Rules Insights from Veteran GMs

Hello everyone,

I have been running games for many, many years, but I have not been able to run much Ars and I am starting a new Saga. I'm looking for any of your personal insights into the hidden-but-meaningful ramifications of the rules. Things that are not apparent to new players, but which become apparent only several seasons in, when it is too late to change your character.

I'm very confident in my ability to integrate the players and tell satisfying stories. What I'm looking for are the landmines in the rules and how you solved them or worked around them.

Thanks for any advice!

One thing I have come across is that often, especially for new characters created for a new game by those who are not veteran players of Ars, is kinda of a buyer's remorse about three to five sessions into the game. People play and soon realize that some aspect of their stats makes no sense to their character in game story. I have suggested to the group I play with, that we run the first say five sessions, and any skill or power or ect. that you have not used can be changed, of course still in keeping with character generation.

So if you have some spells which you realize are not consistent with what your character would have learned, then substitute the levels for a different spell. Abilities can be switched, anything really as long as they have not be used.

Another thing for the players to grasp is that spontaneous spells are really not that difficult to pull of if you are descently focused in a area of the Arts, so when you feel you must have those low level spells don't always feel they must be formulaic. But ALSO don't get too reliant on spont spells, because they are so hard to pull off when things get crazy, hahaha.

Also, always have a Verditius and a Criamon... cause it is so hard to figure out visions without Enigmatic Wisdom. :laughing: And items are so nice to have.

I am pretty far from being a veteran player to make awesome comments, but I did give those which in my amateur opinion are helpful for new Ars players.

PS. it's better to just kill the humans and hide the bodies :laughing: :open_mouth:

Make sure that everybody is aware of what, for magi characters, Finesse, Concentration, Penetration, Leadership, and Magic Theory are used for. You can have perfectly viable magi characters without high scores in these --- but if you want to do lots of what these Abilities do it is frustrating to accidentally have low Scores in the relevant Abilities.

If you are using the Group combat rules (and I recommend that you do) make sure that you have some "officer" grogs (or companions, or even magi) with good Leadership Scores for leading trained groups. And be aware that trained Groups are lethal.

Remember that if you want a grog who is a tracker, then the Ability he wants is Hunt.

Be cautious, with magi characters, that you don't saddle them with lots of Academic and Arcane Abilities and Lores and Languages that seem cool, but then don't see much use in play.

One trick that I quite like to do, is to leave some Ability specialities "undefined" and then set them in play in the first few sessions (as they are needed). This way you can kind of nudge the character toward being a bit better at what he actually does in play.

Try to get the players to write down in advance (out of game time) at least half a dozen spontaneous spells that they think their magus character might want to (and can) cast. Having thought about this in advance makes it more likely that the players will think to use spontaneous magic, and speeds up doing so during game-time considerably. Even if the pre-generated spells aren't quite right for the in-game circumstances, the players will be quicker, and know roughly what the magus is capable of, if they have been through the process a few times before.

Keep a season-by-season diary for at least the magi --- it just needs to be a sentence saying what the magus did (and how many XP accrue, etc). Try to get the players to plan at least a year in advance for the magi --- acknowledging that if An Adventure Happens, then their plans may radically change. In my saga, we effectively get the magi to discuss and plan their years at the winter solstice covenant council meeting. Of course, in-character some magi are vague or lie about what they are doing, but as players we have a good idea what the magi intend to do.

When you are storyguide having a schedule like this really helps to time stories. Because of the rules that Lab season is wasted if more than about 10 days are spent away from the Lab, I try to avoid timing stories that will ruin a character's Laboratory plans. This is because you want the players to be thinking about and using the Long Term rules like the spell invention, item creation etc. So, you don't want to frustrate the players by mucking their Laboratory schedules around too much. Although, it is OK to do so occasionally, of course.

You might be interested to know that from issue 6, the Sub Rosa Ars Magica magazine started a series of articles on just this kind of thing. Called The Storyguide's Handbook, the series has so far looked at using visions and the associated Virtues and Flaws, the implications of Demonic Possession, and the running of combat scenes. The next issue (due sometime this week) takes a look at the numbers behind covenant building and presents a system to make the process more manageable.

Mark, I cannot figure out how to see the contents of old Sub Rosas, nor how to buy back issues.

SUMMER OR AUTUMN!!!!

A lot of sahas start in spring. It can be extremely frustrating for new plauers that have no idea of the in depth approach of Ars regarding its environment to design a covenant that would fail abysmally if they fail an adventure or 2. A summer or autumn covenant with superiors that will clean the mess if they screw things up ios extremely useful to use the Storygiude ex machina approach. Not elegant, but saves a lot of the belief in the created universe.

Xavi

Hiya,

Not sure if I qualify as a Veteran GM but..

And depending on whether you get the extra books...

Hidden Rules:

Nothing 'Hidden' but some things are a little.. easy to miss. In no particular order -

  1. Sympathetic connections require the Arcane Connection to work.

  2. Bjornaer in animal form are not affected by mentem.

  3. If a person has a magical effect of Invisibility on him, the spell must be able to penetrate the MR of the victim being hit.

  4. If your game gets so far, its really easy to get hyper powered apprentices. Be wary, it gets a bit screwy :smiley:.

  5. Be cautious with giving out lots of Summae or powerful ones. (Summer Library in the book is a nice balance. The Autumn one means the wizards start with a bucket of resources and don't appreciate it much.) Reward PC's with Vis and Tractatus, it gives you more control over their power than what Summae do.

  6. Make sure to not get bogged down with too much book keeping :smiley:.

Rules mechanics wise a walk through example of combat with NPCs, which includes a spont vs formulaic, vs weapons. This is so that the ramifications of Art scores and fatigue vs health are understood. IMS I allow a re-shaping of the characters after 3-6 sessions, so that the player can tweak their character to suit what they actually understand of the game, rather than what they assumed at creation.

A summary of the minimum scores for magi was handy (MthTh3 to invest labs, Latin 4/5 affect on books, Artes Liberates 1 for study, Parma Mag max 1 at gauntlet, etc) are all not clearly stated in the rules sections, and easy to miss.

ArM is halfway between rpg and bookkeeping. It is easy to lost in the numbers so I suggest to concentrate on adventures and don't bother much time on covenant building.
The game is very complicated thus the possibility of reshaping the starting characters should be a basic rule. I would allow it even if they used their abilities in the game.
Check the errata. :slight_smile:
They need an npc who knows Hermetic customs.

Having just started a new saga, these were some of the issues we are trying to deal with here:

  1. Experience inflation. We had a tendency to use books with too high Qualities. i know some troupes feel that only the very best books ever get circulated, but we have enforced that since Com+6 is the norm and Com 0 is the average score we use books in the range of 5-8. Books from our old saga written by the Com+5 Good Teacher are simply too expensive for what we want.

  2. Training of Apprentices. If running an apprentice as a NPC to your magus in play, with a half decent Com+Teaching (perhaps even aided by Lab speciality in Teaching by way of relatively simple devices) and allowing the apprentce to study most of the time from the library they'll quickly surpass their masters! Sure, the norm is only 1 season of teaching, but if he or she reads those Quality 10-14 books (mentioned above) because you have little use for an assistant!??!?
    For the new saga we want to try to limit this. Not only are the books worse, we also decied that "why would the masters of the library allow the books to be used by a mere apprentice?". We play as new magi in a chapter house of a major covenant in RHine, and there are rules as to what work we must to in order to be allowed use of library, but the apprentice uses up your own privileges!

  3. Avoid isolation. Our old saga was very isolated, from both mundane world and the rest of the Order. The original intent was "settlign in the frontier" but that got old in time, and by then there were problems with our isolation. It was more Mythic than Europe! Magi often need and want somebody else to interact with, or the nobles and church as a limiting factor. Many of the houses are cohesive and want colleagues to interact with, and we had a Verditius, a Tremere, a Bjornaer and several Merinita who wanted to do political stuff or delve deeper into cult.

  4. Decide upon vis economy. Make sure everyone want and knows if it is low vis. Because then it sucks to be Verditius of a non-Bookish magus with Free Study. I'm not saying it can't work, I for one just want to know in advance so I don't inadverdently squander vis or sit around waiting for the big score in order to go anywhere

  5. Secondary characters, be it Grogs or Companions. Nothing sucks more for a SG than having players wo only and always play their magi. It might be difficult to gve them all spotlight, sometomes it is betetr to switch around and let somebody be background actors for a while. Grogs can be fun and rewarding to play. But even worse if motivation, or lack of same! If players only ever play the magus he'll go on a story which doesn't interest him one bit and that does not help. He'll have nothing to do, or even work against the rest. Or he'll simply stay at home which also means the player sits idle.

  6. Visions of future projects. I try to encourage players to put words on the magus' goals and divide them up. Short term is the stuff you'll be doind for the next year or two, simple stuff like reading books and going in lab to invent spells you lack. It wil change the whole time. Medium term projects I think of as major spells or devices, cult initiations, apprentice, familiar, talisman. Daobelt hings that take some preparations. Long term goals are what really drives the magus, but things that should eventually either succeed or at least see some progress. That could be major mysteries, original research, integration of ancient magic, the hunt for and struggle with a major enemy, or major political goals. And never ending goals which drive the magus but are impossible. IMHI it is important that player and SG agree which is which. E.g. is "Finding the Phoenix", that is a major thing and most likely best if it never happens, but the player want her maga to do this. But she also has a lot of smaller, more tangible goals.

  7. Cohesion among magi. Or lack thereof of that is what you want, one can play a good saga with player magi working against each other. But for us it has beena problem before that we had no projects in common and also that we were isolated. In the new saga we play in Rhine the magi are from only Houses Flambeau (2) Ex Miscellanea (3) and Jerbiton (1) and also only three Gilds are represented with Ash being the most popular one. Also one Ex Misc wants to join Flambeau. But this mans there ae fewer huse specific events and NPCs we need to concentrate on. We have an easier time runing stories where several magi are involved. It can be problematic for instance with a Bjornaer and his Sept or him going to Gathering of 12 Years or even initiating mysteries. Sure, other players can play NPCs but it is more rtewarding (for us at least) to play one of your own characters rather than one NPC here and there.

8 Agreement on how story hooks work and the expected response time. In the old days there were long strethces of time where the stories always were: "The vis is threatened by X this time" and we ran out and solved the thing. I like it better when there are small stories - with a certain degree of closure - as hooks to bigger things. And the playrs know that it is ok to go home and recuperate and prepare while keeping tabs. E.g. a vis source is threatened, investigation leads to a monster. It is killed or driven off, but may not have acted of its own accord, but the kingpin can't be identified. Yet. Magi go home, soem may work towards solving this thing once and for all. Time goes by and new hooks toss clues int heir laps. ventually the kingpin is identified. New obstacle is he is powerful, More work and preparation. Etc.
But if the players don't know this is the idea theu might act impulsively and ill prepared at the first clue and go up against bigger things than they should.

9 Old, efficient players vs. new ones. I'm not saying "munchkin" but some of us more experienced players can optimize charcters more then new players - who often get overwhelmed by the opportunities - and work more dedicated towards a goal or gaining power. It won't take a decade in the saga before there are significant differences. In 5th ed I've not been big on the "exp boosters virtues" I prefer the more active virtues which alows me to do soemthing rather than just reap power. Referring to #2 beware very much of loading such things onto apprentices. Just think about it.

10 design library with the magi's specialities in mind. Avoid inflation of arts already popular since this will undermine a specialist. E.g. a magus with Mentem 8 from the start will have having a Level 8 Mentem Summa in the library. he can't use it and the rest can reach his level as he struggles to climb higher, even if there are soem tractati. Sure it takes time to read the book, but still this annoys me. And in my very first 4th ed saga I ruined a player's Creo speciality because I gave them a too good book on Creo.

Just some things off the op of my head

This was true in my first saga as well (and the ones I played in before that - you'd think I'd have noticed!); I made books too good. This resulted in nothing else being done by the magi until all the books had been read, which led to the magi being very similar in capabilities. It also made all other sources of xp obsolete. I strongly recommend sticking to a max quality of 8.

Ditto, again!

Also very good points. In my very first game, I made an urban magus, suited to sneak around and steal stuff, gentle gift, social 'blagging', etc. Very first session we got blasted into the back of beyond and ended up founding a brand new covenant in a wilderness. Almost all of my abilities and spells were completely useless for ages. It turned out to be a lot of fun, but the beginning was frustrating.

A good way of starting new players would be to run one or two sessions with temporay characters, eg pregenerated apprentices about half-way through their apprenticeships, in a fairly standard sort of location doing a small rather clicheed adventure so everyone knows what sort of thing to expect and can get to grips with how the system plays.

In the old saga we had a ASG with good ideas, we started creating chiildren just at apprenticieship age with max +/-3 V&Fs. We then played a short sequence about how the child wad found and taken as apprentice. But we were taken to a covenant with one magus from each house, but it was not known who was what. This was to ease a couple of new players into it, but as an experience player I could not guess many of them. We then played some stories as children, to get to know one another. Eventually two masters would choose each child to test, and based on what we did and how the ASG decided our houses. It was fun!
Then we leapt years into apprenticeship and played a story. it was meant to do this repeatedly but we quickly leapt to post Gauntlet. The saga went downhill at some point, the ASG failed to follow through, some new players entered the saga (the regular way, just creating a post Gauntlet magus), the ASG quit and so on. But the start was fun.
We did not do this for the new saga, because it takes a lot of time.

One crucial characteristic of Ars Magica is that one can generally play only one's magus, or one's companion, at any given time. This, paired with the fact that Ars Magica is engineered so that plots are strongly driven by the characters (think of Covenant Hooks, Story Flaws and many Personality Flaws), means two things.

First, as stated in the corebook, one should create as many ties as possible between each of one's characters and the characters of other players that justify working together. This will make participation of one's character in the stories driven by other characters both realistic and rewarding. Note that these ties can involve antagonism: a Guernicus magus that suspects a Tytalus maga of diabolism will probably want to stick close to her so that he can find incriminating evidence.

But there's a second, often overlooked corollary. One should fully realize that one's magus and companion will not be able to take part in each other's "storylines" -- and ideally find a realistic reason for this to be the case. If a player's wanderlust-filled companion is the captain of the magical flying ship that takes the adventuring group to faraway, exotic locations, that player should realize that his magus will be missing pretty much all of that wandering -- a reclusive lab-rat would then probably a good choice for a magus.

I'm not a Veteran SG, but even a little experience with goes a long way :slight_smile:
Here are some of the things I/we learned along the way, or that I recommended to my players when I ran a game.

  1. ABILITIES
    As previously noticed some Abilities should not be forgotten. Offer some guidance to the all-new players when creating characters. No characters should start play without scores of at least 1 in Athletics, Awareness and Brawl - unless they know exactly what this means! Abilities like Area Lore, Folk Ken and Guile are also highly recommended. For Magi especially the ones related to Hermetic Magic are important, and new Magi should have scores of at least 1 in Concentration, Finesse and Penetration - you get so much for just 5 xp. As previously mentioned the SG should also highly recommend skills such as Code of Hermes, Order of Hermes (Organisation) Lore and the 4 Realms Lore's.

The Core Rulebook has a 'Hermetic Magi Recommended Minimum Abilities' table on p32, which is often overlooked. Makes sure the players know what they are doing even if taking this 'package'. I particularly find Magic Theory 3 to be a very low score, especially if the character has a Hermetic age of +X. Tell the players that Magic Theory does not only add 1 to all lab work, but also acts as a maximum cap for amount of Vis usable each season. This is extra important when creating a Talisman since you players will be sorely disappointed when he finally gets his hands on that Ruby; that he needs a Magic Theory of 10 to make it part of his new Talisman! With the recommended score of 3 he disappointedly settles for Silver as the best he can get, and attunes for +10 harm lycanthropes - only to realize that he can only get a +3 bonus as it is capped again by Magic Theory... The Rulebook also recommends Profession: Scribe in the text, but I've never actually used that much. I'd consider Latin much more important since the recommended score of 4 is not even enough to write books (also see below).

  1. LAB TEXTS
    We have recently begun using Lab Texts for spells on a much larger scale than previously. Realizing that you automatically create Lab Texts for everything you do (and those for spells are really versatile), they should be much more common. For others to be able to use your personal Lab Texts, spend 1 season copying Latin x20 levels of spells, and your spell library just got a great deal better! Note that you could also probably earn more Vis by selling Lab Texts than using CreoVim to destill Vis from an aura. The combination of Lab Texts being so useful and so 'inexpensive', the Magus I currently play often brings a Lab Text to the Covenants he visits as a hostess gift. He gets to brag a bit about his creative spell inventions, and spreads them in the Order - while offering a substantial and useful gift, that only cost him say a quarter of a season. In return he has sometimes been offered a Lab Text from their library in return as a parting gift. In my opinion this type of 'writing' is much more readily useable for Magi than writing books and new players should be told about this.

  2. HEALING
    If the players have not played ARS before they should know that all kinds of combat are lethal - so is crossing a river sometimes. This is especially important to stress if the player's are new to ARS but not to roleplaying in general, e.g. D&D. Sometimes ARS is completely non-lethal for seasons of politics, research and studies, but whenever you do go adventuring - you should be extra careful! You can die from wounds, and you don't regenerate HP overnight. Everything doesn't have Challenge Ratings ensuring that you should be able to defeat your adversaries. Even a great Chirurgy score can't remove wounds on the spot, and you cannot buy healing potions no matter how much Silver and Vis you've got.

If you have a fairly large group of Magi, make sure one of the players has at least one healing spell. A troupe often has a Creo or Corpus specialist, and healing spells are common in the Order. If necessary you could emphasize the awesomeness of Healing as a Minor Magical Focus, which in my opinion is very overpowered. This way a character with scores of about 6 in Creo and Corpus might be able to start play with a level 30 healing spell, which would get your Troupe a long way.

I ran a Saga in Finland where none of the players were interested in Healing spells, so I had the single NPC of the Covenant be a Corpus specialist. This made it really easy for everyone since he could then just Teleport to their aid, cast a healing ritual, and teleport home to recover from the Long term fatigue. As a Corpus specialist and a Bloodcap from House Mercere (Puissant Creo) this was really easy for him - but also a bit too easy for the players. His role in the Covenant was to collect Vis for healing rituals (possibly through his Creo score) and heal the other players. Each time he healed the players he scored 3 pawns of Vis, however, since he had the virtue of Mercurian Magic - and just spend his seasons in the lab doing research instead and binding a familiar. After a while I made a story that would ensure, that they players realized he had been playing them, but at that point what could they do? He was not to be trusted, but he had saved their asses on several occasions already, and they noone else knew anything about healing. Also casting him out of the Covenant was potentially dangerous, as plenty of Vis and studytime had made him somewhat stronger than the individual player characters; he had a better Parma, a Familar, and they knew he had PerdoCorpus spells, offensive RegoCorpus spells and could teleport away if in trouble. Also if someone got wounded in a fight, who would heal them :slight_smile: Finally the players had been naïve enough to give him Arcane Connections to them, so that he could always come to their aid with a teleport spell...

  1. WARPING
    Often overlooked, in the games I've played. Warping is a great deal of fun, when it starts to affect the Covenfolk. You could track all warping points, or you could just apply changes gradually over the course of a Saga. Just remind the players that having Covenfolk within a strong aura, and transforming them Werewolves whenever the Covenant is under attack - will have an effect on them in the long run! Also, please encourage players to keep track of Warping, since it is easy to forget. A magic aura might not affect them and their own spells don't either, so they tend to forget all about it unless they are specifically told. I'm the healer in our Covenant, and each time I cast a healing spell on our players, I tell them to add a Warping point - to their genuine surprise every single time :slight_smile: I'm casting a Circle version of Gentle Caress of Aeschlepious, so people just join in whenever someone gets healed even if they only suffer from light wounds. But recently one of my fellow Magi decided not to join the ritual, because it was not worth it to get the Warping point.

Twillight is too cool a tool to not be used. And if Final Twillight is the great equalizer, then the players should be reminded that you actually do accrue warping points, albeit slowly, from the very beginning of your career. Thus Twillight is not just for old Magi to worry about. If you cast a lot of spontaneous spells in strong auras as a young Magus, you should expect to get quite a few warping points from botches along the way.

Hope this is useful for someone. It would have been for our Troupe once we began playing :slight_smile:

Once you realize that Lab texts can be bought from other magi - provided the spels aren't too strange - and your own can be sold as well greatly speeds up both lab projects and the interaction and trade with other magi.

Heh, that was a quite good method. I'm opposed to healing being too easy. Sure, it takes dedicaton, costs vis, and gives warping to do it by magic. But I've seen 'loopholes' for gradual healing where fairly easy CrCo goves so huge boni to Recovery that rolls only fail on Botches. Granted, a Heavy Wound still takes a full season to shrink to a Medium, and nother month is needed before you can do anything worthwhile. But it is not dangerous, people don't due from these wounds worsening. The main troubles can be from wounds in the field, but a simpel Bind Wounds ensures it does not get worse.

Err? Isn't Circle versions of healing rituals specifically forbidden?
But yes, warping from overuse of Teleportation spells (apart from the R:Per used on yourself, but then you're a specialist who worked hard for it).
Even warping from being hit by a BoAF, right?

Oh we've had some eeevil Twillight rolls recently, yielding well over 10 Warping points in total.

Circle curation aren't forbbidden, just like the Room, creation with Creo + Form spells are (with the exception of Imaginem, i think).

At first I would write adventures related to the mundane world. As the magi advances these type of adventures will be quickly too easy to solve due mind reading and control spells. City adventures with their penalties to magic might provide some possibilities in the middle run.

This thread is a pretty good place to start: https://forum.atlas-games.com/t/collected-sub-rosa-reviews/5413/1

Encourage players to specialize, specialize, specialize. This provides multiple opportunities to match stories to particular magi, either to highlight deficiencies or specialization. Generalist magi, especially when they are with other magi, tend to get over-shadowed and play utility. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that, but it's not especially fun to play. Note, I may be biased, but I think generalists are awful.

Characters who are just past gauntlet who can cast BoAF or IoL (really any 6th magnitude or higher spell) are interesting because they are highly focused. Highly focused tend to figure out ways of applying their specialized Arts creatively to the problems at hand. That can be enjoyable for all involved. Note, these spells don't have to penetrate, and if used against mundanes can quickly change the tide of battle with limited application. If you're setting players up against magical creatures/beings, changing to a lower level variant, for example BoAF becomes Pilum of Fire, might be appropriate.

[1]BoAF=Ball of Abyssmal Flame, IoL =The Incantation of Lightning

I'm not sure I can parse the sentence above, but in "vanilla" Hermetic Magic Creo spells can only have target Individual or Group. It's somewhere in the corebook.