Introducing New Players To the System: How do YOU do it?

Salve Sodales!

I've noted some rpgs and some board games have fan made primers for introducing new players to the game in question.

I was wondering what method folks here use for introducing Ars Magica to new players?
As a fairly crunchy game, I feel that certain players may be turned off by Ars Magica, especially if they come from a tradition of rules-lite games, or have little experience with RPGs in general.

SO, that said, do folks use documents? A very narrow few opening sessions that focus on particular rules (my method, but that works great for new groups, but adding new players is what I'm currently doing, so I'm looking at this approach with new eyes)

So, I throw it out there - how do you introduce new players to the Art of Magic?


I have a brief document (five widely-spaced pages) that I hand out. It presents a very short bluffer's guide to the Order, its structure and its magic, and is devoid of any but the most basic mechanics (Tech+Form). It is usually enough to get things started, and then they learn as they play.

You might want to take a look here : ... -part-one/

The one time I was SG for a brand-new player, I designed the first session to be mostly roleplay, with a few dice-rolling moments specifically included to introduce some mechanics in a controlled environment. (Near-gratuitous Perception+Awareness or Intelligence+Order of Hermes Lore rolls are also good for this.) This particular player had a Tremere magus, so I made sure to contrive a Certamen challenge - Certamen is a nice introduction to Ars Magica-type mechanics, even if the specific mechanic is rarely used.

Share?! :smiley: :exclamation:

Okay, but I have no idea how to provide a link - I'm a cyber-dunce - so all I can do is paste the whole thing up (with my apologies).

It is slanted towards my Saga (election of Praecones, for example), but is, I think, pretty general.

Ars Magica: a brief bluffer’s guide

All of the player character wizards belong to an organisation called the Order Of Hermes.

A wizard of the Order is called a magus (pronounced mah-goos [hard ‘g’]), the plural is magi (pronounced mah-gee [hard ‘g’]).

The Order, for the most part, practises what is known as Hermetic magic.

Every magus is a member of a House. The leader of a House is known as its ‘Primus’. There are twelve Houses:

House Bjornaer
Each Bjornaer magus has a ‘heartbeast’ – an animal that she can turn into at will. Bjornaer magi tend to be interested in nature, animals, and the bestial side of man. House Bjornaer is descended from a Germanic tradition of magic, whereas the other Houses are from the Roman tradition; as a consequence, its members are often underestimated by the rest of the Order, and the House as a whole is accorded less respect.

House Bonisagus
This House’s founder was the magical genius who invented Hermetic magic; as a consequence, its members are accorded great respect by the rest of the Order. Most members of House Bonisagus devote their lives to magical research. Some, however, see themselves as guardians of the Order, and spend their time involved in politics.

House Criamon
This secretive House is devoted to the search for something called ‘the Enigma’. Its members are mystics, seers, and riddle-masters. They mark their bodies with arcane tattoos, and care little for simple power – whether magical or political.

House Ex Miscellanea
This is a large, poorly organised House made up of wizards (many of whom are only nominally Hermetic) from a wide variety of traditions and cultures.

House Flambeau
House Flambeau is one of the three ‘war’ Houses. Most of its members love fire magic, and care for little else. A few Flambeau, however, prefer to specialise in destruction magic, seeing it as more subtle.

House Guernicus
Frequently referred to as ‘House Quaesitoris’, this House is devoted to interpreting, recording, investigating breaches of, and enforcing the Code of Hermes (see below). Each member holds the title ‘Quaesitor’, and is accorded a degree of respect.

House Jerbiton
The magi of House Jerbiton are interested in the ‘mundane’ world – in art, philosophy, culture and religion. Many of them retain their birth names, and keep in contact with their families (this is unusual among magi). They often involve themselves in worldly politics.

House Mercere
Most of the members of House Mercere have no magical ability, but they are considered to be full members of the Order, with voting rights, and protection under the Code. They act as the messengers of the Order, and are known as Redcaps because of their distinctive headgear. They are given considerable freedom of movement, and none may hinder them in their work. They operate under a strict code of conduct.

House Merinita
This House is interested in the world of Faerie. Its members tend to study faerie magic in parallel with (and sometimes instead of) Hermetic magic.

House Tremere
This powerful, rigidly structured House is one of the ‘war’ Houses. Its members are ambitious and power-hungry, and are concerned with dominance and hierarchy. The House emphasises the importance of planning and strategy, and prides itself on being the ‘backbone of the Order’.

House Tytalus
The highly individualistic members of this House are interested in conflict and challenge, although they pursue this interest in a wide variety of ways. This is the third of the ‘war’ Houses, but it is often treated with mistrust (and fear).

House Verditius
The magi of House Verditius are unable to cast formulaic spells without the aid of small ‘casting devices’. They are, however, the finest crafters of enchanted items in the Order. House Verditius often sells the items it makes to other members of the Order; this gives the House considerable political leverage, although it pretends to be of little importance.

The Order of Hermes is divided into thirteen roughly geographical areas called Tribunals.

The Hibernian Tribunal:- Ireland
The Loch Leglean Tribunal:- Scotland and the Scottish Isles
The Stonehenge Tribunal:- England, Wales and the Isle of Man
The Rhine Tribunal:- Germany, Bohemia, parts of Poland
The Normandy Tribunal:- France and the Low Countries
The Tribunal of the Greater Alps:- Bavaria, Switzerland and Austria
The Provencal Tribunal:- Languedoc, Gascony and the Pyrenees
The Iberian Tribunal:- Spain, Portugal and parts of North Africa
The Roman Tribunal:- Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica
The Transylvanian Tribunal:- Hungary and the Balkan States
The Thebes Tribunal:- Greece, Macedonia and the Greek Islands
The Tribunal of the Levant:- the Holy Land and parts of North Africa
The Novgorod Tribunal:- Russia and parts of Poland

Within each geographical Tribunal there is a seven-yearly meeting of the resident magi, which is also called a Tribunal. These Tribunal meetings are presided over by a magus known as the Praeco (pronounced pry-co). Each Tribunal has its own method of choosing its Praeco, although election is the commonest method.

Decisions that effect the whole Order are made at a meeting that occurs every thirty-three years. It is called a Grand Tribunal, and the Primus of House Bonisagus acts as Praeco.

The Order of Hermes is governed by a set of laws known as the Code of Hermes, or the Oath of Hermes. Every magus swears this oath, and is both bound by it and protected by it.

The Code Of Hermes (with commentary)
I, Bonisagus, hereby swear my everlasting loyalty to the Order of Hermes and its members.
(Bonisagus was the first magus to swear to the Code, so when it is written, his name is used. When the oath is actually taken by someone who is becoming a Hermetic magus, they insert their own name where Bonisagus' name appears here.)
I will not deprive nor attempt to deprive any member of the Order of his magical power. I will not slay nor attempt to slay any member of the Order, except in justly executed and formally declared Wizard's War. I hereby understand that Wizard's War is an open conflict between two magi who may slay each other without breaking this oath, and that should I be slain in a Wizard's War, no retribution shall fall on he who slays me.
I will abide by the decisions made by fair vote at the Tribunal. I will have one vote at the Tribunal, and I will use it prudently. I will respect as equal the votes of all others at the Tribunal.
I will not endanger the Order through my actions. Nor will I interfere with the affairs of mundanes and thereby bring ruin upon my sodalis. I will not deal with devils, lest I imperil my soul and the souls of my sodalis as well. I will not molest the faeries, lest their vengeance catch my sodalis also.
I will not use magic to scry upon members of the Order of Hermes, nor shall I use it to peer into their affairs.
I will train apprentices who will swear to this Code, and should any of them turn against the Order and my sodalis, I shall be the first to strike them down and bring them to justice. No apprentice of mine shall be called magus until he first swears to uphold this Code.
I concede to Bonisagus the right to take my apprentice if he should find my apprentice valuable to him in his studies.
(Members of House Bonisagus do not say this part. The reference to Bonisagus applies to all members of House Bonisagus.)
I shall further the knowledge of the Order and share with its members all that I find in my search for wisdom and power.
(Only members of House Bonisagus say this part.)
I request that, should I break this oath, I be cast out of the Order. If I am cast out, I ask my sodalis to find me and slay me that my life may not continue in degradation and infamy.
The enemies of the Order are my enemies. The friends of the Order are my friends. The allies of the Order are my allies. Let us work as one and grow hale and strong.
This oath I hereby swear on the third day of Pisces, in the nine hundred and fifth year of Aries. Woe to they who try to tempt me to break this oath, and woe to me if I succumb to the temptation.
(Bonisagus took the oath on February 21st, A.D. 767, which is the third day of Pisces in the nine hundred and fifth year of Aries, according to Hermetic reckoning. Each new magus states the current date in place of this one as they take the oath. It is traditional to use the astrological date, rather than the common one.)
Hermetic Magic

The wizard Bonisagus (founder of the House that bears his name) codified magic into what are known as the fifteen ‘Arts’. These arts are divided into five ‘techniques’ and ten ‘forms’. In order to cast a spell, magi combine a technique with a form. The form defines what the magus is affecting, and the technique defines how she is affecting it (think of the technique as a verb, and the form as the object).


Creo:- create, heal, cause to grow, make better
Intellego:- understand, sense, investigate
Muto:- change, give something a property it could not have naturally
Perdo:- destroy, shrink, age, harm, make worse
Rego:- control, move, manipulate


Animal:- animals, minds of animals, leather and other animal products, meat
Aquam:- water, liquid, bodies of water
Auram:- air, smoke, weather
Corporem:- people, human bodies, corpses
Herbam:- plants, rope and other plant products, non-animal food
Ignem:- fire, heat, light, darkness (n.b. darkness is an absence of light)
Imagonem:- illusion, things that affect the senses
Mentem:- human minds, emotions, ghosts
Terram:- earth, stone, metal, objects in general
Vim:- magic itself, spells, demons

So to make it dark, one casts perdo ignem; to move a rock is rego terram; to read someone’s mind is intellego mentem; to turn a dog into a mouse is muto animal; to heal a broken arm is creo corporem.

Bonisagus also invented a way for wizards to protect themselves from magic, it is called the Parma Magica. It is a ritual that a magus performs every morning, and it provides her with a kind of invisible magical shield that surrounds her.

Tremere (founder of House Tremere) worked with Bonisagus to invent a magical duel known as Certamen. This is a non-lethal way for wizards to settle disputes, arguments and insults.

There are three kinds of spells. Ritual spells take a long time to cast, and require raw vis (see below). They have long term or far-reaching effects, and are the most powerful. Formulaic spells are those that a magus has learnt or invented, and which he can cast reliably and consistently. These are pass/fail spells, they either work or they don’t, and if they work, they do exactly what the magus expects. Spontaneous spells are those that the magus makes up on the spot. They may not work exactly as the magus intended, and they can not have any permanent effect.

The magic power that flows through the world is known as Vis. This power can be concentrated in physical objects (water from a faerie pool, a demon’s tail, magic mushrooms, etc.), and is then known as ‘raw vis’. Magi value raw vis very highly because it can be used to power ritual spells; to make spells more powerful; to make spells permanent; and to enchant items. It can also be studied in the laboratory in order to increase one’s knowledge of the magical arts.

Magi tend to live together in small communities called covenants. A covenant can be almost any kind of living environment, from a lofty mountaintop fortress to a ramshackle collection of tents. The covenant usually forms the basis of the player character group. There are three types of player character: magi - the most important, and the most powerful; companions – hangers-on, friends of the covenant, people who lend their special skills and abilities to the magi; grogs – soldiers and servants who work directly for (or are slaves of) the covenant. Every player should have one magus and at least one companion. An individual grog is usually played by anyone who wishes to play it at the time, although players tend to develop ‘favourites’.

By introducing them to the setting and the simple core mechanics (arsm core mechanics are very simple) and easing them slowly into the more complex stuff. Since, in my experience, "the more complex stuff" is really lab work (esp. inventing spells and investing items) I tend to encourage players to focus on other things... like study and practice as seasonal activities and social interaction as adventures.

I think if I was trying to introduce someone to Ars, I would do a one session adventure with premade characters. Sort of an intro. My friend and one of my current group has a number of them that he runs at Gen Con every year so that I could potentially get a set of characters from him that have a proven play balance.

This lets people get into playing and as they want to do something, you explain the rolls so they get introduced to mechanics by rolling. The number crunching of character creation can some after they decide they like the system in general and have fun with it.

The other way is to let them play grogs and companions on an adventure. Our grogs in our saga are colorful and have their own little scenes and adventures that compliment what the mages are doing (like Shakespeare does with some of the servant characters in his plays). For example, one mage was visiting a tribunal covenant of a arrogant and martial bent. While the mage was trying to negociate with the Tremere, Flambeau and Tytalus, the grogs of the covenant decided to push around and bully the grogs of the mage. It lead to a small brawling/scuffling match where the grogs knocked out and then stripped the two bullies (no real harm save embarassment). Scenes like this make the grogs come alive.

NPC Tytalus to NPC Flambeau: If I had a pawn for every time I found the grogs tied up and naked....

4th Edition had two introductory adventures available in pdf, I've skimmed them and they look very nice but of course some of the mechanics have changed since then. I'd love to see these re-released for 5th Edition.

Oooo! I'll take a look at that :smiley:

I have used "Going Home" (you can find it online) 3 times so far to introduce the setting: Grogs carting good from the city to the covenant and getting into some supernatural stuff in the process. I tend to introduce a bandits vs grogs combat at the start or the ending of the adventure because usually the people I have played with like to beat the crap out of enemies once every 2 sessions or so. It plays in a single session easily.

After this, I tend to play a mini-session regarding magi going to collect some vis from a vis site and finding it is not there, so they need to go out and investigate it and play certamen to get it back. They need to:

  • sleep in a monastery
  • design a way to collect the vis [butterfly dust from a clearing full of butterflies in the forest](not used as an actual spell, but works well to make them think in magical terms)
  • investigate the scene to find that magi took it.
  • track the enemies without breaking the code (no scrying!)
  • confront the enemies and fight with them (certamen for us is a form of non-lethal combat, where you can use all the usual tricks of real combat. it is just that your spells do brawl damage).

The nigrasaxa adventure is really cool as well. I just checked it for the first time :slight_smile: