Simple Ars Magica

I've recently started up a new saga, with newcomers to Ars Magica, and I'm struck by how complicated this game really is at times! New players are firstly daunted by the character creation process, where you have several hundred XP to put on Arts and Abilities, which work on different advancement scales. Spontaneous spell casting is likewise a bit of a baptism of fire - you have to dig out the right guideline and then adjust them according to three different parameters (R, D, T) on a rather counterintuitive magnitude scale... Let's face it - Ars Magica is definitely somewhat unfriendly to newcomers!

I have thus recently been pondering just how much it would be possible to simplify things, whilst still keeping the functioning and feel of Ars Magica relatively unchanged, and without losing any of its sacred cows. Effectively, I have made an attempt to come up with a "Simple Ars Magica" system.

It's too long to post here, so I've put it on a web site:

http://www.durenmar.de/simplearm/

The excecutive summary is as follows:

• You only need one type of simple die roll.

• You can reduce all XP gains/amounts by a factor of 5. This simplifies the mental arithmetic considerably!

• Art scores don't need to range from 0-40; it suffices if they range from 0-15, i.e. on exactly the same scale as Abilities.

• Spell levels can likewise be simplified and can work on the same scale as Ease Factors (0-24).

• You can drop Range and Duration from the spell level calculation, making figuring out the level of a spell from the guidelines much simpler, as well as reducing the number of similar Formulaic spells which achieve the same effect. Range and Duration are instead casting parameters like Finesse and Penetration.

• Overall, it is a coarse-grained system with smaller numbers, easier totals, and simpler arithmetic. (I've figured out a way to handle the effects of the many various minor fine-grained bonuses that crop up during spell casting and labwork.)

I hope this may be useful! I'd be happy to hear any suggestions for improvement, or for further simplifications, or if anyone has come up with any alternative simple rules.

2 Likes

The number of points itself is irrelevant. Its a fallacy based on the perception that a bigger number is by default always more complex than a smaller.

Basics for any serious gameplaying, always keep a calculator handy. The amount of numbers handled are still big. How do you handle small amounts of XP? Low range Practise or Exposure XP?

Except Arts doesnt range from 0-40. Even playing very conservatively, any decent specialist can reach higher than that.
And then, you go back to the MAJOR problem of earlier editions, where magi can become Ability powerhouses, because they can just as well choose to start out with low Arts.
Yes it might be nice to keep them on the same scale, but the total brokenness of that concept was fixed by not keeping them on the same scale...

For simplifying it, yeah it should work, but once you add on the "optional" rule, you might as well go with the original anyway because at that point, its just two different ways of doing pretty much the same thing.
I might add that we have played with "infinite dierolls", ie the highest number is rerolled and added, but without a limit to number of rerolls, and it works pretty well as an alternative, IIRC we got a slightly higher average dieroll result from it.
But i wouldnt say its a simplification.

You will at the very least be forced to disallow Magic FocusÂ´s for that to work.
And in case you didnt think about it, the dieroll will be FAR more important to spellcasting with Arts reduced like that.
Of course, if you want a much more chancy spellcasting, thats not a problem.
The same goes for Characteristics. A Stamina of 5 now becomes VERY desirable.strike that, since you simply removed it from casting totaland strike the previous strickeness now that i found the "quality points", oh dear...***

And how will you handle Spontaneous casting? Especially non-fatigueing.
Hmm, i think i can figure out with no problems how to create a starting character who can Spontaneously cast EaseF. 5 non-fatigueing spells straight away. quick calculations Yup, with a focus, it gets easy.
Oh buggers now i reach the part where you changed the casting... lol

Still, with NF spont, only *4 now, allowing a Focus makes it totally possible to do the above anyway i think.

Oh i like THAT. That will find itself merged into our HR one way or another.

This is very interesting... Its the first part i can truly agree simplifies the rules without breaking something else.
And, me like the potentials of this. Im probably going to mod this into something that can be gained via a Virtue or something...

Beware that this is mechanism is probably very open for abuse.
Its a system of extreme flexibility.

Interesting and useful. But youÂ´re not doing a simplified AM here, youÂ´re making a modded AM. With some interesting parts here and there...

Neither Magic theory nor Int adds anything here?
What then is the point of having either?

That sucks... In RAW you can get Exposure*4 with Practise, and the norm is *2. Teaching XP can go very high, book study quite high and training usually NOT so high.
As i expected, this is a point where the system crashes. It doesnt simplify and it goes worse than RAW which arent exactly perfect from the start.

Do you realise that this means youÂ´re ADDING to the game mechanics?
YouÂ´re doing the opposite of youÂ´re stated goal here.
And making anything but a bonus divisible by 5 useless.
Expect min-maxing from any halfdecent player.

No it doesnt, because then you dont really know how many points you actually have. You suggest adding guesstimates into the game mechanics. Not good unless you want a VERY freeform game. But there are systems made to be "numberless" from the start that does it better i think.

Some of it is certainly useful. But mostly, what you suggest is NOT a simplified system, just an alternate one.
And im not really surprised because if anything, AM is very hard to simplify.
If you really want to simplify, dont stare yourself blind on the size of numbers, see where you can cut down on the game mechanics. Changing dierolls to a unified 0-9, with botchrisk on 0 when relevant, yep thats simplifying. Adding a new mechanic so you can get rid of the previous one, nope thats not simpler, just different.

Sorry if im sounding "all negative" (except im not since youÂ´ve given me a couple of good ideas to use in HR here, thank you!).

It's like drinking from a firehose and has a steep learning curve. Let it wash over you and you will find it's one of the best systems out there.

The problem is you remove all chance for epic success or failure. Using a simple die removes all botching as well.

Or if you do what my table top troupe has done, which is not roll botch dice and instead treat all 0's as a botch, then roll again to see how bad... you increase failure to the point of "why try".

If you take a look at the 4th ed rules you will notice that abilities and Arts use the same xp costs for progression. However this is actually more complicated, because now you have different xp amounts and rules for progressing abilities and Arts.

Dividing all totals by 5 also reduces the granularity of xp gains. Progression is a game of inches, someone with access to good teachers or books will progress slightly faster than someone without. Reducing xp gain for Arts by a factor of 5 means there is no difference between a quality 8 source and a quality 12 source book, since you will most likely be rounding the numbers after division.

This has the unintended concequence of putting too much importance on the die roll. As the variation of the roll, of the proposed simple die, is between 1-10. This is 2/3 the range of skill possible... So a character can accomplish through luck, what would normally be years of study.

The issue here is, the current system factors range, durations, and targets into your knowledge of the arts. You will need to offer some skill that improves duration or range or targets of your spells.

And if it is an ability that does this, then the net effect is the same for game balance and complexity of calculating what you can do with your spells anyway. But what it removes is the granularity of creating spell effects. As it is now, the better you are at your Art the more you can do with it. Changing range of spell effects to an ability removes the idea "the more you know (about art X) the more you can do"

You will have characters that wonder why it is they could blow themselves up with Ignem but cannot create a signal flare, without "do at range ability". Likewise if you have a character that learns, do at range ability, they can do everything at range...

You run into the problem with lopsided power. A character could learn the two abilities, then learn the minimal amout of Arts. Then could accomplish a base level 3 effect vs an entire army, in nearly every art combination.

Again i would like to mention that the smaller the numbers used to modify the die rolls gives more importance to the variations of the rolls.

Take a for instance, a perdo corpus guy with 20(half the max) in perdo and 20(half the max) in corpus. To do a spontanious affect the guy has 40(+mods) +die roll, producing a spread of 21-26 ish for spell effect after fatigue, just over 1/4 the maximum effect generated from arts alone. The die roll ends up only affecting a magnitude of effect or maybe some penetration.

The same character under a reduced system will have 7(half the max) perdo and 7(half the max) corpus, a +14. a spontanious effect will be a range of 7-14, anywhere from 1/4th to 1/2 the max effect generated by arts alone. This means that luck decides not the difference of just a magnitude, but weather or not one person gets killed or an Army.

i would like to say you have given it a lot of thought. and i hope your troupe appreciates your effort

I think some of the premises to justify character creation and calling it too complex is part of the problem. You are amplifying the issue. by saying I am making 25 year old mage so I have 435 pts is a fallacy of the process.

First: understanding basic rolls:

1. Skills rolls are skill+attribute against target number
2. Casting is stamina+tech+form+virtues/flaws (/2 or /5 for spont)
3. Stress dice explode and botch, simple dice don't and which you use is determined by nature of situation.

Then the creation process: Do it step by step and it is simpler.
Ars is a game based well thought out characters and only a few people focus on the power game and what level they need for the final mage. Building a character is like writing a history in ways.

1. Early childhood: New players should use one of the five early year templates. Spending the 45 pts on your own is more advanced but should be done based on what the early childhood is. Only 45 pts and limit what they can be spent on.
2. Next is some seasons until start of apprenticeship. What happened then? This is 15 xp per year and 1-10 years. It is all abilities and unless you have certain virtues, it is all in the general area.
3. Apprenticeship: 4 latin (50 xp), 3 magic theory (30 xp), Ars liberales 1 (5), Parma magica 1 (5) so 90 xp is prespent for you of 240. Of the rest, 120-150 is arts. You do 150 arts then you are done. 120 in arts and 30 for skills to round you out (some finesse, concentration, penetration, maybe the dominion or infernal lore).

Step by step and you see you aren't just trying to spend huge blocks at once and it is easier for the new player to parse.

For the newest character, pick one of the templates and then do a little rearrangement (swap arts for which one is good same numbers), drop one skill a point and raise another a point so you have same numbers). Small adjustments that balance things.

I agree.

Although it is a good idea to keep a bit of focus on the big picture, so you know what you are aiming at through each step.

I can remember that when I made my first characters, I would occasionally discover after a few sessions that I had accidentally forgotten about an Ability that was important to my character concept. I think this is a very common mistake for beginning players. As a beginning player does not quite realise how the various bits of the rules interact. So, the beginning player might think that he is creating a character which is really good at killing faeries, say, but then forgets about giving the character a high Penetration Score or selects high magnitude Faerie killing spells (instead of low magnitude ones that can be cast with high Penetration).

My advice is to make sure that the storyguide understands the beginning player's character concept. And then the storyguide (or other experienced players) should help the beginning player to ensure that their concept is accurately reflected in the character design.

If I could make just two changes to Ars, they would be these:

• no separate tracking of unspent experience on every stat.

This is just needlessly complex and could be handwaved simply by saying "When you are learning stuff about X, you can also pick up a bit about Y, and so you may spend your spares on minor advances in another Ability, or just keep them spare for next time you gain XP. Be sensible."

• Libraries that have a single score in each Art.

Book by book scoring is just too complicated (and yes, I know I'm the guy who wrote the current version...so sue me) and also real libraries do not work this way and have never worked this way. In real libraries, doing real research, you don't take away one book and eat it, and then take out another, better one and eat that. You use lots of books, in tandem with each other, which is why footnoting and subject shelving were invented. Real libraries have numerical maxima for the amount you can develop your skill in them (freaky, I know) So, my library is Conspectus 2 in Chemisty. This means it has chemistry to high school level. It is Conspectus 5 in Gold Coast History (it has the best collection, anywhere, ever.)

I think next time, libraries should just have conspectus scores. I know this is very ArM2, but I'm not sure all of the math and setup is worth the bother. I don't think the "magi need to cut deals to see who gets the good nook on X" thing is worth it and I still think we could get a mechanisam which made book trading and copying and all that feaible by giving the library an Experience mechanic so that its arts went up when you did these things for it.

I would say its a common mistake for just about ANY players. I certainly know i keep doing it from time to time ( in all RPGs i mean) and im definitely not alone in doing it either.

Yeah, that helps alot. A variation that is often good for new players is that the SG makes the character based on asking questions to the player after starting with an inital concept.
That works very well as long as the SG is decent at it(and has the time to do this with all new players well before actually starting play, which isnt always the easiest thing).

Yeah, that can help alot. Setting up character sheets as textfiles on handy laptop computers(or smaller) is another way to make this easier to handle. It also allows easier notetaking and changing.

Interesting ideas. Not sure if i agree, simply because we probably cant make rules that are playable AND realistic...
Current library rules are not bad.
Also, ive already been working on a "total knowledge" variant rules, and frankly everything i tried sofar ends up making a mess of it, gets unplayable or even less realistic than current very quickly. Hopefully you can come up with something better, but as i said, current rules are ok.

True, although the problem is more that you have to convert these half-a-thousand points into a number of scores using two different scales (1, 3, 6, 10, etc. vs. 5, 15, 30, 50, etc.). Having a hundred thousand points wouldn't be a problem if there was just one scale which went 1000, 2000, 3000, etc.

One of my new players simply found this too much and let one of the others figure out the XP totals for her maga...

What kind of abuse do you think is possible here?

Well, it's true, some modding may have slipped in there. In this particular case, I was trying to harmonise the concepts of targetting and penetration.

Int, Magic Theory, aura, etc. add Quality Points to the total (i.e. a bonus of 1 for every full five points.) Recall that I have Arts and Lab Totals on a reduced scale (Arts from 0-15, Lab Totals, like Ease Factors, from 0-24), so if you added them on directly, they would dominate the Arts.

Note that I have reduced the amount of XP throughout by a factor of 5, so that 2 XP here is equivalent to 10 XP in standard ArM. In ArM5 terms, I have Exposure/Practice at 5 XP, standard books at 10 XP, and superior books at 15 XP (or more rarely) 20 XP. Do you really need such a high degree of granularity for advancement?

Not quite true... Compare a Sta 0 magus with a Sta +3 magus, and put both in a Magic aura of 2. The latter has a bonus to the Casting Total, even though each individual bonus is less than 5.

The major simplification I am proposing is putting Arts on the same scale as Abilities, and spell levels on the same scale as Ease Factors. I think you would have to agree that's a conceptual simplification, even if you don't like it.

No problem; glad you found something of use! Thanks for your feedback.

I should have said "you only need one type of die roll". It's not actually a "simple die". There is still the chance for botch or exceptional success. It's the simple die that is redundant, not the stress die...

However here I am proposing identical XP amounts and progression for Arts and Abilities! A typical Art book would have the same Advancement Total / Quality as a typical Ability book, unlike in ArM4. This works if you put Arts on the same scale (0-15) as Abilities.

Book qualities are definitely more coarse-grained, that's true, although there is variation. Do you really need such a fine-grained distinction between book stats?

Hmm, not really... If your Art scores are better, then your Casting Total is better. If your Casting Total is better, then your Power Total (the term I used for Casting Total + die - spell level) is better. With a better Power Total, you can boost the Range or Duration... So there is still a link between Arts and Range/Duration, but it's now indirect.

You could have Abilities for being especially good at distant or enduring magics if you wanted, but I don't think it's necessary.

Ah, but I have proposed a slightly different functioning for sponts... The level is doubled and cannot exceed the Casting Total. In your particular example, the spontaneous spell level would be 7, full stop! In fact, the dice roll has no effect at all on the spell level.

What is subject to variation is the Power Total, i.e. the parameters of the spell as it is cast: Range, Duration, Finesse, Penetration - but not the basic type of effect (spell level).

It is however true that Range and Duration can vary more than in ArM5. With an ArM5 spont, one increase in Range or Duration amounts to a range of 10 points on the die, which I've always thought to be a bit much (i.e. it is excessively hard to boost the Range and Duration of sponts). Here, one increase amounts to 3 points on the die.

Yeah, one of my new players naturally assumed that there was one single "store" of XP for a character and was quite shocked to discover that the XP had to be spent immediately!

I could see how that makes sense, yes. I wonder if, this way, it would be possible to merge the two different types of book (summae, tractatus) into one?

Still, one of the things the players in my previous group enjoyed was the acquisition of good-quality books, and the building up of a library in some detail, as well as taking pride in their own books. You might be losing some of this coolness if everything is rolled into a single library score...

yes. unless you want to remove an entire set of plot, character motivation, and character concepts. everything revolving around creating, finding, and keeping up good books/library.

but then under your system you probably want to keep the book qualities the same. but instead increase the cost of arts to match abilities.

You could do that, set a Library quality (cost equals Q x numer of subjects), and then simply a separate score for each subject. Very 2nd/3rd edition, but it does simplify covenant creation. You can still have a lot of cool book titles and trades, each tome is worth so many resource points contributing to Library Quality and subject scores.

unspent xp?

if you have 104 xp in an ability you have a score of 5. if you gain another 2 xp in that ability from exposure, that ability has 106 xp and is a score of 6.

nothing is spent. you keep track of your current xp in that ability. unless i am missing something in the RAW, because thats how i've always played.

I do it different. I would call it a score of 6 with 1xp left over. I do not track how many total xp are spent in an ability, only from level to level. TF is suggesting that the 1 left over go in a reserve that can be spent on something else so you can keep nice round even scores.

I don't think any of these things would really be changed. You still have low-level, medium-level, and high-level books. To use the terminology of the Library chapter of Covenants, you still have Vain (2 XP), Sound (3 XP), and Excellent (4 XP) summae.

I'm not sure I understand the comment, but I have Arts functioning identically to Abilities: same range of values (0-15), same XP costs (as Arts), same book scores.

Thats fine! If another player or the SG can handle it, its not a problem. In fact letting the SG(or one of them, or me the rulesmonkey) do the numbers for a new player is totally standard here.

Think about it, being able to juggle all those parts means i can for example always CHOOSE to penetrate, by reducing the other factors, and always select the numbers to achieve the optimal effect...
The HR im vaugely considering adds something similar as a Greater Virtue(which is our HR Virtue above Major), thats the kind of level i consider this advantage to be on.
It will also lead to metagaming. Severly so if you got any munchkins playing.

Which isnt a bad idea on its own. I just dont think it works well as written sofar, and its not simpler.

Not quite, but Exposure and Practise at the same level, that is bad. And book study/teaching just twice that of exposure?
This is not a happy solution.

You misunderstood me.
Move the Sta 3 magi to a +1 Aura, and s/he no longer gets a bonus.
And gets the same lack of bonus as a Sta -5 magi in the same +1 Aura.
And after that, there is the problem with people starting to figure out the most optimal min-maxing of values.
Lots of players do that already with vanilla RAW, and your variation makes it triple as important to get it right!
In short, the change encourages metagaming again. While making the values for less interesting. Improving a characteristic by 1 will either do nothing or make a huge difference.

Have you played 2nd edition AM? Trust me, you DONT want to do that change.

Its a very tiny little simplification yes, but it also breaks the system. Which is sort of less good.
And frankly, iÂ´ve actually never found anyone having a problem of running Abilities and Spellcasting on different scales.
So for me and those i play with i doubt it would make any difference at all.

Write up a textfile(or print a few copies of it), listing XP cost for both scales, including costs as modified by Affinity.
Works fine.

No it doesnt, referring again to AM 2ed. Suddenly you have characters that has 15 extra places to put XP, so they need more XP to start with, but then a crafty player figures out that increasing arts isnt terribly hard, and instead use a big part of the XP to get Abilities, giving you magi who will make companions look silly poor and redundant.

You changed Abilities to match Arts and you certainly do not have same book scores.
Kallista suggest keeping books(and XP overall i guess) as normal and instead change Arts to match Abilities.
Single XP system without loosing the greater range of XP gain.

Not to forget, how would you handle Teaching by a character with a Teaching Score? Another reason why this part of your change is broken.

This is a feature, not a bug. Suppose we take the familiar example of lobbing a fireball at someone: in order to hit, you have to devote some of the Power Total to Range and Targetting, otherwise you simply won't hit... Any excess can go on Penetration. Looking at it another way, spontaneous magic in ArM5 already works by you choosing the parameters to optimal effect - this is no different.

OK, simple solution: discard Exposure. (One exception perhaps, keep it for languages.) With a simpler, more coarse-grained system, it's redundant.

OK, so suppose you are player in my saga using these rules. What Sta do you choose for your magus? I'm not sure exactly what you want to optimise...

No, I started in Â´92 with 3rd edition... Are you saying that Arts and Abilities were on the same scale in ArM2? Very interesting - I'd like to hear more about this, and what the problems with it were.

Well, there are different types of player... Personally, I have no problem with converting Ability scores to five-times-triangular numbers in my head and keeping a running total, but that's not typical. I'm suggesting that a "Simple ArM" isn't needed for grognards like you and me, but for people like the new player in my saga who found this to be excessively complicated!

Simple, drop Teaching as an Ability! It's an XP sink anyway, and I've never seen a player bother to take it, IIRC. Generally speaking, I'm not convinced of the need for this fine granularity in Advancement.

I don't think that vanilla ArM5 is all that complicated to the point of needing all of these extra complications to simplify things.