Saving effort on NPC magi?

I want to try my hat at running my first Ars Magica campaign (played in a couple but have never been GM), but the big thing that's been stopping me up until now is that magi are both laborious to create and have such tightly interwoven mechanical elements that it feels prohibitive to try to build sufficient NPCs and nigh-impossible to eyeball them, especially with regards to what formulaic spells they should or shouldn't have. And this feels to me like a difficult problem to avoid, as even a very isolationist covenant whose only magi are the player characters will probably still need some stories involving a number of other magi, such as during Tribunals.

So for those of you who have run Ars games, what are your tips for dealing with this problem? Do you have any good labor-saving ideas, or tools you use, or do you just have a huge list of magi pre-prepped in case a situation where you need one comes up, or what?

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My solution to this problem was not to document all the detail for a magi. Just enough to play the magi in the story. I do this by only having a very rough outline of their highest abilities, personality, key stats, season, favoured arts, areas of interest. This all fits on an A5 card. This means you can sometimes just generate all this on the fly during a session.

If the players are going to have major interactions with a magi, or they are a major protagonist - then it gets the full treatment via metacreator, over 15 years, we only have 10 magi detailed to this level. I sometimes repurpose magi from the books or other sources (sub rosa) as well.

I also cheat a little as I have a spreadsheet that allows me to randomly generate magi. Again Just enough detail to move forward. It’s a given that all the player covenant magi NPCs are detailed, but again I didn’t do this initially.


This makes sense to me for most NPCs, but I worry it won't be sufficient in a context where magi NPCs might want to be casting spells, and having to decide as a GM what spells they're likely to have or not have that would be applicable to the situation. I might just be overestimating how often that's likely to be sprung on me unexpectedly, though.

Funny thing is my non magi NPC, if not a major interaction, are even less detail, again just enough, some cases I just have a name, location, occupation, age, and personality.

As for magi NPCs casting spells, the detailed magi are usually allies so they are open to casting on camera in the story. But the less detailed NPCs are generally just associates and hence less trusting. This means game wise if they cast spells for the magi, it will be off camera, that is the players only see the outcome, not the spell itself, unless it’s a minor spell.

If you know the rank (Sp,Su,Au,Wi) and major arts of a magi, and personality you can get a rough idea if they have “access” to a spell. One thing I have done to assist with this is have all the spells ranked as common, uncommon, rare etc. As a magi increases in rank they will tend to fill out the availability. You could have a general chance to know table magi rank vs availability. Again it’s about the story, if I get in wrong, maybe they vis boosted etc. I’m not so pushy on rules precision.

I did consider a semi random spell list generator, but haven’t really found the need.

While interactions happen a lot between magi, I have found they are on the political and social level, with very little spell trading at all. They tend to go looking for knowledge (books). The players have the distrust element down to a fine art.

As for tribunals, they tend to have so many magi that you don’t get to really interact in depth with anyone, unless they focus on one person. Covenant visits however are another thing. But the other covenant magi will have their own lives and again interactions can be limited to a few social events. Seasonal stays are another thing, but they can be handled game wise in blink of an eye if you like.

One thing to remember the older magi with more power, will not tend to cast as many spells, (unless mastered).

I just kind of wing it based on age and magical focus/interest of the NPCs. When I was younger I used to stat up GMPCs in high detail, as you point out, it is simply way too time consuming.


I am a pretty seasoned GM not just for Ars but for a lot of systems and what I have found is that as a GM you should not worry too much about the rules. Following rules is for players. As a GM your job is to present an engaging story and your NPC's should only be detailed to the level where they are able to do that.

Think of a GMs job as presenting the side characters and the stage backdrops in a theatrical play. No one cares that the cardboard drawing of a landscape does not have real grass on it, with a realistic mix of grass-species as is typical of the location where the play happens. No one bothers to think about how the side characters manage dental hygiene or whether they can swim or not. As long as it does not come up in play it does not matter.

For NPC magi I generally decide on their spell lists by thinking first: "does this NPC need to be able to cast this spell in order for the story to progress?" if the answer to that question is yes, then the NPC has the spell in their spell list.

If the answer is no, then it gets more complicated, because there are loads of situations where you might want the NPC magus to have the spell even though it is not strictly necessary to progress the plot. Maybe the NPC is trying to oppose the players in some minor way or to help them to a short cut. In that case I either just make a decision based on gut feeling or I roll a die and if I like the number on the die then that NPC knows the spell in question. The same goes for any other thing an NPC might be able to do/have/know.

I always imagine the NPC's like the cardboard cutouts you see in the cinema. They look real if viewed from the correct direction but in reality they are just pieces of cardboard held up by a small foot. Your job as a GM is to make sure that they players only see them from the correct direction.

Sometimes that means meeting an NPC named "Name MCnameface" who has a score of +3 in climbing (does that come from characteristics or abilities? noone knows, it doesnt matter). As long as the players only interact with the NPC's ability to climb this NPC is a real person for all they know. This is a bit of an extreme example and most NPC's I make will have just a little bit more personality, but not much - because they dont need it.

translated into a more general principle: with NPC's you start small and then you build.

Whenever you play an NPC make sure that you have enough about them to be able to play the NPC through whatever scene (or scenes) that they participate in. If something unexpected happens then you have to improvise.

For example if we imagine the roster of NPC magi that your players and their covenant might interact with.

The first observation here is that until and unless the players actually interact with any specific NPC magus in the roster, their existence is entirely hypothetical. Thus there is no need to detail them beyond "a wider group magi exist outside the covenant". This is enough character sheet for the lot of them at this point.

Then whenever you need a specific magus you give them a name and a personality trait, plus whatever mechanics they need to get the job done. Say you need a CrCo magus to invent a longevity ritual for a PC what you need is: A name, A personality trait and a CrCo lab total.

Note that I didnt say a score in either of the traits that contribute to the CrCo lab total. That was deliberate. At this point, if it were me GM'ing I would simply decide that say a lab total of 45 sounds reasonable for this NPC and the price range that the player is willing to pay for a longevity ritual.

Only if I later needed more detail for the longevity NPC would I add it.

This approach allows you to create NPC's without having to spend an ungodly amount of time coming up with stats that will never matter.


If you can live with the swearing and ranting in the intro this article has a really good breakdown of how to make NPC's.

It is written specifically for NPC's that the players force you to create in the moment but the advice is generally good:


I read that, and yes have to say it's a decent explanation. Just that The Angry GM also takes what could said in 500 words and does it with 5000... And thinks he's brilliant because of that.


To pick up the point briefly mentioned by Gary Barber earlier - taking pre-existing magi and adapting them for your purposes can work. It's less flexible than just winging it, but requires less of a feel for magi stats to implement.

I think the two biggest sources of fully statted magi in the published books are Magi of Hermes and Through the Aegis. However, there are also various ones scattered throughout the other books - there's a list here: . A lot of the magi can be moved between tribunals pretty easily.

In addition to the fully statted ones, most of the tribunal books have a load of light touch magi with a basic concept and key personality traits - Against the Dark is particularly good for this (if somewhat Tremere heavy).

There are also various fan publications with statted out magi, such as Sub Rosa and Peripheral Code. Browsing the Play by Post forums may work for inspiration, but it's probably polite to ask its original creator before lifting a character from there wholesale.


This forum also has a few characters available, try searching for 'more magi of hermes' :slight_smile:

In my long-running saga, I have reached a point where I don't have any hard stats for any NPC Magi. We've been playing for long enough that I have an internal metric for Age to Arts scaling. So I usually just assign a Source Quality and if any Magus needs to have a spell, and it makes sense for them to have it, they usually do. The only exception is if it's a story point that they do not. Like, there's a necromancer NPC who lives in the covenant. If a player wants to learn a necromancy spell, and they can convince the Magus to teach them, then he probably knows it. I'd only have him not know it if I wanted to run a story about finding a more powerful necromancer.

I would just use the Ability score aging limits on page 31 to determine how high of an ability they're allowed to have, and increase that by 1 point every decade or two past that. Most Magi aren't going to have a score in 9+ in anything that isn't directly related to magic, anyway, so I would just use half of that maximum as their "average" Ability score in any ability within their area of expertise.

They should have a +2 in any important Characteristics, and their Arts scores will vary depending on age and the power of Magi in your Saga.

I recommend, if you don't want to eyeball a table for that, you create a "generic" magus using character creation. Just ignore virtues and characteristics. Instead of assigning XP to any particular subject, just assign it to: "Best Ability", "Second Best Ability", "Best Art", "Second Best Art", "Other Arts". Age them up past apprenticeship to the age of the oldest Magi you think is active in the world, recording their stats at every five year interval past apprenticeship. Look at these numbers, and if they seem reasonable to you, use them.

Whenever a Magi shows up, you will be able to go, "Well, a 50 year old Magi will have a Best Ability of X and their Arts will be Y and Z for their best stuff, and A for everything else."

This will save you a lot of trouble.


Well I'd like to see some more variance than that, given that character development is so flexible that any given magus at some age can be quite unique (think how arts and abilities of a Flambeau Hoplite can be against these of a spontaneous magic kind of magus), but I still I think that such a conceptual magus could be so nice to have (I could design it as a specialist, and then use the 2nd best art as the best art for a generalist).

So the next question is: have someone done that, or is planning to? And then, would he be kind enough to share? :grinning:

(Not that I wouldn't love to do it myself, and probably will if I'm able to find the time to do that)

So I've meant to post for about a week now, but I keep being busy.

In short, I am of almost the same opinion as @Euphemism.

Unless the player and NPC magi are going to go head to head in direct confrontation, there is just no real need to stat them fully. I ran a year long saga and stated two NPC magi, and even then only because they were to become the (Tytallus) antagonists of the players, fighting them in certamen, disputatio and in the final session, directly.

For my game notes, I had a big spread sheet with all the mages of the Rhine and Lotharingia, they approximate ages and their top 2-4 arts (depending on if they go tall or wide). Along with a few other notes, such as important virtue, personality traits etc (see below)

NPC magi which were due to be helpful, don't need proper stats, since they just grant some kind of benefit, even if it requires something to make up for it.

For example, Garrinchus ex Misc, in Cologne is a Co healer mage. I chose to have him as a safety net for the party when they started off in the Rhine Gorge. So when one mage would get beat up, they could just go there and use the room with the Room range CrCo bonus to recovery roll effect. All I had to do was chose what the bonus was and then that was it. No need for a lab total, Pen total (the party was just told to lower their parma if they want to benefit from it).

Other neutral NPCs could have tractatus, spell scrolls or spells as appropriate to their specialties and could cast based on their rough age... For the Verditius exhibiting at Tribunals, I tried to keep a rough ballpark, but it is more valuable for them to spend a season cranking out 3-5 low level items which will all find purchasers than one really complicated one which would have more trouble finding a buyer.


Peter von Wurzburg (He)

The horseless cart (9 pawns Vis + 2 pounds silver)

A well-made cart carved out of a single huge tree trunk, with space for a horse, ox or donkey in front. It moves as normal cart would, but without the need for animals. There is a branch in a strange cross shape, used to control the cart. (Wilhelm Weiss has one such, but he uses his Im to appear to have a nag pulling it, Peter von Wurzburg has the first model and has a donkey attached to it, though it is only for appearances)

Level 10, +2 Concentration, +1 Touch = level 25 Item maintain concentration +5 = 30

Rhesus of Florum (An)

The lordly shirt (3 pawns Vis + 3 pounds silver)

A beautifully made shirt, it is made out of the absolutely finest silks and would not look out of place on the highest nobles. Two main colours are available: Aquamarine blue or Imperial Purple.

Aura of Ennobled presence, level 10, 1/day (ArM, p145)

Only if the players had wanted to have a custom design would i even have to think about what their lab totals might be. If the mage is of a comparable age to the party, then they'd have their top lab total equal to one of the magi's top lab total and so on. While the very old mages have much higher scores, the party just won't have the cash to pay Murion or Stentorius to craft something for them...


If you really need magi with stats, one solution is to borrow - has a section which is all about links to other people's saga pages - some of them will have stats up for a variety of mages. There's also a bunch of links to people's articles about Ars Magica.


Frankly, I think it would be great if there was a forum section where people just dumped NPCs they stated for their Saga (after the Saga ends). During one November I was doing one grog a day, but I think that we, as a collective, probably have huge amounts of stated magi, grogs, companions and other NPCs just lingering in hard-drives and shared drives, which would be really helpful for other people planning their sagas...


I was fond of detailing thing that never mattered. My las Magi NPC have 3 personality traits, 4 favoured arts in order of importance, and some general notes on appearance or personality.

That is just enough. You know the most common spells in those art and the NPC is likely to have those. The approximate casting total can be guessed.