Improve the skill system

I don't see any of these things as a problem. Having access to magic is already a huge boost compared to mundanes. That the mages cannot be greatly skilled on top of being the mightiest of spell casters is absolutely a feature and not a bug, otherwise why have non mage PCs at all?

This enforces specialisation and thereby gives the players their own individual niche.


Reading your answers makes point a bit more accurately where my problem is :

for mages :
You can create a mage with just 45 point in non magical skills (frome age 0 to 5).
That makes a mage that knows nothing about the real world.
Which is technically possible if you create a lab rat that never goes on adventure.

For non mages :

  • Almost all warriors I know just put all their points in 2H sword (because you don't need that much else to kill things ant because 2h sword give bette bonus than 1H+shield)
  • Almost all social character have to divide between a lot of skills and I already hat the case of a guy being in a bad situation because the GM asked him to test on the one social skill he forgot to put point on.

The system have a big influence on what type of characters you'll want to play and I simply have an issue with the "loook & feel" of this one.

That's just a question of taste but unfortunately, changing it would indeed have too many side effects so I wouldn't know where to start.

One GM I know decided to give a flat bonus of 15XP each year that can only be used in non magical skills (up to level 5). The more I think of it, the more I feel that it is simple and elegant way to have older character be a bit more generalist than the young ones...


Odd. I see players who do not want to play their magi, and rather keep them in their labs all the time. The only thing I find evident is that people are different.

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These may be by some measure “optimal” ways of doing it by the system but in terms of what I have seen in play in a number of situations including an in person group that had 8 players over its run (not all at once but a core was always there), a few PbP of large numbers of players, and another few voice chat games in the 4-5 player range, that playstyle of hyper-focused characters is not something I’ve seen much of. Definitely seen it. Usually it was a joke character like “the strongest man in Europe” as a concept with a native language from far off and ability block language but occasionally it wasn’t. I think you may be confusing forum and discord talk about “how to really game the system” with an actual desire to game the system to those extremes when other players are there and that is just not my play experience and I don’t generally think I just have amazing luck finding the right kinds of players for myself but, maybe I do, who knows.


Of course it doesn't. Why would someone ask for a roll in this situation?

Ars has a number of rules where no roll is required and the result is achieved based purely on your characteristic + score. For a long time this didn't sit well with me, until I realized it was my mistake in wanting to roll for everything.

In every single reasonable task where expertise should matter more than luck, Ars requires no roll (there might be counter examples, but I can't recall any from the top of my head).
For small, day to day actions, there is still some possibility (as it should, in my opinion). But even so, the moment you analyze the chance of +6 master against the +3 apprentice over as little as 3 actions? The chances of the apprentice doing better are a bit less than 1/100.

Other than that, I find that using d10's is a nice sweetspot. With d20 we would have heroic fantasy, which doesn't sit well with Ars. A single 1 in D&D is nothing in the long term, but a single botch in Ars might cripple or kill a character. On the other hand, using a d4 (or multiple dices, eg, 2d6 instead of 1d10 - and yes, I know it was just rethorical, but I find the discussion useful) brings the game much closer to "failure and success are almost set in stone once the odds are slight in favor or against you". But with d10's (and with knowing when not to request a roll) things are just perfect, IMO.


Well, this is where I struggle. An average townsman trained to master craftsman has 6. His agile apprentice trained only to three, but with a +3 characteristic, has also 6. Maybe it is a good thing that ability scores have inflated since 2ed, but I don't think they have inflated enough.

Another concern is of course that the rules are not consistent. Some books use ability+characteristic, others just ability, when they define masterhood.

Multiple dice is a very good idea, because they approach normal distribution. Fudge dice have the additional property that the mean is zero which makes it intuitively easier to judge expectations, bringing skill scores and ease factors into the same scale.

But quick fixes tend to cause more trouble than benefit, so until somebody manages to blend TeFo magic with the simplicity of Over the Edge or Burning Wheel, I'll happily play either ArM3 or ArM5 by the book.

And I'm sure that he, on his 35th year of life and already feeling the signs of old age, envies the young and talented craftsman who is barely 18 and can work his craft because he was blessed. It is not a bug, it's a feature.

But in general, when comparing the +3 apprentice and the +6 master I was considering the same characteristic (or the same char + score).

For Ars as it is today I disagree, but let's leave it at that.

Mostly agreed. On an ideal world, this should be corrected. On the other hand, in some cases I can see that only the score matters (eg. languages).

Fully agreed.

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As in Hercules would also have some Heroic Virtues that would avoid that particular dice rolling scenario?

I read it as “Why bother rolling when there there are no real stakes or challenge?” But that might be the Burning Wheel player in me and seeing the wisdom in a number of the GM rules of that game such as “Let it ride” (don’t have or let the players spam rolling the dice unless something significant has changed in the situation) and “Say yes or roll” (which refers to this sort of stakesless or “of course that character can do that or win there” situation).


The line above what you quoted was

I agree it doesn't make sense to roll in that situation. I was pointing out using an easy example the weirdness of mapping the real world to a model using dice, and we have to accept peculiar outcomes at times. When it doesn't matter, one shouldn't roll, but these same incongruous outcomes happen in combat, etc, where the outcome really matters and we must roll.

Lets do the maths (assuming simple die).
With a +3 gap, the apprentice does better with a roll of 10 vs 6 or less from the master. a roll of 9 vs 5 or less, etc. 21 of the 100 roll combinations, the apprentice is better. and 10 of the 100, the master and apprentice are the same.
For 3 pieces of work, for the apprentice to equal or better the master is 31%*31%*31% = 2.98%. To better the master 21%*21%*21% = 0.93%, less than 1 in 100.

For the master to surpass the apprentice in all 3 pieces. 69%*69%*69% = 32.85%.
Most of the time, with 3 pieces of work, the guys with years less experience will produce at least 1 piece of work that is better.

The problem has a simple solution. Specifying the ease factor does not suffice. SG also has to determine the standard deviation of the attempt. The standard deviation obviously depends on the task, but the single die system of ArM assumes that it is fixed. It can be resolved using zero mean dice in different numbers, but you'd probably prefer to computerise it.

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Personaly? I'd prefer to leave it as it is.

At the end of the day, this is a game. It doesn't has the objective of emulating real world dynamics, but it should have the objective of providing a satisfying gaming experience.

We can't do that with zero mean dice unless we change a couple of other things in the rules. And by a couple, I actually mean a lot. And even if we did those changes, the end result would provide a different kind of gameplay experience.

The d10 + possibility of botch + possibility of exploding, on the other hand, offers the "necessary" "realism" coupled with good gameplay, an I'll stand by what I said earlier: it's a nice sweetspot.

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Actually, of all the changes we could debate, zero mean dice is among the easiest to implement. Even so, I did not seriously propose it as an amendment. It is only a good idea if one start over from scratch.

As has been argued also in the 6ed thread, five editions have taken us as far as we can reasonably get with the 1980s legacy. If we want a better system, we need to go all the way.


First of all: If a task is trivial, why even roll a dice! As SG I just let it go on.

We have a few Houserules, too:
For non-stressful or trivial situations we have the "take 5" rule, instead of rolling D10 just assume a rolled "five". Therefore, no botch is possible, which could derail the Story in an unnecessary way.
(Taken from the "Take 10 rule" of the other game)

For Information gathering activities, I often let my players role behind my SG screen. Then I decide if I ignore the result and hand out the clues I want to proceed the story, or if I do the math. The advantage is, that the player cannot metagame any bad result, identifying it, as a red herring and it also enables the possibility to mystify, if there would be even more information to gather. Same is possible for social scenes. After all, how do you know in real life, if the reaction of the opposite person, is because of your social behaviour or because of his thoughts/mental state.

Generally, I think it's better, if the SG leads the game in a way, that helps the players to reduce meta gaming, which breaks the suspension of disbelieve way too much.

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In general there is a good test for whether or not to call for/allow a roll as a game master:

The action has to have a chance to fail
it has to have a chance to succeed.

When it comes to players rolling in order to get clues to a mystery, I will say this for general advice too:

Dont ever gate the progression of the plot behind a roll. If you do that regularly then every once in a while the players will fail the said roll and be stuck, unable to progress in the plot.
That said, this rule actually need not apply very often in Ars, as the game is primarily about time passing, so if your players dont manage to find an important clue, they cant actually get stuck the same way a group of D&D players can. They just wont be able to reach satisfactory or advantageous conclusions to their problems, which ought to happen every once in a while in Ars.
But as a reverse, to the previous reverse, at the table, in a gaming session, you as a story guide should never plan in such a way that the session might end in the first 5 minutes because of a failed roll to get some minor clue, unless you have a backup plan for what to play instead, simply because it is disrespectful to your players to have them show up for much less time than what is agreed upon beforehand.


I like what you say and have a few additions I would like to add.

On when to roll:

Only roll if you can both fail and succeed as you say, but also only if the outcome matters. Do the stakes merit a roll? Does the difference between success and failure impact the story enough?

When it comes to rolls for clues for investigation plots I have this rule for myself:

The players always get the clues they need to progress (but not necessarily more than that). Rolls for investigating/searching can give them clues faster (if time is of the essence in the plot), show them the bigger picture (if there are opportunities or risks they can miss and still progress) or let them gain other benefits like additional resources that are nice to have but not needed for the plot.

But as you say, Ars Magica can in some plots just can let them fail in a way that they know that to solve this they will need to get/learn/fix X first and then they can come back and complete it in another season. It's a good way to tie the downtime/resource game to the plots sometimes.


Been silent for a while on this (busy busy, catching up). A few points about skills from me:

The 'combatification' of debating in HOHS is a really neat idea I want to expand on. I have garbage notes on an idea and will sometime actually type it up. I think more things could be like that - MOST things should be resolved in stages, anyway.

Social skills: Bargain + Charm + Carouse? + Etiquette + Intrigue? + Folk Ken + Leadership. The skills that are most ready to be chopped, in my eyes, are Carouse and Folk Ken.

More strange to me is how often I see characters without Area Lore (AT ALL) or Organization Lore (at all). I think some of the breadth issues could be solved by giving in-play characters exposure(2xp) in knowledge skills (non-arcane lore, language) and maybe when doing yearly advancement, give characters 5xp that can only be spent on those same. That way, the soldier who has served magi for 10 years will learn enough latin to transfer ideas and information. [This idea is something I definitely stole from Shadowrun.]


One place I would suggest you take a look is Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits subsystem. It uses a "volley" mechanic where each player scripts out three moves for the round face down (round of debate is a lot longer than a round of combat and not really an exact measure in any sense), each of the moves are based on actual rhetorical techniques used in debating. These scripted moves are more or less effective against each other and they are revealed at the same time for each volley. It's a much less abstract system than the one shown in Ars but is the best debating / argument rules I have seen in an RPG. So if serious about expanding the current Ars system I'd recommend taking a look and seeing what you think could be used from that.

I strongly disagree on Folk Ken, a) reading people is very important and b) it is totally a thing to have a good sense of how people behave but very little skill in actually getting them to like you or manipulating them in other manners or the reverse, being quite manipulative or able to browbeat but having little understanding or empathy of how others think. I mostly disagree with your statement on Carouse, it's something of etiquette for the lower classes and should probably be rewritten as such rather than mostly how to drink a lot. And the Etiquette specs for lower class folks should probably be removed and use OoH Lore for etiquette with Magi where it matters and it often won't.

We implemented a similar rule in one of the games I played in, 2 bonus exposure xp every season limited to Languages & Area Lores and I thought it worked well. I think we only allowed languages to hit level 4 via this method reasoning that further improvement required more focused study of some sort but maybe I'm misremembering. But, yes, characters not taking any mundane-ish lores seems odd to me and I usually take Covenant Lore for the covenant my magi were apprenticed at, rarely more than levels 1/2 but still.


I know what you mean about Folk Ken, but 1) While it is realistic to have perceptive but not-charming people, if we were going to simplify social abilities, the Folk Ken is what I'd send down first; 2) That same argument can be expanded to other skills: I have a pretty good run speed, but my ability to climb stuff is pretty terrible, so we should probably split Athletics into Running and Climbing...

I think most Etiquette rolls can actually be covered instead by Organization Lore.

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As I said above, More granular skills would be an improvement but I definitely see more crossover between Charm or Leadership or Guile and Intrigue which is why if you want fewer skills why not start with Intrigue which could be rolled into those others? But, whatever, this is a problem I completely disagree is a problem.