Gifts for packrats, the Pavise

What do you get the pack-rat who has everything? A Pavise.

It is a very large shield used to protect bowmen; often during sieges. To me it looks more like a portable wall than a shield, but hey it obviously worked. Carrying your own cover is probably considered strange in regular rpg circles, and I’m not even sure what the stats for something like this would be in any game system. Parry, er no – its not moving. Cover from missile weapons? For sure.

In terms of size and load, they ranged from the size of other half height shields, which you would need to crouch to use, right up to full height barriers (basically doors). The real difference between a normal shield and a pavise seems to be the purpose built mount which allows the device to stand along without the user’s support, and be moved around slowly.

There are also a number of illustrations which indicate that they serve a number of other purposes, like having larger versions which infantry can also hide behind, or ultra-delux versions which small grates and doors built in to allow extra sniping options, and protection. It’s tempting to rework Leomund’s Tiny Hut into a Pavise effect.

Judging by the material easily found online they look to be taken to large battles and often decorated with ornate scenes. A basic pavise would be a section of wooden wall with a small foot stand (yup a wall). I could also see more advanced versions supporting a nice lazy curve, a shelf, perhaps a spine of some stronger material, and optional ways to get it around, like attaching wheels or lift bars. Heck add a few more splints of wood and the archery company is also carrying the dead around on readily available boards. Or just put a few bottles of booze on the inside and you’ve got a portable bar.

For stats, I’d say it should rule as cover as that is the clear purpose. If some archer is mad enough to pick the thing up and use it as a shield then make it like an ungainly tower shield – yes it gives cover but you’re not meant to pick it up as a proper shield. So +4 against other archers, and +0 against a swordsman who knows where to put the pointy end.

Whats a Sigil?

The casting sigil (in Ars Magica) is a magical effect that is personal to the magus, and persists across all the magi’s spells as an inherent effect. Think of it as a theme or flavour text added to each spell.

It could be considered a variable in-built automatic fingerprint within the magic itself, that may identify the caster.

Sigils can be as strange as the player likes, but would always be present. Ideally the sigil would even be included in the character’s sheet for specific spells. Creating the sigil is as personal as a character name, and should add something to the lore of the character. I like the idea enough that I’d like to see it adopted in other spell casting games; even the mainstream games like DnD could add this without a negative aspect. Of course it might be a tad of a giveaway sometimes (like sound when you’re trying to cast silently), but that should be all part of the glamour.

In the games I’ve played the sigil also scaled with the level of the spell, and potential side effects. It makes sense to me that a powerful spell would also contain a more powerful expression of the magi’s sigil.

I’ve seen some odd stuff as sigils.

  • Blood dripping from the hands of the magus. This might be expanded for particularly strong spells to be a full stigmata, or for a weak spell, just the touch of blood on the fingertips.
  • The sound and feeling of wind, storms, or thunder; relative to the power of the spell.
  • The sound of music, with flutes and lutes for some powers, and drums and horns for others.
  • The sound of chimes or discordant gears from a verditius mage, depending on either hurtful or protective magic.
  • Shadows become me pronounced, somehow deeper, and other light sources brighter and sharper.
  • A minor swell of gravity toward and then away from the magus, where grass might lean inwards and outwards, or powerful trees will sway as the spell takes effect. Doors swing and close.

As other examples, this is a list of a few (stolen) from the official ArM forums. Go read them there too. E.g:

  • Maga has “incorporeality” as her casting sigil – her spells appear to make things more translucent, light, or so on.
  • A Criamon magus had the sigil of “Enigmatic Runes”, manifesting both in the spell’s effect and on his body. The runes could actually be interpreted by someone with Enigmatic Wisdom, pointing to him and perhaps revealing something.
  • A Jerbiton magus’ signature is that things appear to be more idealistic if at all possible; his magic is centered around the Chivalric ideals.
  • Musical, Magical Troubador Mercere – urge to sing and dance among those nearby.
  • A herbum specialist – flowering plants appear to blossom.
  • Verditius swordsmith – brief sting of hot metal on his hands.
  • Flambeau engineer – steam forms around caster.
  • Flambeau bruiser – hair singes (keeps the hair fairly short).
  • Verditius weaver – threads seem to spin out from her casting tools.

Adding Crossbows with MetaCreator for ArsMagica

The software MetaCreator by Alter Ego Software has been around for many years, and continues to be one of the best tools for managing characters for Ars Magica. I’d sing their praises happily for this entire post, but I also wish to share a small tweak that I found useful for running an Ars Magica game – and that is how to include Crossbows in the core software when generating characters.

Update: After getting help from MC’s creators, the custom data sheet for Lords of Men now calculates the Crossbow and other crossbow like weapon damage correctly without the need for the formula tweak. Its all automatic. Must say I’m darn impressed with what can be done in MetaCreator.

I’ve created a data sheet that includes these options already included. If you’d like a copy of the data sheet just me let me know.

crossbow sketch from core game template does not include rules for crossbows, and the rules have been included in a few other sourcebooks, including a free Pdf by Atlas Games called the Lords of Men Web Supplement. Below are two ways to add crossbows to characters.

While both require some tweaks to the character sheet, the second method means that you only need to make a manual edit once per weapon; rather than in multiple places and also means that characters are created with the associated skills properly.

The trick is that crossbows function differently from other missile weapons in Ars Magica, in that they do not add the characters strength score as part of the weapon damage calculation. This is because it is the power of the crossbow itself rather than the strength of the wielder. That makes sense, but that also means that crossbow type weapons function differently to all other weapons in the setting.

The simple approach in Meta Creator

A simple way (but still very manual) is to add a Generic Ability and Generic Weapon to the character, and change the stats to match the Crossbow skill and weapon stats as applied to the character’s combat scores. That does make them manageable, but you still need to adjust the skill manually, it won’t link the stats properly, and it won’t have the correct limitations for Martial skill training built in. Further it will not auto-calculate if you change any stats. So it would work, it requires no additional modules or datasheets, but has some limitations.

To get more advanced functions you need to start playing around with data files and setting up your own data sheets.

Data Sheets, and new House rules

The trick is to create a new data-sheet for the crossbows, which adds the Crossbow Ability and the Equipment item to the selectable options. How that is done is a kind of geek magic, which is not for all users of Meta Creator to attempt (see the MC readme for that). If you’re familiar with data and perhaps complex excel type functions it will be OK.

Then once the new rules are loaded into your config of MetaCreator you add the Crossbow skill and weapon to your equipment in the normal way. Just like any other weapon and item.

There is one small additional fix needed though, and that is to work around the damage calculation formula. After you’ve added it open the crossbow on your character’s equipment list, select the Damage item, and edit the formula used for Damage on the weapon:

Original = format('%+d', str+`Dmg`+`Quality Arms`+b_dmg) Change to = format('%+d',+`Dmg`+`Quality Arms`+b_dmg)

After that the weapon will not include the character’s strength in the damage, but will retain whatever damage values (with the crossbow defaults) for calculations and updates.

This also still allows the Crossbow to be created as a weapon of quality, and all the other standard options that weapons have in MetaCreator.

PS – I’m not posting the custom data sheet online for everyone to use, as I’m not sure if I am actually allowed to create something based on Atlas’s IP or if that runs across the exclusive agreement that Alter Ego have for Ars Magica. So instead its a home use mod. I hope that this is all ok, as everything here has been done within the bound of the current software features, and not changed any of the published files.

How does MR and Penetration work in Ars Magica?

I swear on all things unholy that the descriptions in Ars Magica 5th edition on how Magic Resistance (MR) and Penetration work are confusing. As a roleplayer’s PSA here is my breakdown of how it works, with a worked example that explores some of the edge cases you’ll encounter.

(I’ve checked with the gurus in the Ars Magica official forums, so the worked example below should be accurate.)

So how does MR and Penetration work in Ars Magica?

The simple explanation is that the penetration total for a spell must be higher than the target’s magic resistance. If they have no MR, then the spell effects are resolved as normal. So the Penetration total must exceed the MR.

As a basic principal the more raw power the Magus has to cast the spell the better, however that power is used for the generation of the spell effect and also for determining if it can pierce the Magic Resistance of the target. Essentially the more power the Magus uses in generating the spell, the less power they have to defeat any MR they might encounter.

That might seem odd, but it makes sense when you consider that most mundane targets (most normal humans) have no magic resistance at all. So against those targets the caster can opt to use their best very powerful spell (such as an instant death spell) instead of a far weaker spell that might just hurt or paralyse the target. The lesser powered spell might harm a creature with MR, as more of the remaining potential energy is being used to penetrate the creature’s resistance.

However almost all of the supernatural creatures, Magi, and some holy men do have magic resistance from various sources, and their MR must be overcome before considering the effect the spell might have. Thus the Ars Magica rules were updated in 5th edition to demonstrate that MR is valuable and something that Magi must consider when fighting with magical enemies.

So the penetration is the remainder when spell’s power level is subtracted from the power the magus generates. This means that sometimes the penetration value (the remainder) is less the magic resistance of the target, and therefore the spell is repelled. Sometimes the remainder is negative, which means that while the spell was cast successfully, the spell could only affect creates that have no magic resistance at all. i.e. It would only affect mundanes.

Continue reading

Another trpbtntwas Perspective

The guff-guff TRPBTNTWAs means “Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About” as coined on the Monsters and Manuals blog, and later at Jeff’s Game blog. It is a list of topics to make comment on, and I like a quick rant – so here goes:

  1. Book binding. I’d prefer my source material to be smaller if it is modules or inserts, but otherwise like a good solid hardcover book for almost everything. I paid a long while ago to get a copy Ars Magica hard cover bound, and I’m sure it still looks darn good on the shelf.
  2. “Doing a voice”. How many people “do voices”? Players and GMs should do voices when they can, and it has to suit the troupe. I like it, but also can understand why it cam make people look silly. Talking in the third person is my pet hate for “characterisation”.
  3. Breaks. How often do you have breaks within sessions? As needed, hopefully not at all. We play every fornight at the moment and it takes too long to get rolling sometimes as it is without formal breaks.
  4. Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions? Mine? Poor, very direct, and focused on the scenario. I must do better at this.
  5. Where do you strike the balance between “doing what your character would do” and “acting like a dickhead”? I think the balance is to use the reasonable person test. Would a reasonable person accept that as a valid action? If your actions are making somebody uncomfortable, you should tone it back. If you are being rude, then do it only a few times, or find another way.
  6. PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go? Strictly speaking anything goes, but I’d be disappointed if the characters were generated so this could happen frequently. I guess that means I don’t like it.
  7. How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player? It is like theater sports, like acting. We play make-believe.
  8. Alchohol at the table? Sure, no problem. Drunk? Hopefully not.
  9. What’s acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits? They miss out on XP and progression, they miss the game too which is really missing out on the fun. Overall they should not be penalised greatly at all, and hopefully the other players are not penalised for them missing either.

Ars Magica Perspective on 20 Quick Questions

Jeff’s Game Blog has a great post of 20 quick questions for your campaign setting. I’m spinning up an Ars Magica game at the moment, and the answers demonstrate just how different it can be to a typical hack and slash setting.

  1. What is the deal with my cleric’s religion? If he is truly a believer then you might be somewhat a bad ass priest. Otherwise is probable your faith is more like a profession, than a calling. Either way the robes are usually comfortable, and the cannon law is very forgiving.
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? If you mean food and clothes, the nearest moderate sized village is 14 miles east. If you mean weapons, then you’ll need a darn good reason to carry them or the local lord might get nasty. Maybe just anger the Lord and take them from him somewhat damaged?
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Talk to a Verditius magus, or make a deal with the covenant smith involving a lot of alcohol and silver. No city armorer will take you seriously.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? Probably one of the House Primi, although amongst the upper scale of Magi it is really hard to tell. I heard of a lich living in northern Scotland who is pretty old, but he is also known to be overly nasty too.
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? I’d say that would be a Magus too. A sword, lance, or heavy horse is not much of a match for a well placed Incantation of Lightning. Or perhaps a Bjornaer with a Lion heartshape.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land? Probably the King, although one of the bishops might give him a challenge when it comes to lifestyle.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing? Again, go to the Magi in the covenant – and hope you can either blackmail them, or they owe you a big favor. Wasting Vis on healing is almost crazy.
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? A good (as in pious) priest, or a Magus. YMMV, as explaining undeath to a village priest will be odd. Entertaining for sure, but also odd.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? Or to ask another question: You mean you want to leave the Order of Hermes? Close your eyes and step toward the Flambeau Magus please.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? A city, burning at the stake, or in a covenant. Good people are hard to find.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries? A moderate size town might avail a few bodyguards, otherwise a large town or city will be needed. Perhaps try chatting to your local lord about setting up a special deal, in exchange for some favour.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? In the wilderness nobody can hear you scream. In the cities, the laws tend to be enforced with a straight hand, although to be honest that depends who you know too. Do you have the social contacts virtue?
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern? The covenant has a main hall, will that do? And to find wenches, see same.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? Vikings, ghouls, storm mages, ghosts, ancient intelligent weapons, other Magi; and so on will all grant a good name and some fame for you. They also might kill, rape, pillage, possess, or burn you; which is far less worthy of a story. I’ll be in the main hall drinking with the wenches than you very much.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? In Medieval Europe? Probably one per 2 year period either starting or ending. Did you hear the sermon on how great the crusade is? I hear they all get free absolution, which is normally so darn expensive.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Generally speaking killing for sport is left to the nobility. Jousting is a great way to kill without consequences.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? Yes. Plenty. More than you could ever know.
  18. What is there to eat around here? Fish, sheep, goats, and plenty of mead and ale. The monsters of the area feed on peasants, but now and then they get a Companion and Magus too. Yummy.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? Yes, fingers of the Christ come in singles or boxes of ten. How many can I put you down for?
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? The Pyrenees are known for a large drake, about the size of a small mountain – will that do? Else the Leviathan is probably somewhere off the coast of Italy.

Happy gaming.