Vis vs. Magnitude

Sorry, but can't help to bring back an oldie - 5th vs. earlier editions!

I really admire the 5th edition, but one thing always make me wonder: Why was the bonus for spending raw vis to boost spellcasting reduced to 2 (formerly 5)?

Is it to balance the game? What are you people's experience concerning this?

I always found the availability of raw vis to be more important in designing the powerlevel of a saga.

And what I've alway really liked about the mechanics of Ars Magica, is that it leaves room for phrases usable by the characters ingame, to describe the reality of magic.

In this case Magnitude - opposed to spell levels, which is exclusively a term used by players/SG to moderate dice rolls etc. My explanation of the term Magnitude have always been the amount of raw vis needed to cast a ritual spell, mirrored by the fact that raw vis used to boost the casting score of formulaic spells by 5 - the same interval as the Magnitudes. Vis being a scarce ressource, it's expectably what magi would use as a term of reference. Beautiful!

My experience from 4th edition was :
NSC-Grog: "Oh a mighty, giant, bad, asskicking Nazi-Megamonster of unlimited Magical Power (and from outer space): RUUUN!"
SC-Flambeau: "Ok I spend 5 Vis... Ups! Now he is a pile of ashes!:D"

I cant count how many only a tiny amount of vis killed the story...
We didnt use vis for rituals, no artefacts, no trading, no certamens. Vis was only good for boosting our spells to simply solve all problems easily and let them defeat a MM75 Dragon on the 5. session... as starting chars!!!!
Oh and vis was used to push the art scores extremly fast... for gods sake they changed this as well!

My experience with vis boosting for penetration was much the same.

Nerfing vis boosting and the new magic resistance rules where spell level is subtracted from casting total to derive penetration have made things much better.

(Now if I could only decide on how to twist wizard's communion to make it useful but not overpowering I'd be golden.)

See our saga's been running for 2 1/2 year and the players have only used vis to boost magic about 2 or three times, tops. I guess if we ever run into a balance problem I'll adjust, but for it hasn't been an issue so far. Partly because for more than a year we played apprentices and partly because we run a relatively vis-poor saga. Vis is rather used as an currency and for other vis-dependen activities (rituals especially - CrCo being most useful with rituals)

I see your point of game balance though, I just haven't had the need for it with the vis bonus. (yet...)

If it works for you, great! My experience was that it was too extreme at 5. I agree it makes more sense from the "magnitude" point fo view, but I prefer ArM5's +2/pawn. I suppose that in a vis-poor saga a x5 might actually work out better. (Both in making sense with magnitude, and with counting when it needs to but not being used much as raw vis is needed for other things.) More power to ya!

I'll keep a keen eye on the game balance :open_mouth: - and I think that my troupe, knowing that I'm not shy to change, if needed be, the rules more in favor of 5th ed. One of the few things from 5th we haven't adopted yet being the +2 bonus....

In my 4th ed. game I had a character ten years past gauntlet or so who was able to make a goddess pause by casting a spell with vis boosting. I'm pretty okay with bringing the level down to +2. Although my current players revolted and we compromised on a house rule of +3, and we are not in a vis poor saga.

I'm getting curious.

The core book calls 10 pawns/y/mage moderate, but I'm having trouble
envisioning how it typically gets spent -- and perhaps more importantly --
how much is saved for emergencies and big future projects.

Assume spending half of your Vis "soon", and saving half of it for future
use: then moderate income means that private stashes of 20 pawns are
going to be almost commonplace, and private stashes of over 100 pawns
not unheard of! Communals stashes I don't even want to think of...


  • "Heal you? Are you out of your bloody mind? That'd set me back years
    on my schedule!"

  • Stashes like this make a very tempting target, tempting enough,
    actually, that there are almost certain to be some "professional"
    vis-thieves out there. ...and they are going to be pretty scary fellows,
    as they have a lot to lose and plenty of vis at hand!


  • In case of a real emergency almost any mage worth his salt is going to
    have more Vis to burn then they can.

On the other hand, in day-to-day roleplaying 10 vis is a lot harder to hang
on to...

If the saga is Vis-poor (4/y/mage), then the respective stash-sizes would
be on the order of 8 (common), and 40 (not unheard of), which seems
much more reasonable, but leaves only minuscule amounts of Vis
for "daily use".

Are my estimates of the mages capacity to save Vis just horribly off? Can
it really be, that in moderate-Vis sagas the typical yearly savings would
be just a couple of pawns?

How much Vis do your sagas see, what gets done with it, and how much
is saved for future use?



The way I see vis expenditures developing is

Aegis ~1.5 pawns per magus per year
other ritual spells ~4 pawns per magus per year
enchanting items / longevity rituals ~60% of remainder
study ~40% of remainder
vis boosting/certamen negligable

(of course a great deal of vis gets traded rather than expended)

how have other people's fifth edition games gone?

At the start, we spent a LOT of Vis buying books and other supplies. We spent very little on spell casting. As the saga has progressed, we have spent less on books (though more on single books) and more on spell casting.
I see this as a logical progression. As the characters have matured, they have begun to get more involved in dangerous adventures, so the need for penetration has gone way up.
My own Verditius saved up quite a bit of Vis before finally making something worthy of his efforts...55 pawns worth (Preparing and two powers). The next item I made cost almost as much..though this one is full...
For most of the others in our group, they have spent more on Spells. Now that I think of it, probably as much as I have spent on my items...
But thats twenty years of savings and adventures to build up that much..
Currently we are averaging about five pawns per Magi, per year, with three apprentices (who get nothing)...
We use about ~12 pawns for Rituals (Aegis etc)
The rest of the fifty we collect goes to the Covenant.
The Covenant has over 120 pawns in stock.
I am not sure if this is out of line, but it does provide a nice supply in case we get that dragon the last session :unamused:

Whether the ArM4 +5 per pawn of Vis to spellcasting and hence Penetration is gamebreaking or not IME does not so much depend on the Vis per magus and year that is in a campaign, but on the stakes of the adventures in a campaign.

As long as it is more important to make that magic item, complete that research and reach that Art score than defeat that opponent, Vis will be used in the covenant, even if it would allow to strongly boost spells.
Once the stakes in the campaign are at the level of covenant survival, further existence of the Tribunal, or even further existence of the world as we know it, rational characters will pool even scarce Vis to give them that shot which penetrates the enemy's resistance.
So at high stakes in ArM4 magic resistance does not play any role any more, being replaced by making sure to get the all important first shot. That can still make an enjoyable campaign. But it becomes predictable after some time, and also contradicts the idea of the Parma as the foundation of peace among magi.

So IME the reduction of the effect of Vis boosting was necessary for a consistent world, provided that world contained high stakes for the campaign beyond lab projects and magical studies.

Kind regards,


Exellent arguments! Good reasoning and hard to put them past me. I'll wouldn't want that to happen, the Parma being downsized, and I'll be very keen on following the development in our saga. Darn! I really like setting, in game phrases and rules to be in sync, but that might not be possible here.

Seems I might have to reconsider...

With the new penetration rules I think +5 bonus is reasonable.
Of course I should mention that we play a vis poor saga.

Also since the vis used to boost spells must match the technique and/or form of the spell it is possible to limit boosting of the most destructive spell by limiting certain types of vis. For example none of the herbam spells (in the rulebook at least) deals more than +10 damage and no matter how much vis you use that will not kill a dragon.

In addition you must roll an additional botchdie for every pawn spend boosting the spell so be carefull.