Product / Game Advice

Hey gang - yet another newbie looking for some advice to getting started.

Short story - I'm new and would like some product and game advice. Specifically:

  1. For our first "go of it" I am going to run a slow saga (at least at first). Would a mix of magi and companions do well in this concept?
  2. I am very interested in including divinely powered characters. I am assuming RoP: Divine will have guidelines for this?
  3. Baseline product recommendations for us to start with? I have the main rules book already.

Long story. I've been doing a lot of research and my family has a strong lineage tie to the De Vaux family, which occupied Direlton Castle, Scotland, during the time period of the game! I've been playing RPGs since the 1970s, and I've been spending a lot of time playing with my kids. My oldest son will be moving off to college soon, and I'm thinking this would be a magnificent way to interject some family history and such for my kids, as well as enjoying gaming. I've mostly been playing D&D all these years, but have heard numerous positive comments and so bought a copy of 5th Edition. My mind isn't quite intuitively grasping the "everyone's a mage, and wants to spend time doing laboratory" concept, so I'm looking for some baseline options until we get into the swing of things. That, and I'd like to tie into some "non-mage" historical concepts of the time, area battles, etc. Is this game going to provide us the opportunity to play this way, or should I stick with a different system? It Ars Magica is going to be just fine, what products, based on my brief concept, should I be focusing on first?

Your assistance is greatly appreciated, and if I may, I hope those of you attending the Tahoe event have a great time! I was born and raised in Reno, NV and spent a lot of time up in the Tahoe area. It's magnificent up there! Wish I could be going!

Hello Tiger - and welcome to Mythic Europe!

When you speak of making the saga slow, what do you mean exactly? Is it a matter of how fast you progress downtime or is it slow as in 'fewer' stories per ingame year (or something completely different)?

A mix of different characters is always good, but over time companions, if intended to be focal characters of the saga, might eventually have problem in comparison with their magi counterparts: aging. This is only a problem on the long stretch, and there are ways to also prolongue the life of the non-magi, but it's worthwhile keeping in mind before starting out.

As for mixing of characters, the success of it hinges on what stories you want to be telling rather than on the game system alone. There are plenty of stories to tell involving both magi and companions, but there also stories that, if not angled, might engage on or the other less.

Yes it does.

I'm biased - or not of a very sceptical mind when reading the Ars Magica 5th ed. supplements: I find them all a good read and adding something interesting to the game.

In short this really depends on where you want to put your focus.

RoP:Divine is a good choice if having a character with that focus. RoP:Infernal might also be interesting if you have characters making a Divine/Infernal line of conflict part of the main story. If you're interest is to tell stories centered on a lord and desmene and on battle, then the upcoming Lords of Men might be of interest to you. City & Guild and Art & Academe could respectively be of use if you are looking to focus on fleshed out companions and on contemporary life, either of the craftsman, the clergy, the magister, or the merchant.

If you intend to run a story in England or Scotland, then there are no 5th edition sourcebooks as such, but for an easy access to a bit of inspiration on the region the older version books Heirs to Merlin (England/Wales) and the Lion of the North (Scotland) are quite good - but then if you are looking at also using the saga to tell the story of mundane events than many history books are just as inspiring. I run a saga set on the border to Wales, and I've had a lot of fun, not only out of using elements from the Heirs to Merlin, but also from interweaving the saga with storyelements extracted from history books on the 13th Century.

Depending on how much focus you're intending to put on the Order itself I would warmly recommend the three Houses of Hermes books - they are splendid inspiration to anyone making a magus character of a given house, but they also give insight into the order's history and organisation. Also if you have bent toward number crunching and book-keeping, the Covenants book might also be useful as you set up your saga.

There are many other books, but those are the ones I would recommend for now.

Good luck - and enjoy the splendours of Mythic Europe!

books to buy in this order

  1. Houses of Hermes: True lineages
    2.+3. The other houses of Hermes books
    (these books give you a background)

EDIT: I do not have the 5th edition hedge magic book - but it may have useful stuff for a Scotland campaign from what I've heard about it.

EDIT: covenants is great (so a bit heavy on micromanagement sometimes)

I find The realms of power books to be weaker (they have many rules for specialists)
The tribunal books in 4th + 5th edition (esp. Guardians of the Forest) are good (Stonehenge 4th edition gives you a lot of information on mundane England)

City and Guild (for crafting, guilds), Arts and Adademe (more on academae) are good - but less important for medieval Scotland.

Magi of Hermes is a great book for advanced players.

TOME is nice, but optional. So is Calebais

Ancient magic is useless for Scotland (and one of the weaker books altogether (imo - the good stuff - breakthrough research is available as a pdf for free)

Mysteries are not needed at first (you have the most important information in Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults)

All of this is my personal opinion.

Hi Furion, thanks for such an informative post!

What I am refering to is the Saga Speed guidelines on pg 218. A couple of sessions per season. We'll probably do a few of those and then start to get a bit faster so that the players can get involved in research and personal development as well. I want to do a bit more historical studies so that I have some key elements that they are participating in, and make an outline of what periods they should be active in mundane things, and what periods are good for study and experimentation. I am also needing to study more about "Lab Time" and how that is played out.

As with Furion, I'm not a very discriminating reader when it comes to Ars Magica products, but hopefully I can interject some useful advice for making wise decision with regards to your own product purchases...

  • "Houses of Hermes" books: Depending upon the Houses of your magi, any of these could be useful. Societates is probably the most applicable to magi not affiliated with the houses described and Mystery Cults the least so.

  • "Realms of Power" books: Divine is a great choice, especially if you're interested in including a Mythic Companion in your saga. Infernal and Faerie are great "things-to-kill" books. Magic is pretty good too, but less applicable to most sagas.

  • "Tribunal Books": None of the current 5th-edition ones sound very helpful.

  • Covenants: An excellent resource for designing and managing a Covenant, but a lot of troupes don't like to bother with stuff like this. Probably not a good choice for beginners.

  • The Mysteries Revised: Neat book for inspiration, but very specialized. Check it out first.

  • City and Guild: Cool book detailing city life and commerce in Mythic Europe. Probably not the most applicable supplement for most Ars Magica games, but a great resource for some campaign types.

  • Ancient Magic: Probably not the best choice, but there could be Hyperborean and viking/runecaster relics around...

  • Art and Acadame: Neat book about academic life in Mythic Europe. The real benefit though is that this book explains some of the "paradigm" issues that can define science in this era making spell-design a bit easier.

  • Hedge Magic Revised: Of the traditions described, only the Gruagachan are specifically native to Scotland, but Folk Witches, Learned Magicians (from Cambridge), Night Walkers and even Vitkir could put in appearances. Still, it would probably be better to wait until you have a good grasp of Hermetic Magic before introducing other wizards...

  • Tales of Mythic Europe: These sample stories are all pretty good and iirc, few of them are location-specific. A good choice if you're looking for canned adventures, but of limited applicability otherwise.

  • Magi of Hermes: Sample magi shown as they progress from apprenticeship to experienced magi. Good for inspiration or if you're having trouble with the character-creation rules, but probably a "buy-it-later".

flips to p. 218. Ahh, I too often forget those saga chapters in the back of the book. Probably because we started our saga before the shifting of the spheres, as we call the transmutation to 5th Ed.; that is we already had a well-entrenched saga with tons of story hooks and natural pace of things, so we had lesser use of those chapters. Even so each time I accidentally flip into those pages I'm reminded how good they are at inspired at themes for single stories and planning story arcs alike.

Here is a suggestion, a darling, of mine that might or might not fit your troupe or your story, but worth considering: let your characters start as apprentices.

There are tons of good reasons why both storyguide and players might prefer to start with full-fledged magi, so I'll not run through the arguments for that but rather offer benefits of starting as apprentices:

- it makes it easier to 'ease' into both Mythic Europe and Ars Magica. I absolutely love Ars Magica and I've always been thrilled to play in a mythic version of our European Middle Ages - but even so I know it can be quite a mouthfull in one go. The system has its brilliant elements, but it also has a high threshold to get under the skin - and even for seasoned Pen&Paper based roleplaying a lot of what you take for granted in other systems is upsides down in Ars. Easing them in you can take one element at a time, introducing them to one theme in each session, both in terms of story and in terms of game system. And this goes for the Storyguide also - you can do the downtime of the apprentices at first, as their masters would direct it, and get under the skin just a few sessions or seasons before having to know them well enough to guide all the others to use them. And so on with other elements of the system.
- it often gives more rounded out characters. You establish them early and they get a different relation if they can recall those important events in their childhood/youth/apprenticeship from having played them rather than just dotted them on paper. You can also easier let them develop into the characters they want to play - by not fixing Virtues/Flaws too soon or by only chosing half of them from the get-go. Last but not least it is a great vehicle to develop the relations between characters. Inter-character relations just run deeper if they are both longer and played, also making anything from opposition to rivalry to love fell more genuine and not just, as it can at times, like inconvenient carricatures. This especially goes if you want to explore relations between magi and companions/grogs - the distance to gap is less if established in a formative period, rather as when the full-fledged powerful magi is to build a relation to the X from X using powers deriving from X - or even to mere mortals.
- it changes the perspective of the story. For me making it more 'humble' so to speak, or give the stories just an extra layer of... well I don't know what. Victory in epic battles hurling Pillums of Fire left, right, and center, feels the more of a rush if you recall the time when you had to trip a pocher to steal back the skin of a nymph, which he had stolen, or when you had to forage through the woods to find a mynthe plant just to still the hiccups of your angry Flambeau master. And if your stories are to have a focus on mundane power, and the maneuvering of opposed nobles, then being able to be a 'player' in power politics are the more striking if you recall, and not just through a backstory, when your covenant was under siege for the better parts of a year and when all you could do with your magic was to make ends meet.

You need not make a lot of sessions before you fast forward, either through parts of the apprenticeship, or even all the way to or past the Gauntlet, but I've just found that for me starting a completely new troupe on Ars Magica it worked wonders as easing people in - and then we ended up finding all other sorts of benefits from doing it this way. Back then I had owned, read, and dreamed of playing Ars Magica for 10 years. My players in the saga I started had barely heard of it (besides my infused ramblings now and then) and most of them had never played together. Even so they got so in love with playing apprentices that it took 2 years, modern age ones that is, before they got to their Gauntlet, even if we played several times a month - and now 6 years later the saga is still going strong, the covenant the same, and several of those apprentices are still active main characters.

I'm not advicing anyone to play apprentices for years - but I do think the approach is great for a new group, and if feeling new to the system as a story guide. Carve it into chunks you can cherish and enjoy on a session basis, exploring the settings and the rules letting the world unfold before you and your players' eyes, rather than trying to bite over it all in one go risking choking.

Anyway, just a suggestion, and as you can see from how the thought blossomed into a passionate wall of text, that even if this approach won't suit all tempers it certainly did get the better of us - in the best possible way. :wink:

For a Tribunal book, I reccomend Iberia from 3rd edition. It is my very favorite. Other than that, I would suggest Heirs to Merlin (Stonehenge/England), and Sancyary of Ice (Alpine tribunal). On the downsie, the rules are notcompatible with 5th, but on the upside they are full of flavor and wonderful ideas. I am not a huge fan of the 5th edition tribunal books so far. But with Sundered Eagle (Thebes) just on the horizon, I am hoping to have my mind changed :smiley:

Consider the story (or type of stories) that you want to tell, and the type that the Players will be interested in. There has to be common ground or the interest will not be there and the game will falter. You can keep the details secret, but if they're ignorant of the direction they might create the perfect "fish out of water" - and that's fun to run for only so long before it's a burden (for some players, at least).

You can talk to them about this and reach a common ground, or you can just throw it down and let them come up with their own response - that's up to your style and your relationship with the players.

Companions, imo, should (almost) always be designed after the direction of the Saga is defined, whether verbally or after the first few sessions. If you are interested in Divine stories, a Fae character or a Troubador/courtesan may or may not have room or a place or role in those stories - and asking you, the SG, to stop the main plot so they have something to do is, imo, just inappropriate. Some concepts, like elite shield-grogs or turb leaders are general purpose, but stand-out concepts often are stand-alone concepts - not desirable unless you have more time than most.

So - make sure the players are on board. Make sure they know what general direction the stories will be. Make sure the Companions have a role in the stories to come.

(And make sure each Player's Mage and Companion fill different roles, so one or the other has a good shot at most any story.)

Oh - and welcome to the game! :wink:

Well, my own version of advice. Take it for what it is.

Yes. A mix of magi and companions works just fine for a slow saga that lasts a limited in-game time. For sagas that last more time (e.g. a decade or more in-game), unless each magus only gets to adventure once a year or less he'll either develop more rapidly and idosyncratically (if magical rewards per season are large) or more slowly (if magical rewards per season are low), probably the latter. This, too, isn't necessarily a bad thing, however. Generally,the game expects that each magus will get about three seasons per year of few-distraction seasons, so he can improve his magic, invest items, and so on. But if this is not what is happening, but everyone is still having fun - that's fine too :slight_smile:

Yes. Note that these rules essentially give you a whole new magic system to play around with, and learn, so can be a bit cumbersome. (Well, there are less-complicated characters too, but they are rather limited.)

Well, that's the complicated one, especially as it is so much of a question of what fits you and your group. Still, I'll make the following comments -

In short - I don't have any solid recommendations, because basically I think the core book can serve you well. If you feel like a geographic and historical grounding in the setting is something that can help you, then Lion of the North seems to provide this. Personally, I found it too focused on real-world history and too sparse, but your taste may differ - at any rate, it for prior editions but if I remember it correctly (and it ain't necessarily so) it can be used well in fifth edition. Your noble-focus seems to be perfectly served by the upcoming Lords of Men, including both mass battles and a focus on noble life and characters. And of course, Realms of Magic: The Divine for representing divine characters. These look like the books that can really serve you.

However, Ars Magica is not an historical re-enactment game. It is primarily a game about wizards in a setting with lots of history woven in. I think it's a fun mixture of creative fantasy and historical facts, but if you don't want to play wizards I would actually suggest looking at other games. While Ars Magica can sport a game about nobles just fine, I don't it can do stellar job in that regard - too few options and not the right emphasis (sorry, Atlas). For a game more focused on nobles, I'd recommend actually looking elsewhere. I hear good things about Pendragon and Fief, although I never played them.

If you are interested in playing wizards, then you might be interested in expanding on that direction of the game. My stock recommendation would be to get Covenants, but that's based on the assumption that you would spend a session of gameplay to designing the covenant. This is an excellent way to firm up on the groups ideas of what they want the saga to be like and about, and Covenants is worth purchasing for enhancing that experience at least. However, if you don't plan to use the supplement to firm up your "social contract", then the supplement offers little. It can help you firm up your idea on what a covenant is like, and provides laboratory personalization rules that are complicated but make for very cool laboratories (in my opinion). Other than that, it has lots of little gems and ideas, but I'm not sure if that makes purchasing it worth it. Are you attracted to more complicated rules to better represent the richness of libraries? Or to economically simulate a covenant? I'm not, not really.

Then there are the Houses of Hermes: X books, which I think can greatly add to the richness of the saga and experience of the players, each in his own House. Likewise, there is the Mysteries (Revised Edition) that a storyguide can use to insert all sorts of interesting mystery groups to his game. Both cases have rules and ideas I don't like in them too, but overall I find they can greatly improve and enrich the game.

There are lots of other book, and I generally think they're great - but I don't see them as particularly suited for your needs. Hedge Magic: Revised Editon contains rules for Scotish hedge wizards, as noted above - that's the thing that comes closest.

One more thing - online content. You can get pdfs of many ArM products on e23. And you can get an encyclopedia of all things ArM, and links to people's personal sites, on the HermesWeb project. And finally, you can get examples of ArM5 spells on the Net Grimoire (link below).