Why spontaneous/formulaic/ritual?

Inspired by Ovarwa's excellent thread on rule variants, here's one aspect of Ars Magica that I've always thought I'd like to revise. Right now, we have spontaneous spells, formulaic spells, and rituals. They are three very, very distinct categories (in fact, I'd say four, since there's fatiguing and non-fatiguing spontaneous magic, which differ from each other almost as much as they differ from Formulaic). I'd prefer a system that unified them, allowing a "smooth" transition from one to the other.

The basic idea would be simple. Every effect has a "base" level depending on how "big" and "difficult" it is, more or less like now (though the numbers might need adjusting). "Ritual" stuff isn't in its own category; it's just harder. This "base" level is adjusted depending on how easy or hard the casting is. This mechanic unifies, and "smooths" the effects, of many different mechanics, virtues etc. that have accumulated over the years and editions of Ars Magica.

Stuff that makes spellcasting easier:

  1. having spent xp on studying up the effect, or (for a lesser bonus) a "similar" effect. Even a single xp is helpful!
  2. foregoing "anonimity": loudly proclaiming one's identity, using a strong voice, choosing to leave a strong sigil.
  3. spending vis, or other mystically appropriate material (all the way up to human sacrifice).
  4. spending fatigue (and fatigue that may not recover for days/moons/years) and/or taking wounds (not necessarily "visible").
  5. gaining appropriately significant flaws, either temporarily or permanently (this would be a big bonus -- the perfect choice for a wizard's dying curse).
  6. spending time in the casting and/or its preparation. A big, big ritual might take several days, or perhaps even moons or years!
  7. casting at the "right" time and/or place, and/or on the "right" target (a virgin, an oathbreaker, one's own home or kin etc.).
  8. casting with the appropriate tools, either generic (one's talisman) or specific (a spirit's true name, a cloak for changing one's appearance).
  9. having an appropriate virtue (e.g. a focus) that provides a bonus in that specific circumstance.
  10. casting collaboratively, ideally as part of a mystically significant group (the Aegis is an example of this - the group is the Covenant; but being part of the Order of Hermes also counts).

Ideally, each of these "burdens" should be "graded" from no burden at all (cast without fatigue, instantly, without vis etc.) to exceedingly onerous (sunder your own talisman, cast during a once-in-a-century stellar event etc., become so tired you need to sleep for a year); perhaps with a "pyramid" requirement, where you can benefit more from many burdens if at least some of them are very significant, and conversely, you can benefit more from significant burdens if you take many different burdens. I'm still tinkering with the actual parameters, but I'd like your input first!


Why, thanks! :slight_smile:

As you might have guessed from the other thread, I've been thinking about this too.

Hermetic Magic is essentially D&D magic stirred into medieval Europe, or at least it started out that way. (Largely, it still is. Nothing wrong with this, btw!) Wizards aren't good at healing, so neither are magi. (I also suspect that the authors, back in the day, felt a little dubious about the simplicity of D&D healing.) Things that are difficult for D&D wizards to do, or that should be difficult in what passed for Real Medieval Paradigm at the end of the 80s required ritual magic. It takes time, and it takes a real resource commitment.

When something is a ritual, it means simply: We don't want you doing this very often, or very quickly, and it has a steep price tag. Think about other approaches first.

I think this is a distinct category, for all that I feel utterly comfortable allowing Spontaneous Rituals. The vis cost is the reason I feel comfortable with it, and is the main reason I consider it a distinct category.

The other category that I think ought to be distinct is "Spell X, I choose you!" Fast and easy to select, fast and easy mechanics, very little to slow things down. This is the most important category, I think. If any options are available, they should be few and simple. Blurring this category is expensive: It slows down comprehension, it slows down play. I do think that some options deserve to be available, but there's a cost. There's a very good reason D&D and Pathfinder and others have been excising options from their formulaic spells. They mostly don't even scale by level any more.

That said, it's pretty obvious that I agree about further unifying the system, although to be fair, Hermetic spellcasting is already pretty unified.

I suspect that our solutions to this might be tending in opposite directions, even though I sympathize with what you want to do, because I am concerned about the cost.

My comments below notwithstanding, I'm definitely interested in what you come up with!

One elegant side effect of having relatively inflexible Formulaic magic is that the game doesn't stop when a magus needs to pull out a powerful effect. It's just there. Spontaneous Magic is present and possible... but also limited. Making formulaic magic more spontaneous, with casting options on the fly sounds great, yet adds problems. The game's favoring spells that cannot be tweaked represents great design. Granted, this was inherited from D&D, like so much else. AM could just have easily gone to a far more freeform system, building up options. In a sense, that would have been 'better', though the actual successors to AM that pushed in this direction are not better. Mage is a great big mess, imo.

This might not be what you mean though.

There's also something nice and straightforward about having categories, beyond that it worked out for Aristotelians for a long, long time. People don't bin very well; distinctions blur into a haze surprisingly fast. Having a very few categories is usually more a help than a hindrance, but an array of options diminishes all of them.

I think Hermetic Magic should cover all the basics, but I don't think that all magi should have every bell and whistle. I like using virtues and flaws to customize a style of magic. (I prefer to see Hermetic Magic as a grand unified theory of magic with room for wildly diverse practices, lineages and styles, than a single, better theory of magic that obsoletes what came before. AM5, canonically, seems to prefer the latter. I admit some good reasons for this, but my preference remains.)

Is your magic especially flexible in some way? That ought to involve a virtue.

I'd get rid of the whole similar effect helping spellcasting thing. I don't want to think about this during play. Works for me in the lab.

I also don't think a single xp should be useful. But I love Mastery.

I like how you generalize this!

This is the sort of thing that I'd be happy to have players thinking about during play, because the choice is all about the scene (do I want to be stealthy right now? do I want to intimidate people with my magic?) rather than the character sheet (give me a moment while I look through my 50 spells for something you guys will agree is similar to this thing I'm about to spont).


There are caveats here though: There are a lot of humans available to sacrifice, and many games will devolve into diabolical doings. Mundane wealth is often easy to come by, so as we add rules for mystically appropriate materials, the more accessible these are, the more likely everything stops as a pull out my gemstone, or whatever.

In a sense, vis substitutes for this in most cases! Sure, you have a ruby, but the ruby you have doesn't have quite the right amount of rubiness to it, as represented by Ignem vis...

And once we're tracking different recovery rates for Fatigue, we've saddled the game with complications that I think are hindrances to play.

Are you so tired that you aren't going to get better for a long time? Sounds like a medium wound to me.

(A larger revision, rather than House Rules, might do well to eliminate Fatigue as a spellcasting resource. That's so 1980s.)

Sure. A wizard's dying curse is a great time to not worry about complications! On the other hand, it's also a great time not to care much about rules. The only great concern is that a dying curse be apt, because rules or no rules, it is too easy for a giant dying curse to break the game. After all, my character is dying or I'm willing to toss my character. This is a case, I think, where the effect of a dying curse is not about game mechanics, but about the game's social environment: It's a story or metagame issue.

If I were to graft a mechanic of this kind onto AM, however, I'd translate this into vis: How much vis do you get by taking on a Flaw during casting? By killing yourself?

(I'd not allow most magi to injure themselves temporarily for vis. But virtues for that, sure.)

As the ritual time increases, this becomes more of a story matter. I'm not sure how much value there is in assigning hard rules for this. One possible exception is the seasonal ritual: The opportunity cost is very clear. In a sense, Learned Magicians and some other Hedgies and Rivals already cast like this some times.

And again. How many tables of this kind of thing do you really want?

Und so weiter.

Absolutely: A given character is not likely to have many of these virtues. They even define the character. This kind of thing should be encouraged, I think.

Yes, up to a point. There are various threads about the breakage that comes of Ceremony, both in AM4 and AM5.

I'm definitely interested in what you do with this, especially if your intent is to simplify and consolidate.

It might also be worth noting something that I think AM5 got right: Consistently, across Potent Magic, Merinita Charms, Shape and Material bonuses, and those (very not worthwhile) Theurgy booster spells, bonuses add in a flat way, limited by an Ability, usually Magic Theory. Sometimes the number of bonuses is limited, but the idea holds. As many tables as you come up with, as much time as players stop the game grovelling for bonuses, there's a hard cap. I kind of like this kind of casting style. It's a cool variant "Ok, so there's a hearth there, and I'm holding a torch, and look, it's Tuesday and here's my Goodby Ruby Tuesday Charm, and I have this ruby too..." But if everyone does that it gets old fast. Might as well just say "Yeah, yeah you find mystical correspondences and synchrony, just add your Magic Theory and Philosophiae, spend 15 minutes per magnitude casting and let's move on."