How useful is a bestiary?

I have played DnD for a long time, and my group had enough with that game so we chose to start playing AM5. The setup of the game is very different, so I was wondering how useful a bestiary is in this game. It has no 5th edition version yet, so I assume that creatures are not that important in this game. Can anybody tell me how useful it is to buy the 4th edition bestiary?
Further I was wondering what kind of stories are most fun to play (do you like to play?
Thank you, Thijs

Hi Thijs,

Welcome to Ars and welcome to the forum. I hope you will find both to be a rewarding experience.

I have the bestiaries from the two former editions. I wouldn't say they are much needed but I am glad of having them - these books are more than just stats. They include background info that inspires stories more than just combat or ccombat-like encounters. Many of them also give a good feel of the setting of Mythic Europe and its myths. This you can also get by using some of the great internet ressources out there (actually medieval bestaries for example) or by buying regular books on medieval folklore and myths. The advantage of using the Ars-material is that someone else already scuttled through myths and found some interesting ones and that the text is framed in Ars terms. On top of that I think there is some smaller bestiary on mundane animals to be found on the net as well (is it actually on the Atlas website?). Some of the 5th edition books - spread around them - also include some stats. Personally I use all of the above - but I'm a bit of a freak! :smiling_imp:

What kind of stories? That is harder as it is rather individual. My troupe is mixed so I do many kinds ranging from close to all-action to all-pathos filled scenes. I have prefered to start my saga and run quite low-key for some years, without larger epic struggles as such, but also some stories inspired by the time of the saga. Playing in England around anno 1200 from the start presented a setting with lots of turmoil and unrest in the realm. I also think it might be good to have a diversity of stories that does not all neccesarily knit together - some stories that focus on one main characters goals or tasks - then anothers - then a merging of storylines etc. In itself I think you and your troupe might find a lot of joy in the beginning to just explore the setting and ordinary medieval themes - many of them in stark contrast to the usual fantasy setting.

I am sure you can find several threads on the forum that adresses character generation, starting up new saga's and plenty of inspiration on the Redcap internet sites too. That was how I got started when I stopped my previous rpg's and started moving my interest in Ars from ideas and dreams of playing it to actually getting it up and running.

A final suggestion. Being one of the things that is alluring about Ars and the setting is the very powerfull magicians and the unbalanced system in their favor (which I think is great) as opposed to the majority of RPGs, I'd actually recommend not jumping right in with playing magi. Ars has many rules - especially when it comes to downtime and the time spent in the lab. It is quite a threshold to pass - even more if you also have to get to know the setting and bc the first characters you make in a system arent always what you would have prefered a little further down the road. One suggestion is to start out with some stories with companions or grogs that will later become stable characters or to do a prequel with older more seasoned magi - maybe the masters of the main characters or the powerfull magi horribly killed by the horrible enemy that will later horribly play a part in the saga - might even be at the location where the sagas covenant will be.. What I did and what I would recommend the most enthuisasm is to start of as apprentices - that is what I did - bc it is a great way for you to break in your players with ease to the setting, the rules, the troupe play, and the society of the Order. The kick of it is that you can do this gradually and ingame! A few rules and a few aspects to the setting at a time. Moreso this is also much easier as a Storyguide bc you can concentrate on learning and passing on a few rules at a time. I knew my troupe had staying power, so we actually started quite early in their apprenticeships and spent more that a year in real time as apprentices before doing their gauntlets. And this wasnt in anyway a kind of boring wait to become "real" and powerful magi - they were actually a bit sorry when I moved them ahead bc we had had so many great sessions and funny and interesting scenes. Moreso this ends you up with very developed and nuanced main characters with a "rich" personal story.

Good luck - and enjoy!


You know, I haven't read the bestiary in a long time. My impressions from it were not very favorable. It tended (IIRC) to depict fairly bland creatures, that were both too weak and too disconnected to form a foundation for a saga.

Also, I agree creatures are less useful in this game. I can take the D&D MM and with the tools provided with it (and the PH) easily build up an entire campaign. I might for example first use goblins, then goblins on worgs, then their hill-giant and ogre allies led by an ogre mage, an invisible stalker assasin, and finally a mind flayer cabal controlling them all - whatever. I can't do the same with the bestiary. It presents isolated creatures that don't work well with each other, and mostly are too weak to serve as opponents anyways. I remember thinking it had things like a Lion of Virtue, great, but that's generally only good for an encounter, and is just not the encounter my character's stories are leading me too anyways. ArM sagas are, in my experience, too political and centered on the PCs (rather than their opposition) to make good use of a bestiary.

I'd recommend deciding first on what kind of saga you want to play. I find that it's better to just wing it and/or invent ArM creatures wholesale. They're simpler anyways.

If you wish more tools, I'd suggest settling on a theme and using books centering around that - The Infernal provides tools for a varied and interesting set of opponents that can work off each other and NPCs rather well.

Regarding stories - well, I like in-character debates, most of all. Mysteries to some degree, but only if they're fairly easy to solve - and preferably ones with a really bad agent behind them, that we can kick ass on when all is done.

In addition I have to say that the beasts already puplished in the books (like Stellatus or the Bockmen) are quiteweak from my point of view. I dont know if other players have the same problems, but if I send a beast with a might of 40 against 4 magi that are 8 years out of gauntlet and from these there is only one real combat mage and one is nearly pacifistic than I would imagine a hard and good fight... but not such a slaughter... the penetration totals for magical beasts are usable only if the magi are very weak or the power costs only 0 or 1 points, the combat total even of Stellatus is only a bit higher than the combat stats of our half-giant and our swordmaster who walks the Path of the Sword in the forests of the Rhine Tribunal (both companions) and with the help of the turbs capitain, the ranger of the covenant and the other elite grogs even a Ent-like beast with FM 50 and with BETTER combat statstics than Stellatus and some very nasty powers is dead meat in one round if the PCs use all rules like group fighting or exertion. And in my gruop three of two magi have a focus and affinitys that allows them to easily go to penetrations of 50 with a normal attack spell (ok now there are 15 years out of gauntlet but this is a very young age for magi too). The only real enemys were ghost because of their incorporeality but now the magi invented two PeVi spells against them so there are dead meat too.
The only two ways to make a good fight for magi are many, many magical creatures and other magi (mundanes are so much dead meat, every magi in my group could defeat the whole army of Dschingis Khan if they hadnt hedgewizards and other supernatural things). But if you send too much magical creatures (say 20 with a might of 15) than the magi can use their mass destruction spells with a low penetration, the grogs are good enough to beat them alone and after the fight they could harvest 60 pawns of vis!!!
Other magi are extremly difficult: if the group has the initiative and can prepare for the fight the other side is dead, dead, dead before they know whats going on... and its the same the other way: I think in a fgt against other magi every sane person would use their Vis and confidence, their on-use items and other things. So who shoots first wins the fight. And if you dont let act your NPC magi carefully he can wipe out the whole group.

A very good advice is to make encounters that consists of many different enemys: the diabolist party with crossbowmen, swordmen, demons, diabolist hedge magics, a capured magical beast and so on, to give every person in the group a chance to show their strenght (this point counts for PCs and NPCs). One strong individual (magi or beast it makes no difference) is a) too strong and wipe out the group or b) dead meat and a good source for Vis. And masses of weak creatures are only a good source for Vis.

Or let me say it in another way: Ars Magica is not a fighting game (actually the combat mechanics are poor) it is a game about exploring ancient places, politics and life in the order, hiding from mundane politics, thinking, riddles, a fantastic world with problems that cant be solved with firepower. So fights should be rare and not the end-point (like a boss-fight) in an adventure or a saga.

Okay, thank you very much, this will help me figuring out a good story. We agreed on taking the monster in the covenant hook, and since it will be a winter covenant with a restart the monster should be quit powerful.

isn't the problem here that Mythic Europe is not dominated by Monsters, but by People... the Dominion and cultivated land covers most of Europe, and only the wilder areas: mountains, marshes & deep forests remain outside its influence.

The following comments assume Mythic Europe, and not a Variant Saga Setting:

(to pick specific examples, without prejudice to those beasts themselves...) There are no Goblins, Wargs etc, because there are no wide-ranging "races" of "monster". There are some Giants to be sure, but they are few and far between;
the Mind Flayer is a particularly interesting idea to contrast with ArM, as it's a wholly invented game-concept monster - the concept works in ME only for isolated individuals (basically Demons) - not as a "race".

that's a feature of Mythic Europe rather than the beasts themselves.

Do you not find challenges in the workings of men & mages?
Do your magi not seek out trouble for themselves (seeking out the fae, or Vis rich regions)?

and in real-world written-down stories of the time, that's just what Mythic Beasts are and do - they provide encounters, from which characters are supposed to learn something.

The ArM bestiaries try to keep that refrain, by combining game characteristics with encounter suggestions, most of which are non-combat.

I really enjoyed the 4e Bestiary (and the 2e one that preceded it, though I prefer the 4e one). I believe that one thing the Bestiary book does well, is to give the reader a "period feel" - to encourage stories and not skirmishes.

For 5e, it is hard not to recommend "The Book Of Mundane Beasts" - which does what it says, and is a free download from the AG ArM section.

I can also recommend HoH:Mystery Cults, as the Bjornaer Chapter extends the BoMB and adds a "design your own" system.

The is a need for non-Mythic beasts, ones that people (inc. magi) encounter, ride and hunt, tame and train, etc. The is also a use for Mythic Beasts...

I learnt soon after getting heavily involved in ArM, that a group of several mages is almost impossible to challenge (other than by other magi and by "situation" - contexts in which they can't just spell their way out of it.)

IOS magi have better things to do than trudge round Mythic Europe "adventuring" - they spend most of their time in the lab, in the covenant, and dispatch a "duty magus" to deal with problems (and to suffer the penalties to Lab Total or Study Total!).
OOC - it means the players are encouraged to deal with problems differently, to accept a challenge which is hard for the one character, and to chop and change. To have non-magi accompany the magus, and to play those non-magi actively. (They do any front-line activity - fighting and talking to mundanes)

the game background does state that Hermetic magi are the most powerful magicians around, and that the Parma was a breakthrough in that it not only stopped outsiders but fellow Hermetics!

(also note that MR 40 is quite difficult to overcome with Penetration in 5e - a Might 40 is or ought to be a real challenge....)

I have to agree there - combat (including spell combat) has its place in ArM but it is not the focus of the game - if players want fierce small-scale battles every session, then ArM is not really the system for them.

I concur!

I have found plenty of inspiration in them to make whole stories with only singular beasts and much more than just combat encounters. As a sidenote I can also recommend Ovids Metamorphosis - it is ripe with similar inspiring stuff - as a setting fitting source on mythic creatures. More so bc his texts can be used in handouts as manuscripts in an ingame library..

And thanks for supplying the references I was grasping for earlier - like the book of mundane beasts - my recollection is becoming pressed by my Internet Explorer being broken (no longer allowing me to have more than one window open) so that I cannot search for references while posting on the forum (very very annoying!!).

You could solve your browser problem by
a) downloading and using Firefox 2.0 (free, works well)
b) downloading and using Opera (free, works well)
c) downloading the update to IE7 (which I have to admit appears to work, and be more secure, though already being vigorously targeted fro vulnerabilities)

All 3 support Tabbed browsing, letting you have more than one page open in the one window, and to toggle between the tabs...

I do have firefox... is about to use it more. Mostly it has had med wondering why the IE made this change. But sadly for the monopoly of IE there are many pages I cannot open with firefox.

Regardless of the realities of the available bestiaries, such a book is useful for giving Storyguides and Players, especially new ones, a feel for the 'baseline" of a given animal. How tough is a hound? How tough is an elk? How fast a target is a rabbit? How fast is a hawk?

Altho' any SG worth his vis can come up with something off the cuff, it's nice to have "canon" answers.

As for using animals in Saga, I do it all the time, especially if the Covenant is located outside settled farmland/cities, (which most are). And if they aren't, then you can place one near a wilderness vis source, just to make life interesting. Having one or two really surly wandering beasties local to the covenant environs that terrorize unprepared grogs and lone wandering magi can make for a great sidestory at any time, and the goal of slagging the critter (and harvesting the vis), or just avoiding its carnage, can be a great ongoing subplot, depending on the magi (some are build to kill animals, admittedly. ymmv.)

As mentioned above, a bestiary is also a concrete source for ideas- skimming through the lists, something may trigger a new idea for a complication in the current situation, or a new storyline, or whatever.

I'm a big fan of them, tho' there are only so many variations on "mundane" animals that are really needed before it just becomes padding.

European mythology does include many faerie races, though: pixies, trolls, changelings and so on. Classical creatues such as centaurs and anthropophagi are also available, but since the rise of the Dominion they are found outside Mythic Europe proper: either in other parts of the world, or in more exotic realms.

And even if they are they tend to play a different part in Ars-stories then in other RPGs, so they are more often theme-cornerstones in stories than multiple foes.

Quite: they are certainly present - but (unlike the Goblin/Warg of the particular mythos/game-line using those) they do not come in mass numbers, they do not form large-scale wilderness societies at war with man...
instead they are few, and found in the rare Faerie or Magical places. Even when Fae form parallel Faerie Courts, they only do so in the small areas left to them. (Arcadia is peculiar - in principle it is huge and wide-spanning, but being a land of story, nothing really happens there most of the time...)

The problem with the original poster's question about the lack of Bestiaries with Orcs & Goblins, was precisely this - that the "monsters" don't form the attacking Hordes - people do.
"Monsters" (or rather, Mythic Beings) do form excellent themed stories. The nice thing about the Ars Bestiaries so far is that they have been very supportive of stories, rather than Battles.

Unfortunately this thread began with a complaint that there was no Ars material providing an "Instant 'Man vs. Orc Horde' campaign in a book"

Did I made that suggestion? That was not what I meant. My group was fed up with the extreme lack of realism in DnD, I think that AM is a much more realistic version. Reading the material I was getting more and more enthousiastic about AM. But for me it is hard to get a grip what my players will like to play. I know that some of them like exciting die-rolls, so a creature at a given time seemed nice to me. The text and the absense of a bestiary for 5th edition gave me the idea that creatures are not really important, that was my actual question. The answers made things clear to me. I will try to get the exciting die-rolls from something else than creatures.
Many thanks to all the reactions :smiley:

If you visit Project Redcap, you will find many Saga write-ups, organised by Tribunal.
Reading some of these may give a feel for what goes on in an ArM saga, and what is exciting...

I might modestly recommend the journals of the saga Saxum Caribetum ...

I think you are combining my post with the OP's, creating an amalgam that isn't really what any of us is saying :confused:

At any rate I agree with what people wrote - the bestiary is good for getting into a different mood, but monsters aren't really the driving force in Mythic Europe that they are in D&D settings.

Have fun Thijs.

Eh, not so much, actually, no.

Some said that, some didn't.

There are many, MANY "right" ways to RP, and to RP any given game. You could try to run AM like D&D, and it could work- the purpose is to "have fun", not "follow what everyone else is doing."

There are no "orc hordes" or "lizard man empires" in AM (as written!), true. However, there are certainly troll bridges, maybe with more than one troll. And in the myths trolls constantly have brothers, etc. It's conceivable that the unseilighe court could raise up a goblin army - if your campaign revolves around the fae, that could be done no prob.

Also, a single monster, or a Forest o' Doom filled with unpleasant fauna is perfectly workable as well. And the further you get from "civilization", the more wild Medieval Europe "knew" the world to be. Giants, cyclops, harpies- the ME paradigm includes all the critters in Greek and Roman mythology (tho' usually "over there" and never around "here", whatever that means.) If you want a saga based around non-human threats, they are certainly out there waiting for you.

It's a "Troupe" thing, so ask your players. Don't have to give out spoilers or name the enemy, but generally sound out the troupe on what they want to do. If it feels right, if your players like it, if you're having fun with it, then do it.