[Noob] Where to start with Ars Magic 5th?

As someone just starting out, would appreciate your advice.

We have never played Ars Magica though I recall looking at a 1st or 2nd edition book as a kid and thinking it was AMAZING and it has been a game I have wanted to bring to the table for decades. Finally decided to make it so.

I'd like to introduce it to our family and friends (we play RPGs once a week at our house but it has mostly been D&D for the last decade+ together so I'd like us to try Ars Magica).

What book(s) do you recommend?

Also what adventures/scenarios would you recommend that I acquire to take some of the newbie pressure off?


PS: We are in Australia (Down Under!) so stock is hard to find and rather expensive, so just trying to work out what to buy rather than a scatter gun approach, as the online products I could find are greatly inflated in price for us.


Oof, @Timothy_Ferguson may have some suggestions for you as a fellow Aussie.

Minimum, I would say is a core book (obviously) and Covenants. You can use e-books for SG knowledge on anything else.

You are certainly not the first, and you probably get some good advice reading some other threads:
New to Ars Magica - Games Discussion / Ars Magica - Atlas Games RPG Forum (atlas-games.com)

New to Ars Magica. New Player Questions - Games Discussion / Ars Magica - Atlas Games RPG Forum (atlas-games.com)

Coming from a D&D group, they will be used to seeing themselves as The Good Guys (stereotypically, IMO) and you are not necessarily such in Ars Magica.

My general advice is:

  1. House Rules are the best, don't be afraid to make them.
  2. Do not force everyone to make a grog, and a companion, and a mage, before you play. Let each player pick one type to start with.
  3. If you house rule, - virtues and flaws do not have to balance. I wouldn't allow more than 10p of Virtues as a new GM, but make them pick a couple flaws they find interesting.
  4. Make sure you actually sell the game to your players and have them understand what they're getting into.
  5. Combat is not the solution in this game, and the rules are (1) a bit wonky and (2) very lethal.
  6. Remember that Healing is expensive and much harder to do in this game.
  7. Really talk over what kind of game and situation you and your players WANT to explore.
  8. Let the players rewrite their PC's if they later realize they designed them wrong.
  9. Related to house rules, as D&D players they will quickly realize they have more Characteristics (Abilities in D&D words) but less points. I often let my PC's have a flat 7 to 12 points to put in anything they want)
  10. If all the players want to be magi - fine! Let them start as apprentices if they desire, to get a sense of how the game works first before having to full stat out their PCs. You could just use half the standard XP and assume they're 7-8 years into their apprenticeship and teenagers.

Thanks @Heaven_s_Thunder_Ham

When you say 'Covenants' are you referring to this book? It is the only 'covenants' type book I could find on Atlas website: Atlas Games | Covenants


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Yes, that is the book. In my opinion, the Boons & Hooks are particularly interesting, as is the section on possible covenant situations. Their are some extra material to flesh out their "Covenant."

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Thanks mate. Will grab that.


If you could indulge me a bit more on your knowledge sharing, what is a good 'starter' group published scenario to start with?

The characters may have Story Flaws and the covenant gonna have Hooks (which are not always Flaws, just look at blackmail). These are designed to bring interesting scenarios to the story. Pick the ones your group would like to play out, talk about it with everyone. Then in play every solution should (in theory, but dont force it) lead to an other "flaw/hook" to keep the scenarios flowing in case you dont want to introduce a Great Quest to the game that it was not designed for.

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I don't really think there is a good starter scenario for 5ed. For 4ed there are two freebies around

Adventure supplements for 5ed are typically made as a loose settings and antagonists, leaving for the SG to make the story line. This is not easy to work with for a newbie group, but maybe your DnD experience suffices. Hooks, focusing on short stories, may be the best one to start with. Thrice-told tales is good, but as the title suggests, the stories should be told thrice, interleaved with other stories.

In principle, I think the core book suffices. The advice to take Covenants if you want to take your time to design and develop the covenant in detail, but there is a chapter in the core book and that suffices if you are happy with a bit of hand-waving. I would recommend the Houses of Hermes books, not necessarily all of them, but for the houses you want to play. They give a good introduction to Hermetic culture, and may make it easier to design and play magi who are different, varied, and something other than the DnD stereotypes. Not necessary. It depends on how much of the mindset the players want to create for themselves. In a similar vein, you may find the tribunal book for the tribunal where you want to play very useful. Provence is known as the vanilla tribunal. The others have some very particular quirks which are maybe better saved for the second saga you play. I have not read much of the Provence book myself though. None of these books give any stabilisers when you run your first story.


As someone who is comparatively new to ArM (having started 3-4 years ago) and with an extensive background in D&D i feel like I am quite qualified to help you out. In addition I am a very seasoned GM, with extensive practise in introducing new players to various TTRPGs.

I will start by saying that in a weird way Ars magica has both a lot in common with D&D and also very little in common with D&D. I know it sounds weird, but its true.

First off, the commonalities.
In Ars magica the fundamental mechanic of the game is that you resolve actions by rolling:
a die + a bonus related to the inherent capabilities of your character + a bonus derived from the skills that your character has acquired through practise.

In D&D these numbers are called "attributes" (for the inherent bonuses) and "skills" (for the ones you acquire through practise)

In ars magica these are called "characteristics" (for the inherent bonuses) and "abilities" (for the ones you acquire through practise).
Though in Ars magica proficiency in combat is treated like an ability, rather than having its own mechanic for improvement.

This is mainly where the similarities end, and you might be tempted to say, that this is only one similarity and its relates purely to meta-mechanics, and you would be right to say so. But IMO this is actually a huge similarity, because it means that your group wont have to learn a whole new way of resolving actions. Instead they can start to learn the game by making comparisons like "okay Charisma is split up into Presence and Communication" or "Deceive is called Guile in this game".

For the differences, the main one is that Ars magica is entirely dissimilar to D&D in its scope. D&D is mostly about a group of homeless heroes (or murder-hobos if you prefer) who roam around doing heroic deeds, mostly involving killing various things, creatures and humanoids. This means that while D&D officially rests on 3 narrative pillars (combat, social interaction and exploration) in practise one pillar, namely combat usually takes preference, with the other two playing second fiddle. D&D games are usually fast paced, with rapid changes in location and cast of NPC's.

Ars magica is about a group of wizards who live in the same place, and who really need that same place to be a stable environment where there is as little excitement as possible. They have to develop stable working relationships with the neighbors (both magical and normal (mundane if you prefer)).
Because of the way Ars magica is designed, the game doesnt work for fast paced D&D-esque games. The game really shines when you have time to develop relations with the same NPC's over time, and to get to know the local area. This is a game that literally and unironically rewards players for getting the interior decoration on their room just right.

By way of example. Imagine a story that starts out with a dragon that plagues a local village.

In D&D this game is about how the heroes show up in town, figure out where the dragons lair is, then the lair is a big dungeon with lots of minions that the heroes kill, one group after another, then they kill the dragon and take its (literal) pile of treasure.

In ArM this game is about finding out why there is a conflict between dragon and villagers and finding a way to, ideally, resolve it peacefully. It is of course a possibility to kill the dragon, but in ArM dragons rarely have large piles of loot to sleep on. Dragons also generate magical power where they live, and wizards need this type of power to grow their own power, so killing the dragon might actually have adverse effects on the magical powers of the wizards. This means that you have to negotiate and find a way for the villagers and the dragon to sort out their differences. Also if you chose to fight the dragon, you are in real risk not just of dying, but of being injured. In D&D injuries are mostly gone the next day. In ars magica being injured takes a long time to recover from, and you get less XP when you are recovering (!).

Thus the primary goal when trying to pitch Ars magica to your group is to try to figure out if your group is even interested in such a game. I know roleplayers who like the fast paced combat-first nature of D&D and thus would hate to play Ars magica, if your group is like that, then you are out of luck.

In terms of actually getting started, I would recommend that you sit down, maybe with a friend/family member and make some characters, just to get the hang of it. Take frequent breaks if you need them. The character creation system is really the weakest part of this game (IMO), not because you are limited with what you can do with it, but rather because there are practically no limits to what you can do with it, and the game makes almost no attempt at trying to hold you hand while presenting this near limitless amount of options to you.

Also the game is very weak in terms of actual content published. There are almost no scenarios published, very few fully fleshed out covenants, characters, magic items, vis sources, books, libraries, etc.
It has a very diverse selection of rules and subsystems to play with though. I would recommend you stay away from them until you are quite comfortable with the main system. There is no reason to overwhelm yourself further with rules for mysteries or how to simulate the life of a craftsman in detail (yes that exists). I count covenants in this section too, but it is a good place to start out once you feel ready to move on from the core book.

My best pitch for ars magica is this:
Imagine you are a bunch of professors at a university department. You have to figure out who applies for funding, who collects research samples, who teaches the students, who is responsible for dealing with uni-management and who is responsible for the library. You each mostly just want to spend time doing your own research alone with as few responsibilities as possible. But you also need to make this work because if no-one does any of the duties then no-one will be able to conduct research. The real world constantly wants you involved and getting research material requires you to go out into the real world. This pitch works best if you and your group are already familiar with academia.


If someone wishes to start with a full 5th edition covenant, characters for that covenant, and an adventure, they should examine Semita Errabundi on the main Ars Magica page of Atlas Games .
Subtle and Quick to Anger is an ArM5 adventure for this covenant and its characters, written to demonstrate ArM5 on conventions.


Thanks. Is "Faith and Flame' the 'Provence' book?

My 2 minute google search says that is where the 2nd edition had a lot of focus. Is that still the case for 'vanilla' 5e? So the best place to start for our first saga? (I am waiting on the corebook to arrive so apologies if this is already covered.

No gateway scenario as a new SG/player group is a bit frustrating. Seems an odd oversight to only cater for experienced AM people.

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I might go read it to get a handle but pre-gen convention kit probably won't rope the group in. Maybe after our first saga I'll write a scenario for other new players/SGs so they don't have the same WHAT THE when they come to scope the game out too.

Thanks by the way to everyone who is commenting. Even if I do not directly reply to each post, they are all being consumed and much appreciated.

EDIT: Oh I am only allowed X number of post replies on my first day here and have to wait 20 hours before I can write any more responses - so those that have commented and I have not yet replied, I am not being rude. I am just sitting in my quiet corner until I am allowed to comment again :slight_smile: Please do keep the suggestions coming.


Faith and Flame is Provence, yes. I do not think 5ed has a focus. In 2ed they were just starting, and they started with wanting to play the crusade against the Cathars, and wrote a lot of supplements in this geographical setting.

Later editions try in a much greater extent to develop all of Mythic Europe, and many supplements are written to fit in wherever your want to play. The different tribunals are designed to be very different, so that you get a different game when you have played one and then move to another tribunal. Thus it is wrong to say that Provence is a focus, but it is true that it is vanilla in the sense that it deviates less from what you would guess from reading just the core book.

I think Provence is the best tribunal to start in, if you want to buy the supplements and rely largely on them. Many players may be better off choosing the geographical area they know best in real life, but seen from down under they might all be the same.

You should look up what @silveroak pointed to before you let frustration take hold. I was not aware of that document.

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Was going to set it in England but there doesn't seem to be a 5th edition book? So maybe Provence will do!

You can still start with Heirs to Merlin: it is a later 4th edition book with few stats, and was used often to start sagas when ArM5 appeared.

I just looked up second hand prices for Heirs shipped to Australia... I guess we'll go with Provence! :wink:

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Yes. That is the Provencal book.

Core 5e says “The Order has these rules and organization and one magus has one vote and…” to explain the Hermetic part of the setting everywhere. Each tribunal has some rules that make it vary from this “generic” standard but that basic setting is closest to the Provencal Tribunal and that is partly because much of the history that has been written into the game, the covenant Mistridge among other things, was those covenants played by the game designers way back when. A smattering of some what makes other tribunals different:
-Rhine has a system of Journeyman, Master, and Archmage statuses that grant extra votes and other special perks to magi who advance within that system.
-The Theban Tribunal use Ancient Greek as their primary magical and political language and has a system of merits and demerits and a rotating, lottery leadership rather than most official positions being held by the eldest or chosen by some other extremely entrenched and “immutable” rule.
-the Normandy Tribunal has a system of vassal and liege covenants that mirrors the feudal order and determines vis prizes in a magical Tourney

It is less that the base game follows Provencal than the rest of the tribunals they asked “what makes this tribunal different from the basics outlined in the core book” and each one is special and somewhat unique, Provencal is somewhat unique historically by having an ongoing Crusade happening right there at the standard start date and where it differs from core is the magi taking clear-ish sides (neutral/uninvolved being a 3rd side) around that mundane event.


England tends to be my favourite too, largely because I hear more history and stories therefrom than I do from the continent.
The 4ed supplement is good. It spends too many pages on real-world history and writes too little about the wizarding world; in that respect 5ed supplements are better. I find two issues which fits poorly with 5ed lore. Firstly, the redcaps are too few, work too much, and do not benefit from the longevity rituals that have been made more powerful and accessible in 5ed. Secondly, Blackthorn is set up to make Tremere the big bad guys. In 5ed they have tried to make Tremere more co-operative and more compatible with magi from other houses.


Champion - great summary. Thank you.