New game master: A dark setting

Hello everybody,

I am preparing my first Ars Magica 5th edition game with some friends, and I have some questions:

  1. A character wielding two weapons (ie sword and shield) adds the two weapon bonuses to account for his Attack total and Defence total?
  2. In a combat, do you do fatigue rolls for NPC each combat round? It seems a bit too much rolling for me.
  3. I only have the Core book, and I am looking for a gritty dark setting for my players. Is there a supplement that describes Diseases in more detail? and mental diseases or disorders? or a fan supplement?

Kind regards,

Art & Academe has a chapter on medicine and disease (Chapter 4), and a separate chapter which discusses natural philosophy, including a medieval theory of mind (end of Chapter 3). A lot of what we might consider mental illnesses are considered to be the acts of demons, so Realms of Power:Infernal might serve you better as it's a book full of nothing but dark & nasty things, plague & famine spreading demons, demons tempting mortal men to forfeit their souls, and the like.

Hard to say definitively - the rules (afaict) don't specify any mechanism for "2 weapon fighting". (They used to in previous editions, but the whole system got revamped in 5th ed.) So afaik you're going to have to HouseRule it.

The closest they come is if using "weapon + shield", and then those modifiers are added (p 171, col i) - but it's moderately clear (imo) that isn't being considered the same as 2 weapons, as shields are noticeably different in their values than other "weapons". As listed, using a shield alone doesn't give any "initiative" or "attack" modifier - and I'd think it would be superior to a fist.

You aren't suggesting it, but "initiative" generally appears to be based on weapon length - and using 2 longswords is obviously not longer than using a pole arm. This interpretation is supported by the "added" initiative bonuses (all = +0) for shields, and the 100% correlation of single-weapon Initiative to stereotypical weapon length - the shortest weapons are +0 initiative, only the longer are +2, and +3 is reserved for polearms and long spears.) So +0 Initiative bonus for a 2nd weapons in this system (use the larger/longer of the two).

As to your question - it's a judgement call. Remember that in 5th Ed, Attack and Damage are essentially added together to determine the total damage done. The single "scariest" 2-handed weapons are a poleaxe (+14) or a warhammer (+16), so I don't think adding the attack bonus would be unbalancing - a pair/combo of longswords or axes (the min/max "best" choice) becomes +14, which is the same - no great advantage there.

Not as sure about Defense - if a small shield is +1, why would a 2nd weapon be equal to that small wall of wood/metal, something that is specifically designed for that job? Otoh, if the wielder is going to go to the trouble of learning 2 weapon style, an ability that would lend nothing to single-weapon use, they could just as well be tossed a bone - no single-handed weapon is more than +1 defense anyway. Ysmv, one way or the other.

And, yes, I'd definitely make it a separate Ability, diff from "single weapon". It's hard to coordinate that 2nd weapon without a LOT of practice - I've tried. (Simply "holding" 2 weapons and only using 1 would be single-weapon Ability, identical to just holding 1 weapon, which is essentially what a person without "2 weapon" ability would be doing, the 2nd weapon hanging more or less limp unless the first is dropped/broken/etc.)

Note If a master of 2-weapon finds themselves with only 1 weapon, or a weapon & shield, anything that = "single weapon" ability... hmmm... what then? If you rule they "add" their fist, then why would anyone NOT learn 2-weapon, since it's no diff???

Has to be a disadvantage to using only 1 weapon (or weapon + shield) instead of dual weapons. You could rule a flat penalty (-2 attack, -2 defense?), OR average it with a fist/shield (+0, essentially cutting bonuses in half), OR flat-out rule that anyone learning 2 weapon has to ALSO have single-weapon at equal or better level (i.e. ya can't know how 2 work unless you know how 1 works first!). Any one of those would cover the problem, AND explain why every fighter in Mythic Europe isn't a follower of the 2-weapon school. :wink:

So, "my" houserule recommendations would be...

  • (There is a penalty for using only 1 weapon - SG choice, but there has to be a practical reason why everyone didn't switch to this loooong ago*.)
  • Initiative: (longer of 2 weapons)
  • Attack: added
  • Defense: (added or not, SG call)
  • Damage: based on "main" weapon
  • Strength: (larger of two weapons +1)
  • Load: Add 2 weapons together

(* Also consider X-Weapon & Knife, weapon & improvised weapon (bottle, stick or torch, frying pan, etc.), and 2-knife fighting, which are all "Brawling" Ability. Try to cover all the bases before your players test you.) :wink:

  1. Weapon+Shield is indeed accomplished by adding the combat statistics of both weapons. The only instance of a dual-wielding characters in 5E canon is a Mamluk Emir in Realms of Power: The Divine. His stats don't follow the above rule, however, instead he appears to use the Single Weapon skill with the stats for a single longsword but with +1 added to each of: Init, Atk, Def, Dam, and Load. As said though, I basically had to reverse engineer the character and it's possible Niall had a more nuanced system in mind.
    Edit: The aforementioned Mameluke uses two longswords, but if a character is to use two weapons of different sorts (dagger and axe, for example), I would recommend that the using the better stat for the better weapon +1 when determining Atk, Def, etc.

  2. I've never played it that way and, rereading the relevant section on page 178, it sounds like you roll once after the combat is over.

  3. As previously mentioned, Art & Acadame has a more detailed method of treating disease and injury as well as an overview of how medieval scholars viewed the functioning of the human mind. Ultimately, it's a book about life in Mythic universities however. Realms of Power: The Infernal, and Against the Dark: Transylvania Tribunal might also be good options for running darker stories than are typical of Ars Magica.

Welcome aboard!

I would ask the player whether the second weapon is used offensively or defensively. If it is used primarily for offense, then I'd treat the second weapon as a bonus to Attack in the same way as the three shield types offer +1, +2, and +3 to Defense, otherwise apply the bonus to defense. I'd probably limit the bonus to +1 for Brawling weapons and +2 for Martial weapons, so a dagger provides +1 but a short sword provides +2. The character could take a specialism in two-weapon-fighting, which would provide a further bonus in the usual way when fighting in that style.

Personally, any more of a bonus than that starts to feel a little off-balance.

The Core book states this regarding Fatigue and combat:

That's on page 178, so I'd be inclined to take that literally and just ignore it. There are plenty of opportunities to spend or lose Fatigue during combat without having to roll for it too.

Art & Academe has already been recommended and I'd back that up with Realms of Power: Infernal if you're looking to go down that route. As an aside, issue 7 of the Sub Rosa fanzine has an article exploring demonic possession in a little more detail. Once you check out Realms of Power: Infernal, you might also want to take a look at that.

Technically yes, effectively I don't bother: I do one roll which I consider indicative. Sure, it means the bad guys may all feel fresh as a daisy or worn out at once, but I see combat as basically an opportunity for PCs to show how cool they are, not as a resource allocation thing.

Do what seems right for you: Ars has a heap of subsystems, and if you use all of them, you'll drive your players nuts. Think of the subsystems as minigames, and only play the ones you want to play.

Wait, what?

And the on page 173 it describes exerting oneself to double the combat ability score for an attack/defense bonus, and later on there is a discussion of fatigue's roll in non-lethal combat. I can't find any mention of requiring rolls every round in combat to see if you stay fresh.

I'd probably ignore this for the time being and then after working through combat and the setting for a while add it in, if you still think it's necessary. Ars Magica combat isn't nearly as detailed as other systems. It is also very gritty, in that getting injured isn't all that hard, and the effects of injury can be difficult to overcome.

As mentioned Art & Academe discusses diseases and their effects and has some Creo Corpus spells to handle that.

The system can be really gritty if one doesn't have access to Creo Corpus magic to help heal or fully heal. And even with the options to heal instantly, it's expensive, in that it takes vis to heal quickly. Recovering from wounds is far from guaranteed and without magic to improve the recovery rolls, can be very risky, especially for characters with low stamina scores.

Welcome to the forum!

Oh, ignore me. I seem to be using a house rule. Sorry.

One of the (many) wonderful things about the 5th edition compared to the 4th, is that fatigue isn't ubiquitous.

A word of caution: Hermetic magi can be very powerful. Given enough time to prepare, they can be very very powerful. If you want a dark setting, consider whether you'd like to make some house rules or group-agreements to steer the game in that direction.

Creo Corpus can fairly easily cure most wounds and disease, albeit with time and some mundane medic [instant cure requires raw vis and is generally harder]. Likewise for disease. If you want a grittier game, consider increasing the difficulty of such effects. Alternatively, just decide the PCs would keep out of enchanting or inventing such effects.

If you are going to use demons to drive dark disease and mental illness (developing obsessions for particular types of sin, in particular, works very well, as does losing some "cardinal virtues" such as patience or temperance) - consider that demons can be tricky to combat at times (see in particular possession!), but they are still often vulnerable and have fairly low magic resistance. If you want them to be more scary, you can increase their defenses, including perhaps their magic resistance (allowing them more use of the cardinal virtues will also greatly strengthen them). Or you can just play them as more into subterfuge and being sneaky (and cowardly!) then as big bad foes.

ArM can work very well as a dark setting, and you can wing things and change things as the game develops. But especially when it comes to player choices, such as Creo Corpus magic, it's generally better to think of things in advance.


Ars Magica is already a dark gritty setting. It's actually a lot easier to deal with injury and dismemberment in Shadowrun (instant magical healing! future medicine! cloned replacement parts!) than in Ars Magica. Oh, healing rituals? Does anybody know how to cast them? Can they even cast them from a casting tablet? Do they have the vis required? While in theory these things are possible, the nearest magi capable of stuff might be weeks of travel away. Not every covenant is a capable hospital. The one advantage they'll have is that an Aegis of the Hearth will keep out those disease spirits and demons (and faeries!) that cause some problems. Recovery boosting spells are low enough that somebody at a covenant can learn/cast them, but that's probably as good as it gets.

All it takes to be 'gritty' in Ars Magica is a slow campaign style. If one season (or less!) passes per session, magi will grow in power very slowly (and freshly gauntleted magi are often quite weak unless carefully built) and the danger level can easily remain high without too much difficulty.

When it comes to fatigue in combat, I see it as generally being a case that the adrenaline rush will overrule any fatigue effects you'd suffer such as exerting yourself over a long time, but can't stop the "I throw myself into the attack all out" tiring out.

Um, I'm probably going to regret saying this but: replace the Gift the The False Gift from RoP:I and see some (but only some) of the WW era 3rd edition material.

Thanks a lot for the help and the friendly atmosphere.

I will quickly grab a copy in pdf of the books you have mentioned.

Regarding fatigue, what has confused me is the entry on page 178

Short-Term Fatigue:
"Characters are normally Fresh until they perform some strenuous action, such as engaging in combat, casting spontaneous spells, or sprinting. Brief strenuous actions require a Fatigue test"

but indeed, later on I can read "combat and magic use have different rules for Fatigue loss that replace those given here".

So I am not 100% sure how to handle this. I guess that to start with I won't go asking for fatigue rolls every round to PC and NPC, less rolls = faster combats.

Regarding the two weapons, knowing there are no official rules for it, as suggested, I will do some maths so it does not get unbalance as compared to greatweapons and weapon + shield.

The idea I have is to start playing the game without the magic system (I can hear the gasps from you). I like the setting and the simplicity of the system, and my first sessions I want the players to play with companions working for a covenant, to get use to the system. Later I will introduce the wizards, grogs etc.

Thanks again for the help

No gasps from me. It's something you see suggested quite frequently for the very reason you cite.

Do you know when your first session is yet?

In combat, it's possibly to "strain yourself" and accept a fatigue level to add your combat ability to your combat total again. I see this option used a fair amount.
Also, It's probably worth noting that the group combat rules are brutal.

In terms of combat, group combat for normal humans tends to resemble old-school L5R: "I'm a hard-core, minmaxed PC! unlike everyone else, I can take TWO hits before falling!" Which is why magi have grogs, of course: specifically, the turb - to soak up melee damage in the unfortunate circumstance in which your mage don't win initiative.

It will be Friday 16 of May...still a month :stuck_out_tongue:

Nothing to gasp about. It's a fairly common way to introduce people to the game!

In fact, I'd suggest starting not with companions, but with grogs.

Grogs are even simpler than companions, and are expendable; if you make "mistakes" in designing or playing one, no big deal. You though playing a "fighter" type would be interesting? Play a warrior grog for one or two sessions, and if you find it's boring, the next session make a troubadour and play that and see whether you like that more. The warrior will still be "there", part of the covenant, and ready to be played by anyone who wants (or just a background character your other characters will see on guard duty or retelling exaggerated stories of his exploits etc.).

Essentially, starting by playing grogs will allow your players to taste more of the game, with fewer worries; and will also allow you to build the atmosphere of the covenant by creating a rich palette of minor characters.