Recalibrating Ars Magica: 02 - Some Virtues

Let's recalibrate Ars Magica! And this time - virtues. Last time you had lots of comments about Virtues - so let me present how I suggest to calibrate them, and you can all pile up to show how hopelessly wrong I am...

Last time, we recalibrated the power-level. As part of that we reset the Affinity to provide a +1/4 bonus to XP. I am going to use that to set the power-level of Virtues. At character generation (at gauntlet), a specialist might have spent 63 base XP (score 10) on his favored Art, which our reduced Affinity brings to 78 effective XP (score 12) - a +2 effective bonus. At the high power limit, 1463 base XP (score 53) are effectively 1830 XP (score 60) - a +7 effective bonus. The bonus thus varies over the magus’ life, but will be around +3 (i.e. +2 to +4) for much of it, and barely over double that at the high end.

Most XP-boosting virtues provide flat bonuses to study totals. Note that Affinity provided +366 XP over 140 Seasons of study, or 2.6 XP on average (in other words - the average Source Quality was slightly above 10). To be on the same scale, XP-boosting Virtues should thus grant +2 or +3 to the study total.

In light of this, I think we can set the balance by making the following simple guidelines:
A Minor Virtue should effectively grant a +3 bonus to the spell casting, lab, or study totals.
Different virtues will be more or less powerful, but should dance around this guideline. We can see immediately by considering virtues like Method Caster or Cyclic Magic that this bonus is generally only applicable under some limitations, although in practice the magus will almost always have it at his disposal when he can control the circumstances.

Affinity is a Minor Virtue. No Major virtue should provide a much bigger bonus, as that would upset the power balance. There is still room for Major XP-boosting virtues if they broaden the range of applicability of the virtue. Affinity provides +2.6 XP to one Art from any Source. Three minor-virtues, i.e. a Major virtue, should hence provide something like +3 XP to (one of) three Arts from any Source. With that in mind, let us turn to the list of xp-boosting Virtues that apply to Arts:

Affinity with (Art): Sets the standard - a Minor Virtue provides +2.6 XP, in a single Art, from any Source.

Apt Student: This adds too much (+5 XP), so should be reduced to +3 XP. It then provides +3 XP to any Art or Ability, but from a rare Source. The virtue doesn’t affect character generation, and in-game sources of Teaching are so rare that I don’t see this virtue applying often. Even if the covenant has, say, a library of spirits Teaching magic, the benefits would be limited to what’s on this library, which won’t be enough to increase an Art to truly high levels. On the off-chance that multiple such Sources would be applicable, keeping the bonus to +3 means that at least the power-levels won’t be too broken. In conclusion - this should be kept as a Minor Virtue, but with a +3 bonus.

Book Learner: This provides a nice bonus (+3 XP), and can be applied to any Art or Ability and from the most useful Source (books). This seems excessive. I’d lower the bonus to +2 XP, and raise this to be a Major Virtue. This would mean you’ll be slightly better-off picking Affinity if you want to focus on a single Art, which I think is as it should be.

Elemental Magic: This provides +3 XP to four Arts, from any Source. This is almost perfectly balanced as a Major Virtue.

Free Study: This applies a +3 XP bonus to any Art, from a useful Source. I consider raw vis less useful than books, but it probably still plausibly contributes a large part of a magus’ advancement at higher levels. So this is a bit like having an Affinity with every Art, but only applying it for, say, 1/4 of your career. While not quite as useful as Book Learner, I suspect this is still useful enough to warrant it counting as a Major Virtue and to require lowering the bonus to keep Affinity competitive. In conclusion - this should be a Major Virtue, and the bonus reduced to +2.

Secondary Insight: This grants you +4 XP when learning a Technique, and +2 XP when learning a Form. The +2 means you’ll be somewhat behind Affinity-levels, but the +4 XP is dangerous as it is pretty high. Yet, the way the virtue is set-up means getting high scores out of it will be difficult. The virtue is otherwise extremely broad, applying to all Forms and Techniques (separately). I’m not sure, but I think overall its balanced fairly well as a Major Virtue - using it you’ll get something like +3 XP per Season in many Arts, which sounds sane.

Study Bonus: Adding +2 XP to study any Art, from books or raw vis (so almost always). This is similar to Free Study, except that books are added and the bonus is already reduced to +2. So this is clearly a Major Virtue as well, due to its immense flexibility.

This altered list of Hermetic Virtues changed three Minor to Major; we hence could use two more Minor ones to increase variety, but that’s beyond a mere recalibration.

An important rule appears to be needed:
Learning Limit: If more than one Virtue should apply to your study total, you may only actually gain the benefits of one (of your choice).
I think this is needed to avoid characters that take Affinity with Art, Elemental Magic, Secondary Insight, Book Learner, and Study Bonus - in total, getting perhaps +17 XP per reading season. This rule, and the more-or-less balanced study enhancing virtues, would keep Art scores more or less at the expected power level.

A related virtue is Good Teacher. It affects the study total from the teacher’s side. I’d suggest simply balancing it is impossible, but that its effect should not unbalance the above XP calculations. For this reason, I’d recommend lowering the bonus it provides to +2 to book Quality and +3 for direct teaching. This still provides significant impact, meshes better with the scale of the reduced Virtues, and will help to keep study totals and thus Art scores at the expected power level.

We can now turn to the Virtues that affect casting and lab totals. Affinity, our standard, adds around +3, to both the casting and lab totals, of one Art. It is the bonus we must especially be wary of - otherwise, totals could get too high. So let’s look at virtues that directly affect casting and lab totals:

Adept Laboratory Student: A +6 to some lab totals. This is a bit high (a double bonus), but only applicable to one total (lab, not casting) and some of the time - I’d keep it as-is.

Cyclic Magic: A +3 to casting and lab totals, with all Arts. Broader in scope, but with standard bonus; perfectly balanced.

Inventing Genius: At +3 to +6 to many lab totals. Compared with Affinity, we affect any Art but not casting totals; and the bonuses are comparable. I think it’s balanced.

Major/Minor Magical Focus: This virtue can add as much as +60! Even for a starting magus, it can add +12 or so. This is far too much. Yet, dropping the bonus to the standard +3 would not make much of a “focus”. I suggest letting the Minor Magical Focus add +6 - a powerful Minor Virtue, effectively two Minor virtues. The Major version can effectively be four Minor virtues, for a bonus of +12.

Method Caster: Add +3 to casting total, for any Art; it doesn’t affect a lab total, but applies to any Art, so is still balanced I think.

Puissant Art: Add +3, to casting and lab totals, with one Art; perfectly balanced. Note that with our reduced Affinity, Puissance is superior up to 151 base XP (score 16), and is less effective from (base) score 21. So Puissant Art will be useful for that young upstart, but won’t be impressive at old age.

Special Circumstances: Add +3, to casting total, with any Art; again, balanced.

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Say what? You're comparing two totally different things instead of the same thing. You need to look at how often it applies. Book Learner at +3 is way better than Affinity with any Art as a general rule. Why? Because Book Learner applies less often in terms of study methods but far more often in terms of the number of Abilities and Arts to which it applies. Anything that has lots of books written for it (so it will mostly be studied from books) gets roughly a 25% Affinity out of Book Learner. Then multiply this by how frequently you study these Abilities/Arts in general, and you'll see except for the super specialist Book Learner trounces Affinity.

... which is why I BOTH lowered the bonus AND increased it to Major. Now BL provides a lower bonus than Affinity, but applies to all Arts and Abilities, so it makes sense for the non-specialist to take it; yet Affinity provides a larger bonus, so it makes sense for the specialist to take that. Even with ample books on hand.

What, both?

A quick note: you de-powered the stronger Virtues and left unchanged the weaker ones. While in terms of relative balance this is the same as leaving unchanged the stronger Virtues and increasing the power of the weaker ones, it leads to characters who are more "uniform", and it discourages gaining Virtues in exchange for other stuff (Flaws, Initiations etc.) Is it a good thing? I guess it depends on the saga.

I notice Flawless Magic is untouched...
Some might argue it is the most overpowered virtue in the game.

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Bad move bunching those three up like that. Your reasoning is technically good for study totals, but spellcasting and lab total bonuses are not at all directly comparable.

I would consider giving the casting and lab bonuses a one step higher bonus. +4 should work if you base XP bonuses at a base 3. Or just remember to keep them feeling a small notch higher.

Suggestion, simply use Greater Affinity as a Major version of Affinity, giving the normal 1/2 bonus to XP. Also, although i use very different numbers, i have found that making a Major version give roughly twice the bonus of a Minor Virtue is nearly always a good starting point.

Who would ever want to pick that if it gives +2 as a MAJOR?

If there´s enough books, the extra XP are not really worth the cost, if there isn´t enough books, the virtue is too useless to pay for anyway.


Did you forget that it gobbles up Vis? This is not a commonly used affinity even as it is. Making it Major kills it completely. You could make the bonus +6 and i would still just laugh at it if it´s a Major and instead pick 3 Affinities or Puissant, Elemental Magic or Secondary Insight if i just wanted a boost in power.

Not worth the cost. If you make the bonus +1 and keep it Minor, someone might actually take it. Maybe.
Flexible yes. Except the requirements for it to be active becomes VERY troublesome eventually. The bonus is simply not automatic, yet you rate it as if it was.

Consider allowing a version of this, at +5 but only valid for EITHER casting or lab. It´s a very nice option.

I think that this is strongly saga dependent. In most sagas I've seen, books are plentiful and vis is relatively scarce. So most magi study from books and rarely, if ever, bother studying from vis. In these cases, Book Reader is obviously a much better Minor Virtue than Free Study. In a few sagas I've seen, however, vis is relatively plentiful (basically because magi are constantly slaying demons, making bargains with faeries etc.) and books are scarce. In these cases, Free Study is worth definitely more than Book Learner.

I agree that Book Learner is overpowered under the RAW as a minor virtue. Kinda. Sorta. Magi are, primarily, the ones who are going to take it, and I don't really care if magi are powerful. It is Ars Magica, after all.

The power of books is probably what need to be looked at. Any discussion of a recalibration of Ars cannot be laser focused on any one aspect. I think I said this in the original Ars Magica thread, or something similar.

What is the purpose of recalibrating? To make the saga lower powered? To make companions and magi more of a comparable type of character? Define the purpose and then make choices in line with achieving the purpose. The further you deviate from RAW and the more things that are changed the bigger the chance you will run into unintended consequences.

Think again. With that kind of puny bonus for a Major Virtue, picking Personal Vis Source AND another TWO Minor Virtues is going to be far more valuable unless you play a Saga flowing with Vis.
You can get Stamina or Intelligence raised to +5 for roughly the cost of taking Free Study. If you started out with the one you want at +5 already at +3, then you can get that AND Personal Vis Source.

Yes, Free Study CAN be valuable. Under certain conditions. Which is exactly why it´s one of the less popular Virtues i see used.

I think your "Kinda. Sorta." describes the issue very perfectly. It´s not really overpowered, but it´s fairly easy to use it to game the system and MAKE it overpowered.

Specifically, the ease of trade i think. Lots of people seem to run games where it´s normal to simply write Tracatus and exchange them without any issues for other Tractatus. As the most blatant example at least.
Too mechanical... And why the assumption that anyone automatically would want to buy those, or exchange them for their own?

Indeed, on all accounts.

Uh? Free Study is a Minor Virtue, even if it's been "proposed" for Major. I was not commenting on that, however.
I was just saying that its relative value compared to Book Learner is strongly dependent on the type of saga.

I myself would want to recalibrate the other direction, so I cannot say I agree with any of these ideas. All I can do is play devil's advocate.
For Apt Student: I think you are neglecting to consider how had it is to find a good trainer and that you cannot train in Arts. Because of this limited function, I think it should remain unchanged in relation to other similar virtues.

So... I see my recalibration is not winning lots of fans... :smiley:

The point of the recalibration is to make the game more... self-consistent. My purpose here is not to make the saga less powerful (although I do intend to try to tweak MR and Penetration to make them work "as intended"), to make companions be on par with magi, or any of that stuff. The purpose is just to make the whole structure work better, more cohesively and consistently. So that aging and Twilight and Warping will really work to give the right limits on Arts and summa levels. So that a given Minor virtue will be roughly comparable in power with every other Minor virtue (yes, true balance is a mythical beast that cannot be caught - still). And so on. I just want to tweak the system to make it work a little more self-consistently, that is all.

I'll get to the specific points... tomorrow. * Looks over shoulder at frowning wife * Gotta run...

I must admit my first thought on seeing this was "If I wanted a system that mechanical, I'd be playing GURPS".

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There is a lot of crunch in Ars, period. The crunch, though, typically happens in periods of downtime. Advance the player, configure the lab, invent a spell, make an item, etc.
In an actual scenario/adventure, there is a lot less crunch.

To which I respond with another quotation.

I don't necessarily understand your definition of consistency, or self-consistency, if you will. I think this only works if you define the end result and then implement house rules consistent with that vision.

That is so not what I was talking about, but perhaps I chose the wrong words.
Crunch is fine.
The pursuit of "balance" is a pipe dream - to set the value of each virtue/flaw equal, ignores the wide variety of situations that can crop up in games - IMS setting Apt Student to be +3 "because it's a minor virtue" would mean nobody took it. People hardly take it now, at +5.
The GURPS reference is to the elements (don't remmeber the name, sorry) that are essentially advantages/disadvantages to their advantages7disadvantages!

Ach so! Alles klar!

IMS, the characters that take Apt Student? Actually played apprentices... And when they finish their apprenticeship, they will be monsters... :smiley:

Although, I would like to see a PC magus take Apt student and then contort himself (go through stories) to get taught by another magus/teacher... Hrm. I'm getting a character idea.

In this thread, it was made Major, so that was what i compare with. And of course it´s saga dependent. My point was that it´s rare for it to be "better" than BL(or even near it´s equal), because the conditions needed to make it valuable are much less common.

I tend to prefer the other direction as well, simply because then magi doesn´t have to struggle to develop, and can instead spend more time doing "fun stuff", like getting out and about. Can still evaluate this "internally".

Uh...? But your starting point is to reduce the effect of Virtues and then adjust from there. If you only wanted consistency, then you would pick an already existing Virtue and adjust from there.
Your starting point already was a reduced power level. And making BL and FS reduced bonus AND Major Virtues? That´s just not balancing. That´s making them useless to a silly degree.

The BL i run with has a +4 bonus and it was never considered a "must have" or something like that by players here.
Maybe 1/4 of PCs had it. Probably less.

Very true. As i´ve said before, AM is by default and design not balanced, it simply cannot be as the premises are not.

As I recall, according to apprentices, this would effectively have to be replaced by Skilled Parens

It's been done - but can be fun.

IMHO, Apt Student tends to work better for companions and grogs as they tend to be taught more skills than a magus.