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House rules

Ars Magica Simplex
Version 0.6

Ars Magica is a rich, marvellous game. However, this richness induces some complexity, which increased in certain areas with the successive editions and sourcebooks. If, like me, you have less time to play, less time to deal with the "mechanics", or if your players are less inclined than others toward mastering extensive rules (it is also my case), this article may suit you. It aims, a bit like Michaël de Verteuil's column Heretic's Corner in Hermes' Portal, but less radically, at simplifying the rules of Ars Magica, while maintaining compatibility with the official game and its sourcebooks. Thus, I will discuss, chapter by chapter (chapter numbers are the same), all the 4th edition rules I feel interesting to modify. I will mainly focus on the most common mechanics, leaving aside those that can be easily considered as options. Of course, treat all this as suggestions and not absolute laws, especially since I have not playtested all these ideas.

II. Characters

Virtues and flaws

Bring Companions back to 7 points of virtues/flaws. The maximum of 10 generally encourages players to reach it and there are not enough mundane virtues and flaws to do it. You often get characters that are... not very consistent, to be kind.

Abilities

Abilities to suppress

Abilities to merge

Simplified list of abilities

TALENTS SKILLS KNOWLEDGES
Arcane talents
Faerie magic
Finesse (Pe)
Magical affinity
Will over form (Én)
General talents
Athletics (Én, De, Vi)
Awareness (Pe)
Charm (Pr)
Concentration (Én, In)
Guile (Co, Pe)
Exceptional talents
Animal ken (In, Pe)
Contortions (De, Fo)
Direction sense (Pe)
Divination (In)
Dousing (Pe)
Empathy
Enchanting music (Pr)
Entrancement (Pr)
Healer
Hex
Magic sensivity (Pe)
Mimicry (Co)
Premonitions
Read lips (Pe)
Second sight (Pe)
Sense holy/unholy
Visions
Weather sense (Pe)
Academic skills
Teaching (Co)
Combat skills
Brawling
Single weapon
Great weapon
Chain weapon
Longshaft weapon
Thrown weapon
Bows
Crossbows
Siege equipment
Hermetic skills
Certamen (In)
Parma Magica
Verditius magic
Performance skills
Jongleur (Co, De)
Play instrument (De, Co)
Sing (Co)
Storytelling (Co)
Rogue skills
Disguise (Pe)
Forgery (Co, In)
Legerdemain (De, Vi)
Pick locks (De)
Stealth (De)
Social skills
Bargain (Pr, Co)
Etiquette (Pr, Co)
Intrigue (Pr, Co, Pe)
Leadership (Pr)
Wilderness skills
Animal handling (In, Pe)
Ride (De, Fo)
Survival (Pe, In)
Work skills
Boating (De)
Chirurgy (In, De)
Craft (In, De)
Academic knowledges
Artes Liberales (In)
Civil and canon law (In)
Medicine (In)
Philosophiae (In)
Speak Latin (In)
Theology (In)
Arcane knowledges
Enigmatic wisdom (Pe, In)
Faerie lore (In)
Magic theory (In)
Occult lore (In)
Casual knowledges
Area lore (In)
Legend lore (In)
Organization lore (In)
Speak language (In)
Exceptional knowledges
Alchemy (In)
Herbalism (In)

Specializations

To simplify character creation, do not make players choose their specializations right away. The Storyguide can fix them up later, if necessary, depending on the characters' true actions. Sort of a small, additional reward.

III. Hermetic magic

Raw Vis

Do not differenciate Vis by technique and by form. Raw Vis is a generic energy that can be used for any kind of magic. In counterpart, the Storyguide might have to be less generous in Vis sources.

Casting spells

Requisites

Suppress casting requisites. Either make them normal requisites, or simply eliminate them. As a general rule, when creating new spells, limit requisites as much as possible.

Targeting

Some spells always reach their target, others do not. Why, after all? It's magic! Furthermore, fireball and ligthning addicts are usually expert enough in Finesse to hit each time, so let's take it easy. Consider that a correctly casted spell always hits its target.

Magic resistance

Do not roll any dice, neither for magic resistance, nor for penetration (directly consider the spell level, and not the die roll). This is justified for formulaic spells that are supposed to always produce more or less the same effect. Spontaneous spells have their level defined by a die roll, of course.

Certamen

Loss of Fatigue occurs for each range of 5 points over the opponent roll, even incomplete. It helps speeding up duels.

IV. Laboratory

The laboratory in play

Multiple activities

It is impossible to have multiple activities.

Apprentices

Teaching an apprentice

When a child becomes an apprentice, he earns his age in experience points. These points are allocated to abilities by the Storyguide. For the next 15 years, the apprentice wins 3 experience points during the season he is taught by his master, plus 1 point by exposure, for a total of 4 points per year in abilities, to be allocated by the magus' player (refer to House templates). For the 10 first years of apprenticeship, the Storyguide also assigns 1 experience point to the apprentice's abilities.

Furthermore, an apprentice earns 10 experience points in Arts and 10 spell levels per year for the 15 years of his apprenticeship, to the player's discretion. The acquired spell levels may be cumulated to later learn more powerful spells.

"Quick and dirty" method

If apprentices are only used as lab assistants, the simplest is to give them an Intelligence score and award them automatically one experience point per year in Magic Theory (which allows them to reach a score of 5 in 15 years).

VI. Combat

It is curious that combat in Ars Magica, though clearly secondary, is precise and involves lots of computing. The 4th edition has made an attempt to lighten the system, while introducing new, cumbersome rules. Globally, this was counter-productive in the end. In my opinion, this proposal goes one step further in simplification, while preserving the same spirit and becoming consistent with classical abilities usage.

Pre-computed combat totals

Combat sequence

1. Movement: Each player declares the movements and actions of his character. Then, everything follows the following phases. Within each phase, actions are simultaneous.

2. First missiles:

Target condition Modifier
Touch / Reach (less than 2 paces) No firing possible
Near (less than 15 paces) +3
Middle range (less than 50 paces) 0
Far (less than 200 paces) +6
Obscured (darkness or cover) +3
Unmoving or walking carefully 0
Hustling +3
Sprinting +6
Small or large size - Size
Aiming for one missile phase -3
Qik + Wpn skill Bows Light crossbow Heavy crossbow
-8(*) à -5 2/- 2/- 3/-
-4 à 0 1/- 2/- 2/-
1 à -5 1/- 1/- 2/-
6 à 10 1/2 1/- 1/-
11 et + 1/1 1/2 1/-

(*) -8 is the theoretic minimum with a -5 Quickness and no skill mastery (-3 penalty).

3. Melee:

Situation Modifier
Off-hand -3
High ground +3
Charging +3
Charging on horse +6
Set for charge +3

4. Seconds missiles: As first missiles

5. Magic: First spontaneous magic, then formulaic magic. A magus wearing an armor must first make a Stamina + Concentration roll to cast his spell. The difficulty factor is shown in the Fatigue table.

Fatigue

If a character rolls a 0 in combat, even if it is not a botch, he must make a Stamina + Athletics stress roll against a difficulty factor provided in the following table. In case of failure, the charater looses a Fatigue level, two or more in case of botch (depending on the botch severity, to the Storyguide's discretion).

Armor worn Difficulty Factor
Quilted / Fur 3
Heavy leather 6
Metal reinf leather 9
Leather scale 9
Steel scale mail 12
Chain mail 12
Shield or two-handed weapon +3

Damage

A wounded character looses a Body level for each 5 damage points range, even incomplete.

Combat options

Surprise attack

The surprised character does not roll any dice, he only opposes his Dexterity + Weapon skill total to his opponent's roll.

Numerical inferiority

The character in numerical inferiority opposes the same roll to all its foes, but he suffers a penalty of -3 per adversary beside the first one (-6 for 3 foes, for instance).

Disarm a foe

To disarm a foe, the action must be declared in advance and the die roll must be 10 points higher or more. The adversary is then disarmed, but suffers no damage.

Mounted combat

The character's weapon skill is limited by his Ride score. A mounted fighter has a +3 bonus to his combat roll (high ground). Fatigue rolls are replaced by Dexterity + Ride rolls against 9+. In case of failure, the fighter looses one Fatigue level. In case of botch, he falls and looses one Body level or more (depending on the botch severity, to the Storyguide's discretion).

Brawling maneuvers

Weapons and armor

Weapon Damage Strength Range Cost
Brawling weapons
Fist
Kick
Gauntlet
Knife
Dagger
 
+0
+1
+1
+2
+3
 
-
-
-
-
-
 
-
-
-
-
-
 
-
-
Inexpensive
Inexpensive
Inexpensive
Single weapons
Shortspear
Mace
Axe
Shortsword
Longsword
 
+4
+5
+6
+4
+5
 
-2
-1
+0
-2
-1
 
-
-
-
-
-
 
Inexpensive
Inexpensive
Standard
Standard
Standard
Chain weapons
Net
Whip
Morningstar (2h)
Flail (2h)
 
+0 (*)
+2
+8
+7
 
-2
-2
+1
+0
 
-
-
-
-
 
Inexpensive
Standard
Expensive
Standard
Great weapons
Quarterstaff
Greatsword
Polearm
War maul
Battleaxe
 
+3
+8
+9
+10
+10
 
-2
+1
+1
+2
+2
 
-
-
-
-
-
 
Inexpensive
Expensive
Expensive
Standard
Expensive
Longshaft weapons
Lance
Pike
Billhook
 
+6
+7
+8
 
-1
+0
+1
 
-
-
-
 
Inexpensive
Standard
Standard
Thrown weapons
Stone
Sling
Throwing knife
Throwing axe
Javelin
Caber
 
+2
+3
+3
+4
+6
+10
 
-
-
-
-1
-1
+3
 
Near
Middle
Near
Near
Near
Near
 
-
Inexpensive
Standard
Standard
Standard
Standard
Bows
Short bow
Long bow
Composite bow
 
+4
+10
+9
 
-1
+1
+0
 
Far
Far
Far
 
Standard
Standard
Expensive
Crossbows
Light crossbow
Heavy crossbow
 
+10
+12
 
-2
-2
 
Far
Far
 
Expensive
Expensive

(*) If the attack succeeds, a Dexterity roll of 9+ is necessary to break free.

Armor Protection Strength Cost
Quilted / Fur 1 - Inexpensive
Heavy leather 3 - Inexpensive
Metal reinf leather 5 - Standard
Leather scale 6 - Standard
Steel scale mail 7 - Standard
Chain mail 8 - Expensive
Buckler +1 -1 Standard
Round shield +2 +0 Standard
Kite shield +2 +0 Expensive
Tower shield +4 +1 Expensive

VII. Storyguide

Aging

The 4th edition rules are very elegant, but when it comes to age a whole turbula, they become quite cumbersome. For a simple management, the best is not to make grogs evolve and to arbitrarily decide the great changes in their lives (marriage, children, wounds, death...).

For a finer and more personnalized approach, I suggest getting back to the 3rd edition rules, slightly modified. A character starts aging at 35 + Stamina. In the winter of the year when he reaches that age and all the subsequent winters, he rolls on the following aging table.

Aging roll = Simple die + (Age/10)- + Decrepitude [- Longevity potion bonus]

Roll Effect
1 None
2 None
3 None
4 None
5 None
6 Perception
7 Quickness
8 Dexterity
9 Strength
10 Stamina
11 Presence
12 Communication
13 Intelligence
14 Decrepitude point
15 Death

Experience and advancement

Teaching

The Teaching skill applies to Knowledges and Arts. To be an efficient teaExpensive, the character must have a minimum level of 3 in an ability and 5 in an Art. A teaExpensive can teach at most Communication + Teaching students.

For each student, the Study Total is equal to Communication (TeaExpensive) + Teaching + Intelligence (Student) + 6. This total gives the experience points accumulated in a season for Arts. For abilities, divide by 5 and round up. A student cannot gain more that three ability or Art levels in one season, and can never surpass his master's level.

Books

Only use summae. The rest is cumbersome and can easily be abused. Not to render the character's library too powerful, the storyguide might have to keep the book quality with reasonable limits (about half the book's level, never more than the book's level).

IX. Covenants

Here is a major flaw in the 4th edition. I see two solutions: either develop the Covenant "by instinct", with roleplay and common sense; or, if the first solution is not sufficiently well bounded, re-use the "Covenants" 3rd edition sourcebook.

XI. Realms

Realm interaction

There are two extreme approaches to manage interactions between the Magic, Faerie, Divine, and Infernal Realms: keep the rules as they are with all the mental computation they induce (not that this is not infeasible), or simply suppress these influences (that would be a shame, though). A possible intermediary approach is to qualify aura strength on a smaller scale: weak (no perceptible influence - basic bonus/penalty: 0), average (clearly perceptible influence - basic bonus/penalty: 5), or strong (disturbing influence - basic bonus/penalty: 10). The interaction table thus becomes the following.

Power used
Aura type Magic Divine Faerie Infernal
Magic 0/+5/+10 0/-5/-10 0/+3/+5 0/-5/-10
Divine 0/-5/-10 0/+5/+10 0/-10/-20 0/-15/-30
Faerie 0/+3/+5 0/-10/-20 0/+5/+10 0/-5/-10
Infernal 0/-5/-10 0/-10/-20 0/-10/-20 0/-10/-20

Regiones

Regiones are mythic areas that coexist with our dimension, some kinds of pocket parallel universes. They have only one layer and are defined by their aura (its type and might). To enter a regio, a Perception stress roll (plus any applicable bonus) is needed against a difficulty factor provided by the following table (using the aura strengths defined in the "Realm interaction" paragraph). If the aura outside the regio is not aligned to the aura within, always consider it as weak.

Regio aura strength
Mundane dimension aura strength Weak Average Strong
Weak 9 12 15
Average - 9 12
Strong - - 9

Bibliography

  1. M. de Verteuil, "Heretic's Corner", Hermes' Portal 1, Sept. 2001.

Acknowledgments


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Last update: 09/09/2017

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