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

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.

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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.

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Champion - great summary. Thank you.

You can probably get it as a PDF, which is, at least, cheaper to ship.
Maybe you can print and bind it for less than the shipping costs.

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My advice would be just start with the core book. While I love the kitchen sink and everything else, as mentioned above, most of the other books are adding more rules, though there is some stuff that helps clarify things in the Core book. I would probably not bother with Covenants early on, there are some more hooks and boons for covenantsbut the income and expenses and laboratory specialization rules are not so necessary early on.

After the core book I view all three of the Houses of Hermes books as pretty important and not necessarily due to what houses you have in play but what sorts of characters you have. For example, if you want a political game that touches on Tribunals and the like you really must read the Guernicus chapter of HoH:TL because it really fills in a lot around tribunals and what legal disputes entail in the Order and the like. If your player group are serious magic combatants then the Flambeau chapter of HoH:S is very important. An illusionist? The Jerbiton Chapter of HoH:S. The only Houses of Hermes book where most of the important stuff is actually the details of the house it’s talking about is Mystery Cults and even there, in the Bjornaer chapter, are important rules for dealing with PCs who can shapechange.

After the HoH books I would probably say the tribunal for the area you are playing and then the Realm of Power books in whichever order you feel is appropriate, lots of demons in your stories? Get Infernal. Lots of Faeries? You get it.

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I would advise against it, for a starting group. It adds massive amounts of spreadsheet work, and turns the management of yhe covenant into a very numerical exercise as you track almost every single expense. My recommendation is to keep ut looser for the first game(s).

I do second the purchase of a Tribunal book: pick which region you want yo play in and buy that book.

Everything else is secondary.

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This is not the only way to read Covenants, though. You can read it for flavour and ditch the numbers.

Playing 3ed, I always found it very difficult to understand how a covenant could make a living, how they could covenfolk work efficiently with Gifted magi around, or even what the covenant was supposed to look like; what features they need. At that time Covenants was the most sorely missed book, and the current edition does help with that.

That said, I agree that it is not necessary. To get started, it is easier to handwave the covenant, and focus on off-site stories.

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I think what to buy really depends on what you want to play. You need the core book, obviously, but if anything beyond that is useful depends a lot on the saga you want to play - your playstyle and preferences.

I would recommend reading through the Which Tribunal to Choose page on Project Redcap (link) to get a sense of both possible styles of play and if there is a tribunal that catches your eye. (It's not complete, but it does review some major ones.) A tribunal book is by no means necessary, but if one does strike you as interesting then I do recommend reading it - not necessarily to follow it, but to read it for ideas, history, and so on. I would recommend trying to veer towards Fifth Edition tribunals so that you won't have to deal with conversions.

If you're into doing a long session-zero where the group decides on their covenant and saga-direction, and perhaps makes some characters - then I do recommend getting the Covenants book for its many story hooks and ideas. I would recommend against using its extended rules for now, however; unless they really strike you as neat. You can adopt them later, if you want to. It's better not to fiddle with the rules needlessly before you have a good grasp on them, and some of these rules (like casting tablets) I think ultimately harm the game (YMMV).

In terms of adventures, I generally recommend the first parts of Nigrasaxa (a free Fourth Edition adventure) as a good intro to Ars Magica; you can replace the third part with Promises, Promises (but please with less railroading; see the Adventures page on project Redcap (link)). I also consider The Ghost of St. Lazare (found in its revised form in the Festival of the Damned book) to be a stereotypical Ars Magica saga, but it's quite demony and would require some adapation to ArM. I also really like The Pact of Pasaquine as a stereotypical Ars Magica adventure, but it needs to be heavily adapted to Fifth Edition for it to really be useful. All you can get as PDFs.

If your players like a particular House, or playstyle, it might be a good idea to consider buying the relevant Houses of Hermes book(s). I find these books present a very particular vision of many of the Houses, that might not be what the players come up with when thinking about the Houses themselves. So it can be really useful to flesh out the setting and get ideas, but it can also jar with your campaign if you start reading it afterwards, or with what you want for your campaign.

Finally, a note on House Rules - I really like house rules. I use lots of them. Keep in mind a lot of Ars Magica is... clunky, and you may want to house rule it to your taste, too. But there is an advantage to just following the book's rules, especially when starting. So, just something to consider.

There are lots of other books, but probably not to start with. I think The Mysteries really changes the setting with lots of ideas for Hermetic socieities and, really, how magic "works" in that the PCs go seeking Initiations rather than just books etc. And on the mechanical side, Realms of Power: Magic has a system for making-up magic creatures that can change how you design critters of all Realms. But for the most part, everything else in Ars Magica can be hand-waved.

A good rule is, when in doubt, never houserule. One will find that many houserules proposed on fora assume a certain playstyle or a certain interpretation of the setting. Making houserules before you have determined your own playstyle and your own take on the setting is generally a bad idea. Houserules also carry a risk of introducing inconsistencies. Personally I have come to regret many of the houserules we have adopted.

That said, there will of course be times when you are not in doubt, and even cases where houserules is the only way out of ambiguities and inconsistencies in the canon rules.

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Sorry to reply late to the conversation, but here are some ideas:

I bought the pdfs in bulk when they came up in Bundle of Holding, but even if you aren't doing that, Warehouse 23 and DriveThru RPG both have a lot of them for relatively reasonable prices. Heirs to Merlin is USD15 either way.

I was one of the Ars Magica authors, and I wrote up a free Cornwall guide. You might find it useful and, well, it is free and set in England, so...that's a price point you can probably get behind. The Man From Outer Space tided it up a lot and put it on his website, which is here: “Mr Ferguson’s Cornwall” for Ars Magica 5th Ed – La Petite Boutique des Erreurs… Cosmiques

I've also been keeping a file of the monsters I mention on my podcast, which is also free and is at https://timothyferguson.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/half-remembered-monsters-1.pdf. I say it's "the monsters from the podcast" but actually its just the ones up to episode 250, and I've just prepped episode 428, so I'm rather behind. There were another 11 here: Eleven reskinned monsters – Games From Folktales So, again, 94 free monsters.

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned The Broken Covenant of Calebais which was designed as a first adventure back in the day and has been reworked in 5th edition. Honestly I've only ever played the 2nd edition version, but the people who did the upgrade are solid authors so I trust they did a good job. Calebais is a dungeon delve, so it appeals to people used ot D&D, but at the end if you play your cards right you have a covenant space no-one is using, and so you can just steal the maps and library and say "How about we set up here, gang?" It's what we did in a couple of my games, back in the 1990s and you can put Calebais wherever you want so long as you can put a forest there. It's AUD14.40 on Drivethru. The Broken Covenant of Calebais (Ars Magica 5E) [digital] - Atlas Games | Ars Magica Fifth Edition | Ars Magica All Editions | DriveThruRPG.com

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Also, reading some actual plays or session logs might be helpful for you as well. You can find individual covenant write ups on Project Redcap, though which ones actually have session logs or actual plays you would have to find searching them one by one. I did post a related thread to find some of these for the actual play forum on this site. Note, I do have an actual play, however, I don't know that it is the most useful thing because the style of game I'm running is rather atypical for Ars Magica Campaigns. (And I voraciously read every single covenant on project redcap back in the 90s. Though not in some time have I looked at what is new there.)

Even without a Tribunal Book, you can find loads of other groups' covenant write ups on England. It is one of the easier areas to find resources for. @KevinH recently posted an entire custom StoneHenge tribunal.

When it comes to what books to use, I agree with the large sentiment of what others have said here, for the most part you can use these as you need them much later. Starting with core and maybe Covenants (as I quite enjoy the book!) is about all you need. The House of Hermes books do flesh out the background of each house quite nicely. I also agree that Mystery Houses and Mystery Cults add a whole new layer of complexity that a new group should probably avoid. Many of the other books are situational.

For my current 1st Crusade campaign, I make regular use of:
(1) reputation/prudhomme & agency rules from Lords of Men
(2) Example Jinn from the Tales of Power
(3) Sahir rules from The Cradle and the Crescent (as well as using the charts for Persian and Arabic names)
(4) Summoning/Binding/Commanding Rules from Realms of Power Infernal
(5) Invisible Fighting rules for HoH: Societates

So, I don't even technically need the entirety of each book, just some key pages from each one.

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To see how a session would play out, there are a few YouTube videos that might be helpful.

I'd suggest the Sons of Voluntas Saga. Here the link for Ep. 01.

If you want to play something like D&D (go there and kill this monster) you will probably miss a monster manual. There are rules that can be helpful on Realms of Power: Magic, but I recommend you to stay away from them (they are a bit complicated). Instead, just search here in the forum, there are a lot of monsters already stated. Or, come back to this thread and ask. =]

But there is a pdf with stats for mundane animals on the Atlas website that might be helpful.

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Well, it’s complicated mostly because any two different set of characters may lead to very different playing styles: I think that's a feature of the game, but a starting default adventure would probably condition what kind of characters players would design and play.

Anyway there are written adventures out there. Timothy already mentioned The Broken Covenant of Calebais: I'm currently running a saga with players new to Ars Magica in these ruins and it is being quite fun to play. Familiar because it's a dungeon, but new because there is stuff starting players will definetively not be able to kill, and will have to think about how to circunvent. The well in the middle also gives room to lots of posibilities of splitting the party, which is nice because there is no better thing than to isolate a magus to give him a quickstart guide on different mechanics. But there are more books out there. One I like a lot is Thrice Told Tales, because I think it uses wisely other feature of the game: a campaing spread through many years, so magi are able to do their favourite thing: lock themselves in the lab for years, having to come out only once in a while. And there are also Tales of Mythic Europe. And Antagonists and Magi of Hermes contain characters that, by themselves, can interlace in an adventure.

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While the OP was about books, as someone in Australia also, I know the pain of buying niche books and products. One can get by with the core book. Saying that, Timothy Ferguson's suggestion a few posts above are great.

The message about how to deliver Ars majica, as mentioned by Heaven's Thunder hammer is a good one.

I'll double down on his comment about really working out what the players want from the game, and also thinking about what stories work. You could dangle an obvious story hook and the Magi may well say, Why? I'm not doing that. It's too risky. It's not our problem, etc. Ars Majica characters generally aren't heroes for heroes sake.

The game set up in the book is laborious. If every player designs a grog, a magi and a companion, and the party create a covenant with points that could be 10 hours gone. I'm not exaggerating. As the storyguide (SG) make the covenant, have players make 1 character each, probably companion or magi, and a few sessions in they can tweak the existing characters and make more. You want some play in the first session.

Death is a real concern. Healing is rarely done. A severe wound may take months to heal, and someone may die of their wounds after a battle.
Combat with anything but overwhelming advantage is not something entered in to casually. Even with overwhelming advantage, an extremely unlucky dice roll can kill any character in 1 hit.
The SG and players need to understand this. You don't want a quick intro adventure resulting in character death.

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Thanks everyone - some wonderful suggestions and tips. Thanks for being so forthcoming and welcoming. You're awesome.

Much to ponder and research as I await post with the books!

Ordered quite a few AM5e (whoops) and also managed to get second hand the 4e Iceland book and Living Lore.

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So, I now have a bit more time for a fuller answer.

I was in a saga that failed fast and a saga that ran for a little over 2yrs before I tried to run one of my own, and drspute having played the game, I found myself really unprepared to run a saga.

What I started by doing was running a one off to try my hand at SGing. Your question of what to run is a legitimate querie, as the story hooks in the books give ideas for stories, but do not detail how to run an individual adventure might go. I was lucky and got help from the story guide of the previous saga and uses may of the group as a sounding board until I could cut my teeth...

Since I didn't find detailed story teller notes on how to run an adventure, I wrote my own and shared them with this forum (Atlas Games RPG Forum - A place for Atlas Games fans to gather.).

You asked what the default setting is earlier, and while there is no perfect answer, the Rhine Gorge is probably the most run saga, from the write ups. I chowe to run it because I know the region (I got some of my plot ideas from walking around the area or paddling up and down the Rhine). The basic set up of the Rhine gorge is, in my view, a good one for starting a saga as there are clear goals and milestones as well as handrails:

  • Your covenant is being set up with sponsorship from the top, giving a reason why having sufficient ressources to start off should not be a problem (grogs, supplies, money)

  • there are some detailed covenant sites to explore, each with their own themes and stories that will result from how the players secure the location (side with faeries or local noble? Befriend jewish merchants? Help the merchants against the bad noble?)

  • once you have explored, chose a site, settle it and recruit mundanes to work it and start what feels like a revenue stream.

  • secure sponsorship from all the other covenants in the tribunal, which will lead to plot as the PC s travel, have to do quests for the other older Covenants. Thisnis also an opportunity to show what their future could be like, what they might seek in the longterm, what kind of organisation they want for their covenant.

With this done you could easily have two dozen sessions done and a solid grasp if the game.

If you focus on plotlines which involve the mages against each other or against local nobles, you don't need extra books, just to do some research into the history to know who was where and from then on, let the stories flow.

So for short, the only book that you absolutely need is the core book. I can only suggest that once you have read it, you try a one off (such as my narva one, which I deliberatelymade low stakes and not about combat since it is not the strongest point of the system or the hint fkr a specimen scenariofor a hunt and kill kind of adventure), as a sandox to get yourself and the players used to the system. If you like it, then getting the three house books and the tribunal book for the region where you want to play is probably the next best step, and then the Realm of Power infernal and faerie. From then on, the books get very focused and in my view, less essential to run a saga (Nice to have vs need to have). I wrote up my prep notes in what I hope is an accessible way, so that one could just pick up and play without much of a headache(I had 3 mages, so if you run for 6, finding a wason to either have 3 mages and 3 grogs or scaling up the challenges will be easiest), and i wrote them after running so that it accounts for ehat some players might do.

Don't hesitate to pm me if you have questions about the senarios, many of them could be reskinned for a new location with a little work.

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A quick note on flaws.

Roughly speaking, there are 2 types of flaws:
Those who have a detrimental mechanical effect on your character
Those who relate on the stories you wish to tell.

The second part in important: You don't need your character to have a "Greedy" flaw in order to be greedy, or a Mentor flaw to have a parens. You take such a flaw if you want to get into stories related to their greed, mentor or whatever (Most famous example I know is "Pagan" :roll_eyes: )
To paraphrase: If it's just color, it's not a flaw.

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It is not just colour.
It is wet paint which will inevitably rub off on the saga.

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I think that's worth pointing and insisting on.

In most games (I guess: I actually had played just two on the last decade or so) there is a clear distinction between the SG at one side and the players at the other, but Ars often put bridges between those two sides, sometimes even during play (if you have an ambiguous situation, determining something consulting with the troupe is many times encouraged). But the first time that happens is exactly there: player characters' story flaws.

In some games (again I guess, but whatever) players may try to max-min their characters by spreading weaknesses where they think won't bother later. I'd seen people desigining characters and picking let's say the Vulnerable to Infernal Power flaw because they noticed we have had quite few demons so far. Then I have to explain them that if they do that what they are actually telling me as a SG is "ok, I want some more demons in our adventures from now on". Picking between players flaws as a menu for elements in the story is quite helpful, and with luck will bring you tools to build your stories.

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