How to Start a Saga

Hey all, so I love Ars Magica and have for years now. I own all the books and am an avid reader of plots and ideas and stuff. I also have many ideas on campaign plots and story potentials. What I find difficult on is the start of a game and what sort of stories start the sagas off. So I was wondering if you had any ideas on the some of the more fun and 'unique' ways to begin a saga off. (Cause obviously Ars Magica is not so much a game where 'players walk into a bar, adventure!" really works for it). Like how do you get the player magi together to form a single covenant and stuff. Do you have them know each other before game, etc. I am just curious how you all have started Ars Magica campaigns.

Thanks for any help! :slight_smile:

Not the most helpful response, but why not?

All sagas should begin with a (good) parody of Don McLean's "American Pie"? :stuck_out_tongue:

I had a powerful magus collect junior magi into a new covenant.

A long long time ago
In a Tribunal far away

There are two parts to your question - A) "why are these people working together" and B) "what's a good inciting incident for a saga"?

Here are a couple things I've done in different campaigns to make "why are you a covenant" organic:

  1. I just ask the players why they think their character is there.

This can include some covenant creation; before or after character generation, I've had the players contribute ideas for the covenant like Boons and Hooks. Sometimes I parcel out the points to each of them to build "their" section of the library/vis sources/magical items. As part of that, the players come up with the idea as to why they're in that place. This helps the players get some "ownership" of the covenant.

  1. Before one campaign "officially" started in northern Europe, I had an adventure in 1218 or 1219 with most of the companions and a selection of the grogs on crusade in the Levant where they first encounter the mythic part of Mythic Europe, explaining why they would end up working for magi in the first place.

  2. I had one campaign on Otoc Svetac (St. Andrew's Island) in the Adriatic Sea. The magi were all just-gauntleted and had set up a covenant on some mystic ruins there because it was open and they didn't want to be at the bottom of the covenant hierarchy somewhere else. There was a lot of "let's hire some people to finish building our labs" in that campaign, but that was the reason everyone was there.

As for inciting incidents/first adventures:

  1. Horse with a dead Redcap shows up at the covenant. There's some questionable mail in his pouch.

  2. Letter from a friend/relative (also a fellow magus/maga) of one of the magi. The relation has just received a declaration of wizard's war from a magus whose vocation is to train at battle magic like a hoplite but to serve as a mercenary stand-in for wizard's wars and certamen. Without assistance, the relation is probably doomed. And who's hired the mercenary, and why?

  3. A local lord accuses the magi of stealing gold from his treasury. It's actually a demon prince's Wealth of Nations power, but no one will know that at first.

  4. For the St. Andrew's Island saga mentioned above, the first adventure was carrying out a pirate captain's request in return for getting the right to use the land on which the covenant would sit.

This is a great question, and I hope you start a saga. I use video chat (Google Hangout) and it has worked great for over two years.

HBO Ars Magica, my current Saga, began with the idea of beginning with PCs entering their apprenticeship in the first session, and then playing 1 year every episode until the end of apprenticeship, whereupon it would slow down. I started thinking "Where would it be most likely for a large number of apprentices to all be trained together at the same time," and that led me to the Greater Alps and the Alpine Apprentices idea, a sort of loose "magical school," but with the PCs living at different covenants and coming together for approximately half the year to study. The Hibernia book was in the works at the time, so I suspected the group would eventually go there, which led to a couple of PCs being Irish. So, in summary, I began them all as children and we played through the years 1205-1220, which happened to include the Children's Crusade.

Often my Sagas in the past have begun with a covenant concept. For example, vrylakos ran a Saga in Spain, and I convinced him to do a winery, which I thought would be a fun income source. A Saga I started in Proven├žal used the ruins of Glanis (which were later detailed in the Proven├žal book). I once started a Saga by telling the players their PCs were all former apprentices to magi who had all dwelt at the same covenant -- masters who were now all mysteriously dead. The masters had secretly been responsible for both creating/summoning and then later binding a massive threat to the Order, but had died keeping it bound. The PCs knew nothing of this, but when they returned to their old covenant to investigate the death of their masters, they learned it all. "Big Idea" covenants, like "a magical school," or "a Hermetic version of the Arthurian Round Table," are great hooks that help the players navigate Ars's endless choices; giving the players something to focus on can make character creation easier, not harder.

I have a Tribunal Survey which I have used for my players, describing the various Tribunals and polling them on what they would prefer. Interestingly, the Theban Tribunal was the runaway winner. Players cited the cooperation that takes place there, the mythological setting, and the high magic. In other words, they'd rather be in conflict with Crusaders, Venetians, Monsters, and Pagan Gods than each other.

Now that Through the Aegis is out, were I looking to start a new Saga, I would be very tempted to just throw down one of its covenants -- probably the seagoing one, the Hibernian one, or the Second Spring one -- and take off running.

I want to thank you all for the great comments. I appreciate all the thoughts and ideas you have presented to me. They are quite thought provoking, showing to me various ways to think about organizing it and the like. Figuring out how to even start or what to use as an initial motivation for gameplay is something I find the hardest thing to do. Partly because there are so many options and partly because Ars Magica is a bit different from the standard rpg games where having the heroes meet at a bar, or be thrown into activity due to a mysterious message and such.

So I guess a bunch of the set up stuff happens off- screen, before game begins, like them meeting and deciding to work together and stuff. That is an interesting way to go about doing it, like the various bits of early politking was already done and now they are just getting ready to move in together, and bam saga starts. hmm, quite interesting.

Funny enough while there are a lot of tribunals that have some interesting ideas the Theban Tribunal was the one that I basically went "Yes...Yes...Yes" while going through the book, more than most other locations to be honest. (I really enjoyed the tribunals in Ireland, England, and Scotland as well [the later two being 4th/3rd books). But yeah, the Theban one had me go really smile and stuff, especially the material on Crete and the nature of the Tribunal and its rules and organizations - plus its a bit more 'high fantasy' than some of the others and I like that.

One way is to start at Tribunal, where the PCs are all freshly gauntleted magi. They decide to form a covenant together rather than try to find a covenant to live at (and submit to the whims of older, more powerful magi). They then have 7 years to find a location, accumulate resources (and support) with which to found the covenant before presenting themselves at the next Tribunal. You immediately have a ton of things for them to do, a deadline to accomplish them, and a strong reason for a bunch of relative strangers to work together.

I love this. I really do. I think this sounds like a perfect way of set up. The campaign starts with the choice already made to work together and thus all the stuff about why they are working together is already solved in pre-game discussion as a matter of course.

This is really cool and really awesome.

Plus it gives an interesting potential for major events to crop up beyond what they would consider as normal and so by the time of 2028 they have an interesting thing to talk about in Grand Tribunal. :slight_smile:

I recommend letting the players do all the work.

Decide on a clear instigation-event and saga premise, and demand the PCs be built to accept joining the saga. For example, I once said that the PCs will be approached by a Forest Spirit that will beseech their aid against its dissolution, and the covenant will be built within the forest as a reward/alliance after the first adventure.

This was a somewhat-unique start - it was based-off the Nigrasaxa adventure. The elder magus' Final Twilight sucked-in all the PCs, where they met a Forest Spirit that let them come out of the Twilight with good gains after they agreed to ally with it. Then Nigrasaxa gets destroyed by said Final Twilight, as per the standard adventure, and the PCs go off to settle in the forest spirit's forest - but it turns out to only have a Might 0, and barely-conscious, Forest Spirit. As the saga progresses, the PCs de-Faerie parts of the forest, join it with other forests, and so on - each such move strengthens the Forest Spirit. Eventually, the Forest Spirit was to fully awaken to its full Might and mental clarity, as the Great Hercynian Forest Spirit.

Another start was the standard Guardians of the Forest start - you are all appointed by Prima Murion to start a new covenant in the Rhine Gorge; tell the players to design characters that will accept the invitation. I also had ancient, enigmatic magi inviting young ones to invigorate their failing Winter covenant. I had an elder magus setting up a covenant and inviting junior magi to fill up its roster (giving them little to no power in the covenant's decision making).

For my latest saga, which didn't quite manage to start (I got bogged down with work), I just told the players to give me each a personal Story Flaw and a covenant Hook and coordinate together, and then cooked up a covenant to match those and we were set. The first adventure was designed around one of those Hooks and one of those Flaws. Simple, but effective.

Yes, I think the two most common start-ups for a Saga are:

A group of newly-Gauntleted magi decide to found a new covenant, to avoid being told what to do by fusty old dudes.
A group of newly-Gauntleted magi are invited to come to an ancient Winter covenant in the hope of revitalizing it to a new Spring.

In both of these set-ups, the players understand what they are getting into, and they make magi who have agreed to this plan. (They may not be very nice people, and may have personal goals that are at odds with other PCs, but they are on board with the basic idea.)

There are also some good ideas in the "rise of the dark lord" thread. Check it out.

(Psst: Heru Kane started that thread too!)


I like your idea - the ST comes up with a very basic idea and makes it known from the begining, and then the players have to come up with characters who fit the idea.

The idea of something seeming to be powerful but turns out not to be as powerful as one thought, is interesting. Especially if if the players get to make the being more powerful as the saga goes on, and thus they get to see the direct result of their actions. Imagine them reaching a point where they boosted up their allied spirit so high that he becomes willing to use up some power to make a Regio, its like success has been achieved directly. Which is really cool.

Interesting way to go about it. Very cool and thanks for the info, it helps me to get some ideas on the ways to better create an Ars Magica saga.


They do seem like a really cool way to go about doing it. The first is start from scratch and having ot build everything up from nothing, while the second is to repair what has been lost while having to deal with that elder person who still remains present.

I think the idea of having the players know what the saga is going to be like is probably the best way to make sure the characters fit the premise and the players know what they are getting into.


Its funny that you mention that thread, I created this one because I was thinking about that one and then I wondered how much detail some STs give to the players before a game begins. Like how much backstory events come into play and what sort of push the ST give sto players to fit into a saga idea. Obviously there is no one right way, but the ideas of others help me focus my own thoughts on the way I would like to go about designing stuff.

Hence I came up with the later backstory plot element that seems to direct certain choices down narrow paths. It might not be for everyone but for those who like ti they know what sort of saga they would be getting involved in. And stuff :slight_smile:

What has worked best for me is to cheat. I have this covenant I created long ago and just keep reusing and recycling. Players from one era may have no idea who the ones from a past era may be, but often there is someone in the middle that knows a few on either end of the spectrum. I take events, retcon and rework them as needed, and I now have a vast organic backstory. I run no grand overarching plot. Not my style as I find that they constrain flexability.
The way I started my current saga is I put out a recruitment call. I fabricated some disaster as an excuse to sweep away past characters and had the few remaining ones recruit new members. Magi (pc's), by their nature it seems, sort of want a covenant to join. I also advise people to not design their character specific to the saga or tailor them to the other players. That never seems to work out well.
And then I sand box play from there. Funny enough, the old standard of walking into a tavern would work for this style. I am sorta trying to use Ars Magica to play AD&D :lol;
Which is fitting. For I discovered Ars while trying to retrofit Mage to D&D and wound up inventing a bastardized version of Ars Magica.
Also, keep in mind that my experiences are atypical. I have been a solid PbP only gamer for years now. Much different animal than table top. And I am also sorta not right in the head and my success can mainly be attributed to the fact that I am a stubborn @$$#0le and enjoy confrontation (sometimes).

I have thought on it more. About what really worked for me past and present, about what I was trying to communicate above. It boils down to this simple phrase...
"Book them and they will come."
Create a covenant set in whatever tribunal. Make a covenant you want to play in/with. Be aware that any hook/facet may be taken up by players with gusto, or may get utterly ignored. That is okay. Create the covenant you want, but keep it flexible enough to accomodate whatever the players might wind up doing. Then create your own character-magus according to the exact rules and standards you will hold other players to.
Don't start at first level. That has been done to death over and over again. Give everyone five to ten years pregame development.
Then you say to your players: .create the magus you want to play. And don't be a Dk about it and desire to play a snork just to antagonize the smurf player. That's a metaphor for many things. Balance individuality with harmony I suppose.
But do not worry about redundancy. Gamers instinctively try to fill specialized niches. That breaks my own suspension of disbelief. And it bogs things down.
So to start, you have a bunch of random characters from anywhere that were doing whatever that may or may not have had anything to do with anything. And a covenant. So for whatever reason each magus is either looking for a new home and/or was specifically recruited. Look at the flaws of the character to conjure a shoehorn of imagination.
Brand new spring covenants suck. Usually. ;mrgreen:
But they do seem realistic (somewhat), and is one of the few rational excuses as to why all these magi are joining the covenant at the same time. Things seem more plausible when you have a long running sandbox saga, with magi possibly drifting in and out. Drifting players is the nature of a PbP. For tabletop, it happens a bit but maybe not so much. Unless you have a bunch of random hippie gamers drifting in and out of your apartment at random (my D&D life circa 1995 :smiley: ).
So anyways, you have all these elements and you just keep fine tuning as you go along, but just start playing and it will work itself out.
Book them and they will come.
As for those mega metaplots, plug and play. Use what works. If it doesn't work, set it aside and plug in something else. Keep that first thing as an option for it might work latter. And the bit of it you used makes it seem like you did some clever long term planning. Pretend you did. Retcon liberally and lie a lot. If players do what you did plan, act surprised. When they throw you a curve and unwittingly change the whole storyline, act as if they played right into your hands. Lie your ass off and they will love you for it.

Now if any of my players are reading this, be assured that I am always telling you the truth. It is the other players I am lying to. :mrgreen:
I am actually a lousy liar and my players just humor me and play along. And that is the real secret. Book them and they will come. They want to play. They are more than happy to swallow whatever flimsy excuse that can be made to join or start a covenant.

For the very simple fact that it frees them up to study magic rather than manage every little detail of life themselves. A covenant of magi is efficient in using resources (an Aegis can protect many magi) and most magi are specialists who need other magi around in order to stay specialists. Also, the Gift makes social interaction with anyone other than magi a problem, so a group of magi get a built-in social order AND a means of managing normal folk (their servants might betray/murder a single, lone magus, but a group of magi are difficult enough to make trying insanely dangerous - this fear keeps people in line).

Ars magica did a good job (in general) giving good reason why magi would form covenants. Of course, the formation of ANY covenant will prompt other magi to form other covenants, for self-defense if nothing else. Large covenants present a LARGE threat to independent magi.

What is also important to have a central premise that focuses the types of stories you will tell. The book "Covenants" has many different example situations that are good for narrowing this down. If you get one other book that is the one to get.

After many Sagas, I found out that what is important is not the type of mages, but the type of players that matters.

There are players that will embrace the whole ruleset and will know how to design spells and every lab rules. Other who don't want to bother with that but like the background. Other who believes that Ars is D&D on magic crack since there starting magus is so powerful... and so on.

Make sure that the different type of players you have around your table can have fun together and are willing to let the others their opportunity to shine/do what they like the most. The most difficult to manage is to have a player who does not want to learn the basic rules regarding magic. Either you make him play a Mythic companion or you will have to let him go (or kick him out) - unless you have infinite time, I find it frustrating to have to design each spell he wants (because he wants something customised), on top of having to manage the whole saga. I would rather spend that time improving my Saga for the whole group instead of making one player happy.

The first few sessions, they might have to adjust their roles and their area of expertise, but after 3-4 sessions everybody had found his/her purpose/place. Also, allows rewriting of characters during these first sessions. They might have overlooked some bad interaction between flaws and virtues, have spells they don't like, or are short on some XP in one skills. Let them re-arrange that.
If you have players who are relatively new to Ars, spend one whole session on spells/items design. Making sure that everybody knows the basic on spell design is not wasted time, on contrary.