Newbie Advice on starting a campaign

Hi folks - technically not a newbie, but in the time since I last ran Ars Magica I have had two children that are now both legal adults. So, lets just assume I'm coming in on the ground floor!

I have in mind to run a campaign for a group of friends when we come to the end of our current One Ring game. None have played Ars Magica before, but I think they would like Mythic Europe and at least one of them will enjoy the nuts and bolts of running a magus. The others may be less bothered and decide they prefer the easy life and would be happy with a companion level character. On my part - I am a fairly lazy GM and tend to use prewritten material.

So, with all that in mind, what would you recommend as a way to set up a saga? Where would you set the covenant? Do I just pick a Tribunal book that takes our fancy? Which would be a good one to start with? What pre-written adventures are there and do they join up in a story arc to make my life easier? Basically, is there a pre-written saga out there I can use?

Thanks in advance for your help


Welcome back! There’s good news for you...

Most of the 5th edition tribunal books have some kind of easy hook for new groups. Guardians of the Forest outlines a saga in the Rhine Gorge. The Normandy book places the PCs at Confluensis I believe. Provencal has a massive covenant called the Coenobium, which PCs can join.

Through the Aegis presents you with 5 fully detailed covenants, each with 4 brand new magi that can be PCs, or replaced by your own PCs. They have plot hooks, libraries, supporting cast including elder magi, antagonists and everything. Such a good book, saves you so much work.

Thrice Told Tales, Mythic Places, and Hooks are my favorite books for adventures, because they are filled with single-session adventures I can mix and match. Tales of Mythic Europe has some longer stories in it suitable for young magi.

Timothy Ferguson developed an intro Ars Magica adventure for use at conventions, which starts in Lisbon and sees the PCs through to establishing a new island covenant. As I recall Ben McFarland was working up a polished version of that adventure; those gentlemen can speak more about this delightful and helpful project.

Ars Magica does not have a “saga in a box.” I have been working on such a project in my spare time for a while now. But Through the Aegis is pretty damn good.

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For setting up a long story, There are several books filled with ideas. Ancient Magic, Antagonists, and Hermetic Projects are all good choices. Legends of Hermes has a few very good chapters as well.

Thanks chaps. I shall do a bit of research and then avail myself of the voucher Atlas just sent me for 3 for the price of 2. Cheers

What I have done before starting an Ars Magica game (similar process for other games) where I know my potential players is to

  1. Decide what sort of games I want to run (Political intrigue, magical research, action adventure)
  2. Decide which areas of Mythic Europe I would want to run which ever sorts of stories I am interested in
  3. Present to the players those choicesand let them select which one they are interested in.
    For instance I considered Baltic Coast with a themes of dealing with the Crusades , Wilderness and Mongols, or Greece with themes of ancient greek gods, mysterious magics (and it turns out Mongols) and let them pick from the things I was happy to run. For you this would mean you could sort out how much you and your players care for history and pick an area of Europe you are interested in and then buy whichever sourcebooks will be useful rather than buying source material which turns out to be of limited use.

My advice:

Do not use too many supplements. They are great, but even using the core book alone, Ars Magica can be dauntingly complex: Refuse hedge wizards, magic creatures, Infernal magi etc as player characters!

My favorite beginner's saga (published, which discounts Andorra) is The Rhine saga from the supplement Guardians of the forest. The tribunal is easy to understand and there's plenty of material to keep you busy. It can also easily made longer, or shorter, as needed, and it is open-ended, in a way.

My favorite beginner's story is Guardians of the Forest (the Rhine Gorge saga).


Be aware that all published 5th ed Tribunal books have local variations of Hermetic culture compared to how the core rulebook describes it - except Provençal Tribunal.

My personal favourites are Hibernia ( potential for conflict, but not too disruptive) or Rhine ( politics).
And if one wants to avoid starting from scratch with a new Spring covenant, Through the Aegis offers details of established covenants to set new characters in.

But number one concerns: Make sure the Troupe agrees on what they want to play.

On a slight tangent, do you think an ArM game can work if only some of the group want to run Magi? I doubt some players would want the extra rules burden, they would also have no issue with the “power balance” - that has never been an issue. It’s always been about story

Just digging about in a box in the garage. Apparently it was 3rd edition I last played...

Halcyon days

Absolutely! I've been at the "Grand Tribunal" convention all weekend, and as companions don't have to spend time studying arts or learning spells, they tend to get a much better range of Abilities. They also don't suffer from The Gift's social penalties unless they deliberately choose to have a Magical Air.

The learning curve for grogs and companions is vastly shallower than for magi, so for players who don't want the extra rules it's fine. This often comes up in debates about how to introduce people to Ars - is it better to start with a character who is easy to play and has some touch of the mystical (maybe a supernatural ability or some Faerie lore), or is it better to dive in at the deep end and show them how awesome being a magus is?

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My group is composed mostly of people who are new to Ars magica, some people are experienced in play other roleplaying games and some are not. I think that my group provides a couple of instructive examples for what is likely to happen when playing with new players.

One guy made a Merinita magus with strong faerie blood (and thus Second Sight) he also took Magic Sensitivity (oh and he chose to have a low score in Perception too) and wanted to focus on Faerie lore, Mentem, Vim and Ignem magics. The resulting character was such a mess that after 1½ years of trying to salvage his character the player gave up and has now made a new and more consistent character. The lesson here is that there are a lot of cool things you can do with magic and a lot of cool abilities you can want to have but if you actually take all of them what will happen is that you cannot do anything to any real degree. That is hard for a new player to do and it is hard for a new GM to convince a new player of (believe me I tried with the guy in the example).

on the other hand there is another player in my group, she dislikes playing as a magic user in roleplaying games and for that reason she initially played mostly on her companion and recently converted her magus into a companion too. Now for her initial companion she took the virtue Magister in Artibus, and her character is badass. She has so much xp and so many high level abilities that she can always do something when we are on adventures. Artes liberales, Bargain, Charm, Guile, Medicine, Chirurgy, Civil and Canon law, you name it. It is a rare play session when that character is outdone by a magus(!).

These are of course only the most extreme examples but it holds true for the rest of the group too. Our companions are generally much more useful than our magi. The companions have a host of useful but boring sounds general abilities, while our magi have a bunch of badass sounding abilities that we can rarely use and they are all at low levels, making them less reliable.

Generally it is my impression, and experience, that newly guantleted magi are quite weak, because they are spread very thin, between having to spend xp on the required abilities to even function as a magus (latin, magic theory, and parma), Arts and some of the abilities that are useful in play. Magic also looks like it can do a lot of badass things when you play (and it can). But a beginning magus can only access a tiny fraction of all those powerful things with the limited allotment of formulaic spells that you start off with, and spontaneous magic is not powerful enough to give more than a slight boost now and again.

I am sure that for a group that is experienced with the game it is possible to create magi that are very powerful and, especially useful, early in the game, but for your groups that is likely to some time off into the future.

That's an option. I would suggest skimming the "Which Tribunal to Choose" page of the wiki to get a feel to what kind of adventures each tribunal seems to fit best. It doesn't include all tribunal/area books, but I think it does highlight some points (e.g. the Wilderist/Harmonist debate) about some tribunals that would be hard to garner without reading them (or reviews), to aid your choice.

In terms of ready-made adventures: I second the Rhine Gorge as a great starting point.

Interesting - it may be some time before we can start a new game. But better that I am prepared

That is really useful. I had not come across I shall explores its pages...

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Thank you all for your help and suggestions. I will keep you abreast of developments...