New Ars Campaign/Common Pitfalls for new SGs

Salvete, everyone! You can only lurk for so long;) I posted this question over at but Ill post the same query here: after picking up fifth edition Ars (I played past eds..except fourth), I was VERY impressed with the way the game systems have been streamlined; it is readily apparent that the game has benefitted from having a community that really care about the line!:wink:

So, help me kick off my new Ars campaign with a real bang-I want the saga to reach out and grab my players by their lab totals and make them take notice that this isn't "orcs in a 10x10 room." (and for those of you who already posted replies over at, thank you-there were some excellent suggestions!)

Also, what are some common pitfalls that new SGs should watch out for? Its been awhile since Ive run/played Ars, although Im doing my best to rememdy that situation ASAP!

Thanks for the feedback folks-I'm taking notes....


If only someone had posted a link to the thread. :frowning:


There ya go:)

The biggest challenge is to find a group that understands that you don't "level up" while walking from one village to the next. Character development is slow, and the over-all story is what is important, not bloating the characters up. This is a HUGE diff to many other RPG's, and finding a group of players who can appreciate that is a hurdle many Sagas don't survive.

With that, pace, and the inevitable book-keeping. Keep it fast and light at first, and simple, so as not to shock the ledger-challenged among you. It's tempting to give them all kinds of autonomy and decisions with their own Spring Covenant - maybe better to take many of those decisions/discussions out of their hands, or if you feel you must, have an NPC mage be the founder/leader, or a "supervisor" on temporary assignment from an sponsoring covenant, and have him drift away/get killed later, but he'll "write the charter" and do all the various things that take time away from what the average player of the "average" RPG considers "playing the game."

Keep initial adventures short and punchy, avoid the long D&D type that involve all kinds of intrigue and weeks of play and are frustrating when suddenly no XP is gained for the same actions and investment of play time.

Don't forget how fragile magi are- give them some stout shield grogs that can die and illustrate to them exactly how dangerous combat can be. Be forgiving- the dice and the rules (and their past habits!) will take care of the rest.

Give them just the basics first- save Certamen and analyzing found items and creating items for later, get them studying and creating a spell or so first. Get them used to how Sponting works, and what it's good for, and what it can't do, and build from there- the worst are those loooooong pauses while they try to figure out how to use Rego Aquam to keep themselves dry in a rainstorm. Once they've got that mastered, the rest, labs included, are much easier.

Good Luck!

Welcome to you Kirk!

Don't make the first characters your players make be their magus - they'll want to get a feel of the system first.

Learn you players to appreciate the troupe play - and especially to appreciate playing grogs. They can be great fun and shouldn't be seen as a pesky chore will waiting to play the high and mighty again.

Easy your players into the rules and downtime mechanics - dont pile it all on them in one go. Rome wasnt build in one day. Let them know that as you all get more used to the rules there'll from time to time be adjustments to the rules - as you decide on house rules or simply realise some rules werent as expected. This leeway also gives you the room to run sessions without having any rule dead on the first time it is introduced (and thus wasting time on the books rather than the session).

Consider starting out as apprentices - I did that with my troupe and it was a great idea. Not only for getting people eased into the rules, the setting and Mythic Europe in generel. But even to people knowing every in and out of Ars it is great. It offers some unique stories and nothing beats just being a magus as the experience of growing into one! And it let you build that Rome in more than one day.

Use historic detail as inspiration, quirks and a colourfull backdrop - but dont be a slave to it.

But most of all - ENJOY and have a heluva time!

I guess I would (politely) disagree with Furion on this one...
Give them the Magus right off the bat.
Give the Mages a couple of easy things to 'beat' up/Over come. After going through the process (stretch their muscles so to speak), they will handle it better later. Sure it will be slow, but the players will be really excited about clobbering that wolf, or finding that treasure...They will be eager to do more. At that point you can hit them up with a harder problem/creature. Maybe they can't solve it with magic, so they have to 'work it out'. Now you have given them understanding of WHY they need to study...
Now they will be eager to study...or find the solutions they need for the problem...Sure the apprentice thing works, but if you give them a capable Magus, they don't feel like they are in kindergarten...

Starting with a Magus was by far more interesting than starting with a Grog , imo.
Sometimes , a group only has limited real world time to devote to a game.
My last game was supposed to be fortnightly , but ended up being once a month.
As a group , we decided that focusing on our Magi characters was of more interest.
Had we had more playing time , Grogs and Companions would have seen more air-time.

The suggestion to try to make a character before making your mage doesnt necessarily mean you play a non-magi character first, but just that you try out the character gen mechanics first.

Urien, your loss! - of all the Ars games I've played, sagas or not, nothing rocked as when the players all started out as apprentices first. It even add to the dimension and depths of the characters. But then again our troupe focuses more on the good stories than who's got the biggest... Art score, so sense of power or 'kindergardeness' was of no importance what so ever. Besides the point that if you have the will and interest in immersing yourself in your character the first success at a small flickering flame at the tip of a finger should give you more of a rush of power than tossing the mightiest BoAF left and right.

This has been such a succes that even new players joining the troupe, in spite of all the others having full-fledged magi, have choosen to start out as apprentices even if giving them far lesser power, freedom and status.

I never tried to make the apprenticeship of the PC in my saga (it's an interesting idea, as soon as i wrap my head around the character advancement while under tutelage of a master). I've used some flashback techniques in storytelling to give advices and show some characteristics of the Order of Hermes to my players and that's the moment when my players got glimpse of their apprenticeship.

In my experience, it's far more easy to start with a character (companion or Magi) who can't do much and make i'm advance/learn slowly and then complexify the rules. I've started my saga with a companion alone, living some hard winter in his clan and he lost his brother and almost died. I advanced him a couple of seasons and he clearly became the favorite character of one of my player.

Then, i threw the magus in, one at a time and at first it's a bit scary (more ability are important, you got a "boat load" of total of lab, casting, spontaneous + 15 arts and techniques, many often more virtues and flaws, and you got to know how to behave in medieval society and within the order (with the gift, wich is an impairement).

But slowly the magi are taking the central place and my players realise that the magi are the key to save the day during major conflict and that the companion are able to get the magi out of hard places on a day to day basis (and the fact that they incarnate the "world worth saving" than the abstract goals of magi). The magi are already speaking of taking care of the growing children of the companion (and my players are excited to start new companion character).

My advice: in front of unexperience/unfamiliar to Ars Magica players, start with something simple.

If not, throw them(more or less simultaneously): advancement rules, warping, aging roll, penetration bonus, lab total, arcane connection, initiation, tribunal politics, familiars, 15 arts and techniques, a spell list, parma magica, covenant ressource management and let's say some labor points for companion cratsmen and just watch them flee. :smiling_imp:


Pitfalls I would watch out for:

  • Don't make the PC's found their own covenant from scratch. Playing a Spring covenant can be fun but it is simply too much work for an all-newbie troupe, IMO.

  • On the other hand, do not have too many NPC magi present at the covenant. The more NPC's, the less important the PC's feel, and the more work the storyguide has to design and portray the NPC magi. Also, once the saga gets going, it becomes hard to justify why the NPC's don't get involved in all these important stories that are going on. I would recommend you have one kindly old NPC wizard and leave it at that; see also the "Superiors" hook in the Covenants chapter.

  • Don't design the covenant with too many vis sources right off the bat. It is a lot easier to add more vis later than to take away sources if you've started with too much. Also, it is better to give out one-time finds of vis (through stories) than to be too generous with permanent sources. Getting the vis supply right is quite difficult IMO and I recommend starting with a miserly supply and gradually increasing it (over several game years).

  • Pay attention to saga pacing. Magi advance more between stories than because of them, but with companions and grogs the opposite is usually true (unless your companions are bookworms).

  • Don't overlook the fun to be had with grogs. Playing an all-grog session (perhaps the grogs go on a mission for that NPC magus) can be a good way to start. See also my "Grogs 101" thread.

There is something to be said for that, U. However, allow me to comment on a couple points-

Ars is unlike the typical RPG's that most folk play, because it's not "level based" like D&D, and not "experience/skill driven" like GURPS, both of which can be much fun, but are between them representative of Characer Advancement in most RPG's - you kill the monster so you can learn French. Ars works almost purely in terms of "Advancement comes with Time" (with only small, relevant "learning by doing" rules), and therefore is more "realistic"- not purely, but more so in comparison.

It's important for players to understand that, and to accept it. Too often, a player will come to Ars expecting to be The Mage of The Mountain, stare lightning bolts and belch chlorine gas, and while that's possible with Ars, it won't happen very quickly (unless that's how the SG wants it to work, and starts/fast-forwards decades into the mage's career.)

The problem with new players is to not understand, not appreciate the distance between those two points, of an apprentice or newly-gauntleted mage and a veteran bolt-thrower. That, and the advanced spectrum of possibilities can be overwhelming, rather than baby steps. A strong arguement can be made that, with a radically different system and RPG approach, kindergarten is not a bad place to start for a session or three, then let them jump a few grades. :wink:

This is a matter of Story Guide style, but it's important that the Players all understand what to expect, whether to blindly follow the GM's adventure-of-the-day, or to use their own judgement in every situation. Here's the diff:

The new magi hear the local rumour of a "Troll Bridge", an old Roman stone bridge that would be handy to have, but is said to be the haunt of some monster. No peasant wants to get near this bridge, and no one has (and returned!) for generations. If the monster was removed (or shown to be gone), life would be better, and the magi heroes.

If the magi go there, do they...

  1. Find a critter/challenge that they can defeat, appropriate to their skills & abilities.
  2. Get killed by the Troll. (It was a friggin' Troll Bridge, what were they thinking?!)

There are good arguements for both approaches. The first is forgiving but very artificial, and requires the players to only let the SG lead them by the nose; the second is more "realistic" and unforgiving, but encourages the players to know their limitations and be suspicious and cautious in all actions.

The only "wrong" thing is for a SG to switch back and forth, so the Players never know which is which, sometimes the Players walking trustingly into danger, and other times mistrusting the harmless lead-in to the main story. And if an SG ever wants the players to worry about what they're hearing from that SG, if he ever wants them to think on their own, and mistrust a rumour, or an NPC- it might be good to start early, to get them used to thinking on their own about their options. 8)

I'll take option 3) the magi get severly beaten and have to spend the next year laying about as they recover. But on the plus side they have gained a healthy respect for combat, the need for shield grogs, and deffensive spells.

IOS, the magi decided that the frustrating winding path down and up a ravine was too much, so they used their unnatural gifts with stone to have a fine mason craft a stone bridge across said ravine ... in a magic Aura, of course.

They were genuinely surprised when it got "occupied".... :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp:

I more or less agree with everyones disagreements with my above statements..but if I may...

The Game is 'ARS Magica'...seems there is something involving magic in this game. :smiley: Though you can certainly get huge amounts of fun from playing a Grog or Companion, (as was put forth), the Magi are IT. By letting the players 'run' through an adventure, you are allowing them to see the rules (yes the magical ones), and get the feel and confidence of playing their Magi...It is completely irrelevant as to weather the challenge was worthy of them, or actually dangerous and could hurt them. The whole point is to allow them to 'feel' out their Magi. Once they have done so, and realize they need to study (and why), you start heaping the adventures on the grogs and companions..(while the Magi study). At that point you can (as Agnar pointed out) make it challenging and dangerous.
Its also irrellevant weather its killing the Troll, or finding the lost dog that fell into the long as they get to cast their spells, use a few abilities, and face some sort of perceived danger...

I don't think it's a question of "one way is better."

My group just started a 5e game, and I ran them through a simple story featuring the grogs and a martial companion first, just to test-drive the mechanics. None of my group other than me had ever played AM, so walking before we try to run seemed the most prudent way to teach the system. The magic rules layer on a whole other world of system detail, much of which could prove confusing if the players aren't grounded in the mundane component of the rules. I could have started with magi, but I'd have had a lot more to explain up front. Plus we produced some absolutely killer companions that people are excited to play.

That said, we are looking for a LONG running game, so taking time to ramp up is fine (though it did take literally a couple of months to finish building the full contingent of magi and companions). We were further constrained by only having one book to share among a GM and six players (we're not going troupe style...yet).

Hi. I haven't played Ars before (but other fantasy games, yes) but what about running a game where the characters were all Magi, and the NPC's were grogs or shield bearers. I have no idea what impact this would have on gameplay (in D&D it would mean you have a 90% chance of dying at low level, and at high level you would collectively rule the world).


First of all, if it makes you tick dig right in! But I really dont think you can compare them. They're more or less completely different RPGparadigms (diving for cover :laughing: ). Not only does "low-level" magi rule the world, of sorts, but the mechanics in themselves promote a very different kind of play and troupe play being one facet to it.

They players of my troupe have played their 'magi' together more often than most - which did wonders for their relations - but only because they all started out as apprentices together and played through all their apprenticehood. After they became fullfledged magi they dont play together as often. Some stories are great for it; others aren't. One thing is that it is less likely that they all have the time, AT the same time, to go adventuring together - especially since the time in the lab or strudying old tomes is really what define a magus. Not his adventuring time. Secondly many situations rest on non-magi characters to handle things like relations or contact to mundane people (bc of the Gifts effect on anyone the magi address directly). And lastly, it would rob you of one of the thrills of the game is the relation between magi and the people allying or serving them, and what often breathe an extra spark into the stories and brings the theme home.

But - in the end it is all about your troupe and the stories you'd want to tell, and if it works satisfactory for you - then nothing can be added but: enjoy!

For what it's worth, I think you could do worse than take a leaf out of computer rpgs (and other computer games for that matter) which tend to be very good at gradually introducing mechanics. Depending on the maturity / experience of your rpg group this also allows you to gradually introduce the differences in style and feel of Ars Magica as opposed to most other games.

Begin with a straight-forward "adventure" with magi characters, but possibly the occasional companion too. Keep it simple, nice bit of magic and introduce spontaneous magic.

Move to the next level, keeping to a typical adventuring style but introducing a challenge that the magi simply cant overcome. Use this to introduce the idea of Seasons, requiring a new spell, research into a magical device and similar elements to overcome an issue. You could set the campaign around a new group of Magi sent out by the Tribunal to recover and re-establish a covenant, in which case this challenge should tie into unlocking the secrets of their new home. A conclusion of this story arc could even be the creation of the covenant and introduction of the troupe style of play.

Start to bring in some of the intrigue elements, including the hermetic code and dealing with mundanes. Get players to start thinking a bit more laterally. I'd keep it to mundanes rather than faeries at this point, to ground the campaign in "reality" after two more traditional fantasy adventures. This can further reinforce covenant issues, focusing on one of the weaknesses of the covenant, as well as being a good opportunity to introduce Companions and Grogs if not already done so.

Finally, return to the tribunal, so the players understand the wider environment in which they sit. Introduce certamen and wizard war (although preferably not on the players themselves!). Start to introduce the other Realms of Power. Having the tribunal within a magical regio is a nice introduction to that concept in a safe setting, which could lead into a faerie story of some description.

In this way, over the course of a few sessions, players will learn the mechanics and start to understand the real differences. Hopefully, the ArM elements will start to intrigue the players over the 'standard' adventure type play. But unlike some Ars Magica afficionados, I dont think this has to matter. You can have a lot of fun playing ArM more like a straightforward fantasy game, if that's what your group likes.

However, the single most important piece of advice I always give is something my group likes to call MGF: Maximum Game Fun. Do whatever you need to do to achieve this, and your campaign will be a success. My group would be happy enough plotting out seasons, creating items and studying arts.... just so long as at the end of it all, they can bring a can of magical whoop-ass down on some deserving fiend/faerie/beastie!

Hey, thanks for the advice. My gaming group is not the best of roleplayers, and they generally like to spread chaos and pick fights even when they shouldn't. Even our CoC campaign is geared toward a pulp-fiction Indiana Jones feel.

Ideally, what i would like to do with an Ars campaign is to set it up in the real world, have everything nice and normal (like in George Martin's Fire & Ice series) and gradually introduce mounting strangeness. I suppose i could also run a Game of Thrones campaign, but that magic system wasn't well rounded yet, and i think the company tanked.

Then maybe one of the approaches suggested above might be best - begin the players with companions/grogs, and have the first adventure represent their introduction to the Order of Hermes. An outlaw gang representing a wide range of roles hear that a group of scholars has taken up residence in a nearby abandoned monastery / manor / cave / whatever, and rumours of soft targets with rich pickings are too much to resist.

This bandit group could ultimately form the grog base for a brand new spring covenant. One of the joys of ArM is that depending which characters you use, you can completely change the mood, style and genre whilst remaining entirely true to the game. From magi politics down to dungeon-bashing across to comical grog-in-the-city adventures and not to mention the strategic "En Garde" style gameplay of seasonal play, you can do it all!