Newbie couple of questions


I used to have the 3rd edition Ars Magica book ( can't post links ) and I really liked it, I DMed a couple of sessions and had a lot of fun designing the gamegroups covenant and laboratory. I even read a few fiction novels, but the gamegroup found the rules to complicated, managing several characters at once was cumbersome for them, so we switched systems.

But that was a long time ago, I am interested in getting back into Ars Magica and I would have a couple of questions.

  1. If I would start to play again, which books should I get? I would like to keep it simple at first, so no real need for hermetic houses (I'm not sure what they are called) or complicated rules, rather campaign setting and basic rules.

  2. if I would like to focus on a religion based campaign, what books should I get?

  3. What type of "Monsters" does Ars Magica have? Does it have faeries, beasts, angels, demons, undead? I can't quite remember. Angels would be the ones I'm most interested right now.

  4. Lastly, could you suggest some fiction books, to get into the mood again?

Thank you. :slight_smile:

Hi, and welcome (back) to Ars Magica :slight_smile:

An excellent choice! :slight_smile:

All you need to play is the core book. The current edition is the 5th edition, so the core book is usually known as ArM5 :slight_smile:
As for setting, I'd argue you have 2 choices:

  1. Get (one or more) really good books on europe around 1220 AD. Read them. Play.
  2. Once you have the corebook, go to page 200. It should have a map of the Tribunals. Pick one you'd like to play in, possibly after reading a bit about each on Project Redcap. Get the tribunal book for that tribunal. Play.

Realms of Power: Divine has a wealth of material on the 3 "Religions of the Book": Christianity, Judaeism and Islam, as well as some material on angels and miracles.
Realms of Power: Faerie deals with faeries, which is an excellent way to describe the older, pagan gods, unless you want to go for...
Realms of Power: The Infernal which cover Hell and it's inhabitants, as well as the Dark Powers they grant their followers.

There's also a book, imaginatively called The Church, which deals with... the christian Church, surprisingly.
It also deals with piety and expressions thereof, as well as offering excellent reasons for going on pilgrimages.

All of those and more, if you care to make them up.
Supernatural Beings are all associated with one of the 4 Realms (of Power): Divine, Faerie, Infernal or Magic.
There's a book out for each realm.

Mind you, most angels would resent being called 'Monsters', I think. Then again, I also suppose they'd forgive you. :wink:

Thank you very much, that's everything I needed to know. :smiley:

About Angels: I hope they don't mind, was a honest mistake, I have been reading RPG materials all weak and I saw quite a few of angel stats in various monster manuals. :slight_smile:

One more thing, are there fiction books for ArM? I read a lot, it would be cool to get the feeling of Ars Magica again, or should I hunt my old books down, in the basement? :slight_smile:

Hi! Welcome to the forum and re-welcome to the game :slight_smile:

You can just purchase the Ars Magica Fifth Edition core book. (You can get earlier editions, but that's the current edition and it's the best and has the most supplements too.) The book already describes the Houses, in brief, and has all the rules you need to run an entire campaign. (Well, except animal stats, which you can download the Book of Beasts for, from Atlas' website.) Not much detail given on the setting, though, beyond some general points.

If getting a more detailed setting - with info on the geography, rival covenants, and so on - is important to you, you should also get one Tribunal Book. Since you want a religion-based game, I'd recommend either (a) Guardians of the Forest: The Rhine Tribunal, which includes massive Christian cities such as Colonge, as well as several numerous seeds for adventures relating to the Church and its interactions with magi - mainly in the "that Church-led mob is trying to burn down our covenant" theme; or (b) The Lion and the Lily: The Normandy Tribunal, which is more focused on magi living side to side with the nobles, Church, and commoners in the very-crowded medieval France (but frankly I like it less). There are other options though. Frankly, I'd suggest heading over to Project Redcap and reading the "Which Tribunal to Choose?" page to pick a setting book.

Depends on what you mean. If you wish to struggle against "monsters" of the main religion (Christianity), or to face its holy men and so on, then I'd suggest Realms of Power: The Divine. If you wish to engage in a more political game against the background of the Church, I'd suggest The Church.

If you wish to engage against dark, demonic cults then Realms of Power: The Infernal would be very useful, and if you wish to engage with the idea of pagan religion, well, that could mean several things in Ars Magica but it mostly means worshipping powerful faeries as discussed in Realms of Power: Faerie.

There are four main types of supernatural powers/monsters in Ars Magica: Divine, Infernal, Faerie, and Magic. The Realms of Power: X four books details each of these types.

Faeries are definitely in Ars Magica, but Fifth Edition has its own rather unique take on them: they are basically phantasms that leech "vitality", life essence, from humans. One way to do so is your standard faerie - working in return for milk, marrying the princess only to turn into a beast and trap her in the faerie palace, or so on. But there are other types of Faeries, drawing vitality differently - including things like vampires that literally drink vitality/blood, gods that subsist on human worship - or sacrifice! - and so on. And some types of things you'd call "faerie" probably aren't in Ars Magica - like tree-spirits, which would be Magical creatures.

Beats of all sorts are present too. They are often Magical - from the Dragon to the brutish giant or gigantic boar. Being Magical basically means that they have supernatural powers, but they aren't too concerned with humans, usually. Ars Magica doesn't have the widely-magical beasts D&D tends to have, at least not standard Ars; its beasts are drawn more from mythology and folklore.

Angels belong to the Divine, and are its main "monster" type. The Divine in Fifth Edition is basically trying to get people to be good, and is widely acknowledge as "the good guys", so it would be exceedingly rare for them to act as "monsters". They would usually feature more in a "the stranger that got us to notice the demons was actually an angel" kind of way. But angels certainly do exist, and can very well serve as "monsters" in your game. Realms of Power: The Divine provides extensive discussion of their general nature, the different choires of angels, and a "monster manual" of angels.

Demons of course exist too, as part of the Infernal. Again, Fifth Edition has its own take on them but generally speaking they mostly work to corrupt souls and often through diabolists (human cultists). They can be physically powerful and hard to detect, but will often fall to magic and have deep personality flaws (such as lacking patience, being arrogant, and so on). Demons are the ultimate "monsters", as they're definitely the bad guys and can include all kinds of horrid creatures.

Undead exist partly. Ars Magica does NOT have the wide variety and types of undead D&D has. It has very little corporeal undead, mostly vampires really. It has ghosts as non-corporeal undead, but that's basically it - no wide array of them like a Spectre vs. a Wraith or so on, although Ars Magica ghosts tend to be more personal and varied in that way. You can easily add in undead by hand, but for the most part they don't exist in the "monster manuals". They can be from ANY realm - there may be Faerie vampires, Magical liches, Divine ghosts, Infernal wraiths/ghosts, and so on.

All that said - stories in Ars often don't use monsters as extensively as D&D, focusing instead more on human power groups, politics, or so on. Instead of delving into the dungeon and killing a horde of monsters, you would discover a magical kingdom and defeat the mad goblins to gain the magical acorns from its faerie-queen. That sort of thing. Again, your game can be as monster-based as you want, of course - I'm just telling you what is probably more standard.

The core rule book of the 5th edition, definetly. It contains everything to play many sessions. It is missing explanation on how to build opponents of each Realm (yet provide some samples).

Other books ? It depends how "cannon" you want to be and which aventure you want to tell. I might be wrong, but looking at your questions, I wonder if you are not looking at more fantasy adventures with frequent confrontation with "monsters" ?

To group available books:
The Mysteries as well as the three HoH books describes extension to magic, which adds more possibilites, virtues and options, but also a lot more rules - and you already dismissed the wish to go there.
The Tribunal books are relatively rule light, and contains a lots of background information and plots hooks. Each tribunal has a very different flavours, with its owns traditions and laws. This is good stuff for a GM: 1) no need to populate a whole Tribunal, 2) to do extensive bibliography research, 3) contains many story seeds, 4) give a good idea of interaction between covenant, magus and the mundane world.
Discuss with your players the kind of adventures they want to play and pick up the appropriate tribunal book.

Just keep in mind that D&D cleric and paladins do not exist as such in Ars. At least not in the cannon way. And Ars is christiano-centric and mythic. So you won't find many deities and things like that. The Divine is the most suitable book to detail this aspect.

But you can find infernalist cult, hedge wizards following the Old Ways a possibly worshipping old, forgotten gods.

You can have Holy magic, but although it can break many hermetic limits, I personally find unsuitable for a troupe: it put very strict restriction on what can do a holy magus without loosing his powers and thus restrict his freedom of action. Also, I find hard to conceive a holy magus living amongst non-holy-magus and not trying to convert them and always trying to save them from doing something sinful: it might be fun a few sessions, but after a while it gets stale. And trying to go toe to toe against the Divine is usually a moot point...

Finally, Faerie and Magic give you lots of options to craft a large range of opponents if you want to duplicate some monster manual.

Because Ars was designed for campaign covering long time period, and focus a lot more on social interaction (with beings of all four Realms), creatures or monster are rarelly cannon fodder. In fact, if you follow the rules of any of the Realm books, it takes a lot of time to create a "monster" from scratch, and not worth the effort if it is to be used in a unique "encouter combat". Supernatural is rare (compare to most other med-fan settings), and every "monster" is treated more like a unique creature.

As book, I will suggest "Pillars of Earth" from Ken Follett. There is no Order of Hermes, but it gives an excellent feel for the Medieval time (it is set around the 12th century, slightly prior the usually play period of Ars). But as far as I know, there is no official Ars Magica book endorsed by Atlas.

Rival magic might also provide you with some good materials to build worthwhile opponents (Muspelli, Amazon) which comes with a nice package of provide new religion/belief as well.

Not sure I agree. If you want the church to be a monolithic entity, sure.
But if disagreements of faith are interesting, I might suggest either The Sundered Eagle: Thebes Tribunal for greek-orthodox vs catholicism or Faith and Flame for the cathari and the albigensian crusade. You'd probably need to set your saga a bit before the canonical year of 1220 though.

This, I whole-heartedly agree with, though the page is somewhat dated (at least 2 tribunal books have been published since it was current).
I should really do something about that.

I will try to reply a little bit longer a little bit later, right now I just have one more quick question:

What about the Transylvanian Tribunal? I was quite certain I would like to base my game there, but I don't see it mentioned on the redcap page.

No, the page is a bit behind time. I should really do something about that I suppose.
Transylvania Tribunal is covered in Against the Dark and strongly dominated by house Tremere.
It is important to note that house Tremere are not the villains they were in the 3rd edition, and if you want to use the Transylvanian tribunal, I strongly recommend also getting Houses of Hermes: True Lineages (usually: HoH: TL) for the current description of House Tremere.
It is really good, and I can hardly recommend it enough. The House Tremere won the Grimgroth for most improved house in the 5th edition.

Those are very good options, I agree.

The Sundered Eagle is very good in my opinion - but also presents a somewhat non-standard (Theban) tribunal, so take into consideration there would be more things unlike the core rulebook (unless you decide not to adopt them for your game). For example - the language wizards use is Greek instead of the Latin used throughout the Order, and the way the tribunal politics works is quite different from what's presented in the core book, involving an entirely-new system of "political standing" that you need to keep track of, and so on.

Faith and Flame is supposed to present a very "standard" Provencal tribunal, but I haven't read the book.

Heh, it was never up to date. But yes, there are several glaring omissions given the latest published tribunal books. Including, alas, the Transylvanian Tribunal.

+1 on all this.

Core is a great way to start.

In a departure from the Covenants book (very much not essential), I highly recommend the "standard" covenant in a tower on hill near a faerie forest with a village on the other side of the valley. That way you can start very, very simple, adding books and plot hooks as your saga grows, introducing aspects of medieval and Hermetic culture as stories demand them and characters grow.

I apologies for the typos.

First and foremost thank you all very much, I had a few Ideas of what I wanted to create in this next campaign of mine and thanks to your replies I'm sure I will be able accomplish many of my ideas. I have a bit of free time coming, so I will have time to read through the rules and create my NPCs, Covenants, Houses, Political Powers etc. :smiley: I'M looking forward to it. :slight_smile:

This was a very nice description, it gave me an instant insight into the campaign settings potential and gave so many new ideas, thank you. :slight_smile:

Well my group mostly hack and slashed in the last few years, I'm the only one who has some other experience (Ars Magica, Pendragon, Cthulhu etc.) so I will have to give them something to fight occasionally, I guess when they see that most of the monsters I will throw at the are far to easy oponents they will see that the challange lies elsewhere. :slight_smile: (Or at least I hope they will see).

My plan was to create a powerful "Local Church" If possible in the Transsylvanian Tribunal Area (Croatia, Hungary, Vienna), create a few powerful angels, and powerful Clerics who are facing problems they can't solve (because of social issues, or other reasons) and they ask the players for help. I really like to portrait Holy people so I will have some fun too this way. :slight_smile: I already have several small ideas, but I will see what I can come up with from the rulesbooks.

I have read that book, it is one of my favourites. :slight_smile: I've read the sequel as well (World without end) and several dozen similar books, historical fiction is one of my favourite topic, so I have read dozens (maybe 150-200) of these type of books.

I already planned a big city nearby, Vienna, Venice, Buda, Esztergom or something in Transsylvania. My plan is that the covenant is far enough to pose as a problem to the authorities, but near enough that the Church NPCs (the quest givers, the driving force) can contact them easily enough.

When I played in ArM3 I tried this "basic" and I quickly lost all steam and had no more ideas what to do, and how to drive the PCs. And back then I had absolutely no chance to get my hand on supplement books, now it should be quite easy, I just order it from amazon, from the publisher or I guess from drivethroughrpg. :slight_smile:

So the books I should get:
Core book (ofc)
Against the Dark (for the Transylvanian Tribunal)
Realms of Power: Divine (because of my backstory, motivation)
Realms of Power: The Infernal (because of the enemies)
The Church (overall world setting).

If we get bored with all this (and the PCs Covenant is powerful enough), I think I could start introducing the other Tribunals and the Hemretic houses and Realms of Power: Faerie (for the faeries).

A word of caution: because monsters are generally a unique thing in Ars, it is set up so that killing monsters gets you Raw Vis. This is the equivalent to killing monsters and taking their stuff in D&D - you kill monsters and get their Raw Vis. The thing is, if your party will go around and kill hordes of magical creatures like they do in D&D they'll very quickly amass mountains of raw vis, more than they'll know what to do with. (They'll also likely discover that combat in Ars Magica can be rather more deadly, and that death is rather permanent; but that's another issue.) So before the game actually begins, once you've got a solid grasp on the adventures you're thinking on, try to give some thought to how much vis they'll find and what they'll do with it. You can modify the rules on how much raw vis the players get from killing things (maybe none?? half?) to make sure your players don't get so much raw vis that it will become a cheap boost to every magical activity; or you can accept that your players will indeed have lots of raw vis; or you can decide that this consideration just wouldn't really rise in your saga and leave things as they are. I'm just cautioning you to give this issue some thought before you actually start the game, because changing it in retrospect can be more problematic.

You're most welcome :slight_smile:

e23, actually. You can find the links in Atlas website (or Project Redcap).

The only thing is that this a lot to read. Feel free to do so, but also feel free to start playing with less. You don't HAVE to read up The Church to protray the church, or to read The Infernal to arbitrarily throw some stats together to represent a demon (following just the core rulebook's rules). The books add a lot, but feel empowered to do without them, or to start without them and add them later in the game.

Just a quick reply. I started reading the Against the Dark Yesterday. I skipped the core book (that will be the next to read). It is absolutely magnificent. Whoever wrote it made his/her research. It is fantastic. :open_mouth: I'm really surprised actually, as I said I have read a few RPG books in the last few weeks, and this is so much above "standard"...
I guess I have been playing the "wrong" games in the past. :stuck_out_tongue:

Welcome to Ars Magica :wink:

Getting bored with basic happens, so just before that happens, you can add stuff. Like a village is founded nearby, or a monastery. Or maybe there is a local crusade, or the nearby baron (who didn't care about the magi so the magi were free to ignore him) dies and his heir has a very different disposition. Or a vis source that had been considered secure is now coveted by a powerful Seeker who claims the vis has occult power. Or something wicked this way comes when the stars are right (and tada, they are.) Or...

Sort of like Buffy: Season 1 Sunnydale is a "one Starbucks town." By season 2 it has commercial docks, a prep school, a small college. In season 3 we see a rather large city hall, big enough for its very own Starbucks :slight_smile:, and get an airport, a large seedy part of town and discover that Sunnydale is home to UC Sunnydale (UCs are big!) .... At the end of season 7, when Sunnydale is destroyed, we see block after block of large buildings tumble into oblivion.

Let me share a bit my experience in this case. What follows is not cannon at all, but will save you a lot of time.

Don't bother with the creature/demon/faerie rules at first, especially if it is just for a fight.
You only need to focus on the following point:

  • How much damage can it soak (soak bonus, wound range). Don't bother calculating the exact value, just assign a value which seems interesting considering the capacity of your players)
  • How does it do damage and how much. Same as for the damage soaking, assign an attack bonus, a damage bonus and possibly a defence bonus it it makes sense.
  • Assign a certain number of powers which will be useful in combat: 1-2 powers is enough for simple goons, 3-4 for boss. Use spells from the core book and "reskin" them according to the Realm the creature is coming from. Don't bother to find the exact rules from the Realm book. Assign a penetration total (possibly a aiming total if needed) according to the resistance your character can provide. Keeping in mind that usually high power have low penetration (but more devasting effect).
    Example: for an undead draining life force, give it PeCo20 invocation of the weariness, describe it as long, black tendrils touching the victim and a sense of cold and you have it. You might tailor it by saying that it has a higher penetration if instead of a range attack it is a direct contact. And finally consider that it works on any living target with Fatigue level (and do not bother if the form's target is not Corpus)
  • Eventually, add a vague idea of the creature generic powers in case it would need to do something that you did not detailed (for example if it is captured, subdued, or controlled.

Important point (and highly not cannon): Do not assign a magical resistance to your creature, instead, give it a form of attenuation effect. Let me explain this point.
The purpose of a fight is to create some tension. If the opponent fall too easily, the players won't feel they "earned" it, if the fight drags too long it will become boring.
The problem with Ars, is that if a magus open with a BoAF and manage a good penetration, the encounter might stop before it even started. If you put a MR which is high enough to resist the spell, it is quite possible that no spell will ever affect it.
If the creature has a kind of attenuating Parma, the fight will last longer, without being impossible: offensive spell do -10 damage, control spell last shorter or works only partially and so on.
The delicate trick is to find the balance: don't deny a quick kill for a well planned attack or a smart strategy, but don't let the same strategy works over and over. You want to build a form of climax, you don't want fight to become a routine.

By doing so, you will loose a bit of consistency, but it will save you so much time, that I found it an acceptable trade off, and if you players are not expert in the Mythic Europe world and Ars rules, they won't notice it yet enjoy the ride (hopefully).

Having played a holy maga character before (on a couple of brief occasions; still want to get the concept into a sustained saga), the trick to getting along in a group is to avoid playing a pompous, self-righteous, holier-than-thou jerk (which would be excessively Proud in any case :smiley:) and instead try to be a moral center, voice of peace and reason, and good example for the other magi. It's no different from playing a paladin in D&D, really: lots of people take the strict letter of the Code of Conduct, write it on a stick and ram that stick so far up their backsides that it paralyzes them, but that's a problem with either the player or the DM being too rigid with the rules. Conversely, there are people who play Paladins who know when to make a point of their code, and when it'd be better to lay off of everyone else.

And as with D&D, the book doesn't help; it tends to assume that holy magi will think that Hermetic magic is inherently sinful even when it's not, encouraging the holier-than-thou recluse stereotype. Now, you're right about the restricted freedom of action, but again, that's essentially a code of conduct that, in the hands of a smart player and a flexible SG, will drive stories and encourage creative solutions to problems.

But since my experience with paladins and similar characters has generally been positive, I'm probably biased.

Well, to be fair, historically, religious leaders from every group (Jewish, Christian, Pagan, you name it) tended to be "holier than thou" at everybody else, and the only Holy Magus among many not-holy magi (it's so annoying that "unholy" doesn't just mean "not holy") might very well come to feel a driving need to force their companions to act "correctly" so as to eventually end up saved. (Not that everyone who acts in a morally righteous fashion is necessarily religious, but almost any priest from almost any group or time period would call you a heretic for suggesting that.) Religious people trying to guide you to conversion and/or better morals by gently coaxing you and showing you that "nice is nicer" is far more recent than 1220... I think that methodology only started becoming widespread during the Enlightenment.

Granted, on the other side of that coin, making your character more agreeable with the setting isn't an excuse to intentionally make things less fun for the other people at the table. So I basically agree with you in practice, but it's the book's job to present a balanced perspective and highlight what that type of character would normally be like so that the book remains useful to both players and Storyguides. So I believe the book is justified in how it approached the description.

I'm aware of this, but there's also always been people who bucked that trend. Even among Christians (the most aggressively proselytizing sect of the time period), there's always been people following a tradition of soft-pedaling, humility and setting an example instead of loudly telling everyone around them that UR DOIN IT RONG. For example, the Nerians who follow the Franciscan rule are a specific example of non-hermit holy magi, and they took their oath so they could live and work among other magi, so I'd assume that these Christians would (at least if, like most magi, their covenantmates were all nominally Christian) preach less and help out more. Of course, there'd likely be friction with any openly-Pagan magi, which is something that'd have to be addressed in covenant creation. But Christians who don't believe in being overly preachy have existed as long as Christians who believe in constantly nagging and Christians who believe in "preaching" with fire and sword because Deus Vult.

First, it takes a particular viewpoint and attempts to make it into a presumptive viewpoint for all holy magi (which is forgivable, but #NotAllHolyMagi could be made clearer, particularly when Zoroastrians are as likely to flatly disagree with the idea that magic=bad as conventional Rabbinical Jews are to agree with it). Second, even setting the first aside, the book provides absolutely no advice on making a holy magus who will not start every session off with a sermon on the evils of magic.

So I think that the book encourages making holy magi as unplayable as Ezechiel said they were, which is a bad thing from a game design perspective.