Shapeshift ability - Need Help

Hi everyone,

We started playing Ars Magica recently and I need to turn to you for some help on the Shapeshift ability. I took it as a Major Virtue, but despite saying that a roll needs to be done to activate it, it doesn't say what happens when the roll is failed.

My Guide is insisting that once I fail to transform (we are playing very low level mages, just out of school), I cannot try again before sunset, but being this a 3 points Virtue I was expecting a lot more that this.

Can someone help us? I have tried to look for some FAQ on this Virtue but none appeared...

Thanks a lot!

Personally this seems harsh. If you fail an Ability check you can normally retry again next round (assuming the action only takes one round). Prevented from retrying until sunset would normally be the result of a botch in my game. Naturally you need to discuss this with your storyguide and the rest of the troupe for a consensus; if everyone else thinks that the storyguide is right, then you may have to follow his line.

I have an informal rule which my players generally follow - if you attempt an action three times in a row, and fail each time, then the character gives up on that action and tries something else. You can attempt the action again once an appropriate amount of time has passed (this is deliberately vague). Repeated failure just leaves the character convinced that the task is impossible, or that they are just not fated to complete the task at this time.


Thanks Mark,

To be fair the rule that he set up is:

  1. If fail cannot try again before next day
  2. You can try after 5 minutes but if failed again you loose a Fatigue level (and so forth)

I think that your idea of trying something 3 times and then give up could be a good compromise, let's see if other people had the same problem and how they decided to act, I am getting quite curious.

Thanks for the help


I don't see why shapeshift should be limited to a number of tries: as I see it, you can try as much as you want.

Exactly my point, after all is a Major Virtue and there is a dice roll to see if it succeeds... But really nobody has ever had a problem with this ability? Is there any official FAQ that can be found somewhere? This is the official site of the publisher, I could not find a better place to ask honestly....

It is irrelevant if it is a major or minor virtue, or if it is a virtue again. If I try to cast a pilum of fire and fail, I can try next round. If I try to kill a guy with a sword and fail, I can try next round again. If I try to open a lock and fail, I can try next round. Why would this be any different?

Like the others, i ffind this ruling too hard. Increasing the shapeshift difficulty for each time you have failed is a much more usual compromise, or limiting the shapeshift to nthe next scene, not day, in the adventure.

This is a saga dependent issue. Ars being a TROUPE game it is bette rif the TROUPE agrees wuith such a ruling since it is NOT how the rules are writrten, so it is a house rule. As alpha SG I have found that sometimes my players want a much harsher limit on their own characters than what I was heading towards :slight_smile: In general, if everybody plays by the same rules the game is much more enjoyable for everybody. Nothing ruins a roleplay scene so much as a rules discussion IMO.


As Mark said, if you botched an attempt i agree that no more tries until sunset or the next day is a good idea.
However, just for failing i think its terribly harsh!
Should be allowed to try at least a few times(like the 3 in a row above that makes you give up for the moment(anything from 1 minute to a few hours) if they fail)...

You could also argue for going with rule that if you have no time pressure and is not distracted in any way, you dont even need a dieroll at all to be successful.

And yet there should be some limitation on simply retrying immediately, such that a mage with a +2 is at a realistic disadvantage vs. a mage with a +7 roll. Especially for an effect that is not often "time critical" - unless it's a combat form (and what self-respecting mage needs a combat form?), time and re-rolls are trivial obstacles.

I'd suggest at least a "diameter" delay - to rest, to regroup, to do mystical shit that needs to be done to try again. It's not free, but if it's a shape usually used to travel long distances or spy on folk it's almost free.

And a botch stops it for the day, as suggested above.

There is no "official" FAQ but there is an unofficial one:

I hope you find it helpful as your group gets acquainted with the game. Welcome to the community, and enjoy Ars Magica!

Some parts are a bit out of date. Apparently I'm likely to serve as Line Editor until at least 2004. Yes, at least until then...

A lot of it, of course, doesn't really date, so it should be useful.


I have had the same problem--but I see the problem as your GM, not Shapeshift.

I think your SG is being harsh, but that's his right. To be fair, many people like that style, and perhaps the problem is me. :slight_smile:

Technically, you have as many retries as you want. Most rolls to activate Shapeshift should be simple, rather than stress, and a competent GM ought just say "fine, you concentrate for a little while and you're a bear," rather than deal with rerolling that simple die, or imposing rules that make the virtue even less worthwhile. More about that in a moment. On the rare occasions that the roll is stressed, as when you are trying to become a fish while leaping into the water as archers are shooting at you, the penalty for failure comes naturally from the scene, as you thrash around in the water for an extra round, and the penalty for a botch, also. Sometimes a round is a very long time.

This sounds very much like the kind of saga I try to avoid.

I recommend that you rewrite the character, either to drop Shapeshift or use it well, in the process circumventing your GM's desire to make it useless.

As for 'nerfing' Shapeshift:

Shapeshift is a cool virtue, yet very expensive for what it does. As written, a shifter loses his equipment and clothes. Becoming a bear seems cool, yet a knight in armor will win. Becoming a bird is also cool, and becoming a fish or a fox... but now we are in the realm of utility rather than pwnage. A mundane character who invested in Abilities that let him glide through different strata of society will do just as well--and gets to keep his pants on.

To make Shapeshift work, you first need 3 points of Major Virtue. This gives you Shapeshift 1, which is a very expensive way to get a shape that takes a long time to activate (or that is essentially useless, under your GM's rules.) Especially under your GM's regime, a player who take Shapeshift will need to bulk it up! This is always important, because the value of Shapeshift derives from its many forms, but especially under your GM who punishes you for failure and is essentially begging you to min-max, which is a good idea anyway.

So, we raise Shapeshift to at least 6 or so. You'll want the shapes anyway--it's what you came for, right? Affinity with Shapeshift is necessary for this. I'd dump 120xp into Shapeshift, and the Affinity gives me 60xp more, for 180xp, or Shapeshift 8. If you have Stamina 1, you never fail the roll. Stamina 0 might be more efficient, so what the hell: Get an extra shape and make sure you never fail, unless you botch. Cautious with Shapeshift takes care of that, though your GM sounds like the kind of guy who will add botch dice just because.

At this point, you have made good use of Shapeshift. Eight or nine shapes! With nine shapes, you've spent 183xp on it, and 4 virtue points (maybe 5, if you have CwS), but that's ok. This is a character who doesn't take Brawl, or Swim or Survival; he becomes what he needs to be. Nine shapes: Bear, eagle, big fish, horse, wolf, cat...

Success except on a botch.

So, is it worth it? Not for a magus. A magus does better with MuCo(An) and a bunch of spells; he learns one new shape per season in the lab. True, his animal forms are magical media, and resisted... but he can also turn other people into animals, is less likely to be subject to the GM saying "and when you fail to cast a spell you cannot cast it for the rest of the day," and developing Mu, Co and An serves other purposes. The Shapeshifter is also near the maximum number of shapes he will ever have, but a magus will have many.

For certain kinds of companions, maybe.

Really, I think that Shapeshift would work just fine if the virtue allowed one shape per point of score, with no roll needed to shift. It's an expensive virtue, and ought to work.




Until 2004 of the next Criamon cycle....

Again and again and again and again, the same flamewars, the same errata...



Go with Puissant Shapeshift 6+2 for 105 xp, this way the virtue is worth 75 xp. Moreover, I consider Stamina 1 to be worth 20 xp, making it much cheaper than the 35 xp for raising to Shapeshift 7+2. And add in that such a SG will certainly impose an under 30 age restriction, you have to go Stamina 2 and Puissant Shapeshift 5+2.

Affinity with Ability is never a good plan, except for the rare case where you will get above 10. Beginning magi will gladly lose 6 After Apprenticeship years to get MT this high, but no one else has 12 Later Life years to spend on a single ability.

Extremely expensive way to get use out of shapeshift here!!

If you just want a combat form, invest in skinchanger. No roll involved there, and only a minor virtue. As pointed out, shapeshift is useful above everything as a utility skill (info gathering, track, hunt, get underwater, sneak, flee....) more than as a killer combo. I like cat, wolf, small bird, eagle, dolphin, hare, trout and eel as utility forms. But few people have played shapeshifters IMS so far. We have a potential gruagach lurking around, so that might change, though.


Sure it is, i´ve usually found it very helpful. However, usually in just the way Ovarwa stated, as a way to get a high score during character creation rather than advancing during play.

My feeling as well. A dieroll during stressful situations sure, but otherwise, not so needed.


Except it's not clear that Puissant Shapeshift grants two extra shapes.

The point of Stamina is often worthless for a shapeshifter. If he shifts into a form with Stamina +4, that +1 has no effect on things; he might as well have kept Stamina at 0. Furthermore, the point of Stamina does not provide an extra shape.

Shapeshifters are among the ones who do, especially in a saga where Puissant Shapeshift does not add shapes.




Gruagachan make good shifters, yeah, except their forms are every bit as magical as a magus' forms; magi can also be great shifters.

As for the expense, I definitely agree. Shapeshift is expensive! This was my entry point, and why I consider his GM to be the problem, not the ability to actually get something out of this Major Virtue.

Still, a grog with Shapeshift and nothing else is pretty viable: 5 years of childhood and then 225 points dumped into Shapeshift to bring it to 9. He's 20 years old, and will serve his magi very well for at least 15 years. Even bringing it to 8, so that he has 45xps to spread around is nice. slow grin That gets me thinking about the PbP saga I'm slowly getting off the ground: Shapeshifters are common in the Rus, and I suppose a PC can have one or more of these as personal shield grogs as they get their Parma high enough to protect them. Flaws and chosen shapes round out personality, and really get some differentiation going: The combat guy with bears and wolves contrasts nicely with the sneaky guy. I'd want to maybe allow each one an fourth virtue and flaw that must be placed in an Essential Personality Trait that reflects a single favored shape.



They tried to write it so it applies to every time you calculate with it except for learning, teaching, and writing. While not written exactly how I'd like it to have been written, the intent is 100% that it would apply this way, just as the intent is that Puissant Magic Theory allows you to use 4 more pawns of vis in a season. I am more accepting of this statement of mine than the logic in the sentences would lead me to believe because I was there online (email list) for the discussions that led to the errata.


I'll attempt to fix this misunderstanding yet again... Here's a quick summary of the two mistakes commonly made:

  1. First let's ignore error #2 below. Affinity w/ Ability actually starts catching up to Puissant Ability at 93 experience. Affinity grants +2 for 93-104, 120-139, 150-179, and 183+ experience applied. Puissant Ability is only better than Affinity w/ Ability roughly 33% of the time after 93 experience and the other 67% of the time they're the same until 183 experience.

  2. Although I've seen some groups that record fractional experience, that's not really how it works. Though the specificity was left off one of the two, the other does explicitly tell you to round up. 50% of the sources will give you an extra 0.5 experience, counting character creation as a source. Other abilities don't tend to see this so much, but Magic Theory in particular does because of the lab work. Now all of a sudden most of those gaps start to disappear. It's just about guaranteed, unless you spend tons of experience in it during character creation, that these extra points will cover the gap from 180 to 182. They'll also cover some of the gap from 139 to 150. If you're advancing slowly (not a big initial investment / by primarily by adventuring), they're likely to cover the whole thing. If you're advancing quickly (or started with a high score) 2 or 3 points is probably reasonable.

So all this means that starting somewhere around 92 the Affinity frequently is as good as Puissant, falling behind only from 105 to about 118 and 140 to about 147. Once you reach 147 or so you should have just gone with the Affinity because its bonus will never be smaller than Puissant's. If, on the other hand, you do something like gaining most of the needed experience in adventures at 5 (8 after the Affinity) points per adventure then Affinity should catch up to Puissant closer to 115. These two break points are far away from the suggested 183 most people state.

Now, as for this specific comment about a score of 10, a rank 10 Ability costs 275 experience, which is far more than the 183 experience people commonly calculate (nearly correctly) when they make the two mistakes I've pointed out above. A score of 6 costs 105 experience, and a score of 7 costs 140 experience. If you start with a lot of experience in the Ability coming out of character creation, you'll probably hit 6 well before your personal break point, so Puissant Ability is still better; but if you don't start with a lot of experience in it and advance in little increments, then shortly after reaching rank 6 you'll hit your personal break point. It would be pretty rare for a character to start with anywhere near a 7, so almost everyone will be better off with the Affinity once their into rank 7. Actually hitting rank 7 is iffy; it could go either way.

So the rule of thumb is that once you hit 6 or 7 the Affinity becomes better, which one depending on how many points you've dumped into the Ability at character creation and depending on whether you're learning via high or low quality sources.


The key is "when you use it". Thus, when you are sitting and restng, you do not get the +2 and thus do not have two additional shapes. You are only using the ability when rlling to change into a shape or out from it. To roll for a shae, it has to be one you know. You do not mysteriously know two additional shapes (that you never use) when changing into one of your known shapes.