There are many ways to skin a cat in using Ars Magica’s magic system

Ars Magica has one of the most flexible magic systems around, combined with a very lengthy and detailed set of guidelines for how that magic system can be used. What is implied but not spelt out in the core material is just how many different ways there are to do similar things within the setting. Essentially almost anything that can be thought of as a solution is probably within the capacity of Hermetic magic, it becomes the Storyteller’s or the Player’s option as to what and how they do. I thought this might help new players understand the system a little more.

The following are some examples of different ways to solve “a problem”. These are certainly not efficient, just examples of variations.

The examples are some transformation spells for Ars Magica, with a theme around altering the vision and perception of the caster. One of my current characters has a “self-transformation” magic specialty which means that personal effects are much easier for him to learn and cast, which is primarily why I was thinking about the small but useful spontaneous effects that are possible in Ars Magica’s magic system.

In mechanical terms these are simple spell effects which can be very advantageous to a character, and should not be ignored. The spells below could also be varied during creation to be cast on groups (which adds +2 magnitudes/+10 levels), or to target just the caster themselves (which subtracts -1 magnitudes/-5 levels).

At lower levels some of the effects might not be worth “creating” in a lab for an experienced Magus as they could be cast spontaneously. The difficulty of depending on low level spells to be spontaneous cast is that sometimes the auras, casting conditions, or regions do not allow for easy spell casting, and a formulaic spell is far more reliable in those conditions.

In the story the Magi were discussing being able to see in the dark. As a transformation based Magus my character took a Muto approach to solving the problem.

The Eyes of the Bat effect one of the most obvious extensions to the base Muto Corpus spell in the core rulebook named Eyes of the Cat. Essentially it alters the reference creature in the effect, which alters the spell design to grant a different style of enhanced vision. Cats or owls, then bats, then whichever sense or alteration the Muto Magus decides they desire. These spells take their effect from the powers inherent in the animals that are references and also spell requisites, which means that perception requisites are not needed. Thus no Target: Vision (+4) is used, as the target is physically changing.

The downside of that approach is that the target’s physical form is also mutated by these spells. A target of Eyes of the Cat, and indeed almost any other Muto spell has their body physically changed. It is an aspect of Muto magics that is sometimes overlooked in spells which reference Animal as a source of inspiration (a discussion about the transformation effects is available too).

This is the reworked spell, using Ars Magica 5e mechanics.

Eyes of the Bat

Muto Corpus 5 / Animal. R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Individual

Grants the target the sense vision akin to a bat, allowing vision in total darkness.

(Base:2 as Change someone to give them a minor ability, +1 R: Touch, +2 D: Sun, requisite free)

Another variant to change the way the character can “see” is using heat rather than a bat’s sound-vision could be Eyes from the Flames. This is a bit more questionable in terms of difficulty level because the animals in the natural world who use heat to detect their enemies are probably not considered to have sufficient heat vision to be a one-to-one replacement, and perhaps are outside the understanding within the setting. That is, a snake’s perception of heat is not as strong as a bat’s sonar, and not as well known in the medieval paradigm as the night vision of an owl or cat. For this reason I’ve increased the effect level to allow for a more powerful version which uses an unnatural effect.

Eyes from the Flame

Muto Corpus 10 / Animal. R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Individual

Alters the target’s vision so that they can see heat patterns in detail, akin to the senses of some exotic snakes and beetles. This alternative type of vision allows the heat patterns to be viewed in many circumstances including total darkness.

If this is the target’s only form of vision, then the target cannot discern any significant differences between two potential combatants. e.g. A friend and foe of roughly equal size are very difficult to tell apart based only on their “heat” appearance. The spell is very effective in identifying most invisible creatures who still emit or affect heat.

(Base:2 as Change someone to give them a minor ability, +1 to make the unnatural heat vision more powerful than a natural animal, +1 R: Touch, +2 D: Sun, requisite free)

The obvious limitation of this spell is that it must have a variable spread of heat to detect and translate to use target, which is fine in most circumstances but could be an issue.  A ghost or an illusion might be totally undetectable with this spell.

This effect could also potentially substitute out the Animal requisite from the spell, and use an Ignem requisite instead, as the effect pertains to heat. I am not sure which way the spell should be crafted, so let your troupe decide if there is doubt. To my thinking an Ignem effect is more of an Intellego Ignem effect (“perceive the fire”), so is less about transformation and more about adding perception straight into the caster’s mind.

More like this kind of spell effect, which would not alter the physical body of the target at all.

Perceive the Footprints of Vulcan

Intellego Ignem 15. R: Personal, D: Diameter, T: Vision

Allows the target to see heat patterns and heat emissions around them. This alternative type of vision allows the heat patterns to be viewed in many circumstances including total darkness.

(Base:2 as Become aware of all fires (or heat) within the target area, +1 D: Diameter, +4 T: Vision)

The target will suffer from many of the same peripheral problems in detail and advantages to illusions and invisible creatures as the Eyes from the Flame spell.

In designing the effect I’ve chosen to keep the duration short so that the final effect level is lower. Like the other spells above it could be made with a longer duration (like Sun which adds +5 levels) but that is also a lot more difficult to quickly cast. The difference in the Eyes from the Flames and Perceive the Footprints of Vulcan is essentially in which arts are used, and what is the nature of the change. Both apply a very similar end effect to the target.

An alternative might also be an Intellego Auram spell (Perceive the Air) could be used in a similar way to the heat effect, giving the target a knowledge of all the movement and shape of the air around them.

Perceive the Breath of Jupiter

Intellego Auram 25. R: Personal, D: Diameter, T: Vision

Allows the target to see air patterns and movements around them. This alternative type of vision allows the target to “see” in environments where normal senses might be greatly hindered.

(Base:4 Learn all the mundane properties of the air., +1 D: Diameter, +4 T: Vision)

A base effect of level 4 was chosen to represent the complexity in understanding all the air in detail. It could have been designed with a Base 2 for a single property, and then had adjustments added on for the extra difficulty. The spells are getting far higher level than what would be practical, given how easy creating flame is.

Another strange option would be for the Magus to make themselves glow like a firefly. It would be of similar level to the Eyes of the Bat spell, but probably also require a requisite of Ignem (light/fire) to allow the target to glow sufficiently to light the environment around them. I’d not allow a level 2 Muto Corpus/Ignem effect to be enough to light up a room, more that a level 2 effect would just make the target glow. The spell needs to provide more than that, so the power of the luminescence needs to be boosted so that the light assists the target see around them, rather than just making them stand out.

At this point the transformation spells are getting very strange, but it still appears plausible in Hermetic magic.

Blessing of the Haunting Pond

Muto Corpus 10 / Animal Ignem. R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Individual

Makes the target’s hands glow powerfully by changing them to have the glowing effects of a firefly, which provides equivalent light to that of a small lantern.

(Base:2 as Change someone to give them a minor ability, +1 unnaturally strong light, +1 R: Touch, +2 D: Sun, requisites free)

It is obvious that using Intellego Auram or Ignem for a similar effect is far higher level than Intellego Ignem, and than the Muto Corpus transformation spells. The specific difficulty for a particular Magus is always variable.

Lastly if all else fails (well truthfully they’ll do this first) the Magi might just use Creo Ignem (create fire/light) as a way to create a light they may carry with them. It is a very simple basic effect, and one which almost every Magi can probably spontaneously cast. The base level for a spell to create moonlight is Creo Ignem level 1. Such a spell would be around level 3 for a reasonable effect. The Moonbeam spell from the core rulebook has that need covered.

New Ars Duration: Tide

When you have an Ars Magica character with Flexible Formulaic Magic (FFM) every opportunity to lean a new Range, Duration, or Target adds significant leverage into a character. It may not add game shattering raw power, but instead add breadth of options which is why FFM is such an interesting virtue.

Duration: Tide – effect lasts until the tide changes twice.

I though that Duration: Tide might make an interesting new Duration for a magus. I see it as equivalent to Sun (+2), as the guideline would require the tide to change twice for the duration to expire. This makes it slightly less powerful than Sun during part of the day, and slightly more powerful afterward. A nice match.

A water or ocean oriented Magus could even replace all their typical Sun duration spells with Tide as a quirk of their magic to add flavour. There is an argument to make that use of this duration would require a certain level of magical experimentation and discovery, or that it should be a +3 mag adjustment just to be “harder” than Sun, and if required by the troupe this would be a simple discovery. The counter argument would be to let the Magus create a series of formulaic spells with Tide as the duration, as an ad-hoc way of learning the deeper aspects of tides, and that is certainly already allowed in the new spell creation guidelines of Ars.

As a story guide I’d dread trying to ponder when the tides would change twice, so I suggest using a tide checker site for the story location and take that as a broad brush solution.


p.s. the artwork is a wonderful piece by Bill Sharp. It’s a very clever image, simple on first look, but there is a lot of character to it as you look. Please take a look at the rest of his work.

a story tidbit

The man runs quickly down a muddy overgrown track. Branches whip as he races and behind him the sun drops below the tree line. He pants and scrambles as he moves through the scrub. A dishevelled beard, ratty clothes, and a scrawny collection of old furs cover his body. A fur bundle clutched to his panting chest. Clearly afraid, he runs. It must be saved.

In the distance a bell sounds, the tone warping strangely as it peals over the trees. Everything here is discordant.

When the man pauses his running it becomes clear how thin his frame is and how malnourished he must be. The fear in his eyes explaining why the ice and snow underfoot hardly slow him. He is breathing hard even while standing still, chest heaving.

The bell tones again, it’s tone becoming dull and flat far too soon. Is it dull or is his mind now addled? He stretches his back, breathes in deeply, then begins running again. As he moves his breath makes streams of fog behind him. He runs.

The bell tones a final time, the sound faint now but still ending shortly, like a hand has muffled the vibrations, like silencing the bark of an errant dog.

As he moves from the track into the proper woods the brush thins and the trees spread themselves sparsely so that the tepid moonlight teases down into the leaves, but does not reach enough of the ground below. His tired eyes gain nothing from the light except the realisation that almost any other night would have been better than the washed out light he has chosen tonight. Did he even choose? A slow hiss spoken far away reaches his ears. He runs faster.

His fear slides to dread, they know he has escaped. It knows too, and the safety of the border is well too far.

Reluctantly he stops running and then searches the trees around him. He reaches into the fur bundle to the small crucifix pecked from rotten wood by his bloody fingernails. It’s surface caked in old blood and the wood is black in the shallow light. Shaking hands bundle scrawled leathers into snow. His hands work to scape away the frost then the old earth so that the bundle can be sunk deep.

The hiss comes again, sounding louder and stronger. He can picture the brown and yellow teeth and thin craggy hands of the owner.

He presses the crucifix atop the replaced snow, and wipes his jittery hands down the sodden rough tunic. Standing still takes determination, he silently prays for a moment. It is all the time he really has left.

Resigned now, he runs again. Any direction, away from the bundle.

The third hiss is so close he can almost hear the chipper chatter of her teeth, her long drawn breath, and imagine the thin unpleasant smile; lips stretched too tight across sharpened teeth and eyes uncaring by design. “Ssss-slow my beautiful sssnow. You make me sssad, so don’t run so.”

Snow. His old name and the hiding place of the only legacy which matters now. His breath puffs between cracked lips as he lets out a grunted laugh. His legs slow him, his back rises, lifting his sweeping limbs from the ground. They have him again. She has him. As she materialises in front of him from the dank air his chin and arms shake, face wet with tears.

“Ahhhh, my beautiful boy. Home sssssnow, we must go.”

Extensions to Conjuring the Mystic Tower

Conjuring the Mystic Tower (CtMT, ArM p153) is a principal and sometimes troubling spell for Ars Magica, because it demonstrates how easily wizards can create new structures, yet the mechanics are obfuscated. It requires a moderate expenditure of vis and requires a wizard who is experienced to cast it, but it’s presence in the core book demonstrates clearly how quickly a powerful covenant can expand their home.

It has some issues in the expanded game, when the Finesse rolls required are extrapolated upon in additional rulebooks, so that it may (depending on the troupe) have a very high finesse check to perform, and with that the risk of a total waste of vis if the Tower is malformed. And a somewhat troubling clean-up task too. I am an advocate of hand-waving away almost all those aspects given how infrequently the spell would be cast in a typical game, and how fundamental to a covenant’s growth the effect is. Not to say that a botched spell or flawed finesse roll couldn’t present an intriguing opportunity…

Here are a few additional effects are interesting once Conjuring the Mystic Tower is taken as a basis for modification.

Conjuring the Mystic Citadel

Creo Terram 40, R: Touch, D: Mom, T: Ind, Ritual

An expansion of the Conjuring the Mystic Tower to create an entire citadel. A central tower three times the volume of the normal tower, connected to six surrounding towers via walls and walkways. The effect forms the citadel according to the caster’s designs from a single stone, with a floor plan approximately ten times larger than the standard Tower.

(Base 3 to create stone, +1 Touch, +5 additional size, +3 elaborate design)

citadel drawingInitially it might seem a little exploitative to add an additional 5 levels, and garner such a large increase in property, but adding size through additional magnitudes is a tenant of the Ars Magica system. Conjuring the Mystic Tower might be a good instant-covenant for beginning wizards, but this is where I see a powerful wizard putting their energy. Especially if we are to believe that there is a market within the order for the casting of spells like this.

In fact I think CTMT is included in the core rules as a baseline example specifically so that players will be initially amazed by what that might give to a covenant, and then the game-gears in their heads will start to spin up variations; or at least I hope so.

Why mess about with a single small tower, when this Citadel could be conjured instead? Or make the effect 10 times larger again with a level 45 ritual. Adding 5 levels is not overly much once all the vis and powerful wizards have been found (Conjuring the Monumental Fortress, or Conjuring the Mystical City?). A dwelling of that size would be difficult to fill with regular coven folk. Yes, these spells need to be designed and crafted, but I’m thinking that something akin to this has to almost certainly already exist in most settings once we tip our hat to these style of logical extensions.

Further the Ars Magica source books go to extremes in creating mystical projects which are utterly ultra-fantastic. When a wizard can conjure a floating castle, fold magical realms into creation, or create an entire off-shore island – a small castle is humble by comparison.round citadel with towers

A variation that I’ve had in mind for many years is a construction of similar size, but created below ground.This would have the advantage of not pop’ing a tower into the hillside overnight, and make concealment of the covenant’s size easier.

It makes the spell effect technically totally different, but as the effect is a similar theme I’m including it here as an idea. The spell is slightly harder due to creating the chambers within the ground, which requires the Target: Part modifier.

Conjuring the Mystic Mausoleum

Muto Terram 45, R: Touch, D: Mom, T: Part, Ritual

This effect constructs an underground dwelling, with an internal size equal to ten times the size of Conjuring the Mystic Tower.

This effect could target the basement in an existing tower to add further basements, or construct a stand alone underground mausoleum.

(Base 3 to change dirt to stone, +1 Touch, +1 Part, +5 additional size, +3 elaborate design)

A single CtMT is roughly a ten level silo, with 10 feet tall and 30 feet wide per level. Given that CtMT makes a basement/foundation without Re or Pe requisites it is reasonable to assume that the underground changes will occur with “magical” consideration to the local environment. This will obviously not change certain unsightly effects, such as creating a cellar below the water table, or the damage the new structure might do to wells or underground rivers which flow through the area.

Casale_Monferrato_map_(018_003)Find more Ars Magica spell shenanigans in my list of New Spells for Ars Magica.