New Ars Duration: Seal

When pondering the Target: Container, I came across the Ars communities thoughts on adding a new Duration: Seal as an allowed Hermetic spell constraint. Its a very good idea thrashed out by these community members (Ezzelino, Xavi, Timothy Ferguson, Gerg, YR7, Cuchulainshound, MarioJPC, GribbletheMunchkin, Jabir, Tellus, Richard Love).

Seal – this duration lasts until either the seal on the object is broken, or the object is opened in another way; the seal is active until it is effectively bypassed. The seal duration would be valid when used on a flask sealed with lead, but the spell would end immediately if the flask was broken, even if the flasks lead seal was not damaged.

The target of the spell using a Seal duration must be contained by the seal, the container, or the seal itself. Thus the contents of a bottle are valid, but a the object within a room behind a sealed door are not.

The seal must be intended to hold the object closed in a permanent manner, and must be applied to an object which could reasonably be sealed. Closing a door, or locking a chest is not permanent enough to use the Seal duration. Typical seals are wax sealed bottles, sealed letters, doors sealed with clay.

When used in this manner the seal is inscribed and marked in detail when initially created. Seal is a base: +3 magnitude duration when used.

This is a Duration that would require a Hermetic breakthrough to utilise, as while it has a narrow range of applications it does also extend some durations far beyond normal hermetic limits.

XP Calculation (ArM How To)

As a response to the confusion* I had when my players were creating characters, here is a summary how XP is calculated for characters in Ars Magica; using a slightly different method from the default in the style of explanation. The outcome is the same, and I find the points breakdown far easier to spend during creation, especially when done by hand.

As there are two broad character types in Ars Magica, the character generation is also designed in two ways: there are rules for Magi, and rules for everyone else. The Companion and Grog (mundanes) rules are very simple, and the Magi rules are far more complicated.

XP in 5th edition has been heavily base-lined, so that the points spent in Abilities (skills) are the same as the points spent on Arts and Spells (magical powers). The characters spend them in different ways, but essentially as the points are the same, I sum up the totals, and set checkpoints for the minimum spend in the different areas.

The examples below for Magi demonstrate how powerful having post-apprenticeship years are before play begins, so it is worth noting that it is not typical to do this for young Magi, or that it might create an imbalance between characters. Be wary allowing too many years post-apprenticeship, and always enforce the Warp point penalties (2 per year post-apprenticeship).

XP Formula: Early Childhood + Later Life (+ Apprenticeship + Post-Apprenticeship)

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Quick names for Characters

I had a quick thought about character names for rpg games – typically a name should reflect something about the character, and also serve as a reminder for the gm or player about a deeper character. On the surface that is somewhat hard. So here are two suggestions:

Pick them from MMO directories.

The Wow Armory is good and searching by a guild or server will give you a toon list to start from. That said though warcrat players are also a bloody stupid bunch at times as proved by a GuildOx article which shows the popular names by class – no surprise the most popular are god damned horrid.

There is a pool of millions of players out there that create characters in mmos every week. Amongst them are truly great,and totally awful names; don’t be shy.

Grab a baby naming book.

Baby name books are great when your setting is quasi-earth, as they often have lists for “powerful, “fun”, “biblical”, etc. Most used book stores will have one or two, and you’ll not pay much for them.

A good book Pdf is also good, and recently I grabbed a 25001 baby name book on Pdf, and its made is so much easier.

New Ars Target: Container

I was pondering the well known carrying items, like a magic chest, or bag of holding, and thought that the Ars Magica spell guidelines could be extended to have a new target called Container. It would function much the same as T: Room (a +2 mag Target), where all inhabitants of the room are affected.

Container – the spell affects everything within a container. This container must have an opening, have a easily discernible structure and boundaries, and be crafted specifically for carrying or moving. The base container may be of any size up to a coffin, large barrel, or cauldron (size +0 as base).

A key difference is the container does not have to be closed or locked to be valid, or even be water-tight as cups, bird cages, vases, sacks, or backpacks are examples of valid containers. A sack or pouch could not really be considered a room. Container may also be used as a valid target for Creo magic, allowing the mass crated to be up to the volume of the container, as long as the amount of material crated is large enough; thus an advantage over T: Room which cannot be a valid target for creo spells which create things.

With an increase in magnitude larger containers are allowed, such as +1 mag to allow affecting the contents of a massive chest, and +2 mag to affect the contents of a horse drawn cart.

The fundamental difference between using T: Room vs T: Container is the usage of the containers as typically being portable. Some hermetic spells may make use of T: Room to achieve T: Container in the setting, and I’d suggest this guideline be along side (although probably replacing it) for those effects.

As a minor hermetic breakthrough T: Container seems good enough to be worthy of a Bonisagus’s time, but still not so overt in power to be abusive. It would sit within the spell mechanics at the same degree of power as T: Room, and is intended as an extension to the regular targets already in the game, rather than as a target that would require a special virtue to use.

Magic for mundanes – spells for ArM physical combat

These spells and effects demonstrate the use of hermetic magic in enhancing physical combat, typically for others. While it is easy for a magus to destroy or impair a mundane opponent in an overt manner, these effects can be used in combat in a far more subtle way than fireballs, walls of earth, or lightning bolts; and may also be the basis for effects in enchanted devices for companions.

Soaking Damage

A spell to increase Soak for a character matches the guidelines as a core effect. As a base effect a +2 bonus to soak is a significant combat advantage, while keeping the spell level small enough to not be considered a powerful effect.

The bonus to soak guidelines offer a +1 Soak for each +1 magnitude of spell, so the spells above could be raised or powered by a few levels to provide a different bonus subject to what the caster desires.

The Resistant Skin

Muto Corpus 20, R: Personal, D: Sun, T: Individual

The casters body is enhanced and toughened, gaining a +2 bonus to Soak for the duration. From the Ars Magica muto corpus guidelines p. 132.

(Base 10, +2 Sun)

This spell could be re-worked through to level 35 for +5 soak bonus, which is powerful enough to change a melee combat outcome if only mundanes are involved. Continue reading

An old rpg magazine, Mimesis

Back in the dim dark of my rpg life I was involved in writing and publishing an role playing game magazine. We were a rag tag (unskilled) group of optimists (confused) who thought it could be done better. And for one issue at least it was.

Mimesis issue one Cover I learn more about making people complete work, deadlines, printing methods, budgets, and haggling with stores than I did about roleplaying, and it was my first real action as a author that went somewhere.

Just recently I went sifting through the inter-web and found a rough table of contents, and the cover design. I’m chuffed something of it still exists, as I really thought it was only memory.In that edition I wrote an article about advancing Ars Magica magi from apprenticeship, which fitted to the third edition rules, and another article about using sorcery with an Egyptian feel. From memory the Apprenticeship rules would stand up today, as I remember being really proud of them.

On the other hand I really had no idea if the lore of Egypt in the middle ages matched at all what I wrote, so I suspect the “sorcery” was far from historic, but hey; it was content. Starting a mag with two articles on Ars Magica seemed like a great idea at the time.

It makes me think that the content freely given via blogs is content that would probably never see the light of day, and a slight percentage might have been used in fanzines and publications like this one.The Internet age grants us a massive capacity to share our rambling thoughts, but also to share real value, and if i had my time again I’d probably opt to produce an e-mag rather than a print mag, and pay for it via ad-clicks.

The cover art was by my brother Simon, who I think did an excellent job too, and given this was the pre-internet days (well very early use-net and pine days) having a team collaborating on a single edition, with fancy layout and artwork throughout was something different for a bunch of smelly gamers.

The site also included something of a review:

Volume 1- Magic

Apprentices in Ars Magica Starting out puny.
Chaos Magic Rotes for Mage For Mages who watch too much TV
Interview with Katherine Kerr Roleplaying and books interview.
History of the World (By an American.)
Sorcery for Ars Magica Rules for incorporating a new magic type into Ars Magica, the ancient Egyption srt of Sorcery. Also has conversion notes for GURPS and AD&D.
Magic in Roleplaying and Reality Magic, magic everywhere….
Other Points of Interest
Subscripions are $20 for 4 magazines. The magazine has a light cardboard cover and is 64 pages long. The magazine is printed in black and white and is set out quite well.

If only I could get a digital copy again, and post that up too.

Nostalgia is soothing.

The Walking (un)Dead

Zombies are pretty darn cool, especially at the moment where we see mainstream film and TV creating survivalist shows, and kids TV features zombies as characters. With that firmly in mind as both an inspiration and also to avoid as formulaic – here is a rough take on the flavour of zombies for rpgs that I like.

For starters, no cheese. Brains!

The big cliche is that zombies just want brains, brains, brains. I’m loathe to re-use any of that trope as it creates a cheesy rather than creepy monster. There is no horror left in chewing on a skull. There is horror in the challenge that zombies can present though.

By contrast to shmuck TV, the wights and the Others in Game of Thrones are both scary and frigg’n nasty, and far more in tune with how I’d like Undead to be treated. Undead that are presented as tough enough to be very deadly, worthy of a few heroic deeds are where most rpgs should be aiming. An undead creature should exhibit at least some basic cunning, and some awareness of threat. The d8 HP skeleton was only a challenge for a very short period of time. Soon after running away the team could return to the undead parlor and have their way with the generic undead with ease.

The difference is really considering the purpose but also the intelligence of the creature. Do they have purpose, or simple decision powers, or able to perceive obvious vs subtle clues? I’d like to think that a range of answers is the most appropriate even within the one game setting so that the range of undead encountered varies, even if the physical appearance does not change. Keep the players on their toes in terms of expectations of foes.

Where are they from?

The undead created via magical necromancy (curses, stolen coins, etc) should be able to follow very simple commands, but be very literal in execution.This is so that the necromancer can use the undead as servants and guardians, while they carry on with other nefarious deeds. The magic provides a form of animation and automation that is very different from other zombie sources.

The undead created via a demonic pact should have more cunning and a vicious touch, being guided by a quasi-omnipotent malevolent force.This could be as simple as the infernal touch giving them the intellect of a dog or other animal, or right up to a blended purpose of a gestalt mind. The demonic power really gives as much of a hand-waving-power as introducing holy powers. Go biblical on the characters.

The viral or disease zombies are somewhat harder to steer, as this type of zombie is more used in modern stories where the source of the infestation and the mode are normally explained in a pseudo-science way. The Walking Dead deliberately does not explain the source of the zombie outbreak, but does maintain a consistency in the approach the undead take. The zombies moan, shamble, smell, and act like each other, and it seems more like a brutal virus more than poison. 28 days later has a similar approach, and Resident Evil uses the nasty drug formula as the cause, but maintains the zombies presence fairly consistently. Continue reading

Note to self, Ars 5e longevity rituals

There are some changes to the Longevity Ritual in Ars Magica 5th edition from 4th, that are really interesting; and greatly shifted from my understanding. If you’re not new to 5th edition (being as it’s many years old) then you can probably move along safely.

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Two weapon fighting in Ars Magica

Two weapon fighting is cinematic and exciting, and present in most rolepaying games, especially those with a high fantasy touch like Dungeons and Dragons. Ars Magica on the other hand aims for a level of realism as well as fantasy; and there is an argument to say that two weapon fighting is not especially valid in Europe around the middle ages. It is certainly not the predominant method expressed in the surviving artworks of the period. So there is a quandary – it makes sense that it is not an option that has been presented in ArM game editions, and it also is something that players may want to try.

Wielding two weapons has the initial appeal of offering a much more threatening opponent into battle, and some role-players (like myself) have played systems where it is an excellent option to get the most damage applied as quickly as possible. Many a Fighter has been created with dual wielding Longswords, and while they were entertaining, they also grind on my nerves when I consider the feel that Ars Magica is going for. But then I find the idea of a viking raider using a hand axe and a dagger in battle totally worth considering. There are likely to be as many forum posts around in support of two weapons as there are against in terms of it being a valid combat style.

For the purposes of my games, I think there is a middle ground where I can support the idea if it is presented as part of a good character concept, and also ignore the concept if it is being chosen only for a mechanical advantage. For that reason alone I think its worth discussing how a game like Ars Magica might incorporate two weapon fighting.

I can see two high level approaches, based upon splitting the advantage that two separate combat rolls have:

  1. One Strike with modified combat effects and weapon stats, or
  2. Two strikes with varied weapon and combat stats.

The selection between the two is a driver for how much leverage the ability will have in the game, and also how much specialisation should be needed by the character. Allowing two different rolls adds a much higher probability that the attacker will hurt their opponent.

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