I have a group of young and inexperienced people wanting to play and I wanted to bring down the learning curve a bit since this is their first RPG.
Has anyone ever played without Characteristics? Does this significantly skew the numbers in any unforeseen manner?
[tab][/tab]I would assume difficulties need to be adjusted a bit.
[tab][/tab]I would assume I could trade Magic Theory for Stamina or Intelligence in Spell Rolls.
Thoughts (and yes I do believe the youth should know more math, but I have other avenues for them to practice it
I too am starting a campaign with several players new to roleplaying games. In these cases I often start by interviewing players about what kind of character they are interested in playing. I will then create the stats and technical system stuff of the characters. In the case of Ars, this means the characteristics, arts, casting totals, lab totals. Characteristics can be descriptive for players so they get a feel of how intelligent they are etc.(terrible, weak, poor, average, strong, superior, extraordinary). I go through the virtues and flaws descriptively with players and let them choose those.
In play as a story guide I will roll many of the dice for the players and they can concentrate on roleplaying. Players can roll for spell casting (and combat), they just know what result on the die they need for the spell to be successful.
Like Timothy Ferguson says, characteristics are a sort o virtues and flaws, after all. And you could go that way: remove the characteristics from the game and from every formula. Then give each character a couple of positive quirks and a bad one. If a player wants his character to be intelligent and quick, but not so much of a talker, you will just give him a +2 whenever he would use Int or Qik with the canon rules, and a -2 whenever he would use Com. In all other instances there's no modification to the dice.
The basic idea of Characteristic+Ability+dice roll is pretty goddamn simple and exists in many, many RPGs. Where Ars Magica confuses people and causes tons of problems is:
Picking Virtues and Flaws
Someone in another thread suggested Making Grogs to start out with - and I fully agree. Very simple and you can work from there.
Another concept I used successfully is the PC's starting out as Apprentices with +3Virtue points and at least 1 -1 flaw, and letting them balance out their players based on what happened in the story. One player got the disfigured flaw from another player botching a chirurgy roll, that kind of thing.
To me this is still using Characteristics. If you want to simplify then drop the point buy system and have people rate each Charactetistic "+", "-" or not at all. Whenever a situation occurs when a characteristic would be used give +2 for a "+" or -2 for a "-".
Or drop it for season-long activities and formulae entirely and only apply for Ability rolls. Then roll Ability+die and round up or down to nearest "Multiple-of-3-ease-factor" depending on whether a "+" or "-" applies.
Or instead of all 8 charactetistics lump them together 2 and 2: Wits, Brawn, Grace, Charisma
Exempli Gratia: Witta of Bonisagus (Wits +, Brawn -) and Brawnson the Grog (Wits -, Brawn +) are ambushed by dark fae while inside the woods. Rolling Awareness - where Wits are the relevant characteristic - to notice the impending danger, Ease Factor 9 the SG decides. Witta rolls 8, which rounds up to 9 because of her Wits+. Brawnson also rolls 8 but this rounds down to 6. Witta manages to cast a spell before the fae attack while Brawnson is dumbstruck. The Fae attack with nasty, pointy teeth and when calculating Soak Witta's totals are rounded down and Brawnson's up.
Also, I think Characteristics are so easy to use that they don't need simplification. I know I'm used to the system over the cource of many years, but implementing my suggested "simplified" system would be more of a bother than using RAW.
This game doesn't need simplified Characteristics. If you need to simplify Characteristics, then even just putting exp into skills is probably going to be too challenging as a next step, never mind spell/power design. It's okay to start with really simple characters like grogs, and make several of those before moving up to companions and then magi, but if you make those grogs and you decide you absolutely can't function without some simplification, you might want to consider Fate Accelerated or something equally rules-lite instead of Ars Magica, and just use the Mythic Europe setting.
I do like the idea of characteristics, but I can see how it might be one straw too many.
The confusion for newer players probably comes in with the 'wait, a +3 doesn't cost 3 points?'
You could just apply a blanket +1 to every roll--this would simulate having +1 in every characteristic, which is only one point more than RAW.
I'd argue though that Characteristics are easier to grasp than abilities, since they use the same rules but don't require you to multiply by five.
I think you can safely disregard Characteristics and lower the difficulties by 3 for Ability checks. You can keep the current spell levels in my opinion - magic is easy enough as it-is, effectively increasing its difficulty by 3 isn't a bad thing. I wouldn't bring in Magic Theory into spell rolls; just drop Stamina out of the equation.
That said, I would agree with the others that Ars Magica's complexity is rather high and the Characteristics are the least of it. If you do want to simplify Ars Magica, I would suggest making much more aggressive moves. Some options:
Treat "Arts as Abilities", i.e. use a single pyramid scale (XP table) instead of two. You can keep the current spell levels to improve the game (in my opinion) by lowering its power level, or make the difficulty Magnitude x 3 (instead of x5) as per Abilities to keep a similar power level but make the maths a bit harder. You'd also want to tweak a few other rules (book writing, and so on), and keep in mind that this change makes Magic Theory more important.
Throw out experience points alltogether, and go instead with Third Edition's method of increasing Arts/Abilities: when you learn for a Season, you have a CHANCE to increase your score, based on rolling dice. This way you need to keep track of only the Score of the Ability/Art, instead of keeping track of XP and using the complicated XP table.
Use a single Spell Guidelines table. Write one out, with things like "do +Base damage" or "Make a Major change, i.e. one that changes something drastically but within its own type", or so on. This makes designing spells, especially spontaneous spells, MUCH easier, but also requires a LOT of work for developing and applying the table to work across all Art combinations and many spells.
Throw out the spell-design rules completely, instead "eyeing" the spell level much like Third Edition did. You greatly simplify the rules, but greatly damage the impartiality and structure the Fifth Edition rules provide.
Consolidate and simplify the Virtues and Flaws; you don't need several different Personality Flaws, for example, it's enough to keep a generic one and use some of the existing ones as examples within its description. You can greatly reduce the number of options in character creation this way, without making too big of a change in practice.
Simplify combat: don't change initiative because of changing weapons; emphasize this is a GAME, and the order of the turns is simply set randomly at the beginning of the combat and that's that. Don't allow the complicated optional rules for groups. DO allow the optional rule for shield grogs, and don't worry about exact positioning on the game map. Clearly enforce a "One Major Action (attack, cast a spell, activate a magic item, etc.) + one utility/movement action per round" rule; plus any number of fast-cast actions if you allow them.
Disallow spontaneous spells. It changes the game significantly for some characters, but can also remove a LOT of in-game rule discussions for some groups/characters. You might allow a form of instinctive fast-cast defense instead, based off spell-level rather than a specific spell.
These are drastic changes. But that's what's required to make Ars Magica significantly simpler, in my opinion. Throwing out Characteristics... that's just not the complicated part of ArM. To REALLY make ArM significantly simpler, you need something like the above - or to abandon the rulebook altogether, and play freeform or using FATE or whatever.
I do that (no characteristics) in my Ars Magica light ruleset. I'm in the process of translating it into English, but if you read French, feedback is welcome. Native English speaker proofreaders are, too.
IMHO it's better to hold Cahracteristics and to discard Ability, Experience and Hermetic Magic.
In other words, newbie players may play Faerie beeings.
Give them Characteristics, a name, a score of 10 of Magical Power, and let them write some funny personal powers.
They can play Renart's foxgirl servants (inspired from the French story hook sden.org/ars-magica/Scenarii ... ux-Renards) or house-gnomes, little Wind spirits or anything else !
A faerie character is both cool (Mythic Europe at strike !) and easy to play (no abilities, no Arts, no need to describe virtues & flaws because they're obvious).
Plus the proper powers of the faeries (changing cheese into stone, becoming all blue, growing noses and summoning animated mushrooms) are a great way to play
Better with old-skilled players to encounter them and guide them in the magical and intolerant world of 1220's.