play Ars Magica as a very talky, LARP-like thing, or it can be a furious hack-and-slash. Same with D&D or any other game. I think the reason Ars Magica seems more cerebral than other ganes is that the tools are there for politics and intrigue -- the Order of Hermes, the intersection of fantasy with medieval history, and so on. There are a lot of players who like that sort of thing, so there's a lot of discussion about it and a lot of support for it in the product line. But it is far from the only way to play.

If you check out some of the published adventures for Ars Magica, you'll see they are stories, not just combat scenarios. What Ars Magica is really about in my opinion is creating a narrative with these dramatic characters (the magi, companions, and grogs). How much "talk" and how much "action" is a matter of taste. Check out the free adventure Promises, Promises for starters. It's an interesting story but it's "all talk." You can also check out The Broken Covenant of Calebais, which is an adventure with a strong story line and a healthy dose of action, though the whole thing can be solved without drawing a sword if the players are clever. There is also a new book on the way called Tales of Mythic Europe that should provide yet more examples of interesting stories. The best Ars Magica stories IMO are a bit different from other games, but not so different that you lose the feeling of excitement and danger.

Speaking of free stories, there are several other good ones at

So I'd encourage you to read over the stories on the Net to get a feel for the sorts of things you can do in Ars Magica. And keep in mind that the PbPs you've seen are another example of the kinds of stories you can tell, and D&D style dungeon crawling is another.

In the end, you should play Ars Magica the way you want to play it. Don't worry if you see a lot of other people playing it differently than you'd prefer. There is room in the game for all kinds of play styles, and room in the community for all kinds of players.

Once again, welcome!

Anecdote by way of example...

Lucius Tempestus was a Bonisagus magus who fancied himself a bit of a weather-mage. His personal goal in life was to develop spells to summon, command and dismiss all manner of weather (that, and create a spell to hold a bucket of water suspended over a doorway until someone passed through, at which point the bucket dumps water on their head). While he never managed the infamous bucket-spell, he did once invent a spell to call lightning from the sky... not to use as a weapon, but just because he could.

Lucius was a lab rat who would have been content to live out his life in the covenant, emerging only to try out his latest spell. Unfortunately (from his PoV, fortunately from mine as a player) life had other ideas. When the vikings invaded, it was Lucius who was call upon to pit his spells against the weather magics of the Order of Odin. When the king to the north turned out to be an infernal necromancer, it was Lucius who (by dint of being the only magus in the covenant who knew any anti-demon spells) lead the turb against King Cynryan the Black.

In short, just because ArsM has a lot of rules and guidelines for between adventure activities, that doesn't mean that one doesn't have adventures. It just means that you give greater-than-usual weight to what other games call "downtime." Lucius's saga gave more weight to study, but the adventures we did have were very memorable, perhaps moreso because they were rare. My current saga divides roughly equally between adventuring and study.

In my present game the characters have slain giants (2 occasions) fought zombies (2 occasions) explored abandoned covenants (2 occasions) started a war, and been completely duped by a dastardly noble in our two years of game time.

In my previous game the characters returned ireland to the world after it had gone missing among other things.

There's plenty of support for the werewolves and dragons options and I think that the Ancient magic book you've ordered is a pretty good place to start. the fifth edition setting material is a bit more amiable to more fantastic options than fourth was (even though the magi are a bit lower powered).

Thanks for the warm welcome, and for taking my comments in the spirit in which they were made.

Thanks also for sharing your perspectives on the game. There seem to be different styles and different approaches to the game, which merit consideration.

It seems, in my case, a game balancing research and adventuring would be the best option.

Thanks for the links to further sources of inspiration, too.

Welcome. I know how hard it is to get a group together. One thing that can take out some of the "talky research" is to do that between sessions. The players and the GM can resolve most of their research projects etc in the 10 minutes before a session.

However, there is something to be said about working out your projects with the other players. It gets them involved, especially the ones that are timid about the whole doing projects and season advancement thing.

In D&D, you fought a skirmish, rested overnight, explored and skirmished the next day, rested a day or two, then repeat. A good group of players spent their resting time putting together the tactics for their next skirmish. In Ars, the time is just stretched out and the skirmishes are usually bigger events and challenges. Downtime still provides a great time to work together to come up with the tactics (including magic items, spells, allies, vis, and other resources) need for the next battle/challenge.


Focus and direction.....

What do you want it to be?

That is, what do your characters want it to be?

My advice to any SG starting a saga (and I failed at this the first two times I ran AM), is to advise the players something like this:

"Your characters are some of the most important people in Europe, in your own way on par with kings. You don't have much now, but you can get what you want. You can probably do what you want. There will be opposition, but you are the movers and shakers, the people that others react to.

"So give your characters things they want. They want to do things, possess things. Give them motivation, because magic is just a tool. Give them relatives, enemies, entanglements.

"And don't wait for me to write an adventure for you, because I won't. It starts with you. If your characters do nothing, nothing will happen and history will pass you by. As you do things, people will react to you and things will happen that they originate.

"This might be a stretch, because most games are 'story-driven', where the story is either about how you guys kill everything in your way or about how you guys carefully investigate what's going on until you've extracted all the clues from the GM; story-driven games just need bodies to show up and fill in. This is a character-driven game, and you're the main event."

There are other successful ways to run a saga; this is my take.



In my long running Brunnaburgh saga we've hunted dragons (largely because we wanted to be able to call ourselves Dragonslayers legitimately), murdered nobles to change political situations, saved friendly nobles from an evil witch he was about to marry, battled traitors to the Order of Hermes, setup wizards wars to infiltrate a conspiracy, rescued the kings son (don't tell the Quaesitors), fought giants, raided abandoned covenants, castles and dungeons, summoned undead armies, gone to war against the wizards of the north, destroyed a castle, made our county a "Bandit-free zone", exterminated a rival group of witches, fought an undead wizard, bartered with demons (again, please don't tell the Quaesitor), denied bartering with demons to the quaesitors when they found out, admitted bartering with demons to the quaesitors then furiously blagged our way out of execution, joined a conspircy to destroy the church in England, betrayed that conspiracy, matched wits with a founder (Tytalus), destroyed the town of Chester with a hurricane, turned Nottingham into a swamp with a truly impressive botch that created a nigh on permanent rain storm above the town, murdered a bishop, robbed a bishop, befriended some monks, angered some Norman baron, beat and stripped the same Norman baron naked and sent him packing and.....well, theres lots more. Safe to say that our magi were adventurous, bold and got into more thanh a few scrapes.

In and around this we did all kinds of research, politicking, apprentice raising, child raising, covenant bickering (our older magi were always at each others throats) and all the other good stuff that goes into Ars.

Have a look at the wiki we used to organise and recorded our chronicle and see if anything inspires you.

Ohhh! That is the Ryce/Tenebrous/Santiago game you guys used to post about all the time. You fascinated the forum with your wild tales! Santiago personally sent me the tale of his heroic demise. I was so moved that I cannonized him as a legendary Flambeau hero in my own games :smiley:

Ars does indeed have the potential for lots of action and adventure, but also drama and character development.

LOL cat fight between a Merinita and Flambeau, not exactly a cartemon style... slap then hair pull.

That was awesome !

Thats really a matter of how you WANT it to run.

And for example, all that power is a good pillar of support if perchance you want to play a lot of politicking.

The first BIG "campaign" we ran ended with most of the magi facing the mongol invasion. Very bloody. Surprisingly, most magi survived, even if several were literally on the brink of death and only one was unhurt but unconcious after firing off a massive spell.

The "Covenants" books is also nice to have for starterting out.
Certainly not a must have but nice.

Very nearly a must have though, we procured it a bit late and then it's almost redundant.


That's what I'm talking about! :smiley:

Seriously, though. Thanks for all the different viewpoints.

I'm taking notes! :wink: