Starting a new troupe game

Hey everybody, this is my first post here!

I'm in the process of organizing a new troupe game of ArM 5th edition, and none of us have any experience with Ars Magica whatsoever. I think 2-4 of us have done some very limited "Mage: The A...", and that's about it besides just a lot of experience with myriad other games and systems. I've read through a bunch of the topics on newbie advice here, but I feel like I've hit an area where I haven't seen quite as much specific advice as at the absolute outset. We've got everyone more or less on board with the setting, we've agreed to use only the core 5th Ed rulebook and the expanded list of boons and hooks from Covenants for now, and we've all been running through the core mechanics (or graciously helping each other get through them) for character creation. This is likely a time where "figure out what works for you all" is the most sound thing, but I'd enjoy hearing any wisdom from others about their experiences on running or organizing an ArM game from this point on.

We've basically got everyone through the process of making Magi (a couple people are still picking spells and whatnot, but the holidays have interrupted that for now). We've agreed to start in the Provencal Tribunal, and our current roster of Magi consists of a Flambeau, a Merinita, a Mercere (those of us expecting to be more "hands-on" Magi), a Bonisagus, a Criamon, and a Verditius (who are all kinda planning to have more research focused Magi). I know we plan on doing a rotating roster of characters for everyone, and at least the Flambeau (me), the Merinita, and the Mercere are planning to do some rotating SG duties (which I imagine will help get all the Magi out doing things). I'm a little worried about the Criamon player, as he has tended to fall for "trap" options in RPGs before and gets discouraged from the mechanics really stopping him from doing much. From what I understand, Criamon and Twilight (and he took Twilight Prone as a flaw) don't work great for this kind of thing, so any advice on incorporating Criamon at the table would be greatly appreciated. I'm not really worried about the other players, but any anything you might want to mention would be helpful. I only really feel truly confident about half of us (me, the Merinita, and the Mercere) grasping the mechanics strongly at this moment.

For creating our covenant, I've had us first go through the initial stage if the micro-rpg Microscope. Each player takes a turn to either add or take out something from what can show up in the campaign. Once each person has added or subtracted something, we move on to the next round and restart. With rotating SGs, I think this will be a vital step to make sure everyone is on board with the same kind of things from the outset, but I'd like to hear what others have done to handle the multiple SG element of troupe play (which honestly is one of the things I like most about this game).

For some details about our current covenant plans, we are planning on either running a "brand-new" spring covenant (but really on the ruins of something that came before), or a winter covenant that now has a big new crop of freshly gauntleted Magi to rejuvenate it. Either way, the plan is to have some old Magus/Maga give us advice while being mostly disinterested in what we do with ourselves and the Covenant. For the new spring one, this Magus/Maga would be some kind of begrudging mentor serving a duty they kinda hate but have to do, and the winter equivalent would be a Magus/Maga so arcane or disconnected as to essentially be above anything our characters would be interested in. In either case, this elder character could be an occasional font of guidance or advice, but not orders or direction really.

As far as adventures and stories go, I think we are going to end up with something rather free-wheeling and silly in the end. Both if the other people interested in being SGs for the saga are very into making and running "dumb medieval adventures", which I think will work well for everyone involved here. I'm planning on running the first adventure, and I'm torn between running something like the Broken Covenant of Calebais or just some simple stuff about setting up the covenant. The latter seems more appropriate, but it feels very weird to me to not run with a big opener situation a new and unfamiliar RPG.

TL;DR I'm organizing a group of newbies, and we're out of the immediate stuff of setting up the game. Do you all have any advice for what comes after you have a group who can handle making gauntleted magi? Do you have any illuminating advice or stories for your stage 2 of running a troupe style game?


I can only speak from my own experience but in my sagas generally once you get a few simple adventures out of the way, progress through some seasons, and characters start to solidify and interact you start to get stories emerging from the goals and personalities of the characters. Eventually it gets to a point for us where 4/5 adventures are instigated by characters (e.g. character X is doing Y for his own reasons, that seems like something worth playing out).

For us we early on did a 'seeking out a magical place' adventure, in the vein of Calebais; later we had a 'vis hunt' adventure - a magical boar in the nearby forest; then an adventure involving our neighbours (a small tourney held by the Sheriff). This is where things started to get more character driven as our Verditius had to initiate his apprentice in Verdi (and decided to visit the new Primus in Lemnos while he was so far south). Some of the magi decided to join him and we ended up encountering hostile fae in France, a diabolist tied to another character's backstory in Durenmar, getting briefly mixed up in the Albigensian crusade as we passed through Provence etc.

My advice is to run some simple adventures at first, a vis hunt, something with mundanes, something focusing on Grogs etc. to get a feel for the system and the characters. The bigger stories and arcs will start to emerge from the characters once people get into the groove and you can build on that (go with the flow here, just keep exploring interesting things about the characters, their goals, and their environs).

I would also recommend having a period at the start where people can (with group approval) adjust their magi in terms of character creation. Character creation in Ars is complex, and what seems good on paper might turn out to be less interesting in play than a player thought it would be. Having an adjustment period allows everyone to tweak their character as they get a better feel for how the game works.


Welcome to a wonderful setting.

Fair questions and approach to the game.

I would not run the broken covenant straight away. It is a major adventure, and having a somewhat firmer grasp of the rules before undertaking it might be a good idea.

Small foundational was entures might be a good thing. If you want a non interventionist senior figure, maybe you can have a senior redcap having your covenant in his rounds and offering advise if he sees a group of youngster magi struggling. In the case of the winter.covnenabt look for the Through the aegis book: there is a new spring covenant that has an old wizened and somewhat cracked old Magus in residence. It can serve as inspiration.

A good option is to play adventures before the PC go out to create their covenant. If you run stories while they are still par for their older covenants you get to accumulate resources, know the rules and explore interesting aces (,like potential sites for a new covenant) while still under the protection and with the resources of a powerful mother house.

For my troupe setting up the covenant is not fun. We skip that step.if we can, playing 3 or 4 scenes at most. Negotiating with the local power for the land, finding a vis source, clearing some bandits and maybe getting up the mundane income source. And that is all. Other troupes are different here.

A good adventure here is going home, by Kevin Hassall. It has the advantage that it is a ready covenant setting if you fancy it (up the aura a little.if you prefer). You can find it in my blog. I also started to create a covenant there, but got it done only halfway (iusto foedere).

I would create the magi and a few grogs, but the last is not really necessary. Get the grog profiles form this forum or the basic book and just change their personalities. That is more than enough for grogs. In general a working covenant needs around 5 servants per magi, so you will have around 30 mundanes un a covenant with 6 magi.

Argentius got it right on the rest of stuff.

In general play what you fancy and discuss what happens out of the spotlight with the troupe.

Hope it goes well!


Best way I've figured for new players and a Spring or Second Spring covenant is exploration of the immediate locale and role-playing introducing themselves to their neighbors. Minimal spell-casting, not much call for combat, but good for role-playing and establishing how the players/covenant interacts with those immediately around them especially the political, social and religious leaders nearby.

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Welcome and congratulations! It’s a wonderful game. I hope you and your players really enjoy it.

Criamon: Remember that a Criamon is expected to avoid violence; do not put them in a situation where they must fight to succeed. Anticipate their Twilight episodes by having a few cool ideas for them planned; for this player, Twilight episodes will be the highlight of the session. Make them wierd and instructive. Perhaps the pc sees into the past, to learn things about the siege of Calebais the PCs could not otherwise know. Perhaps they encounter an inscrutable magical spirit and have a little roleplay. Throw your Criamon a mystery only the Enigma can solve. Give them a subplot, and access to a mystagogue who can help initiate them into further mysteries and provide inscrutable advice. Perhaps the PCs encounter an ancient culture or ruin which only the Criamon can communicate with or decipher.

Calebais: I like Calebais, but the hrool were too silly for me and I ended up rewriting large chunks of it. I’m one of those guys who never runs an adventure as written. Don’t be like me. If your group enjoys the whimsical and silly, embrace that. Calebais has a couple of early stages that make for good one-night sessions. Just finding the covenant, and then getting past the veil, are excellent one night adventures. It’s okay to run those, and then turn to a different SG and plot, while the PCs grow in power before returning. This is the way of Ars Magica: magi are constantly discovering a problem, wrestling with it for one session, then retreating to their labs to design the spell or enchanted item they need to handle it, and then returning. Embrace this cyclical nature of the game by handing sg duties off and circling back to Calebais when it’s your turn again.

And keep asking questions!

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Thanks for the advice here everyone. I'm probably going to do a simple "your characters arrive at the new covenant place and here's a list of immediate simple issues" for the first session/adventure, which I think will help us find our feet in this game. One of the others who is interested in doing some SG stuff mentioned wanting to run a dungeon crawl specifically, so I think I'll give Calebais to him.

We're a little caught up with the holidays at the moment, but hopefully we'll be meeting in the next couple weeks to do covenant design and the overall expectations/logistics for the campaign.

Careful with Calebais as it's not your usual dungeon crawl. It's really hard to do it in a single run and it's mostly designed to go a few times before you can complete it

Thanks for the advice everyone! We had our session 0 this last week. Seemed to go well, although one person seems like they are still struggling with the game quite a bit. Everyone else had fun picking out boons and hooks for the covenant, writing up our oath/charter, and even making our initial library. I'm hoping to spend sometime working through the game a little more slowly 1-on-1 with the struggling player, which should hopefully get them up to speed. They seem to be struggling as much with the setting/tone as with mechanics.

Quick question I have for covenant resources. I was thinking of adding in lab texts automatically for everyone for the spells they already know from character creation. Technically it's free build points, but it makes sense to me that we would all have notes on stuff from apprenticeship or whatever. Have you all began play with your starting spells as lab texts?

Some notes for those who are interested on what we came up with. We have decided to set our covenant in the Provencal Tribunal, Gascony specifically, about 10 miles north of Bayonne. We inserted a small chain of rocky islands off the coast to house our covenant in. I'm planning out the first session now, focusing on introducing the story flaws (a faerie landlord and rival "mirror-mirror" covenant nearby plus whatever character story flaws I can hook in).

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I always have characters pick flaws first, it's the hardest part. And even then, one player I had only picked 5 points of flaws and virtues... and didn't care. They don't need all 10. Also, if they player only wants to make one character, let them.

My rule is that all magi have untranslated Laboratory Texts of all their spells and enchantments (if applicable). If they want them to be available to the other magi in the covenant they have to spend a season or more to prepare them for others to use, otherwise the other magi will have to translate them first. ArM, p.102, Writing Laboratory Texts & Translating Laboratory Texts.

It seems that you are heading in a good direction.

There is one piece of specific advice I would give, mainly because I feel we never got it right. Actually, maybe it is more than one piece, but they are all pieces of the simple rule Do not overdo it.

  1. Do not start with a virgin Spring covenant, and do not roleplay its creation. Trying to do this, for the sake of completeness, have ruined many sagas for us. It takes for ages, and keeps us from getting to the more interesting parts of the game. An experience SG can surely manage this, by doing trivial development downtime, but I doubt a novice SG can. There are simply to many issues to think of when you found a new covenant.

Ars Magica is designed to play the long game, spanning decades. To achieve that, you need to make the stories sparse in game time, and give the characters frequent downtime advancement. If you don't, Ars Magica will not be very different from rank and file fantasy games. A common guideline is one season per session, which with weekly games let you progress 13 years in a R/T year.

I think you can run into similar problems if you start of a complex plot for a long term saga.

My advice would be to start off with a stable covenant which does not have to struggle to survive, at least not struggle on more than one area. Run some of one-shot stories spread over years in game time, and let the players get into the characters' long term plans. (The one-shots may well have loose ends to support a sequel, but they should give a sense of closure each time, to allow the magi to return to other duties.)

In my opinion, the potential of playing junior magi in an established Autumn covenant is underrated. It is not necessarily what everybody should play, but it makes it much easier to create a saga where you can focus on a manageable set of plot lines, just assuming that senior magi deal with the stories you do not have time to tell.

Now, this is not very different from other advice you have seen, but I will emphasise this, whatever you do, (1) make an effort to keep up the pace to give time for down-time development, and (2) make sure that each story is a good story with a beginning, a middle, and an end (cf. Aristotle's Poetics), minimising the time spent on the tedious founding and running of the covenant.

The 4ed freebies with introductory adventures give a good structure. I am not going to comment on the stories themselves, but the mini-saga set in Nigrasaxa exemplifies a good pace, I think, with few stories spread out in time. I would recommend leafing through them just for this reason.


If you have created a small chain of islands, check out the Ars Magica book Mythic Places. It has an island chain full of auras, regios, plot hooks, vis sources, and monsters that just might do a lot of work for you.

Magi generate lab texts for all their own spells, when they invent them, but they’re in personal shorthand. A magus can spend a season translating them for others, which is a really good way for one magus to contribute to the covenant library.


I don't know if we deliberately tried to stick to this, but we just finished the 16th year IC in a little over a year IRL.

I'm not sure why not. This seems like the best way to start to me. Give the companions a few rolls for them to recruit coven folk from local disposed, poor, refugees, mercenaries etc (there is no lack of conflict in Mythic Europe). Have the magi go beat up whoever lives in the local area 3-4 aura, and populate the surrounding area with things based on the boons/hooks.

This seems like a pretty straightforward first session to me.

I think like is referring to a longer buildup.

Covenant creation is rife with failure potential. A lot of things that MUST be done successfully can fail. And in that case you can end up with a "game over" situation if you accept those results. Not a satisfactory case. Glossing some of the key points as successful events prevents this. Also, after a while setting up shop becomes tedious for a.lot of troupes. 1 to 3 adventures is fine. Dedicating a real life year to just create a village when you are supposed to be mighty magicians, well, it sours troupes in my experience. This is why deciding on the basics and just running a few scenes to get it grounded (or starting as new magi in an established covenant) was suggested.

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Sure, it isn't the first session which worries me.

If the magi have any sort of ambition, it will not end there. They will seek out and recruit more and/or better specialists, find more vis sources, acquire more and better books for the library, explore the geographic and political neighbourhood. I have seen it over and over again, new sagas spiralling downwards into trivial management.

I hope any of my advice did not come across as absolute. It was not meant to be.

It is not impossible to roleplay the foundation. It is just a fact that many novice groups take it as the default starting point and are swamped in trivia before they find the story that ArM promises. If you do not know very well what you are doing, you should start with the promised stories.

I'll make sure to keep that perspective in mind. We've all basically agreed that a lot of the minutiae around management is uninteresting to us and will be avoided.

I talked a bit with another person planning to SG about this awhile back, and we came to the conclusion of starting with a fresh new covenant. We're currently planning on doing some more low stakes things to get our feet wet, not just with mechanics but also with the setting. Most of us want to do some story guiding, for example, but only 2 of us currently feel comfortable enough with the whole package of ars to do so. I think we need to keep things focused a bit just on us for a little while to find our footing.

That said, thanks for that tidbit, as it's something I know we'll want to avoid in the midterm (like after 4-6 sessions I'm thinking). Ill definitely keep it in mind as we get all our story guides onboard. Going to write some general adventure guidelines after the first few sessions to give the others some help. If we do future sagas, I do think going through the initial covenant setup adventures could be rather tedious or trivial unless we feel specifically compelled to try those again

Generally good suggestions from people!
Here's my two pence: Be careful with actually having your Covenant on an island. We decided it'd be picturesque and fun to have an island covenant, and it.. has a very big effect on what stories can happen to the covenant. We're a bit too isolated and too protected for a lot of casual problems to really happen to us without weird supernatural interference.
While it is a fun place to be, you want to be aware of what you lose by having an isolated and protected home, and think of ways to have it story-generating.

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Noted. I talked briefly with the other person planning to SG early on, and our focus will be on a lot of simple and low stakes kind of stories while everyone gets a grasp of the whole thing through play. I know we've already changed what history was actually like where we are (our covenant basically being a nonexistent former pirate cove in the Bay of Biscay). With that in mind, stretching what was possible irl seems like it'll be a secondary concern to telling stories that people want. That said, once we get beyond immediately messing around with the game, I'll make sure that everyone knows about this kind of issue.

I already said we would all be able to freely change our characters around once we got acquainted with the game, so I think I'll bring up something similar for the covenant down the line. Something like changing the boons and hooks around after 3-4 sessions, and everyone has a great for what they want from our covenant.

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