A friend is talking about running an Ars Magica game, and it turns out writing up a rules summary for a complex game system helps me as much as a player as it does as a GM. So here’s the first part of the big chunk of words I’ve spent lately condensing down the parts I might want to quickly refresh on during a session.

Basic System

Roll Simple or Stress die and add Characteristic + Ability. Try to meet or exceed target number (Ease Factor). Margin of success can grant increased effect. (Magic may add different number than Characteristic + Ability.)

Simple Die

Roll 1d10 (0 counts as 10). This is used for uncomplicated checks with no chance of critical failure or success.

Stress Die

Roll 1d10. 2-9 are counted normally.

0 counts as 0, not 10, and may indicate a botch. Roll a number of additional d10s as botch dice based on the risk of the situation (and possibly reduced by other factors). If any of these botch dice also roll 0, the roll is an automatic failure and a botch. If no botch dice come up as 0, the die roll just counts as 0 (so can potentially succeed if the flat add hits the target).

1 explodes. Reroll the die and multiply the rerolled die result (before adds) by 2. On rerolls, 0 counts as 10. If the reroll also rolls 1, reroll again and multiply the multiplier (x4 after the second 1, x8 after the third, etc.). For example, 1, then 1, then 5 means a final die result of 20.

Ease Factor

Targets range from 3 to 24, with 9 as Average.

Character Types

  • Hermetic Magi must take The Gift and an apprenticeship phase. The basic assumption is that they begin play shortly after apprenticeship (so an extensive later life phase indicates a late apprenticeship), but players may make more experienced magi at the GM’s approval, who take the after apprenticeship phase.
  • Companions may take The Gift, if desired, but cannot yet have been through an apprenticeship (they may become magi in play, if desired). They take the early childhood and later life phases only. They are recommended to be connected to the magi of other players, as you will not play your mage and your companion in the same session.
  • Grogs may not take The Gift. They may only take up to three points of Virtues and Flaws, and may only take minor Virtues and Flaws. Personality traits are most important for them (as they may be played by any player, so personality traits give guidance on what they should do), and it’s highly recommended that they have Loyalty and Bravery as two personality traits (to check what they do in a crisis). As with Companions, they take only early childhood and later life phases. They lack Confidence.

For troupe-style play, each player will usually make one Hermetic Mage, one Companion, and one or more Grogs. Any player’s Grogs may be played by other players (usually when they don’t have a mage or companion in the scene).

Character Creation

Magi Only: House and Apprenticeship Phases

All magi choose a single Hermetic House, which grants a bonus Virtue (which does not count against the 10 point limit or require a flaw). When generating Abilities, magi must take an apprenticeship phase (see below), and may take an after apprenticeship phase with the GM’s approval.

Virtues and Flaws

Characters start with 0 points to spend on Virtues and Flaws (though Mages receive a bonus Virtue from their House). Each minor Flaw taken awards one point to spend on Virtues, and each major Flaw awards three points. Likewise, minor Virtues cost one and major Virtues cost three. You can have a maximum of 10 points of Flaws (and, thus, 10 points of Virtues).

All characters must purchase a Social Status Virtue (and may have only one unless noted). Some Social Statuses cost 0 points (Covenfolk, Craftsman, Hermetic Magus, Merchant, Peasant, and Wanderer). See the Virtues and Flaws list for positive or negative statuses.

It is recommended that characters limit themselves to a single Story Flaw, to avoid overwhelming the GM with possibilities. Likewise, characters should have no more than two Personality flaws (only one of them Major) to avoid making a character that’s a bundle of neuroses.

You can only have up to five points of minor flaws (i.e., for the full 10 points of flaws, you must take two major and four minor flaws). You can’t take a flaw you can easily ignore/fix with magic.

Only characters with The Gift can take Hermetic Virtues and Flaws. Hermetics should take at least one Hermetic Flaw.

See the chapter starting on page 36 for lists of Virtues and Flaws.

Characteristics

All characters gain seven points to spend on Characteristics (and can gain more by taking some Characteristics negative). All Characteristics start at 0.

Characteristics cost/award their new level in points to increase, so cost or grant 1/3/6 total for 1/2/3. Characteristics cannot exceed +3 or -3 at character creation.

Magi are recommended to have a good Intelligence, Stamina, and Communication.

The Characteristics are: Intelligence (Int), Perception (Per), Strength (Str), Stamina (Sta), Presence (Pre), Communication (Com), Dexterity (Dex), Quickness (Qik)

Abilities

There are five types of ability: General, Academic, Arcane, Martial, and Supernatural. All characters must have particular Virtues to allow the purchase of non-General ability types during the early childhood and later life phases. Hermetic Mages may take Academic, Arcane, and Martial abilities from apprenticeship onward without a Virtue. The Gift allows you to take a single Supernatural ability, if desired (take Virtues to buy more than one such ability).

The character’s age sets a maximum for any Ability at character creation:

  • Under 30: 5
  • 30-35: 6
  • 36-40*: 7
  • 41-45*: 8
  • 46+*: 9

* Characters must make aging rolls after age 35.

Most Abilities cost new level x 5 XP to raise (e.g., 15 XP to go from 2 to 3, or 30 total XP to go from 0 to 3). Magical Art Abilities cost new level x 1 XP (e.g., 3 XP to go from 2 to 3, or 6 total XP to go from 0 to 3). See the Advancement Table on page 31.

See the chapter starting on page 62 for lists of Abilities.

Each character takes multiple age-based phases to generate XP that can be spent on Abilities:

Early Childhood (All)

Years 0-5 grant the character [Native Language] 5 and 45 XP. This XP must be spent on (Area) Lore (for birth area), Athletics, Awareness, Brawl, Charm, Folk Ken, Guile, [Other Living Language], Stealth, Survival, or Swim. Sample childhood packages are on page 31.

Later Life (All)

During each post-early childhood, pre-apprenticeship year, the character earns 15 (20 if Wealthy, 10 if Poor) XP. These years can be grouped together up to age 35 and spent as a lump sum, but should be spent year-by-year after 35 due to having to make aging checks. Characters can potentially die in character creation due to aging check results (at which point, they are recommended to ignore the last year of changes and stop character creation at the last living year).

Apprenticeship (Mage only)

Magi spend 15 years on apprenticeship (generally finishing just before starting play, unless the GM allows more experienced mages; they must have appropriate Virtues to take non-General skills in pre-Apprenticeship phases). This grants 240 XP (and 120 levels of spells, see below).

The mage must have Parma Magica 1, Magic Theory 1, and Latin 1 (15 XP for the set) after apprenticeship, and is recommended to have at least Artes Liberales 1, Latin 4, Magic Theory 3, and Parma Magica 1 (90 XP for the set). The mage cannot have Parma Magica greater than 1 without taking the after apprenticeship phase (as swearing the Hermetic Oath and learning Parma Magica is the final step before the end of apprenticeship).

Aging can still be an issue for magi that start this phase at 21 or older.

After Apprenticeship (Mage with GM approval only)

If the GM allows mages to start play more than a year after finishing apprenticeship, years may be calculated differently depending on time spent on research. See page 32 for these rules.

Spells

Magi gain 120 levels of spells from apprenticeship (and may have more from after apprenticeship years). Each spell has a fixed level. For example, buying a level 15 spell uses 15 of the 120 points.

A mage can only learn spells with levels that don’t exceed the associated Technique and Form total (plus Int + Magic Theory + 3). For example, a mage with Int +3, Magic Theory 4, Creo 5, Ignem 6 can learn Creo Ignem spells with a level of 21 or less.

Personality

Each character should have three personality adjectives, and they can be rated -3 to +3. There is no cost to having positive scores or reward for negative scores. For mages and companions, they are generally an arbitrary description of how you intend to play the character (though some Virtues and Flaws, like Berserk, may have systems that make you roll your personality traits).

Grogs should all have Loyalty as one of their traits, and any Grogs that might be in a fight should have Bravery. The GM may require you to roll a Grog’s Loyalty or Bravery to determine behavior in a risky situation.

Reputation

Character with certain Virtues and Flaws may gain a Reputation score, which is rolled to see if strangers have heard of you. See page 19 for rules.

Confidence

Non-Grogs have Confidence score 1 and three Confidence Points, unless modified by Virtues or Flaws. Spend Confidence Points for +3 to a roll after rolling (cannot spend more points per roll than Confidence score). See page 19-20 for more information. Grogs generally do not have Confidence.

Equipment

Characters have appropriate mundane equipment based on station and career. Magi that take an After Apprenticeship phase may have acquired/created magical equipment based on the rules for that phase.

Hermetic Notes

Houses

  • Bjornaer (Mystery Cult): Animagi that gain Heartbeast Virtue and Heartbeast 1 Ability
  • Bonisagus (True Lineage): Researchers that gain Puissant Magical Theory Virtue (researchers) OR Puissant Intrigue Virtue (politicians)
  • Criamon (Mystery Cult): Riddlers that gain The Enigma Virtue and Enigmatic Wisdom 1 Ability
  • Ex Miscellanea (Societas): Members of smaller traditions that gain a Minor Hermetic Virtue, a Major non-Hermetic Virtue, and a Major Hermetic Flaw to represent the proclivities of their sub-tradition
  • Flambeau (Societas): Destroyers that gain Puissant (Perdo or Ignem) Virtue
  • Guernicas (True Lineage): Justiciars that gain Hermetic Prestige Virtue (most likely group to become Quaesitors)
  • Jerbiton (Societas): Artist/scholars that gain a Minor Virtue related to scholarship, arts, or mundane interaction
  • Mercere (True Lineage): Messengers who gain Puissant (Creo or Muto) Virtue; their non-mages often take the Major Status (Redcap) Virtue
  • Merinita (Mystery Cult): Faerie mages that gain the Faerie Magic Virtue (if you do not have another faerie-related Virtue or Flaw, you must take a Warping Point to be initiated)
  • Tremere (True Lineage): Battle legates who gain the Minor Magical Focus (Certamen) Virtue
  • Tytalus (Societas): Conflict-focused magi who gain the Self Confident Virtue (most of their number were wiped out years ago when the house became demon-corrupted)
  • Verditius (Mystery Cult): Magic crafters that gain the Verditius Magic Virtue.

You have to start your apprenticeship in a True Lineage to be a member of that house. The other houses can be joined later.

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