Wishlist: Ars Magica 6

I like having stats play a significant role in Ability results. I do think the d10 gives too much randomness for such tests though. It's hard to get away from, but it might be worth a try to switch to d6 for most Ability rolls and just forget about botches and exploding dice. I'm not sure botches and exploding rolls are really needed for abilities but keeping the existing d10 rules for Arts rolls preserves the wilder character of magic.

Just a thought though, I've never actually done things that way.

I wasn't endorsing it, but it just comes down to how the bonuses and targets progress. When spring magi use their dumb baby arts it's almost as chaotic as companions using abilities. d10+2 Rego+2 Animal+1 Aura+3 Stamina still comes down to d10+8, which is well in the range of 25 year old companion ability + characteristic bonuses. Magi have many more ways to swing that in their favor via exaggerated words and gestures, ceremonial casting, vis, etc. Abilities typically allow confidence or (in combat) exertion with major bonuses usually coming through magical assistance (surprise!).

Maga: "Oh you're really good at... yawns sneaking around? That's cool I guess."

casts a L20 PeIm spell that makes someone invisible for half the day

That's what I was thinking about - one way to do this would be to simply raise the bar for "what counts as a botch situation" for a normal Ability; ie, for most combat abilities, the non-stress scenario is having someone attack you while on bad footing. It only becomes a potential botch when you're surrounded by wolves and with one hand tied behind your back, or something like that.

Alternately: a die is open-ended, but have penalties be actual penalties (ie, -2 for bad footing, -4 for your hand being tied behind your back, -3 for being surrounded by wolves). A "botch" occurs for each 3 points of failure (or 5, or whatever works.) So if your penalties are a -10, and you're rolling a d6+stat (2) + skill (5), against a target of 9, you end up rolling a d6-3...you're probably going to botch. And in that circumstance - that's a realistic scenario.

This also has the advantage of already being a game mechanic in Ars - the "fail by 5, fail by 10, or more" mechanic when spellcasting.

I would hate to see two different sets of dice.
That is just inelegant game design and it introduces two different sets of probabilities, which is downright counter-intuitive.

"Heh, I see your shadow, still."

You start off with comparing Arts with low scores (not favored Arts, by any stretch) being comparable to what a 25 year old companion can do with his Characteristic + Ability bonuses of 8, which does lean in the direction of a favored ability. So my question is how does that comparison scale to favored Arts and TeFos compared to the best ability of the 25 year old companion? My point is that you are making an apples and oranges comparison to determine that young magi are equal to companions and how chaotic the dice treats them. This comparison falls apart with young magi who specialize (you are making specialist magi, aren't you?) to companions who are also young and specialize.

My weather maga who started with a CS in Auram of 40 and could cast The Incantation of Lightning without fatigue and had pretty stellar penetration (at her level) to boot. She could also boost it with Life Boost and she's a Tytalus, so spending 2 CP's is also an option. So she can deliver +30 damage and knockdown effects, which blows away what a companion can do, for the most part. She fails only with a botch or if there is MR AND if she doesn't penetrate, she's got a better than even chance of killing them or at least incapacitating them.
My corpus specialist started out with an effective 21 Corpus score and a MuCo CS of 25. He's an academic, not a combat magus, but in a fight he turns all of the enemy's arms into pudgy infant arms that can't hold weapons (Arm of the Infant). He also had Arm of the Infant mastered for multiple casting, so he can wipe out (and has wiped out) a squad's combat effectiveness pretty quickly, much more quickly than most specialized young companions could do.

Arts of 1 or 2 are so low as to be practically non-existant, especially with current expectations of books (ie the Roots of the Arts).

As J.L mentions, that's hardly what a starting magus "realistically" looks like.
They can easily look like this

Multiple sizes of dice is certainly an "old skool" complication, but I don't think anything can make AM probabilities less transparent and more counter-intuitive than they already are.

I can't recall (if it was ever stated) why Arts & Abilities were moved to different scales. Perhaps, it might work to move back to a single 1X triangular scale for stats and instead try and work the Ease Factor numbers to make skills more relevant.

Ease factors are a bit of a nebulous thing. I think before reworking them, it might be better if they are defined or if the required totals are too hard to achieve in a saga, that they discuss it more in depth.

Average being 9 seems really reasonable to me. Translating the language into mechanics; Talented suggests Characteristics, skilled is the ability score. Skilled, defined more clearly elsewhere, but probably based on this insert is a score of 6. So with Characteristic 0 and a score of 6 in the Ability, you're going to succeed 70% of the time on a non stressed roll, and more often on a stress roll. That doesn't seem unreasonable for most abilities. Is it also unreasonable that Impressive (EF18) requires very talented and highly skilled characters to succeed about half the time? At that level, with an average roll being defined as 6, your Ability+Characteristic needs to be 12. So, that's pretty darn high to me.

I do think some abilities (maybe Magic Sensitivity) might be better as Accelerated Abilities if so many of their useful effects are available only at the Very Hard and higher levels, but I don't think this need apply to all abilities , and certainly not combat abilities, which will have no net change, since adjusting their progression to be like Arts will just see an increase die roll totals which will cancel each other out. Someone with a score of 4 before becomes a 10 and faces off just the same against someone who had a score of 4 before and now has a 10.

Perhaps this is faulty memory but I think it was because in 4th ed you divided your ability xp by 5 to get the actual amount of xp you received. The two xp tracks just relieves you of doing the math and therefore is considered more simple.


I was making an apples and oranges comparison to highlight how obnoxious that random range really is when the bonus is small.

They only cancel each other out if their bonuses are exactly the same. Otherwise the increased range of ability totals makes the d10 roll decreasingly relevant and widens the gap for the invested XP. Suppose two characters are facing off with opposed abilities. Character A has invested 50 XP and Character B has invested 105 XP. Using RAW, Character A has a score of 4 and Character B has a score of 6. If Character B rolls 3 less than Character A, they will lose. On the Arts table, 50 XP is 9 and 105 XP is 14. Character B would need to roll 6 less than Character A to lose, which significantly reduces the number of die combinations under which this could happen.

E: Of course, these differences in scale are magnified for RAW casting (or, e.g. for certamen) because you're using TWO scores from the Arts table, which is why so many casting targets are foregone successes/failures in unstressed circumstances.

Apples and oranges comparisons aren't helpful, though. They are comparing different things that are measured differently.

I also think trying to overcome specific instances when a low roll combined with a higher Ability+Characteristic combination result in a total less than a high roll and a lower Characteristic+Ability total. I mean, that's the way it is supposed to work, for the most part, unless someone is vastly more skilled (my definition of vastly more skilled is a difference of 3 or more in Characteristic+Ability totals). On the averages, if you are more skilled and more talented, you will succeed more often, but you will occasionally have some adversity. The die roll probabilities will model that, but your comparison is of a specific instance of the more skilled rolling lower and the less skilled rolling higher; if you want the higher skilled to always win, regardless of the roll then you can instead just eliminate the die roll and compare ability totals. If you adjust the totals even a little bit, you're going to make the die roll nearly irrelevant to the resulting action, especially in opposed rolls (combat). You can run diceless Ars, and just make all results +6 to account for the lack of a die roll, but I don't find that all that interesting.

They are very helpful when pointing out how different those two things feel in practice. That's why people brought it up. Using a smaller die or using two smaller dice are both attempts to reduce the practical effect of the die roll relative to the bonus. Increasing the bonus is just another way to do this.

Rolling against abilities feels dramatically more chaotic than rolling against Arts, even when doing non-casting rolls as in certamen. Advancing abilities feels extremely stagnant compared to Arts. Even if Arts and abilities both used the exact same scale for advancement, casting totals would still easily progress faster due to the triangular progression (even assuming 0 aura/0 Stamina, etc.).

If you adjust the totals a little bit you're going to make the die roll proportionally less relevant and it's easy to predict how much -- but that's what several people are asking for.

As far as AM5 combat goes, there are a lot of spells and tactics that yank hard on the arithmetic of combat. E.g. Wizard's Sidestep is L10 and adds +9 to Defense after the first (automatic) miss. For sword-swingers, the Exertion option allows you to effectively double the impact of your relevant Combat Ability for attack or defense for the cost of 1 Fatigue. So it's not like we're talking about values that stay in a sane and controlled range using the RAW. Of course, the spell attack resolution of AM5 combat and the mechanics of core certamen already show what larger totals do to die relevance. If it's acceptable for spell attack resolution to allow a core-compliant maga to add exaggerated gestures, exaggerated voice, x number of Life Boosts, pawns of vis x2, and Confidence to their combined Arts totals, Stamina and d10, I don't think putting abilities on the same scale as Arts would make mundane combat resolution rolls irrelevant.

But stepping back for a moment, I think the important larger questions I would like to ask are:

  1. Does it feel enjoyable to advance companions over the course of their lives?
  2. Does the amount of XP/seasons/time you invest in abilities feel like it has an appropriate amount of impact when it's time to use those abilities for resolutions, whether in stand-alone Ease Factor checks or opposed checks?

For me, the answer to both of those questions is no, but there are other potential solutions.

I'd like to make Certamen cost 5 minutes per attack, so the other characters had stuff to do while this is all going on.

Certamen is definitely a drag for other players unless they are extremely invested in the outcome. I think that's a problem with any tabletop game subsystem that's modeling drawn out 1 on 1 conflicts -- especially when the subsystems are seldom-used, so everyone has to dust off their brains when it comes up. Too bad certamen doesn't involve bystander cheerleading squads.

E: In the game I play in, the Storyguide and I sometimes agree to do the certamen duels in a separate mini-session or move them to the beginning or end (post-adventure) of the session, which gives the other players more freedom to go on their merry way if they don't give a dang. In the game I run, certamen has so far been rare enough that it hasn't lost its appeal to the players.

An apples and oranges comparison is not useful at all, because it is, by definition an attempt to compare two things that are either incomparable, or ought not be compared. In this case, you're trying to compare the result of the die roll upon the final result in cases where Hermetic magic is used against cases where Abilities are used. In a game designed to be primarily about magi and magic, it seems to be about right for me: that magic is superior.

This is a design element central to the game, my sense is that it is working as intended.

That's what a few people are asking for, it looks like 5. And you use examples that I'm certain do occur, but in aggregate will even out. The range argument is confusing. Why not just make it a heads/tails check. That's a very limited range. Will we feel better about that? There is supposed to be some randomness involved here; I'm not going to have fun in a game when I'm facing off against a far superior opponent and the die roll has less of an impact on the outcome. If you adjust the probabilities, and make those situations more predictable, then you have to adjust a lot of other things in a domino effect. You force more parity into the setting, because you're reducing randomness. Again, if you want to go that route, just eliminate the die roll and add +6 to everything to account for it. The range is just fine. As you decrease the range, you can actually make the Characteristic+Ability total less meaningful, too. If you go all the way down to a heads and tails situation, then the total is meaningless. Sometimes my characters do something because while they don't have a prayer of doing it normally are hoping that the fates align, which is represented by an exploding die. Sometimes the fates align for the other guy and I botch.
I do think that combat botching needs some reworking, I mean if you botch on defense the only ways you survive are with a massive soak or the other guy botches his offense.

In many cases, with respect to combat magic, if there isn't magic resistance involved, I'll grant that the die roll is meaningless, except as an exercise to check for botch. But, again, this is a game about magi. Magi have always, and should always be the focus of the setting. But if there is Magic Resistance involved, it does begin to play a larger roll. Yes, you can lifeboost, or expend fatigue in combat, but these things that you described are limited resources that if you use them too soon will result in some bad (or at least less good) outcomes.

Yes. Even the ones who are poor, which advance much more slowly than others. When a score changes from 4 to 5, it's a big deal for him.

If you aren't satisfied with the progress of your character something else is going on, and it's happened to me several times, it's because I didn't design the character properly, or because he ended up going in a different direction than I had planned. Both those cases can be adjusted by discussion with the troupe. It might very well be a situation where your troupe is just rolling too many dice. I'll look at characters all the time and see, oh, they can easily notice this, and just let them notice. I only introduce dice when I want to heighten tension. If it's a non-stress die, I'm not asking for it to be rolled. If it is a stress die, it might only be to check for a botch; which is looking for that 1 in 100 outcome. If a character is supposed to be good at something, I will let them be good. If it's an opposed roll, both characters are at the mercy of the dice. Ars Magica combat is deadly enough that I don't need to improve the certainty of casualties on either side of the combat.

I'm open to hearing things, but by and large this seems more of an exercise to bring parity between magi and non-magi. And that begs the question of why? Everyone coming into Ars should be well aware that Hermetic Magi are the shiznit.

I think also taking a good look at this review, which even though I don't agree with many of the points, would be a good idea for 6th edition. To my knowledge it is the only in depth critical review of the system to date.

The review contains many pictures that if one wants to see, read the original thread at TGDMB. I've had to break it up into two parts, and it is long. This isn't reddit, so I'm not going to TL;DR. Read it and weep brothers.


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Now, for my personal review of Frank Trollman's review.

1.) The guy gets mad in every review, no bones about it.

2.) The review is in the lens of a critical RPG theorist who likes to hate RPGs, but desperately wants to actually like them, but finds most of them with all sorts of problems.

3.) He has not in fact, actually played, or run Ars Magica 5th edition, and seems to have had some sort of bad experience with a shitty GM in the 90s with 3rd edition, for a session or two. And in Franks PoV, Shitty GMing can always be corrected by a better written book. I'm not sure this is actually true.

4.) For me, a good chunk of his criticism just doesn't show up in play. A lot of his objections are to fluff not just mechanics.

5.) His point about virtues and flaws having to balance out, in a game that is explicitly unbalanced seems like a good point to me.

6.) I really don't know enough actual church history on magic, sorcery and witchcraft to really make an informed criticism of this point:

He has some points. However his overuse of vulgarity suggests that he, himself wouldn't be able to write a game system. He comes off more a chronic complainer, rather than a critic. It seems a bit personal, as if 5the edition authors have offended him.