Rules Insights from Veteran GMs

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.

This is somewhat controversial, but the way we interpret warping is that it only affects anyone who is directly affected by a spell. In the case of a magically created fire, only the fire would be subject to warping, not those who are burnt by it.

Otherwise, one can get into very tricky territory very quickly. If you rule a Ball of Abysmall Fire warps whoever gets burnt by it, then you'd have to rule that a magically created wolf warps whoever gets bitten by it. At that point, you'd probably have to rule that anyone who gets to stroke a magically created cat -- or perhaps just a mundane but magically controlled cat -- gets warped. And it soon gets silly.

That's in an insert on the top of page 113 of the MRB. Reading that a bit more deeply, "A spell to create a part of something is either a healing spell or a Muto spell, depending on the part created. A Creo spell with target Room cannot be used to fill a room with something." Reading this together, I would interpret that someone CAN create a spell that heals with a Target other than Individual or Group.

This may be a YMSV interpretation. But a healing spell does not violate the above statements from the MRB. Since nothing is being filled.

Or the Burn/Heat something, you can't create Fire, but you can make burn something with Target Room. Restoration is other example of Creo + Form with Target Room or near, like i think that we all can imagine one effect in this sense.
The bad thing about the Cricle and Ring is that you are evading the damage, not real healing. But one Circle Momentary Ritual should be kosher.

This is a good point.

In our saga we solved this by the players each making up the companion character for another player's magus. Basically, first session we sat the players in a circle. Everyone makes up their own magus and the companion character that goes with the player/magus seated to their left.

(And we also assigned each player to be the primary storyguide for the storylines involving the magus/player seated to their right).

My last troupe solved the problem by kind of embracing it. It was quite usual for one player to play each of his maga, her familiar, and even her trusted grog. In the same session. Practically in the same breath. It didn't really cause us any problems, especially once the maga and her familiar started squabbling.

Similarly, I played both a Verditius and his venditor, who he didn't like and ultimately had banished from the covenant to live out his years in the nearby monastery; close enough to see the covenant tower.

So for us, it didn't really matter. In fact, we kind of enjoyed the experience as each player had domain over their own little piece of the covenant and could weave their own little stories into the saga - they're all just troupe characters really and we tended to swap and change as needed. It didn't make any difference to us whether they happened to be aligned to our magi or not.

Wow, sounds like you've got a pretty good troupe! Wish I our playing group had a handful of players with that amount of creativity, dedication and undestanding of the game :smiley:

Miost troupes fail here in the first (generally failed) saga. After that, they tend to accept that gaming principle really easily :slight_smile:

Some play around this concept isn't a bad idea. Letting players munchkin to a certain degree and giving them all they desire can result in entertaining stories, as well. May your players' characters live in interesting times.

Yeah, it certainly can work, I guess.

We weren't really worried so much about the individual players not being able to handle playing both sides of a pair of characters who argued. We just wanted to avoid too much of everybody else sitting around watching one player talking to himself.

A lot of what people have already mentioned I've run across too. Yay superpowered apprentices!

For myself, the things I've learned through trial and error:

  • Don't require players to make a magus and companion on day one. Instead, I'd suggest a magus and a shield grog as starting characters. Create companions that work with the covenant once the covenant and setting is a bit more established in the minds of the players. Players are going to want to spend some time with their newly made magus character, so let them. Expect your first adventure or two to involve all the magi; don't be afraid to have an early Tribunal session to introduce the major players of the area.

  • Enforce Gift penalties! Unless a magus is Gentle Gifted, any attempts at social interaction with Mundanes should fail. Blatant Gift should make an otherwise normal situation unpleasantly hostile if the magus tries to be the spokesperson for a group. The Gift gives your companions and grogs an area where they can shine. To start out with, err on the side of being too harsh, not too lenient. If the players wanted to talk to the townsfolk but scared them with a Gifted person, don't have the townsfolk forgive them five minutes later. Make the players work hard to overcome that initial blunder - it makes the magi appreciate their Custos better.

  • Keep your adventures/stories short. Two encounters is pleanty. This way each character gets to spend some time with their story flaws in a relatively timely fashion.

  • Early adventures close to home should let players swap characters in and out in a relatively timely fashion.

  • Don't be afraid of seasons rolling by. A good rule of thumb is to do ~two stories/year when starting out. You can adjust that up or down as you like. If you can, one year/session is a good starting point - otherwise you won't use some of the best elements of the Ars Magica system.

  • Don't expect players to self-motivate to begin with. As they get more experience with the system, the setting and their characters you can expect the Magi to start hatching their own plans. Initially, though, they will probably need some very well signposted guidance.

  • Have a friendly older magus or two around as NPCs to help the players out. If the players are part of a Spring covenant, make sure they have allies and sponsors who are there to back them up when it all goes wrong. They don't have to live in the covenant. Parents are great for this, as young fresh-gauntleted magi will scrape their knee and need to run to someone on occasion. If you want to ensure there are hooks/boons for this, use your 'SG perogative' hook/boon selection for the covenant to make this happen.

  • Have each player provide a name and brief description of their parentes as well as their magi. Make this a requirement of character approval, don't put it off.

  • Don't be stingy with vis. Aim for at least 5/year/magus as a starting vis income, preferably more. Extremes (very high, very low) make good sagas once you're a bit more practiced with the system and know what to expect.

  • Don't be stingy with available lab texts for spells from other covenants. Pretty much any spell in the core rulebook should be realtively easily available for trade from someone.

  • Do be stingy with available lab texts for item enchantments! Read the lab text rules carefully before handing out item enchantment texts! Read them again!

  • The seasonal diary thing. Do it. Enforce it. You'll be glad you did.

This is a good idea. And this can be as simple as just picking an existing magus from those described in a Tribunal book to be the parens. Which is also a nice way of embedding the characters' backgrounds into the Tribunal.

Not to thread-jack but I'm curious why you feel these two points are essential?