Novels based upon the Ars Magica gaming system

I am surprised in this era of multi-facetted marketting, that there are no Ars Magica novels for sale. Is this a chioce that Altlas Games has made, or are there just a lack of authors who write novels based upon the Ars Magica gaming system and set in Mythic Europe?

Wouldn't that require a legal release by Atlas to use the system in a novel? It seem that the system is copyright material, and some specific words in the system are trademarks (some controlled by White Wolf).

Maybe no one has bothered to ask Atlas for permission to use the copyrights and trademarks, or maybe they make a policy of not granting such requests.

I remember reading some FAQ that said that Atlas isn't interested in publishing Ars Magica fiction, but I don't recall any hint either way about what they'd think of someone publishing it another way.

Transcriptions of gaming sessions are another story -- I'd think they're pretty clearly examples of fair use, since they can be a part of the gaming activity itself, among groups that are particularly picky about continuity.

At our age, nearly everyone can publish a book. I've seen people's private campaign settings published via Amazon and/or Lulu, and people with no prior publishing record publishing fiction based on D&D via RPGNow. I don't see a reason in principle why similar works based on ArM couldn't be published.

I suspect no author has stepped forward and requested such a thing. I suspect that Atlas isn't interested in entering the fiction publishing buisness, but that if a serious offer was made they would consider allowing the independent publication of an Ars-based book of fiction in return for percentages - it's a zero-investment source of income, however paultry. They'd probably require at least a cursory review, and perhaps won't agree to clear affiliation (so you could write about the Jerbiton magus, but not say "Based on Ars Magica" on the cover).

If anyone reading this has dreams of doing such work, I'd advise them to first get themselves published in other venues to impress Atlas that they're serious and deserve to be given the time of day. A good way might be to submit fiction to the new Ars fanzine in the works, to Atlas' buisness partners e.g. the fellow publishing support for Northern Crown, or simply to post to these boards or to the Berkley list asking for feedback. There are also "story hours" sections in other forums for fiction inspired by the games, there is no reason Ars-related fiction can't be posted as well.

Sadly, I lack the skill, time, and talent for such an undertaking.

Why would you say that? Transcripts of gaming sessions largely constitute derivative material IMHO. They are not criticism or comment, but rather derived content building on the original work. That they are the product of using the work is immaterial; just like a poetry club can't publish recordings of its members reading a recent poet's poems (even though it's part of the process of using the poet's work).

Transcripts of sessions or fiction based on sessions isn't "criticism, comment, new reporting, teaching [...], scholarship, or research", and so doesn't fall within Fair Use. Now it does fair better according to the four factors.

  1. The use is non commercial, but this now carries little weight. It is not transformative like in the case of satire, so it's merely derivative, but it does advance the progress of the arts for the benefit of the public and it doesn't seek to supercede the original.
  2. The allowance for the nature of the work implies that copyright protection doesn't apply to the mechanics of the game, only to their expressions, and that it doesn't apply to general Medieval/ancient themes, only to Ars Magica specific ones. This has little bearing on the case, however.
  3. The amount of directly copyrighted work being replicated is minimal, but it is substantial to the purpose of the transcript or story. More importantly, perhaps, it "captures" significat elements of the copyrighted work - the terms and setting elements such as House Jerbiton, Order of Hermes, Tribunal, the Divine Realm, Regios, Raw Vis, and so on.
  4. In this, "the single most important element of fair use", the situation is murky. On the one hand, the fictional work clearly isn't a replacement for prior art and indeed serves to add value to it. However, it undermines the potential for licensing schemes and in-house production of similar content. I believe the latter consideration will prevail.

In summary, the use of Ars Magica's setting and game terms in fiction or the publication of game session transcripts isn't part of the preamble purposes of Fair Use, fails the all-importnat market effect test, and probably the substatialness test as well. Although it uses only a small fraction of the original ArM material and is intended for non-commercial purposes, this does not by itself merit Fair Use protection. That transcripts are the products of using the original material is irrelevant; copyright protects their publication, not their production.

In conclusion, I strongly suspect fan fiction or game transcripts (or any combination of the above) does not fall under Fair Use. Commentary on Ars Magica works or games does fall under Fair USe, as would reviews of them, reporting of new developments in your games, and so on. So you can publish the parts of the transcripts where you bicker over rules or comment on them, but not the bulk of the sessions.

One could instead attempt a de minimis defense, claiming that the case is below being worthy of a court's attension. I'd wager the court will not be willing to let fan fiction be allowed to fall under this umbrella, however, as it will create the appearance of injustice (e.g. if Harry Potter is protected but small works aren't) and deprive much of copyright-law protection that is now taken for granted.

Another possible defense is that you were publishing under authorization from Atlas Games, following their fan site policy. I'm not aware of any such policy made public, however.

All the above relates to US Copyright law. I have no idea what UK laws say, it is my understanding they basically have none.

I am not a lawyer. The above isn't legal advice. I'm just interested in copyright law.

Oops, after all the times I've pointed out others misusing the concept of fair use, I've messed it up myself.

However, although not fair use, a game session transcription would be a permitted use, as long as they were published in a context that was intended to support the game, as opposed to publishing them in a form resembling a for-profit novel or magazine story series. The use of game materials for the purpose of generating a story at the game table is the game's design purpose; the stories spoken at the table are a derivative work from the game books, as transcriptions would be. In other words, transcribing a game session falls into the same category as photocopying a character sheet from the book -- permission granted for non-commercial use.

That's the copyright side of it. The trademark side is a bit different, because that law is a lot pickier. A game session transcript probably should include the usual trademark acknowledgements even in a narrow publication like a personal web site meant for use by the group but visible by others.

A book is another story (pardon the pun), in violating the personal use permission and others.

Feel free to correct me. One of the main reasons I posted the above was in the hope someone more knowledgeable than me will jump in and tell me just how wrong I am. I like to learn. :slight_smile:

Hmm. I can certainly see how the generation of game transcripts would be considered part of the intended use of the product, and thus permitted implicitly by the publisher. I don't think this extends to sharing these files with the public over the internet. Certainly not if it is possible to share them with members of your group easily without making them accessible to the public, e.g. with passwords or a restricted part of the site. If the site is unsophisticated and the transcripts simple text files... then yes, perhaps you are right.

There are the ones by Judith Tarr. I have only read the one titled "Ars MAgica" but i thought it was fairly good. Or were you meaning something else?

To further Belladonna's post:

Judith Tarr writes Historical Fantasy fiction, and most of her work is quite good. In the late 80's (I think), she published a work of fiction called "Ars Magica." It follows the life of the mythical magic using pope, Sylvester II.

I've long suspected this is where Mark Rein-Hagen got the inspiration for the game, much as I suspect he got the inspiration for Vampire from the Anne Rice novels. But this is only my suspicion.

Anyway, I highly recommend checking out Judith Tarr's work. Her take on the song of roland is great, and her "Hound and the Falcon" trilogy is awesome, and is set right about the time of the AM universe.


(ps, nice new avatar, Belladonna!)

First Edition Ars Magica (the role playing game) was published in 1987.
First Edition Ars Magica (the novel) was published in 1989.

Atlas hasn't published Ars Magica novels because we don't think it would make money. Other people are probably not doing it for the same reason.

As for fan sites and transcripts, they are probably illegal; copyright law on derivative works is deeply, deeply murky and unclear, and seems more prone than most to change on a decision by decision basis. It also varies a lot between jurisdictions, as far as I can tell. (I am not a lawyer. But I'm also a UK citizen resident in Japan, so I'm not even sure that the US laws about representing yourself as a lawyer apply.) However, we have vastly better things to do with our time and effort than sue our fans.

Fan sites and transcripts that tried to make money off the material, or that effectively post the contents of books, get emails asking the owners to take them down; we can't ignore that. Ordinary fan sites, however, are a good thing.

Although John Nephew sets official policy, this is what it was last time we talked about it.

Well there ya go. Thanks for clearing that up, John! That's what I get for blathering on about random thoughts, rather than just looking up the dates on this lovely internet.


No problem. That's one of the joys of being old. I knew the game came out when I was in high school, but the book wasn't until college.

I've never read an Anne Rice novel and don't remember when she became popular. I never got into Vampire, played it once and ran a hunter/priest, it was fun, but not exactly what the game's about. So your guess is as good as mine on that one.

Interview with the Vampire was published in 1976.

Oddly enough, I just found a reference to "Vampire: The Masquerade" in a dusty tome dating from 1853....