Merits of 5th vs 4th

Hello all,

I am a player from way back, but took a break for a few years. Now I am thinking about running another game and I discover that 5th edition is out.

Now, I have read some bits here and there, but what I would like know is this:

In your opinion, how does 5th ed. improve on / fall short of 4th edition?

Please be specific.

EDIT: I am looking for impacts on game play in addition to rules points - and am not all that concerned with 'power gaming' more smooth flow of sessions, combat, etc.

I have most of the 4th ed. core, and I am reading here that conversion is not all roses - so maybe someone can help me convince myself to buy 5th :slight_smile:

Bascially, for me, the superiority is that you can see how the ruleset was constructed now, which makes it easier to add your own material. This has a useful knock-on effect in that it makes it easier for the authors to create crunchy new rules. I know that people have only seen GotF and HoH:TL and Divine, but I feel these demonstrtae that its easier to come up with really simple, elegant solutions to things which were clunky before.

Well, let's see...

The advencement and character creation rules are more in alignment under 5th edition than any previous edition. There are actually handy and workable rules for creating older characters without having to go for "Well, I guess that looks right".

The combat system changed ... again. That could be good, bad, or indifferent, depending on how you look at it. If find this particular change just a change, not really either a step forwards or backwards.

Many people like the new breakdown of Virtues and Flaws into Major and Minor, rather than point cost. Some do not. This is a matter of taste. I find this new method is easier for new players to grasp, if that is worth something to you.

There are many spells that have moved about, nothing new there. Again, this happens every edition.

The guidelines for creating new spells are clearer even than those that appeared in 4th edition. I really like this. Devising new spells and device effects is pretty easy now, although there will always be some arguments on the fringes.

In play, I find that magi are not so much worried about dying of old age, but rather of being "warped". The Warping and Twilight rules are good, consistent, but also utterly unforgiving. It is quite possible for a character in a relatively short period of time, if he is not careful, to gain extra Flaws simply due to magical overload.

Admittedly if you have all the 4th edition material you will find things missing in the new edition -- there are not as many books. One large hole that was filled had to do with creatures. The pdf on mundane creatures available in AM section of the Atlas site is a "must have"; thankfully it is also free, so no problems there. However without that pdf, I think most new players would have been lost.

In general I really like the new rules. I am also quite happy with 4th edition in most areas. Given a little work-up, I could easily play 2nd edition again; I'd skip 3rd for the Realm of Reason and the Passions if nothing else, but I could even play in that. In other words, I am an AM junky... :wink:

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Fifth Edition play is the way that advancement is now entirely seasonal. Characters get experience based on time passing, not just from what they do. To reward players on adventures, you give out Confidence Points instead, saving the experience for the end of the season. So, Confidence becomes a session mechanic, which is nice because it is easily tied to what a character wants and does in game, and gaining experience is more of an out-of-game bookkeeping thing that feels more like covenant development than a reward for roleplaying.

Also, a lot of former Virtues are now Flaws (like Visions, Mentor, or Animal Companion), because they act as hooks to get the characters to act or get involved in a story. There's a benefit to these Flaws, but they also demonstrate that players giving up some control over their characters is a significant penalty, and it really helps the storyguide come up with interesting things to do in the game.

I think combat is a great improvement, because it's been simplified and streamlined. There's room to add other things to it, but if you just want to get through an encounter, it's nice and simple. In particular, the rules for characters fighting as a group are really elegant. I haven't found conversion to be that difficult, myself; I just translate characters' Abilities over and then calculate the new combat scores.

I have to second Timothy's comments about the transparency of the rules. Fifth Edition has become a lot crunchier because the rules are so easy to understand and build upon. There's so many directions to take a character now! It's fun to just play out seasons of time, without going and doing any big adventures, because characters can develop so interestingly. If you like Ars Magica, I can't imagine you won't like the new edition.

A big change that no one else has mentioned yet is the matter of spell penetration.

In fifth edition spell level is subtracted from penetration.

So if a magus faces a creature with substantial might it is likely that they'll be able to penetrate with low level spells but not high level spells. I've found this makes combats involving magi and creatures with might far more interesting.

Near the end of my last game our Merinita muto specialist got in an altercation with a faerie Minotaur. Rather than just turning the beast into a toad and being done with it the Merinita had to cast level ten and fifteen spells on her opponent meaning that there was a good duration combat where the characters could all contribute and the maga while still quite powerful was not overwhelming or impotent (as was the case in previous editions where characters could either penetrate with their most powerful magics or not penetrate at all).

But getting off of the specific point and addressing the general question, I've found fifth edition rules to be a significant improvement in terms of both flavor and ease of use over all previous editions. (Well, second edition was pretty easy to use as well, being a simpler rule set.)

I started playing Ars Magica with AM2 and converted fairly swiftly to AM3. I skipped AM4 altogether, but AM5 is well written and full of flavour enough to capture my imagination and start running an AM5 campaign.

AM5 Best features:

New combat system - lethal and simple (a ref's dream imo)

Internally consistent spell guidelines - I just can't stop thinking of new spells for characters and npcs.

Excellent writing - the Houses feel special and the Parma Magica is suddenly something worth swearing the Oath for. The atmosphere of the game is reflected in the rules set and the writing of the core rules .. that's very rare imo.

A consistent and coherent world view - not dark 'mythic punk' (AM3) or simply 'vague' (AM4 imo), AM5 has a world view and philosophy that captures the flavour of medieval Europe, but with a magical twist.

Inspirational: Which is certainly the highest accolade. I'm suddenly full of new AM ideas, characters, plots and stories. Again, this is certainly a function of being so well written by people who evidently play and love the game.

AM5 cons (though none of them are limitations):

After the brilliance of True Lineages - It'd be really nice to see Mystery cults and Fellowships written and released (and this from someone who never buys supplements!). Covenants - particularly lab improvement rules - would also be a 'must buy'. I just want more basically...

The Magic Resistance rules are philosophically consistent, but take some getting used to (and may not be to every troupe's taste).

I think that the big deal is that the whole game got looked over and lots of the mechanics were changed so that they work better.

Some examples:

You will like the new spell mastery rules (or at least everyone else does); Rather than just receiving a one less stress die, each spell has an associated skill. Each level of skill you have gives the magus one less stress die, a +1 bonus to their casting roll and a special ability with the spell. Special abilities that are covered in the core book are multi casting, fast casting, quiet casting, still casting, and increased penetration (there are some other options in the true lineages book). Different magi will now master a given spell in different ways as is appropriate for their experience and personality.

The bonus acquired from vis boosting for penetration has been reduced to +2 per pawn (I believe that this is a good thing as I considered vis boosting overpowered in previous editions).

Vis boosting for range/duration/target has been eliminated (this makes the system more consistent but it never really bugged me before).

Characters can now gain penetration multipliers for arcane connections, horoscopes, true names, etc. (I love this especially as penetration is now more important).

Four of the houses are now mystery cults, the mystery mechanics have been simplified and they're now a larger part of the game.

Certamens now involve real decisions and trying to double think your opponent rather than being decision-free dice fests.

Well, more internal consitency would be welcome - don't get me wrong I love 4th, and started in 2nd - but now that I am trying to put things together I keep running into big holes like "fearie powers can't be resisted by normal magic" well that's just great. What is "normal magic"? Anyway - don't mind my frustration. Suffice it to say that if 5th ed. tightens things up I would be greatful.

That was just today as I was pouring over the 4th ed. fearies book - neat but annoying.

I notice quite a bit of stuff on these boards about how the magic conforms to the worldview of mythic Eurpoe - this is very encouraging.

Do they explain more about the Aristotlean physics, structure of the cosmos (spheres et. al), etc. ?

I am not quite clear on what is meant by the 4 houses "mystery cults". I never owned the 4th ed. mysteries book. I am assuming that they now have more in depth backgrounds with enriched flavour, classical roots, etc.?

Also - having read some things about warping here on the forum ... is that now what leads to twiglight?

Not sure what this means. Off the top of my head I can't think of anywhere in Ars 5 where there is normal magic compared to what, abnormal magic? There are mystery traditions, but none of them work in a way that allow them to circumvent magic resistance (as far as I know).

Warping is a great addition to the game. Very Basically Twilight Points are now earned on an experience scale sort of like skills or Techs or Forms. Warping points are the experience points that gather into Twilight Points. What great about this is allows for multiple Twilights without the very real potential of your first Twilight being your last. Now you can suffer several, hell more than just several Twilights, and not disappear.

I like this

Oh the fearies stuff isn't important. Just trying to decipher 4th ed. faerie rules - they are a bit vaugue.

Cool on the warping though - the twighlight thing has always been cool, but using it could really upset players before because every twighlight point took twenty years off a magus life (the amount of time using a longevity potion takes to gant a point).

One person in my play group (years ago) rightly got a bit upset about getting a bunch of twiglight points in one go (hard to remeber - 6 I think). This lady is a good roleplayer, but when you basically get your lifespan cut by 25% it can seem unfair.

The use of the pyramid build-up is very smart indeed. Lots more opportunity for twiglight scenes.

Do longevity potions still inflict twighlight in 5th (or 'warping' I guess)?

Also - thinking on the new penetration idea. I really like that, as it forces players to think about nifty low level spells. I always love low level spells. It just seems so nifty when you can accomplish big things with a minimal amount of magic.

Looks like I just have to go and get the new edition ...

Back in the day, when Order of Hermes came out we read about twilight and were excited to add it to our game. FIRST TIME, my friend rolls 1, then 6. He got 12 Twilight Points his first experience. I immediately hated the rules and made a patch. My Patch wasn't as good as Ars 5 solution.

Yes Longevity still adds towards Twilight, and Twilight to put a cap on how long a Magus can live, but now the process is stretched out in a manner that makes it very difficult for a Magus to disappear on thier first Twilight exp.

A great deal of this medieval world view was in fourth edition as well but I think that it is done a titch better in fifth. There are two new theories (one Aristitiotle-ish and one Plato-ish) that tell how the realms relate to one another, but these are presentied as theories not as facts and together they don't even take up a full page.

The mythic Europe chapter is in my opinion the best one that we've seen to date but not because of its scholorship (although to my amateur eyes the scholorship seems at least as good as fourth edition and better than previous versions) but because it links every aspect of medieval Europe that is discussed with a matching discussion of how to use that particular aspect in a game.

One of the changes that I like (although it takes some getting used to) is that fifth edition finally draws a clear demarcation between what is faerie and what is magical. Once you get this difference in your head you won't be asking yourself "is this a magical creature or a faerie creature?". You may not have had this problem in the past but I did.

Mysteries, as a mechanic, allow a character to undergo a quest, initiation, or otherwise transformative experience and from this experience gain a bundled virtue and flaw.

For example the magus Odin wants to learn the secrets of rune magic. To do this, Odin studies the mysteries of the Rune users then tears out his own eye and hangs upside down from the tree of knowledge for a year. At the end of the year Odin has a new flaw (missing eye) and a new virtue (rune magic).

The four mystery cult houses and their associated mysteries are Merinita (faerie magic), Verditious (verditious magic), Bjornaer (heartbeast), and Criamon (Enigmatic wisdom).

Characters from these houses start out with their outer mystery virtue (very much like their house virtue in fourth edition) but they now have deeper mysteries to uncover beyond what they start with.

Just a note that while the mystery mechanic is presented in the core book, it isn't given too much more text than I just gave it, and while we've seen a bit of mystery information in "Guardians of the Forest" and "Realms of Power: Divine" we haven't seen any expicit fullly developed mysteries n published material yet. Both "The Mysteries (revised)" and "Houses of Hermies: Mystery Cults" are, at last word, on track for April release.

So while we have the rules to develop mystery cults we don't really have examples of what Atlas is going to do with them yet. The new books could easily take a somewhat different approach than what was seen in Guardians of the forest and the divine book. If you like to make your own rules this isn't a big deal. If you prefer to have Atlas do the work for you then you'll have to wait until April.

I just wanted to add that one thing I've found truly impressive about ArM5 is that it provides options for the setting - discussion of key points (is magic fading, were the Founders greater mages then modern magi? How closely do you wish to stick to history? and so on), which I have found to be very fruitful.

Hmm - Interesting. The setting options are a good idea. The last campaign I played in had a big arc about "Were the founders greater mages? Does the shared system of the modern order actually train mediocre skill?"

Well the faerie thing would be welcome - right now I pretty muched had to shoe-horn most of the faerie stuff into my saga plan with house rules to make any sense of it.

I had this crazy idea that with the 4th ed. book free on .pdf and some documentation from me, players could have most of the resources for the saga on hand. It has been alot of work - only because there are so many balance issues with faeries, and to a lesser extent Hedge Magic.

I wonder if they are going to put out hedge magic again. I always had a soft spot in my heart for hedgies. Something about the underdog coming out O.K. :slight_smile:

I wouldn't rule out a hedge magic book comming out a few years down the line but we've already seen a bunch of non-hermetic magical traditions in "Realms of Power: Divine". I think that it is pretty safe to say that you'll see more traditions in "ROP: Infernal" this summer and (especially) "ROP: Magic" next year.

And I doubt very much if anyone would want you to stop, Badger. :smiley:
Heck, I've got the same addiction myself. It's what drew me to the game in the first place.

There are new traditions in Infernal, but there won't be in Magic, because a dedicated Hedge Magic book is planned. Magic will include other interesting character options that I can't talk about yet (because it's still at an early stage of development).

I don't know whether to be happy or sad now. I like exotic traditions and I'm eager to see them reintroduced to the published material for fifth edition. So I'm glad to see that they're getting their own book. But I doubt that Hedge magic revised will get scheduled before RoP: Magic so we'll have to wait longer for them.

I hope that people don't purchase the RoP: Magic book expecting to find it full of traditions and end up as dissatisfied customers.

Me too, which is why I'm starting warning people now.

Well, I'm very happy!
Thank you velly Big, David, for the update.
Getting updates from the line editor is Gold! :smiley:
And it's to early to start sobbing over RoP:Magic, Mysteries and HoH: Mystery Cults however.... But they are right around the corner, right?