I'm curious what people here feel are the weak spots in 5th edition. Honestly, I hope there isn't a 6th edition, because I'm reading so many 5th edition books and I'd hate for that to go to waste! But I'm curious what people think the weaknesses of the ruleset are.
Not weaknesses as such, because I honestly view the rules as a pretty well oiled machine.
However, for a sixth edition I’d probably look at a different character creation methodology, perhaps a different dice mechanic, find a way to drive different Houses slightly from the default central Hermetic magic core.
But the big change for me might be the way in which the game is supported. Engagement is absolutely key for me, so make more use of online resources. Make more use of additional content I could buy (spell cards, condition cards, etc.). Sagas through adventure paths... Stuff like that to keep me coming back and to give me specific help and stories in which to use the cool framework stuff I’ve just bought.
I'd fix combat by making it less precise and more cinematic.
I would want more precision in a number of things- combat, economics. However the first thing I would want to fix would be to change some of the verbiage to clarify rules instead of using grog to refer to a power level in one place, a serf of a covenant in another place and a member of the covenant military in a third place. After that streamline some of the rules for consistency- set the attribute+ability as the standard instead of having covenant saving and scribes based on pure ability with labor points and craft quality based on attribute+ability and so forth.
The economic aspect of the game is probably the one I find the most difficult. There are indeed tons of holes, but there are also a ton of different rules and tool-kits to model things...so on the one hand there are these detailed models, but the SG still has to handwave away a bunch of the rather serious issues with the model, at which point it seems like it's better to just go with the story driven approach over all.
That said, I don't know that it's an easily fixed problem. I've been told King Arthur Pendragon has a pretty good economic system (as does harnworld) but I haven't had time to check either out.
Make Combat less precise? Please elaborate I’d be happy to hear more.
As for me, I find 5th the best of them all by far.
I would only change minor stuff, maybe some virtues.
Mostly there are things I’d like made clearer, so maybe more a 5,5 edition.
While all the new traditions are interesting I would have liked if they were easier. Also supernatural things from other Realms.
I would have all other traditions etc use Hermetic guidelines, but only allow some of the Forms e.g. A Faerie Glamour tradition can perform Imaginem effects, a Healer tradition can use healing effects from Animal, Corpus, Mentem. And then some traditions can surpass Hertetic limits, and some can do less. Some of them have new Ranges/Durations/Targets.
All casting totals calculated as some “ technique” or “method” ability plus a supernatural “tradition” or “form” using the accelerated scale . And a “lab ability” for inventing or lab work.
An idea mentioned by others on the Forum, about getting rid of the Characteristics is beginning to sit well with me. You could do the same with Virtues. I’d prefer if each one of such Minor Virtue were good for a +3 under limited, specific circumstances. Like Good Swordsman (+3 sword combat), Bookworm (+3 for research of texts), or Tough as Nails (+3 soak). That should be easily converted from normal 5th ed. If a rogue character has Dex +3 give it Sneaky, Cat Burglar, and Deadly Aim for +3s to Stealth, Athletics and Climb, plus Thrown weapons.
If not one per + in characteristics then one per purchase point.
Dunno what to do about the negatives, perhaps just Minor Flaws for limited penalties?
I want to add that I believe more than this would need to be changed to justify a 6th edition, but what I have listed is what I see as the biggest issues. Other things I would like to see involve a more flexible setting and customization rules for that, maybe redesigning the realms so that it isn't 50% theology and then literally hundred of differing magical traditions from history being crammed into two realms. Several other ideas, but like I said, nowhere near as critical.
Agree on a general pass for consistency.
Consolidate abilities down to 12-16. Delete existing concept of specializations; minor virtues generally now = specializations granting +3.
Virtues: All magi get:
- A minor magical focus. A later life event (perhaps twilight?) can upgrade this to a major magical focus. (For consistency: when enchanting, magical focuses apply to the spell, not the item, so magical swords minor magical focus doesn't give you an advantage to any spell enchanted into a sword.)
- A hermetic virtue allowing serious rule-breaking, equivalent to a major hermetic virtue eg Flexible Formulaic Magic. More/upgraded virtues like this, made roughly similar in potency, eg creating charged items in less than a season.
(Yes, I know Rusticani can do this in non-core, but their rules are not at all clear, and you shouldn't need to be ex-misc to create potions.)
- An origin virtue. Eg Faerie Blood; Mythic Blood; Archmagus Parens; Auspicious Birth; Noble Family; Child of a Magus etc. These don't grant bonuses to hermetic spellcasting or experience, but provide a range of unique other benefits, generally a social benefit + a power (in an item, or innate).
- An ally.
- X specializations granting +3
'Flaws': All magi get:
- An enemy.
- A precious person or object that they must protect against threat.
- Two physical or personality flaws.
- A hermetic spellcasting flaw.
- Voice range now = range your sounds reach. Can't be cast while silenced/silently.
- Sight range now = range your image species reach. So can't be cast while invisible.
Each of these ranges can now be extended by magic in intuitive ways, but it will generally be very obvious when you are doing so. You must also be aware of the target, as before.
Guidelines: Further clarification of spell guidelines, in general. Some specific examples:
- Aquam rules are unclear about when requisites are required.
- Standardised rules for generating summoned creatures/servants.
Combat: My priority for combat is that I want it to be simple, fairly fast and consistent with other rules.
- Derived stats should be avoided if at all possible, in favour of attribute+ability rolls.
- Mundane threats should be fragile but dangerous, unless you have the appropriate countermagic.
- Magical threats should have basically the same rules as magi, with parma-like resistances and spells. (Magic Might seems unintuitive.) The difference from parma should be that it only protects from certain forms.
There's a wide range of supplements, so I think the main approach in any 6th ed would be learning from the good, the bad and the ugly. (Plenty of room for personal preferences to differ, of course.)
- Covenants. Laboratories are especially fun. Perhaps Talismans and Familiars would be suitable subjects for expansions, along the same lines of providing more customization options for magi?
- Magi of Hermes. I really enjoy this: a collection of new spells, new guidelines and new items to be inspired by for character creation. Characters for GMs to use and players to work into their backstory. Not sure bringing them all together in the same book is the best format, though. More fully worked up example magi in House or Tribunal books might be nice.
- Transforming Mythic Europe, Hermetic Projects, Legends of Hermes: For similar reasons, but with the advantage of being put in more context. These tend to work especially well where they give some guidance/structure for addressing problems, and some examples of ways of solving them, but ultimately let players choose the method.
- The House books. I like the way these each expand on various aspects of hermetic life. Broadly speaking, I think each should introduce 2-3 paths of mystery virtues unique to the House, and a set of virtues primarily used by the House, but available to all magi. These books could use some further polishing, though (eg various rules for the Ex Miscellanea traditions are not always clear).
The bad: (no offence intended to the writers, just reflecting on what could be improved!)
- City & Guild: This book basically includes (i) setting background on trade and industry, and (iii) concrete rules for craftsmen and traders, and some magical variants. The setting info is fine but suffers from needing to be generic, and I think would work better as part of the background for Tribunal books. I don't find the rules and variants helpful. Labor points just end up creating book-keeping for companions, and the system doesn't seem to integrate well with hermetic magi as craftsmen, which is the book's biggest flaw. (House Verditius' book should probably include such rules.) Wonderous items are fine, but again... not related to hermetic magi.
- Arts & Academe: Again, much of the material probably would be best to include elsewhere: in Core (eg new medical guidelines), Tribunal books (eg the specific universities), House Jerbiton (art). That context would also have the advantage of making the material more relevant to magi. Maestro use hermetic guidelines, which I approve of.
The Ugly: (nice idea, mixed execution)
- The Mysteries. Love the idea, but it's almost too good to be relegated to a supplement! Perhaps include the basic rules in Core, and have a separate book expanding on Mystery Cults. The details of the actual mysteries and virtues vary wildly in quality eg Alchemy ends up not being worth the time (and I don't think magi should need it to find new shape/material bonuses - that should be done in conversation with the GM). In general, I think they might be made slightly simpler and stronger, given the costs and rarity of these mysteries.
- Realms of Power; Rival Magic; Hedge Magic. Often full of flavour and interesting ideas. However, generally the new magical traditions introduce too many new rules and guidelines, and have too few examples. I pity GMs trying to adjudicate edge cases for these traditions - it's hard enough for the well-traveled ground of hermetic magic! In general, I think non-hermetic magic should be based on a part of hermetic magic (eg a set of forms), but benefiting from some additional spell guidelines/ranges/conditional bonuses.
Edit: I see I agree on many of these points with Christian.
So in order to cover what I think a sixth edition should have, I should cover what I like and dislike about Ars Magica.
Ars magica offers a chance to play very powerful wizards with a very intricate and flexible system of magic. A dozen different concepts can all use the same technique and form combination while barely overlapping- you can play wizards who use magic to help them to astronomy, wizards who animate statues as servants, wizards who solidify people’s memories as portraits.. the list is endless. This provides a huge amount of creative freedom and player agency. Players can solve so many problems with magic.
The game also has a system for magic that is both powerful, but has odd limits. It feels very much like a bunch of different magical traditions that are only somewhat integrated with each other. Consider that there’s no duration longer than diameter, but shorter than sun, or multi day without being moon. There’s no way to affect a small unenclosed space. Magic has many small, weird flaws and limits. That gives the system a lot of flavor; makes it feel very different from magic in other games.
Those limitations also inspire innovation- the research rules introduced in true lineages are one of the best parts of the system. They give players a chance to actually change how magic works in the game! You can tell players, “No that’s not possible, but you could make it so.” That’s amazing! That’s unprecedented in my experience!
The communal play and generational growth are really fun. You can do so much to change your covenant and leave a legacy; even if your character dies, there's always going to be a mark. Not many games offer a chance to nurture something, or build something that you will see outlive yourself. It’s a unique experience.
The historical basis for the game offers a unique experience of the past; allows for players to tune the fidelity of their game to the amount of research they enjoy. It’s really fun; gives more impact because the places and names are familiar. They aren’t made up in the moment, or nonsense words imbued with meaning, but actual places with an actual history. That’s really neat.
So the things I love about this system are: Flexible and creative wizard concepts, strange limitations on magic, the power to do research to change magic, communal and generational play, and the historical roots.
There are many things I dislike.
Like many traditional/older systems, I feel like Ars Magica suffers from a need to permit players to play anything. It lacks focus and specificity with its premise. You can see a lot of newer games, especially pbta games, that have very narrow focuses- This game is about playing teen superheroes, this game is about being wandering adventures against an evil overlord, etc.
This enhanced focus allows the rules to be tuned to provide a particular experience; prevents needless bloat.
The things I love about Ars Magica are all things that I can’t find anywhere else. This doesn’t include the combat system (needlessly complicated), a bewildering number of abilities (excessive), and the general desire to make every nonwizard character almost as complicated as the magi.
I feel like those detract from the unique traits of the system; exist because they are accepted as an inevitable part of every roleplaying system. They aren’t. A more modern design paradigm could let the game be more focused and more accessible.
I think the game should be built to produce interesting narratives about powerful wizards doing research and trying to shape the world around them, not a precision simulation of a world.
But, I recognize that other people take different things out of Ars Magica. That’s okay. It’s a game; there’s many ways to enjoy it.
I think about this a lot. How much crunch is necessary to makes Ars Magica what it is. Sometimes I think the approach would be to keep everything about magic, but replace everything skills related with a more narrative, PbtA approach. I even came up with a name for this: PArMa (powered by ars magica)
That said, I do think the more simulationist approach is key to some aspects of what make ars magica what it is. I don't think the magic system would work well in the way most pbta games handle magic. Getting an archetype "the tremere" would be awful (not saying that to atrawman what you're proposing, just talking about a possibility). Like you said, the beauty is the sandbox, the flexibility. I find that the magic system is amazingly flexible, how it all fits together...enchantments, magic, and so on. The conversations about what prerequisites, etc...one feels like a Magi, and like you said, it gives a sense of power and leaving ones mark.
The thing that frustrates me is the skills system. There is a ton of awesome content, but most of it is stuff that a savvy SG with just the core rules would never, ever cook up. Not that they'd want to, per se, but the cohesive logic that I feel in the magic system, I don't feel in the skills system at all (related to what you and others have said). This isn't a deal breaker per se. Ars Magica Is complicated and that's not necessarily a bad thing, to me the question is: what do you get for the complication? For magic, you get something amazing. For skills and combat...I'm not as convinced.
An example: I have a root cutter Magus who wants to grow his own herbs. He has mystical herbalism and the apothecary skill...is that enough? Does it need to be a story? I mean I'm relatively new to the game and there could be an easy answer, but that's the problem with the "charts on charts on charts" approach. It's super awesome when you have the right chart -- little John got the ague! -- but then you want to do something that you feel you should be able to do but it's not really enumerated in the rules and then you're stuck. This is an issue I find with a LOT of skill systems (and was my main gripe with burning wheel, another game I love (though not as much as I love Ars!))
I do think that many of the people who play ars magica like just how many different types of Magi and companions are available, so I do think at this point that breadth is one of the strengths to the game, even if it can make it pretty hard to manage at times...
My biggest gripe is how money falls apart under scrutiny I think. I actually love all of the details in city and guild and arts and Academe but I think SGing it all cohesively is rough.
throws out your notes, gives you a sheet of paper with "mythic China" scribbled in big, childlike block letters
Also I just have to say that as someone who has read like 8 ars magica books in the last 3 weeks, mythic Europe really is just so damn cool. Integrating magic into European history in a reasonable and interesting way, while giving life to European folklore and philosophy, all on top of one of the best, most magic systems around...it's truly a feat. And I bet the history nerds (said with love!) at Atlas would enjoy knowing that this whole experience is definitely making me want to go read more about the history of the middle ages...(especially banking and trade practices!)
I have some major thoughts and ideas here. Allow me some time to meditate on this.
nods quietly, munching popcorn.
Marko’s Idea: There will only be one House, House Flambeau!
We did give it a go. At Tribunal scale, China is a billion books.
I think the game gains nothing from crunchy combat numbers. It also makes some aesthetic choices idiotic. Want to play an Indiana Jones dude with a bullwhip, or an acrobatic girl with a pair of knives? We have not got you. At all.
And we don't get anythng great in exchange. The idea is to give the spell system mechanics to Target, but the effects just get swallowed in die rolls, not described in character.
(inscribes notes on more surfaces of your office so they won't get lost)
I would also like to see a shift in combat mechanics to something more cinematic - especially if Ars is going to keep troupe play a major theme. It would be nice to see combat successes generate 'magnitudes' of success, which can then be spent to do wounds or apply penalties or generate success effects (I didn't wound him, but I disarmed him and stole his magic sword!)
I would like to see a system with a limit on the number of bonuses you can generate.. in my opinion there is way too much system competence multipliers for people who know the system better than others. I would like to see complex and streamlined options for most system add-ons. I enjoy Covenants, but it's too much sometimes. I'd like to see a Simple Covenant Economy
(tm) that can do some simulations of economic success without having to track six crafters and twenty five servants and nine specialists and.... And then I can't reasonably use the lab modification rules at all, unless I'm also using the full economy options or just making random guesses as to how much upkeep the covenant can afford.
Actually, a lot of my ideas just include finding simpler ways to loosely simulate the more complex rules.
I'd like to fuse Tractati and Summae into a single system, because right now mass-tractati is the only reasonable way to advance your covenant into the future. It'd be nice if there were more paths to advance on for a covenant, but realistically it's only just writing lots of books. It'd be nice if there was a way for a covenant of non-scholars to advance, such as 'designing' vis source advancement, or somesuch. This is just wishful thinking though, and I feel it's against the feel of Mythic Europe.
And as a general rule, whenever there's a plot or story seed put into a book (perhaps excepting adventure module type books) I would love if Tribunal books had less solidified secrets in it. I don't want 'Bobbicus is an Infernalist shh....'... I prefer 'What if Bobbicus was an Inferalist? What if Bobbicus's secret is that he was killed, and a faerie imposter is pretending to be Bobbicus. What if Bobbicus never existed and was a fake 'archmagi' created by the three Tytali in the covenant?'