XP cost for Abilities and Arts

Quick post for my own reference, on the costs of raising or buying Abilities and Arts in Ars Magica. My brain pauses each time I have to calculate a skill cost which I haven’t memorised, and I’m struggling to get more memorised (lets just call that aging gracefully). Continue reading

Pondering a House Rule for labs in Ars Magica


In Ars Magica the wizards typically spend a lot of time in their laboratories, doing a variety of wizardly things. One of the key aspects of a wizard is what and where that lab is, and what it might say about them. Labs can be enhanced through time, money, and magical devices to become specialised and/or less dangerous. The rule for such things start in the Ars Magica core rules and then greatly expand in the Covenants source book.

When a covenant is “set-up” it starts with a number of labs at the basic +0 level for each magus who lives at the covenant. A bonus to the lab is a very big deal to a lab-rat style character, and still significant to a typical character.

With that focus in mind the game provides the time elapsed for the various activities for improving or altering labs; but now that I’m in a game where the passage of time passes very slowly and the labs are pivotal to my character I’m finding the time required to alter a lab to be ridiculous.

For example in RAW*:

  • Setting up a lab takes 2 seasons, with the first giving a basic skeleton capable of a -3 modifier, then the second finalising on a +0 modifier.
  • Moving a lab from one location to another takes 3 seasons.
  • Improving a lab is a season-on-season activity, where points build up to gain advantages or specialisations. This can be a huge investment of time and money in the games.

Essentially it takes a wizard 6 months to establish a functional place to work with magic, and 9 months to move an existing lab from one place to another. So it takes 3 months longer to move a +0 lab than to set one up?

Apologies to the writers of Ars (as I’m a fan) but this is absurd. Even if this time included the effort and activity in buying the materials, haggling with suppliers, carting the gear, and adjusting the layout to suit some sort of astrological and metaphysical schema, it is a bloody long time.

Consider that a wizard may wish to alter where their lab is for in-game reasons, the time spend in a mundane task is prohibitive. The game lore has references to labs in exotic locations and involving strange and wonderful components, but frankly I think only an NPC would bother.

Do real characters really desire to spend this much time suspended in time?

These times should be reduced by something like an order of magnitude, and even then they’d be long. Converting Months to Weeks is perhaps too far, but 6 months of dead character time just to have a working +0 lab? Nope, makes no sense to me.

I understand why the rules are written this way, a lot of activity is measured in seasons for Ars Magica, and (I think) the times are provided as a way to make labs feel heavier in the mindset of the players. The heavy investment of time adds a certain gravity or presence to a lab; and conversely it means that a character spends half a year doing almost nothing of value. In an RPG sense six months of game time can be an eternity, and the wizard just got the benches and flasks all set-up.

This is my current thoughts as an alternative house rule for lab setup:

  • Establishing a lab takes a season. This is a working +0 laboratory area.
  • Lab establishment can suffer from the same rules as interruptions to activities, and if a legitimate interruption occurs then the lab suffers a -3 modifier.
  • That -3 penalty can be removed as a distraction to study in a subsequent season of legitimate lab activity.
  • This means it might take a few seasons to get a lab working if the wizard is also doing other things, but generally they can get up and working in a season of dedicated activity.
  • Moving a lab also takes a season, however when established it cannot have a bonus of higher than +0 modifier regardless of it’s actual quality. All negatives still apply, but the positive values are capped at +0.
  • After a move, a lab distraction each season improves the qualities back to their previous levels by one step each season. Thus a +1 lab is able to work at +0 in one season, and back to normal after two seasons. This also means that the lab can be used in the second season at +0 and it is restored at the end.
  • After a move, a wizard may dedicate a full season of time to setting the lab up again properly. If this is done without interruption the lab gains a max of a +3 shift per season spent.

Given the house rules above a high quality lab should return to normal operation quickly enough after a move, and a basic lab can be setup or shifted without too much worry. Likewise a powerful lab can still be shifted but it’s qualities do not return straight away, and the rate at which that power returns can be chosen by the wizard themselves instead of an arbitrary block of 9 months.

My perspective as a player is what is driving this post. When I was a GM in Ars Magica I was less worried about the loss of time for the players, and I think that is a telling factor in how time can be handled. As a player I want value from the elapsed time, and it wasn’t until playing in a game where I was affected by the shift in labs that it became clear just how time intensive the basic rules are.

I’ve not covered the rules for the advancement of labs from the Core rules or the Covenants book – and probably won’t until I get a chance to see this alteration in play first. Perhaps it is really too fast, I won’t know that until I get a feel for how it plays out.

* RAW – meaning the Rules as Written.

Fixing my Creo effects

After some banter in a game of Ars Magica RPG I’ve been corrected in my understanding of how Creo magic works. Till now I thought that Creo spells never required a Finesse skill check to cast, unless they were creating a very specific item to the caster’s desire.

Particularly I thought any natural item will always be fine, and if that Finesse check passes for an unnatural thing the item should be fit for purpose (with the natural vs unnatural thing being very generous). I thought the Finesse roll was almost always required by Rego spells which emulate crafting activity, because the Rego activity is constructing the item rather than conjuring it fully formed. Thus I was wrong that Creo only really needed Finesse rolls for style, appearance, or presentation of an item.

The core rules state that Creo effects must use a Finesse check if the thing conjured is artificial. Further if the Finesse check botches then the item is not fit-for-purpose. As a guideline it does not provide much more than that.

(the Theory of Forms only has room for natural things? A shame to miss the humble chair)
Continue reading

Spells for enhancing beasts in Ars Magica

In preparation for an activity in an Ars Magica play-by-post forums game, here are a few quick effects to enhance beasts. These effects are simple use of the Muto guidelines from the ArM core rulebook. I’ve already written up a few handy effects for animals such as changing their colour and size, so these spells round out the simple things that are easily plausible to do with Animal magic in Ars.

Note too that these spells have been designed using the base guidelines, meaning that they will only affect creatures of size +1 (a pony) or smaller. Bigger animals will need additional size modifiers.

(Hmm, I think a name change is needed for the spell below, but I’m muddle-headed this week. Keeping it this way will make it easier to find next to the other for humans.)

Gift of the Bear’s Fortitude to Beasts

Muto Animal 25, R: Touch, D: Diameter, T: Individual

This effect grants the target animal a +3 bonus to Soak.

(Base 15 to Make a body resistant to damage (+3 Soak) from the Corpus guideline, Range to Touch (+1), Duration to Diameter (+1))

It makes me wonder – What would happen if Gift of the Bear’s Fortitude was cast on a bear?

If I were the GM I’d allow it to enhance the bear just like any other animal. The rationale is that while the magic of the spell takes it’s inspiration and anchor in the setting from the stamina of a bear, it is still providing a powerful enhancement over and above what is natural. Continue reading

Effects to Bury or Exhume Objects within the Earth

Two spells from previous editions which I though of as “almost classic” were The Liquid Earth and The Buoyant Earth. Both were Muto Terram spells and effected an area of earth near the caster with interesting effects, the first to sink opponents and buildings into the earth, and the other to raise buried things back to the surface.

(because of my desire to not infringe copyright, I’m re-writing these effects for 5th edition, and making some alterations to their effects and descriptions so that both spell effects different from the Ars Magica 4e material)

Subsume the Irritating Hovel

Muto Terram 20 / Auram, R: Voice, D:Mom, T: Part

This spell alters the ground within the target area so that it is briefly transformed into air, and then quickly back  again. Anything within the target area will fall as they lack the foundation of the earth.

The spell will affect mud, sand, dirt and stone, and anything upon these surfaces will be quickly buried and also potentially wreck a buildings stability.

If the spell is targeted beneath a specific spot, such as beneath a particular person a targeting roll is required. The effect is designed to create a cubic area, with a volume of 100 cubic paces of earth (5x5x4 paces), or 10 cubic paces of stone (roughly 2.2 paces per side). The difficulty of the targeting roll should be adjusted accordingly.

(Base 3 to change in to a liquid and add Au req, +1 to affect stone, +1 area increase, R: Voice +2, T: Part +1)

As a level 20 effect it is on the edge of spells which a wizard might choose to learn, but is potentially powerful enough to cause significant damage to creatures and structures.

A simpler version specifically designed to target beneath a person might be:

Subsume the Irritating Knave

Muto Terram 10 / Auram, R: Voice, D:Mom, T: Part

This spell alters the ground within the target area so that it is briefly transformed into air, and then quickly back  again. Anything within the target area will fall as they lack the foundation of the earth.

The spell will affect mud, sand, and dirt, and anything upon these surfaces will be quickly buried and also potentially wreck a buildings stability.

If the spell is targeted beneath a specific spot, such as beneath a particular person a targeting roll is required. The effect is designed to create a cubic area, with a volume of 10 cubic paces of earth (roughly 2.2 paces per side).

(Base 3 to change in to a liquid and add Au req, R: Voice +2, T: Part +1)

The degree of difficult in the targeting roll will vary, I’d suggest a 2 pace wide area is reasonably easy to get close to a standing person, although still tricky to get perfectly centered. Perhaps a targeting roll of 6+ which allows the target some change to avoid it, or 9+ to center it perfectly. YSMV. The targeting roll for a 5×5 pace area in the higher level version should almost be moot.

The original version of this effect from the Ars Magica 4e Grimoire transformed the target earth into water, and had the effect last for a slightly longer duration. I prefer a transformation to air in this case, as anything affected will fall faster. Mechanically the use of T:Part also wasn’t common in 4th edition (if it even existed).

Exhume the Bounty of the Earth

Muto Terram 30 / Rego, R: Touch, D: Conc, T: Part

This spell alters the ground within the target area so that it forces all materials it contains to its surface and ejects them. Everything unlike the surrounding earth is slowly pushed to the surface touched by the caster. While this spell does not directly affect any other non-terram materials, the unnatural quality of the enchanted surrounding material can still move other items. Heavier items may move more slowly, requiring the caster to concentrate for many rounds.

The spell effects stone and glass surfaces, as well as dirt, sand, and mud. This spell is excellent for exhuming lost items, coffins, and the like; although the gracefulness of the approach is questionable.

The spell affects up to 100 cubic paces of earth, or up to 10 single cubic paces of stone or glass; with a final shape and size determined by the caster.

(Base 4 to change earth so it is highly unnatural and adding Rego req, +1 to affect stone and glass, +1 to allow flexibility in shape and size, +1 to increase the area effected, R: Touch +1, D: Conc +1, T: Part +1)

A lesser version of this spell could affect only earth and sand, or effect far less material but my intention was to create a spell which allowed for a reasonable size, a breadth of use, and flexibility in it’s use. It could be used to clear the earth within a field of debris and rocks hidden below the surface, to make the ground more suitable for growing crops, or to exhume all manner of buried items, minerals, or junk.

Thoughts on the Muto Corpus spell guidelines in Ars Magica

I’m doing a lot of thinking about Muto effects in Ars Magica, and part of the pondering led me to find that generally speaking the Muto Corpus effects were a little harder than the Muto Animal effects, and that there seemed to be a tolerance for adding strange limbs and such in Animals which wasn’t as clear when performed on Humans.

Err, yes, this is another highly specialised Ars Magica blog post, dealing with transformation spells.

I started with the idea of changing a man into a horse, which is stated clearly in the gudielines as MuCo/An level 10. There is also the guideline in the Animal section which talks about adding a useful minor ability to an animal being base level 5.There is also the general spell guideline which states than a related minor power can be added as part of a spell effect by adding a magnitude (+5 levels).

So it seems to be +5 either way. Cool.

A Major unnatural effect on an animal is Base 15, which is saying basically that an animal can be transformed into almost anything animal-ish at level 15. It is certainly harder to make a monster than to transform an animal into another form, which is only level 10. Then at level 25 are radical changes to animals (such as wings and all sorts of crazy stuff I’d expect).

The guts of the question is in this sentence:

So altering a Dolphin to grant sharp teeth and razor fins is MuAn15, or turning a human into the same ghastly dolphin is MuCo/An 25.

The base to morph a human to a land animal is level 19, and a fish or bird is 20. This makes a kind of sense, being that it sounds harder to turn a human into a monster dolphin, than to just turn them into a dolphin. And harder to turn into a fish or bird, than a dog. And it certainly follows that turning a man into a dolphin is tricky.

Then I got into what it would take to turn a human into a Dragon-ish creature. The closest base I could find was MuCo20 for a flying creature, then modified upward for the range of fangs, claws, poison bite, gills, night vision eyes, and such that make a draconian form so intimidating.

…where each sub-set is inspired from an animal – where does that leave the spell level? It would seem to still be Base 20 for Bird, +1 mag for major unnatural changes. Then perhaps +1 mag for “increased complexity” due to throwing them altogether.

This ends with a MuCo effect of 30 which allows the caster to tailor a wide array of abilities from a range of beasts into one form. That is the same complexity in the rules as turning a human into an insubstantial form.

Question – Does this type of change need to be +1 mag for major unnatural changes AND +1 mag for “increased complexity”? Or can the same side effect adds +1 mag rule from the Unicorn’s horn above apply here to make this +1 mag modifier total, rather than +1 and +1?

Having the increased complexity pays a little more so makes it harder to refute, but it could be over paying. As the player of this character I want this as cheap as possible, but as a GM I’m pondering if it should be harder.


  • +1 mag for major unnatural changes” means a few, but not too many. Or a few that all follow a similar theme.
  • which then gives weight to “+1 mag for increased complexity” to generally allow crazy stuff.

I think I’ll go with that. A few similar thematically alterations only cost +1 mag, but many will cost another +1 mag. So the extra +1 mag allows for say 12-15 powers, where the limited one allows for a few.

Expensive, but harder to argue against.


Continue reading