Starting an Ars Magica game

Hi folks

I recently got into ArM5 after a long time away from the game (I last played 3rd Edition). I really enjoyed reading the new edition where everything from the rules to the setting assumptions seems to have been polished to a fine shine like only 5 rounds of playtesting can achieve.

But obviously, I'd like to run the damn thing as well as read it.

My main concern is that the game is niche appeal: it has complex mechanics, focuses on historical Europe (and while the rulebook makes it clear that the historical emphasis is variable, to me it's a large part of the appeal of the game), de-emphasises slaughter as a road to "victory", and while some of your characters have kewl powers, they will spend most of their time in a laboratory doing research.

A subset of my regular tabletop players could be convinced to partake, I think, but what's the best approach to take to avoid them being put off by the complexity of both the rules and setting? In fact, what's the best way to engage them in the setting? They're experienced gamers, but like all gamers they vary in tastes considerably and some do prefer hack'n'slash play. Any recommendations?

Another possibility is coming at this from a LARP perspective: I'm part of a largish (40-50 person) LARP group and if I were to organise a one-off freeform, I could probably get 20-30 attendees fairly easily. That would provide a larger group to winnow down to those who really seem to grasp the appeal of the game, who hopefully would be enthusiastic about a tabletop game.

I got the Fallen Fane, but it doesn't really wet my whistle - its default assumptions seem subtly different (the Church appears to be more of an antagonistic force). In any rate, I've got a lot of experience with LARPs so I'd probably do something myself, probably using the Fallen Fane for supplemental material (I like the central concept, for example).

Any advice gratefully received!



I have a very similar situation on my hands (not the LARP part, which I know nothing about) and would love to hear suggestions as well.

My group is also very experienced, and we've been playing our own heavily customized version of AD&D 2ed for more than 15 years.
My group is not really trigger-happy, yet still enjoy a good fight once in a while, but as Mark, the danger I see is in the complexity of some of the mechanisms and rules.
There's something appealing to the KISS principle (Keep it simple s...) which ArM uses in some aspects like combat but ignores in others.

In my case, I know for a fact that the first couple of stories will be crucial to the adoption or not of the game, so I want to get it right.

Hi and welcome to the forum. I'll do my best to address some of your concerns.

In answer to your questions. Ars Magica rules look a bit intimidating on paper, but are fairly simple in play.

Some players do seem to dislike ME (In particular, the strange "science" and the power of the Roman Catholic church are frequent sticking points), but ultimately Mythic Europe is a game setting like Yrth or the Forgotten Realms and most players can adapt. The thing about ME is that you don't really have to know a lot about Medieval Europe because the character probably doesn't know much either. ArM5 recommends that beginners take the "Common Sense" Virtue, but since all of your players are inexperienced in the system, I'd recommend giving it for free. To draw your players into the setting, I suggest casting them as Grogs initially. That way they can sort of feel out the setting using disposable characters.

Your other question is a bit trickier. Some players just don't like playing Magi. That said, there's no reason they can't forego them in favour of playing Companions or Grogs as their primary characters. Alternately, they could play Mythic Companions, Magical Creatures. Hedge Wizards, or Faeries if that's more appealing to them. All of these options result in characters that will be much weaker than Hermetic Magi, which could annoy some players, others won't care though.

I hope this helps,

Thanks for the feedback; I reckoned giving people Companions was probably a good way to start. I didn't think of giving them Grogs - I suppose that would be reasonable to teach the basic rules and combat - but I'm not sure how emotionally invested the players could get in such relatively simple characters.

I could start with a "sample" game using grogs, to introduce the rules, then move onto the campaign proper, beginning with Companions only, before starting the PCs up with magi. Then in play, if the magi were wholly optional in adventures, people intimidated by the complexity of magic could play their companions exclusively. Their magi could advance using the character creation rules instead of the seasonal rules to avoid complexity issues that way.

I also like the suggestion of allowing people a Mythic Companion instead of a magi - I hadn't thought about that from the perspective of complexity reduction before but it seems like a good suggestion. Except some seem almost as complicated as magi, probably because I'm less familiar with the concepts at work!

"Universal" common sense is also reasonable, but some of my players might find it a little patronising if I'm telling them what their characters would or wouldn't think of their actions! I like it as a voluntary virtue as a player that doesn't mind or perhaps thinks they might need it can take it.

Thanks for the advice!


Getting players to make the switch can be difficult. My last troupe (4thEd) had problems with the thinking of magic as a lifestyle not just a tool used to defeat your enemies.

I like the idea of starting the players out as grogs or companions. One way to incorporate the D&D traveling adventures mindset is to have a group of grogs/companions come together defeat something with combat, solve something with wit and then seek employ at a covenant. The players can then populate the covenant with their choice ff magi as they see fit. Some of the grogs may be promoted to companions status, adding more V&F (the leaders etc....) while the other grogs will have developed the necessary personalities that make grogs a worthy addition to any story.

In my last game, we started out with all young magi in a spring covenant. On this forum, others have mentioned starting with a stronger Summer Covenant so that PCs do not struggle so much. This allows the storyteller to populate the setting with some more powerful magi (without too many details) and younger magi can come in later as the players grow more comfortable. Some players will want magi more quickly then others. In my last game, the hardcore D&D fans preferred their rogue and fighting companions over their magi. If faced with this dynamic again, I would let them focus on their adventuring companions and not insisted that they advance their stay at home magi.

A few comments and suggestions:

I could start with a "sample" game using grogs, to introduce the rules, then move onto the campaign proper, beginning with Companions only, before starting the PCs up with magi. Then in play, if the magi were wholly optional in adventures, people intimidated by the complexity of magic could play their companions exclusively. Their magi could advance using the character creation rules instead of the seasonal rules to avoid complexity issues that way.

Many of the published Mythic Companions are roughly as complicated as Magi (maybe even more so due to there being less examples and clarification), but I was thinking along the lines of a more generic -Free Minor Virtue, 2 Virtues per Flaw) type of character as opposed anything overtly supernatural.

Well I was thinking more in terms of letting them know if they're inadvertantly doing something really stupid. By way of example, several years ago one of my players designed a magic cloak that would transform him into a wolf - a fine item, but he used 2/uses per day + Environmental Trigger. He was new to the game so I corrected him on his design error, but he could have been in trouble! OtoH, it could have made for an interesting story....


Perhaps it would help to explain that in Ars Magica, there is no such thing as Character Class. Being a fighter or a thief, that's what you do not who you are. Magus, well yeah, that becomes who you are. You are a magus or not a magus. Magi make for some of the best fighters (Flambeau) or cunning thieves (Tytalus). Unlike AD&D (for its time, 2nd ed was awesome), wizards are not restriced by "metal" or anything nonsensical such as that. And if you know a spell, you can cast it as many times a day as you have air in your lungs to incant the words.

I suggest you start one-on-one, work with each player to develop a magus and explain what they can do. Yes, I reccomend a baptism of fire. Sink or Swim. Don't start them out with grogs or a scaled down version of rules. Immerse them in the experience, but give them guidance and sound advice at first.

If they have trouble understanding the setting, reccomend wikipedia. One of the things I love about Ars Magica is that, unlike other games, there is an ad infinitum amount of resources to describe the "game world".

Welcome aboard.

I would open with a stand-alone scenario, something you can play in a single session, that doesn't have a really complicated plot, and doesn't draw upon too many of Ars Magica's features. I'd recommend Sub Rosa issue three for a nice stand-alone story that might be useful (at this point, I have to declare an interest...).

Give the players pre-gen characters, even copies from the core book will work and I'd even go so far as to hand-wave a lot of the mechanics. When casting spells for instance, unless there's a real need to be rolling stres die, keep it simple, literally. And if you can, forego rolling altogether so the players stay within the story.

And if they enjoyd the first story, run a second stand-alone scenario that introduces something different, possibly something Hermetic here so your players learn why magi are the way they are - books, or a vis source, or even just a magical aura. You might want to reuse a character or two from the first to build a kind of tapestry and start them caring about the supporting cast.

By the end of this one, your players might have a better idea of what kind of characters they want to play going forward, so take the opportunity now to run through some character creation.

And then play it by ear. If your group enjoy slow-burn shows like Lost, then use Ars Magica's inclination for the long game. If they like big epic fantasy movies, then swing the stories towards the machinations of nobles, churchmen, and magi.

There's so much that can be done, but I'd recommend starting small and simple and letting the game speak for itself.

Here's the url for Sub Rosa 3:

I had planned exactly this.
I have created a small group of young Grogs without fleshing-out much background except that they'll be a bunch of outcasts or exiles to the setting.
I will hand them over to my players for a little story. The idea is for everyone (me included!) to get used to the different types of rolls and situations. I'll try to work in the story a bit of everything like using skills, knowledge, combats, NPC interaction, etc
At the end, the Grogs will naturally be drawn to the Characters Covenant who will (hopefully) recruit them.
This way I will achieve 3 things:

  • Get my players a simple introduction to the system
  • Get them to develop some affinity with a few of the Grogs of their new Covenant, rather than them remaining faceless drones.
  • Find a way for some new blood to flow in the Covenant (The starting Covenant will be in Winter and will only have 3 very old Grogs and 1 Magus still alive).

I have a couple of players who always play Roguish characters. I know this is just to give more flexibility to their AD&D characters, which the ArM classless system should provide. Still I know these two players are going to be my biggest challenge, but who knows, they might surprise me and go straight away for a Criamon or Guernicus Magus :slight_smile:

the game does seem daunting, but it took me making a character of my own and role playing certain settings myself to get a good understanding. But now it seems extremely easy. If it helps download the Formula Chart, it does help when you don't want to run around the book looking for things to add to get a total.
The setting is fairly easy too. I like a lot of high fantasy settings, so after I complete a few creatures, and I accumulate a few members, I plan on making a fairly action pact saga...hopefully. Just get the feel of mythic Europe, nothing has to be exact, unless you're into that sort of thing

As for LARP, I have only done it with my DBZ I'm not much help.

And on that note, will this RPG you're running be a play-by-post

Again, a lot of good advice, thanks everyone.

Ignatius, I'm not sure if you're referring to me with your question: if so, no, I'm not planning to run a play by post game. I have some regular tabletop groups and I'd be trying to start them on Ars Magica once one of our ongoing games (Trail of Cthulhu, Dark Heresy and Orpheus of all things) ends.

They have a wide experience of different kinds of games, not just D&D, but some have never seen Ars Magica's level of, I don't know, complexity is the wrong word... well, whatever it is, some are not used to that kind of game, anyway. Like Aenigma said, I know that if I don't get the first couple of stories right, they'll be put off something that is both new, different and potentially complex.

Fast casting and Spontanious magic are the hardest things to explain to new players.

Most of my PnP troupe's players had played for a long time, but would get frustrated not understanding why they couldn't spontaniously do stuff. Apparently they had played a long time but never knew about how to change the magnitude of spells by lowering it's range and target etc.

When I tried explaining to them how to do it, it went over their head. It would also take so much time they would give up because they didn't want to stop a scene.

What I recomend doing is making a cheat sheet for each of the new players of spontanious effects they can do. Make it with them. That way they don't get overwhelmed trying to come up with spontanious effects on their own in the middle of combat etc. It will go a long way to cutting out some of the complexity.

Start them out as children with the potential for becoming apprentices to Magi. Create the character with the players, buying Characteristics, up to +/-3 Virtues & Flaws, and the Abilities for Early Childhood and up to 10 years of age.

And have them decide upon a concept and a mentality, to later on define what House they'd fit into. Either tell about the 12 Houses in advance, so they can try and gun for one of them. Or simply wait untill later to tell this, and you decide which house their master comes from, depending on their mentality and wishes.

Have a short anecdote for each of them about how their life sucked, because they were different. And how a mysterious stranger came along and kidnapped them/bought them/promised their parents to apprentice them.

Gather the children up at a covenant, where all the magi had found such a potential child.

Play short stories teaching them about the various mechanics, as tim goes on. Start out with basic Characteristic and Ability rolls. Then move on to combat. Have the magi lecture them about the finer things in life; The Supernatural and the Order. If you haven't told about the 12 Houses, do it now.
Advance them 5 years (or 7½), using 1/3 (or ½) of the Experience points for a starting magus.
Play a story, where they're apprentices with limited power, and no right per se. But allow them plenty of freedom to try things out - in relatively protected and simple circumstances. But have them learn the rules for spellcasting and about creatures of might, auras etc.
Advance them further on, followed by a story. Each time add on more of the rules. Towards the end, they might come along their master to Tribunal. Or the master sets them an independent lab project. And so on.
And end up with a fully finished starting magus, but with some stiory ballast, and fleshed out more then regular character creation.

There are several good premade adventures in the Ars library that provide good introductions to the the setting and game. For starting magi or apprentices "Promises Promises" is good. For a party of grogs Neil Taylors "Short Way Home" in 4ed's Faerie Stories is a hoot (pun intended).

If the players and the magi feel life is too slow look at "Ghoul of St. Lazar" in the old Medieval Tales book. This is good from a saga point of view because you can follow up in a year or 2 with "Festival of the Damned," are really great story, after the magi have had time to advance.

For companion/grog focused adventures mysteries are a good introduction. These are not hard to put together. If you want ideas check out some old Cadfael mysteries. The look and setting is a nice introduciton to the mundane side of Mythic Europe.

One thing that I find a lot of fun is jsutaposing the mundane world of grogs and companions with the fantasy world of the magi. Neither side generally likes the other world to intrude aupong theirs and so there are always reasons to go to magi for help with the spernatural and to the grogs/companions for helpw itht eh mundane. Good luck. Let us know how it went.

As for converting, rule of thumb is the best. For most bandits/ fighters/ wizards any discrepency can be ignored. Even if the older version NPC is tougher, most PC's can meet the challenge.

Is this Ars Library a real collection hosted somewhere or simply a generic term for material and scenarii available on the Net? Could you post the URL, if it is?


The mentioned Library includes published and fan material.

"The Ghoul of St. Lazar" is found in "Tales of the Middle Ages" by Lion Rampant, "Festival of the Damned" was released for 3rd or 2nd edition and released for 4th.

"Short Way Home" is in the book Faerie Stories (a fun book of adventures, with tales suitable for grogs only, apprentices, and wizards.

For a good introduction story, use the faerie tale in the Nigrasaxa start up adventure

Here are some other good fan adventures;

In particular I have had success with "He's Got a Big Heart,” "A Cold Knight" (also found at Moreover, I liked "The Three Songs"

A great on-line story is the one about the Faerie Invasion of a covenant. Title something like "Once in a Blue Moon" my group had a good time with it. Someone else on the forum may know where to find it.

Other sites on the web with great story ideas are:

Aberdeen bestiary -
Each entry is a possible story, especially for just a few characters. Remember that the Animals of Virtue or the Faerie equivalent of each animal is the "arch" version, so foxes really are conniving, woodpeckers are lock picks, and snakes can grow into dragons.

If set in England try

For more legends-
For the Basque -

Etc.... There are many great resources with the internet that Mythic Europe can be as unknowable and otherworldly as any fictional setting without getting away from the real legends and myths.

Thanks, I'll add all those to my long list of bookmarks!

This is another good bestiary:

Apologies for the threadnomancy, but does anyone know where I can obtain the story seed "he's got a big heart" mentioned above?

I'd bookmarked it for inspiration, and now it's vanished.

If it was for copyright issues, then just point me at someone to whom I can throw money.


The Wayback Machine is usually helpful.
The copyright as listed on the page archived in the Wayback Machine suggests that the method of distribution is allowable. ... Heart.html