What's the thoughtline on Ars?

That, of course, is exactly why the whole of pre-ArM5 canon was ditched with Fifth Edition.

Of course, ArM5 canon is now about as big as the whole of pre-ArM5 canon, so the benefit has rather waned.

Short response: You can't give Ars Magica a thoughtline, because it means telling a large part of the fanbase that they are playing the game wrong. You can have a thoughtline for a new game you are designing from scratch, but not for something that has grown organically over 25 years.

That's not fair. They were pilloried for paying artists but not writers, on the grounds that people actually bought the fanzine for the writing, not the art. You can disagree with this position, but it is reasonable. (They were initially criticised by someone under the mistaken impression that they paid themselves but not the writers, something that is even more reasonable, albeit mistaken.)

You get to write for Ars Magica. If that's not enough for you, you won't do it.

There is a genuine problem here. I can run an Open Call for Ars Magica, and not get enough submissions to fill the book. I have, in fact. It is accepted wisdom among publishers that, if you run an Open Call, you will be swamped by piles of badly-written crap, because everyone thinks that they can write. Roleplaying is supposed to be even worse, because everyone does write for their own game. So, why doesn't it apply to Ars Magica? I suspect it's because most people who are interested have read the books and decided that no, actually, they can't do that. They've tried, and it's harder than it looks.

Writing for Ars Magica really is harder than writing for any other RPG I've written for. To change that, however, you would have to throw away huge chunks of the game and dump much of the medieval background. I tried just throwing away all the previous canon with ArM5; it's not enough. Coming up with a thoughtline for ArM is one approach to throwing away huge chunks of the game. If you're going to do that, it's probably the best approach; you need a good reason for the swathes of destruction you're going to cut, and something solid to fall back on when the fans bay for your blood.

But if you're going to do that, wouldn't it be better to design a new game?

I'd say that my strategy on ArM5 has worked. The game has stayed commercially viable, and we've produced a lot of, in my opinion, excellent supplements. The only person who worked on ArM3 who has also worked on ArM5 is, I think, me. (John Nephew doesn't really count.) Thus, we have managed to almost completely refresh the author pool. I'm not, however, sure that Ars Magica, rather than a different game inspired by it, could ever have mass appeal.

Write your own history.

It is historic based, but once the players enter the fray, they will have the power, through action or inaction, to change history as we know it.

I would like to point out that the core book of ArM5 for me is a true work of art and comprehensiveness. You can run a whole saga just with it. IMO the only area where it could be somewhat improved is in the magical creatures section, but that is a small part. I think there are too many rules in the supplements, and here is where it fails for me. Books like ROP:I that only created alternative Arts for diabolists (with exactly the same mechanics as for Hermetics) and added a few V&F work. Stuff like labor points, specific rules for debates and lab improvement do not cut it for me and my troupe, though.

Still, all very valid points. I do not share some of the approaches, but they are still good opinions. Illustrative :slight_smile:


I agree with that. For new players, it lacked some of the ease of use features from the AM3 corebook but I understand the page count limits. As a rules set and a comprehensive game the AM5 core is masterful.

The game as played with a set of most or nearly all of the supplemental material has a very different feel from a game using the corebook alone. This is my issue with the rule bloat - it not only is unnecessary, it actually makes for a lesser game unless it's used very judiciously.

Did they pillory Alex? Yes. Did he deserve to be pilloried? I don't see how their actions can be considered reasonable, because whatever their intellectual position, their response was disprortionately aggressive, IMO.

Similarly that they opened with ill-informed attacks on his character doesn't make their position more reaonable, IMO.

(See...this is why I should never go to the Berklist. Even when I'm not there I get into arguments. Perhaps it just brings out the worst in me?)

To stop myself derailing my own thread, I'm going to stop commenting on it at this point, although I'm still going to watch and learn from it.

I'd like to thank everyone for their input into this thread so far. I can see that this approach to simplification isn't going to work: thank you for showing me why that's the case.

It has been demonstrated to me that I have completely misunderstood what I'm talking about, and I apologise to David, and to the people involved in the latest skirmish on the Berklist.

I am sorry.

I will never visit the Berklist again, because I always seem to make an idiot out of myself afterwards.

It is still a wonderful system for doing magic which is the core. The rules bloat is derived mainly from the setting. I feel you could take the core magic rules and make a Ars Magica 2020 or Ars Magica the Renaissance. If you lose the Aristotle physics for Newtonian physics it would be even easier.

I think the reason that rules crept back into the conceptual disucssion is that Ars is a Rules+Setting RPG. One of the things I like about the system is how well the two are integrated; they support each other quite well.

The subsystems can be problematic, or not. The point I kept trying to make to my players was that these subsets were optional, and would be brought in when and if they supported and improved stores; if one approaches it like a "kill monsters and take their stuff" system, one starts shopping subsystems for bonuses without considering the full implications for the story.

So I think the strongest single "thoughtline" for ArM5 is "actions have consequences."

One of my favorite examples of this is the "flying castle" in LoH. Sure, you can be a min-maxing power gamer and take shortcuts to greatness. The story of the creator and his creation tells you how that works out.

I think it comes down to incorporating the sub-rules where and when they'll support your story.

I used RoP:I to create 2 "devil children." They're the spawn of a marched infernalist magi and a demon, and the dependants of another magi. The powers I created for them, I could have simulated with Hermetic Magic mechanically, but then they would have felt like magic creatures with the serial numbers scratched off. Using RoP:I, they "feel" infernal. Just reading their character sheets gives me chills.

But I wouldn't be making regular use of those rules. The "devil children" would nicely occupy the infernal subplot in the saga.

I need the +1 button a lot lately. I think that's perhaps the best way to consider the supplements-- supplementary, for use when appropriate. Shopping out the rules and supplements to tweak things out for the sake of doing so seems contrary to the spirit, but that's just me.

(And really, makes me want to go read "Play Dirty" by John Wick again...)


To expand on that idea. Robin Laws is a gifted RPG writer. I love Feng Shui with a passion. I love GURPS Madlands. I love Rune. I like the stuff he wrote for Over the Edge. I really like his Robin's Laws for Good GMing. But that does not mean that his way of successfully putting out product is the best way to put out product for all systems. If someone suggests a game of 7th Sea or Feng Shui or Over the Edge or Toon, I pretty much know what I should expect when I come to the table. I am pretty sure I know what the thoughtline for that game is. If someone suggests a game of GURPS or Champions or old school Mage the Ascension, I don't know what the thoughtline is. Maybe the Champions game is pure 4 color, maybe it is parody, maybe it is dark and gritty. I think Ars Magica fits more into the second catagory than the first.

I also think that helps keep the line alive. Go look at the Feng Shui board. It is really quiet. Once you have a thoughtline that is simple enough to put into a single sentence, it seems that you run out of things to say.

And that's assuming that you survive char-gen.

Oh, streamlining by removing barnacles. Didn't think of that. Put another way, you're not trying to call the keel a boat but asking to check the plan before adding an extra rudder in the front.

Notwithstanding comments on how Infernal should have a different flavor from Magic, I feel mechanic has devolved into unrelated bits, which is why the Balkans felt right.

A simple self-contained instance is Water of Vis where 2 sentences describe the effect differently. They look the same but aren't when you double the penalty as Apprentice requires:

  • for each 3 useful pawns you must spend an extra as waste (3 -> 4 = 25%) (double to 2 extra as waste = 3 -> 5 = 40%)
  • for each 4 pawns used, one is a waste (4 -> 3 = 25%) (double to 2 waste = 4 -> 2 = 50%)
    David confirmed the second reading should always be used, therefore one of the sentences is wrong.

Respectfully, authors don't have that choice: you must be familiar with every subrule. This is one of the points which makes it hard to convince new authors to give it a go: the homework load is too high. They don't just get to say "well, in my game there are no Virgilians, so when I write about Naples I can ignore the Virgilians".

I'm interested to see the Kickstarter world book, for this reason: its a series bible for the writers of the game, but there's no way it contains everything.

I've only posted on here a handful of times, but this thread looked interesting, so I thought I'd take a crack at it. I'll start by rewriting the original thoughtline a little. It read "Kill monsters and take their stuff". I think it should be "Kill monsters to take their stuff and gain experience". By getting stuff, you can by better equipment (at ye olde magic shop?) so that you can kill more monsters, thus closing the loop. Similarly, experience allows you to acquire more skills so that again you can kill more monsters. Killing really is a necessary part of other RPGs (at least one in particular), which is why I find them limiting. Few things annoy me more than fellow players who say "These guys aren't in our way, but let's kill them anyway so we can level up".

In Ars Magica, experience is generally gained by practice and research instead of just killing. And instead of buying equipment, you create it. In fact, I think creation is a critical part of the game that sets it apart from other RPGs. Magi are the prime creators, but other characters can assist in creation too. And finally, a lot of conflict arises from the need to acquire resources, or prevent their loss, to ultimately support the creation process. This is the part that the magi supposedly hate, but we as players actually love, and is the focus of many of our adventures.

So I propose this: "Acquire resources to create magic and gain experience". Repeat.

I think this explains why the section on magi character creation comes before covenant creation in the book. The magi are the ones who create. The covenant is very useful for creation to happen, but not strictly necessary. In my mind, it also explains the value of the confidence mechanic. Creation requires continuity, and confidence gives your character a last chance to succeed before being killed.

I think I'll avoid the discussion about the stripped-down version of Ars Magica, except to second the notion that a thoughtline would help separate necessary rules from extensions. Timothy's point on this is well taken though. I can see that this doesn't really reduce the increasing complexity that the writers need to address.