Proposed Rulings for New Campaign

No need to apologize. Ars is vast. When I decided to take on SG duties, I decided to just take a very conservative view of the RAW, and allowed myself to get over-ruled. I've made some tweaks here and there over time... If something isn't working that's when it's time to institute a HR. If you know something won't work for you, same. If you're not sure, leave it until necessary. There are countless times I've thought something would work one way to find out it doesn't, and I'm glad I didn't HR it.

Saga specific stuff follows
I also recommend Normandy, which was home to the Diedne Domus Magna.

And IMS (here on the forum), I made House Guernicus possess the strike teams. :smiling_imp: What is worse than the enemy within?

I hadn't intended it to be a "you can only get a new magus from the apprentices" thing. It was rather intended as "if you want to take an apprentice to be your new magus, you can. Otherwise, an immigrant arrives." I agree that requiring someone to be boned for 15 years is not a lot of fun.

Goodness me!
Who'd want to waste valuable Vis like that?!
Grogs are replacable, Vis is valuable!

I'm trying to give a name to what I am hunting for. It isn't exactly "game balance". Perhaps something more like "in-game appropriateness"?

Take penetration for example. The core stats aren't that bad - the starting Fleambeau specialist can perhaps muster enough penetration with his killer-spell to penetrate through a Might 15 critter, perhaps Might 30 with his Pilum. That's fair enough, though perhaps a bit high. But now add in raw vis, or arcane and sympathetic connections, or wizard's communion - or all together! - and the sky is the limit. Suddenly he can dominate the godling or tell the saint to go take it up with his heavenly father in you-know-where. Not fun, IM(NS)HO. And of course, the problem only gets worse with age.

Is that unbalanced? Not really. But it doesn't feel right. It shouldn't be the case that you can affect the powers-that-be so easily. It shouldn't be the case that the boosts overshadow the wizard's basic power. The mechanics just don't ... feel right. They need some recalibration.

I would go with "genre consistency". The genre in question is that of the wizard in the pseudo-medieval setting, which we've all been carrying around in our heads since we were kids and read Tolkien. In this genre, we expect that there is such a thing as resistance to magic - we want our wizards and demons and dragons and what-have-you to be within sight of one another, flinging mighty powers at one another in an attempt to batter through their defences, and having to grit their teeth and dig deep in order to find the wherewithal to win. That's what our mental image of the world is. That's how we approach it. And it's cool.

When we discover that the rules of Ars Magica do not support this genre convention, and in fact encourage an approach to magical duelling similar to modern over-the-horizon artillery duels (where the first good shot ends the fight), then we feel that there's a conflict between how it behaves and how it should behave. The game is not consistent with the genre in which it takes place in our minds.

Similarly, other things like covenant boosting or might strippers are a problem not because they're powerful, but because they create a world which differs from our intuitive feel of what that world should be. I love Ars Magica partly because it gets a lot closer to avoiding this problem than any other game I've found (it even brings XP, the traditional bugbear of versimilitude, into the fold) but it's not free of such problems. Perhaps it's naive of me to believe that anything can be fixed entirely. Perhaps I'm tilting at windmills. Perhaps there's a gaming-appropriate version of Godel's Proof which prevents games being perfectly consistent with their own genres. All I know is that when I see genre inconsistency of this sort, it itches for tinkering.

Possibly because otherwise you're getting paid to play Alan_Rickman!Snape.


Just to throw in my two cents on this -

I think you put things a bit in reverse here. I like have penetration be effective when you've gone through the story events of gathering arcane and sympathetic connections or have gotten the covenant together to form a wizard's communion. I agree completely with you that it should be harder to affect supernatural creatures but I'd start with the basics, not the interesting enhancements.

I don't think the Covenants lab rules slow down play, because they are things that basically happen during down time. In play, all that you need to know is that each lab has bonuses or penalties to particular activities. If the magi are builiding new labs perhaps assign a few Virtues and Flaw to the labs, so that they can see the point, and then as the players get more experienced their magi can start to customise the labs.

Also, you might like to reconsider overspecialisation. IMO it isn't really a trap, its actually a good engine to drive stories with.

If my maga is over-specialised in, say, Herbam magic, it:

gives the troupe an excellent rationale for NPCs to approach her with Herbam orientated problems,
gives a really good rationale for her needing to approach other PCs (or NPCs) for help to deal with problems outside Herbam,
gives me, the player, and her, the maga, the motivation to try to be creative with ways to use Herbam to solve problems that are more obviously solved with other Forms.

That's a good idea. I was going to start with some abandoned labs which could be recolonised, anyway, so by assigning a few Virtues and Flaws already, I can give examples of lab builds.

Since the general consensus seems to be that Covenants' lab system isn't as overcomplicated as it seems upon reading it, I'm becoming very inclined to give it a whirl.

I've always been hesitant about PC overspecialisation, because in my experience (to be fair, mostly in other games; but then my experience as a GM is mostly in other games) it leads to the following double-bind:

  • Plot can be solved by PC's specialism. PC solves it quickly, player becomes bored, whines.
  • Plot can't be solved by PC's specialism. PC does nothing, player becomes frustrated, whines.

The third possibility, where the PC can find a use for their specialism if they're clever enough, is the holy grail and I aim for it whenever I write a story, and sometimes I succeed; but the narrower the specialism the harder it is.

In my previous campaign, I had a player build a fairly munchkin Verditius. By fairly munchkin, I mean he built him correctly to gain the maximum possible lab bonus, and then came up with a character concept which stretched around that character's build. Took every possible disadvantage related to non-lab things, and minimised his usefulness in every situation not related to lab work. (Although we got him to do the longevity rituals anyway, due to his very high MT.)

Result? It basically made him useless. Every situation that could be solved by building a device would result in him saving the day while the rest of the party had nothing to do except look on admiringly. In order to avoid 80% of the players just sitting there and being bored, I ran plots which he couldn't solve with his lab total, which everyone else loved because they got to go around being subtle Trianomae and Gently Gifted Tremere and wonderfully wrathful Flambeau, but frustrated him because he was entirely useless, even in plots specifically involving him. So he retreated to the lab, basically becoming an NPC, which had the result of driving everybody else out of their labs because he was just better at enchantments than the other four put together.

Everyone took it in good humour, and we were all friends (and still are), and his plans to use the Verditius ability to steal the powers of creatures on that faerie from ARM5 that can grant immortality to women, coupled with a female-dominated covenant, led to a hilarious and memorable adventure in attempting to capture a faerie lord, but I felt it was my failing as an SG for allowing his character to get trapped in this fashion.

This is why I'm hesitant to permit things which lead to overspecialisation, because it can adversely affect the amount of fun players have. This may also be why I mention Verditius a lot in my initial post.

This is why I try very hard to limit the number of magi involved in an adventure, general rule of thumb is no more than two. This is where the Verditius player should be playing a companion, or grogs, and he can be play any number of roles. Magi need to be the star, or co-stars of the stories, but companions and grogs should be around and be played. If they upstage the magi in certain situations, all the better. :smiley:

This, in a nutshell, is why we encourage people to have multiple characters.
Almost exactly the classical school example even.

Very well put. I instructed my RPG experienced, but new the ArM troupe, to keep their characters within the "mythic medieval paradigm." I wish I had your first paragraph to read to them at the time.

ArM5 has a lot of stuff that can be overwhelming, particularly for players new to the setting and/or 5th edition rules. I think the trick with a new troupe is to phase things in gradually. I started by having them create grogs, did a pre-quel (how they met), then a recruitment by a covenant adventure. I designed the covenant. Then they designed newly gauntleted apprentices (actually we're playing thru the gauntlets now). After becoming magi, they'll have the opportunity/necessity to build their own sanctum and labs. Once they know what extra folks might be helpful, they'll design companions. Later, they'll have the opportunity to found a new covenant or chapter house.


I've run one successful campaign (3 years running) of Ars and I suppose I might add some things in that I've learned.

In no certain order...

Pink Dot Rule:

My (very heavy) suggestion is keep Magic Resistance as RAW. However, with the additional Limit (up with limit of the Divine and Essential Nature..)

Limit of the Annoyed GM: No magical effect that is deliberately designed to exploit the magical system in a way that is silly and nonsensical and a pocket protector could be given to that person for being such a NERD will be allowed within this game.

Pink Dot on sword? see above.

Edge of the Spoon on sword? No problem, stopped by Parma.

Where did the Sword Go? PeIm sword - No problem, stopped by Parma

Do you have a bunch of passive/aggressive munchkin players? Your rules seem designed to curtail them before they become problematical.

(Though I must admit.. the animal ward change posted earlier is nice!)

Generalisation vs. Specialisation
I actually recommend all magi be specialised in something, and if/when my current campaign does a reboot I'll recommend all magi take a magic focus.

Indeed it has some of the problems involved as you have said, but this isn't as much a problem as far as I am concerned. My game has changed from 'Do you have the power?' to "How do you use your power?". The magi in my game are 20 to 40 wizard years and have some mighty scores in the arts.

I usually don't bother to attempt to challenge the wizards with magical power. The first Might 50 faerie they wasted taught me that :smiley:. Instead, almost all of my adventures now deal with creatures that may be powerful or may be weak; the actions of the wizards are what is important. The angry magical boars could well be defeated by our combat specialist, or bound by our animal specialist. But the wizards may choose any of the above or more, and whatever they choose has an effect that may or may not come back to them.

Sometimes the code concerns them but for the most part they get difficult question to answer. Do they mind control the peasants, or try to win them around? etc etc. The players have responded to this rather well, because regardless of who casts the spell, everyone has a stake in what goes on, and can contribute to the discussion.

Limiting penetration:

I suggest don't bother. First time Ars players will most likely not know about this possible overkill, and it'll be 10 years before they really get to pull some nifty stuff out of it.

Flaws and virtues:

I would suggest not disallowing core book stuff OTHER than Lycanthrope. I find the story that comes from this is unfortunately limited. All the virtues of XP adding are fine and good; try to work with your players to not be crazy XP hogs about it. Remember that Optimisation is not necessarily a bad thing, and each wizard has their own story flaws that will engage them in some kind of story. Even if one wizard is 'weaker' than others they can still get involved in stories where they rock out and do cool stuff.

My personal house rules that may assist:

[House Rule] To encourage adventure, experience points gained from adventures can be immediately used or saved as required. If a magus still has time to study, he may do this as well.

This gives the wizards a slight boost who go on adventures. The GM understands this.

This also may explain why adventurous PC's not only have loot, fame and contacts, but a little more power than their bookish companions.

I'm really careful with handing out more than 5xp for adventure mind.

[House Rule] Familiars have reduced source quality penalties when learning as follows:
Familiars may learn from their master with no source quality penalty due to their Magic Might.
Familiars may effectively decrease their source quality penalty by three times their silver cord bond.
Perses familiar, Gyrion, is a Magic Might 10 dragon. Perses has bound him with a silver cord strength of 2. If Perses teaches him personally, there is no source quality penalty. If Gyrion, wanting to protect the treasure which is knowledge, learns from a tractatus quality 9, his penalty is treated as 10 - (3 x 2), for a final source penalty of 4. Gyrion gains 5 xp (9 - 4) from reading the tractatus quality 9. Perses later increases Gyrion's silver cord strength to 3. Gyrion's source quality penalty is now 1. When assisting in the lab, Gyrion now gains 1xp for exposure.

Ooooh, I like this one :slight_smile:

In fairness, he had a pretty cool companion who saw a lot of use, an overweight Italian merchant who fantasised that he was a chivalric knight in the romances. In practise though, everyone had a pretty cool companion and wizard and had the option of playing either, and he only really had the option of playing the wizard. He didn't get to play the magical part of Ars Magica, which I felt was a failing on my part as a SG.

Thank you.

I like that. I think I'll do that, actually. Something like this:
Session 1: Pregenerated grog characters go on an eigenplot adventure. The characters are carefully built to showcase various aspects of Ars Magica's world and system.
Session 2: Built-your-own-grog time! Then a fun, short adventure, a murder mystery or dungeon crawl or something similar.
Session 3: A full session dedicated to building your wizard, explaining how magic works, divulging the rules of the Order.
Session 4: Arrive at the covenant. Investigate things, introduce the setting, let them set up sancta and labs, and introduce a few examples of companions to show the sorts of things they do. Dangle plot hooks and parade the supporting cast.
Session 5: Build companions, and adventure.

We call this Rule 7. The problem with Rule 7 is that it's entirely subjective, and is difficult for players to internalise because it's harder to predict whether any given choice will be permitted.

If I say, "No abilities above 5 at chargen" or "no more than one ubiquitous minor virtue per character", most players are comfortable with that. That's evidently the limit of what's acceptable, and creates a clearly bounded design space within which they have freedom to be creative. They can still feel that they're the masters of their own destiny and their own decisions within that design space.

If I say, "Do as thou wilt, save that ye commit no rule 7 violations", then that's much less clear, especially for players who don't yet know Ars Magica very well. They're no longer as comfortable. Is this too high? Is this too low? Where's the line between my character being legitimately good at something, and system abuse?

(I'm a strong believer in the idea that too much choice can create paralysis, whereas restrictions create a sense of security that can foster creativity. If you ask me to create a character, any character, from any setting, then I'll default to Garrett from Thief nine times out of ten. If you ask me to construct a thirteenth-century academic wizard who has problems interacting with everyone except his peers... then suddenly I have loads of different ideas I can play around with.)

Every party has some, I think, and the problem with munchkinism is that once you introduce one munchkin to a game, it spreads very quickly to other players. Over the years, I've run for a lot of players and have come across varying degrees of munchkinism, and it's my opinion now that it's like earthquake safety: You build your house assuming that there will be an earthquake, because the loss involved in unnecessary earthquake-proofing is slight, whereas the loss involved when earthquakes occur and you aren't proofed against it, is significantly greater.

(I appreciate that making guidelines to limit munchkinry does irritate players, particularly those who are mature enough not to need them, or who had interesting concepts that get needlessly restricted by my rulings. To those people, I apologise. If I had a party consisting entirely of people like you, I'd be a happy man. Unfortunately, I game with my friends, and part of that means having to cope with nice guys who happen to be immature gamers who like power fantasies.)

I find that characters, even if the player intends them to be a generalist, will tend to specialise in things the player finds interesting. I remember in a L5R game some time ago, a player made an absolute generalist, and then ended up being the party's tracker simply because nobody else could do it but him.

Your point about the magical focus is a good one. I may recommend to my players that they consider taking one.

You sound like you have a similar style of GMming to me. Making the characters worry whether they're able to solve the problem at all only really works in horror games or in black comedy. The interesting question is, how do you solve the problem, and what are the unintended consequences of your actions?

I like the XP-manipulating virtues; I find them characterful and interesting, and a wonderful example of simulationism done right. Your comment about Lycanthrope is taken aboard; serf's parma, I can't remember what it does exactly, but I can understand that it might be disruptive.

I was going to do as much of the adventuring as possible within the "ten days holiday" rule, so that you still have time to study.

I was going to skip familiar advancement entirely, as I hadn't thought of them as being playable characters, but more a flavoursome and interesting source of buffs for the wizard, and I wanted to avoid bookkeeping for a character that wasn't going to be played.

Thinking about it, though, there's no reason why you can't send your familiar out on an adventure instead of a grog or a companion. In which case it's frustrating that they can't learn. In which case your house rule works well; it also gives the weakest of the three cords a nice boost.

I might ask players to allow other players to play their wizards' familiars, so that we can see both of them on screen at once without overloading a single player, and so that there can be some fun banter between wizard and familiar.

Hmmmm. Yeah, that could work. That could be fun.

If you are searching for a good intro adventure for grogs along these lines you mentioned, I have a weakness for Going Home by Kevin Hassall (can be found online). You can drop an encounter with bandits if you want them to test the (mundane) combat rules. I gave them the ring in the adventure there. A group of grogs going to town with a cart to get supplies and getting sidetracked is easy to justify and plays well in the setting. The trobadour can be a faerie if you fancy.


I'll look that up when I get home from work. I was considering a murder mystery, involving the mysterious death of a knight while hunting in the forest near the covenant, and the covenant's staff trying to find the true culprit so as not to be held responsible.

I don't like the slow intro. "This is supposed to be a game about powerful wizards - what's all this stuff about weakling mundane characters, now?!" I'd suggest to start with a bang - with the most exciting thing about the setting and game. Perhaps:

Session 1: Either in media res of some encounter and let the magi fire up their spells as they get to learn the new characters, or with a small build-up to get them a tiny bit familiar with their circumstances and other characters before said encounter commences. This will be a session about how the magic system works, and thus will include places for improvising spontaneous magic as well. And be lenient, and make sure the enemy is never really a danger to the PCs - although it should look like it is, perhaps, and maybe kill a few grogs. That will nicely acquaint the players with the magic system, which is the core of the game and its attractions, and get them to play their core characters - the magi - for the first session. Make the enemy non-Code-problematic - faeries, or the Infernal, or some Magical beasts, or so on.

Then spend the next session explaining the Order and social interactions, and the place of the covenant in the setting. This session role-playing heavy, combat-light (if at all).

Only then devote a session to having a grog/comapnion adventure, to delve into group combat rules and similar complications and to elucidate the role of companions and grogs in the game.

And then perhaps a session devoted to explaining down-time, to be next done between-sessions. And then you've off to regular play.

Something like that.

Hmmm. I take your point; it is a very slow start and doesn't let them cast spells at the very beginning.

What about a "here come the cavalry" third act for the grog adventure, then? The grogs are surrounded by infernal cultists, some nasty infernal supernatural creatures, and who knows what else. They finally decide to use the one-shot "summon help from the covenant" panic button charged item they've been given.

At this point, I hand out mage character sheets. Prewritten, carefully balanced for the encounter, showcasing a variety of fun things that Ars Magica wizards can do. All casting totals, spell effects and other such things worked out ahead of time so that I don't need to spend an hour explaining how it all works. The pack of wizards rushes to the rescue and proceeds to make short work of the cultists and save the grogs.

That might also be a good way to introduce a group of NPC magicians. You played them in that one-shot. You saw their character sheets, if only briefly. You saw what they can do. When, later, you bump into them at Tribunal (or you enter into correspondence, or read a tractatus they wrote, or you hear a rumour of their death, or whatever) then all of a sudden they feel much more real than a name the GM plucked from thin air.