New game master: A dark setting

And most folks have mentioned Against the Dark, RoP:I, and A&A. So I'll chime in with the following commentary:

  1. Yep, that's way most folks introduce Ars Magica to people - without the magic system. There's enough going on in Ars, just from a historical-mixed-with-fantasy perspective, that taking a couple of sessions to introduce both the world, the general game mechanics, as well as the playstyle (grog/Companion/Magi) is usually considered a wise move. Note that the combat system is...OK. 5th edition has improved it to the point where it's not BAD....but it's not the selling point of the game. It's relatively abstract, so don't get too bogged down in flanking or positioning or 10' movement squares. (Not that that sort of thing isn't fun - just that it isn't AM's strength.) Mainly its a game that has a workable combat system that is designed to let magi be awesome in spellcasting.

  2. Against the Dark: the Transylvanian Tribunal, is the current "dark" sourcebook - but it starts right up in the front with "Transylvania isn't any more spooky than the rest of Mythic Europe - that's an artifact of Bram Stoker. But it's a good place to put the "dark and spooky stuff", so we put it in here." Which, again - not a bad thing, but something to be aware of.

  3. Demons are a bit tricky to play in Ars - due to their nature, they are at the same time very smart and powerful, yet very stupid (from a mortal's perspective). The main issue is that they can't comprehend or act on virtue - which includes things like "maintain a plan in the face of opposition", and "display caution" or "resist their impulses". While they can temporarily "fake it" (by spending Willpower/Confidence), ultimately this is what usually causes their downfall.

Recommendation: like mortals, demons gain back Willpower/Confidence when being true to their Nature. Therefore, when taking a demon as a villain - assume that they spent Confidence to set up their plan. Which includes an understanding of their own weakness, and an ability to learn from past mistakes, and controlling their innate overconfidence. Also assume their strategic plan includes time and places for reflection (ie, to recover Confidence, and to spend that Confidence in order to critique the current state of their plan, and change it accordingly.)

Because once they set up their plan, they won't want to change it: so make sure that the plan includes "times and places to reflect and possibly change." Most plans of this type will probably include "Corrupt a mortal and work through them, because I understand that I cannot comprehend Faith/Hope/Love - but a mortal can." This also means that the demon won't interact much with the mortal world, as the plan it sets up assumes that it won't be able to control its impulses (lack of Temperance).

With that in mind: the plans they come up with will actually be really good (strategically), if somewhat limited by their Nature. Such plans can be broken by PC's, but only if the PC can force the demon to react in a tactical sense - when they don't necessarily have confidence to spend to control their own depravity. When the demon is acting according to its nature, it's actually quite vulnerable - a show of force will drive it off (lack of Hope), and its plans will quickly fall to ruin.

Also note that "Demon's Eternal Oblivion" is the "kill a demon" spell, and it's commonly known and relatively easy to cast. So if a known demon is within shouting distance of a magi, there's a good chance the demon will get shanked. Assuming the demon has spent Confidence to acknowledge its own weakness, it will have plans to address this.

If you're going tor have your players run thru several sessions to get ready for their magi, may I suggest that, before they make magi, that you, as SG, introduce a mage NPC. Maybe just an apprentice, one who casts Spontaneous Magic to help them thru situations. (You could plan ahead, so you know what Spontaneous effects are small enough to be reasonable yet the perfect solution).

This would get your players excited about the flexibility of the system, and give them some examples, and get you as SG some practice, and also introduce an NPC who can come back - maybe as a friend, maybe as a villain. (Maybe have the PC's "on their way" to a covenant, where they'll meet the PC magi? Whatever works best.)

Without magic you'll find recovering from combat to be very slow and the outcome is certainly less certain.

I certainly wouldn't do any rolls to check fatigue during combat.

My experience with L5R (1st edition only) was that everyone could survive a single blow. Usually out of the battle but certainly still alive. We even considered hacking the system to make it more deadly.

Thanks for the further suggestions, I indeed had the idea to introduce some magi NPCs, may be they can be the future magi PCs...we will see.

I find the combat in Ars Magica abstract, fast and lethal, which for me it means perfect! All the better if we can play it without grids, minis and these sort of things. I am a detractor of games D&D style, my first owned RPG was Rune Quest :slight_smile:

Thanks guys, your comments and suggestions are very much welcome!

If these NPC "magi" are apprentices, then they may be loosely defined enough to become almost anything later on, depending on the final concept of your players for their magi*. A few Arts at 5 each** and an apologetic helplessness at not knowing any "formulaic" spells yet, and you're set!

(* If one of your Players "knows" what their mage-concept will be, a strong enough one that you can predict some Arts or even a core spell or two, then so much the better, but not absolutely necessary. Apprentices often are depicted as spending the first dozen or so years in preparation of learning magic, and only learn "real" spells in their final couple/few years, and sometimes gain some of their more unusual (Hermetic) Virtues then as well. Not a hard rule by any means, but a soft and common-enough stereotype.)

(** One Tech + one Form at ~5 each is enough for Lvl 4-5 spontaneous effects with that TeFo combo...

Te 5 + Fo 5 + Int 3(?) +/- Aura (???) + 1 Strong Gestures + 1 Loud Voice + d10 = 10+/2 = 5(+)
...and you're there. Any "base effect" of 3 or less can have +1 Range:Touch and +1 Duration: Diamater to put a "lasting" effect on others, but Momentary and/or Personal effects can be flashy too.

Rego and Terram are common enough in magi that have finished gauntlet that "some one" is likely to go that direction, and also provide a spectrum of nifty little effects to solve problems and act as an exemplar for your players - "mage hand" type effects, "clean dirt/mud from clothes" (to remove evidence or help Etiquette rolls), cause the mage (Range:Personal) to leave no tracks for a couple minutes (or Range:Touch for a few steps), even do a very minor (d+0) ranged damage spell).

And many apprentices have (undesired) nicknames that they immediately change upon passing their Gauntlet, taking their "mage" name - so you could call them almost anything appropriate to the master/apprentice relationship - Newt, Loser, Klutz, Bug, Toad, Sparky, Pup (maybe in Latin, maybe not) - you know, something demeaning - nicknames - and that apprentice can become any mighty-named PC mage that generally fits.

You wouldn't even have to tell the Players that this is a possibility - just run the NPC apprentice(s) without any comment in that direction, and if/when they fit final magi fit, then give them the (bad?) news.)

For more information on first-time character (magi) creation, take a look at this recent thread: - it's basically a "give me 1 recommendation for new character creation".

Heh - well, yeah. Hence the min-maxed part. Ie, the average PC could take 1 shot - but if you were playing the heavy fighter (those crab guys - the Hida?), you could conceivably take TWO shots!