Quickstarting an Advanced Saga


AM5 is good in many ways, but starting a campaign quickly and smoothly is not one of them. The pre-game preparations for an AM saga often take longer than the saga itself! Matters are far worse when the campaign involves magi with experience after Gauntlet.

In this post, I do not discuss the larger problem, regarding the time it takes to decide what the rules really are and the time it takes to create a covenant. But I do offer suggestions specific to higher level play. Really, many of these problems do not happen when using the rules in the core book, yet many players do not like these rules because they bring different problems.

Overall character creation process:

The GM or group should decide on a default Aura, a set of default gains for a season which can be any of {study xp, teaching xp, training xp, adventure xp + vis, exposure xp plus some vis, exposure xp plus some number of Mythic Pounds}. I recommend leaving xp generic; for example, a season of studying philosophy or studying Ignem or studying to master a rare spell is worth the same amount of xp. Finding an apprentice or familiar costs 1 season of exposure with no other gain; it can also involve seasons of adventure but that has the usual gains. Note that the absence of most activities involving exposure xp and all lab activity is deliberate.

The GM of group should decide on a standard amount of vis and money available to each magus, per year of activity post-Gauntlet. There should be a standard longevity ritual that effectively costs nothing (it does cost something but it all comes out in the wash), though a magus can also make his own. If you want to allow magi to start the game with stuff they have acquired, especially enchanted items, establish costs for these up front.

Now create a magus who has just completed Gauntlet, as usual, except that the limit of 10 virtues and flaws is not used, as described below.

The magus then gets to live for some number of seasons, up to the start of play. Reserve some number of seasons to be used for lab activities. Spend all of the other seasons on the "default gains" described in the first paragraph.

Choose an appropriate Warping Score and apparent age.

Do not roll on the aging table. Not even once.

OPTIONAL: Use some of your reserved lab seasons now. You do not have to use any of them! At any time during play, you can stage a flashback, during which you spend a lab season using your start-of-play stats and develop the spells and items you need/want. This does interrupt the flow of the game, but also gets things going much faster, since it postpones much of the usual blather that keeps a game from starting. It also helps players get used to the flow of that particular saga, creating magics that work in context.

Recommended pre-game lab use: Seasons training apprentices; unless the apprentice enters play you can probably just account for the seasons for your character. Creating a talisman and attuning bonuses. Creating a super longevity ritual. Probably other things I have missed. Creating spells and items that you know are essential and that are worth delaying start of game to achieve, especially spells that are to be extremely mastered.

Your magus is now ready to start play.

  • Magi can have as many virtues as they like, of whatever kind they like specifically including Initiations and Major Hermetic Virtues, but they must be balanced by flaws. These virtues may be due to initiations or twilight or journeys to the magic realm or gifts from God (or Satan); it doesn't matter. The extra flaws simulate botches, bad twilight, aging mishaps (think of the flaws as an alternate aging mechanic), initiation sacrifices, curses; it doesn't matter. Do not use initiation scripts, but explicitly do require the specific flaws that are mandated for specific virtues, such as Glamour or Criamon paths; the initiation occurred as normal but the process is being handwaved, because the mechanics do not lend themselves to pre-game prep.

  • Optional but recommended: If a magus exceeds the normal v/f allotment (10 total, 1 Major Hermetic Virtue), at least one of the flaws must be a Major Hermetic Flaw.

  • No pre-game breakthroughs from the PCs.

  • As always, a virtue or flaw or rule can be banned from a saga even if it exists in a book, and entire books can be banned as well. Worthy candidates for leaving on the cutting room floor include Faerie Correspondence, the rules from Covenants governing correspondence xps and lab improvements, the Variable Power virtue from RoP:M, and the alternate Merinita Outer Mystery. You have been warned.

  • Assume that lab texts are available for all spells explicitly listed in the main rulebook for reserved lab seasons. Guidelines that seem explicit are not explicit! However, spells with a "General" level should be treated as though a lab text is available at the desired magnitude. Assume that every other spell, including those in supplements, and every enchantment effect, need to be invented from scratch by the PCs.

  • Do not allow any activity that requires rolling dice before the start of play.

  • If you allow magi to start play with a familiar, establish universal criteria up front and stick to them. Simple, and strongly recommended: A being whose Might exceeds half of a magus' lab total to bind it will always refuse the familiar bond. Mildly recommended: The base creature will always be either a "normal" animal (lions, pigeons, snakes, boars but not dragons, rocs or unicorns) with some power-ups, or a creature whose statistics have been officially published, unless the magus has a virtue such as Spirit Familiar or Faerie Magic that allows a weird familiar. Recommended: Be strict about familiars that players design, but be lenient about familiars that come straight from a published source, because starting with a published familiar takes less time. Very very highly recommended: For some old-edition flavor, encourage players to take normal animals as familiars: For every level that the lab total exceeds the minimum binding requirement of a magically-aligned normal animal with no Might (not zero Might but no Might at all, effectively a normal animal with animal rather than magical qualities), let both the magus and familiar gain either 1 magnitude of effects instilled into the bond, 3/4 a seasons' worth of default study or training xp (divide, round up), or 1/8 of a minor virtue or animal quality (8 full levels to gain); the familiar and magus get different benefits from this, but the magus' benefits should make sense for the chosen animal the familiar's for the chosen magus.

  • When creating a covenant, don't bother with books. Just provide seasonal SQs for general categories. I recommend a "normal" SQ being 10 across the board, but a wretched covenant in a low-powered saga can be significantly worse and a dominant covenant in a high-powered saga might do much better. Or, you can spend time generating a covenant library.

  • If you use a flashback to experiment, the surprise effects occur as the spell is being cast. So a modified effect or fatal spell flaw only starts to happen now (the spell seemed to work correctly before...), a triple botch in the lab becomes a triple botch right now (maybe worse, if the casting roll also botches), and so on. Surprise! On the positive side, you are not likely to destroy your lab.

These rules will produce magi of similar power to magi that have actually been played, but the exact benefits will be different.

Magi that have been played are more likely to have imbalanced v/fs, but have also risked death. In a similar way, initiation scripts that have been played though can fail or have side effects or have unforeseen sacrifices, whereas initiation scripts that have simply been assumed are pure benefit, except for compensatory flaws: A script with 3 dangerous Quests is not dangerous at all if they all occur before play. Sacrificing your beloved Talisman means nothing, and there is no risk of something bad happening while you create a new one. Etc. It also saves time: I have noticed that a lot of time is spent justifying optimal scripts, maximizing journeys to the Magic Realm, and so on. By simply permitting all combinations of (permitted) virtues and mystery virtues (because let's face it, players can always come up with a story to justify this, so just let them) but forcing these to be balanced.

On the other hand, magi can develop exactly the magic items and Formulaic spells they need during flashbacks. That is a very, very powerful benefit. Also, all of this lab activity benefits from the magus' full scores, and possibly a fully-powered familiar (which also was bound using the latest lab total). A magus developed over time is likely to be much less efficient.

It is also downright helpful not having to worry about death from old age during character creation.

So, magi with higher Arts and more spells, but not as many extra virtues. Sounds good to me.

Problems are largely amortized rather than solved, but that is a real benefit if you want to start playing.



I assume that this is because aging is fiddly, requires estimating living conditions and longevity potions, and ignoring it doesn't run the risk of the PC dying in char. gen.

However, I think you do need a way to set Decrepitude. It can creep up if the PCs are of advanced age. I'd suggest something like the default is 1 Decrepitude for every 50 years over 35, then perhaps add or subtract 1 depending on how cautious the magus is with aging.

This is a great idea.

I'd be tempted to make it "During play spend a Confidence Point to stage a flashback during which you describe how one or more reserved lab seasons were spent. After the flash back roll a stress die against an Ease Factor of 6 +(number of reserve seasons expended), on a success the Confidence Point is regained, on a botch an additional reserved lab season is expended."



I considered this. Instead, I chose to think of "you must have flaws to balance all those extra virtues" as sufficent to represent aging. One of my redesign philosophies for AM to remove rules where possible, and offer choices to GMs and players.

In this case:

  • I suggest that for practical purposes, Decrepitude is irrelevant. When did this last actually matter for a magus that you actually played? So adding a rule to set "the right amount of" Decrepitude is just another impediment to starting play quickly, and just another opportunity for players to waste time trying to optimize something not likely to matter.

  • On the other hand, even if an elderly magus does not take more than 10 flaws using these rules, it is easy for a GM to notice that none of these flaws convey any hint of aging, and, if he cares, to ask for some. Or not. Magi live for a long time, and rarely suffer for it.

Going further, onto a tangent:

I would happily rule that magi simply don't age. After all, for practical purposes, they do not. I would instead add a pleasant Hobson's Choice to the Warping rules, so that a Warping score added to just about every roll and total pertaining to magic (warping is POWER) but had all kinds of bad side effects, including adding to the social penalties of the Gift, and imposing penalties to all rolls when in non-supportive Aura. The reason Mythic Europe is not awash in fabulously powerful magi is that they cannot live there anymore.

Thanks! This idea is one of the two pillars that makes the quickstart work. We want to encourage players to procrastinate! Play now, work later. So I would not want to impose any cost. If anything, I would recommend the opposite! Start the older magus off with no Confidence at all. Then, when he uses a flashback, give him a point of Confidence.

This seems counterintuitive: Why should we reward a player for stopping the game and doing something very powerful?

Answer 1: Because he is expending a resource that can never be recovered. A reserved season can become anything. Once it is used, it becomes one thing forever. That spell might be perfect now, but it will be less perfect later. So reward the player for having the Confidence to spend a season that he will never get back.

Answer 2: Because he is doing something very powerful! Out of character, we want magi to do cool things. In character, being able to pull out the right spell or item at the right time is a coup that would normally earn a Confidence point. So let's give it to him.

But what about spending a flashback season just to get a point of Confidence? That's fine too, if it isn't disruptive. If it is, the best rule is for the GM to say, "Please don't do that right now."

The last thing I'd want to do is roll dice, and especially not a stress die. We want to make flashbacks as easy as possible, so they are extremely attractive, so the game gets underway faster. If there is a risk of losing a season, players might prefer to be cautious. And we don't want that.

Ok, I pulled a "we = I". :slight_smile: There are other design philosophies.

Note that this method also works for advancing a magus. Play through a series of stories. Then say, "So, it is 12 years later and time for the Grand Tribunal. Take some virtues matched by flaws if you want, and you have 48 seasons to play with. Moving on..." (Ok, some of these seasons might be used for xps, but doing that rarely takes more than a few minutes.)




BTW, thanks for the reply. When I first posted, I didn't even consider the benefits of being able to quickly advance magi during an ongoing saga. But in replying to your post, I think that might be the primary benefit.

One of the attractions of AM compared to other systems is the potential to play through story arcs on the scale of lifetimes. That potential is almost never realized. What if doing this were easy?

Saying "Let's take 30 minutes, choose v/fs, spend xps and then we'll pick up 20 years later when the changeling infant you successfully inserted into the royal family has just been crowned king," is kind of cool.

I think it might also be cool to have an ongoing AM saga that is run at successive conventions: In June, we'll revisit our magi 50 years past Gauntlet and spend the entire weekend playing; see you then! (In June: Hello Player-We-Have-Not-Met-Before, you want to join this ongoing saga? No problem. We're 50 years past Gauntlet, spend xps accordingly. We don't have time for anything pre-game, so if you want unique spells, please reserve them for flashbacks.)




How much decrepitude a magus has and the state of one's longevity ritual, seems to be a powerful motivating factor for advanced magi (+100 years). So I guess it depends on what you mean by "advanced".

I think that the aging rules could be much simpler, but I do like the idea of having them. If I was writing 6e I think I would say: "magi/characters don't age at all while under an appropriate longevity potion". With some (simple) age/decade based rules to decide what "an appropriate longevity potion" is.

I like that. That's a better idea.

We've done this quite a bit in my playgroup. We used the existing "making advanced characters" rules --- so many XP per year, starts reducing when you do Lab Work etc. But we do make aging rolls etc.

In practice, I think that regardless of how easy it is to do, "rapid advancing during a saga" is still mostly going to be something done by the troupe between sessions. So, it doesn't matter if it is a bit fiddly. But it is important to not require too many Troupe/Storyguide judgement calls --- so that players can do it by themselves.

Perhaps the key to having sagas with more periods of rapid advancement is have more example stories where there are big jumps in time. Thrice Told Tales does this, but even there the authors seem to assume that the optimal play for the troupe is to "go the long way" and play other stories to make up the elapsed time between the Thrice Told Tales episodes.


I love the idea of having aging rules. I think marking the passage of time is a (theoretical) hallmark of AM. I think that the way AM differentiates between mortal and immortal is especially apt.

I agree that the rules (for aging :slight_smile: ) can be simplified, yet the biggest problem I have with the current aging rules is that they don't really do what they need to do. Really, they just impose die rolls that can ruin a magus if you get really unlucky, and make every player spend time making sure their magi have an LR that makes the first clause of this sentence be true. What the rules do not do is make time matter.

A long time ago, I suggested something very similar to your idea here, to have magi simply not age like normal people. But neither my version nor yours makes time matter.


  • When Hermetic Arts are opened successfully, normal aging ceases. A Failed Apprentice does not gain this benefit.

  • A Gifted Character gains 1 Warping Point per year, and can gain more from other sources, as usual.

  • A Gifted Character's Warping Score adds to every casting score, lab total and supernatural activity, even those not aligned with Magic.

  • A Gifted Character's social penalty for the Gift equals his Warping Score. Double this for Blatant Gift. Quarter this for Gentle Gift and round down.

  • A Gifted Character who spends Confidence can choose to add his Warping Score instead of 3, when making a stress roll aligned to Magic.

  • A Gifted Character performing an activity in an Aura that might inflict extra botch dice, such as using a Faerie Ability in a Magic Aura or vice versa, must roll extra botch dice equal to his Warping Score, and the total number of botch dice rolled for such activities can never be lower than his Warping Score. When his Warping Score reaches 5, a stress die is always rolled for such activities instead of a simple die.

  • A Gifted Character whose Warping Score reaches 10 has his personality traits become Essential.

  • When a Gifted Character's Warping Score exceeds 10, he can only enter Auras that provide a bonus to his Magic-aligned activities, and only if the value of the Aura (not the bonus) equals or exceeds Warping Score - 10. This does not force him to leave an area immediately, he can travel to a more advantageous Aura, but regios tend to coalesce around such characters when they tarry too long in a place they no longer belong. Optionally, a character can spend pawns of vis equal to his Warping Score to enter a place he does not belong, but he will be returned to where he came from on the first botch. (Unless he spends more vis?)

That should do it, I think. If these rules are used, Twilight need never last more than 1 season.




Yes. Less fiddly is always better. All things being equal. Ok, almost always.



I would like to point out that I have done many similar things in my saga, played here on the forums with HR's anybody can feel free to copy and mutate to fit there needs. It isn't perfect and I have noticed a few bugs over the years, but it works well enough so far. I would make a revision for a new saga, make it simpler and quicker, but I do not want to make major changes mid-saga for what is already going.
For Aging, might I suggest the Aging Score rules presented in grogs? Calculated as the modifier to the standard roll, but not rolled/ Instead, if positive, you gain that many aging points in the course of 10 years. If negative, -3 or lower, it slows apparent aging by plus (score plus two years). So if it is, say, -7, apparent age increases only five years in the course of 10.