Since we really love the mythical setting of ars magica (we play in greater alps tribunal up in the high mountains), in our troupe, we decided to focus more on long-term-story-and-character-building, instead of rules lawering and min-maxing and munchkinism. Besides some parts of the RAW are slowing down gameplay, and are potentially story/campaign-destroying. (e.g.: combat botch kills main characters, twilight lets player pause for the rest of the session or forwever, etc..). Therefore as the SG, I developed our own houserules for empowering both the player's and the SG's interactions. The aim is to enhance gameplay and focus on the "real" aspects of roleplaying. Additionally we are also currently experimenting with the good ol' whimsy cards for further player empowerment. Anyway, I tried to combine some of the modern storytelling mechanisms (taken from FATE Core, Apocalypse World, Numenera and the book "Gamemastering" by Brian Jamison) with the confidence rules of ArM 5e. And here is what I got and what I want to share with you:
There is no maximum amount of Confidence points (CP) you can get.
Use 1 Confidence point (CP) to:
• Add +3 to any roll except for long term activities like “learning from vis”. (also after die roll)
• Reroll any simple roll and choose one of the results. (also, several times possible and in combination with CP for +3)
• Avoid a botch (when spellcasting, you can only avoid botch effects but not warping, or check for twilight)
• Avoid a combat defense botch. You don’t receive any botch effects and get a Defense-total of 0+Def (instead of plain 0).
• Declare a story detail. (also, retrospectively). SG can veto.
Gain 1 Confidence point (CP) when:
• Player accepts SG-Intrusion (when SG-Group-Intrusion occurs, then every affected character gets 1 CP)
• Player accepts a botch. You can immediately use the CP to avoid the botch effects.
• Player takes a suboptimal choice, is not min-maxing, or adds an unneeded burden to his character (fall in love).
• Player accepts automatic failure, because of his rights & wrongs or one of his personality traits/flaws (without roll).
• Reward for Achievement of character/group goal.
1. Declare story detail
Sometimes, you want to add a detail that works for your character to advance the current scene. For example, you might use this to narrate a convenient coincidence, like retroactively having the right supplies for a certain job (“Of course I brought that along!”), showing up at a dramatically appropriate moment, or suggesting that you and the NPC you just met have mutual clients in common. You should try to justify it, regarding your character story.
SG-intrusion is the main mechanic that the SG uses to inject drama and additional excitement into the game. It’s also a handy tool for resolving issues that affect the PCs but do not involve them. SG-intrusion is a way to facilitate what goes on in the world outside the characters.
• First SG announces that there is a possible intrusion but tells not what it might be.
• If player accepts the intrusion, he earns 1 CP immediately, before intrusion effects take place.
• About 1 Intrusion/hour of gameplay.
Combat Intrusions/Botch Examples
• Foe less hurt, gets stronger, gets free attack, gets advantage, reinforcements arrive, Ally panics and decides to flee, or turns against PCs (steals or betrays, lies, misguide)
Out of Combat Intrusion/Botch Examples
• Automatic failure: the PC accepts to fail in a certain task and takes the consequences.
• Partial Success: success in task with annoying side effect, problem solved for the moment only, PC succeeds in task, but makes it harder for the allies to succeed, PC gets only a part of information the rest stays mystified
• Setback: Personal Item damaged, stolen, lost.
• External factors change: Rain, Snow, Fog, Hail, Avalanche, Rockslide, Flooding
• NPC changes to a “surprise-Foe” or surprising new NPC-motive.
• Bad Luck: floorboard breaks, gust of wind, malfunction, NPC is not here (at home sick), backpack rips
• Unknown complication: an easy task gets more complicated, while lock picking detects a poison needle trap, NPC doesn’t speak the same language, NPC is friend of former foe.
• Upcoming complication/obstacle/scene: to trigger when most interesting, unstable ceiling collapses, burning rope rips, city guards arrive, somebody witnesses the scene and runs away
• Opponent Luck or Skill: foe escapes no chase possible, NPC dodges all attacks surprisingly, PC makes extra attack
3. Accepting botches
A player should not be punished for bad luck, so it is his free choice to receive botch effects or not. When a botch occurs he immediately receives a CP. He can use that CP to avoid the botch effects. In combat, defensive botches are often killing characters, so you can get a Defense Total of 0+Def-Bonus instead of plain 0. (You can pay 1 additional CP to add +3)
4. Suboptimal choices
A player not trying to play in the “most effective way”, but instead focusing on story development & character portrait receives CP. (SG decision)
5. Automatic failure
A player succumbing to his character’s morality or personality (rights & wrongs, personality traits/flaws) will be rewarded with 1 CP. (SG decision).