I've been thinking about David's piece in Sub Rosa 12...

Actually, I would build the intro in such a way as to gradually introduce the game's features. Explain to the players how the intro is built before running it so that they know that some options are off-limits at the early parts of the introduction.

The steps of the intro could be something like:

  1. Ability rolls: A situation where they need to make Awareness rolls, or some kind of knowledge checks.
  2. Formulaic spells: A non-combat situation where spells that the magi know can be used.
  3. Simple Combat: A small combat where the magi's grogs must fight. This could be a tavern brawl or some other situation where the magi cannot use their magic because there are too many mundane witnesses.
  4. Spontaneous magic: A non-combat situation where the magi must use spontaneous magic to solve a minor but important situation.
  5. Full Combat: A combat situation where, in addition to the grogs defending them using their weapons, the magi can use their spells to fight.
  6. Downtime: Using the library to learn a spell, create an item, improve abilities (grogs), write a book maybe. This could be more than one season, and from a limited list prepared in advance (with some choices customized for the pregen magi).
  7. ...and more: A few more scenes where the players can see the impact of the downtime on their characters.

EDIT: Clarification in red.

In a game about Wizards. :smiley:

This is a bit of a bait and switch, you know. I can imagine something like the following transpiring, "Hey, let's play a game about wizards." Which is followed by some discussion by the group and then an agreement to play Ars. "Now, let's start out with grogs. Then companions, and then we will do magi a few sessions later." I have no trouble opening a saga up like this, but for new players, when your main selling point is the fantastic magic system, and to start out with grogs...is well, a bait and switch. Give the players their magi. Play a couple of sessions with the magi all together, then go to grogs, and then go to companions. Of course, if you manage to convince them to play Ars without speaking of the magic system, feel free to disregard my comment. :smiley:

I find a thorough understanding of the scuffling rules has proved more handy to my longest-running magus than knowledge of spells. Then again, he has the short-ranged magic flaw and so punching an archmagus in the kidneys until they fell unconscious and then drowning them in a barrel of ale was his best moment of magical warfare.

Also, whether or not Ars is a game about wizards really depends on how you're playing it. In the first saga I ever played in, the SG wanted to make sure only one magus adventured at a time, so whoever adventured was surrounded by a load of grogs and companions and in the end we all got far more attached to our companions than our magi. In my current saga, we've had several sessions in a row where helping our companion (who started as a schoolteacher and worked his way up to Lord of Cumbria) with his problems was far more important than Hermetic politics. In practise, I would say the Ars I end up playing tends to about magi shuffling out of the lab, going "hey! look at my invention!" and then barricading themselves away before someone bothers them, while other people try to deal with threats to the covenant.

I suppose my idea of following a crusader is more about getting people into playing in Mythic Europe with some Ars rules than about getting them to play Ars Magica.

Granted, I don't disagree with what you're saying, so much, as the primary selling point most of us rely upon is that it's a fabulous magic system. And then when introducing the magic system to new players, we find it's is incredibly difficult to explain all the things we like about the magic system completely and easily without overwhelming the player.

I think the magic system has to be demonstrated and experienced soon, if not first. I think troupe style play elements can be introduced later. Keep in mind, what you're describing is actually a feature of the game. Getting people into Ars, infecting them involves getting them excited about an aspect, and then building on that with another aspect. Give the players a magus to play, have them experience things, and then explaining that by not adventuring your magus can become more powerful is a huge way to do scaffolding over a long term. Most players are smart enough to also realize that taking their magi out on every episodes will lead to almost all challenges being overcome, which probably should yield very few xp for the magi as compared to the companions and grogs who would be operating with just a single magus.

Magi should be barricading themselves away, but there should also be sufficient covenant hooks which draw them out, or story flaws which negate the player complaining about why he can't leave the lab just now.

Now that's a fair assessment. So long as you're not saying, let's play a game with a fantastic magic system, but not play any wizards at first, that's where I was having a hard time.... :smiley:

What about this for a module idea.

starting magi go on a hunt with their peers. 3 magi, 4 grogs, 3 companions for a 6 player troupe.

The hunt is medieval in design, just that you are hunting drakes up a mountain pass (yes, "winter drake hunt" got a catch on me since I read its title repeatedly in the "last posts" of the forum over and over again, even if I do not read the thread itself).

The players get sidetracked when trying to ambush the drakes around the other side of the mountain.

  1. They have to deal with an avalanche of ice, snow and stones while in a wooded area. Time for some sponts
  2. Then, they encounter a family of ogres in a bridge that demand payment to let them pass. bargain and/or combat
  3. They find the drakes for final confrontation. the hermetic cavalry is near in case they need it.

Quite high on the fantasy front, but teaches you social skills some survival rolls, sponts and combat and reinforces the idea of "you get to play the magi in the tower!" in Mythic Europe. Quite high on action, though.

I think, perhaps, the lack of metaplot may inhibit onboarding as well. Ars Magica's so player-driven that it's not always clear what your characters are supposed to do with the game's celebrated magic system...

Here are my thoughts (as of this moment) about how to run spontaneous magic for ArM5 newbies. I doubt any of this is new to these forums, but I'll try to put it together in a helpful way.

First, yes, on their character sheet list the 5x10 table with their Te+Fo+Sta already calculated for them. Also give them access to the R/D/T magnitude table as in Arthur's post (although I'd just leave off Year and Boundary).

Then, introduce the following system for casting spells. Everything is centered around the basic sponted spell being a Base 5 Personal/Momentary/Individual spell. Every spell costs a certain number of "casting tokens" (couldn't resist!) - poker chips or similar - to cast.

How much does a spell cost? Instead of listing the spell guidelines as Base 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, etc., list them as follows:

  • list Base 1 guidelines as "costs 1 token; get 4 free mini-tokens"
  • list Base 2 guidelines as "costs 1 token; get 3 free mini-tokens"
  • list Base 3 guidelines as "costs 1 token; get 2 free mini-tokens"
  • list Base 4 guidelines as "costs 1 token; get 1 free mini-token"
  • list Base 5 guidelines as "costs 1 token"
  • list Base 10 guidelines as "costs 2 tokens"
  • list Base 15 guidelines as "costs 3 tokens", etc.

Then give then the R/D/T table as above, but say "costs X tokens" instead of "+X magnitudes". Mini-tokens can be used to offset the cost of these R/D/T tokens.

How many tokens do you get to cast the spell? You take your listed Te+Fo+Sta total and add a die roll (simple or stress). In addition, if you have mini-tokens left over, each one gives you +2 on this total. You get the total/10 tokens (rounded down) to cast the spell (equivalently, if your total is a two-digit number, then the first digit is the number of tokens you get).

For example: turn a rock into a faint nightlight that lasts all night.
How much does it cost? "Create light equivalent to moonlight" is listed as "costs 1 token; get 4 free mini-tokens". You need to touch the rock, so spend one mini-token; you want it to last all night, so spend two more mini-tokens. You have one mini-token left over, so you'll compute Cr+Ig+Sta +2 (mini-token) + die roll. It costs 1 token, so the total needs to be 10 or higher.

For example: a lite version of Arc of Fiery Ribbons, that does only +5 damage.
How much does it cost? "Create fire that causes +5 damage" is listed as "costs 1 token; get 1 free mini-token". Voice range costs 2 tokens, one of which can be paid using the mini-token. Group costs 2 tokens. Total cost is 4 tokens. You'll compute Cr+Ig+Sta + die roll, needing 40 or higher.

For example: Perception of the Conflicting Motives.
How much does it cost? "Sense all of the emotions in a being" is listed as "costs 2 tokens". Eye range adds 1 token; total cost is 3 tokens. You'll compute In+Me+Sta + die roll, needing 30 or higher.

Players will quickly see that they have a decent chance at 1-token spells in general and 2-token spells in their specialties, possibly higher depending on their magi's power level.
(This all ignores Penetration - they shouldn't be sponting spells at baddies anyway! :wink: - but the SG can do the calculation for them if necessary.)

Those are really good. I was going to do something like that myself, so you beat me to it.

I always used to like the idea that Ars didn't really have "tables" you needed to look up during the game, but actually they make a lot of sense. Just read across and get what you need. Nice, easy, quick.

The other half of the battle is the Ease Factor problem, which is especially problematic for spontaneous magic. If you look at the published scenarios (not just Tales of Mythic Europe but Legends of Hermes, etc.) you won't find many explicit "encounters" with detailed breakdown for the storyguide. If I were to write a Pathfinder scenario (I still might one of these days) then I can imagine I'd make room for the Difficulties of the various tasks I'd no doubt include. Heavy door? Okay, what strength do you need to kick it in? In Ars, that kind of thing is generally left to the SG and we haven't, I don't think, made things easy.

Would I do things differently? That's a tough one. I don't think the wider Ars readership want to pick up an Ars Magica scenario clothed in a Pathfinder template. That said, I do think there's more scope to do that for kick-start scenarios where we can assume that storyguide and players are all finding their feet.

So there's no harm in stating that our heavy door can be destroyed by a spontaneous PeHe of level 10 or can be forced open by a ReHe of level 5. Narrow those choices down for the players and give the storyguide some numbers she can use to guide her players. If someone wants to turn the door into a song or give it arms and persuade it to open itself then all power to them, but that's outside the expected path and you're going to have to work harder than that.

We can extend that to characters and to magic resistance too. If a scenario includes a priest protected by a relic, then he might have a MR of +10. Actually, if he's in his church then it's 14, maybe. So, to affect him with any spell, you need to beat the spell level by 15. Oh, you have Penetration of 4? Okay, so you need to beat it by 11. That, to me, sounds an easier way of dealing with it than working out the spell total then working out what's left and then comparing against the MR.

I don't think we need to remove any rules or reduce their importance necessarily, but I don't think we've always made the best effort at making scenarios easy to follow. I think we could though with just a little bit of thought behind how we present things.

You forgot to include the Divine Aura. :laughing:

I'm afraid that a system that needs a 50-entry table printed on the character sheet can't really be described as "simple". I agree with Timothy and Richard: Ars Magica is not a simple system, and it cannot be made into a simple system while preserving the things that make it good. The complexity really is necessary to the magic system. We are building more scaffolding in the supplements, but I think that making Ars Magica accessible is a genuinely difficult problem.

However I would drop the combat system from an introductory adventure. Looking at Promises, Promises, I see that I did. It's complicated and not really that important to the game.

Moreover, dropping it serves a second purpose, atleast when introducing people with an existing background in RPGs to Ars Magica.
It serves the purpose of de-emphasising the importance of combat within the game, thus underscoring one of the many ways this is not That Other Game.

I am not sure I agree with that. If not another thing, the supplements more than double the amount of rules in the core book and introduce dozens of standalone subsystems. Some stuff can be seen as scaffolding (adventures and sample characters) but not everything, and by far most of the supplemernts are far from scaffolding exercises. Character developments are not scaffolding IMO, or not scaffolding that is of any use to introduce new players, at least.

Removing combat might be a good idea, though.

So, back on things to have in an intro to the system:

  • Ability usage
  • Solve problem with formulaic
  • Solve problem with (your strong TeFo combo) spontaneous magic. Same combos and effects to be used provided
  • Negotiation/investigation
  • Some supernatural stuff. Ghosts or Genii Loci might be a good idea here, since you cannot beat the crap out off them, or be tempted to.


You can make it simple for 1 game. Once people understand the Form + Technique + stamina that give them a casting total. Then divide by 2 for spont ( ignoring non fatiguing). More importantly, understand I Create; I Control; I destroy; part of the magic. People can figure that out. The rest is just story. Rescue the Redcap from Wolves in the Black Forest. SG can roll for grogs ( or fudge it). Magi can try out some spells. Ignore most of the Mythical Europe for several games.

Once people understand the basic magic system then they can expand from there.

I think a tightly controlled and detailed scenario without the need to cast Spontaneous spells by new players is just so much better. If I had a veteran player, I would create a situation that would allow that player to cast a spontaneous spell that is within the character's capability, as a demonstration of what is possible, to whet the appetite.
Trying to get new players to wrap their heads around spontaneous magic is exactly the same as trying to teach new players how to make new spells to add to their repertoire. It is by no means simple, and it is by no means a fast process when being done from the book. Even with charts of base effects, and tables that do the calculations, which can speed things up, you're still doing a fair amount of look up and referencing, and finding the right base, matching the right r/d/t parameters.

If you're going to introduce spontaneous magic, I would write down predefined "spells" the base effects a character can do at logical and appropriate CS's (say within the range of -2 to the CT, so that a roll of 4+ will be successful when divided).

Thinking of my first ever Ars experience, I had no idea you could cast sponts, so that might be a point.

IIRC in my first adventure we had 2 mages, one with a plethora of small spells (me) and another with more powerful, but way fewer spells. It made them quite different. One was the big gun that ruled combat (flambeau firebrand, IIRC) while the other was much more a jack of all trades that could use magic in a multiplicity of situations (it was a jerbiton derived from the girl in the original stormrider adventure). it worked OK for us. I am sure that if we ran the same scenario now we would be doing al kinds of sponts, but it was still obvious to us that magic ruled the day without having to learn anything other than the precalculated casting totals in our character sheets.

I wouldn't bother with any spont below the first magnitude but I would take a page off the Amazons (noble's?) and use fixed R/D/T on basic spont spells.

  1. Just give them their formulaic spells and tell them "you have to use those exactly as written."
  2. Then give them 1st-magnitude spont spells matching their strength and tell them "you can improvise on those but be creative." Disregard second magnitude spells (remember that's an effective +10).
  3. Let them minimal R/D/T and let them use their imagination. They should come back to you with "can I make a bigger effect if I touch the tree?" and describe themselve how the spell took form.
  4. If they get a good roll, prod them into saying how the result were better than expected.

Giving them a spont spellbook and letting them invent stories for those spells would be closer to where you want them to go.

Rather than present specific guidelines, just the idea that formulaic magic is like a dial from one to ten, rituals are needed to get the dial to 11 or more, and that spontaneous magic halves your usual dial, round down. Then present Arts scores as 1/5th their usual, and ignore Aura, Stamina, etc. The newbie will have modified Arts between 0 and 5, and is likely to notice the combinations of minor sponts that can be achieved, especially if the character has a few formulaic spells at level 5 or 10 (in this case 1 or 2) that illustrate what is possible from a minor effect.

The problem isn't spontaneous magic but an ever-growing body of guidelines, the concept of magnitudes (sometimes one level, sometimes five, and we'll leave the cases of when it is three alone for now), and so on.

I don't think that David was claiming that all supplements (or even all of particular supplements) are "scaffolding". But some are. Projects for example, is partly intended to show players the sort of things that your magi could be doing. Likewise, Antagonists partly models approaches to how the troupe can build a "saga arc" around the interactions between the player characters and a Covenant Hook. The Tribunal books also contain quite a lot of scafffolding, in the sense that they provide models of how covenants of magi might interact with each other and their surroundings, and also provide examples to the troupe of how the events of real history can be used as a context for play.

Even some of the "mostly new rules" supplements (like, the RoP sequence) do contain attempts to show how the material can be used in play, in stories.

Although, admittedly little of the published "scaffolding" helps much with genuinely new players. It is mostly intended to aid players who have already decided to play. Which is possibly a reasonably assumption, seeing as the player has commited to buying/reading a supplement...

But that doesn't really seem to be a problem for an "introductory" adventure. It's only a problem if you are using exotic characters --- characters from Rival Magic, or Hedge Magic: Revised, etc --- or variant Hermetic guidelines from supplements. And if you are doing that you are increasingly departing from the essence of Ars Magica. Which is fine, if that's what you want to do as troupe...but it's not really introducing players to "proper" Ars Magica, which is essentially about Hermetic magic and Hermetic magi as presented in the core rulebook.

Which is why the case of 3 is left alone. :slight_smile: But level 3 Hermetic spells are quite possible with just the core rules; a +1 raises the level to 4, another +1 to 5, the next +1 to something other than 6.