New player simplifications

I'm looking to get some of my friends to play this game, but they're concerned about its reputation for being relatively complicated, I have a few things I'm planing on doing to alleviate this, but I'm wondering if y'all have any input on things like this.

The things I'm planing on doing:

  • Trying to get them started with less complicated characters; probably companions that aren't too old or elder apprentices (I would mostly like to avoid having them pick 120levels of spells, this has always been the longest part of chargen for me)
  • Working out a couple arrays for them to use for allocating xp for arts(focusing on 2 or 3)
  • Core book only (for their options, obviously I'm going to use some material from apprentices if they're down)
  • Perhaps(especially if they want to play the apprentices) limiting the number of virtues and flaws to 3-5
  • encourage players to pick arts other than vim and mentem, and probably imaginem as well, just because they are, in my experience anyway, the ones that require the most system mastery to make use of

The last thing I've been messing around with the last couple days is removing characteristics entirely, obviously you can just do this and most things will be fine if a bit more challenging, but to maintain broad compatibility with the line, you can get pretty close by just dropping the ability xp by rank multiplier from 5 to 4. Anyway there's a couple subsequent changes you have to make doing this that Ive come across:

  • changing the xp/yr and childhood to be dividable by 4(simple enough, 16 and 48 respectively, ~7% increases in average skill totals, but we're behind by ~5× that from the first change anyway and this only applies at chargen so I'm not worried)
  • Increase max skill by age guideline by 1(I'm aware this is somewhat controversial, I've used it as a guideline for making npcs off the cuff before though, and id like to continue doing that)(for reference the thing i do is take 1 off the max(so with the change ill take 2 off), and assign this to the npc and record that number, add 2 for stuff theyre good at subtract 2 for stuff theyre bad at, use 0 if theyre hopeless, it works alright enough)
  • changing initiative (probably will just have everybody roll the skill for what they're doing(default awareness)+weapon mod, pathfinder 2e style)
  • Determining book quality, probably just use 3+teaching rather than 6+com
  • characteristic increasing rituals, I'm probably just going to let these die, I don't expect to miss them, especially if starting characters are apprentices

There's some weirdness with this, like you have to actually spend xp to get some basic skill totals, but I think skills are mostly more flavorful than characteristics and in many cases you had to do that anyway, technically if you make a guy thats like, hyper specialized(skill total of 8 or more ignoring specialties and virtues) you actually come out a bit ahead on xp compared to the base game, but like, this guy is probably then behind on his other skills, and if anyone in this group is a power gamer its me, so im not worried about it.

Also, I don't really want to spark a big debate about whether or not you think removing characteristics is a good idea, there's a thread from 2016 about that. If you must know my reasons, it removes an entire step from character creation (where new players have to aquatint themselves with what the stats do, don't forget about that) and it removes a similar step in play (most times theres a skill check) where I have to adjudicate about which one is appropriate

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I came close to asking my players what sort of wizard they wanted, specialities and weaknesses, and what-not, then collate that and make a pre-gen for them.
That way they wouldn't have had to worry too much at the beginning about character generation, and could get onto the mechanics of play quickly.

In the end, most of my players put the effort in.
None of the Semita Errabunda downloads were needed.

NOTE before play I ran each wizard character through a randomly drawn test scenario - The Flambeau drew "travel by fishing boat and attacked by whale", the Ice Maga drew "grass fire in a dry field", the Healer drew "boat at sea attacked by pirates" where he discovered that the "ultimate" beginner's attack spell The Crystal Dart Mu(Re)Te 10 could only find enough raw material within 30' of the character's feet (ballast in the bilge) for a single shot.
A couple of them tweaked their character designs before we went into play


I wouldnt change the rules too much. It might help you out in the beginning, but you will have to deal with incompatibility with all of the rest of the line later on.

What i would recommend doing is pre-generating their characters.

If you are good with the kinds of programs that can make character sheets, then I would recommend that you change the Abilities so that they are grouped by functionality (Social skills in one block, physical in another, etc). especially the social skills tend to get my players confused.

Make sure that their magi either have some spells that are actually useful in game, nothing too esoteric, nothing to dependent on setting all the spells up in a combo.

Play a few sessions with these characters, allow the players to get accustomed to Ars and then try again with new self-made characters.

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I'd join in with Euphemism to say, ask what the players want and make the characters for them. After the end of each of the first few sessions, allow slight character tweaks, and then if wanted, a wholesale change once they know the game.

To answer the question asked though. Some simplification I'd go for if i was going down the path you've chosen.

Skill Masteries. A +1 has limited impact. Having to choose a mastery for every skill, does little to extend the personality of the character, and extends character creation. Remove it.

Personality trait scores. It is a good thing to have the player think about the character's personality, however, sometimes the arbitrary stats chosen before knowing the game can be confining. If and when a personality roll is required, I think it's better for the SG to look at how the character has acted over the saga, and determine any relevant modifier. Remove this and again, save character creation time.

Skill Roll Workarounds.- Most people focus on skills they are good at. Magi have a lot of int skills. Diplomat grogs have a lot of communication skills, etc. Removing stats will mean most people are 2 - 3 points off the numbers the book expects. Let alone those who use great stat virtues for +4 and +5. You will be having a small power drop, even with the 4 instead of 5 XP for skills you are planning. Changing the difficulty numbers from 3,6,9,12,15,18, to 1,4,7,10,13,16 could work around the power drop.

Because magical skills work differently, your 4 XP points a level, instead of 5 wont work for magic. You could make all magical rolls get a +2.

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Here's an approach ArM5 allows you to do relatively easily.

(1) Talk with each of your potential players, what kind of a magus they would wish to play.

(2) Make for each one a child character as an early apprentice (by Apprentices p.29ff Pueritia: Ages 8 to 14). They are all apprentices in the same huge covenant.

(3) Provide one big adventure for these characters which never leaves this covenant and in the end not only shows them the game and the Order of Hermes, but also provides them with some sense of importance for their characters. Like saving an addled but ambitious magus from some danger he conjured up for himself and the covenant.

(4) Ask them, whether they wish to continue their characters in a saga where they become full-fledged magi.

Of I course I cannot tell, whether such an approach would fit you or your players.


You might be right about pregening, I'm a little resistant, for one these kids are new to ars magica but not RPGs in general, so Im not being constrained by having to teach them, also i kind of just dont want to because im lazy, ill definitely think about it and perhaps ask them though.

I guess one of the advantages is that I can pick them some spells then and we don't have to start out with sponting, apprentice style

I am trying to be pretty intentional about line compatibility, really the only thing that effects that is the characteristic/skill thing, and I've done some math and made a few back of the envelope characters about it and it shouldn't be too far off, based on what I've seen they probably trend a little on the weak side, which is almost always more fixable.

I don't have a printer, so we're probably doing hand written char sheets, but I've been doing that for a while and it works alright for me, the bit about sorting skills is a good point though.

I'll think on the chosing spells for them thing, I suspect it's a good idea.

Definitely some level of redo at some point is a good point.

Oh the skill specialties idea is a good one, I do like the flavor they bring though, might work well to bring them in in a second session or something, with a "dont worry too much about it, you can change it later"

I've often had a bit of a hard time with the personality trait scores tbh, I don't really know how to make use of them.

something to keep in mind about the characteristic/xp thing, is that my house rule has a lower start off, but a steeper slope than RAW, and they intersect at a skill base of 8(iirc my house rule is maybe 3xp less there), ignoring virtues and specialties, which is right near where you would expect a relatively young specialist to be, I've made a couple test chars and they seemed pretty on par to me, admittedly i havent done the like, spread out skills guy yet (such as your diplomat grog, i was sleepy) I suspect that this guy will be a little less effective compatitively because hes spreading out the xp more, but I'll have to work it out in the morning.

I'll be honest I don't know what the bit about magic skills means, if you want to elaborate I'm interested.

Oh that's a a neat idea, I'm thinking something like the sorcerer's apprentice, where one of the magi experiences a botch (and is thrown into twilight) that creates a bunch of troublesome but mostly whimsical effects and the apprentices have to clean it up, sounds cute!

Casting spells, one gets their stamina bonus when casting. All the lab total stuff stuff gets an int bonus. It is a rare mage who doesn't have a +1 stam or better and a +2 int or better. The lab stuff, a higher magic theory because of a lower XP cost will improve the lab total, and help replace the lsot int bonus, however the casting total losing stamina, as Techniques and Forms are a 1+2+3+4,etc XP progression, not a 5,10,15 XP progression, they will need a a tweak, or accept the magi casting totals are slightly under the baseline for RAW.

@Wingsday I don't quite see why removing characteristics really solves much at all. It will just complicate things and make characters less flavorful IMO. The players come from other RPGs so they should be used to characteristics and skills. That's not where the complexity of Ars Magica lie at all and shouldn't be a hurdle to get started. If you really want to simplify why not cut down amount of abilities or premake a list of abilities which really are best suitable for magi in your campaign?

For my current campaign (very successful and about 90 sessions in now) I had 100% fresh players - which was a bit of a challenge, as well as more than a handful of guest players (some with little RPG experience).
What I figured worked (for me at least) was that focusing on what really matters in the setting and the fiction - in combination with assisting, explaining and simplifying (rather cutting out or changing) a few matters is what works best.

I did let my players make the choices how much complexity of it they wanted, and we ended up with full full character generation for the core players but with session 0 and full assistance along the way (not to spend too much time before playing), but excluding covenant generation and complex rules for everything else. For others, I pregenned characters and just let them make some key choices from prepared options.

As the campaign has progressed, I'm very happy I did NOT make simplifications or cut out rules - as if we would have made a change such as what you are planning - it would have limited us already after a handful of sessions as the players really get into it.

What I did do however, is simplify the grogs for convenience and speed:

Basically the grogs have ready-calculated (left column) quickness, attack, defense, damage and soak. And (right column) aggregated abilities of awareness, tracking/wilderness/survival ability, sneaking (or anything dex/thievery based) and interaction (all social abilities), as well as loyalty.
Then a quick description, perhaps a defining ability and a personality trait.

Grogs they take a liking to are just played like this, but one or two have been elevated to custos (with standard char sheet but limited investment), my players prefer just focusing on their magi.

I also defined everything in the (winter) covenant and made it a huge part of the sandbox campaign to figure out it's secrets, history and dangers - rather than them generating it. They are still working on that after 90 sessions and greatly enjoyed the approach. I've used a mysterious elder who's reclusive is a stabilising (and very scary) force, but never involved in day to day matters or running of the covenant (leaving players almost free reign - but with consequences. Still waiting for them to remove the elder, sideline the other npcs and fully take over - but it's their choice). I would highly recommend this approach for new players and have them focus on getting into the fantastic world of mythic europe, the order and the covenant rather than focus on rules (which a knowledgeable SG can carry).

As for chargen, outline the Houses and what they actually stand for as it's a most important choice really (I made summarized version with adventure hooks in my local language), make a selection of suitable virtues flaws or go through them as session 0. Then (or before) pregen for them if they don't want the complexity - or just use the templates in the core rules really, they are there for a reason and quite suitable! (perhaps allow some shifting of abilities and virtues/flaws to suite a concept they have).
That should solve a lot of things without messing with the system (which you might want to use in full after a while anyway).
What I did was allow them the leeway several sessions in to change a characteristic or ability they hadn't used to "change story" to more fit their character concept, then I warned ahead when that window would close. This allowed the players really not to worry about "wrong choices" or not understanding the system and it's complexity - just play.

When determining the covenant, you can (should) premake the library (there are some examples here and in books) and populate it with suitable spell books for what'll matter in the campaign.

That all said, I can see some merit to your approach and it can work. Basically all characteristics are 0 and so does not matter (and you don't have to do the basic arithmetic every time you want to roll or calculate a total). I would avoid changing the xp by rank multiplier though and perhaps just increase the starting xp and awarded xp slightly (I think you'd need about 50% more tbh) instead and not worry about max ability by age at all. It's also not something you can do for the Arts anyway, since it's already just 1 per rank. But I can see it working as you outlined above too.
Many games don't need initiative and it's a step that takes time so I'd just skip it and just go in order of highest ability or as fiction requires.

I also honestly don't think it matters much if your changes are above or below RAW really. It would just be how it is in your saga - and it's relative to age anyway so just they'll just be at where they're at. I don't see much of a problem and I wouldn't worry much about that at all.

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Btw, another house rule I added was no speciality until ability 3, but instead they get an additional at 6. This cut down on choices early on.

If you think about a lab total from the perspective that the whole magic system is basically bolted on top of the base skill resolution system, you can see that the lab total is basically an int+magic theory skill total, where you also add arts, and sometimes a few other things. And thinking about it like that, this is not really any different than any other skill total in terms of being effected by my changes. Now, you don't, by default, add any skills to most of your casting totals, so you might expect them to lag behind raw a bit. However, I haven't seen a player put more than 2 points in stamina and not come to regret it, at least a little, once they got a better handle on the relationship between lab totals->spells->casting totals and I dont think losing 1 or 2 pts off of casting scores is really the end of the world, I am trying to keep house ruling to a minimum, its just less to explain, and for me this doesnt break through the threshold of being worthwhile.

Also, just in general, suppose I didnt make it that clear, I am not new to ars magica, I have obviously not run or played this game as much as many of the people on this forum, which is why im here asking questions, but I do actually have a pretty good handle on what im doing.

@Wingsday here's what I've found:

  1. Each Player makes a magus. Only. Or a Companion, but not both. And just use some base grogs from the core book, covenants, or the Grogs supplement as pre-fabs.
  2. Create a preselected array of ability and art options for them.
  3. Each player picks a hermetic flaw, a personality flaw and a story flaw. Don't worry about points, and DO NOT care if they equal -10 or not.
  4. 10 points of virtues
  5. Give extra skill points. Base Ars makes very weak characters.
  6. Just give 12 points for characteristics, flat, no pyramid purchases.
  7. Don't worry at all about library rules for writing books - no one does that until mid-late game.
  8. The advice of starting during apprenticeship can work too. I did that once, and my PC's came up with reasons for them getting various flaws and virtues during their childhood and teenaged adventures.
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I was thinking about limiting virtues as well as flaws, not worrying about balancing is a good point though, I might go with what you suggested for flaws, and like, a minor focus+2-4 minor virtues, banning affinities to avoid messing up arrays

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I’ve thought a lot about simplifying the game for a “starter set” or basic game. My choices were different than yours. But when I run a game for all beginners, which I’ve done a lot, we talk about what they want their wizard to do. I stat up the character, and anything they don’t like we can change. It’s worked just fine.

The biggest ease-of-play I recommend is changing the way Ars rolls dice. The fact that, on a stress roll, a 1 is good and a 0 is bad, but on a non-stress roll a 1 is the worst result and a 0 is the best, is confusing and creates a table dynamic where the player rolls, gets a 1 or a 0, and then turns to the GM and asks “Is this a stress roll?” If the GM answers in a way that turns their 0 into a botch, the player feels picked on.

I use the rule that a 1 is always 1 and a 0 is always a 10. But on a stress roll, reroll your 0 and add it. You can keep doing this as long as you keep rolling a 0. This has the added benefit of, if you roll an exploding die roll, the result is always better than if you did not, unlike the current system in which you roll a 1 and then a 2 and the result is still low. You can’t get results as high as you can in RAW, but they can still get very high, and high enough to not matter.

We don’t use this die rolling method on the Aging Table or any other table in the book. Those tables are designed to use RAW and we do that.


That's fair, I'm not really so versed with this system that I would expect to save much time stating out the characters myself rather than letting them do it in parallel, especially since I'm working with players that are not new to roleplaying games in general. Yeah the die rolling scheme is pretty...baroque, I think im not really that worried about it, but ill keep that in mind in case it comes up

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My two sesterces:
Allocated virtues and flaws just enough to differentiate the characters (3-5 points of virtues), but do not use yet any of the virtues that allow modification of spells on the fly or enable powerful spontaneous spells like Diedne Magic, Flexible Formulaic Magic and such.
Until your players understand how spontaneous magic work, how spell parameters work and can do the math themselves, keep these virtues off the table. Otherwise, you will be the one in charge of doing all the math each time one want to use a spell and it will distract from running the story and slow you down.

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To go with this, a list of low level sponts the characters can cast that may be relevant to the adventure is useful. As the SG you have an idea what is coming up, so you could easily have a few sponts pre-prepared to talk the new players through.
Also having them pre-prepared, so you have a quick answer is useful. When a player with a Rego based magi says "I control things, can I move the log", it's much better to look at your notes and say, "It is a large log. It has 2 level of size modifier. A touch range spell to momentarily move a decent size branch is level 4. The plus 2, means it goes to 5, then 10. Anything after 5, plus 1 is +5 level. That would be level 10. You can't get to 50 with no fatigue, however, with a d10 you could put in some extra energy (get a fatigue level) to have the spell be more effective." Also, if they just miss, you could bring in the concept of confidence.

I tried to find an old thread with low level not fatiguing sponts, however, it evaded me. There is this thread.

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I would go one step further: for the first few sessions, don't introduce spont. casting. Instead, gives each mage an extra 4-5 spells level 5-10 that you choose for them (that would be the one they would be able to spont.) on top of the 120 level they are allowed to have. It will give them extra "little tools" to have a larger array of possibilities to act.

  • Detecting virtus, casting light, starting a fire, minor Rego-craft magic, moving small objects, Physician's eye, Eyes of the Cat...

By not initially allowing spontaneous spell, players will realise that a formulaic spell is powerful, yet has a narrow application: it can only do one thing. Thus the importance of spontaneous spells, but also to use mundane skills and to value grogs and companion because a mage does not always has the perfect spell at hand, but most of the time a skilled, non-magician can do a lot of heavy work.

Also, by not using spont. spells in the first few sessions, you will avoid the frequent questions "Can we do that with magic ?" Then go into a lengthy discussion of the twenty different ways a result can be achieved with different combination of Te/Fo until one has the right Art to do it.

It will help them in the future decide which spells they really want to have and spend time inventing, versus spell-effect that can be achieved by more mundane means.


Reading all the answers, it is pretty clear that each and every one is based on their own preconceptions of who the players are and what a roleplaying game is.

Personally I would not drop spontaneous casting; I would rather drop formulaic. However, dropping spontaneous works if the story is sufficiently railroaded, and does not call for players who think out of the box.

Taking the scientific approach to storyguiding, I would point to the Herbert Simon's theory of problem solving and his concepts of bounded rationality and satisficing. The first thing to realise is chargen is a difficult problem to solve because players are wired to optimise, but optimisation is too hard with «bounded rationality» and incomplete understanding of the rules. We should realise that satisfactory is enough, and accept that some traits are picked arbitrarily, leaving a character that is imperfect but human.

It is not the complexity of the rules that makes chargen hard, but the feeling that we lose if we missed that last +2 or +1 bonus on some total.

In practice, I would ask the players to

  1. spend some time to pick a handful of character defining traits, typically a high-level spell, a major Hermetic virtue, a Hermetic flaw, a story flaw, and a personality flaw.
  2. point to the characteristics and abilities that are critical to the core concept and quickly spend most of the points.
  3. pick the fringe traits arbitrarily, and if the player is indecisive, I would become increasingly
    suggestive, resorting to pregens incorporating the result from step 1 if necessary.

And then, most importantly, I would make sure to run stories which do not¹ assume optimised characters, and if there are experienced, die-hard minmaxers in the troupe, I would kick them out to make sure the party stays true to the genre.

¹ EDIT. How did I forget that «not» on the first attempt?


Good points @Ioke.

Another thing I've seen suggested, and strongly agree with is... Let the players change something about their PCs later if they don't like what they initially picked. Takes some of the stress of having to make "the right" or "perfect" choice at character creation for a brand new game.