Having played ARM4 twice before (although one of those games never got far past the first few initial sessions) and run ARM5 once, I am stepping back into the breach as a SG for a group of (worryingly) enthusiastic players, none of whom have played Ars Magica before but all of whom seem very sold on the concept.
Below are the rulings, modifications and house rules I'm thinking of using. I'd be grateful if you could collectively run your eyes over these and tell me what you think. As an experienced GM in a number of systems, I am naturally both fond of and fearful of player ingenuity, and so would like to guide their creativity into good things, rather than picking apart ARM5 at the seams.
The design principles for these house rules are to help mitigate the following issues, which I believe to be adverse to Ars Magica:
- Studying from books is a strongly dominant strategy.
- Book trading is massively overpowered.
- Supernatural creatures are hunted for vis rather than being feared.
- There's too much bookkeeping.
- While I am generally a huge fan of ARM5's consistently excellent sourcebooks, I am worried about the general power creep and complexity creep that sourcebooks always introduce to games.
- I have tried to give a definitive ruling to solve every disputed area. I don't know or particularly care if it's the "right" solution according to RAW, but I've tried to go with the easiest one or the one which produces the outcome which creates the best gaming experience.
I have added examples and notes explaining decisions in italics, in order to gain the quality bonus from a glossed text.
a) All dice will be rolled in the presence of the SG. No arguments.
b) I'm not going to police anyone on their bookkeeping. If you're going to cheat on a tabletop RPG, you're already a sad enough specimen that nothing I can say will convince you otherwise.
c) Unless you have a strong desire to do otherwise, all wizards were born in 1195 (except if you have Magister in Artibus, as below).
d) All PC wizards start as newly gauntletted. No exceptions.
e) You may have one wizard and one companion at once. You may at any point abandon your wizard in favour of an apprentice, or abandon your companion to create a new one. Once abandoned, a character is permanently an NPC and can never become a PC again under any circumstances.
f) Character death may be commuted to a permanent injury where the troupe decides that it's appropriate. The character will receive a flaw to represent this. This will not happen in cases of character death due to recklessness or in situations where it's dramatically appropriate.
Characters dying because of bad die rolls is not fun. However, this should not be taken as a license to act recklessly.
g) In cases of injury (as above), Twilight, Warping or other situations where characters receive Virtues or Flaws, the player does not get to select their own; it will be chosen by the troupe and moderated by the SG.
a) Hermetic books can only be scribed by a wizard, apprentice or failed apprentice.
This is a departure from RAW. However, in my experience, RAW seem to encourage covenants to be book-production factories, churning out endless copies of high-quality tractati for export. This is not the game I wish to run.
b) The rules from Covenants regarding books will not be used.
Bookkeeping and the prevalence of high-quality books are already problems; I don't want to aggravate them.
Virtues and Flaws:
a) Secondary Insight and Elemental Magic apply their bonuses to all advancement totals, including exposure and adventure XP.
b) Chaotic Magic is disallowed due to excessively poor wording.
c) Curse of Venus is disallowed for wizards, but encouraged for companions.
d) Not more than one of the following per character: Book Learner, Strong Parens, Good Teacher and Puissant Magic Theory.
Bonisagus will be forgiven Puissant MT. Verditius with Puissant MT will be looked at with extreme suspicion.
e) Affinities for Forms are actively encouraged as they add flavour.
f) Magister in Artibus is allowed for Magi. The mage cannot begin their Apprenticeship until they have graduated from university and completed their two-year teaching regency; meaning that their minimum age is now (40-Int).
g) Virtues and Flaws from City & Guild, Art & Academe, The Church and Lords of Men are actively encouraged as they add medieval flavour.
h) Virtues and Flaws from the Realms of Power books are allowed. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis as necessary.
i) Virtues and Flaws from the Houses of Hermes books are allowed even for out-of-House characters, except where specifically noted otherwise.
Obviously, you can't start with Elder Runes if you're a Bjornaer. On the other hand, I have nothing against you being a Leadworker.
j) Non-Hermetic magi may not be created as player characters. Non-wizards using the wizard character slot, created from the Mercere book or from Art & Academe, will be glared at until their character sheets spontaneously combust.
a) Friendly auras add to botch dice.
I like this rule, as it brings into play a continuum between power and safety, which is something very fun in RPGs. If you want to be safe, put your lab in a 1pt aura. If you want power, pick a 6pt aura and enjoy those experiments.
a) You may experiment when learning from raw vis.
Studying raw vis should be more powerful but less safe than reading tractati.
b) The only people who can help in the laboratory are: Other magi, apprentices, failed apprentices and familiars.
Verditius forge companions use their own rules, but don't count as proper "lab assistance" as detailed in ARM5 lab chapter. I want to lay this down explicitly due to the confusion regarding failed apprentices.
c) The rules from Covenants regarding labs will not be used.
a) The initial character sheet of the apprentice is decided by another player at the table (usually the person who has the least to do currently, or who enjoys number-crunching the most).
The parens's player will receive some basic information when finding the apprentice (attributes, notable ability scores, virtues and flaws where they'd be evident, and a Major Hermetic Virtue if the character has one), but the rest has to wait until the Arts are opened. This is partially for sadism/realism reasons, but mainly because I don't want players to get into the mindset of "holding out for the perfect apprentice".
b) Whether on adventures or after graduation, an apprentice will never be played by either their parens's player, or the player who statted them.
I do not want players to make uber-apprentices and then take them as PCs.
a) It is the companion's player's job to ensure that seasonal play, levelling and ageing occurs.
b) When you make a companion, make sure that this companion has "dramatic links" to at least two other companions, and at least two wizards other than your own.
c) No more than one Redcap, Failed Apprentice or Landed Noble will be allowed. No Greater Nobles will be allowed.
The first three should be rare. The last one will naturally have the game revolve around them, which I'm dubious about.
d) Supernatural Merits and Flaws with sources other than the Magic Realm are positively encouraged.
a) Do not belong to any particular player.
b) Have no free seasons per year, and therefore cannot assist in the lab or take part in any other seasonal play except Training.
c) Have a "last played" date. When you pick them up for a new adventure, level and age them to the current point.
Having to make ageing rolls for a dozen different grogs every winter, with half of them fated never to be played again anyway, slows the game down massively.
a) It is a basic principle in all of my games that NPCs use the same rules as PCs, are not necessarily level-appropriate challenges for the PCs, and have their own hopes, fears, ambitions and desires.
b) Every other Hermetic mage should be considered to be a player character played by someone at some other table somewhere, and consequently should be treated with a degree of fear and respect.
c) Every person in the world is considered to be good at the skills necessary for them to continue living and thriving (which may not be the skills you'd expect them to have; a blacksmith may be a lousy blacksmith and thrive, if he's a shrewd businessman.)
I shouldn't have to state these, but sadly the "oh, he's just an NPC, he won't do that" mindset keeps coming up.
a) A previously-mundane weapon which has been targeted with magic can strike through the parma, but loses the benefits of the magical effects while doing so.
I'm aware that this is not RAW, but it strikes me as the best way of avoiding the pink dot defence.
b) An item created via Creo magic, or enchanted in a lab, is bounced entirely by the Parma.
Stated explicitly so as to contrast with the above ruling.
a) You must open an item for enchantment before you can take it as a talisman.
This means that your Magic Theory must be high enough for the components in the talisman. There is some discussion as to whether this is RAW or not, so I am explicitly stating it here.
b) Reducing enchantment duration to multiply your excess only works for invested items. When the duration ends, the "space" inside the item stops being taken up and a new enchantment may be placed into that "space".
c) An enchantment placed into an item cannot be given more Penetration than twice the enchanter's Penetration ability (plus Puissant if necessary).
For example, if your Penetration is 4, you may add +4 levels to the enchantment, giving it a total Penetration of 8.
a) Wards do not have to penetrate.
For example, a level 30 ward vs faeries for which you rolled a 21 and spent fatigue, is still effective against Might 30 faeries.
b) Might stripping spells must penetrate.
I feel intuitively that it should be easier to ward against something than to destroy it.
c) Magic Resistance is always equal to the maximum Might, rather than the current score.
a) The mastery abilities from the Mercere book are allowed, even to non-Mercere.
b) Multiple cast spells targeted at the same target do not resolve separately; rather, they're treated as a single, more powerful spell. In the case of damage spells, each additional copy adds +5 to the damage roll. All other cases will be ruled on as and when they come up.
a) All wards except the Aegis and Parma cause warping. However, the "half the time" rule will be strictly applied; warding yourself while you're sleeping does not cause warping as you spend less than half the day sleeping.
b) Creo momentary rituals which increase your attributes count as constant effects for the purpose of warping.
c) Covenfolk are aware of what Warping is, are aware of roughly how it's caused, and are terrified of receiving it.
Experienced covenfolk should exhibit the same self-preservation instincts as miners or nuclear plant workers, and will work to minimise their exposure to dangerous situations. Reckless covenfolk do not live long enough to reproduce.
a) Nomenclature: the short sword should be considered a "common quality arming sword." The long sword should be considered a "good quality arming sword."
The stats don't change, but the names become genre rather than D&D.
b) Longbows add one botch dice per level of skill below five.
[i]Longbows are famously difficult to learn to use. I had considered making them use a different skill which is slower to buy up, but finally decided that this ruling (while not really representing the mechanism particularly well) is the easiest way to reflect how longbows are not an amateur's equipment.[i]
c) When charging with a lance, add the horse's Str to your damage roll.
In my opinion, a charging knight with a lance should be the single most deadly thing on the medieval battlefield.
d) Tridents should be considered as mis-statted.
If the numbers given in Lords of Men are correct, then why did every medieval army not issue them as standard equipment?