New to Ars Magica - A couple questions

Hello! I bought the Ars Magica 5th edition core book a few years back when researching new games for our group to play; unfortunately, briefly after that we ceased playing anything altogether. Recently, however, we've resolved to begin playing, and this past Monday, we had our first session. Overall, it went well, but there were a few kinks in our play which I've decided to ask about here. I've searched the forums (and book) and haven't found any answers to these questions, but if I'm simply not seeing something, please point me in the right direction; it would be greatly appreciated.

Mainly, my questions deal with combat.

My first question is about falling down and, perhaps more importantly, getting back up. I do notice that tripping is mentioned under Special Effects in ArM5 p.175, but I don't see any references to standing back up. I guess the main question is: does standing back up after falling down take an action? No prone penalties or anything along those lines are mentioned, at least as far as I can see, in ArM5 -- any thoughts on this?

The next is about spell-based damage in combat. I see on ArM5 p.181 that spell damage uses the same rules as non-combat damage, but the problem that we were having is that it seemed to be essentially impossible to then kill anything with a spell. Take, for example, the spell "The Crystal Dart" (MuTe 10, ArM5 p.154), which does +10 damage. My enemy, an infernal being, has a magic resistance of 10. If my casting total + penetration is less than 20, my spell has no effect. If my casting total is higher than 20, I then roll a stress die, and add that to the +10 base damage. My enemy rolls a stress die, adds it to his soak, and subtracts this total from my damage total. Correct? On average, our stress dice with roll the same, so my spell is doing essentially 10 - the enemy's soak total -- say 5 damage, a light wound. From how I am understanding the damage system, I could repeatedly cast this spell on the enemy forever and he will not die at this rate, because the wound penalty never factors into the damage he is taking, unlike normal combat damage. After 10,000 times being hit with this spell, at a -10,000 penalty, if i then went up and punched him, he would take 10,000 damage and die. ------- All of that, at least, is how we're currently understanding the combat system, which is slightly problematic. I am convinced that we are missing something, but I have been over this book again and again and cannot, for the life of me, figure out what. Can anyone enlighten me as to where we're going wrong?

One last, quick question, before I go: in our first session, one of the most viable strategies upon which we stumbled was to put the enemy to sleep (via "The Call to Slumber", ReMe 10, ArM5 p.151) and then slit their throat -- because they don't get any kind of saving roll against falling asleep; it just happens. Are we doing it wrong?

I'll stop there. I'm sure I do have more questions, but those are the most pressing (honestly, the second one most so), and I can wait for anything else. I really appreciate any help you guys can give.

Thanks a lot!

This is addressed in rules more fully in the "Lords of Men" supplement, (indeed, combat is a lot more thoroughly fleshed out in LoM).

If memory serves, getting up is an action for the turn (LoM specifies a few free actions, but most cost your turns action),

Right - if your players want to take on the MR20 foe (MR20 seems to be a respectable MR for AM - not high, but respectable) they need to boost their penetration or circumvent it in some way:

1/ Get some sort of penetration-boost (like a arcane connection to the target, or figure the targets horoscope, etc (see ArM5, p84)) and multiply their Penetration ability up, these really help (if you have Penetration 3 you can easily get +9 penetration here with effort and preparation), though for demons only true names count which makes them trickier than a lot of other opponents,
2/ Boost their spell casting total (using vis, spell mastery, penetration ability, arts, etc)
3/ Use magic to affect their environment to attack the target (a rockfall, etc) - this will require finesse rolls - but MR will not apply (unless the targetted part of the environment has MR anyway),
4/ Fight in a better environment (magical aura, etc), as aura ratings affect penetration,

As to the damage total - +10 damage will more often than not do a Medium wound (-3 for future rolls), you may not kill it with the darts, but two or three of those and it will likely run (at a -9 penalty it won't be doing much)!

Also remember that having thirty wounds means that the chances of recovering drop significantly (wound recovery is not trivial even with magic (fewer risks, but it costs a lot of Vis!), though that is somewhat irrelevant to a demon...

Just realised that you where talking about Soak 10, just remember that Soak 10 is pretty good (as good as full chain with stamina +1) - and +10 damage is moderate at best,

Remember MR here, but essentially this is why mundanes are trivially easy for Magi to deal with,

Also remember that the spell is a natural sleep (not magically enforced) - so events may naturally cause the target to wake, and most folks are pretty light sleepers as they are falling asleep,

Regarding spell damage, you seem to be correct. If you do cast that spell 10,000 times, you are bound to have some very lucky roll that will inflict worse wounds, but unless you manage an instant kill he will still be alive. Unable to do anything, but alive. Eventually he will die of those wounds (because statistically he cannot hope to make all those recovery rolls), but that will take a while.

Of course, long before that he will have so many penalties that you can just walk to him and slit his throat, as you mentioned.

The good point of this system is that someone cannot die from a hundred paper cuts. The bad point is that, well, someone cannot die from one million billion paper cuts.

At some point, the SG would just step in and announce the bad guy is dead.

Regarding the Call to Slumber, the only thing you might have missed is that while it puts the enemy asleep, it does not keep him asleep, since it has Momentary duration, and it is a natural sleep. So the enemy should have the normal chance to awaken if someone walks to him to slit his throat, or if there are combat noises around. If you use it at night on a sentry and you have someone stealthy to go slit his throat, it should work very well; if you use it on a well rested soldier in the middle of a battlefield, he's almost bound to snap awake instantly.

Noble's parma, but don't wound penalties apply to your rolls?

If that's the case, your opponent's soak roll is penalized. So, if he's at -3 and you're doing stress die + 10 vs Soak 5 + (Stress die - 3 from wounds), he'll on average take 8 damage. And it gets worse from there.

It says "actions, (rolls and totals)" are penalized (ArM5, p178),

Not sure if a soak roll is considered an action though?

That said, if it where a defense roll it should be penalized even though it is technically not an action (and the extra carryover would translate into a worse wound), so I could see how it might apply,

I think the big thing you're missing is that it is not necessary for combat to end in death. It is quite reasonable for a combatant to surrender, flee or otherwise end combat without being incapacitated or killed. I generally consider that when a combatant's wound penalties are such that he has no, or very little, reasonable chance of doing anything is about the point where he yeilds. Then you get to deal with fun things like prisoners, randsoms, etc.

My group had the exact same problem with spell damage and soak when they first played 5th edition.

Wound penalties apply to rolls, as already stated, and that must include spell damage soak rolls. Normal combat does not roll soak, because the wound penalty is applied to the defense roll and that works though into the damage total already.
Spell damage has a roll added to the soak total, so the wound penalty applies to that roll. This means that even a wimpy spell can eventually kill someone. The alternative, where only 'action rolls' have the wound penalty applied leads to totally ludicrous situations.

You might disagree, but this way the game works well and I'm not aware of any occurrence where this rule leads to any ludicrous situations. You still have the prisoners, surrendering, etc role-playing possibilities because you still don't kill enemies very quickly.


Just the clarify, wound penalties apply to Defense rolls but not to Soak. Soak is not rolled. That's in the FAQ:

As Gilarius points out sometimes you do roll Soak (for spell damage, falling damage, and a few other circumstances). In that case the RAW (rule as written) are not clear on whether Wound Penalties apply to the roll or not. :frowning:

As Gilarius says, applying the penalty to soak makes more sense than not doing it.

You missed my first sentence, so maybe I was indeed unclear after that.

To clarify: I didn't said or meant that wounds applied to soak (they don't), but that, as they were applied to rolls (Ars p178), they probably affected soak when it is rolled. Which is the case when determining spell damage (and, IIRC, only then)

It seems logical that, in that particular case (rolled soak), the wounds do apply. Not so much to soak than to the die roll.

Soak is rolled. On ArM5 p181 there is a mention of 'Non-combat Damage' say for falling or being in a burning house. Here Soak is rolled, just as Damage is a die+adds. In normal combat, there is a die roll for Atk and one for Dfn, so the Soak and Dam totals have a die involved, somewhere. Therefor non-combat damage has this as well. And this category also applies for damaging spells, since a PoF does +x damage. If the wound penalty isn't applies here, this type of attack is at a disadvantage from one which makes an Atk roll vs. a Dfn. OTHO spells that do fixed damage (like a PeCo doing a Light Wound) is cheated...but they ignore Soak to begin with, so that's possibly ok.

Welcome to the game!

I'm sure you've noticed that there are far fewer rules and details than with some other RPG's. This is for the most part an intentional and consistent decision on the part of of the editors - the Story Guide is invited to find their own case-by-case solutions as they go. (Ars might not be the best "first" RPG for just that reason - or vice versa, depending on your preferred style.)

Maybe... usually? The rounds are fairly long (6 seconds or so), so it could be possible to stand and do something quick - perhaps at a penalty. I wouldn't create a hard, absolute "yes" or "no" rule on this either way - whatever makes the best story (while staying relatively consistent with Player vision of the game world), that's the rule I like.

No one said the canon spells are the best examples of their kind, and CD is exactly that - not the best example of its kind. CD, to use the technical Hermetic term, sucks big green ones - it must have been designed to intimidate, like a punch in the stomach, or to exterminate vermin, not for real mortal combat. No, you can't expect to kill any Size 0 critter with CD, or only with the greatest of luck. Bumping that same effect to a Level 15 effect, d+15 damage, is MUCH better, and at least you'll be incapacitating your target with some reliability - as an informal rule of thumb, it takes a level 25 spell or so to be reliably lethal.

(Note - on that point, consider giving Sleep spells a Duration, changing canon Dur:Conc to Dur:Diam (to avoid Concentration checks), and bumping Range:Eye to Range:Voice for a MUCH more satisfactory (and practical) result.)

Nope - but remember, as mentioned above, without a duration, you're only putting them to sleep, not keeping them asleep.

Ever shut your eyes on a busy afternoon and find they're shut just a little longer than you expected? If you're ever truly "asleep", you certainly wake up quickly as well - nothing in that spell keeps them asleep, that relies on how tired they are in the first place. If weary after pulling all-night guard duty, they might sleep for a few hours - if they got a full 8 last night, they might open their eyes again before the mage can draw their dagger. (Also, "slitting a throat" is not as easy as it sounds if you're not going to disturb them first and wake them back up - a stab to the heart or a straightforward beheading is more practical.)

But, yes, some very simple, low-level magic is incredibly powerful if used just right, no apologies. Most magi can pwn mundanes without trouble - it's the political fallout from doing so that's often the catch. :wink:

Welcome to the game!

I'll be honest - Ars Magica is one of those games that is crying out for a 'suggested way to play this game' article. It differs a lot from pretty much any other tabletop RPG I've played, in a whole host of ways. Everything from adventure length to seasons downtime to values of various rewards are things most longer-term players have honed over a few years of play. The RAW are somewhat thin on details of how to pace your game, or what a reasonable vis income for a 'mid-range power setting' is. Other questions like 'is an ability of 8 too high for my NPC' are also not really effectively answered.

As many others have already said, combat and such are very easy for a wily mage to overcome - provided said mage is only facing mundane opponents who attack them head-on. For this reason, a basic 'room full of monsters' dungeon romp tends to fall a bit flat. Ars Magica thrives on more complex encounters - invisible/stealthy opponents, terrain hazards and environments that require concentration to spellcast will give magi more of a challenge - but at the same time all of these things they can probably overcome with a bit of forethought, preparation and magic items.

Don't be afraid to give enemies a few items or similar as well. The Code doesn't forbid trade in magic items to mundanes provided they're limited with uses, etc. As such, there's no reason a mundane bandit might not have got his hands on a horn that, when blasted, causes fear in all who hear it. A young magus without his shield grog and being threatened by archers hiding in the bushes is in trouble. The fact that there are no saving throws cuts both ways - and can easily make a combative encounter either trivial or ludicrously brutal.

My advice: don't be afraid to kill grogs. And don't be afraid to maim magi who think they can travel around without shield grogs. Once they start losing two seasons of study thanks to that heavy wound, they'll get less inclined to risk combat.