What Level of Competence Should Be Aimed For at X Ages?

Mostly as it pertains to Hermetic Magi.

I'm going to be SGing a saga (none of us have played ArM5 before, so one of the newbs had to), and after poring over the example options presented in the book, we all unanimously decided that the most interesting starting place for the saga would be with the Magi as new recruits to a Winter covenant that has one Maga trying to kick the entire covenant out of decline by bringing in new blood. It's also going to be one of those covenants with a bunch of places nobody's set foot in for years and there will probably be a lot of interaction with mundanes and yadda yadda, but that's all unimportant to my current question.

There will be several older Magi in the covenant itself, but I can safely ignore most of them because despite being old and powerful they're also extremely reclusive, self-absorbed, and somewhat cowardly. However, I do want to make stats for the Maga leading the whole "get out of Winter" operation, since she's important and I don't know how involved she'll end up getting yet... And more importantly, I was hoping to have there be a major background antagonist group who the players might get more involved with as time goes on and they get stronger. The group would be composed of some older Magi who had defected from the Order of Hermes and who now have some interest in the player covenant's hidden resources.

... And, of course, as a general SG'ing tool, I probably want to be able to guesstimate my players' growth rate so I can present challenges in advance and have some semblence of an idea how long it will be before they can accomplish it, and while that will work on an individual basis I figure having rough guidelines can't hurt.

Given all that, I'd really appreciate aforementioned general guidelines. In your opinion and your experiences, what standards should Magi of any given ages be able to muster? Casting totals for specialists? Magic Resistance to be penetrated by main spells? Non-spell skills? That sort of thing. Obviously there won't be a hard and fast guideline, but I don't want to accidentally overshoot in areas while undershooting to crippling degrees in others. (Key word being accidentally, of course; nothing wrong with characters flawed in interesting ways as long as it's happening on purpose)

Thanks in advance for any help!

Ars Magica character creation is incredibly variable, one magi could be a powerhouse, while the another magi with the same number of virtues and XP could be entirely underwhelming. So let's establish some guidelines:

Major antagonists will be built as reasonably efficient Player Characters, including:
10 points of Virtues and Flaws
2 Affinity with Art (or Puissant Art, maybe both)
1 Minor Magical Focus and 1 Major Hermetic Virtue OR 1 Major Magical Focus that synergizes with the primary arts
1 Major Personality Flaw and 1 Major Hermetic Flaw and 1 Major Story Flaw (rather than 10 small weaknesses) unless it's thematic to do otherwise.
They will be advanced using Complex Character Creation (30xp/year, -10xp per season of lab work)
They will have offensive spells in their focus at level 15-25 for combat use.

From a character like this, I'd expect:
Out of Gauntlet: 10 in 2 favored arts and several 5's and 3's, mostly 0's, most Arcane Abilities at 1. Casting total 30 in his focus.
10 years past: 13-15 in 2 favored arts, more 3-5's and the 5's have turned to 7-8, maybe a familiar but probably not a talisman. Parma 3, Several Arcane abilities at 2-3. Magic Theory 4-5. Casting total 40-45 in his focus.
20 years past: 15-18 in 2 favored arts, 7-10 in a couple, 3-5 otherwise. Parma 4-5, maybe 3-4 in a few Arcane Abilities, Magic Theory 6. Casting Total 45-55 in his focus. Probably has a talisman with 1-2 powers.
30 years past: 17-21 in 2 favored arts, 5-10 in most others, Parma 5, Magic Theory 7. More talisman powers and a few magic items. Casting totals in his focus of 50-60.

This is probably overpowered from a realistic perspective (I'm guessing to some degree based on previous builds), most magi will be significantly less powerful than this, especially if they are reasonably well rounded rather than mono-focused.

If you have access to Guardians of the Forest, there are writeups of several magi 20-30 years past gauntlet (Falke and Imanitos Mendax); Falke is 26 past gauntlet with Parma3 and Mu9 Aq16 as her best arts, but is built as a leader (Great Presence, Inspirational) and apprentice training ready. Mendax is 33 past gauntlet with Parma 4 but a scary high Guile of 7 with Puissant Guile, and has Me17 Re/Im9 as his best arts.

My own magus is now 11 years past gauntlet, has Aff w/ Creo & Herbam, Puissant Creo, Mercurian Magic, Gild Trained and Strong Parens (which made him a lot stronger than normal - in terms of power he'd be closer to 15 years past gauntlet). He has Cr16+3, He13, Ig7, Re7, and 6 arts at 5 (the rest 0). He has a minor magical focus in vines and can generate 30+roll Penetration on Trap of the Entwining Vines as well as 10+roll Penetration on his Pilum of Fire (Mastery2). I feel he's fairly powerful for his age (he especially knows a lot of formulaic spells), but is not quite a combat magus. He has Parma 3, Magic Theory 4 and every other skill is 2 or lower save languages. He has a familiar that is of no combat use; a magic stoat with 8 Might. At this point I'm comfortable with his primary arts and I'm working on raising those 0's to be apprentice training worthy within 10 years and broaden my set of spells for utility.

Also, if you don't have it already, Magi of Hermes http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG0292.php is a fantastic book. Write-ups of all sorts of different Magi, each shown at all the different points in their careers.

For Abilities, you can also just use the Guidelines for max Ability/Age on page 31. If we assume that a "professional" in that Ability* has max (or Max-1 or so) ability, and only truly elite go over that (with Virtues/etc), that seems to be a good baseline. It means that most would not be considered "professionals" until they have an Ability of around 5, and Masters (i.e. older, experienced professionals) will go up toward 7. If your Ability is 4 (or less), you're still journeyman/apprentice grade - keep practicing.

(* even a "professional-grade Carouser" or "professional-grade Liar (Guile)" - whatever works; it's a measure of competence at an Ability, not (necessarily) a profession to make money.)

Many PC magi seem to be "exceptional/elite" in Magic Theory, and well below "professional grade" in most anything else.

Very true, though magi have to use a LOT of Abilities. Most Verditus will master a Craft skill, but even mastery of something as 'essential' as Parma Magica is rare enough to be noteworthy in a relatively young magus. Of course when you can fly and control minds, a lot of skills become less impressive. :laughing:

It's not surprising, really, that magi have a high Magical Theory. After all, isn't that really their profession? Also, Finesse, Penetration, and Parma Magica fit into the magus 'profession,' so having high values in some or all of those is important to their profession. And that's not counting their skills in the Arts. Yes, they skimp on mundane skills to learn magic. But that doesn't seem odd to me. It seems perfectly in character.

I'd second the suggestion for Magi of Hermes. While the quality control of the book was, in my (and others') opinion, subpar compared to the rest of the line, it gives a pretty good idea of what range of abilities one might expect from magi of different ages.

Otherwise, my suggestion is to just try and build a few older magi yourself. It does not take a lot of time, and gives you a very solid understanding of the spectrum of things that could be achieved. Use the guideline of 30xp or 4 seasons of labwork/year after gauntlet. To simplify the process and obtain a magus pretty close to what you'd get with detailed character creation, I'd suggest:

  1. Give xp equal to (Hermetic Age + 20) * 20. So a magus 40 years out of gauntlet would have (40+20) * 20 = 1200 xp.
  2. Split the xp evenly in three: one third to Arts, one third to "wizardly" skills (Magic theory, Parma, Concentration, Penetration, Finesse, Spell Mastery, Order of Hermes Lore), one third to everything else (from Charm to Area Lore to Brawl). So 1200xp gets split into 400xp in Arts, 400xp in wizardly skills, 400xp in other skills.
  3. Unless you have another specific idea, split the Art xp in two: divide one half evenly between 1-4 Arts, and divide the other half evenly between other Arts. So 200 xp could become e.g. 2 Arts at 13-14 and all other 13 Arts at 5 or so.
  4. Split the Wizardly skills xp in 10 even "blocks", and assign 1 block to any wizardly skill that is not too important for the wizard, or 2 or even 3 blocks to any that is. So if you had 400xp to start with, your average Fiery Flambeau may get 400/10=40xp in Concentration, Magic Theory, Order of Hermes Lore, and in Pilum of Fire Spell Mastery, and 40*2=80xp in Penetration, Parma, and Finesse).
  5. Split the "everything else" skill xp into 20 even "blocks", assigning 1 block to any general skill that is of some minor importance to the wizard, 2 to more important ones, and 3 or even 4 blocks to skills that the wizard is supposed to be really good at. E.g. a "leader" type starting with 400 xp may put 400/20=20xp in some Area Lore, Intrigue, Artes Liberales and Philosophiae; 202=40xp to Charm, Folk Ken, Guile; 203=60xp into Speak Latin, Speak Own Language; 20*4=80xp to Leadership.
  6. Assume a number of spell levels and magic item levels equal to Art xp, making sure none exceeds Te+Fo+10. So your Fiery Flambeau with 400xp of Arts could have 300 levels of spells, plus 100 levels of effect in magical effects, including familiar bond effects. A familiar is "free" if it makes sense for the magus, as is having a talisman and/or a longevity Ritual.
  7. Whenever rolling, give the magus a flat bonus of +3 to his skill totals, and +6 to his magic totals if you "need it". It can always be justified with Affinities, Puissant (stuff), Talisman attunements, Familiar Chords etc. Double those amounts if the magus is staking his life on the outcome of the roll.

That seems as reasonable a start as anything.

If you then "favour" one area or another (a Bonisagus might favor wizardly Abilities, a Flambeau spells, and a Jerbiton social Abilities - or whatever), and don't worry too much about "optimizing", just forge ahead - you should have your mage toot-sweet.