Modern Ars Magica

So, I know that this has been addressed before, but I was looking for thoughts and reactions to a campaign set in a modern world. For the past several months I have been running an Ars Magica game six players set in the modern universe of Jim Butchers "Harry Dresden" novels. We have made a few changes, but for the most part the rules hold up. The big changes we made are as follows:
-Firearms: they function as a crossbow/bow with higher initiative, the damage for a given gun is caliber X 25 for pistols and caliber X 30 for long guns. Range is near for a pistol, far for a rifle, sight for an advances sniper rifle.
-The Gift: Rather than making people fear you the gift causes technology to malfunction. Any time a magi interacts with technology they make a stress roll against an ease factor based on how advances it is, they also make a check anytime they make a personality trait roll adjusted based on stress. A cell phone is an 8, and MRI machine is a 12, an older model car is a 5, and a light-bulb is a 3. The Gentle Gift means that you role twice and take the better one, the blatant gift you take the worse one.
-This last also mean I didn't have to fit modern tech into classical forms.
-Brought back the realm of Reason from 3rd ed, Large portions of the world is under reason and large crowds of active non believers can cause the aura to spike, making flashy magic in public potentially self defeating.
-Got rid of Parma, replaced it with magical senses(the third eye, etc.) and the ability to draw a circle.
-Circle: Everyone has access to a basic circle. ReVi lv* it requires concentration to maintain against active resistance. It serves two functions, First it protects/contains against hostile magical forces. It will keep out ten times the level of spell or the magical might of a creature as the casting total. Second, it focuses the aura within it, reducing the original aura to 0 then building a magical aura up at a rate of 1 point per turn to a maximum of +5. Any mortal or semi mortal can make a circle if they have a means to power it, usually blood, in this case the casting total is Intelligence+concentrations+any applicable bonuses. Any physical object crossing the barrier of a circle disrupts it provided it comes from a non magical(faerie/infernal/divine) source. Physically drawing the circle gives it bonus of +3 in addition to any material bonuses.

  • The houses as we know them don't exist, but many of the virtues and flaws associated with them may persist.
  • The Code is replaced by the laws of magic from the novels, the Order with the White Council, werewolves are tweaked so the meet canon, Necromancy requires a drum for control, etc.
  • Modernized knowledge and skill names, allowed players to add those appropriate like Chemistry and Drive. Chiurgy became First Aid. Everyone can read their own language at half their speak skill by default.
    -Added the Virtue Magical Trick: You have a single magical ability that is the equivalent of a spell. You can use this at will with a stress roll provided the conditions for the spell can be met. In calm circumstances with no interference the ease factor is the magnitude of the effect, but stress or other circumstances may increase the difficulty. The cost is +1 per ten levels of the spell effect.
    -At a players request I added the Exceptional Talent Ectomancer, a la Morty in the novels.

That is about it, I'd love to get any thoughts from the community on how to improve the game, or just any problems you see coming that I might have missed.

I'd re-eliminate the Realm/Aura of "Reason." Peoples' disbelief doesn't stop magic from working... it freaks them out.

The assembled magical community frowns HEAVILY on freaking the mundanes. There will be consequences, but more of the "punish / set an example" sort, inflicted by various supernaturals (such as the White Council).

"Reason" was explicitly introduced by White Wolf in an effort to make ArM into a prequel for WoD/Mage, and as a nascent version of the "Paradox" concept in Mage. The Dresdenverse is neither WoD nor Mythic Europe... so the entire debate is null.

And at the risk of offending TPTB, I've gotta point over at EvilHat's "official" "DresdenFilesRPG"...

I would just like to say a modern day Ars Magica sounds pretty awesome. Not really fully liking some of your changes, but the fact you running it is brilliant.

I will say making the Gift be effected by technology is an interesting one. I'm not sure I would go with it but it's quite interesting.

I'm familiar enough with the Dresden stuff to see that you're changing Ars to fit that setting, and that's where the technology and such come in to play. I presume you have already seen the Dresden Files RPG, but if that's too big and intimidating, Evil Hat just released the playtest for the Fate Accelerated edition of the Dresden RPG. You may find that interesting.

Personally, I think the social effects of the Gift are totally compatible with the Dresden setting; wizards are seen as untrustworthy and weird. You're already running your game and that's awesome, but if it were me, I might keep the social effects and still add the technology problems. After all, wizards in the Dresden setting get all kinds of powers "for free," including the Sight.

Anyone tried this "Modern Ars Magica"?. And did the play testing go well?

I run five full campaigns in what I called Ars Modernica. So it gave me time over these iterations to improve the system and debug the whole stuff. I did an overall of the system since I did not want to have Saga spanning over several decades. I also wanted to have the ability to have simple combat system... I had to change the season system, the research rules and so on. All in all, I kept the background, the principle of magic (Form, technique, spell guidelines, 9 new forms for "modern magic"), in the background, the history of the Order...

It definitely taste like Ars Magica, but it is at the same time quite different.

Read the "Rivers of London" series by Ben Aaronovitch. The magic system is similar to Ars and gives a bit of history of magic from Issac Newton reforming it ( like Bonisagus) through WWII. They talk about education of magicians both for good and evil.

No, this is a core element of the DresdenFiles canon: wizards' magic (even at times just a heightened emotional state) screws with tech; in general, the more-modern /complicated the tech, the worse it is.

Severity of this screwage varies from wizard to wizard. Our Hero, Harry Dresden, suffers at the "worse" end of the spectrum. Cars with electronics are completely unreliable (he drives a ratty old VW Beetle from the 60's), cellphones/computers/etc flat-out FAIL, and so on... If he gets injured (and it happens a LOT, by noir-genre conventions) he doesn't dare go to a hospital for fear of screwing up delicate medical gear.

On the upside, when he wants or needs to mess with tech that Bad Guys are using... yeah, THAT is easy-peasy.

It's primarily a mashup of "Noir Detective" with "Modern Urban Fantasy." A fun series, though the author doesn't really hit his stride until maybe book 3-4'ish; it's still, IMHO, worth reading the earlier books as there is definite progression of events & characters in "metaplot" ways (also fun to note Harry's advancing power (and the increasingly-complicated life that comes with it))...

1st book is titled "Storm Front". Prequel short, available free, is titled "Restoration of Faith"... ... estoration

That sounds wonderful and intriguing to say the least. Did you or any of your players happen to blog a session or two perhaps?

No. And it was in French :smiley: .

As a fair warning for those who want to go their, adapting the system was a bit tricky, but relatively easy. For magic, I consider that magic is highly adaptable and respond to the magician understanding and perception of the world.
It allowed me to have to broad categories of magician: Hermetists practice magic according to the World's view of Plato and ancient Greek philosophers.
And Galilean who are practicing magic according to the World as described per modern science: there are the three state of matter (cristal, liquide and gaz), plus Synthesys for polymers, Lux (energy) and Magnes for two fundamentals forces, Bio (for everything alive, plant, animals and man), and two man-made Forms Meka and Elektron to handle any mechanical system and electronic/computer/informatic system. The two lasts forms fulfill two purposes: to show that magic is really flexible and if a mage can build a theory around it, he can make magic do whatever he want; the second purpose is purely mechanical: to give tools to players to have fun with robots and the matrix :smiley: .
Galilean lose Mentem and Imaginem because there is not hard sciences to support them. I wanted that each tradition had some niche and unique abilities versus the other, not just re-skinning Terram by Cristal, so anything that was not supported by hard science who not be doable by Galilean. Thus Galileans see themselves superior to hermetists because they understand the modern world and can interact easily with it, but as soon as you mention to them something like elemental, spirit or ghost, they will quickly swipe that under the rug "yeah, it is only matter of time until we put that in equation, and anyway, it is only small details that have little interest".

What was and still is my challenge is to make the transition from Mythic Europe to Modern World.
I was able to fit demons and infernal realm quite easily by making them predator of human souls that need to weaken their target to have them willingly give up their soul. A little bit of tweaking on their origin, but aside that, they can be taken as is.
Faeries remains as they are since they are highly linked to mankind and highly adaptable.

Divine though was and is still work in progress. The easy solution would be to admit that there is only one God, the Christian one, which happen to be the same for Muslim and Jews, with misunderstanding by humans. But I was not happy with that (mostly) Western European centric ways of seeing thing.
What was important for me was to keep the aspect of "Freedom of choice": basically, your actions determine who you are and you are 100% responsible and accountable for your choice - no deux ex machina to blame for your murders and whatnot.
At the same time, I want to play in various modern settings, allowing buddhist priests, Indian sadhu to have Divine connection (even if they would describe it differently and even not talk about divinity at all). Basically, I want to have a power that will always superseed magic, generally benevolent, but hard to reach and understand.

And as I say, it is still work in progress :smiley:

Awesome Blossom!

and of course it's a language that I don't speak or read very well :neutral_face:

I like that way that you have broken it down and gave it history and meaning.

The Magicians
] Galilean

That part looks so promising!

Yeah.. my area of knowledge in Nursing is kinda the same way. But the funny part about it is, it was at one time considered a hard science in the beginning but has changed over the years.

This is some great stuff and I would love to hear more about these things. If I get a chance to try something like this I would plan to add Voodoo, Santeria and other ideas that I have been exposed to in my travels to different countries.

Yeah... I guess that alot of eastern deities ( Buddha and a few eastern dragons) will be crossing your door pretty soon. *chuckles. But at least then you don't have to worry about scientology.

Heck yeah...
I would be making a southern gentleman that is a faith healer from a local public T.V. station that is charismatic. " Praise the lord and pass the plate (donations) to the back just one more time".

Kind of surprised that no one has mentioned Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" stories yet. It has everything for a modern ArM campaign, with not too much tweaking required.

It's a great series/world! Recommended for anyone who loves ArM!

But not IMHO a good cognate for a "modern-day" ArM -- it's distinctly Victoriana in feel (obviously, that's MUCH closer to "modern" than to "medieval," however!).


Very true - it's essentially Victoriana that happens to take place in the 1960s. In fact, you could make an argument that it's barely into the industrial age, although it certainly features post-Newton physics here and there, even if modern electronics and combustion engines never took off.

Having said that, I'm going back to "Too Many Magicians". Enjoy the read!

I've long mulled over doing Ars Modernica, but never really got round to writing it up.

I had two different premises
a) Hermetic magic was lost but is found at the start of the campaign, no changes to the magic system, study is monthly rather than seasonal, low vis, low auras, very few fae/spirits/etc. Advantage is that the magic system can be imported in wholesale. It can't deal with stuff like electricity or radiation since those don't exist as concepts in Bonisagus magic theory. The players can then go about updating the magic system. Magical breakthroughs a bit easier to facilitate this.
B) Hermetic magic has been in continuous existence and has adapted to scientific discoveries, more or less. New forms would need to be created or old forms altered to include new phenomena. I'm more partial to having dozens of possible forms from the various ages but a set of (probably 10) still in existence and in use that incorporate most modern science.

As for culture, a) would be easy, the players, as rediscoverers of hermetic magic get to decide what to do with it, how public they want to be, etc. Of course, why the magi disappeared might make this setting risky. Were they killed off by other forces? Do those forces still exist?
As for b), I'd imagine something a little along the lines of Mage the Ascension, many new houses with different focuses, new foreign magical traditions as full houses or members of ex-misc. Probably some kind of rival magical groups holding sway in areas such as the middle east, far east, India, etc. Some kind of code forbidding public displays. Maybe have certain mortal groups aware and in a shadow war with the order.