Simple Ars Magica

APSmith: Have you considered letting new players start with non-magi characters, moving up to apprentices and then magi? That allows them to be introduced to the system (with only the simple abilities and skipping the magic chapters), and then as they get more used to it introduce magic. This is the way we have been doing it in my group - and it works wonderfully.

Actually, Andy, you started in '92 with 2nd edition...but we moved to 3rd pretty quickly. :slight_smile:


What I actually did was first run Promises, Promises as a one-shot introductory session (with some very small modifications to the characters to convert them to 5th edition). So, the characters were pre-generated, with pre-selected formulaic spells and pre-calculated casting and combat totals. On this basis, the players found it pretty easy to get to grips with. (One minor exception - the fiddly dice rolls.) The only difficulty was when they wanted to spont spells (which of course I encouraged) - here, I didn't burden them with the details of R/D/T but simply worked out the level for them.

I found this worked out very well. The players seemed sold on the setting and the magic system, and it's a pretty simple, solid adventure. :slight_smile:

Only when they had to start creating their own characters for our saga did things start to get difficult... :laughing: Essentially, I had lured them in with the "carrot" of the simple one-shot adventure and later hit them with the "stick" of the full ruleset! It's speculation, but I suspect that if I had started out with the stick, I might have had fewer takers for my game...

By the way, when we decided to start the saga, we ended up taking a session and a half (IIRC) just on character creation! We've had 7 sessions since then, and only now are the magi characters starting to be completely and properly generated. Pretty much every session has been interrupted by questions relating to the character creation rules and subsequent tweaks and recalculations. This was only partly deliberate, as I had said that tweaks to characters would be allowed in the first few sessions. Basically, we are only now getting to the point where the players have completely generated and rules-compliant magi, where they are semi-comfortable with sponting spells independently (i.e. without having to first ask me what level something would be).

This is why I think ArM is newbie-unfriendly; you have to be especially careful how you introduce newcomers to the game, without throwing them in at the deep end!

Just about all RPGs are like this.

So what? If you have brand new players, that WILL happen, you wont get away from it(well you can by handling ALL the character stuff yourself(if you´re SG) or by having some who has played long enough already help new players out, but you just wont get away from teething problems with new players).

Maybe, maybe not. But what does it matter, since you did the correct thing of running an introductory game first?

So you dont mind giving out a boosted version of Flexible Formulaic Magic Virtue for free to everyone? Sorry but its a bug.

Its quite different. And there it doesnt matter as much since you wont be getting much penetration etc anyway.
With your system i would always set numbers up so i get exactly best penetration. Meaning i can raise other parameters. Meaning the system is like made for powerplaying, munchkinitis and metagaming.
No, while i dont think the theoretical concept is bad, on a rule basis i really hate it.


  1. No it isnt.
  2. What will you replace it with?

That would of course depend on other Story parameters.
But based on such knowledge i would pick anything from -4 to +5. With your system i could probably have an effective magi with -4 Stamina AND -4 Int... Wow, potentially 2 easy Flaw points, 6 characteristics points and a totally ridiculous character.

As it seems you should already remember yourself, yes! :stuck_out_tongue:

As i have already said, you could make companions useless, because you could very easily make magi with superior ability scores.

You´re mad, mad i tell you! :wink:
No but seriously, you never seen the ability used? Wow, not sure if i ever played a character(and barely seen one) without 1-3 score in it minimum.
If you have a single high teaching score character in a covenant, he can spend a year or two teaching teaching to all others and then suddenly you have a covenant that turns out superior magi(potentially extremely superior) if you have at least a bit of cooperation within it.

Yeah, thats really the point here, AP, again you´re not simplifying but mostly just changing the rules.

This is a good point... It's true, the change I am proposing does effectively make Flexible Formulaic Magic (although you can't change the Target here) part of standard Hermetic magic, something that every magus can do. Whether you like this change - and clearly, you don't :slight_smile: - is a matter of taste, really. I admit it is a fairly big change! However I am proposing it because I believe it has several benefits to simplicity.

Can you give me a specific example of such number tweaking? I'm afraid I'm still not seeing your objection, but if there's a problem I've overlooked I'd definitely appreciate knowing about it...

Nothing. :laughing:

No, seriously, what do you need it for? IIRC, it's pretty much only in ArM5 as a crutch so that apprentices get enough XP during a 15 year apprenticeship whilst maintaining the same advancement rate as magi.

Learning Languages and (Area) Lores by exposure (small "e") would still seem to make sense, though. In this case I would roll this in with Practice at 1 XP (i.e. 5 XP in ArM5 terms).

Hmm... Well, you're right in that this would be a lot less worse than it would be in ArM5. OTOH, I don't think an Int -4 or Sta -4 magus should be crippled to the point of unplayability (I wouldn't call it "ridiculous") although such a stupid magus, especially, would be highly unusual.

I don't have any problem with Sta being fairly irrelevant for magi (I would argue that it's too important to magi in ArM5), although it seems like Int perhaps ought to be a bit more important than I currently have it. I will ponder this some more...

Yes, but we only played ArM2 for a short while, and it was nearly two decades ago, so you'll forgive me if I remember absolutely nothing about it. :slight_smile:

Again, I'm not trying to be dense, but could you give me a specific example? Are you saying that you could deliberately take lower Art scores and put the XP on Abilities instead? For instance, a specialist starting magus under my system might have two strong Arts of 5 and 4, with the remaining 13 Arts at 0. Instead, you start with all 15 Arts at 0 and instead take (say) Finesse 5 and Penetration 4? Or Single Weapon 5 and Athletics 4? I'm just not seeing how this would be a powergaming move, but then perhaps I am missing something?

I'll take that as a compliment. :laughing:

Certainly true, although I wouldn't want to see such powergaming in my saga. If it means getting rid of such abuses, I'd happily see the back of Teaching. :slight_smile:

In fact as a general rule, I would pretty much suggest eliminating all Virtues, Abilities, and various bonuses that improve XP totals. So no Book Learner or Study Bonus, for example. Two notable exceptions, however: Affinity and a Virtue like Good Teacher (which makes your books better but not your teaching) should stay.

Whenever you can min-max the process of character advancement itself, then you are opening the doors to some serious powergaming!

Again, I appreciate your feedback a lot. You've given me a lot to think about...

I still think you are making things overly complicated in the name of simplification. Look, there are much easier ways to accomplish your goal. Give newbies pregenerated characters to start with. When they ask questions about why you did such-and-such, give them answers. Let them adopt the character as their own and advance them. Then, in a short time, they will be ready to experiment with making their own characters.

Sink or swim works too. Sounds harsh, but everyone I have taught using this method has been quite successful. Works best when you toss a newbie in with an experienced group that is all to glad to offer guidance.

Exposure is the primary means of advansing in work skills for craftsmen, and for MT for magi. Magi may survive without it, but a poor smith would never get any better at his craft.

Are you sure it's not just that it's seems "complicated" because I am proposing changes? Imagine that you had never played the game before - are you saying that my proposed system would be more complicated than ArM5? (Hopefully not, or otherwise I have singularly failed in my objective!)

One year for a craftsman, in ArM5:
2 seasons Exposure (22 XP), 2 seasons Practice (24 XP); total = 12 XP.

One year for a craftsman, in "Simple ArM":
2 seasons Practice (2*1 XP); total = 2 XP. (This is equivalent to 10 XP in ArM5 terms.)

Not really much of a difference!

Poor smith: 3 seasons work/ 1 practice (10 normally, 5 with your system)
wealthy smith: 1 season work/3 practice (14 normally, 15 with your system)

Btw - this means you have people who never leaves the workshop... Most people do other things than work, you know...

To be honest I think it would be simpler to scrap seasonal advancement altogether for companions and grogs! Too much hassle/bookkeeping! Instead, a very simple scheme for yearly advancement might look something like this: (multiply all XP amounts by 5 to get ArM5 equivalents)

  • Gain 1 free XP in any one Language or (Area) Lore that you have been continuously exposed to. Likewise for a Craft or Profession Ability that you have used continuously.

  • You may undertake any of the following twice: Practice (1 XP), being taught/trained (2 XP), or Adventure (1-3 XP).

I would also scrap the differences in advancement between Wealthy/Poor.

Sorry broseph, but yes, it would be more complicated. If I ever wanted to play with another group, I would have to unlearn everything you taught me and relearn it correctly. I may have some confusion and hold-over presumptions. And I have to read your house rules alongside the standard rules. And these HR's of yours are inconsistant and take away a lot of the fun and flavor of the game.

However, not to say that your investigation is without merit. I do like the simplified library idea.

Thats exactly my point!!! Thats where current game setting comes in, in some settings, it WONT be a negative to have scores like that. Might even be able to get away with lots of -5 scores if you can make sure you never end up with getting an actual negative "quality point" because of it.
Meaning i can possibly make a character who has nothing but "Poor Characteristic" as flaws. I would certainly call that a ridiculous character, because it would probably still be not just playable, but even good, because of avoiding the "bad" Flaws.

No, its not that i dont like it, i do. Its the fact that it gets me thinking about how to get the most out of this and the quality point stuff. These two together makes for a potentially hideous overpowered combination.

Not without knowing the game it will be played in and actually creating the character not really.
It should be fairly obvious.

Reality check...
Exposure is very much needed.

No it isnt.
So tell me, after 50 years of playing lab rat making items or spells, a magi steps back out of his lab again, and finds that, oh my, he hasnt improved at all in those 50 years!
Thats 400XP lost in RAW. Its 80XP lost in your mod.
In both cases, let me just say OUCHY!

Yes. And because magi has 15 extra Arts that they need XP for, cutting down on XP given doesnt work either.
Meaning players can choose to be weaker magi but in no need of either companions or grogs. Its one thing having magi as the prime characters, but as the ONLY characters? Not so fun.

But its VERY unrealistic to remove it.

Problem is that your system promotes powergaming and min-maxing. FAR more so than RAW AM.

Nope. I agree 100% with Marko here. And im also a total gamemodder and rulesmonkey myself. And that goes for pretty much all games we run, RPG, tactical and strategic ones, ive changed most of them one way or another. :wink:

That is what we have been saying for a while now yes.
Because, once again, most of your changes is NOT making the system easier just different.

Shit happens. Sometimes alot.

Eh, doing nothing but working on his trade? Hardly likely!
3S exposure and MAYBE 1S practise, thats 10XP RAW, 1XP mod.
And just as likely, 2S exposure in craft, 2S exposure in something ELSE, 8XP RAW, 0XP mod.
Quite quite terrible.

Yeah, that has potential. As well as using the unspecified R/D somehow...

Meaning you might as well learn the original rules ONLY.
Which will then be quicker and easier on account of less material to go through. And no need to recall what HAS been changed and what runs with RAW.

And that is probably THE big killer here. If someone wants to go on, having to relearn the system, not fun.
AND, if the group wants to switch to real rules(and you can bet someone will argue for that), then all have to relearn them anyway.

A lot of things disappear in the translation yes.

All I'm hearing about is how it would be complicated for YOU to unlearn and relearn a new system, how difficult it would be for YOU to adapt, how YOU might have preconceptions... Well of course that's the case - I am proposing some fairly radical and central changes, after all! I am certainly NOT recommending that anyone suddenly port their entire saga over to a new core rule system... That, as a process, would be anything but simple, I grant you.

This is a thought experiment about how it might be possible to make the game simpler for complete newcomers to the game, not how onerous it would be for anyone to convert their game to such a simpler system. There are certainly questions as to how simple this is in its own right, and whether and to what extent the "essential nature" of Ars Magica is changed, and it is that which I am interested in discussing.

I hear your opinion, but I'm not hearing it backed up with argument or examples... As I say, I am interested in hearing about flaws in my proposals, but if you only have destructive criticism then I have nothing to work with. I would appreciate some concrete examples.

Granted. I was refering to myself as if I was a newbie though. As a newcomer, it would be difficult for me if i were port over to regular rules, and an additional dificulty would be to try and learn your rules while referencing actual rules. It would cause confusion.

As far as examples, I am at a loss. Many of the things you suggest are examples i would cite, and it would be a long lengthy proceedure. Your game, your experiment, have fun with it. I am merely suggesting that there are easier ways to accomplish your goal without creating confusion for new players. I was once a new player myself. I had to learn the game in order to teach it to people. It was 4th edition, and I had little difficulty with learning or teaching.

Um, you aren't forgetting that the core mechanic of Char + Ability vs. Ease Factor is still in the system, right? So while an Int of -4 is less disadvantaging to your Lab Total than in ArM5 (in fact in real terms it's only about half as disadvantaging), you are still going to suffer in many other ways: Int rolls to research in a library, understand a theory, debate, solve a puzzle, comprehend Twilight, generally make yourself not seem like a total lackwit, etc. All these reasons why it is a bad idea to have a magus with an Int of -4 still apply.

You seem to be arguing that a relatively minor change to the functioning of Sta on Casting Totals and Int on Lab Totals suddenly opens the door to Characteristic Irrelevance. Clearly that's not the case.

Sorry, but it genuinely isn't obvious to me. If it was, I would have fixed the problem already! You are saying that you can somehow work my system to min-max or powergame your Penetration Total, and I am asking you: OK, how?

Exposure was dealt with above. As for companions and grogs, I'd suggest the same "1 free XP per year" for magi. So if they are predominantly travelling, an XP on Language or (Area) Lore. If they are predominantly writing, then Profession: Scribe. If they are predominantly in the lab, then Magic Theory. Happy now? :slight_smile:

I'm sorry, but this just makes no sense. You are saying that because you could divert all your XP from Arts to Abilities, you could somehow create a game-breaking uber-companion??? Even if you divert all of your (typically) 120 XP (24 XP in my system) to Abilities, this gives you something like two Abilities of 5 and 4. Hardly worth sacrificing all your Arts for! Also note that this "abuse" would function exactly the same in my system. So if my proposal is broken in this regard, then so is ArM5!

Hardly... AFAIK, you won't find any books on pedagogy, because it's not in paradigm. No one learns (formally) how to teach, or teaches other people how to teach. People simply teach, using well-established and rigid methods such as rote learning and book learning, which do not rely heavily on the teacher's inspiration or talent for oratory. Hardly anyone teaches for a living. For those who are paid to educate the children of rich nobles, for example, then something like Profession: Tutor might be appropriate.

That's not an argument for discarding Teaching per se, I'm merely saying it doesn't need to be represented as a formal subject in the same way as obviously existent subjects such as, say, Artes Liberales or Medicine, which there are books for. You could still include it as more of an innate ability rather than a taught ability, along the lines of Charm or Folk Ken, but there's by no means a strong case for its inclusion, given that teaching is a relatively rare phemonenon, when compared to, say, lying (Guile), charming, or having fun (Carouse).

In short, you exaggerate wildly!

I repeat what I said to Mark: I hear your opinion, but I'm not hearing it backed up with argument or examples. If you only have destructive criticism then I have nothing to work with - I would appreciate some concrete examples.

Yes, if you were to use my system, or something like it, then you'd have to go the whole hog, from the start. If you tried to teach it to newbies alongside a copy of the ArM5 rulebook, for example, it would only end in tears. That would greatly confuse people, I certainly grant you that...

And that's the core of my criticism. This troupe, are you intending for them to forever and always use this simplified system? What I mean to say is that it simplifies running the game (over simplifies), but it complicates teaching the game.

Say I am teaching you the Alphabet for the very first time, and I ignore all the vowels because I think it will confuse my students. I have done them a disservice by simplifying the subject into something incompatible with knowledge they will obtain elsewhere.

I'm not running this system with my new troupe, no. Nor am I intending to - unfortunately it would be too confusing at this stage, when they are just getting to grips with vanilla ArM5. I only came up with most of these ideas after we had already started - it was the learning difficulties that prompted me.

If I was to start with a fresh group of newbies, I'd be tempted to try it out, but I'd pretty much have to rewrite all the spell guidelines and port all of the other rules - that's a lot of work for one saga!

Well, that's an argument against teaching any homebrew / modded system! Yes, if you teach a "custom" version of a game to a group and then they go off and play the "proper" version with someone else, then they're less than ideally prepared. If they were paying you to teach them the game, you'd be doing them a disservice, yes... But if the primary objective is to enjoy the game, not learn a system, then what's wrong with using a homebrew system, as long as you're consistent about it?